Catholicism, Orthodox

Nicaea 2025

Fr. James Martin, SJ posted a link on Facebook yesterday to an article in the Vatican Insider,
A Nicea nel 2025 tutti i cristiani celebrino un sinodo davvero ecumenico,” and then he added the following comments:

Whoa! Potentially huge news. Have Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew called for an Ecumenical Council in 2025? Nicea III? Both East and West are invited to celebrate, as in participate in, a “truly ecumenical council,” said the Patriarch. Or perhaps celebrate, as in commemorate, the original Council of Nicea.

In other words, the big question is: Will this simply be a commemoration of the original Council of Nicea (AD 325), which gave us the Nicene Creed? Or will this be a new ecumenical council, with the power to promulgate decrees and possibly help unite East and West? I’m sure the Vatican press office will clarify soon.

The Patriarch said that he and the Pope, “agreed to leave as a legacy to ourselves and our successors a gathering in Nicaea in 2025, to celebrate together, after 17 centuries, the first truly ecumenical synod, where the Creed was first promulgated.”

Fr. Martin, of course, hit the nail on the head. Some have favored a Nicaea III in 2025: “With the unpredictability of Pope Francis, some Catholics have wondered if he would call another council — a Vatican III. It appears not. Something that big won’t do for Francis. He’s thinking even bigger: the church universal will be getting a Nicea III.” Others, however, have seen 2025 as a commemoration. And it appears that there is more warrant for interpreting the given statements to indicate commemoration rather than an ecumenical council. So why is Nicaea 2025 important? Besides that it will probably be an important step in healing the Orthodox-Catholic split, it could also still turn into the closest thing to an ecumenical council since the last ecumenical council in AD 787. How is this not the Spirit at work?


Plan for Planning to Give Way to Timing

I think it matters if the plan for 2025 is focused on being a celebration rather than an ecumenical council. But that is because I don’t think the planning for 2025 should be quite as pre-determined as we are inclined to do. Be careful Christians. When we gather together to celebrate, it can easily become so much more, like worship. Indeed, things change when we get together, so it shouldn’t be surprising if 2025 develops into something different than our original expectations.

I think we can agree that the central issues at hand aren’t entirely about substance. We already know what life should be like at a general level. As an Anabaptist of sorts at a Catholic school, I would love to see greater movement towards reconciling a 1,000 year split. But all the informed Catholic and Orthodox people I know would love to see the split healed as well. The problem is we have yet to ‘discover’ reconciliation in friendship, and in friendship figure out what to do with the filioque.

The other issue is time—and the question is what kind of time. The funny thing about Nicaea I is that it didn’t matter much initially, or at least those who gathered at Nicaea seemed to think so. It is a bit of an understatement to say that written records were not a priority. In fact, the reason why we have the Nicene Creed written down is because the following ecumenical council, Constantinople I, wrote down the creed in the process of affirming Nicaea I. Therefore, here is to hopeful prayer for unplanned riches to develop in 2025, even if they won’t be seen for a long time.

Yet, there is also another sense of time other than the long game. Vatican II had its own odd twists and turns in between the first few sessions, but it still went far beyond the general assumption of just re-affirming Vatican I held by many going into Vatican II. Therefore, our own expectations for Nicaea 2025–if indeed the ‘plan’ is for more of a con-celebration of sorts rather than a new council–should nevertheless be open to the Spirit’s direction, perhaps including some measure of reconciliation that goes beyond what we imagined possible. Why shouldn’t there be a miracle at Nicaea in 2025?


Location, Location, Location

I’ve already heard some people dismiss the location for the 2025 gathering as unimportant, and what is really important are the talks themselves. Yet, I think the location of Nicaea matters a great deal. A Nicaea III, as an ecumenical council, would trump a Vatican III in terms of authoritative weight. “Well duh,” you might say, “thats what ecumenical means.” But a trip to Nicaea is also deeply fitting. Of course one shouldn’t forget the initial Patriarch churches in Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Rome; and of course Vatican II was deeply important for the Catholics. However, Nicaea is not just an ecumenical home at the crossroads of Asia minor; it is also a kind of theological home. It was at Nicaea, in the first ecumenical council, that Christological reflection began to take shape leading to Trinity, and where, centuries later in the seventh and last ecumenical council, icons were determined to helpful rather than idolatrous.

