Friday, August 25, 2017

Architecture and Discipleship: Horizons of Trust

In all my theological education, I did not have one professor ever who spoke about place. - Dr Willie Jennings

"At that time man had begun to loose his sense of mystery in relation to the horizon. The horizon was no longer the edge of man's world, nor any longer the place where things apepared into his world. The earth had become a globe, so, upon visiting Palladio's Villa and having a conversation with him, he instructed that I imagine someone setting off from one of the four faces of his Villa, walking all the way around the globe, and mysteriously coming back upon the very same face staring back at me." - Sverre Fehn

Sverre Fehn's Sketch of Palladio's Villa Rotunda

At the time in history to which Fehn refers, man had attained a theoretical view of the globe that set him apart from his dwelling place. Man had come to, in his mind, stand apart from his own world. From then on, every act and every construction of our language had to answer the question of how to reconcile to something referenced outside itself. Every act and every speech became a critique and was to be critiqued. This is why Palladio instructed Sverre Fehn to “mysteriously come back upon the very same face staring back at” us. Sverre Fehn heard the voice of Palladio calling him to return to the mystery of entering inside of a world of meaning.

“[I]t was the text itself that Jesus and other ancient Jews affirmed to be ‘God-breathed,’ not the relationship between the text and ‘actual history,’ for this was a distinction that presupposes the post-Enlightenment rise of ‘historical consciousness.’” – Greg Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, p. 363

“To read it as God’s word, we must by faith simply enter ‘the world of the biblical text’ with the assumption that it is ‘God-breathed’ and therefore that it is true on its own terms.” – Greg Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, p. 368

As some have noted, criticism is also performance. To step back and analyze is itself to enter into a world that shapes meaning in a particular way. To dissect the body and remove the mystery is itself to step on a stage and put on a mask.

“Within himself, every man is an architect. His first step towards architecture is his walk through nature.

He cuts a path like writing on the surface of the earth. The crushing of grass and brushwood is an interference with nature, a simple definition of man's culture. His path is a sign to follow. And through this initial movement, he requires the movements of others. This is a most elementary form of a composition.

The globe is divided in longitude and latitude degrees. And each crossing point has its certain climate, its certain plants and winds. As an architect, you have to try to understand the difference of life in each point. Independent of these geographical points, the human thoughts float like clouds over the surface of Earth, and architecture is brought to life in the duel between nature and the irrational….” – Sverre Fehn

To theoretically stand outside our selves and the earth is to enter into the particular structured set of relationships that makes the relationship between nature and “the irrational” into a “duel.” The accomplishment of that stance was the creation or discovery of the globe. The quest to remove mystery creates the conditions in which the mystery returns unannounced - unless, of course, we ourselves re-turn and face the mystery again.

Hagia Sophia, Entrance

“[T]he posture we assume when reading scripture theologically, to discern God’s word for us, is very different from what is assumed when reading Scripture in a historical-critical manner. To assess a passage critically, one must stand over it, for the historical-critical scholar is interrogating the text, as it were, by forcing it to answer questions he or she is posing. By contrast, to read a passage theologically, one must stand under it, allowing it to interrogate them. And this means we do not investigate the truthfulness of Scripture when we read Scripture as God’s word; we rather presuppose it. We assume it possesses the integrity and truth that God ‘breathed’ it to have, quite apart from any historical-critical concern…

[W]hile the historical-critical approach subjects Scripture to our questions, the theological approach, at least as I am espousing it, seeks to enter into the ‘God-breathed’ ‘realism’ of the biblical narrative and allow it to shape us.” - Boyd, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, p. 357-9

When we “enter into” the scriptural narrative, we also enter into a history. By entering into that history, we act out its story. Scripture continues to build on itself, until it is fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus then sends his Spirit, and we ourselves embody the story that Jesus has inscribed in his flesh.

Similarly, Architects embody a tradition. Architects tell stories that reach into history. Architects bring the past into the present with their acts and with their language.

Interwoven into this dynamic between past and present in every act and every speech (and every thought) is a question of the relationship between inside and outside, between gifting and grasping.

“My most important journey was perhaps into the past, in the confrontation with the Middle Age, when I built a museum among the ruins of the Bishops' Fortress at Hamar. I realized, when working out this project, that only by manifestation of the present, you can make the past speak. If you try to run after it, you will never reach it.

But the great museum is the globe itself. In the surface of the earth, the lost objects are preserved. The sea and the sand are the great masters of conservation and make the journey into eternity so slow that we still find in these patterns the key to the birth of our culture….

