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: It...it...It'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

YOUTHS FLIPPING OVER BULLS AT KNOSSOS


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.

MAN RIDING WALL STREET CHARGING BULL


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.

POLICE BARRICADE AROUND WALL ST. BULL


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.”

DEFIANT GIRL


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.

GOLDEN CALF


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.

Monday, December 05, 2016

A Sunday of Being Fit for Heaven

In a conversation on Facebook recently, I said the following in passing: “Salvation as the attainment of an eternal, disembodied heaven shapes our lives, bodies, imaginations, and desires for disengagement.” The person I was talking with seemed shocked, so he later followed up with: “[I] would like for you to explain your continuous reference to a disembodied heaven.” I didn’t know it was so continuous, but he apparently caught on to how prevalent I took that pattern of thinking and acting to be within evangelicalism. The following constitutes my response to that shocked person about why I make “continuous reference to a disembodied heaven,” edited for the format of a blog post. He kept wanting to know why I don't seem to put much emphasis on "being fit for heaven."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Because it's continuously present in front of me as I live in the midst of contemporary evangelical Christian community in America. Let's take yesterday ONLY for now....[Yesterday was a Sunday]

During the sermon, I heard:

"We think we'll be glorified NOW, but when we LEAVE here, that's when we'll be glorified." [emphasis original to how the words were spoken]

"Everything in this life will PASS AWAY, but I'll be with God for ETERNITY, and He GUARANTEES it." (what's notable here is that where the scriptures talk about a "guarantee" of eternal life, it talks about the Christ's resurrection as the "firstfruits." The idea of "fruit," in and of itself, provides one of the ways besides "passing away" that scripture uses to talk about a comparison between what is now to what is to come. The pastor ignored all of those other ways and emphasized (even with the volume of his voice) the primary one that can most easily leave out any idea of continuity between old and new. This is especially troubling if we take this emphasis on "passing away" in the context of the very common sentiment / thought about "leaving here."

The pastor also made reference in his sermon to a previous conversation between himself and one of the elders on the relationship between context and truth. I wasn't privy to that conversation, so I wasn't able to make sense of everything the pastor was trying to convey. What I could ascertain, though, was that the pastor was operating under the assumption that truth and context stand in opposition to each other, which itself means that truth is disembodied. To that point, while talking about truth, the pastor said...

"You have got to know the TRUTH, and the truth comes OUT OF the Word." [emphasis added regarding "out of," original to how the words were spoken regarding "truth"]. What's important to note here is that the pastor talked for a bit about "truth" (this was just a blurb from that), but never once did he indicate or say or seem to remember that when Paul speaks of "the truth," Paul (and Jesus, for that matter) is speaking of a PERSON (that is, Jesus Christ). A person embodied, I should add.

That was just from yesterday morning.

Then, last night, I was asked to help out at a Matthew West concert, which was at a big church that operates on a mega-church model near where I live. Before West came on...

The Construction of the Tower of Babel (Hendrick Van Cleve, 1525 - 1589)

Reno, New Song and Loving the Outcome came on first. Together, those basically constituted a giant light show and loud sound production. I mean, it was literally billed as a "rock concert." Reminiscent of the pastor from yesterday morning who assumes that truth is disembodied and has no context, there were words "sung" ABOUT Jesus, but there wasn't much else that would remind anyone of Jesus if they actually know Jesus. The whole premise of the very possibility of such a show is in utter opposition to Marshall McLuhan's aphorism that "the medium is the message." The concert's message was supposed to be all content, but it forgot form. The form spoke to the opposite of Jesus and was fully invested in the world. As evidenced by the obvious fact that the "artists" (I use the term loosely, though they were clearly strong technicians of instruments and voice) were quite consciously imitating mainstream musicians.

Speaking of which, in the middle of one of the songs, Jared Emerson came on and did one of his "paintings" in front of everyone. Of course, in the end, it was a portrait that looked exactly like every other portrait of white Jesus you've ever seen in every evangelical church in America. Except, Jared painted it while wildly and constantly gyrating his body (even literally jumping wildly a number of times) as if to, true to the form of a rock concert, elicit strong emotion. To my larger point of this whole blog post, that's needed when the message being conveyed is assumed first to be disembodied. When I saw Jared in the lobby after the show, I saw that his clothes were produced in such a way as to portray the image of Jackson Polluck, and suddenly all of his silliness made sense - except for the end product. The end product and the means to the end were utterly divorced from each other. Unlike the relationship between what first appears of a plant in the life of a Christian or of the church and what the fully grown fruit will appear as in the midst of the world.

And that was just during the concert.

At the end of the concert, one of the members of New Song (who apparently holds the office of pastor, I suppose) did a "gospel presentation." It was based on the normal evangelical Billy Grahmian premise of the alter call for forgiveness of sins granted by "faith alone." For how this was "duplicitous," see above about the whole rest of the concert. For how it involves a disembodied view of reality, see the whole rest of my blog post. The "gospel presenter" did indicate that the "decision for Jesus" does change the present life, but how can you give lip service to integrated, whole, incarnational living in the wake of making it so obvious that you are participating in something that shows no understanding whatsoever what that can even possibly begin to mean?

