Friday, August 05, 2016
Jason Hesiak: Made in America, Part 2
O.J. Simpson: Made In America, Part 1
The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
17 they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them.
Psalm 135: 15-18
O.J. Simpson signing autographs in Buffalo International Airport, 1980
Here, the story continues of my confession of racism and of God’s working to heal myself, and, hopefully others, through his rule and for his glory. Click HERE to read Part 1.
We were at Bob Kardashian's mansion. O.J.'s playing tennis. Everybody's having a good time. I'm 'Black Bob,’ man. I don't wanna be around these people, cuz they're all phony to me. I said: 'O.J. Look around you, man! These people don't care nothin' about us! Just a few years ago, these guys woulda drove down Filmore in their Rolls Royce, and they would never even spit on us.' I said: 'Now? They actin like we they long lost brothers?' I said: 'Man, the only reason we're here is cuz we're jocks. And you're O.J.' And he looked at me, he says, 'Mmm,yea.' He says, 'I understand what you sayin.' An' he rubbed his tennis racquet, he says, 'But I AM O.J.,' and ran off, on the field, laughing. And I was like, I mean, I was furious, because I said:'He's lost! He's lost his identity. He doesn't know who he is, any longer.' I think he had been brain washed!
- A childhood friend of O.J.’s, Joe Bell
Black and white people had both watched the same trial. On the very same television programs. They had all both seen the same pieces of evidence, the same witnesses called, the same courtroom drama. And, yet, about three out of every four people in the country, directly along racial lines, well, DIDN’T see the same trial! How was this possible!?
One of the jurors in the OJ trial, a black woman from a poor section of Los Angeles, later being interviewed in “OJ: Made in America,” explicitly came out and said that her own specific decision to acquit Simpson was “payback for Rodney King.” This juror represents how much of the black community experienced that trial, I think. Just as I don’t view their feelings about 39th and Dalton, Latasha Harlins, or Rodney King are illegitimate, I don’t think that that juror’s decision had an illegitimate basis.
She herself later (after OJ’s going to prison for kidnapping and theft) came to sort of regret her decision, because she later realized that OJ probably committed murder. She also said, though, that, at the time, she did what she thought was right. Her whole thought process about the trial was based on her story and that of her people with whom she identifies herself. I can understand how she thought and felt, considering the circumstances.
My reaction to the OJ verdict, however, had a whole different basis in the first place. My disgust was based on the same things that Tomi Lahren bases her idea of justice on in THIS VIDEO. For Tomi Lahren, Johnny Cochran “played the race card.” Race had nothing to do with it. He just brought race into it, so he could win the case. Tomi Lahren trusts the justice system and its methods and bases for truth. I am Tomi Lahren. I trust in the cool, rational headed “facts.” I trust in the science, the genetic testing of the blood samples, in the rule of law and the judicial process. I have no reason not to. That’s why my heart was screaming “INJUSTICE” when I watched the OJ verdict announced.
We trust in what we identify with. Both OJ and I trusted in “the brain-washers.” Jesus’ justice is, however, depicted on the cross, not in American courtrooms.
So, watching “OJ Simpson: Made in America,” I realized that my history, my training, tell me that my seeing the OJ verdict the way I did determines not only my ability to be successful in the world but my very identity. In school, I was graded on being able to see and understand these things. I took that evaluative process very seriously. I treasured high grading of my self.
Watching “OJ Simpson: Made in America,” I realized that the African American community, while watching the OJ Simpson trial and verdict unfold, already understands that truth is founded on trust. For them, all truth has an obvious element of human specificity and contingency. Matthew 7: 24-25 is spoken by a human being in a specific, contingent context.
African Americans have seen and closely experienced far too many instances where the facts, despite rumors to the contrary, actually turn out to be unimportant to the supposedly “objective” justice system. No one has to convince them that there’s no such thing as uninterpreted facts, that such “facts” are a figment of the Enlightenment imagination, even though many (both whites and blacks) probably don’t know what the Enlightenment is. A bunch of old, scholarly, white guys who were, like me (and the rest of us), shaped by Enlightenment history, apparently had to bang into my head the unfactualness of facts for fifteen years before I started to understand what they meant.
Watching “OJ Simpson: Made in America,” I realized more clearly that the biggest fact that has clearly been rendered unimportant to the justice system before the eyes of the black community has been their own worth and dignity as human beings in the world. So, they tend to live in a whole different world and be shaped by the values of a whole different community. “The facts” have all too often determined the black community’s inability to be successful in the world. So, they tend to more often grade themselves differently, I think.
Watching OJ’s verdict played out on “OJ Simpson: Made in America,” I realized that, for Johnny Cochran – and every other black man and woman in America, for that matter – no one “played the race card.” For them, race was clearly and obviously already part of the story. We trust in what we identify with. If racism wasn’t, in the words of Joe Bell, “the most powerful narrative in America,” then there would have been no evidence of Mark Fuhrman’s past racism for Johnny Cochran to attack. As a white man, I say that that is legitimately true REGARDLESS of whether or not Fuhrmann really was racist by the time Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered! And, that’s because the narrative of racism was available to Cochrane because of both Fuhrman’s former obvious racism and because of the larger racist history of our country in which Fuhrman had been participating.
All of that is to say the reason why it was possible for the whole country to watch the same trial and yet see two totally different things, which I realized while watching “OJ Simpson: Made in America.” White people saw science, facts, evidence, and the justice process at work, because they saw a justice system in which they were placing their trust and with which they identified them selves. White people trust the system, because it’s a white system, which happens to be part of why it has favored white people for so long. Just as the black community has 39th and Dalton, Letasha Harlins, and Rodney King, white people have the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the East India Company.
White people were looking to systems of truth and justice founded by white people: systems like modern science and modern Western style courts. Black people, having already developed a profound distrust and lack of hope in those very same white systems of truth (bad grades do not equal stupidity) and justice (criminal history doesn’t equal lawlessness), were trusting people (namely, O.J. Simpson) to bring light to the story of their own people.
While watching “OJ Simpson: Made in America,” I realized that it’s not necessarily or absolutely “bad” that OJ was acquitted, and that black people saw that as vindication in the wake of Rodney King. I also saw that it’s not necessarily or absolutely “bad” that I was complicit in racism in how I viewed the OJ verdict.
Neither people group was operating on a universally legitimate standard of truth or justice that could render their ideas of truth and justice as good, right, true, and noble, while rendering the other ideas of truth and justice bad, wrong, false, and unworthy. Just as I actually operate on that basis of trust while presuming that what I’m trusting in is based on some supposedly objective standard, the black community, in how they experienced the OJ trial and verdict, had standards while primarily, you could say, living the story based on the human elements of trust and hope (or lack thereof). Considering the histories, neither basis of truth or falsity is totally illegitimate.
What is “bad” is that different such bases of truth and justice point to what seem to be fairly accurate indications of just how racially broken apart our country is. About three in four whites, while forming their opinion of OJ Simpson’s guilt or innocence, trusted in the objectivity of “the facts” that presumably, in their estimation, had nothing to do with the particular, contingent human element of trust. On the flip side of the coin, about three in four blacks, while forming their opinion on the same topic, trusted in something completely different. The reason I say this is an indication of brokenness is because we trust in what we identify with.
O.J. Simpson football card
I don’t remember his exact words, but, regardless, he could have said, “I like pizza,” and I’m pretty sure the crowd would have reacted the same way, which was rip roarous applause. When he finished talking, the whole church literally jumped up out of the pews with loud shouts of joy, clapping like they had cymbals in their hands.
Watching this footage of O.J. at church, what stood before my face while watching my heart unfold before me as if from a magic lantern from behind my TV was three-fold.
First: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Again, from my recent study of N.T. Wright and David Fitch, I had before me a view of what we would now call racial unity in the visible, local body of believers as a witness to the presence and reign of the One true God of Israel embodied in Jesus Christ whose Spirit was present and at work as the only possible explanation of how two groups of people who would otherwise never be united in such a way as to identify themselves as One body together before the world are, instead, living in a community of love together, a community that gathers for worship of the One true King with and under whom they all identify together.
The true justice of God is displayed on the cross, not in American court rooms. True justice is lived out in the cross-shaped community that is an extension of the broken and pierced body of Jesus Christ.
Second: White people – that would be me - still in shock, indignant, and incredulous over the lack of justice in O.J.’s verdict, watching him speak to a black church in Los Angeles to such a cacophony of applause, thinking, “Why would that preacher give the pulpit to someone who was obviously an unrepentant murderer like that?”
Third: All these African Americans shouting for joy….on the TV screen of my heart.
