The Carceral Gaze

We live and die under the carceral gaze. Obey, or be Punished.

We have done this to ourselves, in the name of progress, safety and civilization. I can only wonder at the folly we might be regarded with, if we ever make it so far as a species to recognize it.

The carceral gaze. The all seeing, all judging eye of the Zeitgeist, lingers heavy over all of us. Man is born free, and yet everywhere he is on camera.

 

Technofascism marches on.

War is Peace.

Information is Ownership.

Ignorance is Strength.

The Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto

The Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Aaron Swartz
July 2008, Eremo, Italy

 

 

The Open Access Movement

The Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto is Aaron Swartz’s legacy, and I believe it is time to ask what manner of society we shall be. I’ve been asking those sorts of questions, but I think it’s time we as a society did so. Will we be cruel, indifferent hoarders of information? Will we allow the promise of truly open innovation to collapse as we destroy the lives of geniuses like Aaron? Or will we rise to the challenge of rewriting the laws that govern information so that more of it is free?

Are we willing to end monopolies and find ways to benefit information generators at the same time?

Aaron’s intent and this entire story means to ask us this: Are we really willing to let archaic laws about types of information access take more lives?

The Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto asks us to reflect on these important questions.


My only hope is that we can heed this manifesto, and what it means for us all. I challenge you, embrace the Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto. Download it here. Or here.

Yes We Can

Yes we can.

Yes we can continue the same foreign policy agenda that has made the world less safe, and put everyone in massive economic depression.

Yes we can continue to ignore the Bushisms that many people vocally hated but now ignore.

Yes we can continue to support our President while ignoring the war-crimes committed by our administration.

Yes we can ignore that “cybersecurity” is double speak for “knowing everything about everyone at all times. Even, forget all about the troubles of an increasingly expanding surveillance and intelligence market for spying on citizens in their own homes.

Yes we can mutter under our breaths while recognizing that “speech crimes” on the internet have become the pretense for any state-based aggression for not liking what someone writes or says.

Yes we can hope, we can hope that there’s less blood on our hands than our conscience, our deep underlying humanity, tells us there is, as we give thanks for an empire built in blood.

Yes we can change anything we want, so long as it’s superficial, arbitrary, and dictated to us.

Yes we can, even ignore and refuse to acknowledge that “freedom” is just another buzzword in these here United Dictates.

Yes. We Can.

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

Who is John Galt?

So, I’ve been in absentia from this blog for quite some time, but I had to share some thoughts, so here goes:

Over the past year, I’ve undergone a serious and very difficult transformation of sorts. The anti-capitalist theory and theology that I professed made physical, practical demands of my being, and I went to listen to the call. I went to serve and discover where the Christ of the gospels, Hauerwas, Yoder, Barth and others might find me. I found myself thinking of Abraham Heschel, and of my place as just some guy in the midst of this too-wide world.

I’ve also become increasingly frustrated with the state of things and must often remind myself that my task is not to make the world more just, but to make the world the world. As a Catholic, albeit a Catholic with problems, issues doubts, etc. I stand at a very strange crossroads of mentors, sources and paradigms. However, for this post I wanted to talk about Ayn Rand. given that Rand was a big deal the past few weeks due to Paul Ryan’s vice presidential nomination, it’s fitting that she comes up now.

“Virtue is to be apologized for. Depravity commands respect. Success is cast as evil and punished while failure is blamed on others and rewarded.” -John Galt

I agree with this quote, but not its contextual subtext.

Readers of Rand approaching the text from her radical capitalist standpoint in Atlas Shrugged walk away from this quote saying, ‘Yeah, bad government!’ Whereas, I’d walk away with a broader context in mind. I’d say that we live in an age where the virtues we must apologize for are not only courage and personal strength, but free thought, the will to assert oneself, conscious altruism, and compassion. When reading the above verse, even Christians might be tempted to read this as a statement on their personal virtues, or the church’s virtues, which isn’t what Rand means at all.

Rand means greed, she means narcissism, the kind that is a lobotomized Oscar Wilde, all selfishness, no aesthetics to reduce the blow.

By depravity, Rand means altruism, she means charity, she means sloth, she means some of the things that the Church calls virtues. She does not mean that the godless men who command respect are lurking monsters, megaliths of power, but rather, weaklings at the top of empires. Ayn Rand is putting anemic emperors on trial. They’re depraved in their giving, weak in their chortling about like wounded animals. Rand disdains the government as well as the corporate powers that be on her books, though she balances her disdain with a strong ubermensch capitalist we know as John Galt.

Rand’s idea of success is individualist, selfishness. By success she does not mean emotional or moral development, she does not mean a community of love and care, by success she means the virtue of greed and self assertion manifesting itself in terms of brutality against the weak.

I agree with the words of this quote, there’s a good deal of global blame game, and a lot of virtues that have become rude, and a great deal of depravity commanding respect. From the drone wars to the increasing police state, national security has asked us to compromise our tolerance in the name of national borders. Obama’s peace prize commands attention, even as his administration cracks down on civil liberties including journalism and privacy.

Failure can mean a great many things, but practically, from an economic standpoint, failure means bailouts, something that Romney, Ryan, and Obama criticize, though let’s not forget they were started by George W. Bush. I respect the words of this quote, I think we should see banks fail if they’re gambling and taking risks they can’t afford. However, I cannot but critique Rand’s contextualization of such pointed words.

We do live in a society where failure is outsourced, and rewarded. We put the companies with the most capital gains and ROI for shareholders on the covers of magazines, while never showing the same attention or value to companies that ensure their workers have adequate healthcare, enough vacation time, and so on. To me, this is rewarding failure. Instead of adding a human element to our values of business, Rand simply removes what humanity there is, and prizes sadistic self-indulgence.
So, while I like the quote, John Galt is no friend of mine.

Christian Principles, The Abstracted Gospel

Recently a friend and former professor of mine was engaged in a forum where he heard several professors of business talk about how we should work to get the world to follow Christian economic principles. He disagrees, and I do as well. The reason being, these principles serve as a form of Constantinianism, as identified by John Howard Yoder.

Update: “…To get the world to follow Christian principles in the economic realm [is] an attempt to abstract the message of the kingdom that in the end neuters the gospel of its power and absolves the church of living as people of new creation.” – My professor friend

These principles were they put in place would not make us work towards the gospel, they would absolve us from the gospel. Were these principles to happen to coincide all at once, there would be no reason for the church. If you have all the “principles” of the church in common life, why go to church? If there’s no difference between being an American investor and a Christian investor, why stop to consider that a rabbi’s death has claim on you and what you do with your money?

Once upon a time the Enlightenment project assumed it could do the same thing. It assumed that the religious differences we have could be put aside if we could boil it down to a few core dogmas about God that were universally acceptable. This did not put an end to war, famine or bloodshed, it just gave people even more destructive forms of control over society. Without the Enlightenment project Nazism and Stalinist projects are inconceivable.

Boiling Christianity down to principles is not the renewed life of Christianity, and yes I’m talking about people like John Maxwell, who have capitulated to this “leadership culture.” Leadership is desired by our culture, but without the virtues that Christianity produces to make real leadership possible it’s an act of self-congratulatory masturbation. It’s a nice big empty pat on the back for finding the “core underlying truths.” Yet, the core underlying truths are simple, Jesus Christ the rabbi from Nazareth was vindicated by God from the grave and is therefore this world’s rightful king. This rabbi was and is God along with His Spirit and the One Whom He calls Father. Together they are One God.

When you abstract the gospel which is the Church’s proclamation, from the life of the church, you don’t still have the gospel, you have another creature altogether. It looks like the gospel, but is not the gospel.

The proclamation of the church has power to speak, but only from within the life of the church, if taken outside this context, it becomes another form of coercive market serving power.

It is the church that has to be the live solution to economic problems through charity, training, catechesis, worship, communal life, liturgy. All of these things are the politics of the church, and they belong in her. When we take them out, no matter how right they may sound, they are not the gospel.

