Sunday, August 13, 2017

Supremacy Renunciation: Billowing Torches

Symbols Matter.

In Charlottesville, there was a plan to remove this pictured statue of confederate hero Robert E. Lee. The events of the last few days reveal that it’s more than a statue.

Back when BLM was planning to march throughout Hampton Roads and block the streets in protest of police brutality, it was quite evident that police shootings were more than police shootings. Numerous people I am connected to in some way declared they would drive through the crowd if any of the BLM marches blocked the roadways on which they were driving.

Yesterday, someone actually ploughed through those crowds.

In Hampton Roads, VA, it was apparent that the very existence of an organized group of protestors threatened the world and identity of some white people enough for them to make quite irrational, bombastic, and speculative threats to people they don’t even know. In Charlottesville, the very threat of the removal of a symbol of the world and identity of some white people became the gathering point of great rage and bloodshed. These symbols are like billowing torches whose smoke engulfs our history. This history bears the bloody marks of the power of those symbols.

Imagine camping in the wilderness. No light but the moon and stars. You awaken – or are you dreaming? – with your campsite engulfed by radiant smoke of a firepot and the billowing light of a giant torch moving through the center of your campsite. You look up and see the smoke rising to the heavens. You look down and can see that the ground is still moist, saturated with blood spilled from animals of your herd. The raging light that nearly blinds you as you seem to awaken casts itself upon merely the edges of halves of the ram, goat, heifer, and birds whose bisected carcasses lay on either side of the torch and fire. The rest of the animals and campsite are blindly engulfed in darkness and smoke. The torch doesn’t even give light to any face of a man who might be carrying it. A voice from the midst of the fire and smoke, that seems to echo as far as the stars, says: “To your offspring I give this land…”

Photo of Gettysburg, VA Civil War
Symbols matter. This is a campsite. The God who encompasses the moon, stars, and blood drenched earth promises to be with the camper. He is homeless. He’s been cast out from the center of the social fabric. He is with God, and God is with him. This is why Black Lives Matter.

Symbols matter. Animals who were one body lay in two halves on the blood drenched earth. The voice of the Light fills the space between the two halves, making a newly unified body appear out of the death of the old. A covenant has been sealed. The life blood of the two is now the life of a new One. One God, one people. They stand on the earth. They stand on their life blood. This is why Black Lives Matter.

The fabric of American history has threads that weave in two different directions, but it is all one fabric. The body of the American church lay divided in two halves on the earth as it cries out. “This land” that is soaked in blood belongs to “the offspring” that was given to the ancient camper who symbolically gave his life blood to the formation of the newly unified body of people. Here that body lays on the ground in bloody division. Symbols matter.

I may think I’m not a white nationalist. I’m not alt-right. But my Sunday gatherings don’t look like the gathering of the voice in the wilderness in the midst of two halves re-becoming one. Why not? A Sunday gathering is more than a Sunday gathering. Symbols matter. "For the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him."

Around what symbols do we gather? Symbols of Robert E. Lee? Look at the events of this past weekend, this August, 2017. What did that gathering look like? Symbols of the so called freedom of the American flag? Gettysburg wasn’t always an empty, peaceful field.

What our gathering looks like will say something about what we’re gathering around. White “Christians” have essentially rallied for generations around the phrase, “take our country back.” White “Christians” have essentially chanted through the night of generations with billowing torches screaming, “You will not replace us!”

What if we actually gather around Jesus Christ? He is the offspring into whose hands this land was given. He is the light and mystery in whose midst we awaken to heavenly promise. His is the blood in whose sufferings our divisions share. His cry is our lament, our death. His death is also the renunciation of our place at the privileged throne of "this land. Unity starts with white people whose ancestors hung black people from trees instead submitting to them (Phil. 2: 5-11). And, in and out of that submission, that finding of our proper place - rather than being threatened by the loss of our improper place at a false throne - our joy follows after his. His joy becomes our hope, our life.

What if we gather around the cross? Symbols matter.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Discipleship and Architecture: Works in Progress

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.

Parthenon, 447 B.C.
One of the only things I remember my first year studio professor saying is, “A work of Architecture is never finished.” The term “inchoate” means “just begun, and so not fully formed or developed; rudimentary.” “Tohu va vohu” is the Hebrew phrase that gets translated as “formless and void” as a way to try to grope with human language towards toward the primeval condition before which Silence and Light separate and words emerge.

I submit that these are images of the self. Like a work of Architecture that is “in process” or under construction, we are unfinished, inchoate, formless and void. We tend, however, to imagine the opposite. A facebook friend of mine – Sean Davidson - suggested that we tend to imagine that we “have arrived at the end and can see everything clearly and all at once.” He’s the one who got me thinking more about this, actually.

Aligned with that tendency of ours, John McArthur - sounding like he might have been preaching about tohu va vohu - accuses N.T. Wright of writing “a mass of confusing ambiguity, contradiction, and obfuscation” (toward the beginning of this video). Similarly, last week when Eugene Peterson made what sounded like a grand pronouncement of his affirmative stance on LGTBQ rights, the left celebrated another step in a victorious march towards equality while bookstores from the right made plans to take his books off their shelves.