As I discussed above, this is not just a matter of one’s opinion, take it or leave it, of OJ’s guilt or innocence. The reason Caucasian and African Americans had such different reactions to OJ Simpson is because they are trusting in different things, and trust runs as deep as the blood by which we identify ourselves.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Sundays are the most segregated day of the week.” The national spectacle of the OJ Simpson verdict, then, confirms MLK’s point, that the blood of our ancestors is thicker than the fiery waters of baptism into the body of the One True King. Of course, by “our” ancestors there, I don’t mean Abraham and Jesus the Christ. I mean Egyptian Kings and Thomas Jefferson. “Our” blood by which “we,” the American (evangelical) church, has life, is not the blood of Jewish fathers and kings who have adopted us Gentiles as their own. Instead, “our” blood is that of tribal and territorial ancestors.
In ancient times, those ancestors were worshiped more explicitly as gods. I say “more explicitly,” because we are - quite obviously, if we take the public facts set before us – governed by those same gods. In ancient times, they were thought of as gods, because they caused things to appear in the world that, without those gods, we would otherwise not see what it is that we do in fact see.
Can you think of another explanation of why Sundays are the most segregated day of the week? If Sunday mornings are an indication of the depths of our brokenness, the implication here is that different gods of competing tribes are at war over control of the territory where they find them selves. Either that, or the different tribes don’t think of them selves as being in the same territory in the first place. Perhaps, the reason we saw two different OJ Simpson murder trials was that we live in two different worlds, each crafted by our ancestral and territorial gods.
What I am suggesting, then, is that my confession of my racism is also a confession of my worshiping of a false god. My inability to see through the lenses of my black brothers and sisters – I realized in this moment when the screen of my heart was being played out before me through “O.J. Simpson: Made in America” – was not only because of but animated by my idolatry. The White American justice system, the white Enlightenment systems of the truth of science, forensics, and genetic testing, these were my idols. These are our “idols of silver and gold.” They “have eyes but do not see,” and “have ears but do not hear.” “Those who trust in them become like them.” I was shaped into the image of my idolatry. Truth is the words of the Christ. Justice is the cross and resurrection.
I treasured success in understanding and participation in these systems made by white human hands. I trusted in them, and I was thus shaped in their image. I “became like them.” Thus, the reason I was shocked, saddened, and angry when OJ was acquitted was because my very identity was challenged rather than affirmed. I identify myself with the success of the systems of justice and truth by which our judicial system operates. This is why I was blind and deaf to seeing and hearing the OJ verdict any other way and as an affront to justice.
What I am suggesting then, is that my confession of racism, which is also a confession of worshipping a false god, was also – I realized in this moment when the screen of my heart was being played out before me through “O.J. Simpson: Made in America” – the vision and prompting of the Holy Spirit towards the actualization of Revelation 7: 9:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
How different that is from the unholy vision of Sunday – still – being the “most segregated day of the week.”
Of course, if, in light of all that has already been discussed here, we begin to think through what it would really and truly and very practically take for whites and blacks to live and worship together in a community – and I don’t mean with a token white or two in a black church or a token black or two in a white church – then, what we arrive at is worship of the One True God of Israel who has adopted us, Egyptians and Europeans alike, into His family. The church’s having the same demographic as the DMV would mean a people who treasure Jesus Christ above all else. The painting of Jesus on the wall of the Sunday School classroom would be of a Jewish Jesus, not a black or a white one. It would mean TRUSTING IN Jesus. It would mean the gift of seeing, both our own sin and the glory of God. And, it would mean that, if we trust in him, we would become like him.
The reason – while watching the OJ verdict - I felt my heart strangely warmed, while at the same time confronted with the shock, sadness, and anger was, because I was more fully being given identification in Jesus Christ and his community. This juxtaposition in my being between exhilaration and profound sadness was also because I was, at the same time, repenting of trusting in what I was realizing was becoming old, dying, and rotting, false treasures. Before that, I really had no idea that my trust in the American justice system was both my complicity with racism and my lack of trust in the One who brings and embodies true justice.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
Jason Hesiak: Made in America, Part 1
Matthew 7: 24-25
I don't know how I ended up here. I just don't know how I ended up here. I thought I lived a great life. I thought I treated everybody well, went out of my way to make everybody feel comfortable and happy *heavy sigh* I felt the goodness in my self, the goodness I needed. I don't feel any goodness in myself right now. I feel empty. I feel TOTALLY empty. I thought I had something. Last thing I gotta say is please remember me as ‘the Juice.’ Please remember mee as a good guy. (June 17, 1994)
– O.J. Simpson, on what it's like trying to be your own god, after achieving fame, recognition, adoration, and extravagant wealth (in other words, after achieving what most of us spend most of our energy eagerly seeking after).
- from: “O.J. Simpson: Made In America” (on ESPN back in June, 2016)
O.J. Simpson Hertz Rent-A-Car advertisement
Consider the following a confession of my racism along with the story of how God is working to heal not only myself but , I hope, others, for his own glory. Do notice that the story doesn’t really start with me.
I had zero intentions of watching ESPN’s O.J. Simpson: Made in America special. “Who cares about O.J. Simpson, some celebrity who killed his wife more than twenty years ago. Why is this such a big deal? I don’t want to participate in this idol worship!” Then, with nothing else more interesting saved in the DVR, I sat down to watch an hour of one of the episodes while eating dinner one night. By the time I finished watching, well after I was finished with dinner, my world had begun to change. I felt God was teaching and training me into something. Of course, I then had to watch the rest of the series.
First, there was 39th and Dalton. In the midst of Raegan’s “War on Drugs,” in the summer of 1988, the police got a tip that a particular apartment in the South LA (“the hood,” gang territory) was a crack house. An army of police descended on the block, utterly destroyed the apartment, rounded up dozens of residents, left their own legitimized brand of gang graffiti, humiliated and beat numerous neighbors while charging none with a crime, and managed to find, on the whole block, six ounces of Mary Jane and one ounce of cocaine. Furniture was smashed. Holes were punched in walls. Family photos were destroyed. Cabinets and cabinet doors were ripped down. Doors were ripped off the hinges. Sofas and mattresses were slashed. Mirrors were shattered. Clothes were doused in bleach. Refrigerators were emptied and their contents strewn throughout the apartment. Toilets and sinks were returned to dust.
In the aftermath, there was literally no floor space to walk through the apartment without walking over top of the destroyed possessions and structures of what formerly had been the home of a single mother. Six adults and twelve children on the block, obviously living month to month or day to day in the first place, were left homeless and hopeless.
Joe Bell is a childhood friend of OJ’s. They grew up together in the projects. By the time 39th and Dalton happened, OJ had been living in Brentwood for years. O.J. was probably the only black man living there, it being an upscale neighborhood filled with the highest class of society. Bell’s commentary on 39th and Dalton, delivered with a tone of obviousness and incredulity, was, “That never would have happened in Brentwood!”
Then, in 1991, a 15-year old African American girl named Latasha Harlins walked up to the counter of a convenience store in Los Angeles to buy some Orange Juice. She pulled out the money to make the purchase and was met with a fight from the 51-year old Korean woman behind the counter, who happened to own the store. Letasha gave up the physical struggle rather quickly, and, when she turned to try to get away, leaving the O.J. on the counter, Soon Ja Du (the Korean attendant and owner of the gas station) shot her in the back of the head with a handgun. Latasha died immediately. In November, 1991, the store owner’s defense claimed that Letasha was trying to steal the O.J., but the Korean woman was convicted of murder. She was then sentenced by a white judge to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and restitution to the Harlins family for funeral expenses. Zero prison time. None. None whatsoever. Please explain that without coming to the conclusion that Letasha’s life was apparently considered unimportant.
And then – Rodney King. I don’t think I need to explain that one. The riots sparked by the acquittals and light sentences for the defendants in April of 1992 in the case say that the black community in Los Angeles had had it.
As I watched these stories unfold, I realized that, perhaps, black lives truly don’t matter. At the very least, black people understandably and legitimately got the message from the world that they are less than human. What doubt that remained was melting away. I began to see why they would be angry. I began to see that, for black men such as Ben Watson, who says inspiring things about love and publically works towards peace, the question is not whether or not to be angry. The question is what to do with that anger. The only other option is the route O.J. took for many years before his murder trial: meritocracy over what a white person might think of as racialized identities.
"What are all these niggers doing in Brentwood?"
- O.J. Simpson, while being led away from his home after being arrested for murder. (O.J. Simpson: Made in America, Part. 3)
I have, for a long time now, had some sympathy and even a sense of passion for racial justice. Watching these events unfold, as through the eyes of the African American community in LA, still constituted, though, for me, the beginnings of a change. I began to be able to see the world, quite actually, through new eyes. It wasn’t any longer a matter, for me, of judging between two sides of a debate. It was getting much deeper than that.