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Legislation and the Christian Community

When it comes to legislation in America, everyone seems to have a side, a camp, something to say, and someone to support. I say, Nay. I say no. I say forget the system and its rules, though certainly I have certain desires for this country, I say, let the process be itself. Of course I want things to be more Christian because I think Christian politics when done rightly make sense, but baptizing one party or the other in Christian catchphrases will not make for a Christian society.

Further, making things Christian is not a matter of sneaking into the state and voting our way, but it’s a matter of primarily a robust church, where things are our way in our communities, where we make possible the shared life under the lordship of Jesus Christ that takes seriously his commandments, all of them, not just the ones popular with America, either liberal or conservative America.

Christianity cares to change the social order, despite the depoliticizing of the evangelical church in many areas. But, Christianity’s answer to change the social order has always been Church, not state. The state can follow the Church if it wishes, but the Church is where we will find the answers to changing injustice into justice. The Church is where we as Christians must find answers for what it means to live Christianly in exile, and where we find the restitution of God’s reign in the earth.

Given the situation, either Obama’s “Mr. Cool Pants” approach or the hot-headed “You Lie!” of the other camp, we should just resign from playing in this magical charade altogether. We can’t let our votes be swayed by the grinning idiots in Washington. However, this doesn’t mean non-involvement. It just means we must resign Christianly from the farce that has become America’s answer to public discourse. We must stand above the swaying rules and their interpretations, of course we want things a certain way, but more than wanting a certain way, we should show people we care for the common good.

Some people think Christianity’s most important goal is to make sure Republicans come out on top in the next set of elections. I don’t think that this is or should be the goal of Christians anywhere. Some people think that Christians should focus on illegalizing gay marriage and banning health care reform, and I couldn’t disagree more. Some people think we should be focusing on illegalizing abortion, or keeping immigrants out of this country if they entered illegally. I think these are the wrong focuses altogether.

Of course Christians should want abortion to be illegal, at least they should find it morally reprehensible and desire that the state not fund them, or make provisional funding for them available. Abortion is a barbaric practice, and there’s no getting around it. I think i we applied the same logic we use for abortion to other things we wouldn’t care about second-hand smoke, or half the things people insist on legislating.

But it’s not enough to make these things illegal, and illegalizing them does not solve their social influence on our culture. I don’t care about the legislation passed in this country, because ultimately it does not matter.

I’m not pushing for disinvolvement, despite some of my critics. I’m just saying that when push comes to shove it doesn’t matter as much whether we’re winning or losing. Because regardless of what the state is doing we have a responsibility that goes beyond legislation. Follow?

So our responsibility is one that says we’d like abortion to be illegal because it’s barbaric and wrong. But if it is not, we’re going to push to be responsible despite the state. This is the mission of the Church. Ultimately our political responsibility does not end in legislation, which is what i’ve been trying to say all along.

At the end of the day, the church’s politics are found in the discipleship she promotes as part of her public message to the world about her conduct. Liturgy is our evangelism, and our ethics, and at the end of it all. even if the state crumbles due to its own stupidity, the Church will carry on, by being that body which transcends legislation, even while involved in it.

My problem is that many conservatives equate legislation with a victory. “As long as those gays can’t get married america is more Christian.” I think that’s the type of thinking i’m after with my position, the position that equates congressional decision with christian virtue. I couldn’t disagree more.

America is as corrupt as any other nation, and our idealisms about her laws and stature before other nations only serve as a detriment to us as the Church. Of course we should be involved in public life, but regardless of the condition of that public life, we need to be the society which transcends today’s deliberations. We need to be that society in which our general society sees we’re not going to back down or play by their rules.

When I think of what it might look like for America to be a Christian Nation, I don’t think of everyone going to church or saying prayers or allowing jesus back in schools, I think of a society in which we genuinely care for the needs of the poor and the common good. Though the other things are desired too, I think that to “Christianize the Social Order” the first thing we have to do is not change the rules as much as change the way we think about those rules in the first place, and be a mini-culture where the development of character inter-personally supersedes the outcome of the legislation nationally.

Of course we believe that God’s rule of things establishes justice, but what we should encourage is not the legislation that makes compulsory Christian virtues as much as it allows them to flourish apart from the meddling of the state. The example of the Massachusetts orphanages run by Catholic Charities breaks my heart. In compelling the Church to provide certain benefits to homosexual couples, the state exceeded the limits of tolerance legislation and forced the Church to withdraw from the adoption process altogether. That’s my other target, the first one was the fundamentalist camp that equates legislation with Christian virtue, and the other is the camp that equates tolerance with impinging liberalism and its practices upon social and religious institutions.

There’s no such thing as a Christian nation, but there is such a thing as the Church, and we can do well to remember what that body looks like. Which means, transcending the social order and doing what we need to do as the Church regardless of legislation.

6 Things American Christians Must Remember

6 Things American Christians must remember.

America is not the church, and we cannot swear unquestioned allegiance to this nation without compromising what it means to be Christians. Power never conquers, it consumes from within. Rome, Germany, America. These are all empires who have extended beyond their reach with tyrannical power, and it has ultimately led to their downfall.

1) Power overstretched becomes a means of oppression everywhere.

Rome’s tyranny imploded on it, when the very people that it had attempted to conquer were brought in as mercenaries to fight against the conquering barbarians. Nazi Germany licensed the gestapo as a police force who became executioners of Poles and Serbs abroad, and when brought back home quickly caused the deterioration of Nazi support from within by terrorizing their own people. America has forgotten that what goes around, comes around. We may feel that the war is something we read about online, or watch on television, but its effects are all around us here, as we live in an increasingly militarized state. The oppression we’ve imposed on foreign nations is beginning to show up here at home in surprising and increasingly problematic ways.

2) We should be focused more on democracy and peace than giving in to the war cult.

We’ve surrendered our focus on democracy, on fair representation and on a better society to live in fear. We want to launch a coalition against terror, when we fail to realize we’re perpetuating the terror we seek to eliminate by by allowing our military forces to over extend their reach and let their means outstrip their ends. Christians everywhere need to remember that history has never looked favorably on Christians supporting war, and we too must remember that our first loyalty is to the church, a community of peace, justice and self-emptying love. Christians do not live in fear of their enemies, but know that God has already set us at peace, and made possible a community that seeks the best of even its destroyers.

3) War is not the Christian way.

We have to remember that war is a power of the world. The cross calls us to a very different life. It calls us to a life of cross bearing discipleship. Whether you are a pacifist or a just war supporter it makes little difference to the facts that this war is not just, it never has been, and it never will be. Whether you care to support peace or not makes little difference to the fact that it is the Christian way and the early church shows us most clearly what it means to life in a society at war. We are a people who are in every nation, yet give unquestioned allegiance to none. We are a people who transcend nations, and there are Christians in the countries we’ve come to occupy who might be suffering at our imposition upon their homes, their lands, their lives.

4) The war on terror is not a war on Islam.

America is not at war with Islam. Some people see the recent explosion of Islam as a problem, and see this war as a way of limiting the spread of its influence. This is not a religious war, it’s about expanding the power of our national influence. There’s nothing sacred about this war. Further, we have American Muslims fighting their middle-eastern counterparts. We cannot as Christians allow ourselves to be comfortable with the idea that the killing of the “extremisits” is the right way to go about things for the proper Christianizing of the Middle East. We should never be comfortable with the use of coercive force to spread the Christian message of peace. That’s like explaining chastity with pornography. You cannot spread a message of the loving redemption of the world God created if your hands and lips are stained with the blood of your enemies.

5) America will end.