capitalism, poverty

Langone, Wealth, Poverty

So Ken Langone, the billionaire founder of Home Depot and self-appointed speaker for other rich donors, is citing an anonymous donor who claims Pope Francis is alienating the rich by his talk about income disparity, the poor, and heres the kicker, that money isolates the rich from feeling compassion for the poor. Therefore, Langone is publicly noting the threat of an embargo on donations to the Catholic church (specifically concerning the restoration of St. Patricks cathedral, but does not appear limited to St. Patricks). Unfortunately Langone and others simply say that Francis was thinking about Argentina, not the US, and was mistranslated. Of course the embargo and redirection is just making Francis’s point; the depths and breadth of poverty in the US are not seen from the heights of a condo in a tower in Manhattan’s midtown. Langone and other donors, however, are not just proving the accuracy of Francis’s analysis but also Scripture. One should not forget that it is the riches of the rich man that make it difficult––as the camel through the eye of the needle––to enter the kingdom of God. So often we simply stop at the love of money as the root of many sins, but forget that wealth is still more subtle and dangerous. Wealth alienates (*cough*white flight*cough*), and capitalist wealth doubly so. But alienation sets us in a fundamental opposition to the interconnectedness of trinitarian life. Historically the Catholic church and many other denominations have often been guilty of alienation and the love of money. Pope Francis, like his name sake, represents the hope of renewal that also occurs in the history of Christianity: work to live with the poor, like Jesus; do not live apart from the poor.

biopolitics, capitalism, Foucault, Hegel, political theology, socialism, voyeurism

A Future Project for Political Theology

A problem with US pragmatism, especially US jurisprudence: changing the commodity form (e.g. vhs or cassette to digital or in this case, landline to wireless) somehow means the ‘rights’ of a previous form, like copyright or consumer ownerships, has to be reinstated in the new content form (e.g the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) because the previous rights do not seem to entirely transfer automatically.

This vision of newness without continuity–newness as sheer autonomy in order to be authentically new–stays until ‘unfortunately conquered’ by an old but equally large vision (like different types of the public good: the common good or its perversion called the greater good). This seems to be another, albeit apocalyptic, articulation of the old, conflicted division in liberalism of property vs. equality: property is ‘free’ until re-imagined as a communal good because all own themselves equally. Considering this, even if one could make a law establishing a more direct link between different forms such that the re-imagining is never even an issue, I am suspicious that US pragmatism would thoroughly resist the link.

I also wonder, then, if the real question posed to the globe isn’t the red herring of capitalism vs. socialism, but between a pragmatist neo-liberalism (with the illusionary choice to be surveilled) or a fused capitalist and state absolutism like that articulated by Hegel (or a softer version called liberal communitarianism) now wedded with obligatory and invasive surveillance, a la the NSA. The point is, whichever variation or combination of the two options that will be the new political economy, it will be its own mode of voyeuristic absolutism.

And if anything is contrary to such new ‘political bonds,’ it will be a terrorist or spy, or both. We see the beginning of this in the conviction of Plowshare activists as terrorists and the US has charged Edward Snowden with variations of espionage: “theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence [sic] information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence.” This re-defined reality is not the beginning of the eschaton as dispensationalists and conservative US evangelicals tend to proclaim–one does not even opt into a ‘beast mark’ here–but rather, this is a furthering of the attempt to ‘end’ history by controlling humanity’s telos via a thoroughgoing biopolitics made possible by this near-total voyeurism.

Theology will probably respond with “Maranatha!”, critical Orwellian appeals, or ‘super sizing’ Foucault’s analysis of the panopticon, but we need a better response. I suspect part of the future task of political theology will lie in confronting voyeuristic absolutism because it will be part of the unifying and protective force of an even more static classism that, in new and old ways, will continue to oppose the theopolitics of the gospel option.

modern nation-state, political theology, race

The ‘Racialized’ Hoodie at the Intersection of Church and State

I am sure you all know about the Trayvon Martin shooting, and the wearing of hoodies as a show of solidarity. The hoodie already ‘radicalized’ (“an urban thing,” which is code for black, or sometimes simply not white) is now being used as a sign for identifying with the ‘urban’ and exposing that this assumption wardrobe is racist. There are a multiplicity of voices about whether hoodie solidarity is actually on the whole a positive move or not. But that was before Rep. Bobby Rush wore a hoodie on the house floor as he read the hopeful promises of the Bible.

Of course much of the issue around the shooting is race and segregation. I do not mean to detract from that, but instead deepen the issue because Representative Bobby Rush, like many others before him, exposed that the issue goes much further to the confluence of race, Christianity, and politics in America (and beyond, quite frankly, but I’ll stop there for now). I have have plenty of questions, but many of them are being asked by others so I will skip over those here. However, there are some questions that are not being asked. So I will raise one here.