I have studied N.T. Wright a lot in recent years. He, along with David Fitch in The End of Evangelicalism?, showed me what it means to be given an identity in Christ. He showed me that, outside of the identity and mission of God, the world runs on idols that see the world in a way that is blind to Christ and hopes for a whole different future. I mean blind not necessarily or only in the sense of looking elsewhere but also in the sense of being able to look directly at Jesus but see only your own image, as if in a mirror dimly. The justice system is not immune to this idolatry. What connects those ideas (identity, mission, idolatry) to my viewing of this story of O.J. Simpson is, Wright and Fitch showed me that how we see the world cannot be disconnected from our identity, from who we are and consider ourselves to be.
And, further, those questions of identity and vision are deeply intertwined with the story in the scriptures of the spiritual battle between powers at work in the world and the One who truly has all the glory and power forever and ever. After all, those in power are who determine what we see in the first place, and, thus, who we become. The choosing of our selves’ allegiances is the choosing of who (or what) we take to be most powerful(ly true).
I had all of that in mind as I, twenty years after the fact, watched different peoples’ reactions to the verdict in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial. As footage much like this (please watch the linked video, or what I’m saying will really make no sense) came across my TV screen, the footage, in that moment, served almost as a magic lantern for my heart.
According to one study presented in ESPN’s “O.J.: Made in America,” black and white people in the USA, in the eight-month-long process of the 1995 trial, got further apart regarding their opinion on OJ’s guilt or innocence. Before the trial, 63% of whites thought O.J. was guilty, and 65% of blacks thought he was innocent. After the trial, 77% of whites thought O.J. was guity, and 72% of blacks thought he was innocent. As you can see from the above video, black people were, for the most part, jubilant, happy, and overjoyed. They cried tears of joy and vindication. White people, however, were, for the most part, shocked, angry, and indignant. They cried tears of sadness over the desertion and neglect of justice.
It was as though I were having an out of body experience. I, myself, was shouting inside, “NO! NO! This can’t be! He did it! He killed those two innocent victims! This is a disgrace to justice! The science and facts of the case say that he OBVIOUSLY did it!” And, yet, there on the screen of my heart, after I had begun to be able to see the world through their eyes, I was watching black people shed tears of joy and jumping up and down and hugging each other exuberantly. I was broken. I was contrite. I was angry (at myself or at O.J.’s jury?). I was sad.
I was also filled with a deep, profound, and strange, stirring river of joy, realizing that my world was changing forever. The very ability to see the juxtaposition between my “natural” reaction and the reactions of millions of black men and women around the country constituted a turning to a new way of seeing the world. As I noted previously, this means that I began to take on a new identity. N.T. Wright also talks about faith being the identity badge of the people of God. Fitch talks a lot about identity and character being shaped by community to which we belong.
I realized, in that moment of the magic screen of my heart being played out in front of me, NOT ONLY that, for black people, they were not just watching the O.J. Simpson murder trial. They were watching the whole history of their people. They were watching their ancestors working themselves to death in hellishly hot cotton fields, being dehumanized on whipping posts, supposedly being freed from slavery only to fall into multiple other forms of it over time, hanging from trees and dragging alive behind speeding trucks being driven by white men in positions of social and political power, being banned from using the same water fountains and bathrooms as white people, having their apartments ransacked by police with little to no accountability, having their neighbors humiliated and beaten for no reason, having their daughters shot in the head by a Korean woman who got her fingernails clipped in return, having justice be parodied on national TV for all to see in the many broken bones of their brother Rodney King.
NOT ONLY did I realize that black people were not just watching a Judge Judy show with some random and meaningless drama for her to judge the fates of some random individuals, but they identified with O.J. Simpson. He was what he had always been: one of America’s biggest celebrity idols. To watch the trial of the century for 8 months was to watch themselves on trial after, over and over and over and over again being found not only guilty but not worthy of real trials. For 8 months, the black half of the country held their breath in the hopes that them and all of their ancestors would finally, at last, be vindicated, be found worthy of true justice! Their own story was being played out vicariously before them.
The white half of the country ALSO held their own collective breath in the hopes that justice would be done. The difference was that justice looked very different to the two different groups of people, as evidenced quite clearly by the above video and by the previously mentioned survey. And, here I was falling so hard in line with my white half of the country as I watched the verdict being announced. Courts of justice didn’t always run on “rule of law” and on scientific evidence. “You shall not bear false witness against a neighbor.” – Exodus 20: 16.
Watching the announcement of OJ’s verdict on the screen of my heart being played out before me, then, was to watch my own judgment. In the seeing and opening up of the story of O.J. Simpson’s verdict, it wasn’t OJ who had been on trial. It was me. I was on trial, and I saw that I stood guilty. By the very fact of how I had seen the world, I was complicit in racism. I did not, I now saw, truly identify myself with Jesus, his truth, and his justice. But, like him, my heart was now pierced. I was guilty, but I was being set free.
Monday, March 28, 2016
Revelation at the Intersection of the Supermans
The original Superman tended to suppress his deep, visceral passions for the sake of the greater good, which was presumed to be the smoothly functioning machine we hoped in by calling it society. He presented as a hero offering an impossible image of justice, with no spilling of sacrificial blood of embodiments of even the worst evils. The original Superman had no awareness of the dark possibility of destruction of the whole world hidden in its theoretical and technological crafting. Batman never used guns. Global peace and harmony was achievable through training and hard work on your feet with your hands, and through hopeful tolerance at the joints where different parts of the machine fit together.
The new Superman is the result of taking exactly that upside down image of the world being turned right side up. The hoped for global machine has been achieved, and on its surface has arisen global terror (see link for discussion of terrorism and BVS) in response. The passions previously latent under the surface now appear blatantly on the screen (even in a bathtub love scene). There is no distinction between hero and terrorist. Both are the presentation of possible global destruction. After a glimpse of nuclear war was what ended as the culmination of two World Wars, fear of the loss of a smoothly operating global machine dominates over hope in its achievement.
With such passions boldly on the surface of reality, heroes readily and JUSTifiably kill to keep the damn of terror from bursting. Batman uses guns (somewhat) indiscriminately as in a dream of what might be necessary. Leaving massive, city-wide destruction in his wake, Superman readily kills a fellow alien. Such a wake only sets the stage for man's greatest fear to later be realized - the impossibility of terror's suppression. We don't even know if the emerging new terror rising from our squelching of it is in the form of the hero or of Doomsday! The final image is of the anti-hero's warning that evil forces are on their way to over-take the planet.
From where I stand as a Christian, the problem with this, the reason it can be spoken of as the presentation of more than silliness but even as evil, is that it is the turning of one idol over into another.
A good and dear friend of mine sees a general problem in a cultural pattern of images that present the destruction of traditional images of stability, images in which good always and rightly triumphs over evil. The good guy always wins. Order, justice, law, and virtue always win over chaos, destruction, and bloodlust. The good image of reality should awlays win over an image of reality in which chaos, uncertainty, and instability move to the center of the stage of what appears in our world.
Of course, this presumes in the first place that good and evil, order and chaos, can be clearly and orderly presented as separate characters and goals in a story that depicts true reality. In American Sniper, this un-real convenience is achieved quite literally by putting black hats on the bad guys and white hats on the good guys. That makes good and evil easy to distinguish, which, in turn, also makes easy the allegiance to good.
I would wholeheartedly agree with this expectation for our cultural images of reality, if only the image of "stability" were actually Jesus. I would agree that goodness, order, and virtue should and do always present as triumphing - if only that were how God presented His reality to us. I would readily agree that good should be clearly distinguished from evil, if only I knew from looking back on my life on which side I always ever stood. "Why do you call me good?" And, I don't think this is a matter of semantical nuance.
It's not just a matter of adding the word "space" just before the word "Jesus." It's in the Babylonian creation story that order is almost roundly defeated by chaos. Order wins after apparent defeat and builds the world we live in on the bloody corpse of chaos. It's in the Babylonian empire where the King annually acts out this creation story of their world to the delight and exaltation of his people.
The real Jesus, however, doesn't triumph over chaos. He submits to it.
The real Jesus wasn't a patient of Freud's. Suppression of the deep visceral wells of desire wasn't a question. There was no vacuous outer space where aliens had perfect control over every aspect of their being like organic robots. Man can't build himself to do that. Idols are crafted rather than submitted to.