This may come as a shock to some of my readers, but America will end. Every empire in history has ended, been reimagined, recultured, exported, subverted, destroyed or forgotten. As Americans we must remember that America is not the church, and America will end. We live in America, but America is not God’s representative on earth, nor is it our job to make that so. Our kingdom is not America, nor America’s well being, we live for another kingdom, the community of the Crucified God. Ultimately we live for a world where justice, peace and mercy are normative, and we must live lives that act accordingly now, because this is how our kingdom flourishes, even in the midst of uncertainty, oppression and bloodshed.

“I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”-Napoleon

6) We must be Christians and love our enemies.

Our task is to live lives that make sense of the church, because our story does not begin with the declaration of independence, but with the Trinity’s self glorifying love. Our story begins in being image bearing creatures who recognize God in and through our neighbor, as well as our enemy.

Christians are the people who can acknowledge that the neighbor is the enemy, and we must love our enemy as ourselves. We must pray for them in love, knowing that Christ is their Lord already, and we must treat them as such. We must weep with them and for them, we must empathize with the tortures they have suffered, and acknowledge we’ve created societies that speak and trade in blood. We as Christians must repent for the bloodshed of our nation, and cry out for those oppressed by our occupation of their lands, we must pray for those in Guantanamo Bay, and those who have been mercilessly tortured by our agencies.

If we cannot shed tears for our enemies and weep for the oppressed, we must ask ourselves whether we have truly come to know the love of Christ, and recognized the deep and unrelenting call to peace that Jesus sets before us. We must ask whether we know how to abandon our interests, and pursue love and peace, justice and mercy above all else.

Nationalism and Christian Faith

Nationalism in America’s churches is in many ways more explicit and more unnoticed by participants than even 1930’s Germany. The church I work at has decided that it’s far more acceptable to say the pledge of allegiance than to take communion on a regular basis. This shows a church that has lost its way, a community not gathered around the cross, but around a constitution, around not God’s Word, but the republic.

The church I attend is confesssional, it has creeds, it has liturgies, the sad fact of the matter is that these liturgies are America’s ideology. Our creeds are not the Christian creeds, but the creeds of America. Our pastor stands to decry a godless society week after week in love and patience, but, cannot even begin to articulate the problems which we really face. I’ve heard sermons about the evils of evolution and how serving Jesus is like being in the American service, I’ve stood in silent horror as my brothers and sisters salute a flag, pledging allegiance to a bloodthirsty nation in the very community that was built as a community of peace, and cross bearing discipleship.

I’ve heard our pastor thank veterans for defending our freedom, when really, there hasn’t been anything near a just war in the history of America, and the only war that comes remotely close is the European theatre of WWII. But even that was invalidated by our decision to as a nation commit the greatest act of terrorism ever known to history. There’s no defense of freedom in the wars we fight today, or in any of our wars, it’s never been about the defense of freedom it’s been about the unnamed expansion of empire. It’s been about cultural indoctrination and the self-entitled right to supremacy assumed by the American people.

The “tolerant” Americans have sought to excuse themselves from their imperialism by calling it other things, including: a war on terror, defending our freedom, liberating the oppressed, taking out a threat to our national security, disabling a mass murderer, bringing democracy to a people in need of freedom. The rhetoric is all the same and all underlies what’s really going on. America is a darkened face, and a nation willing to commit seedy acts to save her image, to save face. Just like Two-Face and Batman in the Dark Knight, our image has been marred by the publication of torture acts, of really looking at the things we’ve done in order to save “this fair city” from “madmen”.

America’s two face is the presidency and the CIA, agencies we love to praise, that we now have no choice but to see as disfigured and disfiguring aspects of our society. So we’ve created the idea of “the troops” and “freedom” as our heroes, who bear the weight of our guilt, for better and for worse, we shove off the blame on the president, the vice president, the government agencies, the powerlessness of the american people. The mask we’ve taken on for ourselves is a deliberate and overtly intentional rebranding, a way to distance ourselves from the war we find ourselves in. Yet it doesn’t change the reality that is Two-Face, the reality that our white knights have turned out to be monsters.

Our nation is a people determined to be free of guilt, obsessed with ignoring the past to live in the eternal present. The death of metanarrative and historical unity in American culture is a sign of the ways in which the American project is mediating its own failure to itself. We have become dejected and rather than acknowledge our place in history, we’d rather displace ourselves from it in what Foucault called differance. Trying to make ourselves differ from the past and even our present, making America an ideal, an invisible unity, a sinless body removed from the sins of individual persons.

America’s ecclesiological apologetic for itself is that it is an invisible body, perfectly unmarred by the sins of the past. The ideal still lives on, despite historical failures, because these were the failures of presidents, of leaders, but not of America. Underlying America is a strong belief in her invisible unity, despite her radical inclusion of most peoples (although there are some dissenters like Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh). But nevertheless, the claim of America’s idealistic unity and legitimacy as this ideal society in the minds of both conservatives and liberals stands.

As Christians, we do not hope for America, we do not hope in America, we do not take oaths of allegiance, to church or state, baptism is our yes. We need take no oaths of allegiance to the church, to the bible, to the Christian flag, to Jesus. Baptism is our yes, so let us live as though it matters. Pledging allegiance to the Christian flag is rarely if ever done without pledging allegiance to the American flag first, and it just goes to show where the priorities are.

I think that this video shows the problem in explicit detail so you know i’m not just making this up.

the only difference between that first video and the one that follows is not all the children in the first video have flags, but the sentiment is the same. The only difference between American and German fascism is that Americans are gathered around the invisible church that is “Christian America” rather than a charismatic leader. Fundamentalist churches have displaced the invisible church with the visible america in need of “restoration”. My only question is, were we a Christian nation while we moved in slaughtering indians, or after that, when we decided to import slaves to create our livelihoods? Was it at our earliest founding, by Catholic missionaries? Or was it when Puritans decided to betray the natives who had taught them to work the land?

What separates the “Christian” nationalism above from the one presented below?

What would Bonhoeffer say? What would Karl Barth say? What might St. Paul say? Augustine?

Just a Question

i think that this cartoon is highly illustrative of the problem we face in america as Christians. Everything is economics, from health care reform to senate agendas, to everyday life. The phenomenon of the cultural american mind is that it is one of price and benefit, business ethics and the absence of any other ethic from all discourse. The only language our society speaks together anymore is not philosophy, music or even science, literature or politics, it’s economics. The prevailing talk in the whole health-care debate has been economical, because our society has lost the ability to speak publicly in any other terms in so many areas.

So, is it rape or shoplifting? while a jury might vote rape, it would seemingly make no sense in a society that carried to its logical conclusion would obviously vote shoplifting.

America is a heap of contradictions, slowly crumbling from the inside, protestant piety and subjectivism established on the grounds of an unlimited market which has had immense cultural influences and an impetus towards ever greater tolerance all lead to make a society where this question even becomes a possibility. Our culture is radically obsessed with the economics of the body, rather than its meaning.

As Christians our task is to invalidate this modality of thinking. The body has meaning, real meaning not as an object of economic inquiry, but as a living person, someone to be respected and cherished as an individual life.

This cartoon merely reaffirms Jenson’s point in His Systematic Theology II, chapter 6 Sex and Politics

My Thoughts on Veteran’s Day

It’s an abomination to thank anybody for murder. Whether they are soldiers in this country or any other. Murder is murder. Our exalted rhetoric about the defense of freedom is an abomination, it’s horrific. I do not thank them, not as veterans of this nation, because more than words of thanks they need love from a community that hopes they shall be set free from their burden someday. As humans I stand with them enduring the weight of the evil that comes with killing in the name of a nation state, and its purported ideas of freedom, justice and free consumerism for all. They have fought for empty ideals, vanity and desolation. They are the ones who must live with blood on their hands, and we are responsible too for the blood which they shed. We are guilty of creating societies where bloodshed is praised as heroism, and where the murderous are exalted. We should not celebrate as much as weep. The taking of a single life does infinite damage to the psyche.