As preface: the question I am about to ask is quite serious, rather than dismissive. Also, it is intentionally set at a nexus of many issues; it is at heart a short question that demands a very long answer to be answered well: the fact that the complex relationships between race and Christianity, Christianity and state power, and race and the state are all interconnected is just the beginning. The goal of the question is this: by highlighting the complexity around race, Christianity, and politics in America, I am gesturing to the depth racial issues go, and that therefore racial issues go far deeper in the American psyche than most willingly recognize. Of course this is not original to me, but I have yet to hear the issues brought up through the avenue used in this question:

In light of the video below–Rep. Bobby Rush being kicked off the House floor for wearing a hoodie while reading the hopeful promises of the Bible–I have yet another question: what good are the legislative chaplains if the Representatives will kick out their own for this?

link, music

I Just Couldn’t Take It

I’ve found Adele’s song, “Someone Like You,” to be disturbing on a number of levels. So I wrote about my problems with the song, and suggested another song as truly beautiful. Go read it here: Adele’s Pathological Perversion, or We’re Sorry Saint Valentine.

It has not escaped me that I wrote this on Valentines day. Don’t worry for me––I’m not in a bad place. The Grammy’s were this past weekend, and Adele won in some parts with that song.


The Future of Liberation Theology Conference

I am still unsure how to talk about my dissertation and work for publication on this blog, hence the continued silence. In more simple terms: I’m working, but not sure how to talk about it without shooting myself in the foot.

And speaking of work…

At Union, the USQR (the Union Seminary Quarterly Review) is holding a conference on February 24th, titled “The Future of Liberation Theology.” For their description, see below.

I’ll be presenting a paper there, titled “Getting Back to Idolatry Critique: Establishing the Ground for Idolatry Critique in the Triune Gift Economy.”

If you’re in or around NYC, I’m sure they would like people to come. If not, the presentations––assuming they are up to par, of course––will be published in the USQR.

“The Future of Liberation Theology” Conference Details:
Goal of Conference:
The aim of this interdisciplinary graduate student conference is to imagine and explore the future of liberation theology and related liberationist discourses over the course of a one-day graduate conference at Union Theological Seminary, which has served as a location from which many liberationist projects have emerged over the past 40 years. This conference seeks to combine the voices of graduate students working in theology, ethics, scripture, philosophy, religious studies, homiletics as well as other disciplines with the voices of professional academics of multiple generations who contribute to liberationist discourses. In an effort to document this collaborative discussion, the Union Seminary Quarterly Review will publish student and professor presentations, as well as other documents from the conference.

Summary of Problematic:
Liberation theology and related discourses are frequently spoken of in the past tense. This is apparent despite the ongoing proliferation of liberationist projects within and outside the religious academy, and also the continued existence of the impetus for past liberation theologies—the material suffering of persons and nature under human social systems. How might the varied liberationist projects of the past inform contemporary efforts within and outside the academy to confront the various crises humans face today? How, if at all, has the context for engaging such crises changed since the advent of liberation theology? What is at the root of the shift away from liberation theology in the religious academy? In what ways might contemporary discourses on culture, society and the psyche inform contemporary liberationist projects? How do liberation theologies of the past and present inform religious scholarship as a whole? What is the future of liberation theology?

Evening Plenary Panel:
Professors Andrea Smith, Eboni Marshall, Ivan Petrella, Patrick Cheng, and more respond to and engage student presentations and community conversations of the day.

feminism, race

Dark Girls and Miss Representation

Dark Girls. I found out about this documentary right after we covered Traci West’s “Policy: The Bible and Public Reform” on Mary, the magnificat, and poor, single black mothers. I wish I had known about it before. It is on my list for videos next semester. You should really check it out:

Miss Representation. Another documentary, on women again, but more about image and marketing in general — although in my book, a bit less compelling than Dark Girls, but still, what Miss Representation covers is very important. Check it out:

political theology

Political Theologies Seminar

I’ve been rather silent here because I’ve been quite busy. This is partly because I don’t yet know how to talk about my dissertation publicly online — I’ve heard far too many horror stories about people getting ripped off; partly because I’ve been prepping for the class I’m teaching this fall; and partly because of a new project launching at Marquette:

We’ve got a Political Theologies Seminar that we’re starting up. Part of the seminar is to put up a helpful website with announcements on work we’ll be doing, bibliographies, etc. It is still a work in progress — some bibliographies are nearly nonexistent, but others are beginning to fill out — nevertheless, go check it out here:

AAR, teaching

New Teachers, Attention

If one has finally perceived that writing a good syllabus is difficult for the first time, choosing reading selections are much harder — especially for undergrad classes.

