Friday, June 18, 2010

A Move

I decided to try something else. Not sure what will happen here.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An All-Seeing Eye

I was recently accused of being an egomaniac. Wikipedia defines egomania as,
an obsessive preoccupation with one's self and applies to someone who follows their own ungoverned impulses and is possessed by delusions of personal greatness and feels a lack of appreciation.
Given the situation of the accusation I felt like the charge stuck and I tried to take it for it was and sit with it. What I began to wonder was the extent to which context can nurture or expose egomania. I know I function basically in a selfish mode for most of given day but by and large I think I can attend to the needs and concerns of the people around me and to whom I am responsible. And in many times and places the above definition simply does not fit. However, I wonder if there are contexts which I simply do not have resources for. What if there are contexts in which all typical approaches and appeals fail? What do I do then? In that arena I seem to hold on to a slender notion of self. I become, in almost an absolute sense, self-centered. I had hoped or thought I was in a context which would support or 'feed' my sense of self and in turn I found no 'connection', no sustenance.
This is probably a simple issue of affirmation. There are many contexts in my life where I don't really care to get affirmation, it's always nice to receive it but I move through these space without that felt need. I am self-sufficient. But there are places where I look for an affirming sense of orientation and stability. I have already (rightly or wrongly) identified there and when I do not meet myself there then there is break. This is the case in academic/critical theological discourse. I have already identified with these spheres and when those spheres are not at play in other areas of life my self remains intact but when I do not find my self in those spheres or my perceived self is criticized or rejected then there is a break. And rather than an initial humbling response my self actually grows, becomes manic and it becomes an absolute and singular eye seeing and encompassing the world.
Both postures I think are wrong. Self-sufficiency may be latent ego-mania and self-instability is manifest ego-mania. The self may well be entirely contingent and truly unstable but there is not only one posture of instability. Right now it feels like I am reading everything through a Kierkegaardian lens but here it feels very appropriate. There is an initial nourishing and critical 'I' that is the self-God relationship. This is a disciplined self, a gifted self, a non-stable but infinitely secured self, a self always in motion as it is in relation to the one who moves.
I was also told that I say a lot of bullshit . . . sigh.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Shifting Gears

I can always remember living in two worlds. One was in my head and the other was in the world. The outlet of one was exploration and adventure in my sprawling farmyard growing up and the other was careful and cautious navigation of relational expectations. As I grew older and became drawn to more abstract theory I felt the conviction that such pursuit (adventure as I saw it) was useless and so for much of my adult life I lived in contexts where I felt forced to make decisions in in relation to my thinking where other environments would not have made such demands (I am thinking here of the social conditions of some urban centres where one is faced directly with larger societal choices). In time, for work, I have moved away from such contexts. In this most recent process I have responded to any internal/external convictions about theory with the notion that I am embodied theory, there is no distinction between theory and practice. Theory is a practice. I still believe this but I am coming to realize that I may not be currently theorizing well.

I am experiencing a greater disconnect between my theoretical and theological pursuits and my professional role. I wonder why I have not written and reflected more directly on my actual professional roles? Why I have sought to maintain a certain divide in this area? I would like to write more about my profession as a pastor but I do not. I have an uneasiness. I have not integrated my intellectual world and my professional world. This can be noted in the maintenance of my online handle (IndieFaith) and the recent relatively consistent addition of dcl_driedger. I am uneasy that people who know me directly in my professional life will begin to get to know me in my intellectual life (which is somewhat represented in this space). What is the uneasiness? At one point I simply felt it was too difficult, too many bridges to build in order to communicate what I was reading with what I was doing . . . but that is laziness. I have also felt that I would be dismissed and criticized for producing work that was neither of a very high academic caliber nor of a very relevant or accessible form. In some ways I felt that an interested 'lay' response was the most the devastating critique. This is stupid . . . Yes, yes it is.
The situation is not quite as difficult in preaching. The translation is performed more easily in preaching where I can draw allusions and illustrations from various sources that have inspired or illuminated my thinking without actually needing to outline and clarify all the nuances of the person being cited. However, what I am thinking of is the class of youth exploring baptism. Our church's muddled concept of communion. My own dissatisfaction with the practice of pastoral care. The need to navigate and understand church systems and politics. The church's desire to be a blessing in the world. Christian identity as such.
In many of these expressions I find myself grasping for resources I do not have readily at hand. I still believe that I am informed by my intellectual pursuits but I am afraid that what ends up happening is an implicit appeal to older 'theories' of church because I cannot theorize 'on my feet' in some specific contexts. This results in a professional expression that I am not pleased with and where I feel that I done justice neither to my intellect nor to my faith. And so I hope to remedy this perceived lack. Here are a few concrete expressions I hope to pursue in the near future.
1. Soren Kierkegaard's Works of Love as a source, critique and inspiration for pastoral care.
2. An exploration of communion in conversation with Yoder, Ward, Marion, Cavanaugh, and Pound.
3. The epistemological implications of the Body of Christ. What I am thinking here is modes of discourse. I have been challenged by recent conversations over at AUFS but have not been satisfied with the notion of acceptable discourse practices advocated there. I wonder if Paul's explication of the Body and the unity and diversity of spiritual gifts speaks to a more varied epistemology which embraces the critical discourse but also accepts equally other modes in manner that does not 'hedge' knowledge in self-legitimating ideology.
4. The ecclesiological implications of the book of Revelation. I just love Revelation right now and hope to post more on it. Perhaps this will be a more critical expository thread with engagement in the Greek text.
This may be ambitious but I wanted to lay it down for my own accountability. I need to be making a shift here and I hope these topics can provide me with a more nuanced and thoughtful approach to my professional role.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Persecution Update!

