Saturday, April 28, 2007

Because It's Sexy? Wait...

"Kill them with kindness in this random act"

[via Community Christian Church]

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Past Good. Present Bad. Simply Put.

Why did the shootings at VA Tech occur?
[via grrrl meets world]

More of the Same

First, we must acknowledge that there is nothing wildly unusual about the Virginia Tech massacre. It’s horrible, of course. But people have been doing horrible, deadly things to other people for quite a long time. And they are doing them now, on a greater scale than this, in Sudan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and every other badly troubled spot on the globe.

So to the question, “How could this have happened?” one can respond that it is always happening, and has been happening for millennia. This is what some of us do to each other when we become deeply angry, deeply sad, deeply alienated, and deeply wicked.

Notice that I used that word “deeply.” I did it to show that such people are simply at a further position down the same spectrum of evil upon which I myself am located. I mentally and verbally write off people all the time—while I drive, while I’m reading or watching something I hate, while I’m in a particularly intense argument, or while I’m being threatened. I don’t think I’m especially prone to violence and neither are you. But haven’t each of us thought that, if we could just get away with it, we might just want to murder him or her?

....A gun, thirdly, provides an easy way out. The gunman, having spent his anger, can turn the gun on himself and blow his brains out in an instant.

This is an important consideration. Anyone considering going on a rampage in the past faced the question of what to do once the killing was done. Escape, sure: but one would be on the run, perhaps forever. And if you were caught, society would exact a terrible price.

Suicide was the alternative. But every previous means of quick suicide meant suffering. Falling on your sword meant excruciating pain; hanging yourself ineptly resulted in slow strangulation; jumping off a height meant perhaps not dying, or dying quickly—each of these were pretty awful to contemplate. But one quick jerk of the trigger and…the hope of everlasting sleep. Not much of a deterrent....

In the shadow of the Virginia Tech massacre, however, we might pause to consider that there is something new under the sun, a technology that makes this sort of terror not just possible, but likely.

And yet what this new technology does is magnify what has been there all along: the age-old evil in humanity—in all of us.

So yes, we should spend more, and better, on mental health facilities. Yes, we should help campus ministries and churches reach more lonely youth. Yes, we should aid parents struggling to raise troubled children. And, yes, we should rethink gun control laws.

But no matter what we do about the place of guns, especially in American society, we must brace ourselves for more of the same.
[via Prof. John Stackhouse's Weblog]

Discontinuity As Well...

Evil is in the news again. This week’s tragedy in Virginia, the seemingly endless stream of death and destruction that comes out of Iraq, the recent tsunami in the Solomon Islands… these things always force us to acknowledge, again, that our world is not as it ought to be. While I am a little hesitant to add my voice to the innumerable others that inevitably accompany these high-profile tragedies, this week’s events drew my thoughts back to a little book by David Bentley Hart on the problem of evil that was recommended by Gil a while back. I found this book to offer many helpful ways of thinking about evil, two of which stand out:

1) the falsity of the notion that all of the evil of the world has to be fit into a wise providential plan “without remainder” (i.e., he’s very critical of specifically Protestant approaches which see each and every instance of evil as serving some necessary purpose in the divine plan), and

2) the importance of retaining some semblance of “gnostic” or dualistic elements in our worldview, as long as these terms are strictly defined and carefully used....

Sometimes it seems all that is necessary to demonstrate the deficiency of an argument is to show how the view under discussion is “gnostic”, or could lead in that direction. I remember questioning this notion when I first encountered it, and while my resistance to simply pronouncing everything that has a hint of dualism or gnosticism heretical has been blunted somewhat, I continue to have reservations.

Chief among them is my suspicion that world-affirming, environmentally conscious, incarnational theologies are not terribly difficult to hold when one’s experience of the world is largely a pleasant one. It’s not hard to affirm that Christianity has always been about the renewal of this world (as opposed to an escape to another one) in a wealthy, conflict-free liberal democracy where one is, to a large extent, free to chart one’s own course in the world largely unimpeded. Put bluntly, if my experience of the world is a happy one, my theology of the value of the physical world will be more likely to reflect this.

That’s why it’s so remarkable that the early church rejected gnosticism. Life in the Roman Empire was undoubtedly “nastier,” “shorter,” and “more brutish” (to borrow Hobbesian language) in almost every conceivable way than life in twenty-first century North America. Whenever I am tempted to despair of any goodness in this world, I am sobered by this fact. If I, a privileged twenty-first century North American whose experience of the world is one that human beings throughout the bulk of history could only have dreamed of, sometimes feel that there is too much evil in the world to affirm an organic link between this life and the next, how much harder would it have been in first-century Rome? Medieval Europe? Twentieth-century Russia?