The Christian Narrative and Psychology

-1The Christian Narrative and Psychology

The twentieth century marked the formalization of psychology as a way that the modern human could understand their own inner workings which had become important since the Enlightenment. It established itself as a discipline by applying what had developed into the “natural sciences” to humans as objects of inquiry. The ensuing developments created a very specific branch of discourse on human beings called psychology. Psychology and Christianity have had a past filled with various interactions, some positive, others negative.

This is a proposal towards a Christian psychology, which I hope to engage in more concretely as time passes. The reason for this proposal and not an inquiry on various possible integrations is that the Christian faith has a lot to learn but it also has a lot to offer and must remain distinctively itself. Because we believe that what modernity calls psychology will be inherently problematic at some points in its interaction with the Christian narrative, we must avoid syncretism and allow the tradition to speak to us from its own voice.

Contrary to some beliefs psychology did not start in the nineteenth century, it was and is an enterprise that is native to Christianity, and various thinkers in the ancient world. Augustine’s Confessions are a champion example of Christian thought regarding what could be considered psychology. Christianity has always been concerned with the human nature’s relation to God and the world and each other, and this has led to profound inquiries into human nature, and disposition. Furthermore, ours is a religion that has been challenged profoundly to answer questions about integrity, morality, development of persons, obstacles to that development, the structure of emotions, and behavior dispositions. The tradition has often found voices that were strongly concerned about the nature of persons, Augustine, in essence based his whole program of what human nature is on its call to worship God, and sought to define the moral life and the good within the context of that calling. Far from being non-psychological, Augustine’s work reflects some of the most profound inquiry into the human condition ever written.

Psychology as presented by the current establishment is at its heart an apologetic for modernity’s conception of human being. It has at least until very recently, been a way that modernists and secularists could make spiritual and ontological descriptions that we have been taught to implicitly accept as normative. “Psychology” can be a discursive formation among others when used to assert ideas against Christian truths. But Christianity must reject these assumptions and the limitations established in order to maintain her own assertions on what is human nature, and what constitutes a psychology. Psychology can be an instructive and beneficial science when used properly, and while the descriptions of the institution called psychology may be helpful, these are not things which are foreign to the Christian narrative.

So we can see that it is not the case that Christians do not already have a psychology, it is just that its discursive structure differs from the limitations that the current establishment of psychology has demarcated for itself, and it is very narrow in scope indeed. Ancient psychology had the freedom to ask ultimate questions and saw them as affective towards behavior and development, whereas most forms of psychology represented in the American psychological institution and major universities across the world tend to dismiss these questions as secondary to their own discourse, or of an unrelated field, or consider the questions objects of study, without asking the questions themselves. Christians believe that life is integrated and while there are many aspects of being human, the mind is not separable from the rest of life, because Christians believe that the mind is a gift from God. While it is helpful for psychology to have demarcations, it is only to show that a Christian psychology has a broader sweep, and is distinctive from modernity’s project. This distinction is always welcome.

What the twentieth century schools call psychology are not the only things that might have the ability to be justifiably called by that name. What this establishment has sought to claim as a new project unheard of before modernity is simply untrue. While we have to admit the exponential growth of data in the last 150 years, we do not have to assume that with this data comes the chronological superiority of the recent developments over against the past. Christians of all types have been concerned with Human nature, development, and behaviors, St. Augustine, Kierkegaard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gregory the Great, C.S. Lewis (in his Screwtape Letters), Fyodor Dostoyevsky, George Eliot, and Leo Tolstoy are all Christian psychologists. The goal of a contemporary formation of Christian psychology seeks to retain their ideas our method will differ, at least mildly. I do not assert that Christian psychology only be an academic way of talking about Christian views on human nature, but that we remember that a lot of Christian psychology has been written as narrative. We should see these authors not as secondary to the main body of psychological work, but as Christians see their work through the lens of psychology and give them equal footing to the works of secular psychologists.

Notice how Christian psychology as cited above is narrative in character, it happens most often within the context of stories, it is the stories we tell and the overarching story that is our own that motivates us to inquiry and action as regards the human person. While we embrace empirical studies, we do not place on them a favor that dismisses as irrelevant the Christian tradition, or what its authors have said about the nature of humanity. We rather give preeminence to the tradition and propose questions that the tradition can answer on its own terms. We are not bound to empirical method, but rather use it as another tool among a multiplicity of others serving the purpose of the church which is to call all humans to recognize that their reality is only as intelligible as its worship to the God revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. Psychology does not have to be an apologetic for modernity’s definition of human kind. The Christian tradition has much to offer as its own discipline alternative to the secular modernist project especially in the areas of personality psychology and psychotherapy.

Christian psychology is an alternative type of psychology that starts with foundations based not in the “third language” of reason and universal perspectives, or individual autonomy, but within the assumptions of the Christian narrative. There are words and thought structures in the Christian story ready to answer, if not already answering the questions of psychology. These answers just need to be illuminated in the context of psychology though a certain hermeneutic lens and we shall see that all over the Christian narrative and history is a rich proliferation of material on various topics that could be grouped together as a Christian psychology.

It will be the task of a distinctively Christian psychology to read these texts for their answers that would be termed “psychological” and see these either presented in full quotations or reinterpreted so that they may form a body of work that could be recognized by our contemporaries as psychology. While we do not embrace their limitations on what constitutes a psychology, we should engage in psychology and its establishment as Christians.

We should seek to allow the Christian narrative to speak to psychological questions, but on it own terms and with its own particular answers. The tradition has many answers to offer about the nature of human persons, what the basic needs and tendencies of humans are, what their teleologies and directions are in regards to their psychic nature. Christian psychology is an alternative to the modern project and its assumptions that human beings are autonomous minds cut off from all other things, and living solely for themselves. The Christian alternative offers meaning in communion and community, development through acts of service, well being through being a peace maker, being willing to suffer for Jesus, and being poor in spirit.2 Modern psychology has proliferated the view that a human being is little more than a brain operating a body, or at best some sort of soul operated by a brain trapped within a body. In most psychological establishments, the mind and its health are detached from questions of being, and seen as programmable and purely physical. The Christian narrative offers another anthropology, and thus another psychology.

Our tradition has from the beginning had a stake in certain claims about human nature, development, motivations, character formations and how to go about achieving the proper character and correcting bad character, all things which modern psychology is about. It seems to me that it is not that Christian psychology does not as yet exist, it just does not exist in a form recognized by the current psychological establishment and many Christians as psychology. Yet it is there, waiting to be interacted with.

It is my concern that liberals, both political and theological will sell themselves short on what makes Christianity Christian in order to maintain a sense of being relevant to the outside world. However, the jettison of Christian convictions in favor of others is not only going against the tradition it is going against the very grain of the universe that Christians understand through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Christians have made a metaphysical claim about the universe, starting with the teachings of Jesus who said that to be blessed (makairos gr.) is to be among other things, poor in spirit, and to mourn, and to make peace. Doing well according to Jesus, and the New Testament witness is compatible with suffering. These claims are not only metaphysical, having a claim in the way we see reality, they are psychological. Jesus is claiming that the person who is well and doing well, is one who suffers for His sake and lives a life directed towards others, wellness according to Jesus is not a private affair, but one which is for the sake of others. People who are psychically whole can suffer, mourn, be meek, reviled, long for righteousness, be merciful, be pure in heart. These are all marks of the psychologically developed Christian.

The integration approach to Christian psychology seeks usually to marry one or another view of psychology with the established Christian tradition in a form of syncretism that leaves neither one the same. Some models are influencing the church towards assertiveness and personal empowerment. We reject this assertion, citing it as idolatry. Christians believe that the real power in the world is had not by people who carry crowns but crosses. Rather than agreeing with the world’s ideas we seek to read the tradition as it presents itself to us through the church and participation in the community, and ask questions that might help us answer the same questions being addressed by establishment psychology.