Architecturally, this is to imagine that we see from the top of the Tower of Babel. In the scriptures, however, the Tower of Babel was never finished. There is no seeing from heaven. Just as I have a tendency to want to be final and secure in my judgments of John McArthur, McArthur is more certain in his judgments of N.T. Wright than is proper for the order of human knowledge.

Crystal Palace, 1851

Further, McArthur’s finely delineated pronouncements about Wright are indicative of how McArthur goes about reading and interpreting both scriptures and the world in the first place. John McArthur doesn’t love beginnings. The appearance of McArthur’s language in the world is disconnected from the tohu va vohu from which the words of his mouth emerge. McArthur doesn’t realize that the perfectly harmonious relationships achieved at the Parthenon are a sacrificial ending and thus a beginning of something new rather than an achievement of something eternally ultimate.

When the Crystal Palace was finished, it was visited by people from around the world. In the mid 19th century, such travel was a big deal. For most of the rest of the world, the Cyrstal Palace didn’t only symbolize a vast empire’s achievement of great material wealth and of a new vision for humanity centered on individual rationality. It also symbolized something final and ultimate obtained by a great power that we lack.

“The Crystal Palace…portended a universal surge of mimetic desire: people desiring and trying to possess the same objects. Germany, Russia and Japan set out to catch up with Britain and France in the nineteenth century’s first major outburst of appropriative mimicry. Two world wars eventually resulted…by 1945 the new nation states of Asia and Africa had already started on their own fraught journey to the Crystal Palace, riding roughshod over ethnic and religious diversity and older ways of life…The Crystal Palace now extends all over the world, encompassing the non-West and the West alike, literally in the form of the downtown areas of hundreds of cities, from radically ‘renovated’ Shanhai to the surreal follies of Dubai and Gargaon. Homo economicus, the autonomous, reasoning, rights-bearing individual, that quintessential product of industrialism and modern political philosophy, has actually realized his fantastical plans to bring all of human existence into the mesh of production and consumption…” – Pankaj Mishra, Age of Anger

I submit that Eugene Peterson’s recent pronouncements became a fantastical and unobtainable display of an illusory, final, and transparent Crystal Palace - from which we get a clear view of everything all at once - that those on both sides of the argument mimetically sought in a rivalry to grasp.

Architecture, then, is formational for the self and our character. It is both indicative of and shapes our desires and urges that lie behind the scenes of action on the familial, social, and political stages. The segregation, rivalry, blame, protest, dissent, and self-righteous assertion that characterized the “lightless heat” surrounding Eugene Peterson’s interviews can be summed up in Architectural images that embody our socio-political history. In other words, the work of Architecture is interwoven with the work of discipleship.

Greek Temple at Paestum, 550 BC
So, “What would it be like to interact with each other as though we are on the way rather than at an end?,” my friend Sean asks. “I like beginnings,” Lou Kahn is well known to have written. His favorite Greek Temple wasn’t the Parthenon. Instead, it was Paestum.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you…” The end of the first verse of the scriptures is and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. We learn throughout the scriptural story that, in such beginnings, the Spirit is at work sending us out as disciples is a Spirit of love.

So, part of what it means to love people, then, is to be “on the way,” to realize that we are all “in process” or “under construction.” The disciples were sent out two by two before Peter grew such cahones at Pentecost. If I imagine myself as John McArthur addressing an N.T. Wright with whom I disagree, imagining myself mirrored in the Temple at Paestum rather than in the Parthenon changes how I speak.

My tendency to close the gap between what I imagine that I can know as compared to what I actually know as a mere human is tempered in my response to those with whom I disagree on LTBQ rights if I don’t identify with the Tower of Babel or with the Crystal Palace but instead if I imagine lovingly caressing one of the concrete columns outside the dining hall of La Tourette. Eventually meeting a similar fate as the Tower of Babel, the Crystal Palace just so happened to burn down in November of 1936, anyway (four years before the start of WWII, which it portended).

Concrete Columns at La Tourette, by Le Corbusier, 1956

Perhaps, once I let go of such grand visions, I am more vulnerable and open, more sympathetic and affectionate. Maybe I am quicker to listen and slower to speak, slower to anger and richer in love. Maybe my mimetic rivalry is exchanged for “outdoing one another in showing honor” or “counting others better than myself.” Once my illusions have been consumed by fire at the altar of God, I am more capable of looking not only to my own interests but also to the interests of others, not counting equality as a thing to be grasped but taking the form of a servant.

Le Corbusier referred to poured in place concrete as “plastique.” The relevant definition of the term here is “capable of being molded or receiving form.” That sounds like a desirable trait for a disciple, right? That’s exactly what Lou Kahn saw of the Greek Temple at Paestum. Le Corbusier loved beginnings, too.

Abraham the exile is to Paestum as Solomon the imperialist is to the Crystal Palace.

To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappado′cia, Asia, and Bithyn′ia, chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Discipleship and Architecture: Works of Love

In a long and ongoing conversation about "heaven" NOT being some distantly locatable place "out there" loosely corresponding to our idea of outer space, a friend semi-recently asked what I mean by "the other side of the veil"...

"Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man."
Hebrews 8:1-2

"For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf."
Hebrews 9:24

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us THROUGH THE CURTAIN, THAT IS, THROUGH HIS FLESH, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works..."
Hebrews 10:19-24

Two implications of those verses taken together and in context of the rest of Scripture are:
1. The heavens are and/or declare the glory, rule, and presence of God (ex Rom 1. 19-23, Acts 1. 8-11, Heb 11. 3, Ps. 19).
2. Our "good works" "re-veil," or make appear, the body of Christ, who is the visible image of the invisible God (like fruit from a vine).

This means that living in a secularist narrative, which declare the gods banished to outer space (or up to Mt. Olympus, or wherever) changes what it means to be obedient, changes the meaning of the appearance of the obedience of faith. And changes what it means to "stir one another up to love and good works."

Good works become legalism and salvation by works, because salvation is most primary associated with what's been banished from human affairs. If, however, the flesh of Christ IS the veil between heaven and earth, then "good works" are participation in God's remaking of creation. "'Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.' And [Jacob] was afraid, and said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.'"

Another way of saying this is that the Temple complex is a microcosm. Imagining ourselves moving through the Temple, then, helps us orient ourselves within the scriptural narrative. Also, though, the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place helps us imagine the relationship between heaven and earth. We are priests, and heaven is just next to us, separated only by a thin veil.

This becomes important, because our predominant image of our cosmos is a photo of the globe from the moon. So, as we place ourselves in the scriptural stories in relation to God in heaven, we imagine moving not through the Temple but around on the globe in relation to a God who is outside it. The atmosphere replaces the veil as the governing image of our relationship between heaven and earth.

This becomes especially problematic as we try to live out our faith in a modern world, because it means we are really living out of a whole different narrative. What distinguishes the modern world as such, in fact, is exactly that governing image of the globe imagined from outside itself - as compared to dwelling upon the Earth, under the domus of heaven. Or, perhaps, as compared to imagining ourselves as living "in the camp" as sojourners on the way to the promised land whose firstfruits was the resurrection.

If we move around within the globe in relation to a God who is without, then we tend to imagine that God might intervene sometimes, maybe even more than we realize. Essentially, though, God lets the universe run according to the laws that He designed. If, however, we are in the Holy Place, and He is in the space just next to us with which we share breath, then Job 34: 14 enters our being intimately like the smoke from the incense in the Most Holy Place.

If he should take back his spirit to himself,
and gather to himself his breath,
all flesh would perish together,
and man would return to dust.
Job 34: 14-15

If heaven is imagined to be "up" and "out there" at a distance, then "good works" are "merely external" acts that do not bear upon the salvation that occurs "on the inside." If, however, God's very presence, the Shekhinah, is "in the building with us" or "in the midst of our camp," then "stirring up one another to love and good works" becomes the appearance of the body of Christ in the world, who is the Temple or the Tent, which is the centerpiece of the city or camp in which we dwell, live, and move.

If our image of heaven is governed by a photograph of the globe, then our image of the cosmos is governed by the scientific narrative of progress. The turning point of our history is the modern revolution of knowledge, technology, and politics. We participate in that history as our image of the world is governed by what we take to be scientifically proven as true. If, however, our image of the relationship between heaven and earth is governed by the Temple, by the Tent of Meeting, then Emmanuel, God with us, appears in our very midst as our actions in the world are governed by the other-oriented, self-sacrificial love of the cross. The turning point of history is then Golgotha, and we participate in the Truth, who is a person, with blood stained love.

P.S. For any Architects reading this, I do realize that "good works" means something particular in the language of Hebrews. A work of Architecture is and can still be, I would hope, a "good work" of self-sacrificial, other-oriented love that is an extension of the body of Christ in the world. The "good works" of Hebrews require the death of the self and a re-orienting of the cosmological order. The same could be said of architectural works of love that are juxtaposed against a different kind of work that reveals a different order.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Resurrection and the Rose: A Reflection on Luke 20: 27-40

“The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”

If this rose is history, then the term “biology” is a thorn, and the flower is reproductive offspring. The genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1, Luke 3) is here the ancient root of this flower that, along the way, came to be reduced to “biology.” Here, reproduction is necessary, and necessity is that which is inevitable. In other words, necessity is death of the flower, and "biology" drives us to reproduce new seed. In our culture, sexuality and marriage tend to get explained away with "biology." Scriptural genealogy narratives, on the other hand, put that in a larger and different narrative. It's the narrative of the God who is Life.

If this rose is you and your lover, then the flower is the kiss of Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29: 11). Here, our desire for union is a root nourished by the God who is and brings life. Also here, however, romanticism is a thorn in the side of marriage as a dominant cultural reason and hope for marriage. In our culture, what drives our sexuality and our marriages tends to hope or expect to be falsely fulfilled in romance. In the larger scriptural narrative, Jacob wept when he kissed Rachel, but that wasn't the driving force of the story. It's the story of the God who unifies.