The goodness and importance of this world - the fact that the Christian message speaks of renewal and redemption, not a disembodied spiritual reality, and not starting over from scratch - is a truth that must sometimes be affirmed in the teeth of the evidence. Sometimes a radical form of dualism, where the world we long for can only be conceived of as being totally different than this one, seems to most adequately account for the horrors of this world....

Perhaps part of what it means to be “appropriately gnostic” is to honestly face our world, with its maddening combination of goodness and evil, with a courage and a hope that will at times seem infinitely well-warranted, and at others seem to be nothing more than a desperate wish in the dark. Christians affirm that there will be continuity between this world and the next; however the existence of evil stands as an ever-present reminder that there is, and must be discontinuity as well.
[via Ryan Dueck, emphasis mine]

Friday, April 20, 2007

Alienated Examples

[HT: JerryBear at The Wittenburg Door's Chat Closet]

On the contrary, much of what we know about Cho and his descent into madness underlines the social character of the Virginia Tech tragedy, its intimate and all too painful connection to the present state of American society, both in terms of the eventual gunman’s own disorientation and the inability of the university system or community at large to care for him.

No can argue in this case that there were not warning signs.....

Numerous people individually attempted to help, but, in the end, the university system treated his difficulties in a pro forma manner, as it does in so many instances. The university could have done more, without question, but there is no institutional or police solution to generalized social alienation....

This is an extremely disturbed person, but it is clear, if one listens to his words, that conditions in society were playing on his mind. He felt many resentments. This doesn’t justify any of his insane acts, but the resentments have a real basis. He was mentally unbalanced, but that doesn’t mean there was no connection between social life and what he did. And now television analysts begin heaping abuse on his head, as a substitute for taking the problems seriously. “He was a coward,” and so on. This is almost a provocation, an incitement of others.

The resentments are real. Huge social divisions exist on a college campus. Snobbery and elitism exist. With Cho, the resentments were psychotically internalized and developed in a pathological manner. The society denies that social classes exists, it papers over social inequality. The contradictions emerge in a malignant fashion, they explode in this anti-social form.
[via World Socialist Web Site]

Angry Young Men
[via IdeaJoy]

Guess Who's Dead Now
[via D'Caffeinated Pickle]

Supreme Court's Ban on "Partial-Birth" Abortion: A Pro-Life Liberal's Take
[via Blue Christian on a Red Background]

"It Could Happen To U2" // A Place for Bono Vox Detox
[via Nothing New Under The Sun]

Thursday, April 19, 2007

{Shudder}Uh...We are the, um, World?

Makes the original tune sound better!

[via Dark Christianity]

Why, oh why, can't we just sing a song of flowers?

Clear Your Mind...

Murder is bad for happiness
[via The Wittenburg Blog]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Where Is The Victory?

There is a word which sums up the week after Easter very nicely: Anticlimax.

If you take half of the claims that the Church makes about Easter seriously you’d almost have to regard the next couple weeks, decades, centuries, even millennia, as a pretty colossal anticlimax.... some point this last week, I’m willing to bet, normal life intruded on your Easter glow and it wasn’t quite so triumphant. While the Church shouts “Victory!” from the pulpit, someone we love dies of cancer. While the Church sounds “Victory!” with the pipe-organ, war in Iraq goes on unabated. While the Church sings “Victory!” with our hymns, millions are being defeated by hunger.

To say the least, it is a tad ironic to proclaim that Easter is Christ’s victory over death, when to all appearances death still has the last laugh in the life of every human.

How can we make any sense of this victory one anticlimactic week after Easter?

...Following the trajectory of the narrative it might be easy to imagine that the history of the Church is a straightforward progression from the day of the Resurrection to the day that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess his name. We might comfort ourselves in the face of our own suffering by believing that the victory of the Church is delayed only a while longer until enough missionaries have converted enough people. We could talk about the Bible being translated into every tongue, and churches being planted in every region even though Luke never had any of that in mind.

The problem with all of this is that it is a shallow reading of the text, a shallow telling of the Gospel, with a shallow hope for the hearer. So shallow that it can’t possibly hide the glaring contradiction that faces us post-Easter. The promise is better than that! It is better than conversion of the heathens and incorporation of the nations into a bickering, divisive, feuding Church, where people are still sick, still sinners, still dying. Even if all the world was converted and every corner was reached we would still have to ask the question: where is the victory?!

One answer that is sometimes given to this question in our present era of individualism and psycho babble is to declare the victory of Easter a private victory. A gift of the Spirit, felt in the heart of the believer. A warm glow in our tummies and a confidence in an afterlife. People who view Easter in this way don’t expect the Resurrection of Jesus Christ to have an impact on the world around them. They consider the gift of Easter to be, primarily, a feeling which uplifts us and gives us hope....

We cannot get away from the conundrum of victory by watering down the Gospel. We cannot avoid the harsh reality of suffering continuing even as we declare “He is Risen!” by lowering the bar to a standard far below the complete renewal of creation promised in Scripture. At times we might look at the Church’s Easter witness and be reminded of an infamous President, in an infamous flight-suit, on an infamous aircraft-carrier, with an infamous banner behind him, with the infamous words upon it, “Mission Accomplished!”

What then, can this victory mean, if not Mission Accomplished?
[via Mined Splatterings]

daydreamer now joins the list of people who seem to find my blog amazingly interesting. Check his ponderings out here or on the sidebar.

Apocalyptic in the Truest Sense

The new Nine Inch Nails album, Year Zero, comes out on Tuesday. It's a science-fictional concept album (probably the first such thing since David Bowie's Outside, though I may be wrong about that), and the story are of particularly interest for both its critique of conservative religion and its broader eschatological themes.

The nonlinear story has been unfolding in a viral marketing campaign (or "alternate reality game," or "interactive experience") made up of websites, mp3s, and toll-free phone numbers starting earlier this year, establishing the history and atmosphere of the dystopia in which Year Zero takes place. In a nutshell: 15 years from now, the United States has become both a police state and a theocracy. This government has used nuclear weapons on Iran, required all Muslims to register or face execution, and drugged the populace into submission with tranquilizers in the water supply. The Year Zero backstory takes a bleak view of the future of American religion, summed up by the logo of the "Faithful Civil Patrol" organized by the First Evangelical Church of Plano: a crucifix emerging from the barrel of a gun.

This type of dystopia is not the most original—it's reminiscent of the worlds of Katherine Kerr's story "Asylum" and the film Children of Men, just to name two. The medium in which it has been revealed is a novelty, though, and there's a definite thrill to be gained from exploring the sites, a sense of uncovering a mystery. This is especially true in the case of Year Zero's most interesting concept: "The Presence," a mysterious vision/hallucination of an enormous, ghostly hand descending from the sky.....

The Presence is a warning against our tribalism and selfishness. Year Zero is apocalyptic in the truest sense of the word: if we don't get our act together, it warns us, God will end the world for us. In this regard, there's something remarkably traditional about the eschatology of Year Zero. Though its political origins are the opposite of, say, Left Behind, its attitude towards the relation between God and sinful humanity is the same. We have strayed from the path of righteousness, it tells us, and we are blundering into divine retribution.

{the full post}
[via SF Gospel]

Friday, April 06, 2007

Spoiling a Bad Day?

Good laugh for Good Friday
[via grrl meets world]

"No, the health plan does not cover crucifixion!"

[via mr. deity]

"Eloi, Eloi,
Lama Sabachthani"

by Keith Clayton, Jr.

[From Station VIII of Tributes for Kings: The Stations of the Cross by Kevin Rolly]

If there are tears
let them fall for you

The clouds of my eyes part
to see what you cannot
Oh there will be a time
when you wished that
wombs were barren trees

The world is tearing in two
because of me

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
You will become a garden of flame

and the fleeing of bare feet on jagged stone
crash upon you

the mountains
weeping to the sea

Good Friday:

Eschewing weapons to defeat weapons

More Than I Can Bear Almost

On this day, during this week, it is particularly difficult to think that some revere a Bible translation in the way they revere the cross. The object of our salvation compared to the work of men. It is more than I can bear almost.
[via The Thinklings]

Kingdom Come

In the early stages of reading John Howard Yoder’s classic The Politics of Jesus. Some thoughts for Good Friday. {continue...}
[via Prolegomena]

The Tortured Christ and the Tortured
[via Ponderings on a Faith Journey]

The importance of three days
[via Get Religion]

[via Randall Friesen]

On Washing Feet–Liturgical Stepchild
[via Levellers]

Cherish Inappropriately, or Honour Inadequately?