"John Hejduk has created a world where the boundaries are erased. The architecture floats in the universe, extending from the cut of the surgeon's scalpel into the inner organ of a human body, to his own cut through the veil of invisibility into the vast landscape where the site is cleared for `The Cemetery of the Ashes of Thought'." - Sverre Fehn

"But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." - Gen. 19

Villa Norrkoping, by Sverre Fehn

It is only when we presume to live on (the outside of) a globe, when we stand outside of ourselves, when we interpret according to the rules of a historical grammatical method that we find ourselves in a cemetery and that thought falls in the form of ashes. Otherwise, we live in and out of an embodied story. There is then no cemetery. Our work does not then appear as ashes returning to dust, but it belongs in the land of the living.

“While our focus on the relationship between the text and ‘actual history’ when reading Scripture in a historical-critical manner, our focus must remain on the relationship between the text and our present situation (viz. our personal, ecclesial, social and/or global situation) when reading it theologically, for we are seeking to hear what God is communicating to us from within the world of the inspired biblical narrative.

So too, whereas the critical approach assumes that ‘the text is referentially related to some other entity’ (viz. to ‘actual history’), and whereas this approach inclines readers to look behind the text to discern this relationship, the precritical, theological way the premodern church read Scripture assumed that the meaning of the text is found in the text itself, which led them to look intensely into the text to hear God’s voice. In the words of Father Yves Congar, for people who employ a ‘technical’ approach to Scripture, Scripture becomes ‘an object to be analyzed and dissected.’ By contrast, when people read Scripture with ‘a seeking heart,’ longing to hear God’s word, Scripture can become ‘alive, a person, drawing me to it with the force of a living being.’” - Greg Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, p. 356-7

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” – John 1: 1-4

The question of whether we are alive or dead is inextricably connected to whether things appear and disappear on the horizon or, rather, on the globe. A dead man disappears horizontally below the earth. A living man appears on the horizon. On the globe, however, a No-man disappears into ashes of thought. A veil of invisibility is introduced. We can’t see dead people.

“How shall we respond to man and his objects affixed to the surface of the earth? Everything we build must be adjusted in relation to the ground, thus the horizon becomes an important aspect of architecture. The simplest form of architecture is to cultivate the surface of the earth, to make a platform. Then the horizon is the only direction you have. The moment you lose the horizon, your desire is always to reinstate it.” - Sverre Fehn

To theoretically stand outside our selves and the earth is to enter into the particular structured set of relationships that makes the relationship between nature and “the irrational” into a “duel.” The accomplishment of that stance was the creation or discovery of the globe. The quest to remove mystery creates the conditions in which the mystery returns unannounced - unless, of course, we ourselves re-turn and face the mystery again.

“Unlike ancient precritical readers, we have to consciously choose to read Scripture in a precritical way…to stand under it as God’s word and let it transform us.” – Greg Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God p. 362

Andrea Palladio's Villa Rotunda

At the time in history in which Palladio spoke and acted, man had attained a theoretical view of the globe that set him apart from his dwelling place. Man had come to, in his mind, stand apart from his own world. From then on, every act and every construction of our language had to answer the question of how to reconcile to something referenced outside itself. Every act and every speech became a critique and was to be critiqued. This is why Palladio instructed Sverre Fehn to “mysteriously come back upon the very same face staring back at” us. Sverre Fehn heard the voice of Palladio calling him to return to the mystery of entering inside of a world of meaning.

“I think it is vital that we specify what precisely we are trusting Scripture for…Scripture is best understood as the ‘God-breathed’ written witness to God’s covenantal faithfulness that culminates in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ…And this, I submit, is the ultimate criterion by which we should assess the trustworthiness of scripture...If we rely on Scripture to bear witness to God’s faithfulness as supremely expressed in the crucified Christ and confirmed by the resurrection, God will not fail to use it to that end. For it was to this end that God ‘breathed’ it.” – Greg Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God p. 371-2

My Racism: A Confession and a Hope

I shared the following with two older black men this morning: Jack Gaines (author of My Brother’s Keeper Not My Brother’s Killer) and Julius Thomas. After I was finished, they both requested that I write my story down. Julius, in particular and for various reasons, requested that I write down what I shared with them as “verbatim” as I could remember. So, here goes:

My story regarding racism kind of has two parts. First, background information. I grew up in Miars Farm. In a big, suburban, two storey house. There was one black family in my neighborhood. I was friends with the kid. Justin was his name. No, there were two, now that I remember it. I didn’t remember the second black family at first, because we never hung out with their kids. By “we” I mean the neighborhood full of white kids who always hung out together. Also, background information – I was the neighborhood runt who always got picked on.

Sometimes, I would go over to Radcliffe and play basketball or hang out and play video games. Radcliffe is a step down on the social ladder, and there were mostly black kids who hung out there. I felt a lot more accepted there. I also had a very close black kid who was my friend growing up (Allen Glasper). We would sometimes sleep over at each others’ houses and play games and eat dinner and what not. I still remember his parent’s spaghetti! But, he was sort of separate from my neighborhood friends, who I spent time with like every day. I think maybe the time I spent with him and with the kids in Radcliffe might have shaped my being more open to racial issues later on.