If this rose is Jesus, then the living flower is the union of heaven and earth (Revelation 21: 1-5, 1 Corinthians 15: 28, Colossians 1: 15-23, 3: 5-11). Here, divorce is the thorn present as a sign that history is incomplete. Of course, then, marriage union is a sign of union between Christ and church. Here, the unseen roots nourish our desire for the reconciliation of all things that is embodied in the God who is and brings Life. In our culture, we tend to imagine that eternal life is basically just like life "in this age" except longer lasting. So, we also tend to imagine that our current ways of living involving things like work and marriage will simply continue but extend on through infinity, maybe with some doxological interludes. Successful marriage, however, is a mere budding heading towards an unimaginably beautiful eternal flowering that eclipses our current idea of the union of two separate things - the same way Christ fulfilled but eclipsed Torah.

Here’s the thing – they’re all three the same flower. They can't be compartmentalized; they all lead, point to, and are fed by Life.

Jesus is the turning point and climax of history. There is no need for a sexual climax where such letting go of the boundaries of self and control imitates death to bring forth the life of another when Life is already completely and unendingly fulfilled here and now rather than apparently budding. Reproduction is unnecessary when death is no longer inevitable. Jesus reveals that the end of history doesn't depend on whether or not humans continue in marriage, because death is not the end of history. And, the union of things is why things that are separate while death still reigns desire erotically to be together pointing and striving towards Life (this includes heaven and earth). There is no more romance when its desire is fulfilled. When the two are joined, there is no more Eros and, therefore, no more marriage. As the last man, the fulfillment of what man means, Jesus fulfills Genesis 2: 21-25. In Jesus - whose Word is this response to the Saducees and who is the Word of Life – is the union of all things.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Drives Imaging The Shack

Years ago,I was deeply moved by the book, The Shack. God used it powerfully in my life. In the Wisdom scene, I ended up on the floor, in repentance with the Holy Spirit overpowering my being in waves of tears of grace for 45 minutes. I had had no idea I had been angry at God for how others had treated me, and I was lead into prayers of forgiveness and healing.

That said..I was leaning towards not seeing the movie. Just as there's a difference in the role of the imagination between doing construction documents by hand as compared to using a 3-D computer generated model that was being used from the beginning of the design process, there's a huge difference between book and movie here, I think. I'm OK provisionally entering the world of the book, knowing it won't be perfect. I'm not sure I'm OK with the same story in film.

I feel like if Tarkovsky made the same film, the faces of the Holy Spirit and Father would remain hidden, and the face of Christ would be scarce. But the story would still be told. Sort of like his film Andrei Rublev. Which would be more appropriate? But which is more North American Evangelical?

Now, after seeing the film, all of that pretty much held. I was quite moved by the film, just as I was by the book. The problem of the fixed image of God on the big screen was even somewhat resolved in the same way that it was resolved in the book - by putting different masks on the Father.

Photograph of a shack by William Christenberry

But, by the same token, I was thinking: why are we moved to construct a vision or image of God that is more complete, final, or closer to ultimate than what we think or feel we currently have? I think I needed something like that in my life at that time when God moved so powerfully through my reading of the book, and God mercifully used it to work powerfully in me and in my life. For that I am thankful. And, since then, I've come to know God more closely and in very different ways or through very different means. But - or maybe I should say so - I think there's something off about that urge or need for a final image before the Omega appears in the parousia.

I think, in seeking such an image, or seeking to know God in such an image, I needed something more tangible or closer than what I had known up to that point. I think that the way we are taught to relate to God as evangelicals establishes the conditions for such a need. Commonly repeated refrains that organize how we relate to God include sayings like:

"I'm just a spirit in a temporary body."
The Jesus life isn't about behavior modification. The Jesus life is about being transformed from the inside out."
God is "not just at work on the outside" but is also at work "spiritually" "on the inside."
"To really change you from the inside out."
"It's not just about going to heaven when you die but about transforming your life now, too."
"The gospel is apolitical. Politics aren't spiritual."
"God's power is at work in the supernatural, not in the natural."

With such structures as those in place that govern how we see ourselves in relation to God, how could we possibly not long for some more tangible, intimate, closer to home image of God?

Since then, I have come to see God and His story very differently - as more INCARNATE, and more as the head of a LOCAL, TANGIBLE, INTIMATE BODY of believers who ARE the extension of HIS BODY, who are the people or FAMILY of God. There is much more to the difference between how, since first reading The Shack, my language of God organized my self and my imagination in relation to Him differently from before, but the point here is that I have come to see myself as an actor in God's script for what He's up to in the concrete reality of everyday life.

Do note that the image of a shack that I provided here is not only different from the one used in the marketing campaign for both the film and the book but is closer to the actuality and physicality of a PARTICULAR shack. And, it doesn't show us the contours of the WHOLE shack. We don't yet have the complete image. And, yet, the photo has an intimate and peaceful beauty that calls us to contentment in seeing within the limits of the frame within which we are given to see. We are then opened to and able to see the simple beauty of time, construction, and sheer physicality, light and shadow, human geometry and natural growth.

So, towards an answer to my question I came away from watching the film "The Shack" with - "why are we moved to construct a vision or image of God that is more complete, final, or closer to ultimate than what we think or feel we currently have?" - I no longer feel that same need or urge! The linguistic structures that organized how I related to God are no longer mine. Out of how those structures cast God at a distance from the here and now in concrete reality, I no longer long for an image to which I can relate more closely. My life and that of His local community of which I'm a part (basically and loosely speaking) IS the constantly incomplete image of that which I was seeking and which He will complete when He appears again in all fullness and glory.