The real Jesus wasn't a projection of humanity's idealized version of himself and his world. The real Jesus spilled his own blood. On top of that, his bleeding WAS his depiction of true justice. Idols hope in fantasies that can't deliver on their promises. And, when idols do deliver on their promises, the bow on the gift isn't as beautifully and completely tied as we had hoped. That's why Zack Snyder's Superman so powerfully repulses part of me. I'm an idol maker, too. Faith would be easy if my idols succeeded. But, it would be faith in my idols. Faith is hard when "the cords of Sheol entangled me."
The absence of violence wasn't a question in the real world of Jesus. Jesus took violence to be a fact of the world. Jesus' justice was to eat that violence, to take it upon himself, to carry it upon his own body. To submit to it. Jesus was the real gift, and his whole body was stained with blood. His piercing pierces through my idol that falsely hopes for perfection free of cost. The spear in Jesus' side breaks my illusion of the beauty of the original Superman. In Love, I am given to see an infinitely greater Beauty.
Jesus' achievement of justice wasn't presumed to carry the weight of the hopes and fears of the entire globe on its shoulders. Jesus' justice was the murder of an innocent Jewish carpenter rabbi in a small and distant Roman outpost that was a mere constant thorn in her side. "Jesus, King of the Jews" was meant to mock the Jews. That tiny and seemingly insignificant event within the whole known world that was called Rome, however, did just so happen to carry cosmic significance for all of humanity. The humble presumptions of the Incarnation's achievement reveal the inevitable result of man's making the whole planet into his idol.
The key word there is inevitable. As I said at the beginning of this post, the new (post-modern) Superman inevitably turned out from the original (modern one). The idol was the exact same in both cases. The two presentations of Superman are simply two different views of the same idol. And, the idol I am speaking of isn't Superman. The idol I'm speaking of is man's crafting of a planet for himself. The idol is the globe. The idol is the same as Nimrod's. Babel was left as an unfinished structure, but we never stopped trying to put it all together.
I try to readily accept, however, that the structure isn't mine to finish. The structures that we take to be our images of reality are not ours to complete, not ours to stabilize. Comic books, by the way, constitute such an effort of man as his own craftsman - into a Super(or Bat)-man.
The assumption that stable structures are ours to complete, coupled with the assumption that we begin the building of that reality in the first place, is precisely the meeting place between the two versions of Superman. Both versions of Superman have those assumptions in common. That meeting place, then, man's image of his globe, is where the two (modern and post-modern) worlds of Superman - his being a projected idol of the modern hopes of man - is seen to utterly fall apart into silly, hopeless, fantasy. And, when I say fantasy, I don't mean that Superman was originally a comic book. I am referring to the political fantasies of man that fuel both versions of Superman.
The good guys don't always win. God's values don't always defeat lawlessness. God's people and God's values aren't even necessarily depicted in the (modern) structures that we take to be stabilized images of a good world. The truth is, the bad guys won, and the murderous tyrant was freed. The truth is, God used that perfectly completed image of present reality to reveal the truth of the injustice latent at the heart of all of our idols. There is no need for despair. Don't be depressed that Batman resorted to the use of guns to thwart global terror or that Superman lost his perfectly robotic control over his passions. All of that really did happen. Zack Snyder's Superman is even more hopeful than the gospels. Lex Luthor was sent to prison while Barabbas was freed. And God still won. Not coincidentally, I saw Batman Versus Superman on Easter :)
Monday, March 07, 2016
So, I saw “Risen.”
Before I saw it, I asked someone who had seen it if it was a well crafted film, if it had good acting, direction, cinematography, and if it weaved a good story together. They said yes and explained that it was a good story about a Roman centurion who came to know Jesus in the time between his crucifixion and ascension.
After I saw it, someone asked me what I thought. I told them that I was pleasantly surprised that most all of that turned out to be pretty much true. The acting, especially by the lead, was excellent. And, taking the film for what it was, it was generally very well crafted. So, I was pleasantly surprised by how some of the things about the film were very good.
I should have been less than surprised, however, that a central and key measure of the worth of a film about Jesus came up severely lacking. That is, considering that it was a major box office motion picture, I shouldn’t have hoped that the film would actually do a good job of telling the story of Jesus. One day, when I learn better my basic point of this blog post, I will not make such a mistake.
Here’s the bigger problem, though. The particular ways in which the story mis-tells the story of Jesus are the exact ways the American church does the same. I’m not sure whether the bigger problem is that the film well represents the church or that the church well represents the film.
There were actually a couple parts of the film that were deeply moving to me. One of them was when Jesus embraced and healed the leper. It was beautiful, and it was powerful. More importantly, it was moving and motivating. In the context of the film as a contextualized embodiment of gospel truth, however, this scene ends up reducing hospitality and love to fragmented principles to follow rather than elements of an integrated story being told by God himself in which we are participating.
Let’s start with the obvious. There was no such thing as a Roman detective. Sherlock Holmes was a late 19th century invention. There was no such thing as detective work until positivism brought the intellectual thrust of the Enlightenment to its fullness and end. Rome had no CIA. The West’s Tower of Babel wasn’t that high yet. The continuously present arm of Caesar simply responded to actual threats with actual violent force. In the trial of Jesus, Pilate wasn’t analyzing measurable data to predict social outcomes. He simply wanted to know, considering the raucous crowd in his courtyard, if Jesus presented an active and viable threat to Roman order and peace. Minus weeks of media discussion, of pouring over hundreds of files of information presented to him by his council members, Pilate rightly determined that Jesus had no intention of leading a violent rebellion. That’s all Pilate wanted to know.
Suddenly, three days later, with rumors that this Jesus was alive again, Pilate sends a centurion on a detective mission to find Jesus’ body to prevent the uprising he had already determined wasn’t going to happen even if he hadn’t killed him on the cross? Remember, Rome had no such thing as detectives. Please….
The scriptures mention that the Sanhedrin started a rumor that Jesus’ body was stolen. Pilate’s response would have likely been, “And that’s my problem why?” So, the Sanhedrin would have been left to its own devices to find the body if it was that concerned with it. But, even granting that Pilate may have been willing to play along, seeing as how the Jews are the ones who conjured up the rumor and did so knowing that the reason they did was because they had no idea what really happened to the body and simultaneously wanted the issue to just go away and wanted to attempt to scapegoat the disciples for the body's disappearance, why would the Sanhedrin be responsible for a giant detective mission that makes a big public spectacle of the issue?
The rumors of Jesus’ resurrection were just that – rummagings of rumors. There was no giant threat to Rome. There was no immanent threat to the authority of the Sanhedrin. Even the disciples reacted initially with a combination of utter shock and disbelief and dismissive confusion. Even granting that an ancient Roman would go on an analytical detective mission, what pressed the issue to being of such importance as to go on one?
It seems as though the answer to that question is that a contemporary Christian wanted tell a hypothetical story of what it might be like for a similarly contemporary skeptic to go on a mission to confront his doubt. The Case for Christ wasn’t written until 1,900 years after the Sanhedrin’s confusion. Not only was there not yet such thing as apologetics, but early apologetics didn’t have the same dynamics, the same antagonisms, the same concerns that drove it as the ones that drove the making of Risen, which, unfortunately, happens to be about the time before even that early church that didn’t yet have those concerns that drove the making of a film about that time. That sounded repetitive. You get my point?
So, Risen lost me at the basic premise.
The problem with that is the church tends to have very little understanding of the historical context of the gospel stories. And, it shows in what the church is and how it operates in the world.
Also, why was the band of disciples depicted as a jolly, traveling family of harmlessly loony nice guys? I truly enjoyed their joy, and, as Paul indicated, truth, power, and witness clearly lay the joy of a disciple. However…
The disciples seem overcome by a naïve, optimistic hope that smiling really big will convert Hitler to Jesus. The blindness of this optimism is affirmed when Pilate kicks Bartholomew in the shin while he’s already down. After spending the entire conversation up to that point trying to convert the Roman centurion with his giant white teeth and the gleam in his eye, Bartholomew’s Bohemian hair covers his face when the only thing he can do is look down at the ground and yell at Clavius to stop to indicate that the officer’s point was received. Bartholomew, his nice guy identity now broken, is unable to look Clavius in the face in that moment. The depiction of the character of the disciples not only has no reconciliation to the cross but no sense of how the vision of their King confronts the rulers of this world.
And, that’s probably because the vision of their King himself, in the first place, has no sense of how who he is and what he does confronts all the treasures upon which the world is built. When Jesus came face to face with authority figures - say, the Roman centurion or the rich young ruler – his words and his actions were like arrows heading with power straight for the bull’s eye of difference between what moves the world and the Word standing before his audience. When the resurrected Jesus came face to face with Clavius, Jesus had no bull’s eye. It was simply a soft and open smile of acceptance without confrontation, sacrificial blood, or atoning fire. It was the presumption of an easy and complete union without repentance. As a result, in the scene of Bartholomew’s questioning, the disciple of that passionate king had no bull’s eye, no passion, no way to reconcile with his suffering inflicted upon him by this authority figure who questioned him.