But, all of that is just background information to the two main parts of my story as they come to fruition later on in my life.

It is significant to me that I had to lose my Architectural profession, lose two nursing jobs, and work as a server again for a year, in order to really see and acclimate myself to this. Basically, I had to lose myself three times and then spend a year re-seeing myself to even begin to see what discipleship is.

So, on the first part of my story. My Identity:

I grew up imagining myself being an architect when I grow up. I remember sitting in math class in sixth grade drawing the whole time but still doing half way decent in class. My teacher told me I should be an architect, because I was good at both math and art. I was like, “Hmm OK.” I ended up taking that to heart. So, “architect” was how I imagined my self and my world growing up. A significant part of that story is that I always got praise for my artwork growing up, but I saw architecture as a kind of compromise. As a way to make enough money to attain the standard of living that was just simply normal for me. That kind of thinking was just built into my reality without question.

Then, fast forward to much later when the economy tanked and I lost my architecture job, got laid off again for what I decided was to be the last time. At the time, I realized that Architecture had really been about me, and so I wanted to do something that wasn’t about me. So, I went into nursing. That doesn’t fully explain why I went into nursing, but that was a big part of it. I wanted to do something that wasn’t about me.

While I was taking my prerequisites for nursing, I worked as a server at Cracker Barrel. I remember at that time, thinking, “Man, I’m glad I won’t be doing this for the rest of my life.” It was a barely conscious thought. It would just be randomly and in passing while in the back making drinks or getting someone’s food out of the window. I would walk past someone who had been doing that job for most of their life and would most likely be “stuck” doing that for the rest of their lives. And, I would essentially think to myself, “Man, I’m glad I’m not like them.” Like I said, it was barely conscious. I had no idea, really, what I had been thinking in the back of my mind. I realized later that most of those people I was thankful to not be like were black.

So, after I got my nursing license, I prayed with my accountability partners – before I ever got a nursing job - that nursing wouldn’t become my identity. So, then, I lost two nursing jobs. God showed me that nursing had become my identity. I had all sorts of wild, irrational fears that came to the forefront when this happened. Like, I imagined myself homeless and destitute and everything. I imagined that I was about to become a nobody in the eyes of people, in the eyes of the world. At this time, it was like God, as though with a flood of memories, brought to mind my past subconscious thoughts of being thankful that I wasn’t like those people who were “stuck” in “lower” class and more toilsome jobs. And, here I was having wildly irrational fears of being “like them” (working as a server for the rest of my life, GASP, like many of the people I actually knew quite well who actually did it) or even worse off (homeless, destitute, alone, and alienated).

And, it hit me squarely between the eyes at that time, too, that most of those people who I greatly feared being like were black. It should be noted here that I had zero ill will or explicit hatred towards black people. In fact, I had for quite some time made a fairly conscious and voiced effort to treat and think of black people in a good way. It was just that I had this image of myself and my world that was structured based on a striving “upwards,” where others were left behind and below. And, most of those others just so happened to be black (there’s a long history to why that is).

The second part of my story. My Justice:

This was a biggie for me. Have you seen the ESPN special, “OJ: Made in America”? I asked this question of the two older black men to whom I was telling this very story of mine. One of them had seen it, and the other hadn’t. I asked the one who had to explain it to the one who hadn’t. His central or final idea of or takeaway from it was that, because OJ “was someone” and had reached a certain level or status in society – because he was “known” - it gave him the “right” to marry a white woman. The rest of OJ’s story and the country’s draw to it centered around that dynamic. When that older black man said that, it gave me chill bumps, because it then became especially significant to me that a trail for OJ’s killing his white wife was what so enraptured the country.

Now, realize that, in 1995, I was a sophomore in High School. OJ’s trial meant next to nothing to me. I dind’t get it. I remember thinking at the time: “Why is this such a big deal?” I had the same reaction when OJ was being chased in his white Bronco on the interstate in LA. I had no idea. All these years later, though, when this special came on ESPN, though, it was a different story. It meant a lot more to me. I understood more.

The ESPN special chronicled a few major events leading up to OJ’s trail that showed how over it the black community was in LA. When the Rodney King riots happened, I was in Middle School, I think. Again, I totally didn’t get it. But, I do remember being struck by how violent and awful they were. I just had no paradigm for how to process what I was seeing. I just couldn’t understand. The ESPN special also went through “39th and Dalton” and the murder of Letasha Harlins, which were two events that lead up to the Rodney King riots.