The Terrible Beauty of "Manchester By The Sea"

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
- 1 Corinthians 12: 12

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

- Isaiah 53: 4-5

Christ of St. John of the Cross, by Salvador Dali

On Facebook, David Fitch posted the following as a commentary on “Manchester by the Sea,” for which Casey Afflek won best actor: “Go see 'Manchester by the Sea' and notice the scenes that take place around a table. They reveal what presence or lack thereof looks like.”

Now, background information. Fitch has recently written a book called Faithful Presence where he talks about the importance of the “fullness” of the presence and work of Christ that occurs as the people of God are shaped by seven practices. One of those is The Table, where we gather “around the table” in the presence of Christ who is at work to redeem, heal, and reconcile us to him and to each other. It’s a practice initiated by Christ from the very first Passover.

So, back to the film. It’s all about this presence. The whole direction of the film is ordered around presence. It's partially an extended meditation that requires and depicts presence to simple life scenes and events, though also organized around a story of a family broken by unspeakable tragedy. And, when I say “unspeakable,” I mean that quite actually as played out by the film. And, as Fitch notes, the film is full of moments that reveal how gathering around a table is meant to be about being present to each other, even if this is often revealed by its not happening.

Another dynamic of this revealing of presence or lack thereof, other than around the table, is where and when characters look into each other's eyes. It's rare. And, one of the only times it happens is the moment of truth, which Lee can't face. It also happens to be a moment when he's asked to be around a table!

Randi (ex wife, now re-married): Could we ever have lunch?
Lee (ex husband, dead man walking): You mean you and me? Us?
Randi: Yes. Cuz I uhh....*long, painful pause* I said a lot of terrible things to you.
Lee: *shaking head, holding back tears* No....
Randi: I know you never. *can't finish sentence; sniffle* Maybe you don't want to talk to me.
Lee: It's not that...
Randi: Wait, lemme finish...However. *tears* My heart was broken. Cuz it's always gonna be broken. And I know yours is broken, too.
Lee: *shaking head, in obvious pain*
Randi: But I don't have to carry it. I said things that...I should F*#@in' burn in hell for what I said to you
Lee: No. No.
Randi: It was just...
Lee: Randi, No, no, no-no-no....
Randi: I'm just sorry!
Lee:'s...I, I can't expl...I can't...
Randi: I love you!
Lee: *deep sigh, puts head down*
Randi: Maybe I shouldn't say that *in obvious pain, still in tears*
Lee: No, you can say that.
Randi: It's just...
Lee: I'm sorry; I've gotta go.
Randi: We couldn't have lunch? *trying to look longingly into Lee's eyes, which are turned to the ground as he starts to move away*
Lee: I'm really sorry; I don't think so. I thank you for saying everything, it's jus...
Randi: You can't just die...
Lee: I'm not. I'm not. I'm....*deep, sharp breath in* I'm. M'. An' I'm....
Randi: Honey...
Lee: I want you to be happy. An' I, I
Randi: Honey I see you walkin' around here, an' I just wanna tell you
Lee: I would wanna talk to you Randi. Please. *shaking head* I, I, I, I'm trying to....
Randi: You gotta...I don't know what...
Lee: No, this is not. You're not, you're not torturing me.
Randi: I just wanna tell you *pause, struggling to speak* that I was wrong
Lee: No. Nope. You understand, there's nothin'. There's nothin' there. *Lee FINALLY looks Randi directly in the eyes*
Randi: That's not true, that's not true! *seeks eye contact, Lee looks away*
Lee: You don't understand. I know you don't understand me *starts to cry* I, I, I've gotta go, I'm sorry. *walks away*
Randi: *Lee is already gone* I'm sorry *still crying, standing totally still, wiping away tears*

One person, whose opinion I tend to respect, was of the opinion that the film is “too contrived in much of its construction.” To help articulate what he meant, he provided THIS comedic critique from Seth Myers. I've always found Seth Myers to be, like Lee in “Manchester by the Sea,” unable to be present. Myers just covers over presence with (what I usually take to be bad and not very funny) comedy rather than with the distant stoicism combined with occasional violent outbursts of the protagonist in “Manchester.” I should say, I can kind of see the point there of Myers’ critique. I mean, every film is, to some degree or other, a construction that frames reality, and even in order to bring about (oftentimes particular) emotions in the audience - to some degree or another. But I think we should consider the source of the critique. He himself regularly makes the point being made by “Manchester By the Sea” about presence (not to mention about contrivance) every night on TV in our living rooms. Perhaps this just goes to show how pervasive the lack of presence is apparent in peoples; language and longings.

Another person noted that the film is “a very sad and strange eucatastrophe.” I think that takes a very optimistic outlook on the turning that occurs in the film’s climax and resolution.

Sad and strange, like the cross? Yes. Eucatastrophe? But compare the two fishing scenes. Beginning: smiling, having fun, enjoying themselves, laughing, catching fish. End: none of that, including no catching of fish.