The problem with that is, the church operates as if it has very little understanding of how it presents a confrontation between the King of the universe and “the rulers…the authorities…the cosmic powers over this present darkness…” And, a big part of why the church is overcome by this naïveté is because it projects it’s own history of modern Christendom – which is perfectly happy with the church BEING the “ruler” and “authority” of “this present darkness” – onto the historical context of the New Testament. No wonder the writers of the script of “Risen” seemed confused on how to portray Bartholomew after Clavius kicked him. It’s easy to be nice when you’re in the seat of power.
And, that reminds me of my final big complaint with Risen. I don’t know how to say it other than to simply say that the ending was utterly stupid. I’m sorry.
In ancient Rome, walking alone through the desert was called forced exile. No one chose to do it unless Jesus was pushed there by the Holy Spirit or Paul went there to relive Israel’s Exodus after God had already joined him to His body. The ending of “Risen,” though, implies that the strength of Clavius, after being clearly presented with the truth of the resurrected King of all of creation, couldn’t quite get himself to join with his merry band of fools and, yet, also couldn’t return to Egypt. He’s left to confront the open horizon alone with the existential angst of bearing responsibility for deciding his own eternal fate resting upon his shoulders to make the ultimate of spiritual decisions.
The problem with that is the continued influence of the Billy Graham disease upon the church. Does the ending of the film reflect the ideology of the altar call, or, rather, is the ideology of the altar call in the mega church to add to their demographic and financial numbers extended out into the ending of “Risen”?
Of course, the reason for this disordered ending is twofold. First, this individualist wondering through the desert of existence is because neither Jesus nor the church presented a message of clear choice between one mission and another. The lips of the Jesus who greets Clavius with a warm smile of naiveté about the cross he’d just died on would never have said “No one can serve two masters,” much less “Whoever is not with me is against me.” The same idiot’s optimism that can’t look the violent ruler’s aggression in the eye later leads that very ruler with not only the false illusion that he doesn’t have to choose between his own rule and that of Jesus but also with the illusion that such a choice doesn’t involve the membering of himself to one body or another. Of course, needless to say, no one in ancient Rome would have suffered such an idiot’s optimism. No one in ancient Rome would have forgotten they had a body, either.
Secondly, speaking of the lack of clear choice of a master (that leads to the lack of clear choice of a body), Clavius’ end of aimless wandering through the desert to endlessly ponder what he’d just seen assumes a self-autonomy that, quite simply, no one in the ancient world pretended to even begin to fathom. A running theme of the film is the Roman centurion’s quiet resentment over being forced to be at Pilate’s beck and call whenever “Pilate summons you.” I doubt anyone in Rome enjoyed being under Caesar’s thumb anymore than any modern enjoys being forced by their bosses to do what we don’t want to do, but the whole reason Clavius’ annoyance at Pilate’s summonses is supposed to provide amusement and vicarious connection to his character is because he is most foundationally assumed to be self-autonomous. As if he had a choice, anyway, or as if it was possible in the first place for him to “do his own thing” or to “think for himself.” No.
Subjection under something or someone greater was simply a fact of life in the ancient world. At that point in the gospel narrative, fitting quite well with the fact that most of the disciples fled from Jesus when captured and Peter denied him at his trial, Bartholomew would have been quivering in fear for his life standing before the judgment of Clavius. When, after Penetcost, John and Peter later stood before the Sanhedrin with such boldness, the Jewish leaders were, quite appropriately, utterly shocked.
I shouldn’t have to mention the obvious connection between the lack of clear choice between missions and bodies presented by Jesus’ merry band of fools in “Risen” and the presumption of Clavius' individual self-autonomy. By now, I hope it is also obvious how those two interwoven reasons for the ending don’t just cause the ending but are embodied in the acting out of it.
The ending was unbelievable. The basic premise was equally unbelievable. The characterization of the disciples was silly. And, the depiction of the face of Jesus would have been better taking a lesson from Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” and been avoided entirely.
Generally, all of this was because the story of the film didn’t tell or fit into a coherent gospel story of the climax of God’s story for all of creation by which He not only won’t but can’t fail to redeem all the world to His purpose, glory, goodness and beauty. The story of the film is as confused as the disciples ACTUALLY were all the way right up until Pentecost! Of course, in the film, when Bartholomew is asked if he believed Jesus would rise again after he was crucified, he – not without a naively, cheerfully, and warmly smiling – says, “Well, he said that’s what would happen, but I did doubt it a little bit.”
NO! When Jesus was crucified, the disciples’ world was utterly shattered. When Jesus died, to them it meant he wasn’t who he said he was. It meant that everything in which they had placed their hopes had just been cast into the sea attached to an anchor the size of Leviathan. Jesus’ death meant they were nothing and no one. Jesus’ death was, as far as they were concerned, their own.
The ONLY way you get from that complete shattering into infinite depths of inescapable darkness to the kind of crystallized joy depicted of the disciples in “Risen” within a couple of days of the resurrection is by a mighty work of the Spirit that shook the very foundations of the building in which they prayed at Pentecost!
Again, my basic point here is that there is no contextually embodied and coherent story told of the mighty work of God in the world. Of course, that very much means that the film itself is not an embodiment of such a story, either.
The reason I don’t hail “Risen,” then, is because I couldn’t participate in the action. There was no real action in which to participate. Despite its being a story (supposedly) about Jesus, I found myself sitting on the bench on the sidelines of whatever other story it was that was being told.
I would think that if you wanted to make a story about the confrontation that occurs when the arm of Caesar is confronted by the powerful presence of Jesus but, in the end, can’t take Him seriously, then you would want to write “Hail Caesar.“ Instead, “Risen” manages to write the same story while avoiding the confrontation and still not taking Jesus seriously.
Thursday, March 03, 2016
Fire in the Presence of God
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
- from 2 Peter 3
I discussed those verses previously in talking about the ACTING OUT of the covenant, of covenant MAKING.
I ended the last post of this series with two references to the covenant. One, in the context of “Where I am, there you will be also,” was, “And you know the way where I am going.” The other reference to the covenant was 2 Peter 3: 12, about the disappearance of the heavens and the earth.
Everyone knows that a covenant is an agreement between two parties, much like a contract. What gets missed, however, is that a covenant is between two members of what is to become a newly unified body. As an extension of this lack of understanding of the forming of a BODY in a covenant, we often don’t realize that the Hebrew word used for covenant comes from the Hebrew root meaning “to cut” (reference HERE). In practice, an animal was cut into pieces - apparently, based on GENESIS 15, into halves - and the two halves of the animal were passed between by the two parties of the covenant being “cut.” As discussed previously HERE in this series, this means that ancient covenants were, prior to the dawn of speculative thought and, in this case, prior to the earliest known phonetic alphabets!, ACTED OUT. The cutting up of animals was the acting out of the death of an old body or bodies, the bodies both of the symbolic sacrifice and of the actual or concrete party or parties in the agreement. The shedding of blood was the loss of the flow of life, and the acting out of the covenant, then, was the acting out of a new state of things, of new living. In some cases, such as in EXODUS 24: 8, the parties participating in the acting out of the new living were covered in the life blood of it.
And, as in Leviticus 16: 20-22 and Leviticus 4: 13-21, it is also important that the animal being cut is chosen from the flock of one of the agreeing MEMBERS of the covenant. Just as “technologies are the extensions of man” (previously discussed HERE in the second post of this series), so also are his possessions. This is why, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It is also why we will “receive our inheritance” in the parousia. We are His possessions, so we will be joined to Him fully in life eternal. Anyway, just as the sins of the people are extended to the scapegoat and sacrificial bull when the goat or bull from their flocks is laid upon by the hands of the priest, the life and being of the MEMBERS of the covenant are PRESENT in the sacrificed animal as it is cut. The blood of the animal is theirs, and, as such, what happens to it is an acting out of the fact that the members of the agreement “mean business.” In actuality, the cutting is what gives meaning to the business in the first place.
