Friday, September 29, 2006

(inspired by a picture of Scott and Mabel Derksen posing in front of railroad tracks)


singular tracks
laying down
mutually submitted

properly placed
for travellers
to pass through

stations pointing
one direction
pursuing reward
in any season

prepared to trust
unscheduled stops

No time can be perfect; Some time must be enough; All time may be innocent.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Already Extended

We in the West pride ourselves that our removal of faith from the public sphere has delivered us from so-called "sectarian" violence that bloodied Europe in the 17th century. The language of faith is assigned to a private, irrational (i.e. subjective) sphere....

If religion enters the public realm, so we imagine, the result will be conflict, if not violence. The outburst that followed Benedict's lecture seems a case in point. Such rage not only horrifies us, but strikes us as deeply irrational. We cannot make sense of it. And we pride ourselves that we have chosen more wisely than the Islamic world. We are free to have or not have our own religion, the reasoning goes, as long as we keep it to ourselves....

Even more, we can add, it becomes easy to condemn irrational sectarian violence while imagining our violence is rational -- and unfortunately necessary to stop their violence.

We have long since passed the time when "the West" and Christianity were in any meaningful sense synonymous. The danger for us who follow Jesus is not that some coming Islamic tide will flood the Western world and "break the Cross" as one website put it. What threatens the followers of Jesus in North America and Western Europe is that we have so accommodated ourselves to the world around us that we have no distinctive alternative by which to understand or to address the challenges facing us.

One such alternative might be the Pope's assertion that peacemaking is the most profoundly rational course of action to follow, because at its heart is the peace that God in Christ has already extended to the world.
from "What the Pope really said by Beth Newman, emphasis mine

[via, HT: Jesus Politics]

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Heart of the Dilemma

From Violence, Truth, and the Perfection of Allah -- Pope Benedict's Dilemma by agnusdei:

More than this, the Pope has a deep appreciation for the fact that the entire culture of Muslims is saturated in faith and devotion to God. In that sense, Muslim society -- Muslim culture -- resembles the Church, or at least -- a church. A community of people that follows God shares in the perfection of God. And this is the heart of the dilemma of the Pope's speech at Regensberg.

Pope Benedict, with his enormous grasp of the history of the Church, went all the way back to the 12th century, to a conversation between a Christian and a Muslim, to raise the issue of violence in the supposed adherence to God. The conversation was about the differences between Christianity and Islam, but Pope Benedict was interested in one aspect in particular. In honing in on the part of the conversation dealing with violence, the Pope honed in on the very question with which he, as Cardinal, had previously grappled: can a religion steeped in God act wrongly? ....

What is really unfortunate isn't that Pope Benedict reached back to a flawed and bigoted 12th century conversation in order to have a context for speaking about religious violence today. What is unfortunate is that he had to. For centuries, the West refused to talk to Islam at all, because we didn't share the same faith. Now, we've lost even the ability to talk to Islam, and we've lost that ability because we don't share a belief in faith itself -- a belief that is central to Islamic culture. Unless we reclaim the ability to talk about faith without sneering, we will insult Muslims at the very core of their culture, at the very core of their existence. In that state of insult, there can be no peace.

What Pope Benedict is saying, is this: It is the insistence that faith has no part in a modern and rational world, that is the hobgoblin of little minds.

How NOT to Go Astray, III

The earlier sections have briefly explored what underlies the controversy surrounding the Davinci Code and the Capitalist Piglet cartoon. The first part determined that the imprecise structures of each still pointed to genuine problems within organized Christianity that are unavoidable. Allowing for honest reflection by Christians about their history and genuine struggles by others about their disenchantment was thought to be in the best interest of Christ.

The second part then accessed the quality of the proposed alternatives within the Davinci Code and the Capitalist Piglet comic. Both were found lacking while illustrating how cheap and comforting responses avoid satisfactory corrections. Any substantial development by Christians require more than a partial comprehension and superficial reaction. What that would involve will be unpacked next.