With respect to the post below I see it more clearly now. While I jokingly referred to AUFS as my persecutors (and therefore myself as martyr) I see that perhaps what is happening is the attempt by some of the AUFS folk to walk into a public space which is not neutral in which powers exist and are exercised but they walk in with the knowledge that no 'pious gestures' will shield and protect them and if there is any value in this space it will come only in the witness of their accessible life, their bodies as it were. This is of course all too dramatic (and likely problematic) but I am not yet ready to lose the imagery.


Friday, June 11, 2010

An Arena of Contestation

A recent response by APS on AUFS's blog thread read,
so you’ve essentially [p]ut a little hedge around your beliefs and ideas so they can’t be criticized. That’s called ideology, which is surely a part of religion, though not one that I think should be encouraged.
The issue as I take it is the manner in which theological discourse is open for public engagement and mutual correction/criticism. At first I thought APS's remarks were a little harsh (though they were not directed at myself). I had this response because the folk at AUFS (that I am engaging with) are not working with a neutral space for such correction/criticism. It is a space in which one must decide whether the parameters are acceptable for or worth engagement. While I do not believe that there are neutral public spaces (and I am not saying that these folk advocate that either) I do accept 'the public' as an arena of contestation. The Christian faith, as I would read it, is not concerned with what parameters the public may place on its presence (though it is concerned with what parameters it may place) but embraces, rather, that it is in the public that the faith is ultimately manifest or at least cycled (I am thinking dramatically of martyrology . . . yes AUFS you are my persecutors!! . . . to ease interpreting prior line think misplaced irony and smiling emoticon).
I am trying in as much as is possible to discard those instruments that buffer a more direct encounter with 'the public' that I might continually be exposed to those things I use to secure my position so that my thought and action can be refined (to use a pious expression!). I certainly do not claim that the people I am engaging with share this understanding and I am only articulating what is emerging for myself as I ask the question of what value this engagement offers. So I am increasingly happy to cede to various parameters because it is for my benefit (selfishly) with the hope that to the extent that I continue to be embedded in the institutional church it might also be for its benefit.


Kierkegaard's Works of Love - Part II - Mercifulness, a Work of Love, Even if It Can Give Nothing and Is Capable of Doing Nothing

Kierkegaard begins with a passage from Hebrews, "Do not neglect to do good and to share" but then quickly adds his own reading, "But also do not forget that this perpetual worldly talk about doing good and well-doing and charity and charities and gifts and gifts is almost mercilessness. SK's main thrust in this section is against the 'do-gooders' as it were. Why? Because of the mercilessness this position lays upon the 'poor.'

The poor man groans in church as he hears the pastor preach on and on about charity and doing well towards the less fortunate. He groans not that more well-doing be directed towards him but he groans against the pastor because this sermonizing of well-doing in fact becomes the great injustice. Charity in the sense of giving is derivative not primary. Mercifulness is primary and charity flows from it. SK seeks in vain where we might find space in Christian discourse about the acts of mercy that the poor themselves practice.

We shall hold to this point in our discussion of mercifulness and take care lest mercifulness be confused with external conditions, which love as such does not really have within its power; whereas true love has mercifulness in its power, just as love has a heart in its bosom. Because a person has a heart in his bosom, it does not follow that he has money in his pocket, but the first is nevertheless by far the more important and certainly decisive with respect to mercifulness. . . . It follows of itself that if the merciful person has something to give, he gives it very willingly. But this is not what we want to concentrate our attention upon but on this, that one can be merciful without having the least to give. And this is of great importance, since really to be able to be merciful is a far greater perfection than to have money and consequently to be able to give.
SK then offers alternatives to the stories of the Good Samaritan and the Widow's Mite. What if the Samaritan had no horse and no money but carried the man as far as he could, pleaded for help, then sought a safe place for the man to rest, though the man died. Would this have been less an act of mercy? Or what if the widow with her two pennies was on her way to the temple but en route she was tricked out of them or was robbed and had nothing to offering in the temple. Would her act then be dismissed? Was she required to give something material? SK cannot embrace this basic understanding because
the world has understanding only for money - and Christ only for mercifulness. . . . Of all you that you have seen there is nothing you can be so sure will never enter heaven as - money. On the other hand, there is nothing heaven is so certain about as mercifulness. Therefore you see that mercifulness infinitely stands in no relationship to money.
And so in the world it is money, money, money. All is geared towards a relationship with money rather than the primary God-relationship. If the shift towards mercy can be made then everything shifts and talk of charity towards the poor is recognized as merciless. Charity to the poor 'traps' the poor in their poverty. But mercy asks of the 'poor' that they indeed practice mercy for our sakes. Be merciful SK cries to the poor,
Do not let envious pettiness of this worldly existence finally corrupt you in such a way that you are able to forget that you can be merciful, corrupt you in such a way that a false shame squelches the best in you. . . . Be merciful, be merciful toward the rich. Remember that you have this within your power, although he has money! Therefore do not misuse this power; do not be unmerciful enough to call down the punishment of heaven upon his mercilessness! . . . For mercifulness works wonders. . . . O, how many has money made merciless - if money shall also have the power of making merciless those who have no money: then the power of money has conquered completely! But if the power of money has conquered completely, then mercifulness is altogether abolished.
In emphasizing that mercy can do nothing SK turns to the aesthetic and asks whether or not "a painter might portray mercy." SK says that it cannot be done. The painting can portray charity buy not mercy. The painting can portray the two mites given but not that that it is all the woman has. And what of the mercy one who is incapacitated? They cannot be portrayed as merciful but as the object of mercy.
And then in some repeated act of repentance SK turns again to the one can 'do nothing at all.'
Do not forget to be merciful! Be merciful. This consolation, that you can be merciful, let alone the consolation that you are that, is far greater than if I could assure you that the most powerful person will show mercy to you. Be merciful to us more fortunate ones! Your care-filled life is like a dangerous criticism of loving providence; you have it therefore in your power to make us anxious; therefore be merciful!
SK then begins to climax. The temporal demands that we always do what we can to remedy every need. But the danger becomes the possibility that mercy will not be practised in the midst of it. Mercy cannot be positioned in any place other than as a primary work of love.
The fact is that the world does not understand the eternal. Temporal existence has a temporal and to that degree an activist conception of need and also has a materialistic conception of the greatness of a gift and of the ability to do something to meet need. 'The poor, the wretched may die - therefore it is important that help be given.' No answers the eternal; the most important is that mercifulness be practised or that the help be the help of mercifulness. 'Get us money, get us hospitals, these are the most important!' No, says the eternal; the most important is mercifulness. That a man dies is, eternally understood, no misfortune, but that mercifulness has not been practised is. (emphasis mine)
The eternal will not budge on this matter. The material is irrelevant for all will die in this life. The manner is what matters. And so mercy may be in great and small gestures. But the smaller and the nothing is where mercy can be most clear as it sheds the temptation to view the 'spectacular externality which has an accidental kind of significance.'
Mericfulness is the truly significant; the hundreds of thousands or in a worldly way to do everything is the significant gift, the significant aid. But the truly significant is indeed that which must be looked at; the secondarily significant is indeed that which must be looked away from. And out of mistrust of yourself you therefore desire the removal of that from which you must look away - alas, but the world thinks it is much easier to achieve awareness of mercifulness when it gives hundreds of thousands than when it gives a halfpenny.
SK again affirms that mercy may be present in both the nothing and everything but that the everything has greater temptation to distract from mercy. Even Peter's gesture of offering neither silver nor gold but what he has in healing the lame man draws attention somewhat away from mercy towards the miracle. For mercy never become clearer than when it can do nothing at all; for then there is nothing at all to hinder seeing definitely and accurately what mercifulness is.
To learn mercy one must learn from the eternal. Temporality will always be concerned with the gift and not the giving.
These reflections return in many ways to SK's basic contour of love which is its absolute accessibility. There can be no parameters which bar love except those parameters created by the individual. No one can bar another from loving and no one can bar another from being merciful.
There are significant issues that would need to be worked through in this account. What I can say at this point is that this does not fall prey to the fault of intention, that what matters is someone psychological framework. The emphasis as I understand it is with respect to orientation. If the act is founded on external change then it remains 'temporal' and ultimately leads to mercilessness. If one is oriented to the eternal then both life and achievement are placed in context and mercy funds any act of charity.
This summary is far to vague and open to valid criticism but I don't have the energy to make it more pointed at this time. I hope to work through this text several times and so hopefully my articulations will also become more pointed.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