The only thing that integration between psychology and theology will do is establish a hybrid that is neither here nor there and is ultimately irrelevant because it is based in neither of the two traditions strong enough to maintain a historical presence. It will be modernity’s anthropology with questions about how to see Christians develop as such, which will render largely unintelligible work. This has already been the case in many places where Christianity has been used in the psychology of religion. It is not my aim to have Christians withdraw from psychology, but to engage in psychology as Christians, backed by the tradition to which they have sworn allegiance, informed by Christian anthropology and pastoral as well as spiritual considerations.

Christian psychology is not a matter of applying this or that theory offered by the establishment to the bible or Jesus or psychoanalyzing historical figures to get behind the text. Instead Christian psychology is a way of reading the text, a way of reading the bible the historical narrative and the church as answers to psychological questions. Christian psychology is at its heart a hermeneutic that will focus on reading Christian history, from Jesus through the saints to the world of today as part of a narrative, as part of a story able to answer our questions about ourselves and our development and nature from the convictions of our belief. Thus Christian psychology will look fundamentally different from the psychology offered to us from the establishment that has drawn its story from the Enlightenment.

There is a the question of what Christian psychology looks like in the 21st century, and I think that the answer lies in two fields. I think that Christian psychology should continue to be developed as narrative, in stories, plays, novels, and other forms of narrative that show to us the Christian life as a story we can participate in. These texts will continue to be inspirational to Christians of all levels if they are written as well told, well plotted, stories, not Christian books, but Christians writing books about everything else, including psychology. Dostoyevsky was a master of this, and I think that within the community, Christian psychology should continue to at least in part maintain itself as a storied discourse. If our theology is inherently narrative, then our psychology should be as well.

However, stories alone will not answer all possible questions and a body of work that looks like the psychology of the establishment should also be welcomed. A systematic formation of Christian answers to psychological questions is necessary. Yet this body of work might not be immediately recognizable as a psychology by established psychology because it is approaching with a different paradigm. It is a paradigm that says that The Triune God matters, it is also saying that the alternative psychology is devoid of true or ultimate meaning because it fails to realize this. We should welcome a systematic approach that would draw out a distinctive discourse we could call a psychology from our tradition and set the answers before us, and we should try to draft distinctively Christian answers to questions about behavior and development from within our anthropological commitments.

A Christian psychology must while rejecting the anthropology of the establishment continue to engage it, to assess questions about the two hemispheres of the brain, the cognitive abilities of newborns, the way in which eyewitnesses construct and reconstruct memories, the components of intelligence and many other things. The Christian story may not always have answers for these things nor do we seek proof texts of one or another part of the tradition, but that is why we have a narrative theology, it draws on developments, and sees our theology as developing towards a goal. There will be methodological conflicts, since assertions about the natural world will not lead the Christian psychology I am proposing to make judgments on the nature of God, since we see the created order as partially unknowable, since it is fallen, and mistrust natural theology as a way of reaching the God we see revealed in Jesus Christ.

A Christian psychology that rejects natural theology will be shaped very differently by these questions than a theology that makes every observable detail of ultimate importance in assessing the character and nature of God. We believe rather that only God reveals Himself to us, we cannot find Him, and He reveals Himself to us through the life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. To look at the world is to look at both a fallen order, and the birth of a new one, therefore a Christian psychology takes stock of the nature of things, but reserves ultimate judgment to her metaphysical claims, that the world in which we believe is a world where violence is passed, where disability, and personality fragmentation are at an end. A world where all things are made right. We reject the belief in inalienable rights, and the dignity of the human person, because we see these things not as inherent qualities of a person, but contingent upon the climax of our narrative, the cross. Thus our beliefs about the nature of disability, and suffering will differ greatly from those of our establishment counterparts, since our narrative shapes our interpretation of the evidence, as their narrative based in the Enlightenment shapes theirs.

Not only is a Christian psychology sourced differently from an academic perspective, drawing texts not normally considered psychology as sources, furthermore it is pastorally driven. The goal of a Christian psychology is not self-actualization or empowerment, nor is it personal autonomy, but is primarily concerned with the proper worship of God and pastoral developments towards that worship in the life of the individual and the community. Personal aims of a Christian psychology are solidarity with the poor, and the weak, a constructive correction of vices, and a mediation of the Christian narrative in intelligible ways as to make realizable by a wider audience the claims of the faith. For protestant churches, Christian psychology should function largely as catechesis does in Orthodox traditions. It is about the formation of Christians, and interactions with their teleological development, which stated exclusively is that human life is only as intelligible and proper as its worship of The Triune God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth, and all claims about the meaning of life and interpretations of data set forth are subject to inspection by this hermeneutic lens and required to be in coherence with it..

So, to be more specific, a Christian psychology should have a few key elements to make it a psychology in the first place.

I suppose this begins with an understanding of what we mean by human nature, and whether there is at all a human nature to be talked about. Karl Barth rejected the idea of human nature, saying that the only true human is Christ. I think Barth is right, but it does not answer the matter of we face as counselors, pastors and psychologists, so we can call it the fallen nature, or human tendency. But these questions are shaped by Christian teleological and eschatological beliefs, so that the goal is Christ, and human nature looks like Jesus himself. Christ is the source of human nature, and the true humanity, to be truly human one must be truly Christian. So, the goal of human nature is exemplifying what the church has claimed about Christ, historically, and at its heart, human nature is about the Christian virtue of charity. But we must ask specific questions within this framework about the motivations and needs of human persons, not only theologically, but theopragmatically, in terms of the Christian life, what are our needs, desires and behaviors? What in humans is necessary for them to function properly according to the purpose for which they were created?

A psychology should sketch if not at the very least make suggestions on what personality traits characterize a fully developed and mature person, keeping in mind a necessary gap between this side of the eschaton and the fullness of the resurrection. This question is really a development of the nature of pastoral care, by describing in detail what characterizes Christians as Christians in their behaviors. We recognize that modern psychologies have virtues as well, some of their virtues are merely incongruous with certain claims from within Christian orthodoxy. This is basically the work of the church anyways, describing person hood according to certain ideas that Jesus and the church have claimed, but maybe repopularizing them and presenting them in a way that liberal protestants as well as conservatives might understand. Seeing the Christian narrative and participation as part of that personhood, will help create not an autonomous individualized account, but help us ask the question, what sort of relations is a fully developed person engaged in?

When we ask that question a whole new set of ethics is being done that respects the communal nature of human being, and shares the Christian claim that all being is communal. Being itself is a type of communion, especially for Christians. So the propositions set forth should ask about what type of relations such a person is engaging in, and what type of virtues they show forth in those relations. This is the only way to undo modern psychology’s obsession with privatizing the individual. Further this leads to integrating questions about successful personhood with successful developments, especially if we open the bracket of relations to not only interpersonal ones, but questions of relation to their environment and agency.

I suppose the next thing necessary is what psychology calls neuroses, dysfunctions and disorders. In other words, a Christian psychology proposes vices or behaviors that are destructive towards the psychological formation and well being of the person and their relations. Again, this will map not only dysfunction but its effect on community life, studying the strain on relations as well as the strain on the individual, seeing both as in communion. Christian psychology maps dysfunctions and disorders carefully, developing a language about those destructive traits and relations. This again, is an exercise part theory, part pastoral care. It needs to develop a language within which to frame vices opposed to the Christian narrative and meet the needs of the individuals who suffer the vices. A Christian psychology can at this point be highly scientific by testing the responses of the tradition, or developing methods consistent with the Christian narrative and test them to see if they work. If we ever come to a place where a proposed solution does not work, or does not prove fruitful, we can reinterpret the tradition for other solutions, or innovate new methods that do so within the context of the overarching Christian narrative.