III. How NOT to be Tempted

"Maybe the human is divine."
- Professor Langdon, The Davinci Code

Both the Davinci Code and the Capitalist Piglet cartoon ask why mainstream Christianity appears to fail or goes astray. Is it due to premodern origins, accumulated time, advantageous opportunism, or something else entirely? The Davinci Code suggests that imposing the divinity of Jesus by historic Christianity obscures a more mundane and realistic portrait. Consequentially, it supposedly inspired an oppressive and punitive institution. The Capitalist Piglet comic implies that historic Christianity became too engulfed with a calculating, imbalanced economic system. Hence, the Church tends to shame and sabotage herself currently.

Regardless of whether or not these portrayals of established Christianity are exaggerated, it reveals an uneasiness with at least the appearance of a monolithic power. The common factor here is from the abuse and dominance generally associated with increased influence. Many organizations over some period can lose their identity and vision somewhat, becoming corrupt and crippled. Institutional Christianity is no exception, and any discounting of that resolves nothing.

At its best, the Davinci Code is really trying to restore some semblance of humanity into the Church by bringing Jesus down to earth, so to speak. This may not justify it sufficiently, mind you, but it wants to reduce the harm being done by historic Christianity. Yet it just does not do as much good as it appears, because by making Jesus more ordinary, it also makes humans seem more irrelevant in the process. Why follow in Christ's footsteps at all if there's no major difference between us? This is partly what worries critics here.

Whereas with the Capitalist Piglet, the crude exposure of a representative appearing like Christ makes the relationship with materialism seem superficial yet vivid. The cartoon's emphasis is on the shocking revelation provoking a more proactive position. However, if this interaction is not unique to established Christianity, then the impact is reduced to some degree. It does not strictly indicate whether religion is especially prone to acquire status over other venerable institutions. Why progress if it is nothing special?

These examples challenge Christians to become more sensitive and responsive to entrenched patterns of power within established Christianity. It seems as if the struggle is simply between survival and service. Perhaps examining something from the life of Jesus will provide more clarity for disciples of Christ.

In the Gospels, Jesus was confronted by tests of integrity after being in the desert fasting and praying for forty days. He had a mission approaching and had to be ready for anything. The devil devised three challenges for Jesus, starting with hunger. Which took priority, self-preservation or service? Jesus preferred the substenance of God that offered more than self-interest and could include satisfaction for all in many ways. Next, the deceiver proposed a sensational and potentially dangerous feat that might reinforce God's approval of Jesus to others. Which would take priority, survival or service? Jesus would not ask God to be rescued in isolation, since others needed rescuing even more. Jesus thus refused to participate in the stunt. Last, Jesus was offered the cursed world in exchange for serving others. Which took priority, hierarchy or service? Jesus chose to be in solidarity with others rather than with the tempter.

This is how to be better equipped to take on the seduction of power. Established Christianity must benefit more than its leaders to be like Jesus. It must conquer itself first before it is taken seriously. Otherwise, who else would want to share and participate anyway?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

If being lost is abandonment, then being found is claustrophobia.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years out from the attacks, why do we still know so little about what really happened that day?
[via Common Dreams, HT: Mainstream Baptist]

Nonviolent 9/11

This day not only marks the five year anniversary of 9|11, it also marks 100 years to the day that Mahatma Gandhi launched the modern nonviolent resistance movement. Completely ironic, isn't it? It makes me wonder where in the world we would be without the shining model Mahatma left for us. Certainly the Civil Rights movement here in the US would have taken on a very different flavor if Dr. Martin Luther King had not emulated Gandhi's movement for nonviolence. But still, I can't help but believe we've made such small strides following in their footsteps. Where are the Gandhis and Dr. Kings of our time? ....

The first lesson [my grandfather] taught me was to understand anger, and being able to channel anger into positive action. He said that anger is like electricity. It is just as useful and just as powerful, if we use it intelligently. It can be just as deadly and destructive, if we abuse it. Just as we channel electricity, bring it into our lives and use it for the good of Humanity, we must learn to channel anger in the same way. We can use that energy for the good of Humanity, rather than abuse it.
~ Arun Gandhi
[via Visual_Voice.NET, HT: Streak's Blog]

From Cynical Poem at Paper Clip Town:

Words written on the wall.
They are meant to say it all.
Unfounded speech on your lips.
I do a total eclipse,
My mind walks away.
Do I know any more than him?