On the Radio

A good line this morning on the radio,
You were always my favorite drug / even when we used to do drugs


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Political Spiritualities

The following is from Call to Prayer for Nigeria which begins Ruth Marshall's Political Spiritualities. 

 Sorry I was too lazy to write it all out.  Has anyone come across discussion of this book in theo-blog world?


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Dream of Collapse

I have encountered that period of life where I am becoming reacquainted with my dentist. Those neglected visits have caught up and upon my check-up I was given the option of having them do 'all the work' in one visit or I could spread it out over two of three visits. There was a time when I would want simply to get it over with and suffer through the discomfort in one visit. This time, however, it made sense to spread it out. I take this, in one sense, to be an act of maturity. When faced with discomfort or challenge there is a tendency towards collapsing the tension. We want resolution and so either we drive towards synthesis or reject one or several of the points sustaining the tension.
A recent example of this was my periodic encounter with the threat of disembodiment posed by the internet. In this position I can come to the tempting desire of wanting to collapse the tension between what I see as beneficial and what I see as harmful. If I can reject the benefits (and withdraw my online presence) then I have resolved the tension but at what cost? Perhaps none. It may be that such a decision will only prove edifying for myself and others. But this would not be the result merely of that single decision it would rather assume that I would then venture into and navigate the tensions and paradoxes of other spaces as I can never inhabitant or envelop a collapsed tension but only move in the spaces upheld by tension (and maybe even at times find rest in them).
We cannot collapse the tension of life as a blessing and a curse as much as I can get all my dental work 'over with'. To the extent that I force the collapse of these tensions to that extent I foreclose the possibility of blessing. And here is another paradox. To encounter blessing is to live in curses. Christ's body broken (cursed but spaced for entry). Christ's body resurrected (blessed whole). I am beginning to see my drive towards collapse intellectually and relationally but it is fruitless.
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

- Leonard Cohen


Friday, June 04, 2010

Kierkegaard's Works of Love - Part II - Love Abides

Kierkegaard begins with a long refrain about all manner of difficulties in life but he says love abides. This abiding though must be present relationally. A lover must abide in love and so relate to another. There is present then three, as love itself is present, manifest in an act. If love abides then "if one ceases to be loving, then one never was loving." Because love abides. We can say that we had many things but if we cease to love then we never had love. Because love abides.

The clear example is erotic love. We say that a couple falls out of love. "But this expression Christianity does not recognize, does not understand, is not willing to understand." This is a wonderful corrective (as this book has been full of) for a Christian reconstruction of marriage. Erotic love is not denied but positioned by or flows from neighbour love.