The dude even came out and basically said he was trying to twist peoples' arms to come up and give their life to Jesus, "because it's worth it." I was asked to be "counselor" in a back room for when people did come forward. I wasn't even comfortable with this at this point because, well, see the rest of my blog post. I strongly question what people thought they were coming forward to enter into if that experience was what lead them to come forward. I doubt that very many others in the room had such doubts or questions, precisely because of how predominant their assumptions are about the DISEMBODIED relationship between truth and context, message and medium, mind and body, unseen and seen, ends and beginnings (or means).

And that was just during the "gospel presentation"....

My "counseling session" after the "gospel presentation" was supposed to consist of handing out a "tract", asking for the person's name, phone number, email address, and whether or not they would be interested in a "new Christian bible class." In conjunction with introduction to such a class, I was to hand them a little booklet that constituted a study of the book of John.

A couple things to note here to the point of this blog post.

One, everything about that "counseling session" was geared (geared being the appropriate term) towards discipleship taking the form of a program, where this particular aspect of the discipleship program itself is part of the larger well-oiled machine of the church itself - geared towards large numbers of "decisions for Christ" and butts in seats. The problem with this is twofold: a) that's not really discipleship (and discipleship really doesn't even happen in such contexts), and b) just as that mostly-vapid "concert" was supposed to resemble worship but really was infected with the world, such programmatic structuring of the church is, in reality, actually the appearance in the world of something else other than discipleship (mega-church leaders explicitly based what they do on business models). Again, to the larger point of this blog post, such disjointedness would not be possible if not for a DISEMBODIED view of the relationship between truth and context, message and medium, mind and body, unseen and seen, ends and beginnings (or means) to be so predominant as to go unquestioned.

Two, specifically regarding the study of John that I handed the kid...it fit with the typical evangelical emphasis on exposition, on inductive bible studies, and on word studies. Again, it's all about the content, supposedly (forget the form, medium, or context; forget actual immediacy of what appears physically in my midst). The assumption, as Fitch talks about, as well, in The End of Evangelicalism?, is that if we can just give the right information, then people will have what they need to be saved and live the Christian life. Bigger picture, this is based on the Western worldly Cartesian assumption of "ergo cogito sum." "I think therefore I am." I am constituted of the mind and the machine, and if I get the mind right, then I can program the machine of my body correctly. But, and most consummately, I AM my thinking. My very identity is both thought of and trained into acting as though it is DISEMBODIED.

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

And all of that was just yesterday. Note that a lot of that may not have sounded like it was talking about a "disembodied heaven," in particular, but note that everything about the sermon at the beginning of this blog post pointed in that direction very strongly (the first quote said it almost explicitly). Then, note how connected the assumptions of the sermon are to the assumptions of the concert and of the "counseling session." It all goes together for a reason.

History tells us that all of that came about together...along with and including the assumption of a disembodied heaven being the destiny of the believer. And, I don't mean that all of that came about together, like, in the same moment, but developmentally.

Well, unless you're Mormon? In which case, we get new spiritual bodies, along with, like, planets or something. But it's still pretty much the same rules or grammar or assumptions of/about reality that structure how we think of the relationships between heaven and earth, time and eternity, death and life.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Of course, none of this is important unless the “kingdom of God” spoken of in Luke 9: 62 is not roughly equivalent to “eternity in heaven.” This whole blog post is irrelevant if the “kingdom of God” isn’t the reign of God in and over all things, who is reconciling ALL THINGS to Himself, so that He may be “all in all,” in view of a coming marriage of heaven and earth (Rev. 21) rather than the believers’ ultimate destiny being eternity elsewhere other than here. The reason this issue is important, in other words, is because the cross is a much better image of the destiny of the Christian believer, of the ultimate fruition of all of history, than is the Tower of Babel. Besides the content of the words spoken, what of that giant light and sound production we called a Christian concert yesterday would remind anyone of the cross?

Note the tension created in Dali’s rendition of Christ on the cross. That was on purpose, and, as with surrealism in general, it speaks to exactly the historical development of the divorce of heaven and earth discussed here. Dali brings the audience into uncomfortable remembrance of Christ’s suffering in his body precisely by presenting us with the divorce from our bodies to which we are so accustomed. And, relevant to the point of this blog post, Dali does that by placing Christ’s hanging on the cross afloat in heaven, in that place to which our Towers of Babel reach in futility.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Jason Hesiak: Made in America, Part 2

Football has been my vehicle to come out of the ghetto, to get everything I've got. I think I have a lot more to offer. There's a lot of things I NEED as a person. You know, I need that recognition. I think that, uh, what is driving O.J. Simpson is that need to be known, that need to be liked, to be, say, 'Hey, that's O.J. Simpson.' You know, I walk down the street, I want people to KNOW me.
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.

Trust

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.

Jesus

O.J. Simpson football card
Soon after coverage of the verdict is shown in the “OJ Simpson: Made in America” special on ESPN, it showed footage of Simpson being welcomed into and speaking at a black church in Los Angeles. Simpson said something along the lines of: “I don’t care what people think. I’m not trying to just put a certain image of myself to the world. I’m trying to show good character. I care about doing good and going to heaven!” Or something like that.

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

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.
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.

The Story

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.

The Verdict

"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

In the same way that modernity inevitably has led to postmodernity, the original Superman has inevitably led to Zack Snyder's. Both are equally silly (even evil), just in different ways.

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.

Idols

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.

God

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.

Apocalypse

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 :)

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