humor, memory

Waiting, Not Waiting, Remembrance, and Zombies: A Very Short Christmas Meditation

There is a bit of talk going on about the virtues of waiting and not waiting. Both have their merits. And I suspect that they have different targets in mind, rather than being in simple opposition. Still, I wonder if the singular focus on whether to wait or not to wait produces a blindness. We’re missing the importance of remembrance about the radicality of the incarnation — which affirms and rejects. And for this particular conversation, remembrance would include both waiting and not waiting; remembrance shows us how to wait, but also reveals that in so many respects, the wait has also been over for a long time because the apocalyptic work of God came to live with us. Carter has recently noted the tension as well through Bonhoeffer.

Also, I wonder if we should rename this current capitalist holiday of gluttonous consumption of commodified goods. I propose zombie holiday. After all, despite the discussion about waiting or not waiting as the correct political alternative to the status quo, we can agree that “Christmas” in America is not the same thing as the Christ-mass. And zombie flicks have a great tradition of revealing and critiquing mindless consumption, which in this time of the year, revels in a a racist parody of Christian tradition — an Odin like Santa Claus (who image was originally a caricature of the Dutch) with white elves, rather than the pastor Saint Nicholas and his helper Black Peter (who Nick had liberated from slavery):

blogging, not so theological

Meta, again.

David CL Driedger put up a few days back a post about how many of the blogs he reads have gone rather silent. I’m on the list, which would be a correct characterization of my blog posts of late.

Part of this is because I’ve been very focused on my dissertation outline. Getting this approved as soon as possible means better chances for funding.

Still, I’ve been quietly working on my blog. I wasn’t sure how to introduce it, other than as yet another post about blogging, but this works as good a time as any. I’ve sharpened my “About” page on this blog; I’ve made the language more explicit. I think this is important for blogging. There is not a singular concept for how to blog, unless you’re gunning for a huge audience, and maybe not even then. However, readers and writers still come with their presumptions about what makes a good post. For this blog in particular, I find that the source for most problems is simply because the reader expects from me what I already expect from them to understand a specific post. So maybe the following will clarify exactly what I’m trying to do here:

The purpose of this blog is for theological meandering. I am not working towards a specific, grand goal for this blog; instead, the guiding idea is about chasing curiosities and working out thoughts that get stuck in my head. Clearly then, doing this blog is just as much for myself, if not more, than for a reader. I have an itch and it needs to be scratched — the scratching helps me distill and organize my thoughts. This process is not for superficial grins and giggles, but functions like a springboard for work elsewhere (e.g. papers, presentations, articles). There is a logic to the madness, trust me; even seemingly disconnected posts are actually linked. In short, the blog here is part of my thinking-writing process. But I could scratch privately, and I do, so why this blog? After all, such a diffuse process can be difficult to engage. Still, I have found that having a written, searchable record accessible by any internet device and in combination with written, well-placed comments, has been extraordinarily helpful. A theological blog is also helpful for meeting other people of similar and not-so-similar interests. Thus this blog continues.


The Truly Capitalist Belief of Julian Assange

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably know about Wikileaks recent publishing of American government secret communications. You may also know about Julian Assange’s interview with Fobes where he prophesied an early 2011 Wikileaks broadside barrage aimed at the banking sector as a whole and one specific US Bank in particular. The transcript is here:

What you may have missed is why Assange, as head of Wikileaks, is doing this. In the interview Assange shows his strong belief in a free market — calling himself a market libertarian (Adam Smith-Milton Friedman kind of economics one would suspect) — and the virtue, especially humility and honesty to the market, necessary for entrepreneurial capitalism.

While reading the interview, I found that this simply reinforced the analysis and critique of Franz Hinkelammert’s “The Economic Roots of Idolatry: Entrepreneurial Metaphysics” in The Idols of Death and the God of Life: A Theology, edited by edited by Pablo Richard.

On page 7 of Andy Greenberg’s blog at Forbes, in the post titled “WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Wants To Spill Your Corporate Secrets,” Greenberg sums up Assange well:

He also wants to clear up a misunderstanding. Despite his revolutionary reputation, he’s not antibusiness. He bristles at the media’s focus on his teenage years as a computer hacker who broke into dozens of systems, from the Department of Defense to Nortel, and was eventually convicted on 25 charges of computer fraud and fined thousands of dollars.