When one speaks of reaching a breaking-point, this is because one is of the opinion that in love there is only a relationship between two rather than a relationship among three.
If love was only between two then a break, a falling out, would make sense and would be advantageous to be the breaker if necessary as the broken would be defenceless.
But this certainly would be wretched, if an innocent one should be the weaker. So it is in the world, to be sure, but eternally understood it can never hold together this way. What does Christianity do about it? The earnestness of Christianity immediately concentrates the attentiveness of the eternal upon the singly individual, upon each single individual of the pair.
When this occurs then it can be seen that the only break that can occur is of one individual breaking away from love not from the other person. In this way the innocent becomes the stronger so long as he or she does not also fall away from love.
If love were simply and only a relationship between two, then one person would continually be in the other's power, insofar as the other was a base person who could break the relationship. When a relationship is only between two, one always has the upper hand in the relationship by being able to break it, for as soon as one has broken, the relationship is broken. But when there are three, one person cannot do this. The third, as mentioned, is love itself, which the innocent sufferer can hold to in the break, and then the break has no power over him.
It is the stronger that suffers as that person falls away from love. And so the true lover never falls away from love and so she never reaches the breaking point as love abides. SK asks then whether it is possible to prevent the breaking point. He admits that in a certain sense it only takes one to break
but just the same, if the lover does not fall away from love, he can prevent the break, he can perform the miracle; for if he perseveres, the break can never really come to be. By abiding (and in this abiding the lover is in compact with the eternal), he maintains superiority over the past; thereby he transforms what is a break in the past and through which a break exists, into a possible relationship in the future.
From the perspective of the past the break remains and even grows clearer over time but from the perspective of the future (aided by the eternal) "the break is not a break, but rather a possibility." The past views a broken relationship but the lover sees a relationship not yet completed. So someone breaks off the relationship and says that it is over. But the lover asks how one can know it is over when one cannot predict the future? So there is no contact, silence. But this too can be a part of communication. But it stretches out over the years. This, though, is a perspective from the past. The past has no power of the lover for it only sees what is still possible. The lover abides in the strength of the eternal and is only weakened insofar as she succumbs to the past. In light of this SK speaks of the lover,
What marvelous strength love has! The most powerful word which has been said, yes, God's creative word, is: "Be." But the most powerful word any human being has ever said is, if said by a lover: I abide. Reconciled to himself and to his conscience, God's friend, in league with all good angels, the lover goes without defence into the most dangerous battle; he only says: "I abide." And as he is truly the lover, he will still conquer, conquer by his abiding. . . . As he truly is the lover, there is no misunderstanding which sooner or later will not have to give up and yield to his abiding - in eternity if not sooner.
SK concludes this chapter by contrasting the true lover with the erotic lover who waits for her love unto death. Though she remains faithful he love still changes because erotic love is not in the order of eternity. Even the most faithful erotic love wastes away. But true love's only home is eternity as such is always open, always in the moment of reconciliation.
While the conclusion comes off as a little weak it is an important reminder that SK is not talking about erotic love. And so while much of his work can be related to marriage this is not his direct audience. For this reason the conclusion remains useful as this chapter has nothing to do with a poor heartbroken lover who hangs on with hope-against-hope that his or her lover will return. This speaks of someone who can move on from a 'broken' relationship and continue to live in the possibility of the future which includes some form reconciliation as nowhere does SK imply that what would be consummated would be another relationship of erotic love with the past lover but only the love that we are all called to offer our neighbour.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Kierkegaard's (Not So) Private God

I am rereading the conclusion to Kierkegaard's Works of Love and will post a more formal summary later but I was struck by a line that again dismantles any notion of how Kierkegaard's self leads to away from a social vision.

O, men so gladly deceive themselves; men so gladly imagine that a person should for his part have, as it were, a private relationship to God. But relationships to God are like relationships to authorities: you cannot speak privately with one in authority about things which are his business - but God's business is to be God.
In as much as the self emerges naked before God to that extent the self is brought to account for and in relationship with his or her neighbour.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

There is Only Turning

I have heard at numerous times in various ways that theology serves as a type of get out of jail free card. That theology tends towards weak thinking. There remains in the realm of intellectualism and academy a form of struggle over positioning, de-positioning, and un-positioning; over claims and counter-claims of oppressive and liberating models, theories. These are good and valuable. But I need to come to grips that at present any participation I have in this forum is towards self-gratification and self-legitimation. Perhaps it would be possible for me to engage in the spirit in which I would like to, that it might lead towards healing. But at current I am not . . . I am not . . . that might be nice.
Theology, for me, is not self-legitimation nor does it represent any sort of 'pass'. Theology is my attempt to think and live faithfully. This has been an uneasy, though sometimes easy and also sometimes painful process, and continues to be; this, though, has left a panorama shot through some with pin-holes of darkness that ease the blinding light. I believe this orients me to a cosmos which is moving seen from a perspective that is shifting . . . but which may still offer navigation . . . as one might navigate something living and more than living . . . resurrected?
I am a weak man (begin to read the beginning of Notes here) . . .
And so I need to turn not initially and not finally and also not away from intellect to spirit, these cannot be divided. But I need to turn more basically. No I need to turn more simply. I need to turn to my rising in the morning. I need to turn to my sitting at meal time. I need to turn to my solitude and to my fellowship. I have been turning to myself, to gut myself, to portion myself a offering of dead flesh . . . but this is a finality that allows for no more turning. And I must, as a human, be able to turn. The church sings,
There is no shadow or turning with Thee
Perhaps, I don't know, but with humans there is only turning.
And in my turning I will turn to and then past and then to again those who think in manners that I do not. I hope only to be blessed by them, though they will not speak the blessing. I do not know where my turning will face and away from whom it will keep me. As I move I am always turning, tilting, shifting. My cheek will need to turn and so will my thinking. I have no doubt in the accompaniment of nausea . . . perhaps there will yet be sea legs but I know I will also turn to land again whose apparent solidity will rock my planted feet.
And what of time?
In turning, eternity
The temporal, tempting
(sorry for the poor verse)
Time came with the Fall. Time came in Adam and Eve's hiding. Time started in the attempt to stop turning. And so since turning is impossible to stop time took up the task to turn and set a limit on life. But that limit is not binding or is only partially binding. For we can yet turn.
This is my theological faith. This turning is always on the horizon of death, but like death there really is no horizon.


