death, funeral, grace, love, mutual recognition, september 11, war on terror

The Attack on September 11 and the Funeral of My Grandmother on September 11: Two Very Different Visions

Today is September 11. As usual, this date is the occasion for a lot of talk about the ‘terror attacks’ and the unending ‘war on terror.’ For many the frustration has mounted. ISIS has arisen as a threat to Iraq, but didn’t we just get out there? I’m not sure the tail is wagging the dog, but rather, we and the Iraqis are reaping what the US participated in sowing. Historically we are not so innocent. Saddam Hussein did indeed use mustard gas and nerve agents on the Kurds, slaughtering thousands and thousands, and horribly affecting many thousands more. However, that was in the 1980s when the US still supported Iraq as a barrier against Iran. Now we are stuck with a mess, at least partially of our own creation. We went into Iraq under pseudo-humanitarian, but largely fearful pretenses given by our leaders who knew quite well that they were lying, and would profit immensely from it. To make matters worse, much of the 31-44 longitude region above the equator is characterized by bloody, political conflict: Israelis-Palestinians; Syria’s civil war; Iraq’s…whatever it is (dissolving? conflict is too tame); Iraq-Turkey boundary dispute with the Kurds in-between; Afghanistan; and Ukraine-Crimea-Russia. So, apparently, now we are compelled to stay in Iraq, if just to clean up our mess so the justifications go. We have a problem. Now those justifying the ‘war on terror’ are comparing it to the length of the cold war. We are in trouble.

What answer do we have? My family and I buried my grandmother a year ago, to the day. Generally one might chalk up the date to a coincidence since she had died a few days before, but in point of fact, she was a person of excellent timing. She had her major stroke the Easter before. Well, actually, it was on the morning of Good Friday in her church’s sanctuary during a small service. While on my long drive down that same day, I worked out a theology of timing as beautiful (fitting-ness), good, and true. It was fitting and good––in a sort of iconographic imitatio way––to have a massively debilitating stroke not simply during a church service, but also just after lighting one of the candles as part of a Methodist take on the ancient tenebrae liturgy. I had something for truth; however, I forget what it was. It was probably something like a witness to the truth, but whatever I had for truth was eclipsed by the timing of her funeral. I do not know how else it would be possible to get so many people into church on an anniversary of September 11, much less not hear a word about it. For at least a few hours there was only grief; there was no sense of retribution that drove our national response to September 11. There was also a deep sense of remembering truth, both of who she was and Christianity’s hope for the resurrection of the dead because Jesus overcame the void. Funny how all of that is diametrically opposed to the ‘war on terror’: remembrance of US action before September 11 did not exist during our response; truth was sacrificed; and no one is even contemplating the hope of resurrection for all the dead, much less reconciliation. My grandmother’s funeral was an occasion of imagination and re-orientation.

But what good is imagination since it is so often negatively equated with ineffectual dreams? I did not mention my theology of timing to anyone, not from the pulpit or privately, for two reasons. First, it could appear as, although it would not have been, a politicizing of my grandmother’s death. I’m an ‘intellectual outsider’ to that small-town agricultural society; they have plenty of smart people but also suspicion. And who says I would be understandable? Never mind, that I’m not a Methodist or part of the church there, and I was leaving in a few days. One does not cause a potential stir like that without being part of the community. In truth, that may actually have made ineffectual my ‘imaginative work’ and the imaginative re-orientation of my grandmother’s funeral. Yet, there was something else that was practical and effective.

Second, I suggested a certain someone else should speak instead of me anyways. They had become part of the family, and because, in my own take on Scripture, there should be no separation between black and white in the church, particularly south of the Mason-Dixon line in what was historically a slave state. There was far more racial diversity at the burial than in the church, presumably affirming the very real persistent legacy of slavery, segregation, and the Klan; indeed, the Missouri town is still rather strictly divided, geographically along racial/socio-economic lines. Nevertheless, a black woman willingly, truthfully, front and center from the pulpit, and side-by-side with one of my cousins eulogized her once employer turned friend-family. My grandmother’s funeral not only paused the political narrative of the status quo, but also, in so doing, was a very real site for the proleptic, albeit partial, realization of the eschatological vision.