Lee still never faced what he did. He still wasn't able to be present to himself and others. In his words, he wasn't "able to beat it." He was never able to come to terms with the tragedy, with the brokenness of himself and his people. Which, of course, is true. No one can.

Another person, I think to the point of the film’s supposed taking of a happier turn, said this:

“A pivotal scene for me was when Lee and Patrick were walking together near the end of the movie and Lee says that he is renting a two bedroom apt in a nearby town so that Patrick could visit. It was a short moment and small thing but it was Lee intentionally making space in his life for Patrick after believing he could never make space in his life for another person. The fishing scene then, for me, represented an effort to be present again by a simple act of the will with no promise of fruitfulness or a return to what was, just a willingness to enter relationship again.”

Yes. I felt the same way, to some degree. But if Lee saw Isaiah 53 in his life story – if he saw Jesus present in his midst bearing his griefs and sorrows and at work in the ministry of reconciliation and healing - he would have been able to stay in the house in Manchester with Patrick. And I suspect that last fishing scene would have been different, more like the beginning one. I took that walking scene to foreshadow when Lee later laid out to Patrick what he had planned - while sitting with Patrick around a table (to tell him the rest of the arrangements around his leaving), BTW! That was when he told Patrick "I can't beat it." So, I saw his making those plans, after the conversation with Randi and the fight, as his accepting that he "couldn't beat it" - whereas before that he was struggling and hoping to do so. In the midst of the struggle, he wasn’t able to relate to Patrick in any meaningful way whatsoever. He was struggling to make sense of who Patrick even was to him, because he had no sense of his very self.

It wasn’t until Lee’s final decision that he was given some sense of closure, but it still wasn't victory. More like acceptance of defeat (per what’s below), I think, which allowed him to not be wound so tight in the struggle, as he was before.

At this point, the previous commenter says this in response:

“Hmm...I may have to give it another viewing. I understood the struggle throughout the movie as how to reject the invitation to relationship without entering into any kind of relationship. That is how thoroughly he had accepted that he had been beaten. He didn't even want to be obligated to explain himself. He didn't want to be forgiven or shown grace or kindness. The ending was simple desire that maybe it could be different.”

I think it would be more accurate or ring more with truth to say that, up to the time of Lee’s brother's death, he was completely unable to confront the reality of the tragedy that tore him to shreds so thoroughly that the horizon by which he might orient himself became shadows and fog. To Randi, he couldn't even say, "It's not your fault but mine!" All he could manage to articulate was, "No...there's nothing there." I think he was so alienated from himself and reality after the failed suicide attempt and Randi's leaving him that he wouldn't even have been able to even begin to articulate language of victory or defeat. That's precisely why the news from the lawyer of how his brother had arranged everything was so disorienting and shocking!

He was forced to try to attain the victory that he knew he didn’t have the power to grasp so hadn’t begun to gaze towards.

At that very point in time, I think Patrick became a living sign of his struggle. That's why, when he heard from the lawyer how his brother had said everything up, he simply said, "I can't," and then simply stared away out the window for an uncomfortable period of time. As Fitch said, the film reveals both presence and the lack thereof.

After Lee’s final decision to leave Manchester, he could now, with some sense of resolution, hug Patrick – the walking sign of his sorrow. The struggle had ended. He had found himself. He had faced his greatest fears. Who he found was the realization that said fears could not be overcome. So, though he could hug Patrick, he still couldn't bear to stay in Manchester, in his hometown where the tragedy that broke his soul made him an eternal alien. Some level of resolution allowed for an equally proportional level of relationship with the sign of his struggle.

And more to the point of David Fitch’s posts and book - that's why the film is about presence. Lee was unable to be present to…anything or anyone, including his very self and home town. Scripture points to the present one, the one who is the reason presence is, like, a thing. Christ provides for us a language without which we have no PLACE, no home, no words...without which we are aliens and subject to death.

The ancient Jews, btw, associated death not just primarily with physical end of life but, rather, with alienation. In “Manchester by the Sea,” Lee is a dead man walking. The film presents us with the Cross. A beautifully painful picture of piercing truth that is difficult to face in the midst of extended life scenes of excruciatingly ordinary lack of the presence that means life. Christ makes Lee’s cry his own on the cross when he shouts: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”

I think Paul’s articulation of our “groaning” is Lee’s struggle, over which he is, in the end, unable to find victory. But, as per Paul’s whole point in Romans 8, I don’t think Lee even realized it was a struggle until he was forced by his brother’s death and the ensuing duty to fulfill the arrangements made by said brother, to face said struggle. His brother’s death became a mirror into which Lee was never able to fully gaze.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
- Romans 8: 20-23

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

- 1 Corinthians 12: 12

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Wall Street Charging Bull As Ideology Revealed

He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it. – Exodus 32: 20

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities…

- Isaiah 53: 4-5


Evidence of one of the earliest known human civilizations is from the palace of Knossos on the island of Crete, thought to be active around 2400 BC. A Frescoe can be found there depicting youths flipping over charging bulls as part of a communal, sacred processional ritual overseen by the governing priestess and spectated by the people. The element of the youths flipping over the charging bull was, on the one hand, part of a boy’s coming of age to manhood, and, on the other, part of a man’s participation in man’s taming of the great forces of nature represented in the nostrils’ breath of an angry bull. The element of the fertile, powerful, fearsome, strong, virile, and potentially deadly bull represents the people’s worship of mother earth. In a sense, the bull IS an image of the earth and all she provides for the people. The bull arises from and stands upon the earth. Also, though, as the earth is turned and cultivated to expose her flesh, as she opens herself to receive the rains, in the sacred ritual, the bull becomes a blood sacrifice and provides all manner of blessings for the community.