Instead, he prefers to think of himself as an entrepreneur. He tells the story of a free-speech-focused Internet service provider he cofounded in 1993, known as Suburbia. It was, to hear him tell it, the blueprint for WikiLeaks—in one instance, when the Church of Scientology demanded to know who had posted antichurch information on one site, he refused to help. (“He has titanium balls,” says David Gerard, that site’s creator.) “I saw it early on, without realizing it: potentiating people to reveal their information, creating a conduit,” Assange says. “Without having any other robust publisher in the market, people came to us.”

Leaks merely lubricate the free market, he says, settling into the couch and clearly enjoying giving me a lecture on economics. (Later, as a 45-minute interview pushes into two hours, he ignores his handler, who keeps urging him to leave for his next appointment.) He cites the example of the Chinese Sanlu Group, whose milk powder contained toxic melamine in 2008. While poisoning its customers, Sanlu also gained an advantage over competitors and might have forced more of them to taint their products, too, or go bankrupt—if Sanlu hadn’t been exposed in the Chinese press. “In the struggle between open and honest companies and dishonest and closed companies, we’re creating a tremendous reputational tax on the unethical companies,” he says.

Hans Frei

Hans Frei on the Identity of the Church

It is not easy, then, to describe the church. In one sense, it is the indirect, localized presence of Jesus Christ in and for the world. But even if we stress that he is in that community only because he is present for the whole world, the assertion still sounds so exclusive, if not arrogant, that it seems to come dangerously close to dissolving the mystery that is the presence of Christ. So it is best to go on and balance this statement by saying that the church is simply the witness to the fact that it is Jesus Christ and none other who is the ultimate presence in and to the world in its mysterious passage from event to event in public history. This is indeed what believers must affirm, for Jesus Christ himself was declared (in the Fourth Gospel) to be a witness, and the disciples surely are not above the Master.

Nonetheless, this description also is insufficient. The relation between church and Jesus Christ is somewhat like that between Israel and Jesus. To describe the people of Israel is to narrate its history. And to identify that people (as Christian believers are bound to do) with the identity of Jesus Christ is to narrate the history of Jesus–as we sought to do earlier–in such a way that it is seen as the individual and climatic summing up, incorporation, and identification of the whole people, by which the people receive their identification. The church likewise moves toward an as yet undisclosed historical summing up that must be narrated, though it cannot yet be because the story is unfinished and the new Israel’s Kingdom of God not yet climaxed or visible in our midst.

What we are saying here is that the church has a history, indeed it is nothing other than its as yet unfinished history transpiring from event to event. The identity description that we applied to Jesus in the Gospels must, to a lesser extent and in merely analogous fashion, be applied also to the church as his people. We can only touch on what this means. The elusive, persistent, and continuous ‘subject’ that is the church–and the indirect, abiding presence of Christ–is constitute by the Word and the Sacrament. It is therefore proper to say that they constitute the church rather than the church them. The given and instituted, spatial and temporal bases for the indirect presence of Christ allow the church that relatively permanent institutional structure without which no community can exist or be self-identical. But it is obvious that this understanding of the church as a ‘subject self’ is analogous to rather than identical with the subject self that is Jesus.

… The other side of the identity description can also be applied to the church, indeed it can be applied much more directly or literally. Jesus’ identity was the intention-action sequence in which he came to be who he was. His being had to be narrated, as historians and novelists must always narrate the matters they describe. He was constituted by the interaction of his character and circumstances. So also is the church. Like Jesus, like the people of Israel, the church is its history, its passage from event to event in a mysterious pattern that is dictated neither by a mechanical fate nor by an inner and necessary rhythm of the human psyche.

Hans Frei, The Identity of Jesus, 189-190.

Daniel Izuzquiza, Ignacio Ellacuría

Daniel Izuzquiza and Ignacio Ellacuría on the Yes and No

Even within the Hebrew Scriptures, the doctrine of creation is subordinated to the doctrine of redemption, as Gerhard von Rad demonstrated in his 1936 classical and influential article. The doctrine of creation is just an expansion of the concrete experience of liberation. More recently, Stephen Long has proven that, in the area of socio-economic ethics, the consequence of such a move (the priority of creation over incarnation) has been the adoption of the liberal-capitalist dominant view. For these reasons, I want to emphasize the priority fo the incarnation, as a way to embody a real Christian alternative to the prevailing and oppressive system.