With “39th and Dalton,” the police got a tip that drugs were being dealt from an apartment in South Central LA. The police rounded up the whole block, beat up and humiliated a number of people, and completely trashed the one apartment in question. The apartment was so destroyed that you literally couldn’t take a step on the actual floor of the apartment, because it was so full of doors that had been thrown off hinges, cabinets that had been ripped off the walls, food that had been strewn from the refrigerator, personal memoirs, clothing and the rest of the resident’s belongings, and toilets and sinks that had been sledge hammered to dust. The police also left their own brand of graffiti art on the walls of the apartment. It should be noted that this was in the middle of the “War on Drugs,” which I also completely didn’t understand at the time. Apparently, it was a war on other things, too.

Letasha Harlins was a young teenage black girl who showed up at the counter of a convenience store and ended up getting shot in the back of the head by the convenience store clerk, who was Korean and owned the convenience store. The Korean lady ended up being convinced of murder. But, then, the white judge sentenced her to something like probation and community service. She got zero jail time.

So, while I was watching this special on ESPN, even though I already had a passion for what we might call racial healing or racial justice, I had reservations or doubts about what I was watching. After all, how on earth is violence and rioting warranted? That question haunted me while seeing the above mentioned evens chronicled. By the time the ESPN special got around to Rodney King, however, those doubts were gone. I understood. I could totally see how the black community in LA was so fed up. I still don’t condone rioting and violence, but how could it possibly look like their lives DID matter in the eyes of the world? I was reminded of the MLK quote: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

So, then, the big thing that hit me about OJ’s trial was this. ESPN showed a particular survey. Before the trial, something like about 2/3 of white people, give or take, thought OJ did it, and something like 2/3 of black people, give or take, thought OJ was innocent. After the trial, about ¾ of white people thought he was guilty, and about ¾ of black people thought he was innocent. So, they got further apart. Here, black and white people watched the same exact trial on the same exact news stations, and they saw two totally different things! How is that even possible?

They showed black people gathered together in auditoriums and stuff watching the verdict being announced. When the announcement was made, the black people jumped up out of their seats in exuberation and joy, hugging and clapping and crying tears of joy. They also showed white people’s reactions, mostly not gathered but watching it as individuals just out in the street wherever there was a TV or in bars or wherever. The white people were crying tears of shock, anger, and confusion, thinking: “But he did it! This is an injustice! This can’t be!”

I knew what the white people were thinking, because it was my own reaction as the verdict was announced. At the same time, though, it was like I was having an out of body and out of mind experience. While I myself was screaming inside myself, “No!!; This is impossible; this is an affront to justice!,” I also, at the same moment, SAW anew with the eyes of the black people who were so overjoyed. They weren’t just seeing OJ’s acquittal. This was vindication for them. They saw their own stories being played out. They saw their ancestors being lynched and dragged behind trucks. They saw their own friends and family members being not only unjustly given heavy sentences but not even having real trials.

It was like I was seeing both sides of the story at the same time play out within my own heart, in a very powerful way. I was completely blown away. The words I’m saying don’t do justice to it, but God really did a number on me.


At this point in the story, Jack Gaines, one of the older black men who was listening to my story, interrupts me in affirmation. Both men note how true what I’m saying is. They also note how subtle and hidden the racism was in my life that God had to show me. They think it was very significant that I was clearly not “overtly racist,” but that “It’s just built into the fabric of our society” in which I participate. “Yes,” I say. That very much describes my story.

Jack then goes on to talk about how I was blind to it. It was deceptive. It had hidden itself. Again, I say, “Yes.” Jack here also requests that I do a workshop, because, in his words, “What you’re saying is true, and white people need to hear it. And, when they hear it, they will know it’s true. And, they’ll have to decide what to do with that in their hearts.” Notably, in the past, he has also said that black people need to hear it, because they tend not to believe that there can be a white person like me who sees what I see and thinks how I think.

At this point in my story, I note how a big part of what happened to me was that I was shown how I hadn’t really trusted in the justice of Jesus. I had an idol in my life. I had an idea of “justice” that was based on our American system of justice that has for many years served white people relatively well. They literally created it. No wonder it served them well. And, no wonder it didn’t so well serve the others who I so greatly feared being like without even realizing it. I TRUSTED that system of justice. “The idols of the nations are silver and gold.” I treasured that justice system, so I was blind to anything else. “Those who trust in them will become like them.” That’s why I was literally was blind to it. I trusted in an idol, and that idol blinded me.

My hope moving forward is that, together as a church, we can lament this hi-story. If what I’m saying is true, then us white people have a lot to lament, confess, and repent of. It also means that the segregation of Sunday mornings is because we as black and white churches have been trusting in different and ongoing idols generated out of past injustices that haven’t been anywhere near fully corrected.

My hope is that those in the segregated “white” and “black” churches can gather together in submission to and in the presence of God and lament, confess, and repent together. And, I hope that we can ask for forgiveness, offer forgiveness, and be reconciled.

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.

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