Drained of all there is.
Got nothing left to give.
Swimming in a different pool.
Governed by a sad misrule.
Small change in amount of fuel.
Such long drives, I feel a fool.

Cynical and spellbound.
Stand up and astound.
Preaching words that are unsound.
Perhaps the laughter is well-found.

Don't Just Love Friends, Love Enemies

I ended up instead watching parts of the documentary on CBS, one that dealt more with finding meaning in and through 9/11 rather than trying to find scapegoats. The suffering, and the redemptive power of love, seemed far more pertinent and far closer to any truth worth finding through the tragic events of that terrible day and the days that followed.

Today, I find myself still angry at radical fundamentalisms, even as I'm repelled and intrigued by the insanely pristine logic of their deeds. Al Queida, a group who's twisted version of Islam is reminiscent of the KKK's warped version of Christianity, offers by far the more striking example. And as I watched events from five years ago this morning (via CNN's 'pipe' broadasts) I found those emotions reawakened again.

In the end, however, imprecatory psalms give way to my own faith's call to love even my enemies.
[via Blue Christian ~ On a Red Background]

The Birth of Stillness

9/11. Today is my 28th birthday and it has been just like every other day, except for all of the additional Twin Towers propaganda that has been all over the news for the last week. I’m tired of it. As tragic of an event that it was, I believe that it is time that we as a nation move on and stop coddling the psychotic nurturing of all of the immature feelings and emotions that we are still holding on to from what happened that day. Enough said about that though....

Don’t buy into the lie that everyone and everything is trying to sell. There is no money. There is no happiness. There is no greater dream out there. The only things that are real are life and contentment. Sometimes it takes work to get to the contented stage, but don’t buy the lie that says that there’s more to be had. It could all be gone tomorrow.

Happy Birthday to me? No. I just want my wife and kids and a place to live and all will be well tonight.
[via The Reluctant Disciple]

We all knew that life would change after 9/11, but not like this. We were like sheep looking for a shepherd, only now that the shock has worn away, we're wondering why we're not in a different field.

I'm not sure what saddens me more - the events and tragedy of 9/11, or the tragedy that has been the last five years.
[via Moral Contradictions, emphasis mine]

From Psalm 911 [via Prodigal Aspersions]:

Our words rained down on us like an evil snow;
like a parade held in honor of our enemy's victories.

Humans fell from the sky; Humanity fell from grace.

High places were made low;
crushed to dust that blows at our feet.
Our mighty have been struck a cleaving blow;
warriors defeated without a battle cry.

Images of horror enter my every waking moment;
burning into my eyes.
I sleep and dream, not in pictures, but in tears that do not wash,
tears that do not cool.
I awake and the sun is blocked by the smoke of a fire which burns my soul.

I have looked to the heavens and seen a terror.
I have cried to the hills and heard no relief.
I have called to the warrior and he is quiet.
I have screamed to my Lord.
I have screamed to my Lord.
I have screamed for relief.
I have screamed for vengeance.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

How NOT to Go Astray II

The previous section considered why The Davinci Code and the Capitalist Piglet cartoon were deemed so offensive to many. Challenge is much harder to embrace than comfort at the best of times. It also discovered that a humble and compassionate approach to possible hostility or embarrassment was in the spirit of Jesus, since fallible perceptions are universal. However, that type of response is certainly difficult to achieve when the relevant artifact appears to trivialize or sabotage a subject and identity dear to some. This will be addressed next here.

II. How NOT to be Unfaithful

"Is it meaningless?"
- Professor Langdon, The Davinci Code

As mentioned in the first portion, both the Davinci Code and the Capitalist Piglet cartoon were addressing particular problems with organized Christianity. The Davinci Code was dealing with a harsh and well-intended system, while the Capitalist Piglet was pointing to an impotent and indulgent church. Established Christianity was portrayed as functioning from an inferior and overcompensating position. Would an alternative be any better?

Critics often charge that the Davinci Code and the Capitalist Piglet skew and oversimplify the situation, thereby producing an unfaithful and negative lens in which to discover any insights for Christians. Yet any medium potentially distorts or oversimplifies in the pursuit of a message. The question is whether the offered remedy suffers more than the inadequacy of the opposing contrast. (For example, consider the Left Behind series. They explored a particular apocalyptic line of thought, yet any inadequate writing and possibly limited theology reduces any redemptive value of the books.) Mediocrity can detract from motivation and meaning, giving mixed results.

Two characters vie to redeem the presenting conflicts. The Davinci Code had Bishop Manuel Aringarosa and Sir Leigh Teabing to reckon with an invisible and subdued part of Church history. The Bishop strives to stifle the threat to preserve the institution, while Sir Leigh Teabing exploits the Church to create more authenticity. Neither ultimately succeeds, thus leaving the issue ambivalently handled. Apparently struggles within organized Christianity solve nothing and prove futile. Whatever perspective appeals will obviously be the determining factor in how people will practice. It does not determine what is wrong in the first place, the strength of the Church or the vitality of the underground.

In the Capitalist Piglet cartoon, a visitor and the Capitalist Piglet cope with an impure and unwholesome association by a character resembling Jesus. An onlooker exclaims the name of Jesus and then stops interrupting further. Someone appearing like Jesus hesitates slightly, prompting the Capitalist Piglet to suggest a reason for continuing the sexual act. Both the pig and the intruder try to avoid responsibility for their roles. What should the person representing Jesus do? No direction is truly given here, but something surely is needed.

For Christians, the parable of the Prodigal Son offers some context regarding unresolved issues. The original home circumstances were unsatisfying. One brother stayed in the comfort and security of the past and home, while the other ventured into the risk and novelty of the future in a different environment. The one who decided to leave eventually reached the limits of his resources and thence came back again. The other brother resents this and doesn't participate in the celebration surrounding the arrival of his wayward sibling. He only ponders what he lacks in a reward for conforming to the lifestyle of the family.

Perhaps the home improved as a result, but it is not clear. What is evident is how the brothers responded to their inherited legacy. One always obeyed whereas the other sacrificed everything. Both seemed to miss the point: that reform must begin at the source to be faithful. Exploring new things or remaining the same is not sufficient. What seems to be required is engaging where you are by not being separate and equivalent or uniform and incomplete. Maybe when Christians can do this will others see established Christianity as a form of renewal and response instead of unloving and vulnerable.

Part 3: How NOT to be Tempted

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Who Would Jesus Exclude?

Features interviews of Albert J. Reyes, Becky Garrison and Stanley Hauerwas(!). Also includes the Perfect Bible Translation, the Piety Meter, Church Planting Through Division, Snake Oil Salesmen on a Plane!, Jan Crouch's Eyes...and so much more. The Last Word wonders what bothers opponents of immigration.

Monday, September 04, 2006

How NOT To Go Astray

The Davinci Code movie and book has generated much outrage and apprehension from Christians. People are concerned about the unflattering portrayal of historical Christianity and the supposed promotion of a heterodox version. Because of this, there has been copious material analyzing various details and the particular positions expressed therein. Yet the Davinci Code is not about the quest for truth, but rather about the process and practice of faith and values. Exclusively focusing on the facts or the two religious perspectives will not answer pressing questions about how to reckon with a disconnected Church and her followers.

Another example of a provocative challenge for the faithful was a "Capitalist Piglet" cartoon featured this spring in the University of Saskatchewan's student newspaper The Sheaf. It provoked some controversy and offended many. The comic displayed a character resembling Jesus in a compromising position with a pig, while an onlooker expresses shock in an amusing fashion. Some objected to the explicit sexual content with Christ and the critical commentary of Christianity, while others felt it turned the tables on those who mocked Muslim reactions to the Danish cartoons at the time.