No wonder a covenantal reading of the scriptures is no longer the primary one. The lens handed up to us by our history makes a covenant nearly impossible to “understand,” precisely because its members don’t intellectually assent to it but, instead, ACT IT OUT. As explored throughout the history portion of this blog series, man and his interpretation of the world and reality has changed quite a bit from the time when covenants were “used” to “seal” agreements. In fact, I put “used” and “seal” in quotes there because - as discussed previously HERE and HERE in this blog series in discussions of pragmatics and literacy - both of those terms, fundamental to our language and its meaning, are at the root of how we, now steeped in our literary vision, act out or lives and our reality. “Use” and “sealed” don’t have much to do with covenant making, though. They do fit well with a complex and intellectually theorized system, both seen and crafted in the mind, written down, and, at a distance from the thought and written theory, applied. It is the acted out covenant, however, which is, historically, as far from us as the ghost from the machine, that ties my whole argument that “heaven both is and will be here” together. And that, at least partially, is precisely because a covenant is between two members of what is to become a newly unified body.
Precisely because of the centrality of the bodily resurrection to the covenant narrative, when he sees the resurrected Jesus, Paul realizes that the last days of the old age of death, exile and bondage – the world as it had been known to him - had already ended, and the first days of the new eternal Kingdom of life and freedom from sin had begun! Because of the death of the God of heaven and earth (of the universe, you might say) on the Cross, the disappearance, the death, of the old heaven and earth, and of the old body, had already begun! The completion of this death or disappearance of the old had been mentioned by Peter in terms of the parousia in 2 Peter 3, which also mentions the judgment of the world and vindication of God’s family promised in Daniel 7.
will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed....the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
I also associate that with the meaning of the burnt offerings of, say, Leviticus 1: 1-17, which occur in the presence of God and so do the work of God. I suspect Peter is making the same association in his latter.
Of course, that burnt offering was a pre-figuring of Christ and his work of atonement, of the formation of a body of people belonging to him.
Notably, that passage from Leviticus 1 also mentions this:
He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
I draw that out, because I mentioned the idea in the blog post above - the importance of the offerings being members of the flock of the one making the offering. I mentioned the idea that possessions are extensions of the self...which is why the Israelite making the offering would lay his hand on the head of said offering. The extending out of his hand onto the head of the offering was an acting out of the fact that his flock was an extension of himself, and that this member of his flock was receiving his sin.
Anyway, the point I'm getting at is, I think Peter is using the imagery of the burnt offering to point to Christ. And, not only to Christ, but to Christ as the presence of God filling all of His creation "as the waters cover the sea." Obviously, all of creation includes the heavens. In other words, I am seeing the relationship between Christ and all of creation as being analogical to the relationship between the Israelite making a burnt offering and the burnt offering itself. As the burnt offering was to the Israelite making it, so all of creation, including heaven, is to Christ in 2 Peter 3: 10-12. As the Israelite's flock was an extension of himself, all of creation is an extension of Christ and belongs to him.
In other words, in 2 Peter 3: 10-12 all of creation becomes a figuring of Christ as a burnt offering.
Of course, none of that would make sense without having a concept of the ACTING OUT of the covenant, which I discussed in the blog post. In other words, this idea of the analogy between Christ and the burnt offering in 2 Peter 3: 10-12 wouldn't make sense if a covenant (and covenant making) is just an intellectual concept to understand.
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
The Treasure of All Knowledge, Part 2 of 2
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13
This is part 2 of 2 of an articulation of Jesus as the embodied yes of God to all His promises, including to all the treasures of all wisdom and knowledge. See Part 1 for the setting of the scene in which Jesus appears as said treasure.
The Pearl of Great Price
In 1 Corinthians 13: 8-12, love is a person. Further, the person of love embodied is the one doing the knowing. When I ask why verse 11 follows after verses 9 and 10, I realize that, in comparison to adults, children merely know in part. I then expect the next step in Paul’s logic to be that, as mature believers, we know and are to know as adults. We are to know more completely than children, right? But that’s not what verse 12 says! According to verse 12, we aren’t even the ones doing the knowing! In 1 Corinthians 13: 8-12, it is love in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Incarnate God of all creation, who is the One doing the knowing!
We are (“merely”) children of the king, and we will become his heirs when he appears. In other words, when we come to see – which is to know – then we will rule the way the one we see also rules.
I think this is what N.T. Wright means when he talks about an “epistemology of love.” It is what Wittgenstein was pointing to when he said “It is love that believes in the resurrection.” Our belief is a gift from love embodied when his Spirit is sent upon us.
Now that the scene has been set, let me now return to Colossians 2, which opened Part 1 of this short blog series:
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
- Colossians 2: 1-5
It is easy to blow past a rich, full treasure of great love and, yes, power, just as quickly as Paul does in this passage. There’s a rather obvious and deep truth hidden in the midst of Paul’s flow of thoughts. And that richness is that in the person of Jesus Christ is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. People seek after treasures.
If we connect the dots between these passages in Colossians 2 and 1 Corinthians 13, we find that the love embodied in the person who does the knowing is also the One in whom is hidden all knowledge (and wisdom). In Surprised by Scripture, N.T. Wright, in borrowing from Paul, says that love is an integrated mode of knowing (p. 147). Wright also says:
“”It is, in fact, Jesus who is the subject of it all. Within the larger narrative of the Bible, as Saint Paul says, all the promises of God find their yes in him; among those promises are promises about knowledge. In him are hidden, Paul says, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” – Surprised by Scripture (p. 148).
In other words, it is the actual person of Jesus Christ who embodies the healing, reconciliation, and integration of the previously discussed breaks that dominate our world, the breaks between history and science and religion, between reason and superstition, between the powerful and the marginalized, and between a disembodied heaven and a “merely” physical earth. In Jesus, unity is not only possible but actualized.
Since my friend and I had the conversation about the painting of a series of black and white spheres that he liked – which was discussed in the previous blog post – he remains and engineer and is more successful than ever in that endeavor. He has since, then, though, very lovingly taken up the art of photography, which quite recently generated a conversation between he and I about art as the framing of a new reality, a new world, rather than simply the analysis of what is measurable and quantifiable. I have a feeling that this development in his life, which is an opening to a new way of knowing, is part of his wonder and love driven pursuit of the treasure of all knowledge.
In Jesus is a unified world. In Jesus, we can begin to imagine a unity of the many divisions in and of the world in which we live: between subjective and objective knowing, between aesthetic and rational judgment, between critical analysis and experience. And, not only can we begin to imagine reconciliation and healing in the midst of those deep wounds that constitute the fabric of our world and the practices by which it operates, but, in the actualized risen person of King Jesus, such unity is lived out. Jesus has a left and a right side to his brain, too.
In Jesus, then – quite actually – is “an epistemology of love” (as N.T. Wright refers to it).
Here’s the thing, though. Having taken his place on the throne of heaven, the resurrected and ascended King Jesus still bears the scars of love by which we are able to share in his Kingly glory. In other words, yes, it may be correct that “knowledge is power.” But, if true knowledge is of the whole, integrated, and embodied person of Jesus Christ, and if all knowledge is a gift from God, then true power is in knowing Jesus. Jesus is the gift.
People seek after treasures.
And, lest our flesh get too excited about this whole knowing Jesus is true power thing, Jesus turned power on its head. As discussed previously, the world’s modes of knowing rely on identifying one’s self with how one sees power truly at work. Do the ways of knowing of the scientist or historian rule in our responses to mass gun violence? Or, rather, do we let providential “superstition” determine how we respond to a refugee or a terror crisis?
24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the least, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. – Luke 22: 24-27
On the cross, Christ didn’t settle which post-Enlightenment mode of knowing wins the day. Already embodying the union of heaven and earth, of left and right brained thinking, of subjective and objective knowledge, of speculative thought and ritual actions, Christ settled the question of how we are to go about knowing in the first place with obedience to the point of death (Phil. 2).
The cost of the pearl of great price is death. That includes the sacrificial transformation of our old and inherited forms of knowing ourselves, our reality, and our world.
In Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright mentions that the resurrection was the whole reason for the persecution at Lyons in A.D. 177. How could Rome use death by crucivixion as a means to control her subjects if Christians were going around saying death had been defeated!?
In medieval times, it was no coincidence that the resurrection - of the wholly integrated person of love - lost its prominence and centrality as a teaching of the church as the church took on more and more the form of a powerful empire. As the church came to lord power over others, “as the gentiles do,” she focused less on proclaiming Christ’s powerful victory over death and instead used death as an instrument of power.
In other words, as the church came to assume that knowledge is power in the same ways that Enlightenment modes of knowing do so, it lost sight of Jesus. As the church came to know death, it lost its life. When the powers of the medieval and modern world alike came to see and know with excitement that death is all powerful and therefore can be used as a means of power, then (knowing) the resurrected (and knowing) person of Jesus was forgotten (unknown). The church embraced knowledge of the power of death at the same time that it identified itself with the power of empire.