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Kierkegaard's Works of Love - Part II - Love Hides the Multiplicity of Sins

This chapter begins,

The temporal has three times and therefore essentially never is completely nor is completely in any one of the periods; the eternal is. A temporal object can have a multiplicity of varied characteristics; in a certain sense it can be said to have them simultaneously, insofar as in these definite characteristics it is that which it is. But reduplication in itself never has temporal object; as the temporal disappears in time, so also it exists only in its characteristics. If, on the other hand, the eternal is in a man, the eternal reduplicates itself in him in such way that every moment it is in him it is in him in a double mode: in an outward direction and in an inward direction back into itself, but in such a way that it is one and the same, for otherwise it is not reduplication.
The eternal is not known by its characteristics but is its characteristics.
So it is with love.

What love does it is and what it is it does.
As it goes beyond itself (in an outward direction) it is in itself (in an inward direction), simultaneously.
So it says that the lover creates confidence in the other but in so doing he simultaneously creates confidence in himself.
Note the reduplication here: what the lover does, he is or he becomes; what he gives, he is or, more accurately, this he acquires. . . . In this way love is always reduplicated in itself. This also holds when it is stated that love hides the multiplicity of sins.
Now like most things in life when you pay attention to them you find out that there is more and more to them; a greater and greater multiplicity. It is the same way with sin. The multiplicity of sins can become greater and greater. But the one who does not discover this multiplicity, though it may be found, ends up hiding the multiplicity. Our world prizes those who discover, it is a mark of intelligence and ability and so it goes with without saying that "the lover, who discovers nothing, makes a very poor showing in the eyes of the world." We think it is advanced to know the intricacies of evil that lurks even in the purest guise. We maintain our stature as critical and rigorous people by offering, casually, a unique and unexpected example of the corrupted nature of society.
The lover though has, in a sense, a narrowing of vision, "he sees only very little." He does not even discover the mockery that is hurled at him. The lover is like a child placed, for a short time, in den of thieves. The child returns and recounts her time noting all sorts of detail. And yet if one did not know where she was they would also not know that she was among thieves.
What has the child left out; what has the child not discovered? It is the evil. Yet the child's narrative of what he has seen and heard is entirely factual.
(As an aside this quotation is reminder of contemporary approaches to narrative therapy in which the dominant or subjugating narrative is objectified and exposed so that an already present, not created, narrative can be recovered.)
SK creates a relational dynamic in the understanding of evil.
At the basis of all understanding lies first of all an understanding between him who is to understand that which is to be understood. Therefore an understanding of evil (however much one tries to make himself and others think that one can keep himself entirely pure, that there is a pure understanding of evil) nevertheless involves and understanding with evil.
To understand evil is to have a relational understanding with evil. And if one travels further down this road the multiplicity of sins only increases to the point that he discovers sin where he knows it does not exist. Earlier SK uses the example of a natural scientist who with increased technology and research is limitless in discovery. It could be said here that it is the technology of evil that discovers evil and this to the point that person becomes himself the technology.
SK returns to the child who takes delight in peek-a-boo. But the lover is one who in plain site cannot see something as though it is hidden. In this way the "lover, who is worthy of honour is, as it were, deranged."
But there are times when the individual cannot avoid seeing the sin. In this case the lover hides it "in silence, in a mitigating explanation, in forgiveness." The argument is that in this case the sin remains. But SK's point is that in speaking the sin the lover increases the multiplicity of sins. In this way the lover can do her part by decreasing the multiplicity. The section seems to be speaking comparatively. SK's real concern at the start of this movement is the gossip who revels in knowing and spreading the sin of other.
SK then shifts to the second part of the statement that the lover holds silent in a mitigating explanation. Explanation is that which defines. But explanation is not absolute, variation always exists; explanation is a choice. And so the lover has the choose to hold the most mitigating explanation. Here imagination comes into play. SK asks whether we could not grow with increasing joy and passion in the task of uncovering good intention as much as we revel in those who break down the witness to expose their guilt. It is easy to criticize this position and it is a little weaker than other accounts but it is always set in the context of eternity. We fear that if people don't know their faults then they will continue in them and abuse or mistreat others but for all those who understand eternity or eternally no one is able to fool or deceive the lover and so the task is to create more lovers (read perhaps 'individual') not expose more sinners.
SK concludes acknowledging that silence does not actually take away from the multiplicity and mitigating explanations may remove some things misunderstood to be sin. But there will remain that which we remains which we cannot ignore. SK shifts the conversation towards things seen and unseen.
Forgiveness takes the forgiven sin away. This is a remarkable thought, as it is the thought of faith; for faith always relates itself to what is not seen. I believe that the seen came into being on the basis of that which cannot be seen. . . . The unseen is in this that forgiveness takes away that which nevertheless is; the unseen is in this that what is seen nevertheless is not seen, for when it is seen, its not being seen is manifestly unseen. The lover sees the sin which he forgives, but he believes that forgiveness takes it away. . . . Just as one by faith believes the unseen in the seen, so the lover by forgiveness believes the seen away. Both are faith. Blessed is the man of faith; he believes what he cannot see. Blessed is the lover; he believes away what nevertheless he can see!
But the question is still raised whether any real difference occurs in forgiveness. SK responds by saying that in one direction after forgiveness the wound of sin may be the same but it is now cleaned and dressed (it will heal). Though without forgiveness sin grows on sin and the wound grows and spreads. This is helpful in that there is no magic here though there is faith. Something decisive in the order of things has happened though in that very moment the wound may be exactly the same.
Finally SK turns to love as being able to prevent sin from coming into being. Though the sinful person may be indeed sin against love in rage or bitterness, "yet in the long run sin cannot hold out against love." There is no greater restraint and no greater rehabilitation for sin than love. Here again, though SK does not use the image, Christ is the pattern. Theology is the basis for this position. I have experienced many times when a loving disposition stifled the actuality of sin. But there are times when love cannot be endured or accepted by another and one can be injured even to death. And this is Christ. But again in the long run sin cannot hold out against love. Sin leads to death but love overcomes the grave.
This chapter came across as the most practical for me.
1. Learn to live as one (the child) who simply does not see sin.
2. When you see sin do not spread it and explain it in the most gracious manner.
3. Forgive sin, though it changes nothing and everything in the moment.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Evolution of the Doughnut

If any of you have had a good homemade doughnut you would know that there is little other variation of doughnut that can compete with it. However, since plain doughnuts in retail chains are not good it is necessary to glam them up a bit. So you move from the plain doughnut to
glazed doughnut to
chocolate covered (with sprinkles)
to cream filled
to all of the above together
And somehow I have been able to accommodate this, even get excited about some of the permutations. What I was not read for was Tim Horton's Candy Bar Supreme. Tim Horton's is the working man's Starbucks of Canada. I walked in the other day and saw this thing and upon sight began to feel signs of nausea. I asked the pimple faced employee if they actually sold any of those. He replied by saying he almost threw up the first time he tried it.  I know there are doughnuts out there with more bling.  But candy coated!  Gooaaaagghh.


Friday, May 28, 2010

A Question of Orthodoxy

If I am exploring the 'name' of God by using the two well-rehearsed passages (Ex 3:14; 1 John 4:16) am I in questionable waters if I were to say something like . . .
I am who I am - Of God this points to the one who is always pushing, breaking, driving infinitely past and away from any construct or concept that we attempt to fix on God
God is love - Of God this means the one who can be found redemptively and is indeed the redemptive path of every step inward towards the resounding depths of human and humanity's existence.

I am of course not claiming any real originality and certainly no finality just a thinking a little bit in a structural or directional mode.  And I suspect Christ would stand at the center of that paradigm with the Father stretching outward and the Spirit working inward.  Quite limited and rudimentary I know but is it heretical according to traditional models?


Kierkegaard's Works of Love - Part II - Love Seeks Not Its Own

Love seeks not its own. But God sought his own, as did Christ. Yes, but this search was giving and sacrificing. This seeking is not humanly constructed. When human love its own it means to be loved. But God is love and so God does also seek his own as he seeks all into his love. Therefore a human loves another so that person might seek and love God. This is love which is also sacrifice. And so God is loved and lover. But no human being is love. And in as much as humans seek to be loved they seek their own. This is not love.

Love seeks not its own; for in love there is no mine and yours. But mine and yours are only relational qualifications of 'one's own'; consequently, if there is no 'mine' or 'yours,' there is no 'own's own,' either; but if there is no 'one's own,' it is indeed impossible to seek 'one's own.'
This is contrasted to justice which seeks to give each one its own. But justice is relative, a construction, as war, disaster, revolution can upset and confuse justice as to what is whose. Justice then despairs. Kierkegaard calls this confusion terrifying. But quickly adds,
And yet, in a certain sense does not love bring about the same confusion, even though in a most life-infusing way. But love - it, too, is an event, the greatest of all and the happiest of all. Love is change, the most remarkable of all, but the most desirable - it is precisely in the sense of something better that we say a person possessed by love is changed or becomes altered. Love is a revolution, the most profound of all but the most blessed! Therefore with love, too, there comes confusion; in this life-giving confusion there is no distinction for the lovers between mine and yours. Remarkable! There are a you and an I yet no mine and yours! For without you and I there is no love, and with mine and yours there is no love; but mine and yours(these geographical co-ordinates of possession) are in fact formed out of you and I and consequently seem necessary wherever you and I are. This holds true everywhere, except in love, which is the fundamental revolution. The deeper the revolution, the more the distance between mine and yours disappears, and the more perfect is the love. . . . The deeper the revolution is, the more justice shudders; the deeper the revolution is, the more perfect is the love.
I offered this quote at length finding it rich and significant. When I first read this chapter I quickly become concerned with where SK would be taken the dissolution of mine and yours. Would this be some utopian economic leveling? Perhaps. But it is not the point. The point in love is never fundamentally economic in SK's conception. I wondered about the dissolution of the self but SK quickly demands that you and I remain because we are necessary for love. And I wondered if this was all or nothing as SK can often outline his concepts. No. There is a deepening of this revolution.
SK then asks if it is not possible to conceive of this dissolution in erotic love. Doesn't erotic love speak of neither mine nor yours? This is true internally but not externally. The mine and yours become ours and this is expressed as a social form of mine over against all other yours and so erotic love still seeks its own whether individual or communal. Neither erotic love nor friendship is deep enough. So how is mine and yours abrogated entirely?
SK describes how mine and yours is a relationship of polarity. They must both exist if either of them is to exist. First consider the criminal. The criminal seeks to abolish the yours but if successful ends with no mine for he would eventually become all. But the lover seeks to remove mine in renunciation. And far from the curse of the criminal unable to capture all the lover freely enters into and receives all. I am paraphrasing here as I am not quite sure I follow the direct line of argument.
The lover knows nothing of tracking the exchange rate between mine and yours, lest they be fooled. In this way the lover is indeed the injured one. But to the extent that the lover travels deeply into this revolution he continues eternally in the forgetfulness of mine and yours and so exists not in injury (for injury in this case would be a return to score-keeping, of mine, but in blessedness. For to become bitter, resentful, envious is to re-emerge on the temporal plain of mine and yours.
SK then shifts and explains that love makes no distinctions (mine and yours) but makes infinite distinctions (loves all as individuals) Both the strong tyrant and feeble narrow-minded cannot do this for they continue to remodel the world in their own image. The strong believe in their own ability and the weak do not believe in God's ability. But the lover loves as all are equal before God (no distinction) but loves all as individuals before God (infinite distinctions). This discussion becomes important because it offer clarity around the practical expression of this love. Love is such that it keeps in mind that the greatest love is to help another stand before God and therefore become an individual. And so self-sacrificing love has nothing to do with mindless dispersing of possessions or of the burden to change or save another. It has to do with earnest care of all in their becoming a self (before God). In this way owning one's soul is higher than material ownership.
In the world of the spirit this owning of one's own soul is the very highest - and in love to help towards this, to become one's self, free, independent, his own, help him stand on his own: this is the greatest benefaction. . . . and please note, that the lover knows how to make himself unnoticed, so that the recipient does not become dependent on him - by crediting him with the greatest benefaction. This means that the greatest benefaction is precisely the mode in which the only true benefaction is accomplished. . . . Therefore one cannot straightway deduce which is the most beneficial deed, since the greatest benefaction, to help another to stand on his own, cannot be done directly.
The individual stands alone - by another's help. SK makes much of the dash here as it hides the other from the self. I wonder of the extent to which this has been considered in the claims attacking SK of irresponsible individualism. There is explicit acknowledgment of the relational nature of becoming free and individual though this relational nature must in some way be negating giving way to the greater acknowledgment that a self only becomes such by God though perhaps still - by the help of another. This may be more significant than I first gathered in reading this chapter. This is of course the SK's Socratic method that acknowledges this action as a type of midwifery. For Socrates the practice was in lightness with a smile that he was hidden behind the dash but the for the lover the dash hides a sleepless anxiety and a fear and trembling. Socrates seemed alright with the knowledge of his task but the lover fears for she may see that she succeeded! And what then? Find some satisfaction in it?! For every individual stands alone - by God's help. And all we may well be able to do is to keep from hindering this help.
SK adds an interesting comment here,
Insofar as the lover is able, he seeks to help a man to become himself, to become his own. But thereby in a certain sense not a thing is altered in existence, only that the lover, the concealed benefactor, is thrust outside, inasmuch as it is every human being's destiny to become free, independent, to become himself. If the lover in this respect has been God's co-labourer, everything has then become - as it was according to the essential destiny.
There is no accomplishment in this paradigm. I have laboured in spite of everyone, early and late, but what have I accomplished - a dash! In speaking of this lover who sees nothing yet loves he adds this final punctuation.
If he had not really been a lover, he would have directly cried out the truth less thoughtfully, and then he would have immediately have had disciples who had picked up the truth - and called him master.
This is a dangerous admittance pointing to his own inner struggles and hopes for a Christ-likeness in his life but a also a following a latent acknowledgment of his work. This confession reminds the clearly that anyone wanting to consider loving will most likely and may need to amount to nothing. For this is SK's understanding of Christ's (earthly) way, as we must await resurrection to see how things actually were or maybe are.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kierkegaard's Works of Love - Part II - Love Hopes All Things and Is Never Put to Shame