For those of you still looking for those last few readings, or just now beginning to write your syllabus (shame on you), take note of the collaborative project between AAR and the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning: the syllabus project. See here and here.

capitalism, education

Forget TED, or Why Capitalist Education Blows: I Think I’ve Finally Found an Interesting Thing about TED, but They’re too Elitist to Verify It

The TED talks redefine the terms useless, enabling, and self-important in ways I didn’t think possible. I can’t stand them — all too often they’re about verbal prowess for a popular audience masquerading as sophisticated, orignal thought.

But just the other day at TEDGlobal 2011, Alain de Botton apparently uttered these words:

A sermon wants to change your life and a lecture wants to give you a bit of information. I think we need to go back to that tradition of sermon in education.

Consider my curiosity piqued. Finally. I’ve watched more than a few videos of speakers that have reputable positions and published interesting, ground-breaking projects, but their TED talks go to the absolute lowest common denominator. What is this, the University of Phoenix? Is this how the elites pay for an education subject to economic forces without much disguise?

What is interesting about the quote? After all Botton’s quote is problematic insofar as it seems to assume education today doesn’t already seek to change, or convert, and continue to habituate the person. In point of fact it does. Look at where the money contributions come from and what they fund. Now look at how Universities are educating their client-consumers (no longer pupils) for the job market. The notion of the liberal arts education is more-or-less already gone. Education is not as neutral as Botton makes it out to be.

Nevertheless, Botton is potentially hitting on something interesting — discipleship — and trying to recover it.

So, while there might finally be something worth pursuing from the TED talks… I can’t because they charge so much. $500 for a webcast subscription to your conference that is frankly more miss than hit? Screw you. And this betrays the point of TED to begin with: the elites are the ones with the most scratch, and therefore beholden to important, cutting-edge knowledge without rubbing shoulders with the unwanted plebeians, who, lucky them, can watch the video clips years after the fact or fad is passed. Indeed the conferences reinforce this class warfare, and not much else besides their ego, through the format of a kind of secret gnosis: sometimes the rich will get together to watch enthralling presentations, often without substance, that reinforces their elitism under the guise of paying a lot of money to weed out the unpromising (read, the monetarily ‘unsuccessful’) so as not to taint the exclusive brilliance of the speakers and audience. In short, a kindergarten version of an academic conference, but with an undue, pretentious air.

And don’t even get me started on the underlying dynamic of progress. I all but named the class warfare noted above as a social darwinism, but there is also a simplistic narrative of technological and cultural progress that underwrites the elitism: we’re so awesome because we can get enlightened speakers and technological wizards to comfort the rich with platitudes only found at a futurist exhibit in a world fair.

I am going to find the person who should have been cited for Botton’s talk. Forget TED. It is largely a very simple introduction to hubris.

pedagogy, vampires, zombies

Sub question…

A sub question of sorts to the previous post Vampires and Cracked:

To open my class this fall, I’m taken with the idea of shamelessly ripping off a page from Graham Ward, who apparently held a discussion in class about which is more theologically significant: vampires or zombies? I find this an enlightening question on many levels, have raised something like it myself in the past, and one that I think the undergrads my find accessible and interesting, or at least quirky rather than boring.

Of course this is an exercise in theopolitical imagination, which is the point. I can’t think of a grand question to begin on the first day and carry through the entire semester, so I have a main thesis that each discussion section interacts with, and the vampires vs. zombies discussion is no exception: Revelation is an important doctrine for religious belief, particularly for Christian faith, and the implications of revelation are important and far-reaching for Christian life today.

So if I’m going to ask about vampires, does this mean I need to watch the gawd awful Twilight series?

humor, vampires

Vampires and Cracked

For a rather long time I’ve found vampires and zombies to be quite interesting for theology: zombies are of course mindless hordes consuming life around them, and often set in shopping malls so as to expose capitalism’s logic; while vampires exude a combination of consumption and eroticism. Oddly, however, while zombies are still evil, brain-eating fiends, vampires are no longer the incarnation of evil lust but just sensuality.

There is already a book on this, The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero by Susannah Clements. But equally interesting, and more entertaining, the awesome “After Hours” series by took up the discussion back in May: