Reflection

Lets Talk Sin and Systems

For a time, as a child in the 1970’s, I lived on or near my grandparents farm.  The farm was forty acres of fruit trees and grapevines in which I, with my sister and cousins, freely roamed and played in.  There were few rules, one of them was that we weren’t to bother or speak to the farm workers.  Our freedom of movement on the farm was largely tied to this rule.  It makes sense when the workers were in the field they were there to do a job and they shouldn’t have to worry about  their boss’s grandchildren getting in their way.  However, the  farm workers were all Mexican migrant workers or Mexican-Americans.  As a child I gave little thought to this, outside of not bothering the farm workers I had Latino friends, we were invited over to  Mexican-American foreman’s home, and he and his family were often in my grandparents home, they were friends.  Years, later in seminary I had a friend who while in seminary was working on campus as part of the janitorial staff.  One day he came up to me and asked “Is everything okay?” I was puzzled. He clarified “Between us…did I do something to offend?” I was even more dumbfounded. He explained ” I saw you yesterday as you were walking to class and I waved, you even looked my direction but you ignored me.”  I had no recollection of this.  Slowly, it dawned on me he was Indian, and when he saw me the day before he was wearing the janitorial uniform. The simple instruction from my childhood had taught me to not see people of color at work.  Even more devastating, was that I also realized that I didn’t ignore another friend who was white when he was wearing the janitor uniform.

The above experience would have been unintelligible to me  had it not been for a College Camp seminar on the system of Racism (lead by a Latino and and an African American). In that seminar I found  illuminating the idea that Racism was structural and systemic. While Racism can be about attitudes and opinions racism is more about the power, privilege, and the participation in racist structure and system.  This was transformative because even at 19 or 20 , I was a ware that the persistence of Racism had to do with more than whether I individually had overt negative feelings and attitudes towards an individual of another race.  It also helped explain why my behavior towards people of color didn’t always match what I felt and believed.  It was liberating because it offered me as a member  of the Church to find in my self where the systems of the World had a hold of me having yet been transformed and illuminated by the Mind of Christ. Because of that seminar I could begin to recognize and seek to route out the ways the system of Racism was influencing me through a childhood rule that hadn’t been racist in intention.

This systemic and structural view of Racism was also helpful, because such an understanding of Racism as structural and systemic and not individual and attitudinal, resonated with certain Pauline themes of the effect of Sin on the humanity and each of us personally.  Such a view of Racism looks very much like the struggle with the Flesh: the sinful system that can cling to one like a body of death.   This allowed me to see Racism as not only about opinions and attitudes that may or may not be based in fact or science or whatever, but part of the system of Sin that, through the incarnation, life, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, was now (slowly at least from our perspective) passing away.

We are currently facing, what seems to most of us, the inexplicable persistence of Racism most blatantly seen in the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police, and in the disparities of the system of mass incarceration.  Although we often speak of Racism as a systemic reality, when I hear expressions of puzzlement of the persistence of racism we are so puzzled either because we think the American system of government and law existed separate from and before an overlay of Racist ideology, and/or we believe that Racism is primarily about individuals holding racist attitudes and opinions and overtly holding to an ideology of racial superiority and purity.  Which means we actually think Racism is about individuals and not systems.

We are having difficulty accounting for the persistence of Racist structures and outcomes without overt racism.  Or more strikingly, when we speak of Racist policing we immediately think that the way to  eradicate racism from policing is to find and remove  racist police officers, or at least curtail the actions of a racist police officer.

As such we then see systems as being grounded in the isolated individuals attitudes and/or actions.  It is offensive and incomprehensible to us that we may act and or be subjected to things we individually don’t intend and individually have no control over.

What I wish to suggest is that Sin and systems function similarly.  For sin and systems to have their power and function they don’t require my overt participation as an individual. Rather the power of sin and systems is to function and dictate our actions depends on my lack of awareness of their effect upon my will and actions.

When we speak of Racism, we aren’t simply speaking of the mere amalgamation of  the actions and attitudes of individuals who think themselves superior to another race and actively and intentionally seek to disenfranchise those seen as members of another race, deemed inferior (though this does occur, and depending on various conditions may or may not be the case).

Granted this thinking runs counter to the idea of the human as an autonomous individual who is the soul source of their self, intentions and actions.

Paul in Romans, speaks of the power of Sin in this way as well, as that which acts upon us often in contradiction and violation of our individual will and desires.  Paul says “What I wish to do I don’t do and that which I don’t want to do I do.”

Racism is part of that reality in which the systems of this world are bound to Sin and Death.

Paul asks who or what will save us from this, his answer Christ Jesus.

Paul’s answer of course requires unpacking,  as well as why the systems of sin and death, like Racism, continue to dominate even among those who have claimed the name of Jesus, and Christian.

Here’s an account from Britney Cooper on experiencing the persistence of Racism.

Words of Comfort and Call to Repentance #StayWokeAdvent

There was no manuscript for my sermon at the Oratory on Sunday December 7th, what follows is my own continuing reflection on a sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent. Edited 12/15/2014 for clarity and grammar

Scriptures for the Second Sunday of Advent were Isaiah, 2 Peter and the Gospel of Mark.  These Scriptures include words of comfort (from Isaiah) a call to wait patiently for the end(2 Peter), and a call to repentance (Mark).

What I asked us to sit with and I am still sitting with is hearing words of comfort together with call repentance in light of the anguish that so many feel and have long felt.

We though can rush too quickly to take on or apply these Scriptures to our context.  There are resonances surely but not necessarily an easy fit.

The call to comfort “my people” may easily resonate with the continued suffering of the African-American community as it continues to suffer under a racist system.  Yet the words of comfort spoken in Isaiah are to an oppressed people in exile but whom according to the prophets went into exile for their failure to act justly and to remember they were once an oppressed people freed by the act of God.  The people addressed aren’t just human beings in general or the oppressed in general but a particular people, who have been oppressed and then who oppressed their own, and who are now again a subjugated and exiled and oppressed people.

It was to those who returned from exile yet still waiting complete deliverance, once again under subjection and oppression, this time of Rome, These are those addressed by John the Forerunner’s ministry and baptism to repentance.  John the Baptist called the  people of God to repentance.

If we are to hear these Scriptures, in concert with what is revealed in our streets and is coming more and more to light in our institutions particularly the police, we must first hear the Scriptures as addressed to others, the people of God, Israel, the Hebrews, Jews.  I would say this is especially true for White Christians in the United States.

We as White Christians need to regain a sense of being grafted into the people of God.  We are those who weren’t a people and now are a people.  Then we can perhaps begin to repent of our sense of privilege and responsibility.

I’ve recently been reading from a variety of sources how often well meaning Whites seeking to be in solidarity with Blacks, will join a protest and then take the initiative or stick with only other Whites at the protest.  Or how the chant #Blacklivesmatter is changed to #alllivesmatter.  Also,  how attempts at acknowledging privilege (such as the problematic  #crimingwhilewhite) turns attention from the lives of Blacks and people of color to whites and our guilt and shame over our privilege.  These aren’t examples of repentance, but as often as not re-inscribe White dominance and privilege.

When there are studies that show that even whites who don’t express or show any overt racism or even racist attitudes still in simulation will give the benefit of the doubt to armed White men and will shoot people of color who are suspected of holding a weapon, we have some fairly deep and unconscious shit to turn from.  We need a change of mind and being.

Such a transformation for Whites may require  stepping back: letting others take the lead, being less concerned about ones identity as White or even to give up one’s need to speak.  What I hear from Black voices and people of color is that we as Whites need to listen and amplify their voices, not to speak ourselves.  Repentance for White Christians in America may be to turn away from all ways of self-preservation, including attempting to assuage guilt by seeking fix the problems.

Then if there is deep repentance and transformation by White Christians in that we begin to be able to see Blacks and people of color as truly human (thus #blacklivesmater) and as truly members of the Body of Christ.

We want to to do something so this will be difficult.  Yet, here, if we can here Peter’s words, there is an openness to God’s refining fire in us and the world.  At this moment there is opportunity in the turmoil and the protests to let the fire burn and refine.  We can allow this apocalypse ( unveiling) to push us to live according to truth and justice, that will hasten the day when God’s righteousness and justice will be all that we know.

Then in this is also our comfort both for we who wracked by guilt and shame for our being caught up and blinded by our privilege and dominance, but especially for those who suffer and are oppressed by the racist structures and actions of the police.

Words of comfort and call to repentance go hand in hand for the people of God. Sometimes as in our case some of the people of God need to repent for participating in the cause of oppression, so that those who are oppressed may find comfort.

This all begins by hearing “my people” as a people to whom we are foreigners, and to whom have been welcomed into by God in Jesus Christ.

White European Christians the Scriptures and the faith aren’t yours.  In fact we may have betrayed the very faith we think we can defend and spread.  Repent, and be comforted.

“Comfort O Comfort my people, God has come and is coming.  If justice seems slow in coming, it is because of God’s patience with all of humanity.  The place where God’s justice and righteousness shows forth fully is what God desires for all.  Let that knowledge change you. Seek that vision of the world and each other.

Comfort and change of mind and being go hand in hand.  Let your story dissolve into the story of a people of God journeying towards and awaiting the coming of God’s justice and righteousness that we don’t and can’t have or control. Give into the consuming and refining fire. Be comforted and repent.

Longing for Justice in Absence: #StayWokeAdvent

WIN_20141130_143419O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence–
as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!  (Isaiah 64:1, 2)WIN_20141130_143444

This cry for God to act from the lectionary  for the First Sunday of Advent seems very fitting.  Calling on god to tear open the heavens.  Tear down the barrier between heaven and earth that keeps the kingdom from coming and God’s will from being done on earth as it is in heaven.

But what if this has happened?  What if the heavens have been torn open and God has come down? (As depicted in these depictions of heaven opening up)  In Advent what we wait for, what we are awake to is that God has come in the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth.WIN_20141130_143332

The tearing of the heavens and God coming in justice happened. It happened in a very strange and nearly imperceptible way.  The nations, the powers, have been shaken.  Yet we can be unaware, live as though all is lost.  Admittedly in times like these, it doesn’t seem like this story has much relevance or meaning.  If true what good has it done for those who continue to suffer injustice, oppression and death.

Isaiah a few verses below the words above, wonders why God doesn’t act as in the time of Egypt and Israels deliverance from the oppression of  Pharaoh and Egypt, the empire and power of the day. But think with me on that story:

Did Israel’s freedom from enslavement and oppression at the hands of the state power and government come because Pharoah gradually made reforms and improved the conditions of the Hebrews?  Did the justice Isaiah recalls and longs for come from Pharaoh, or even with Pharaoh’s help and coöperation?  No, it was wrested from pharaoh by God.

But in a sense God remained a part from humanity and creation in that moment.  God crushes the power of oppression destroying its ability to exact its legal penalties, and it’s justice.  It was fearsome and violent, and at Mount Sinai the Israelites weren’t so sure what to make of all this shaking.

But when we speak of God’s advent, we are no longer speaking of the shock and Awe that Isaiah is longing for in the tearing open of the heavens and God coming down, yet even so the heavens have been torn open and God has come down.

WIN_20141130_143456It is perhaps worth noting that this didn’t happen only once, God tore open the heavens in the incarnation, and then again as the Spirit came upon those followers of Jesus, to form the Church on Pentecost.

Yet, none of this has brought an end to injustice.  The heavens have been torn open and God descends… and then what… disappears?

Christians, perhaps even the Church, are and have been as much a part of oppression and injustice as working for liberation and justice.

There are questions… is something awakening?

We wait in darkness with not much light.  This is Advent and a place of deep longing.

For now lets sit with heavens torn open and God come down, but seemingly little shaken, and ask what is the source of justice and liberation?  What are we looking for and who will provide it?

 

Wake up and Keep Awake: #StayWokeAdvent

I’ve kept mostly silent about the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown.  On Social media I’ve attempted to direct people’s attention to Black and other voices from the margins around what happened and the continued unrest in the wake of the announcement of the grand jury’s decision.

In terms of white voices this post by Geoff Holsclaw is a good response from a position of privilege that is seeking to be open to move beyond privilege.

As the strange juxtaposition of the lit sign of Seasons Greetings and heavily armored police showed we are in the Holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving.  I’ve never particularly seen Thanksgiving as a religious holiday, and the attempts to make it a Christian Holiday have always struck me (even as a child) as strange.  As a child it was one of the few Holidays that my family celebrated that was really just about family.  Christmas and Easter were times for family to gather but they were first feasts of the Church. It’s not that God was absent from the celebration, but I don’t remember ever attending a worship service on or around Thanksgiving.  My Grandmother (on my mother’s side) was the daughter of a Swedish immigrants, My Grandfather (mother’s father )second generation Swedish American.  My father was a naturalized citizen of the United States, his family were refugees and displaced persons after World War II (a story for another post).  As immigrants who had been able to assimilate into White America we were genuinely thankful for the life we were able to lead in the U.S.  As for me as a child the story of Thanksgiving never really touched me.  It’s problematic and racist themes eventually came to mean that mostly Thanksgiving is an excuse and a means to see my family.

I say all this to draw attention to what looms on the horizon on Thanksgiving if one keeps the liturgical calendar of the Church: Advent.  The transition between Thanksgiving and Advent  always felt abrupt and jolting.   The pallid whitewashed soporific mythology of the Pilgrims was in stark contrast to the jarring scriptures of wakefulness and prophetic words anticipating God’s justice come in human flesh.  At Thanksgiving we were full and thankful, on the First Sunday in Advent we were in the dark, empty waiting for fulfillment.  Hopeful, yet aware of things being out of whack.  In Advent we were called to admit our failings and await God’s loving answer to our violence and hatred.  Thanksgiving pretended all was as it should be. Advent said we were still waiting, but the dawning transformation of the world was on its way.  In Advent we were to hunger for the righteous reign of God.

Clearly, the shooting of Michael Brown and now with the failure of a grand jury to indict Daren Wilson has jarred us from the whitewashed and soporific mythology of America that continues to be told on Thanksgiving.  Many of course want things to just calm down to not look at the reality that the system of America is and always has been racist, that since I’m deemed white I have privileges that people of color and certain blacks continue to not have.

We’ve had an Advent moment come before Thanksgiving, don’t be lulled back to sleep, Stay woke.  Being awake isn’t easy.  To open your eyes to the world and the systems we inhabit.  This Thanksgiving to be awake probably means to lament, to grieve and to confess.   Sure there are also reasons to be thankful, but I doubt it is for the reasons that the Thanksgiving mythology wishes us to believe, and the source of that goodness isn’t  from the god of the altar at which we are to burn the incense of our thanksgiving.  But then as a member of the body of Christ our Thanksgiving (Eucharist) isn’t the founding of another principality of the world but in one crucified by the systems of the world.  And this crucified one says wake up, stay awake.

This Advent, I encourage  saying awake by listening and waiting with Theology of Ferguson and Stay Woke Advent.

Privilege, Privileged, Privileging

Once again this year at the North Park Theological Seminary Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (this years theme The Human Response to God) I have found my thoughts turning to privilege.  Some of the presenters have directly or indirectly addressed the problems of privileging certain aspects of the human over others which then  can undermine our seeing an other human as fully human.   White and male privilege haven’t been addressed directly  which was the subject of this post of mine around the symposium last year.

I want to sit with these words: privilege, privileged, and privileging.

As I grew up my parents would give my sister and I privileges.  These “privileges” were at times things we could earn, say by doing our household chores without grumbling and without being reminded by Mom or Dad that we should do them.  Also, what we termed “privileges” in my family had to do with allowing us age appropriate freedom that  also challenged our ability for self-regulation: meaning that if we abused the said privilege we could lose it.

My having a certain set of privileges didn’t affect my sister having the same or other  privileges.  So, If I had privilege X it didn’t mean of necessity that my sister didn’t have said privilege.  Also, as far as I recall, our privileges (nor our responsibilities at home) weren’t doled out based on gender (though, I suppose to be sure of that you’d need to corroborate that with my sister.  As evidence though I submit this short list some of my responsibilities growing up: cooking supper, doing laundry, and mowing the lawn.)  My point is that privilege in my family was a bonus that was something good for you but receiving the privilege didn’t negatively affect others in the system.

In this system it also meant the opposite of a right: a privilege was something granted, by my parents, that could be revoked. For instance use of the family car once I had my drivers license was a privilege.  As a privilege I couldn’t assume I’d have access to the one or two family cars we had at the time (there was a period in high school when we as a family only had one car for three potential drivers).  Failure to come home with the car when I did or taking the car without permission would have meant losing the privilege of using the family car. Privilege, in my family’s usage, was context dependent and something I couldn’t demand or assume.

I might also say something like “I’m privileged to know you.” or “It is a privilege to know you”.  If I say this it means that I have something others (those who don’t know you don’t have) but having the privilege of knowing you isn’t bound up in others lack but in the quality of your friendship.  For the phrase to make sense to be privileged is to have something others do not have and in a different context I might not have and which I find valuable.  However, there is also an element of gift in this phrase, the acquaintance isn’t something I can take credit for and depends on the addressee having given the gift of their presence to me.  Others lack is implicit here however again the privilege is granted and the phrase expresses that the privilege that has been granted can’t be assumed or taken for granted.

At the symposium last week the first two presenters talked about privileging qualities and privileging certain persons when examining the nature of what it means to be human (remember we were talking about the Human response to God, to some extent one’s definition of humanity might decide your sense of a human response to God.)  The presenters sense of privilege in this context does entail exclusion. To privilege something or someone in this context is to exclude other things or certain people.  To privilege say reason as the quality par excellence of what it means to be human is then to exclude and ignore other qualities.  In this sense privileging means something or someone looses out. It though also means an assumption of superiority of a particular quality, say reason.  That is qualities that aren’t reason thus aren’t considered when defining human being.  Thus, the problem of “privileging” in this sense of the term means that other qualities that might be attached to human being aren’t considered as expression of the human and thus those qualities and certain set of humans lose out.  Privileging then as used above entails assumptions of superiority without regard to context and in the act of privileging others lose out automatically.  Privileging is preferential and as such entails that the other can’t have the privilege that the act of privilege bestows upon the object of the privileging.

I contend that in this brief  examination “privileging” comes closest to what we mean when we are speaking of White and male privilege.  White privilege is an act of privileging.   By definition to have white privilege is to have something that those who are not in the constructed set “White” do not have.  In addition these assumptions are assumed and in the system that constructs race. As an assumption the privilege isn’t seen as gift that could be given to any in the system but a right that is intrinsic to the set “White”.  Similarly this is what is at work in male privilege.

privilege, privileging, and privileged in usage has a range of meaning may cause some confusion when thinking and reflecting on how to address White and male privilege.  For instance if we assume White and male privilege are like the privilege of using the family care when I was in high school, we may say that White privilege should and could be used for good and the betterment of others.  By way of example, I could have in high school used my privilege for merely selfish and self-centered activities (which I think I mostly did) taking myself and my friends to the movies or party and such.  However, I could have used that privilege (which I think I did on occasion) to drive someone to a doctors appointment who didn’t have a car, or offer a ride to a friend or acquaintance for an errand that I wouldn’t benefit from in anyway.  Or even more pertinent voluntarily taking my sister and her friends to the mall or a movie when I had no intention to shop or see a movie myself. I contend this doesn’t work for White privilege because the logic of the privileged use of the family car didn’t obtain automatically to me because of who I was in the system (ie. oldest male son, once my sister had her license she had the same privilege as I).   The privileges we are referring to when we speak of White privilege are intrinsic to being “White” and depend upon that those  privileges don’t and aren’t granted to those who aren’t classed as “White”.

When I wrote and spoke about renunciation of White privilege it was an attempt to address and confront the intrinsic nature of the privileges of being White.  To use white privilege to reform or change the system is to re-inscribe white privilege in the new situation created by those reforms.  The use of white privilege for the betterment of others who aren’t white has already been part of the racial system we inhabit, it is known as “the White man’s burden.”   If I use my White privilege to reform and change the racist system and that use of white privilege is seen as necessary for the system to be reformed then certain dominance and privileges will continue to pertain to the class of “White” qua “White” if nothing else as the proper subject of the system.   One thing I’m saying is the conditions  for justice to prevail and oppression to end do not depend upon I as “White” (and male) to act.  Rather I’m suggesting that it is when I as White renounce that any intrinsic privilege attends to me qua “White” (though not denying that the system grants both my class and attendant privilege) and as White refuse the burden that will  re-inscribe the privilege that is the source of the injustice and oppression we seek to end.

All this of course is a denial of the claim that the racist system wishes to keep in place namely that the classifications of the system are ontological and biologically grounded, and not a social construction of biology and ontology.

P.S. I haven’t addressed male privilege, though I think one can argue that in the current racist system it is and has been also a sexist system, such that any privileges granted to the White female are derivative from being White and male.

 

 

Painting Icons at the Glenwood Ave Arts Fest (Leaving our Marks)

This past weekend, August 16th and 17th, I was showing icons and doing some painting at the Glenwood Ave Arts Fest.  This is the second time I’ve done “live art” at a festival and been painting icons in public.  I’ve shown my icons at the Glenwood Ave. Fest for several years now.   Not surprisingly the public display of  art that is of a particular spiritual and religious tradition leads to conversation, allowing people to see the process also elicits conversation.

Not sure why, but this year I noticed a change in tenor and tone of those who approached me to talk to me about icons and why I paint them.  In the past the conversations tended to revolve around the juxtaposition of religious art (or the act of painting religious art) in a public and “secular” art space.   Most of these conversations centered on people’s troubled or antagonistic relationship with Christianity.  This year the conversations settled mostly around how each persons own spiritual journey connected up with an icon, or icons, or my presence at the festival painting icons. While I did speak with a number of Christians, the majority of those with whom I spoke weren’t identifying as Christian or identified as post-Christian in someway, as in past years. However, this year no one I talked with had stories of their struggle with Christianity or how Christians or the church had hurt them.  Also, no one seemed terribly taken back by “Priestly Goth”, well except that to some I had to explain what Goth was, which was new.  Not a single person asked how I could be a pastor and a goth.  Though, most did comment with surprise when it came out that I was a pastor.

Here’s a few pictures from the weekend:

IMG1092 IMG1093 IMG1094 IMG1096 IMG1097 JesusChrsitpantocrator

Christians Embrace Death and the Particularity and Physicality Of the Gospel

We Christians are anxious about the state of our institutions.  We at the same time want to believe someone has the fix.  So, we make pronouncements.  A number of people including Tony Jones and Brian McLaren have suggested that we are seeing possible end of denominations, others are talking about the decline of particular denominations (such as the Episcopal Church) or groups of denominations (the Mainline), or maybe even the whole kit and caboodle Christianity itself, or even more astounding the Church, is dead or dying.

The reasons given for this  demise are myriad, but they do coalesce around an anxiety that we aren’t or haven’t allowed the Spirit to move and that we are trapped in the institutional and the historical/material manifestations of our faith.  This it seems to me wishing to blame our having bodies, that is those real, actual, physical, architectural manifestations, that aren’t the s{S}pirit.  In a sense what I hear in our anxieties and the various remedies for our demise is the claim that we  are not our bodies.   Which is strange to me.

In college I read Souls and Bodies, a novel about the loss and retention of faith.  As I read it the novels contention was that it was precisely the “spiritual” obsession that denied our bodies that was the reason for the flight from religion.  The characters in the novel longed for cathedral and body to agree in spirituality.    Architecture, institution, body all are spiritual, the crack in our systems of faith and theology is when we dismember ourselves, when our cosmos no longer is imbued with the spiritual.    Religion and faith that can’t bring together body soul and spirit, leave us with corpses and pointless souls wandering in an amorphous and dreary world.  That is at least my impression of the novel 20 years on.  Whether or not it was the author’s intent it is what I took from it, and it spurred me to seek a faith that had form, architecture, institution, and body.

I wonder if our problem is that we are still seeking some essence, some inner spirit that can be decanted into any container.  If this is so then i say we are shrinking from the particularity of God and the church.   It is my conclusion that with all our love for “incarnational” theology we find the actual incarnation of God, in a Jew 2000 years ago, to be a little embarrassing, and possibly just a bit out of date.  We don’t want our future our “destiny” to be tied to that Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, whom we know so little about.  We’d rather create a Jesus in our own image, rather than be confined by a Jew who gathered 12 other Jews around him and sent them out into the world to proclaim the reign of God established by a violent and embarrassing death.

We embrace with difficulty that God is now forever human because, God is forever a 1st century Palestinian Jew who was raised from the dead and is seated on the right hand of God.  We also embrace with difficulty that from the moment of the incarnation God has been gathering together a new humanity through union with this one person jesus of Nazareth, through baptism and eating and drinking bread and wine.