There's something very meaningful about the anniversary of Martin Luther King's death falling in Lent. Maybe it's because I've been studying the topic of eucharist as a Meal of Reconciliation, or maybe it's the whole pursuing a cause that you know may end in your death thing, but it just struck me this year as... apt.

I find it difficult to talk about MLK without sounding cheesy. I wrote about Nora[sic] Parks on October 25th, last year, and I'm afraid that I came across like a little star-struck school-kid. I guess it's difficult to speak about something of true meaning without sounding like an unreflective fanatic. And, ironically, that does a real disservice to those people and events that inspire us. It's as tasteless as saying, "Martin Luther King? Yeah, he was cool."

So, that's the difficulty we face: to cherish inappropriately, or honour inadequately? To risk saying too much and being left with empty words, or saying nothing and being left with empty air.
[via Leaving Munster]

As Below, So Above

In moments when we suffer in our bodies, minds, or relationships, and perhaps especially when we do so as men and as women, we participate in whatever it is that has gone epically wrong with the world. This doesn't give inherent meaning to pain - in fact, that's the whole point. We are pushed beyond what we can bear, we break, and sometimes don't recover, and there's no reason.

I can't connect the dots between specific experiences of suffering and specific transformations or healings, but I do still have hope that epic longing, loss, and pain help me recognize and embrace epic love, joy, kindness and gentleness when they come my way. Some of that is is the responsibility of humans, to work for our own healing and growth, and some of that is sheer, occasional gift -- grace. In the future I hope to not remember precisely what these days are like for me, and not to reflect on them very often, but here in the moment, I'm willing to be aware and see if anything good can happen.
[via The Paris Project]

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Will You Pass Over?

Image by Br. Robert Lentz, ofm [more images]
Commentary featured at Trinity Stores

Captive Daughter of Zion

For centuries Christians have called Mary the Ark of the Covenant. As they used other Jewish titles for her, seldom have they accepted the fact that she was a Jew.

If Mary had lived in Nazi Germany, Mary would have been thrown into a concentration camp with other members of her race. Jewish Mary is the archetype of the Christian church,...

In this icon Mary wears a large yellow Star of David with the word "Jew" on her left shoulder. The Nuremberg Laws forced all Jews in Nazi territories to wear this badge. Jesus is wearing a paper shawl over his Byzantine garments and is holding the Torah. The Hebrew inscription at the bottom of the icon reads: "Captive Daughter of Zion," and is taken from Isaiah 52.2, a text in which God promises to deliver Israel from bondage. In the background is the barbed wire fence of a concentration camp.

Suffering and the Courage of God: Exploring Where Grace and Suffering Meet

From the Publisher's Weekly review:

In this brief, satisfyingly pastoral volume, Morris, an Episcopal priest, reflects homiletically on suffering and the nature of both God and humanity. He begins by rejecting the common Christian assumption that suffering is inherently good, and that God loves us best when we take abuse gladly. Instead, Morris exhorts his readers to respond courageously and redemptively to suffering, and to do so with Christ as a model. While he refers graciously to other faith traditions, Morris speaks from an unabashedly Christian perspective, and despite the slimness of this book, he manages to proffer some big ideas. With some especially fine insights about Job, he argues for a universe in which human actions, randomness and God's sovereignty combine to determine events. Moreover, he suggests that suffering is never as pervasive as God's love, goodness and ability to redeem even the worst situation. This optimistic proposition, however, does not take the form of pithy bromides that underestimate the depth of human suffering. Rather, Morris cites his own struggle with mental illness and the devastating stories of people to whom he has ministered to show that while God rarely makes all the pain disappear, God does bless sufferers in powerful and surprising ways.

Proper confidence = Proper X (focus + freedom)

Seriously? Repentance?

We have tweaked our friend the Rev. James Dobson pretty regularly in the past, particular for his involvement in politics. And when Dr. Dobson called for the resignation of the Rev. Richard Cizik, president for the National Association of Evangelicals, because he believed that Cizik was spending too much time worrying about global warming and not enough time spent on “core” Religious Right issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriages, we gigged him pretty hard then, too.

However, we received this e-mail this morning from Dobson’s Focus on the Family ministry and we think it is a remarkable document. It is probably the most honest, most revealing statement ever made by the normally carefully controlled Dobson.

So, in the spirit of Christian reconciliation, we’re making available Dr. Dobson’s complete statement, without editorial comment.

{read the rest}
[via The Wittenburg Blog]