Kierkegaard acknowledges, and acknowledges that the Christian must acknowledge, that there are periods of aridity and not only aridity but of a state of poisonous stagnancy. Into this state a fresh breeze is called for. This breeze requires the help of the eternal. This poisonous stagnancy is not painted in idleness but characterized rather in busyness; in furious busyness. The picture SK gives is the whirlpool. It does not move forward but is caught up in striving, winning, and losing and winning again, now at one point, now at another.

In the midst of this the Christian stands as one who alone is a loser and loses everything. In this way the Christian understands that temporal life allows one plane of existence (either lose or whirpool) while eternity offers another (victory). For only eternity has the ability to confer victory (or honour).

At every moment with the help of the eternal Christianity procures vision in the relationship to honour and shame, you yourself will by hoping. . . . Christianty's hope is the eternal, and Christ is the way; his abasement is the way, but also when he ascended into heaven he was the way.
So what is it about hope, loving hope? SK offers a suggestive statement on how hope engages the eternal.
To hope is related to the future, to possibility, which again, distinguished from actuality, is always a duality, the possibilities of advancing and retrogressing, of rising up or of going under, of the good or of the evil. The eternal is, but when the eternal touches time or is in time, they do not meet each other in the present, for then the present would itself be the eternal. The present, the moment, is so quickly past, that it really is not present; it is only the boundary and is therefore transitional; whereas the past is what was present. Consequently if the eternal is in the temporal, it is in the future (for the present cannot get hold of it, and the past is indeed past) or in possibility.
The individual can relate himself to the eternal by orienting towards the future in expectation. Expectation carries the duality of possibility (rising or falling). To relate expectantly to the good is to hope. To relate expectantly to the evil is to fear.
Through the decision to choose hope, one thereby chooses infinitely more than is apparent, for it is an eternal decision. . . . This is the basis of the fact that one who hopes can never be deceived, for to hope is to expect the possibility of the good; but the possibility of the good is eternal.
If one is not engaged in the expectancy of the good one can expect,
variously concocted tough slime which men call a realistic view of life.
If I had more energy I would quote that whole page it is a vigorous and imaginative attack against a life which does not hope lovingly. But the one who hopes is a child student of the infinite. The infinite is so great that it does not overwhelm the child all at once with its totality but reveals in increments that the child might not despair but continue on. The eternal makes itself divisible yet remains one,
that clothing itself in the forms of the future, the possible, with aid of hope it educates the child of time (man). . . . In possibility the eternal is continually near enough to be at hand and yet far enough away to keep man advancing towards the eternal, on the way, in forward movement. In this way the eternal lures and draws a person, in the possible, from cradle to grave, if he just chooses to hope.
Lure is important here as it keeps the individual in movement being 'just as near as distant'.
Love enters and turns this hope towards other individuals. And so hope keeps open the infinite possibility of the other's good. SK is clear that the opposite is always possible as well. That one can always fall into despair from whatever height they are. In a way they are same but still eternally separated 'for despair hopes nothing at all for others and love hopes all things.' Here as in earlier chapters SK steers sharply clear of identifiable results in the works of love. Even if nothing is added still the greatest gift is given which is hope.
Hope is never put to shame. Cleverness is put to shame because it tries to secure the outcome and predict a finality. And so if 'hope' is placed on the temporal realm then shame is a real possibility but this is not hope. Hope is related to the eternal and in the eternal it is not the result that determines honour and shame but expectation itself.
Therefore, in eternity it is precisely the unloving one, who perhaps was proved right in the he picayunishly, enviously, hatefully expected for the other person, who will be put to shame - although his expectation was fulfilled. But honour belongs to the lover. And in eternity there will be heard no wearisome gossip about nevertheless having been mistaken - maybe it was a mistake: unto salvation.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hearing is not Hearing