These things will help us create a psychotherapy, or in Christian terms, a set of relationships that will prevent or treat the unhealthy interactions and behaviors. Christian psychotherapy should develop itself as what the church is in its pastoral context. Thus Christian psychology will have effects on the way pastoral ministry is carried out, as well as ecclesiological considerations since, what we are talking about in discussing the behavior and well being of persons is really asking the church to consider the care and guidance she will provide to her members. It is grounded in the belief that the only thing that makes a real difference in these matters, is the incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Christian psychotherapy is at it’s heart reconciliation. This will take different forms on a case by case basis, but it should include the practices of confession, penance, and recognizing sin, while realizing the call of Jesus for us to conform to His call to be disciples as part of the solution to the problems we will face.

Christian psychotherapy does not ask us to face ourselves, it asks us to face Christ, and confront our sins with the call to being a disciple of Jesus. Christian psychology will be healing to us, but not by mediating us to ourselves, only in mediating Christ to us as the only possibility of a true self. A response to guilt will feature here, but the Christian task is the assumption of such guilt without having it mediated to us by conscience. It is acknowledging that we are judged not by ourselves, but by Christ. The only thing that conscience will give us is ourselves, and Christians must reject this since our teleology is shaped by our relation to Christ and participation in the people that He has called us to be. For Christians conscience is not the voice of virtue, but the voice of self-defense and excusability. For Christians our goal is not moral autonomy, but the recognition that all our wholeness and goodness comes from Christ and is mediated to us by the church. Conscience has no part in a Christian psychology, because it is a tool by which humans remove from themselves the responsibility of the voice of God by making themselves that voice, it is either self-righteousness or self-debasement neither of which recognizes the person of Christ as our judge and savior. For Christians the life that is whole and good is proper response to God’s commands, and necessarily include love of neighbor, proper methods of “treasuring” e.g. Matthew 6:19-24, and the necessity of communion, confession and prayer as ways in which the Christian life is lived truthfully.

In closing, Christian psychology is about living according to the life the church has seen exemplified in Christ and made possible by Him. Christian psychology is a pastoral endeavor shaped by sources outside those of 20th century considerations but should make these sources intelligible both to the outside world and ourselves as psychology through a hermeneutic lens. Christian psychology is a development from within Christianity that offers its own particular set of claims about what it means to be human, and Christian from the perspective that God matters. And Christian psychology must avoid most if not all of modernity’s concept of the human being since it is inherently opposed to the community that Christ has called to Himself. Christian psychology is at its heart a liturgical and pastoral act that is akin to a virtue ethics, but will place its pastoral emphasis on the proper worship of God, and the community which He has called to Himself as the final solutions to the problems persons face. There are methods and means of attaining these and the Christian psychologist is there mostly as an interpreter, showing the faith as a catechist, instructing pastorally, and mentoring with the truth that is Christ and His call in Love.

Christian Reflection On Labor Day

A Christian Response to Labor Day:

I think we should be grateful for our particuar place, which we should feel is a part of our embodiment, and thus our vocation. But we must also critique our penchant for war as a country and the deification of patriots, labor unions and inalienable rights. We should remember that we are creatures, and that labor day is also a call to remember our labors unto God, to steward creation, and to take care of a world which is very good.

A christian engagement of labor day should i think also remember workers, in all countries and concern itself with remembering the struggles put forth to make the world we live in one that comes at sometimes no cost to us but high costs to them. We should remember that what we call labor here is in many cases built on the intensely difficult struggles of others and that our country has reached success through stepping on other countries along the way.

I think that a Chrisitan engagement of labor day remembers that this country we find ourselves in was built in part by slaves, and by the power of people breaking their backs for the institution called industry, by children in factories, and men starving during the great depression.

Further, it remembers that the place of that memory is not as an idealistic ancestor worship but sees labor as part of embodiment and what it means to be created as a human being. It remembers the Labor of God, both in Creation and the cross as labors of love and generosity.

Labor day for Christians means remembering that while we participate in the American narrative, and we do so as Americans, it is only secondarily to our lives as Christians. We are inescapably American, and while we love this country, it is a penultimate love, it cannot claim our total allegiance, not in its stories or its collective memory. We . I further think that labor day can help us reflect on our labors as a church body, while remembering that our lives as Christians are told by another story.

This year, Labor day falls on the monday after the 23rd sunday of ordinary time. And for the church the liturgical color is green, it is a reminder of growth, and for me a reminder of our expectation that a new day is rising and has already risen, and a new world is coming yet is already here. It is a reminder of the coming future and its already present place among us at the Lord’s table where we gather to meet new creation.

It is the feast day of St. Regina who was a martyr, according to what we know of her from some sources. According to these sources

“She was born in the 3rd century in Alise, the ancient Alesia where two hundred years earlier Vercingetorix had fought so valiantly against Caesar. Her mother died at her birth, and her father, a prominent pagan citizen, entrusted the child to a Christian nurse who baptized her…In 251, at the age of fifteen, she attracted the eye of a man called Olybrius, the prefect of Gaul, who determined to have her as his wife. He sent for the girl and discovered that she was of noble race and of the Christian Faith. Chagrined, he attempted to have her deny her faith, but the saintly maiden resolutely refused and also spurned his proposal of marriage. Thereupon, Olybrius had her thrown into prison.”

Her Symbols include: Shepherdesses, Against poverty, impoverishment,torture victims.

What we should do with these things in this particular year is remember where we are at as a country, and what her life can remind us of. While we are in recession, or coming out of one, whatever the case is, we can remember those who are less forutnate than we are. We can remember those who are oppressed, we can remember martyrs who like St. Regina have suffered for the faith. We can remember the internally displaced refugees, and those who are laboring to liberate them, we can remember the labors of those working for peace, and the labors of those who are our neighbors. We can remember the workers without jobs, the people who will not be celebrating today, the people who have no labor to set themselves to, the families concerned about their tomorrow.

We can remember them and pray for them, we can be Christians and offer them a better allegiance, a better society, and a better hope, the Christian hope that What God The Father has done for Jesus, He will do for all of us at the appointed time. That our hope and our labors towards that hope are not in vain but are worth the work which we put into them, because that work will be caught up into God and recreated to justify all things finally at the end of all things.

We can take this time to reflect as well, on the readings for today, and see what they mean, and how they challenge us to encounter Jesus Christ and give up ourselves and embrace Him and only Him.

Reading 1
Col 1:24–2:3

Brothers and sisters:
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
on behalf of his Body, which is the Church,
of which I am a minister
in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me
to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
But now it has been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
It is he whom we proclaim,
admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
For this I labor and struggle,
in accord with the exercise of his power working within me.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I am having for you
and for those in Laodicea
and all who have not seen me face to face,
that their hearts may be encouraged
as they are brought together in love,
to have all the richness of assured understanding,
for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 62:6-7, 9

R. (8) In God is my safety and my glory.
Only in God be at rest, my soul,
for from him comes my hope.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed.
R. In God is my safety and my glory.
Trust in him at all times, O my people!
Pour out your hearts before him;
God is our refuge!
R. In God is my safety and my glory.

Gospel
Lk 6:6-11

On a certain sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught,
and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.
The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely
to see if he would cure on the sabbath
so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.
But he realized their intentions
and said to the man with the withered hand,
“Come up and stand before us.”
And he rose and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them,
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”
Looking around at them all, he then said to him,
“Stretch out your hand.”
He did so and his hand was restored.
But they became enraged
and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Today’s Collect is:
Almighty God, every good thing comes from you. Fill our hearts with love for you, increase our faith, and by your constant care protect the good you have given us. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Quotes on St. Regina Taken from http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm

Body and Character in Luke and Acts

Body and Character in Luke and Acts by Mikeal C. Parsons

Mikeal Parsons has illuminated ancient attitudes about the body and its relation to morality in the ancient world that are fascinating and seem to on the whole make more sense of the biblical texts he has chosen to illuminate than other conjectures such as the immediate presupposition of inauthenticity. Parsons has shown continuity with the texts being examined and Luke’s overall message convincingly, while not completely persuaded, I feel that Parsons has done a great job of bringing an orthodox view of the text as plausible back into the academic arena through a brief and scholarly study which presents alternative views of the text informed by a largely ignored area in terms of biblical scholarship.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term physiognomy, it is an ancient pseudo-science about the relation of the physical body to the perception of character, namely ideal bodies were inclined to ideal morals and disabled or deformed persons were considered to have flawed morality corresponding to their physical appearance. Parsons has shown how this consciousness was permeating the ancient world’s perception of literary characters beginning with Greek poetry, and its use in making moral judgments about literary figures. He parallels this to Luke’s presentation of the four characters he has chosen to examine in his inspection of the use and subversion of .