All this tells me two things. First, like Stanley Hauerwas notes, timing requires time, and sometimes lots of it. Conflict resolution is not quick, in part, because healing human inflicted wounds takes time. However, how does this address the fact that innocents are still bombed right now or unarmed black men shot by police? Second, like Gary Dorrien understands, there are instances of break-through when all lights are green, a kairotic moment. Yet, historically this has been the justification for seizing or colluding with coercive power. So how does one reconcile the two types of time? Both points about time I attribute to God receiving and responding to human development qua receptivity. The Spirit works unevenly––sometimes in what seems like long stretches of silence and at other times in rapid succession––because the Spirit works in-between what human stubbornness will allow at the time, the possibility of human transformation, and the fullness of transfiguring humanity for theosis.

So how does this apply today? The issue is stubbornness: the refusal to love qua openness towards the other, ekstasis, and mutual indwelling with the other; the refusal to recognize the other as giving themselves that calls for one to reciprocate with self-gift. The answer, I believe, is in Rowan Williams’s work. We have to get to a place of dialogue to mutually develop. Dialogue is built on mutual recognition, rather than some sort of ‘pure’ rationalism; and mutual recognition is predicated on the love’s openness and grace’s receptivity. So the question, upon which lies the balance of many human lives and the environment, is: how do we get to the corporate realization that we mutually constitute each other?

Funerals need to be more like my grandmother’s. I do not ascribe to the sovereignty of the void, as if it ultimately determines meaning; but we need to learn how to deal with loss in a way that stresses our mutual interrelatedness. The death of a person should recall the full history of the community, as well as be a site for steps towards dealing with the loss of them in relation to the life of the community. Unfortunately, funerals now are little more than sentimental, ineffectual bandaids. This is ridiculous. First, the truth is a pre-requisite to properly mourn someone and heal. Second, funerals are the most important, public place for how those most affected can deal with violence. Funerals need to be deeply sensitive while having a kind of public social inquest as a strong element, and ‘both sides’ (if there are ‘two’ sides) present in some manner and under a banner like the medieval “truce of God.” These wars will not end if we grieve separately. Gee, doesn’t that sound kind of similar to the “Truth and Reconciliation” vision?

Elizabeth Johnson, feminism, gift, grace, Hans Urs von Balthasar, mission, political theology

The Map of My Missions Paper

I’d like to thank those who raised questions. CTN, you’re answered in the paper, even though it doesn’t show so much here in the conclusion. And Brad, I had to make certain moves, so Israel played a smaller role — very, very small actually — than I wanted. Your concern was one of the many footnotes that I used to give the body of the paper more focus, and I still went over the page limit. Sigh.

My Provisional Conclusion:

I have sought in this essay to provide a politics proceeding from and based on the triune economy of gift. I began with Christian dogma, noting God in action in human history through the incarnation, the Spirit, and the economy of gift. In doing so, I noted that the work of God should be understood as gift, while elaborating on human participation in the response of Mary. I then moved to the inner life of the Trinity by assuming Balthasar’s assertion that the triune God is not hidden, but revealed in the Cross. I elaborated on the dynamism of gift in the inner trinitarian life with the help of Balthasar and Johnson. This step located and defined the economy of grace in the giver of all that is good. Next I moved to the implications of the gifting God working in human history, framing the step in terms of apocalyptic, Christian formation, and liberation. Recent work on the apocalyptic was noted to highlight my own move: the church is not theologically a dispossessed church, but when rightly living, drawn up into the economy of God — in a word, possessed rather than ever a possessor. This gifting church then spreads gift into the surrounding world, hence the recognition of Romero and Church of the Servant King.

In short, I have sought to draw a line from the inner life of God directly to our action in the world. I have done this through political theology, because, as I understand the recent turn in missiology, there is much overlap between the two. I have re-framed everything underneath gift because that is fundamentally how the divine works with the cosmos and within human history. Thus, from gift, we can re-understand the apocalyptic work of God and therefore, the church’s purpose in the world: to live the gift economy of God for the sake of creation.


Gluttony and Grace

I’ve had a question plaguing me for some time. Assuming that capitalism, and more basically, human inclination is gluttonous, how does then gift — an economy of grace — operate? Certainly there is martyrdom and the christological kenotic life, but there is also the responsibility for self-care, to make healthy choices. How do we reconcile the Christian work of universal gift, when it seems to conflict with healthy choices against people who would simply consume us?

D. Stephen Long, grace, love, ontology

Long on Gift, Love, and Ontology

I do not mean to keep quoting from Long, but he has put forth an interesting work that intersects well with some of my own interests. And since I refer to this blog more than I’m sure any other reader does, so as to help organize my own thoughts, here is another post with another quote.