This series of posts will demonstrate that the Davinci Code and the "Capitalist Piglet" cartoon can inform Christians on how to criticize their institutions and leaders instead of simply railing against critics. Outrage is easy; reappraisal is not.

I. How NOT to Condemn

"...destroy the faith, or renew it?"
- Professor Langdon, The Davinci Code

Both The Davinci Code and the Capitalist Piglet cartoon attempt to confront troubling scenarios. In the Davinci Code, the problem is with an oppressive, unsympathetic church willing to suppress an awkward secret that could cause a crisis of faith if revealed. Two characters are attempting to resolve this problem. In the comic, a visitor views someone who appears like Jesus in a sexual situation with an manipulative animal. The visitor says a profanity and thereafter leaves the situation. Yet neither truly resolves the presenting dilemma, that of an unwelcome and unreasonable expression of faith.

The Davinci Code essentially ends in a stalemate, with the Church intact and the underground continuing in parallel. Not only that, the two who tried to remedy the original situation are neutralized. The Capitalist Piglet cartoon shows the disturbed person being traumatized, then merely escaping the unpleasant circumstance. What has been accomplished here? Is it enough?

To some extent, they illustrate the challenge of reckoning with our dissatisfaction about established Christianity. It's one thing to see how to condemn; it's quite another to understand how to reform it. However, they do demonstrate here that something serious is awry and must be resisted as well as defeated. The Davinci Code suggests that proclaiming Jesus as divine has promoted a repressive and inhumane institution, while the Capitalist Piglet comic implies that greed and materialism has corrupted a naive and ignorant Church. Both are valid concerns and should be addressed, whether they have defined the reality sufficiently or not.

There is some unease in some quarters about the way the difficulties are construed. The Davinci Code considers the root to be in impersonal, dominant power struggles within the Church's history that emphasized the uniqueness of Christ. Yet this does not adequately determine whether it was the divinity of Jesus strictly or the dissociation from the humanity of Jesus that is the problem. The Davinci Code proposes one option over the other without an helpful solution. In the other case, the Capitalist Piglet cartoon considers the root to be in the participation of organized Christianity in a capitalistic society, without allowing for the fact that other sectors of society are also effected. The comic does not differentiate between active and passive involvement as well. These limitations are at the crux of much of the frustration concerning both.

So how does one handle the uncomfortable and unnerving criticisms? One Biblical passage can offer some direction for Christians. In John 8: 1 - 11, Jesus is dealing with a question of justice. In this situation, a woman has been caught in adultery and the accusers ask Jesus about the issue of appropriate punishment. Should they kill her or not, as the Mosaic Law required? Jesus considers the specific context and proposes only doing so if they have no convictions. Therefore, the accusers leave.

Note that the issue here is about solving the problem with a heavy-handed approach. Stoning the woman would have stopped the problem, but at a harsh price. Justice is not equivalent with humiliation. Moreover, it would place more disparity between the accusing men and the accused woman. She appears to be an embarrassment for the judgers, and could be conveniently eliminated by death. Yet Jesus basically told the questioners to "go and sin no more". The genuine problem was spread across the boundaries of status, and the solution should benefit all instead. (The accusers seemed to skew the situation to their advantage, considering a guilty man seemed absent. Jesus aptly dealt with that possibility.)

One part of managing negative and critical outsiders is to evaluate our culpability in maintaining some advantage. Yet Jesus in this narrative speaks to the woman too. He asks her whether anyone is charging her. After all, the stage is reset here. She responds with the obvious answer, and Jesus reinforces this by exhorting her to use the opportunity to be truly free. If she was dead, she would not have this option.

Therefore, there are two things to consider when responding to phenomena such as The Davinci Code and The Capitalist Piglet. First, realize our part in the protracted faults of the Church. Second, enable the creators the option of surviving their ordeal with an unjust system, however well-intended. Only then will we start to make progress in reducing the common disappointments of others toward mainstream Christianity.

Part 2: How NOT to be Unfaithful
Part 3: How NOT to be Tempted