In other words, what’s at stake in the realization of love as an integrated mode of knowing – in and by the very person of Jesus - is the question of whether we love power or trust in the power of love. Yes, that cliché is Jesus, who is no cliché.
Mentioned previously was also the idea that the world's modes of knowing rely on what one takes to be what they believe really moves things in the world. If all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Jesus, then it’s neither ISIS nor the political scientist who responds who are the movers and shakers of our world. It’s neither the authority of the psychologist nor that of the Archbishop that leads the way forward in the midst of fear of mass shootings. What leads, moves, and fords us ahead is love in the integrated, whole, and unified person of the risen and ascended Jesus Christ, from his place at the right hand of God by His throne in heaven.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
To be obedient to the point of death rather than to use death as an instrument of power, then, is “being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery…” To realize that the resurrection of the King, being therefore perfectly prototypical of the new world in which we now live as a result, doesn’t defy but changes the rules of science is to not be “deluded with plausible arguments.”
To know that Christ is sovereignly at work in the midst of the many “disputes that arose among them,” even when the apparent king of the land named Saul is pursuing my death, is to know who the real leader is. And, he is alive and well – and a being of fully integrated and unified knowledge not only between left and right brain, subjective and objective knowledge, reason and faith, but also between humanity and divinity, heaven and earth. To trust in who is really the prime mover while “the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain” (Psalm 2) is to be “hid with Christ in God.” The real leader, the real authority, is not me. I am weak, though he is strong. To know (the One) who is really in a position of knowledgeable authority is to identify myself with Jesus. People pursue treasures.
Jesus is the treasure.
Ultimately, then, when it comes to questions of “epistemology,” the point is Jesus. The end game of what knowledge is and how it works – is Jesus. The “so what?” when we study what knowledge is and how it works – is the actual, concrete, embodied, physical person of Jesus. And we aren’t even the ones doing the knowing! People pursue treasures of knowledge, and the treasure is the one who is doing the knowing. The one we seek to know is the treasure, and he is the one pursuing us.
People pursue treasures, and the treasure is pursuing me.
The Treasure of All Knowledge, Part 1 of 2
- Colossians 2: 1-5
An engineer friend of mine owned a favorite painting of a mathematical set of spheres of uniform size painted in black and white in different lighting from different angels. It was far more of a scientific study of shape and light than an artist’s framing of reality. I told him he “liked” that painting (which was not the painting pictured above, but was similar), because he was like that painting.
I did not mean that as a subjective judgment of his poor, inner, private taste in art, but that is hard for most who would read this to even believe. I meant to say that his identity is tied to his scientific way of thinking of the world. Therefore, I meant to say that his preference for that painting was an affirmation of how he identified himself in and before the world.
He thought of himself as a scientist who knows objectively, universally, and rationally. He thought of himself as having trust in objective reason; he was skeptical about inner, subjective experience as a valid way of knowing in and about the world. He was dominated by left-brained thinking. That’s what he was good at, and it’s how he navigated through life (quite successfully, I might add). That such a way of identifying himself and moving through the world was even an option in comparison to a more “subjective” way of thinking, living, and practicing speaks to and implies the kind of brokenness at the core of our world.
[DISCLAIMER: I’m pretty sure my friend’s scientific studies and explorations were or are partially fueled by curiosity and love, but I’m trying to make a point here, lol. Why is modern science so exclusively the angle by which subjects were approached with the given love and curiosity?]
The kinds of wounds I have in mind involve painfully inflamed openings between “experience” of the external world, on the one hand, and analytic internal thinking on the other. I have in mind cuts between superstition and knowledge, or between “relativism” as compared to what is taken to be universal and absolute truth.
Those whose way of knowing of and in the world is trained by the speculations of modern science are so skeptical of the make-believe that, even if they are committed to belief in a religion, they generally presume religious rituals to be “empty.” Under such assumptions, which are really assumptions about how and what we know, humanity’s relationship with God could never be practiced as the acting out of a story.
Those who assume that interpretation of scripture is done by a private, independent, autonomous, transcendent, and individual subject in search of the singular intention of the original author also tend to see the concern for the particular in post-modernism and therefore forcefully and violently throw postmodernism in the “relativism” box. The fact that post-modernism doesn’t necessarily belong in the relativism box and yet gets placed there automatically further implies an apparently unbridgeable gap between action and speculation as modes of knowing in and of the world. Enactment is the engagement of a subject.
Similar kinds of breaks or fissures in our world occur between left and right brained thinking, between aesthetic and scientific ways of knowing or seeing, or between trust in “subjective inner experience” and trust in “objective rational thought.” These are differences in how and what different groups of people go about knowing in our world, how people navigate their way through life. The break between left and right brained thinkers is generally so severe that architects and engineers usually don’t even understand each others’ languages. This is partially a question of how we identify ourselves.
I also have in mind similarly impassable and antagonistic gaps between history and science as compared to religion, between politics and religion, or between dominant classes or cultures and those who are marginalized by the powerful. The historian and scientist alike generally assume a required suspension of disbelief in order to engage or believe in anything religious at all. Politics is assumed to be so absent from questions of salvation of our souls that to question the de-politization of the gospel is generally first met with blank stares of information not registering in the brain, as if trying to install software that is incompatible with the hardware being used.
The struggle between classes, races, or cultures has erupted into violent tragedies that have put this wound on obvious public display, but most people on both sides of the fissure are too wedded to their claim and pursuit for a place of power in the world to see this primarily as an opportunity for reconciliation and healing. The question is why I mentioned this in the same breath as the break between science and religion or between politics and religion. It is said that knowledge is power, and that appears to play itself out here.
Those who identify themselves as scientists or historians tend to identify themselves with a particular way of knowing, and that identity is partially a stake in a claim of what is truly authoritative and powerful in our world. Politicians are generally doing the same; they make the claim that they know what really moves the world and, thus, how to direct it properly. Those who bind themselves to a religion also tend to do the same.
Of course, there is also the isolation of and between heaven and earth. Modern Christians know their way around Narnia but can't transition to the real world. This is precisely because of the reified modes of knowing in our world are assumed to be governed by the above wounds and antagonisms.
Christians mistake indicators for the real thing (our world is flat). The only mechanism modern Christians know of to connect Narnia to the real world belongs solely to the internal logic of Narnia itself. There is no interrelation or interlocking between the imaginary and the real. Hal Lindsey, Left Behind, and the millenarian movement, as attempts to force such correlations between the conceptual world of what’s written and the concrete world of what happens, are examples of symptoms of this break between heaven and earth.
Of course, here, Narnia, as an imagined reality, and scripture, as a system of meaningful words in the mind, both work as analogies for heaven. Narnia is locked away from reality, because concepts are assumed to be dualistically separate from the world to which they refer. Words in the mind are assumed to be dualistically vaulted away in a separate compartment from the bodies of sound that press out from them, because how we know is partially a question of how we identify ourselves and understand our world. Narnia is separate from reality, scripture separate from the world, when man is the ghost in the machine and the world is the Clockwork Universe.
These breaks between the thinking man and his body and between the autonomous, secular universe and the Epicurean gods establish the antagonisms between the figures who pursue power and authority in our world. Post-Enlightenment, we are dis-integrated humans living in a dis-integrated world because of dis-integrated modes of knowing.
I would suggest, then, that the break between heaven and earth, like the rest of the fissures that dominate our world, is partially due to the prevailing notion that knowledge is power. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, the glorified King of all of creation, has always been a threat to power.
We live in a broken world. To any Christian, this is obviousness and readily acknowledged. Porn, adultery, and divorce are common, even in the church. The world is still at war, and all Christians believe that won’t always be the case. Bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness still rule the day in many a family or personal interrelationship.
There are some wounds, some cuts in the flesh of the body of the world we live in, however, which are less obvious to most and less readily acknowledged as such by most Christians.
What every single one of those breaks have in common is that they all come from the story the Enlightenment tells. Each of the above wounds is a fruit of what the Enlightenment tells us what knowing is. To live those wounds is to live out that story, to know the way the Enlightenment tells us to know. To live in any or all of those areas of the inflamed flesh of our world is to identify with the Classical Liberalist story of reality and humanity told by the Enlightenment, to affirm our place in the world as established by Enlightenment ways of knowing in and of it – just as my engineer friend with the scientific painting of a series of black and white spheres.
To see that these are, indeed, wounds, however, is to live in and inhabit another story. To resist the automatizing urge and temptation to give allegiance to one side or other of our wounded world, both sides of which are inflamed, is to live a story that heads in another direction. To desire and work for reconciliation and healing is to head where the gospel directs us rather than towards the transcendently, objectively, exclusively scientifically knowing subject who makes free choices autonomously with no interference from foreigners or tyrants. It is to start to wrestle with the differences and wonder where and how unity is possible in the midst of such presumed division.
In Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright discusses how the church’s belief in the urgent imperative to improve society was given up on at the same time - late 1800’s/early 1900’s, the climax of Enlightenment thinking - as when the church quit believing in resurrection. Instead of believing in the resurrected son of compassion, the church began settling for disembodied heaven. This was because man had come to think of himself as a disembodied ghost who moves a ragamuffin machine. Because the world had become a clock wound by a Deist god at the beginning of time and left to operate on its own.
In the face of such breaks, then, how is a unity possible? How can the world be so unified if such breaks or fissures are built into the very fabric of how our world works (quite practically, I might add)? How can we even begin to imagine such a unity between the many divisions in and of the world for which the Enlightenment is so responsible: between subjective and objective knowledge, between religion and politics, between superstition and reason, between the powerful and marginalized? Once we can even begin to imagine it, how can we then live it out?
N.T. Wright recognizes in Surprised by Hope that Wittgenstein begins to provide the answer: “It is love that believes the resurrection” (p. 72).
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Ideology as Idolatry, Part 3F: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus and Aphrodite
See Part 1: Setting the Stage
See Part 2A: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 2B: The Inerrant Bible and Apollo
See Part 3A: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3B: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3C: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3D: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
See Part 3E: Decisions for Christ, Dionysus, and Aphrodite
Incarnation as a Re-membering of the Head and Body
I am struck by two juxtapositions that serve as a good conclusion to what David Fitch refers to in his The End of Evangelicalism? as the ideology of the “Decision for Christ” embodied in the evangelical way of life (i.e., the evangelical politic). The same juxtapositions serve as a good picture of why and how I think Fitch is referring to the same concrete reality as N.T. Wright in describing the idolatry that drives the way of life of our world.
One juxtaposition is the two quotes with which I opened part 3 of this blog series concerning “the word.” “The word kills the thing” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
The other juxtaposition is between, on the one hand, the analogies for sexual union provided by Jessica Simpson in her video “These Boots Are Made for Walking” (pictured at the beginning of Part 3A of this blog series) and, on the other hand, the marriage of heaven and earth in Revelation 21. Said photo may reveal a great inconsistency at work in evangelicalism that is driven by a lack or emptiness at its core, which may be partially attributable to the murder of the thing by the word. The photo of Jessica Simpson, the evangelical, publically re-enacting sex in the image of Aphrodite may also, however, tell us that there’s an image of Aphrodite in the Temple of God.
To the originating and concluding point, then, that Wright, in discussing today’s idolatry, is talking about the same concrete reality as Fitch in The End of Evangelcalism?, Fitch has this to say:
“The empty politic is built around a void driven by the antagonistic split that constitutes its “Real”-ity. Individuals are initiated into this ideological politic by believing…in Master-Signifiers and participating in rituals that cynically reinforce the ongoing ideology.” [emphasis added]
Religious rituals happen in Temples. Religious devotees are initiated into the cults that worship in those temples. Master-Signifiers, mentioned in that previous quote about ideology that was full of religious references, were discussed previously in Part 3 of this blog series. The following quote, then, is also from Fitch’s The End of Evangelicalism and is to, in conclusion to Part 3 of this blog series, point out why Fitch and Wright are discussing the same concrete reality. The upcoming quote mentions the “Symbolic Order.” In Zizek’s though, from which Fitch was borrowing, the Master-Signifer emerges from the “Symbolic Order,” which is “the given social system (one finds oneself in)” and which is constituted by the language world one inhabits.
“Zizek is ever analyzing the given Symbolic Order to uncover the way it works in compensating for conflict and consolidating power within the status quo, all the while holding subjects together in a social system. Here, we can see how beliefs function to stave off antagonisms and play on people’s deepest desires and insecurities, yet hold a people together and maintain the status quo.”
In other words, Zizek analyzes how the way of the world is empty and futile. I hear echoes from Ephesians 4:
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them…”
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
So, to summarily particularize those ideas in the evangelical ideology of “the Decision” for Christ, the empty politic of what evangelicalism has become is driven by the void left over by the decapitated modern subject of “the Decision.” Because the way “the Decision” has become practiced means that it has become an allegiance to a purely intellectualized “system of belief,” there is no fullness of a way of life that includes the body and the shaping of its desires. The left over “empty” politic of evangelicalism is then driven by the resulting antagonism between those who, after the modernist-fundamentalist controversies of the 1920’s, have given their allegiance to either “the Decision” (evangelicals) or to “social justice” (“the liberals”).
Those who become subjects of “the Decision” are then “initiated into” this ideological politic of said “Decision” by participating in rituals like the one Haggard re-enacted to try to make sense of the inconsistencies that appeared in his life between his “belief system” and the desires of his body. Read the bible, pray, fast, affirm belief in “the Decision.” And, yet, his secret homosexual exploits were also a fundamental part of his ideological ritualization, precisely because guilt is what distinguishes evangelicals from the rest of the world who also engages in similar fulfillments of sexual desire.
These rituals, then, only served to reify the ideology, and, as Haggard even said, they didn’t work. They only made things worse. It was a pursuit in futility, in vanity.
And, the reason it was a pursuit in vanity is precisely because the ideology is the work of human hands. Vanities contain mirrors where people can make themselves appear as they want. The ideological rituals Haggard, Jessica Simpson, and Carrie Prejean participated in play on people’s deepest desires for both escape from such futility and for life, fruitfulness, and the fulfillment of bodily desire. The “Master-Signifier” of “the Decision” functions to stave off the antagonisms between those competing desires that appear in subjects of said “Decision” in figures like Haggard, Simpson, and Prejean.
“The Decision” also plays on the insecurities born of those competing desires and the lack at the core of the politic from which they arose. “What if I’m not really saved? What if my life is heading for futility and vanity?” “Why do the (sexual or other) desires of my body seem to so violently contradict my most deeply held religious beliefs?”
“The Decision,” as a “Master-Signifier” staves off and compensates for those obvious appearances of discord, contradiction, and insecurity, precisely because it functions to hold evangelicalism together as a group of people. The very process of becoming evangelical is the process of coming to believe in and give one’s allegiance to “the Decision.”
If this is an initiation, though, if these are rituals, and if all of this, then, occurs in a temple, then is it merely a secular ideology, as Zizek would have it? The subjects of the ideology are even shaped into images that appear to represent gods of the desires they seek to fulfill. Jessica Simpson and Carrie Prejean come to appear as Aphrodite, and Haggard ends up appearing as one participating in a religious parade in worship of Dionysus. Evangelicals sacrifice marriages and the stable family lives of their children in apparent worship of Aphrodite. Evangelicals also make “the gays” appear as the sacrificial animals in the worship of Dionysus.
Of course, though, such a religious framing of the concrete reality to which I am pointing does not assume that “the word kills the thing.” The language of the scriptures, which begins with Christ as the maker of all things, assumes, instead, that words are the fullness of actual things.
So, in making sense of the world and the church, if evangelicals are going to inhabit the story of the scriptures, then Jessica Simpson is less the inevitable fruit of an empty ideology of “the Decision” and more an image of Aphrodite in the temple of God. Perhaps “the Decision” becomes another in a pantheon of polytheistic worship by evangelicals, along with Aphrodite and Dionysus, but the point remains.
Notably, when Fitch says that evangelicals, ruled by the ideology of “the Decision,” “have no place to go with desire,” or that they have no way to think of desire other than the disordered way of Ted Haggard, or that they are left to have their desires malformed in a disordered way by the world, what Fitch means is that there is no full politic in which evangelicals can be subjected and have pure desires shaped. Evangelicals are not initiated into the actual life of the extension of the body of the living Christ in the world, who shapes God’s subjects into images of himself, ruled by that very desire itself.
The desires of members of the church are malformed, because the church isn’t functioning as an extension of the Inarnational presence of Christ in the world. The marriage of heaven and earth in Revelation 21, in fact, of which the church is a foretaste, is an image of proper ordering of the world, the body, and desire. Heaven becomes the currently-decapitated head, and the earth becomes the body. Christ’s victorious return becomes their union. By extension, then, the church, as God calls it to serve His mission in the world to be an extension of His presence, serves as a juxtaposition to the image of the child of evangelicalism (or is she a sacred slave of Aphrodite?) that opened "Part 3" of this blog series from “These boots are made for walking.”
Paul was compassionately “provoked in his spirit” (Acts 17) by the Spirit, through his participation in the full politic of the church founded in and on the work of Christ, to be an extension of true fulfillment in the face of the world’s pursuit of emptiness and futility (whether it appeared in the church or in the streets of Athens).
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