Here we find Milbank answering the question why there is something rather than nothing. The answer is ‘gift.’ The gift of Christ to redeem us is the plenitude that allows us t ‘glimpse’ the Fall and thereby Creation. This answer assumes that love is as basic to our existence as reason, which is something Balthasar endeavored to show. We do not understand reason well if it remains unrelated to love. We can only know what we love and love what we know. Love is the perfection against which Creation and reason can appear.

John Paul II states this well. “The truth Revelation allows us to know is neither the mature fruit nor the highest reach of the reflections of human reason. On the contrary, it is the expression, together with its particular characteristics, of a totally free gift: it stirs up and disturbs ideas and requires that it be accepted as a declaration of love.” Only on the basis of an ontology of love can gift be understood Because love, and not pure reason, is the basic structure of being, the failure of human reason to achieve its infinite desires is not negative but positive. Thus we do not need to negate reason in order to believe, but rather supplement and intensify it. We receive knowledge as a gift. To forget the necessity of gift, or to bracket it out as philosophically problematic, is equivalent to forgetting that our very being only comes through the laborious gift of another. Of course, gift’s necessity does not entail reception. I can reject the gift of being. Gift, another name for the Holy Spirit, is the fullness of being, the perfection that surrounds us with an inevitable desire for truth, goodness, and beauty. It illumines our lives.

Page 158-159.

feminism, grace, incarnation, sacrament

Towards an Anabaptist Marian Theology

Theological feminists find much in the character of Mary, specifically within the magnificant. This, I believe, is quite right. This is also held by the majority of feminists that I have encountered.

These feminists, or at least the ones I like and have had fruitful conversations with, are wary of what I shall condense into the term: self-annihilation. Lets be honest, there is no way to get around the idea of obedience. Some feminists recoil at the idea, but personally, while I understand the logic, I do not believe that obedience is the real problem. Obedience can be a very good thing. It is a bad thing, however, to tell an abused woman to be obedient to her husband and send her back to him.

I confess, I have never wanted to be rid of obedience because the divine community is built on humility and bowing to one another in a healthy way. But I have been unsure how to voice another way while still meeting feminism’s legitimate concerns. In reading von Balthasar, I was confronted with obedience in a different sort of way, and more to the point, perhaps here is the beginnings of a legitimate obedience, although it requires some (or much, very much) outside help. So I couldn’t simply drop obedience for many reasons.

After a long time mulling, I think the true objection is that often obedience is seen with self-annihilation. This, this is not what Mary did. The incarnation to which she responded was not abuse, but gift. She chose participation in the work of God. Mary responded to the gift of the incarnation. Mary’s work was gift back to gift. It was not self-annihilation.

With Mary as an image of healthy discipleship, this Marian theology could make us all feminists in a certain way. I could certainly live with that.

This theology also means that anabaptist need a stronger theology of gift — grace and sacrament — which they/we have never been strong on in a multifaceted way. Should it look exactly like the Catholics? Of course not, however, that doesn’t mean that we should just end with the abstract notion of the community as grace.

capitalism, grace, market

Jesus, Gifts, and Christmas

It is a mistake to simply leave the incarnation to Christmas. It is likewise a mistake to leave our protests to the abuse of the Christ Mass by Fox News, Colorado Springs, and company, who raise support through raising fear over their bourgeois Christmas. Around Christmas and now, instead of hyping fears about relativism and pluralism (instigated by the ethnocentrists just mentioned and their theocapitalist equivalents), how about we do much work on grace (the pure-gift)?

And so I find the image below perfectly legitimate to post in May:

When did I say...?

The image is from: buynothingchristmas.

grace, modern nation-state, peace, violence

The Strong No: Pax Christi v. Pax Americana

I firmly believe that at times, the Christian vocation is to say a very strong no. This can be seen as an “either/or” that so many theologians seek to avoid. Indeed it is often anathema: “You just did an either/or, not a both/and. You have ignored a truth that should be included!”

It should be recognized that whenever no is proclaimed, it is located in two spheres. It is first located within the grand yes to creation: creation is indeed good. In fact, it is very good. As Christians, we are in point of fact, incredibly strong materialists. The second sphere is that because the no to sin is located in the larger yes to creation, the no is an act of love. The no is inherently a call to justice and redemption — an act of the economy of grace first instituted by divine action. Thus the prophetic call, even those who carefully emphasize a radical discontinuity, is not committing an either/or. We should at the same time, however, be careful not to blunt the prophetic call. Instead the call must be sharp when it must, exactly because it does rest within the yes.

Thus we can recognize that the “peace” promised by the state, rooted in a flawed understanding of power — a self-serving, oppressive power, is over and against the peace of Christ. This is where we can call the state a simulacra of the ikon of God. We say no to such an understanding of power and therefore say no to the actions rooted in such power.