American Christianity (liberal or conservative) tends to  prefer a more generic and American triumphalist universalism.   Actually following a crucified Jewish peasant from the first century Palestine is a bit of lunacy.   Doing so isn’t the way to win friends and influence people, its not guaranteed to gain you access the halls of power to influence the power brokers and leaders of the (free) world.  In fact that Jewish peasant tells us we aren’t suppose to seek power and influence and access, but God’s justice and righteousness first.  The problem for both liberal and conservative Christians is that we believe that justice and transformation of society can only come from in the very least having access to and influence over the power brokers.

Should we be surprised that people may find this all a little too incredible.  Should we be surprised that since Christianity has had access to the power centers for so long and yet used that access not to be open to God’s kingdom but to replace God’s kingdom with our vision of freedom and democracy (liberal or conservative), that people will walk away.  Who needs Christianity if it is simply a version of secular ideologies.  Our universalism our reductions of Christianity to principles, or morals or to social justice, leave no need for a Palestinian 1st century Jew.  Or to make this Jew relevant we ask people to believe something even more incredible, that said Jesus of Nazareth was simply an 21st century populist democrat, or  we ask people to believe in a being that died just so you could accept him into your heart and go on your merry way without a care for the world.

We need to embrace it all.  The messiness, the imperfect way Christians are the body of Christ, and the Jewishness of our God.  The particularity of our material existence is the universal spirituality of Christian faith.  We need architecture, we need art, we need what Christ instituted both sacraments and the historical continuity of  the temple that God is building us into.

We will come to know what reflects this holistic particular universal faith not by reductions and seeking the essential nature of the Spirit, but by seeing that the God who became a Jew a little over 2000 years ago is the God of all, who embraces all, and instituted the Church and is building a temple, which is the new humanity.  Such a vision perhaps simply isn’t compatible with the vision of our age.  In part though that is our fault for we have been proclaiming something else, we have lost who we are, we have sought release from our bodies, so that we could have universal spirit that could appeal to everyone.  This is our demise, this is our death. We are the dry bones and we are finding if we are honest that there is no life outside our body.  Mortal can these bones live?  Lord only you know.   May we prophesy that the spirit return to our dried out wasted away bodies.  May God return to us the flesh we have abandoned.  Our bones can witness to the life of God, but we must prophesy to the breath, and accept our particularity, our mortality.

 

Leaving our Marks: Interiors, Exteriors, and Bodies

In the late 1990’s into the early 2000’s there was a magazine called Nest: A Quarterly of Interiors.  It’s one of the few magazines from when I subscribed to magazines that I have kept the issues, and even purchased some back issues.  What has stuck with me about the magazine is that it wasn’t a showcase, rather it featured articles about the interiors of peoples actual homes as they lived in them.  Often the homes were of artists or authors, though I also remember an issue that featured the interior of the apartment of a stock broker or analyst who worked on Wall Street, and an issue that featured a home made out of milk crates by someone who was otherwise “homeless”.  The articles that accompanied the photos of these interiors were always reflective and philosophical. Each issue was organised around a theme.  The point of Nest was that we leave our trace, our mark, upon the world and attention to the interiors of our homes gives us a glimpse into our interiors (souls/selves).

We are in need of such witness to the relation between what we now call our spirituality and our physicality and the spaces we inhabit.

I grew up among Lutheran Pietists. We affirmed the Resurrection and the body, to a point, the focus of our embodiment was song and music, we had (to borrow a term from the Anglobaptist) a sonic theology.  But too much attention to clothing, the interior of our houses, or the visual arts was discouraged.  This wasn’t so much a denial of the body as a fear of mere ornamentation.  We could spend time focused on singing and playing instruments, and the beauty of the sounds these physical things made but to pay attention to my own appearance, to decorate the house, to meditate upon a painting wasn’t a priority.  Physical beauty for decoration was superfluous and secondary to natural beauty (sunsets, flowers, the well tilled earth, the night sky, the unadorned body, etc.).

I was more visual, I preferred painting and drawing to singing and playing music, I was concerned with fashion, to the puzzlement and bemusement of my mother.  Though she also appreciated that I could tell her if a certain blouse or skirt would go with an existing item in her wardrobe when shopping for clothes.