All of this, however, is long before the dawn of the age of ideology.


May I remind my dearest reader that the youths of Knossos flipped over ACTUAL bulls. I don’t say this to disparage the manhood of whoever that is riding the Wall Street Charging Bull. The point is, how many ACTUAL bulls has anyone ever seen in the city of NY? And, yet, a statue of a giant, exaggerated, raging bull is one of the most famous icons of the city.

The statue is now a mainstay in the Financial District of Manhattan and was installed following the 1987 stock market crash. The bull, as an echo back to Knossos, has been said to symbolize the “strength and power of the American people.” The same person said: “Charging Bull, then, shows an aggressive or even belligerent force on the move, but unpredictably....[I]t's not far-fetched to say the theme is the energy, strength, and unpredictability of the stock market." So, the bull appears to be a good representation of the stock exchange. People react to it both in fear and by vicariously participating in its energy and power, which comes out looking like public economic optimism.

Now, for my point here about ideology, the key word there is PUBLIC. Everyone isn’t so inspired by the bull as to go work on the floor of the exchange and go on competitive motorcycle riding excursions with their business associates to build bull-riding camaraderie. We are all, however, still shaped by the image of the bull. We all share in the optimism of the bull and the pessimism of the bear. The breath blown out of the nostrils of the angry bull statue shapes the hopes and fears of us all. We all take our turn riding the bull - or posing in front of it. There are even photos of women kind of hugging it lovingly. To some degree or another, we are all “The Wolf on Wall Street.”

So, ideology centers around nothing. There is no real bull in NYC. But, part of what defines ideology’s story is also that we all participate in this nothing. The very fact that the image of a bull that no one in NYC has ever seen was installed in response to a stock market crash shows how the hopes and drives of ideology are both empty and futile.


The headline of the story where I got this image read: “The Bull Tied to Occupy Wall Street.” That headline is more telling than it knew, I think. But, perhaps the headline got things a bit backwards.

Just as we all participate in nothing, we, when governed by ideology, also become nothing in reacting in and to nothing. I’m sure my dearest reader is aware of the Occupy Wall Street movement. What makes it a lesson in ideology and how it works is that the movement had no identity or definition of its own. It wasn’t defined by its own character or by something present within it. It was defined by what it stood against.

So, ideologically, as we ride the bull, we are actually defined by what we stand against. In being defined by a bull statue and the power it represents, we are actually defined by the absence of the real bulls that were present at Knossos. We are actually driven by the absence.

On the other side of that coin, Occupy Wall Street is defined by standing in opposition to and against the raging bull that doesn’t exist. Their hopes and fears are shaped by the same non-bull as those who ride it. Their very identity becomes tied to the bull. Just as the distance between NYC and any actual bull of Knossos becomes an identifying feature of that which is being protested, the barricade, the distance between bull and spectator, becomes the central identifying feature of said angry, raging protestor. The headline should have read: “Occupy Wall Street Tied to The Bull.”


The headline of the story where I got this image read: “One Women’s Day Eve, Statue of Girl Stares Down Wall Street Bull.” As a lesson in ideology, the same dynamics are at play here as those seen in how Occupy Wall Street was shaped. Women want their fair share in the corporate office. So, an innocent child’s version of themselves standing against what they see as a representation of men pursuing and in power is the womens’ image of working together more with men?

We could take the same lesson away from the shape taken by Occupy Wall Street, which was also, by definition, governed by ideology.

Occupy Wall Street was shaped and defined by what it stood against. It was a protest movement. It wasn’t about working with Wall Street to shape themselves, Wall Street, and the larger world. Similarly, the girl standing against the bull isn’t working with it, making deals with it, or, heaven forbid, lovingly feeding it. It obviously gets hungry.


The story I got this image from is about a guy who was moved in worship with fellow Christians who work with Sojourners, who are known as explicitly liberal Christians. In other words, they are governed by ideology. The same dynamics are again at play. These worshippers take the shape of protestors.

Here’s the thing. Moses didn’t protest the golden calf. All of our hopes and fears are shaped by the raging bull. Moses made the people drink it.

In Exodus 32, the people faced and actually took into their bodies what they did. Then, by the living Word of God who had carried them out of Egypt to bring life and freedom, said life was put to the test in and by the people. Do we really stand with that life or against it?

Moses then pleads to God to forgive his people for their great sin of worshipping the virile, raging bull. In his plea, he puts his own life on the line. In God’s response, he acknowledges Moses’ plea and says this:

now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.

In other words, God acknowledges that He will still be present and at work among them, though the people have explicitly sinned grievously against Him. God is also not a protestor. God doesn’t stand against. God is present and at work within and with.