Once the need for a ‘politics of the incarnation’ is established, we are in a position to move forward and articulate a proposal that maintains in creative tension two other aspects: the ‘politics of eschatology’ and the ‘politics of creation.’ In political terms, this tension is often referred to as the dialectic between denouncing and announcing. Ignacio Ellacuría formulated the issue with the notions of utopia and prophecy:

The prophecy of denunciation, on the horizon of the Kingdom of God, marks out the ways that lead to utopia. Prophecy’s ‘No,’ prophecy’s negation pointing beyond in itself generates utopia’s ‘Yes’ by virtue of the promise that is the Kingdom of God already present among human beings.

What this text shows is the neef for a Christian proposal that combines the prophetic eschatological ‘not yet’ with the more positive vision of the utopia ‘already’ realized, at least in part, and discovered in our created history.

Daniel Izuzquiza, Rooted in Jesus Christ: Toward a Radical Ecclesiology, 95-96. He is quoting from Ellacuría’s Utopia and Prophecy chapter in Towards a Society That Serves Its People: The Intellectual Contribution of El Salvador’s Murdered Jesuits, 58.

Robert Jenson

Jenson on Cross and Resurrection

Crucifixion is the good that is only dramatically together with the Resurrection. Therefore its Good Friday representation cannot stand by itself, but can be the church’s primary interpretation of the Crucifixion only in one service with celebration of the Resurrection. Crucifixion and Resurrection together are the church’s Pasch, her passing over from being no people to being God’s people, her rescue from alienation to fellowship, her reconciliation. Only as this is enacted in the church as one event is the Crucifixion understood. One is–again– strongly tempted to say: what must happen as the fundamental explanation of atonement is that the ancient single service of the Triddum, “the Three Days,” the continuous enactment of the Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, covering Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Night, be celebrated.

Jenson, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, 190.


One Reason Why a Good Theology of Martyrdom Matters

I’ve been reading a lot of liberation theology for my comps coming up all too soon. I have a special place in my heart for liberation theology, and it has left its mark on me. However, sometimes I have my quibbles, especially when some liberation theology seems further away from other schools of thought than it needs to be. Often I find the distance is due to both sides.

Still, I got to thinking today about how important the self-asserted subject is for many of the liberation theologies I’ve read. The theology needs a philosophical notion of a subject that can assert itself so as to stand against the oppression. While I have my sympathies, particularly with the concern to give people a confidence to stand against oppression directed toward them, I am concerned with the self-asserted subject.

Now this does not mean I want to get away from the subject entirely (heres to looking at you Ben), yet we are also not our own ground. I have suspicions that we have, in the Christian tradition, something already that fits the logical place where the self-asserted subject stands, but also is more congruent with Christian theology that constitues the subject. Here I am thinking of martyrdom.

Here we have people in the Christian community who have ‘run the race’ and are ‘cheering us on’, but have also stood against oppression, evil, etc. Here we have an assertion of the Gospel, which does have material implications that liberation theology has rightly pointed out and ran with, but we don’t have the same philosophical problems and categorical trappings.

I want to be explicit that I am quite aware about a host of concerns with the emphasis on martyrdom as a fetishizing of death, focuses on the extreme, etc. However, we cannot forget about martyrdom, but we also must handle it with great care. I can think of little worse than ignoring or co-opting the martyrdom of family. The turn to martyrdom is for myself informed by anabaptist sensibilities. After all, we could call it by another name: witness. Therefore I see martyrdom on something of a continuum of witness: it shows an assertion of truth and commitment to God in a certain way. There are other ways of showing commitment and faith, but, and here is a key importance, there is very little distance, if any at times, between martyrdom and oppression. An analogy won’t be needed here to tie assertion, oppression, and witness together because there already is categorical space for the nexus through Christian lives in history.


The Genre of Colbert in front of Congress

I’ve seen a great deal of reluctance to accept the performance of Colbert in front of the Congressional committee. I’ve given explanations to friends: His humor works on a different track than someone like Stewart. With Stewart, one thinks and then laughs, but with Colbert, one laughs, then thinks, and then laughs again. Such a method actively obstructs the news media’s attempt to rule the waves with 5 second news clips. It also does not easily play into the plumage and pablum of the congressional committees. If you doubt me, watch the entire committee hearing. Colbert is more than a bit of fresh air. His facade speaks both constructive truth and exposes the congressional posturing.

