From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart (2012)

Through a bit more bibliographic providence, I finally encountered Chris Haw’s From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart this past week. And—spoiler alert—it was fantastic, living up to the rather succinct blurb on the cover from Richard Rohr that simply reads, “This book is really excellent.”

The book is broken into two sections. The first, memoir. The second, theological apology for his memoir.

Part 1. Haw recounts his spiritual journey for readers, and I found several points at which to identify with him and his story. Most immediately, I find myself journeying into Roman Catholicism, and this read was helpful for processing that as a legitimate spiritual path.

Part 2. This half of the book was, for me, the really important part of the book. And the chapter that struck me most was Chapter 7. In it, Haw traces out the beauty of the Mass as an event in which we behold the victim whose sacrifice does away with sacrifice, especially sacrifice of scapegoats.

Following René Girard, Haw traces a three move arch that creates violence: mimetic desire, conflict, scapegoating. As I read Haw, the desires that humans have for what their neighbors posses creates conflict. The conflict, then, is dealt with through eliminating a scapegoat. Creating a cycle of violence that never ends—there’s always another scapegoat. But at the Mass we behold Christ on the cross in the image of the crucifix and we consume Christ’s body in the Eucharist. Citing the Fourth Lateran Council, Haw notes  the claim that “between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying a greater dissimilitude” (123). Haw then reflects on the Sacrifice of the Mass in light of this claim, saying that it is at once sacrifice and un-sacrifice. As we experience the crucified Lord in church, we are reminded that there is no need for violent scapegoating anymore. The victim, the lamb that is slain, remains and is present with worshipers, reminding them that the system of sacrifice, the system of scapegoating, can no longer stand.

I certainly have not done the argument justice here, but I was deeply struck by how participation in the Eucharist should orient us away from violence and toward, as Girard puts it, a positive mimetic desire. “We might understand the Christ story,” writes Haw, “as a sword that cuts the false ties that held things together,” things like “a feverish hatred of the other, the scapegoat, [the] fear of the outsider” (117).

I was also struck by the “community” aspect of the book. (Please forgive the use of cliché “community” here.) Haw is rooted to his community in New Jersey, and he helps the reader see that the church community should give similar roots to us too. We cannot stand aloof from the church. We cannot be above the distinctions between traditions within the church—what Haw calls the desire to claim no accent. We have to become part of the body of Christ, which, made up of human members, has its good and sometimes very bad parts. Nevertheless, we have to be part of the body in order to minister to it. And this, though it sounds very obvious, was a most needed revelation to me.

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