He is risen and the Roman soldiers, who represented the attempt by imperial power to keep Jesus in the tomb, were tossed about.

And so we join with Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton and Pax Christi:

And then as often, John Paul was especially aware of young people. He’s at the World Youth Day right now in Toronto where he really seems to be energized when he’s with young people — his concerns about them, what they will become. And so he asks the question, ‘Which voice will the young people of the 21st century choose to follow?’

A very important question. We come out of a century which was the most violent in all of human history. A new century, a new millennium is upon us; and which voice will the young people follow during this century? To put your faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what Jesus says, no matter how strange it may seem — and choosing to reject the claims of evil, no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem. Choosing to reject the claims of evil no matter how sensible and attractive — and often they can seem to be sensible, reasonable, attractive — for the way of Jesus, which might seem foolish, utopian, idealistic, all the words that people use about the Gospel. Which choice will I make? Which choice will you make? And to identify those choices clearly in the world in which we live — the reality of the world where we are right now.

I have a conviction that it’s a choice between what we’d like to call pax Americana, or the other choice, pax Christi.
On October 7, when President Bush announced the war strikes on the Taliban in al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, he said, “We are a peaceful nation!” Then a few days later while speaking at the FBI headquarters, he declared, “This is the calling of United States — the most free nation in the world, a nation built on fundamental values that reject hate, reject violence, reject murderers, and rejects evil. He says we are a peaceful nation, and that’s what we stand for. He would call it, I’m sure, “peace America, or pax Americana.”

But to show you how wrong it is to think of this peaceful nation as following the way of pax Christi, I call to your attention to an article that appeared on the website by Arundhati Roy. And she pointed out that since World War II, since 1945, this peaceful nation has in fact been at war and bombed China, 1945 to ‘46, 1950 to 1953; Korea, 1950, 1953; Guatemala, 1954 — and for four decades we supported a cruel, low-intensity warfare there, killing 200,000 people; Indonesia, 1958; Cuba, 1959 and ‘60; Zaire, 1964; Peru, 1965; Laos, 1964 up to 1973; Vietnam, 1961 to 1973; Cambodia, 1969 to 1970; Granada, 1983; Libya, 1986; El Salvador, during all of the 1980s, again low intensity warfare killing tens-of-thousands of people; Nicaragua, the 1980s; Panama, 1989; Iraq, 1991, and still going on; Bosnia, 1995; Sudan, 1998; Yugoslavia, 1999. And now she says, we can add Afghanistan to that list.

Pax Americana: bombing, killing, wherever we decide. As Madeline Albright put it, “We are America. We are the indispensable nation. If we have to use force, it’s because we see further than anybody else.”

But pax Americana gets even worse when we begin to look at what is happening in the reality of the world in which we live; when we look at it even more closely. Many of us probably think that our present foreign policy — the war in Afghanistan, the war against the al-Qaeda, and the unending war that the President says we’re involved in — that this foreign policy is a result of September 11.

… The aim, simply put, was to establish unilateral control of the world. Such an aim would involve — and these are the kinds of words they use in the report — smashing all possible enemy threats — even before those threats become real. You may have heard we now have a pre-emptive military policy. We will attack another country whenever we decide that they are about to attack us, whether we have any proof or not, but we have a pre-emptive defense policy.

… [but] we could be the ones that would lead our Church and our nation away from pax Americana and to pax Christi, the only peace that really is peace. (15 seconds of applause).

I thank you for that response, and I leave you now with some very sober words, that will perhaps linger in our consciousness and help to continue to motivate us. The words were written, again by that Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, who is leading the way of India protesting against their nuclear weapons development. And at the end of the article which she writes deploring and protesting these weapons, she says this:

“The nuclear bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing that human kind has ever made.” and then she says, “If you are religious, believe in God, then remember, this is our challenge to God.” It is worded quite simply: “We, we, God’s creatures, have the power to destroy everything You have created.”

A very evil challenge that a religious person would make to God. It’s blasphemy:

“We can destroy everything You, God, have made — the God who made everything out of love, we can destroy out of our hate.”

But then she goes on to say, “If you’re not religious, then look at it this way: This world of ours is 4,600 million years old. It could end in an afternoon.”

Let that thought: if you are religious, that we do not want to offend God with that blasphemy. Or, if your faith doesn’t move you, the thought that we can destroy our world in an afternoon, let that move us to try with all that we can bring to it to reject pax Americana and to embrace pax Christi. Thank you.