I believe all that I said above; however, there is still a better way — a more encompassing way — to situate our understanding of what Colbert did and how it should be interpreted. This is to say, one must understand Colbert in his genre or one will simply not get it. So what is the genre? Colbert and his satire performs like Jesus and his parable telling. Yes?

immigrant, liberation, poverty, power

Colbert’s Logic for Focusing on Immigration Reform

I’m sure you all saw the tape of Colbert addressing the congressional hearing on immigration. However, what seems less known is the answer Colbert gives for why he is focusing on the issue of immigrant workers. His answer is obviously not from the character that he has constructed. This is Colbert without the mask, and his answer is excellent. Here is something I can rarely say of public figures, much less celebrities: I’m proud of Colbert and his work to live out his identification with Jesus.

COLBERT: [Takes a pause of two or three beats to think before answering, dropping character] I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come in and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet, we still ask them to come here, and at the same time, ask them to leave. And that’s an interesting contradiction to me, and um… You know, “whatsoever you did for the least of my brothers,” and these seemed like the least of my brothers, right now. A lot of people are “least brothers” right now, with the economy so hard, and I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them or diminish it or anything like that. But migrant workers suffer, and have no rights.

capitalism, faith, liberation, quote

Idolatry, Capitalism, and Liberation

It is no accident that today the centrality and importance of the problem of idolatry have been discovered in Latin America. Idolatry is part of our deepest experience when we live, express, and communicate our faith in the God of Jesus Christ, in the present situation of extreme oppression on our continent. We live in a profoundly idolatrous world–economically, socially, politically, culturo-ideologically, and religiously. We live crushed under the idols of an oppressive and unjust system. To live the demands of faith in this context is not simply a ‘pious’ or personal act; it necessarily entails a radical confrontation with that system. Idolatry is a question of politics and a question of faith. If capitalism were atheistic, it is possible that our faith would not have this subversive strength within a practice of political liberation. But capitalism is idolatrous rather than atheistic, which poses a political and theological problem at the same time, especially within the context of Latin American capitalism.

The biblical message against idolatry reaches us very directly and deeply. It is a message that interprets our reality with no major exegetical complications. However, today we are living through a new situation, one that did not exist in biblical times, making this anti-idolatry proclamation even more pressing and radical. This new reality is the praxis of liberation, with all its political, organic, and theoretical complexities. In biblical times, the possibility of a radical and conscious transformation of the economic and political structure of an idolatrous system did not yet exist. Today the possibility exists.

Christians who adopt the praxis of liberation also adopt the anti-idolatry proclamation of the Bible within a different historical context. This is not only a reinterpretation within a ‘hermeneutical circle’ (an expression we should eliminate), but rather a ‘hermeneutical leap’ into a new historical situation. In this new situation, faith and the revelation of God in history are more critical and radical than they were in biblical times.

Pablo Richard, “Biblical Theology of Confrontation with Idols” in The Idols of Death and the God of Life: A Theology, 24. Edited by Pablo Richard.

religion, secular, William Cavanaugh

The Argument about the Secular is Important…

… because it is really about resisting the attempt to police belief through the created, colonial category of religion:

Like Herbert, Locke thought he was uncovering the timeless essence of religion. Obscured by this rhetoric is the fact that both herbert and Locke in the seventeenth century were witnessing and contributing to the rise of a new configuration of power hitherto unknown. The advent of the modern state, with its concept of sovereignty and its absorption of many of the powers of the old ecclesiastical regime, was proving that the boundaries were anything but fixed and immovable. The relationships between church and civil authorities were complex and constantly shifting throughout the centuries of Christendom. As for the contrast between religion and civil interests, we can go further and say not only that the boundaries shifted, but that there simply was no such relevant contrast before Locke and others invented it. The very claim that the boundaries between religion and nonreligion are natural, eternal, fixed, and immutable is itself a part of the new configuration of power that comes about with the rise of the modern state. The new state’s claim to a monopoly on violence, lawmaking, and public allegiance within a given territory depends upon either the absorption of the church into the state or the relegation of the church to an essentially private realm. Key to this move is the contention that the church’s business is religion. Religion must appear, therefore, not as what the church is left with once it has been stripped of earthly relevance, but as the timeless and essential human endeavor to which the church’s pursuits should always have been confined.

William Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence, 83.