In a foriegn country staring at myself in the mirror after letting my beard and hair grow out, I realized I could communicate who I was and wanted to be through my appearance.  Not that I thought all would always interpret these signs as I intended (but that’s the way of things Cf. AKMA on interpretation).  This awareness was also the solidifying of my growing goth identity.  It was also for me a theological affirmation: Resurrection had to mean that my physicality had meaning and primary importance.  My appearance wasn’t simply frivolity and decoration but a primary act of meaning and communication.

When my wife and I got engaged we made a pact against the purely utilitarian in our clothing and household items: what we wore and the objects of our interior needed to be beautiful and meaningful as well as useful.

As a regular feature of Gothic musings I’m starting a series on the beauty meaning and self expression of our habitations, clothing, interiors, and architecture.  I invite you to think with me about the meaning and beauty of our habitation: whether in simplicity or extravagance, with meager or abundant means. I have some people I’d like to see what their interior and fashion are like and to hear them reflect on the interiors of their homes and their fashion choices.  I also invite you to leave a comment here or contact me if you’d like to share photos and/or an essay on your physical habitation and its meaning.

These will be found in Gothic Musings because the goth aesthetic is, in part at least, about giving a particular expression of an identity and outlook through dress and decor.  Though,  this theme cuts across all aspects of priestly goth, whether ecclesiology, spiritual direction, or iconography, it all is about the meaning of embodiment and beauty as an outworking of the doctrines of the incarnation and resurrection.

In the next few days, I will post photos of the interior of the Community of the Holy Trinity with some thoughts on what the common spaces of the community say about myself and the community and the other members of the community.

And to wet your appetite here are some photos of my self presentation in the world:

(Click on the photos to see a slide show and see the comments on each photo)

 

The Meaning of Giving Praise to God

When we praise God for something what are we doing?  When we thank God for a positive outcome and praise God for that outcome what are we meaning?  What are we attributing to God.

These were some of the general questions I recently dealt with in a spiritual direction session with a directee.  Praising God for God’s character made sense, and being thankful also made sense to the directee, but when it came to particularities, things got messy.  So many factors, in becoming healthy, or a healing, who or what is responsible, one’s own body, one’s own initiative in taking health inducing activities?

There is a desire to give thanksgiving and praise, even so the question haunts: for what are we thanking God, and is there reason to praise God for outcome X if we can’t be sure that God is the cause of that outcome?

This anxiety over praise and thanksgiving is in part a fear of idolatry, but also feeling that to praise or thank God truly we must find God and only God to be the cause of the situation or scenario for which we give thanks and praise.  The concern over the idolatrous act has some truth to it though more than simply idolatry may be at work.  However, I’d argue it is misplaced to think of praise and thanksgiving to God as requiring a causal link between God and situation and event over which one is giving praise.

Though, I actually wonder if such anxieties over praising God and their legitimacy, is really a failure to be fully immersed in the language and experience of the Psalms.  Praise and thanksgiving in the Psalms is varied and often also paired with lament.  Praise and thanksgiving are then complex. Praise and thanksgiving are about a particular situation, about the nature of God, and the relationship the psalmist has from God.

Sitting with the whole of the Psalms, I suggest that our anxiety around giving praise and thanksgiving to God for particular situations and “good fortune” (or is it “grace”, that is gift) occurs when we think praise and thanksgiving to be only in response to having received or experienced a desirable or good outcome.  Praise and thanksgiving over a particular situation is properly connected to who God is and one’s relationship to God.

Praise is relational, and is a response to the gift that is Given.  This donation will include any and all good things that happen to one who is in relationship to God.  This gift is not eliminated or negated by tragic or lamentable situations and suffering, thus praise and thanksgiving are part of lament, and aren’t merely celebratory responses.

Though praise and thanksgiving are also ecstatic celebrations that comes from personally knowing and encountering not only one’s own maker but the source of the entire cosmos.

When we are in relationship to God, our knowledge of God and our relation to God is found in praise of the character of God.  This is without regard to situation or suffering, thus lament is also praise.  Since we are in relation to that which is the ultimate source of all that is Good, any good thing is an occasion for celebrating in God’s presence, that is in the expression of praise and thanksgiving in the wake of a fortunate situation, even if we can’t directly link God’s action to the immediate outcome over which we are celebrating.