Particularly interesting are the words, “in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” What did that end up looking like? The ultimate picture of how that was fulfilled is spoken of by Isaiah:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities…

- Isaiah 53: 4-5

God’s “visiting of their sin upon them” was his becoming one of them and having the sin and suffering inflicted upon himself. And, this was only possible because the image presented is not that of a barricade and distance between God and His people. It’s not the image of an angry girl who has been sinned against standing defiantly against the sinner. The difference between the Lamb and the Bull is also the difference between the distance and the Incarnation. The image of the people of Israel drinking their calf-sin becomes the image of our drinking the blood of the Lamb.

So, yes, the Wall Street Bull reveals our ideology, our false worship. But it also manages to reveal how the same ideology and false worship is bound up in how we react to the Bull. God doesn’t react the same way. God kisses Judas. God heals Malchus’ ear and tells Peter to put his sword away. God says, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do!” God has breakfast on the beach with his betrayers.

It’s a different posture governed by a different image of reality, a different image of my identity. Do we identity with the optimism and fear of the bull, with the Wolf of Wall Street, on a path stampeding rage? Or, do we identify with the slaughtered Lamb who is patiently present and at work among his people?

God makes peace with Wall Street rather than protesting against it. In the meantime, he redeems it and blesses it. God sits at the Table with Wall Street and works with it in love rather than standing defiantly against it. In the meantime, God “makes them male and female” and says “it is very good.” The difference between God and ideology is the difference between the anger in slaughtering the Lamb and the love of the Lamb slaughtered. The difference between the images of the Lamb and the Bull is in Isaiah 11:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Why I Hate White, Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs

Clouds are white.
Gravestones are white.
Trim work and crown molding in contemporary suburban houses are white.

The light warmly bathing the ancient silent walls of Florence’s great Duomo is yellow.
Halos in icons over the Holy One and his saints are yellow.
The sun is yellow.

Interior of Florence’s Great Duomo

The valley of dry bones is white.
Cadavers are grey and white.
The ghost of the dead rising from a body at the moment of death in a late Renaissance painting is depicted as white and grey.

Regular old incandescent light bulbs are yellow.
The fullness of the presence of the background in medieval icons is reflective, shimmering gold, meant to make appear before the senses the power of heaven and to thus remind the audience of the power of an icon to speak.

T.S. Eliot, in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, in heading up towards these lines…

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse…

And I have known the eyes already, known them all –
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin,
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume? ….

….stealing from the imagination of Einstein's formula of relativity, speaks of time like so…

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

Or, speaking of dry bones, in The Dry Salvages, Eliot says this…

Men's curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint--
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

But, at least we have there the image of sunlight.

On the light bulb, Marshall McLuhan says this: "totally radical, pervasive, and decentralized... it eliminates time and space factors in human association exactly as do radio, telegraph, telephone, and TV, creating involvement in depth." He means depth there in terms of being in opposition to extension of the message through an actual bodily medium in which the message is conveyed in the actuality of space and time. He means “depth” in reference to human association that occurs all at once, simultaneously, and from all directions and times. McLuhan also says, “What people don’t understand about electronic media is, when you are on the phone or on the air, you have no body.”

Ashes are white.
Lots wife was white.
Now she lays eternally not in a heap of pure white fallenness but lost imageless in the wind.

Inside of Villa Savoye, built 1929

The walls of our contemporary suburban houses are white.
And, in the clutter of contemporary consumerism, we get lost between or hidden behind them.
McLuhan says that we shape our tools, and they in turn shape us. In this case, we make our technologies, and, in becoming like them, we get lost in them.
The walls of Le Corbusier’s great and groundbreaking Villa Savoye of 1929 are white, but the order and simplicity, harmony and music of the rest of what appears allows humans to stand up and out, over and against the background of the artifact they made.

Florentine Voyaging

Molten liquid glowing golden -
The yellow smoke upon the window panes…
Descent and rising under the dome,
Whirling and twirling within the shadows.
Vines are growing around the sun,
Monks chanting under a Duomo.
Men are melting into angle fire.

Dome of Florence’s Great Duomo

Trim work and crown molding in contemporary suburban houses are white.
Lab coats are white. The walls of scientific research laboratories flicker in horror with the white florescent bulbs that baptize them.
The trim work of houses built before the time when Lot’s wife disappeared into the wind, and man’s body disappeared into his use of electronic media…is the warm color of nature’s trees.
When Marlon Brando's character whispered "the horror..." in Apocalypse Now, he was referring to man's loss of himself.
It's the horror of the moment of indecision as to whether or not to disturb the universe, compacted into a ball of Nothingness called a white, energy-efficient light bulb.

If man will disappear into associating with each other outside of and beyond time and space, let him at least have trim work the color of trees rather than of graves.
If man will melt away, let him at least melt into angel fire rather than Nothingness.

If man will formlate himself, sprawl out, fragments of his formerly embodied and breathing self wriggling on a dissection pin, then let him at least paint the walls of his laboratory the colors of a Cezanne still-life.

Light bulbs are already, in and of themselves, the vacating of man’s existence into the windy ashes.
Let us at least remember time, lost in a shaft of sunlight.
A home is not a research laboratory. Neither is it a graveyard of dry bones and fallen ashes.

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