Parsons has chosen four pericopes to cover in his short but penetrating study, the story of the bent woman, Zacchaeus, the man lame from birth, and the Ethiopian eunuch. He provides keen insight to each of these stories, and informs us of how these characters might have been received by Luke’s audience before he turns the tables on the audience by overthrowing the general pathos which their stereotypes have taught them to adopt.

It is interesting to see the way that the “physiognomic consciousness” plays into these stories and seems a plausible way that the authorial audience would have seen the text. I don’t know what my ultimate reservation is, but I feel that my suspicion of the work might lie in its lack of theological finale. While touching on various topics I thought he might delve into more, Parsons refrains, perhaps to keep the work objective, perhaps because he works best as an expositor, but I feel that the conclusions that could be drawn from the work were not present sufficiently, and left me curious to see more. Instead I was left with a brief epilogue whose last two sentences were a wonderful conclusion yet, seemingly unfinished. Although Parsons has invited theological inquiry based on his study, which I hope to see some of soon.

The book also has great virtue though, as a work which forces us to reconsider our own biases of morality based on outward appearance, and we are reminded that the early Christian community is radical, because it includes the weak, the frail, the outcast and the judged. In the formation of theology, especially moral theology in the advent of this century, it is an important work in historical ethics of the Christian community.

I feel that what was important to my observation and inquiry in the characters presented in the stories Parsons presented was the way healing played a role in the stories, because it has different effects on the person being healed at each turn. The bent woman is obviously healed of a disease which afflicted her 18 years, and is physically healed from what has made her outcast, and the same goes for the lame man. While the connecting factor between these two is a healing and common theme of weakness and morally dubious character, which is interesting in itself, my initial concern is with Zacchaeus and the Ethiopian Eunuch.

If Parsons is right about Zacchaeus being a dwarf by congenital defect, Jesus does not restore him to the community by their standards of what a moral person looks like, which while seemingly obvious is still significant. This means that Jesus in Luke’s narrative does not see dwarfism as barrier to the kingdom of God, nor does he see it as a lack of wholeness. For someone developing a theology disability or deformity, it is highly significant that this is the case. For Luke’s Jesus is a healing Jesus, and I think it is noteworthy that Luke’s Jesus does not make Zacchaeus taller. If we look at the text with its physiognomic dimensions Jesus challenges Zacchaeus to become magnanimous in character, which would seem difficult to the people who underrated him as a person small of character due to his physical stature. Jesus also calls him a son of Abraham, Jesus sees Zacchaeus as part of the eschatological community by virtue of the choice which he has made to bring restitution to his failures. His salvation is not merely a matter of his being good now, but is a reinterpretation of his social status as well, making him equal in the community of Jesus’ followers despite his physical differences.

While to us this may seem commonplace, or to be assumed, it is highly uncharacteristic of ancient religions at large and specifically uncharacteristic of Judaism. While it is noted that deformed persons had a popular place in the Roman culture it was as objects of ridicule, collected like trophies by the emperors Domitian and Nero, and Augustus even bought a congenitally short small person as a pet for his niece.

While Jesus encounters him, he makes no move to “heal” Zaccheus as in cure him of his congenital defect, even though in other cases he does, such as the man blind from birth. This raises interesting questions.

The Eunuch as well raises some interesting questions, if he is a castrated or sexually mutilated man is not restored sexually by baptism or by extreme unction as he is brought into the community through baptism which is just as important as if he had been. While he is through Parson’s argument given a new place in the community and a new honor in Christ, he is not healed at least in the sense of a physical restoration of function, and though the audience is forced to reconsider his character, his role in the community is reinterpreted by the early Christian community as one who is ritually pure.

The Christian polemic against the temple cult and a new and radical inclusivism are only part of the whole picture of the moral formation which Luke is using through these illustrations.

It seems that in light of physiognomy early Christians reject the assumptions of morality as inherently tied to physical appearance, which was not to remain so historically as some prominent Christian leaders that Parsons notes were persuaded by physiognomic interests. It might even explain what we moderns think absurd theological considerations when we read about some church theologians and the way in which they think Christians should laugh properly in society.

In conclusion, I feel that this book is important, and should be read by anyone with an interest in the Abrahamic community, healing, or outcasts as themes in Lukan literature. I would like to see the implications these texts have for Christian healing and a theology of disability. While books on the subject of disability and theology are coming from every angle and exploding in the contemporary interest, I think it’s of great value to examine why Jesus healed the way he did and what healing might have been in Christ’s idea of His mission. It seems important to me to know whether Jesus had a particular physiognomic concern, or whether he had a moral or ontological concern for the people he healed. While it would be largely speculation, the text might provide some insights, though we must allow that it was not built in such a way as to answer that question directly. I’d like to do some more work reading Luke-Acts and commentators on the text since it is of great interest to me.

The Trinity and the Encountered and thus Encountering Life

The inner life of the trinity as love can be recognized by us as love only through our participation in that life as it already is and draws us into it. To know the inner life of the Trinity requires that we participate already in the kenotic and self disclosing Other seeking love of the Trinity. There is no epistemology apart from participation. To believe otherwise is blasphemy. Only love understands itself, and only love can disclose itself, and it shall only disclose itself to love when speaking in the epistemological framework. Love is the truest reality that has been revealed to humanity, and it is inescapable. To be a Christian one must believe in and be shaped by their understanding of Absolute Love. In concrete reality love will overpower even non-love, but it will only do so by conforming non love into love through a Taboric experience, through a transfiguration that in the self disclosure draws non love into encounter and thus opens its eyes. Love is always the apriori, and it will always necessarily apprehend and invite the situation before releasing itself and its disclosure into the encounter with the Other. -Eli

Can I just get this off my chest?

 

I dunno, going to the monastery this break really really fucked with me, head and body, mind and spirit. I feel like i’ve had a few too many screwdrivers and none of it was worth the drinking.

 

But I also feel like I got drunk on something substantial, and am inebriated with longing to return to the simple and unburdened life of the monastic way. Forsaking all things, and living a life in service to God and the world through prayer.

 

It was a challenging experience and I’m not sure I was able to really appreciate it fully because of the emotional baggage I carried with me there that i needed to sort through before i could find any semblance of rest. I haven’t slept well since that first night there. I did all my crying on the way over there, and was just exhausted by the end of the first night.

 

I feel like a shell of a person some nights, and i feel as if since i returned i’ve been living half aware and half exhausted, and fully guilty.

 

I don’t feel like I’m at all present in or even really observing my life. I feel as if all my energy is going towards incessant worrying and all i can do is sit back and wait until my whole world comes crashing down around me. I am honestly afraid, i’m afraid of what I’ll do with myself. Afraid of what she means to me. Afraid of what I mean to myself. Afraid that I’m falling too comfortably into orthodoxy and receding into mother church for the comforts of her ability to supply those answers which I need without being brave enough to seek them on my own. Afraid that I’m not devoted enough to Mary, and simultanesouly afraid I’m too devoted.

 

I’m afraid i’m too flirtatious, but not manly enough. I’m afraid that i am a shell of what it means to be a man even though i love it when she touches my beard.

 

I am restless and in awe at my own ability to choose failure and defeat when sometimes i’ve so clearly reached after success and managed to grasp it. I feel i have fallen in some inexplicable way and become disoriented in the midst of my sudden lucidity about myself and the world.

 

I’m not at all sure what to do with myself, and my once glorious intents have fallen to the wayside as I consider what i mean, and what my existence means.

 

I’m afraid to reach out and just be, i’m afraid to move on, afraid to hold on. I don’t know what the hell to do and i’m everywhere surrounded by fears, and undergoing the sufferings of love, those tender sufferings that wound most truly.

 

My eyes are swollen with restlessness, and my mind is awake in ever increasing streams of inaccessible consciousness.

 

What am I?

 

Who am I?

 

I am not sure how i would even begin to address these questions, or make satisfactory expiation for the blood they require in seeking an answer.

 

I am not as adventurous as I once thought myself to be, and feel as if I carry this unpronounceable weight of duty and devotion.

 

And I feel the part of the unloved child in the midst of all this. This is not a plea for attention, just the reality of me. I feel as if whether i am present or absent makes no difference to most. I feel like I am unlovely and awkward, the boy who wants to be beautiful, the man who longs to be told he is special to someone, somewhere.

 

My relationship with my mom has fallen into a deadening ritual of hellos and goodbyes that are interspersed with short polite withdrawn conversations. She can feel the change in me, i feel it in myself, and I am not aware of if there is a way to make peace. I am questioning my draw towards orthodoxy and wondering if it is out of childish fear, or out of an acknowledgement of truth in fullness that is drawing me.

 

I feel my own death impending, looming, but simultaneously endlessly distant.

 

I hate being the accomplished student. I feel as if I’m nothing else. I wish that Eli was more than just a paper writer, more than a name on the lips of the inquisitive or the disgusted. I wish Eli was the name on the lips of a lover, of a friend calling to check up on me, a name in the back of a mind, at the heart of a pleasant memory. I feel like everywhere i go i leave death and tragedy in my wake, and where it’s not there yet, it will be.

 

I feel overcommitted and under-appreciated, overtaxed and underpaid, mostly aloof even though I long so badly to be connected.

 

As I sit here I make a plea to have a simple life, i wish i could walk away from all of this, say fuck the world and go back to the monastery, back to the simple life.

 

I wish that was my calling. I’m tired of feeling like i’m part of something bigger than myself. I get this feeling like i’m being moved towards something tangible, solid, practical, all-encompassing and “destined” for me. But I hate that feeling sometimes.

 

It’s a wonderful excitement that helps me taste adventure, but I hate feeling this inevitable pull towards something I’d rather walk away from. I would rather just be empty, free of all commitments, devotions, positions, titles.

 

I hate this uncertainty.

 

I wish I was the whispered blessing on a lover’s lips, instead i’m the bane of a middle aged republican history teacher. 

 

I am not what I once was, i’m not an artist anymore. I’m barely a theologian. It all feels like pretend, and I don’t know where the fuck i lost myself, but I feel like i’m barely present here and now.

 

I am hurt and frustrated by unspeakable things that I wish I could take back, change, undo, avoid involvement in, and just never have been a part of. I wish that I could dump all the exteriors and retreat into a life of private faith, just the simple piety of a man trying to live a life as best he can for himself and maybe a family. Farm life in Ireland or something, just raw, and connected to the earth.
For more that I try to be a man, i feel like academics strip that from me. I want simplicity, but the academic circles force me into the realm of speculation on language and definitions, i just want to eat a steak with my hands.

 

Fuck me….

 

I don’t know what i want i’m uncertain on almost every level and feel wretched and terribly lost.

 

I feel like a little boy who doesn’t know how to begin to address coming out of his mother’s skirt and into the world at large.

 

I may be a pillar of boldness on the surface, but my shyness lurks underneath, and I feel the implications of my reservations, of the dignities that I hold onto.

 

I try to let them go, but I feel as if when i do they might be misinterpreted as romantic endeavors. I’m not trying to start anything with anyone. These dignities, these wants, these reservations and self restrictions, these ascetic choices that aren’t beneficial to anyone, these empty formalities that are further away from self actualized manhood than anything else. But I feel as if i look a certain way to the world.

 

I am not trying to fill some sort of empty gap with mockeries and jesting, I wish I had a connection. I wish i could bear my whole heart, and that someone would care enough to listen, to open up too.

 

I’ve hurt too many people along the way, ridiculed too many innocents, broken too many hearts, and confounded too many hopes and aspirations. I am the dark mirror which reflects back only the past, only broken hearts and weeping faces, bleeding eyes and broken places.

 

I am wandering the world in silence and I feel as if I need to scream. No night has ever been this dark, and for some reason though I feel this is one of the darkest nights of my life, I feel simultaneously that this is not the worst i’ve faced though it certainly feels like it in an indirect way. See, I don’t have a manifest panic,it’s more like a resignation to the darkness, that just treats the darkness as a trite formality.

 

i don’t know why that is, because I feel totally abandoned, and maybe this is me being able to meet God in the situation, maybe it’s just numbness, 

 

I can’t be sure.

 

So I wait, and wrestle with these questions in my mind, and let them sweep over me in over growing concentric circles of consciousness.

 

I guess that is all I really have to say, not a pretty poem, or a well crafted internal monologue, just a blurt, with a feeling of emptiness still not sated in the end.

What Does the Resurrection of the Son of God Mean Today?

I was thinking about my Christian experience today, and as I was considering the implications of a certain emotional state, I got to thinking about the Victory of God in Jesus, and the idea that despite all things God has won a victory in this world and that ultimately, I am participating in that victory.

 

Sure, today I am not in the best state, but I have hope. Hope reaches into me, to lead me towards the victory of God. I am the essence of all consciousness, being constantly resurrected from a fallen state. I am baptized into the body of the Risen Lord, and united with him by one Spirit, made one flesh with him by that same Spirit. I am not forsaken, but am embraced by this beloved who ushers me into his presence with glee, as I approach with trembling reverence.

 

My tears are merely prayers in a different language. In them is the hope of glory, as true suffering somehow brigs true redemption. Our ideals are not God’s ideals. The Risen Lord shows us that in suffering is the cosmos replaced where the chaos once was. Idealism is ultimately backwards, and in those ideals I am further from the Resurrection of the Son of God than closer.

 

So it occurred to me that in order to truly experience the meaning of this great and glorious resurrection, it means that I must not shed the ideas that I have thought were ideal, I must also embrace those which are seemingly backwards to me.

 

Suffering is not the emptiness of dejection, though that is experienced, it shall prove to be more integral to the resurrection of my person than should I never have suffered. The world, I can’t speak for, but for me, for Eli, this suffering is my invitation into God’s plan of redemption.

 

So, as I enter into the lower depths, I know that my war with the forces of evil is not in vain, as I leave behind those things which would lead me from the narrow path, I find pleasure in the backwards ideals of God. Sipping a Lady Grey tea blend and wondering about all this gives me pleasure, and as I pursue my future, I realize that in time I will get there, regardless. Today is a day, tomorrow shall be another, and ultimately, it is completed in such a way that my purpose will be accomplished, I have faith and hope that the path set before me is not in vain and that which I feel called to complete will be completed because I have dedicated myself to it and to enjoying today.

 

I am enjoying beauty, the joys of mentoring, and being mentored, the beauty of togetherness, the bliss of separation, the ebb and flow of presence and absence.

 

Beautiful.

 

As you read this, I don’t think you’ll understand half of what was said here this day, and for that I am sorry.

 

I don’t blame anyone or anything for these things which we pass. We are all journeying towards something, and I am whole in the redemption of my body. I am whole in my expectation that this is going to be well. 

 

So, brothers and sisters, my little children, remember that suffering causes the redemption of things outside ourselves, and in the end, it is not about how God is going to save me. It’s about how God is going to save the universe through me.

 

Love one another, as I remember to do the same. Hold fast. Stand strong.

 

The Resurrection shall live through me today, and in this we are well pleased.