As I not so subtly remarked in an earlier brief post. I find the biblical phrase ears to hear maddening. And I maintain that it quickly likely is supposed to be. So I have often wondered just what it is that our ears are doing when they are not hearing. Today something became clear. Our hearing is not hearing. Our hearing is speaking. What we call hearing is an already filtered, processed, and constructed account of reality. So to take a step back without knowing where the next step might come if at all I would suggest that biblical hearing is actually a vibration, a movement, a contact with flesh. This may well be a phenomenological account but I don't know enough about that to make any claims. In any event I will leave at that for now. No small realization for me at any rate.


This is the Work of Song; This is Liturgy

In a couple of weeks I will be preaching on the story of Deborah in the book of Judges. This story is course well known for situating a woman in such a powerful position set within a context that has so often been condemned as the bane of women. There is also of course the murdering of King Sisera by the woman Jael who asks him to enter her tent to be refreshed. She offers him milk and then drives a tent peg through his head. Following this account is the Song of Deborah. The song is introduced as a duet (including Barak who leads, somewhat reluctantly) the army of Israel. But Barak is really more of a figure or symbol. The song is definitely offered as a solo.

There are some beautiful images here of how leadership flows into the mobilization of a group. The song begins,
That the leaders led in Israel,
That the people volunteered,
Bless the Lord!

As anyone in leadership knows this is no small accomplishment. This is a song. And so Deborah sings and what happens? God moves.
To the LORD I will sing
From there God marched out and the earth shook and the heavens were wrung of their moisture. Before this song community life was at a stand still but Deborah arose as
a mother of Israel
She saw that war was at the gates but even among 40 thousand not a shield could be found. Deborah's heart goes out to the people as they approach the gates. And what happens?
Awake! Awake! Deborah!
But to what end? She must take responsibility as their leader. She must be laying plans for war. No!
Awake! Awake! Sing a song!
And what comes? Here the translation could be challenged but perhaps,
Then survivors came down as nobles;
The people of the Lord came down to me as warriors.

The people are transformed and mobilized. And there was,
great resolve of heart
And for those who were not mobilized there was,
great searching of heart
For many people were not mobilized with God. But war went on as the kings fought and so did the stars in heaven. The stars fought from their own paths. There ordering is also mobilized for God's battle. The river torrent in its own path also sweeps along and carries away the enemy of God. And Deborah pauses,
Oh my soul, march on in strength
But those still searching and watching are now cursed they have not joined the fray.
But Jael did join. From her humble tent and her humble position she is now most blessed. To took what was at hand.
She offered milk.
She reached for the hammer.
She drove the peg.
She smashed his head.
And there between her feet Sisera,
and lay.

And far off in a luxurious palace the mother of Sisera looks out and wonders,
Why does his chariot delay in coming?
Why do the hoofbeats of his chariots tarry?

Her plump princesses assure her. Oh don't worry. They are taken their time dividing spoils. They are trying to figure who can have one and who can have two women as their prize. No don't worry mother. He will return draped in fine cloth.
They lay in luxury but they are already decimated.
Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord;
But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.

The battle belonged to the Lord. May we sing that God (and his people) would move.
This is the work of song. This is liturgy. Thanks be to God.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Middlesex Response

At some point I would like to post a reflection on the ongoing story of the closing of the philosophy department at Middlesex University.  The most recent event is the suspension of some faculty and students in response to protests.  Graham Harman has posted a number of international letters written to the administration.  He has also posted his own succinct letter.  Rather than calling down righteous indignation upon them he has, in my mind, simply reflected back to them what they have done.
Your administrators did nothing yesterday but turn Hallward and Osborne into international martyrs. Even if all ethics and justice were taken out of the picture, the suspensions are a clumsy overreaction in purely Realpolitik terms.
If letters coming from other humanities departments, that the university apparently does not care about anyway, are to make any impact it would seem that sort of approach would be preferable.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Make New / Made New

As I said earlier I have quite enjoyed the discussion that followed this post. But it seemed that in time the conversation steered out into an abstraction (discussing the possibilities of immanent critique as I think it was named) that I was getting less interested in while for me it ran aground on one question. Do we believe that God makes all things new? Perhaps, perhaps, we can provide some articulating frame around or in relation to that (a la Marion?) but is the newness always and only an act of God? How does that render us?


Thursday, May 20, 2010

All at Origin

I am hoping to eventually post more thoroughly on my current reading of Marion's God Without Being but for now I have impressions. The resurrected Christ has been given all. And in turn all has been given to the church,
"so that the church may return it to the Word. . . . In theology it is not a question, any more than elsewhere, of working to a completion yet to come: completion, for the Church, is accomplished definitively at Easter, hence at the origin. Accomplishment occurs at the origin and moreover alone renders it possible, fertile, pregnant with a future. . . . Theology cannot aim at any other progress than its own conversion to the Word."

What came to my mind with regards to 'all' and origins was the notion of conversion. A few months ago I had one of my rare spurts of inspiration around writing fiction. I have been keeping loose journals from around the end of high school. The beginning of my journal writing corresponds exactly with my conversion experience (not to be read in the aorist). I thought that I could use some of those entries as fodder for a character that was a little naive and misguided. So I began to read my entries. They were short, pointed, lacking in style or in poor style but as I read them I began to be moved by a person who I no longer was. A sense of wanting to be converted by him emerged within me. I don't think this is nostalgia and I have no interest in going back but there is something operative in those writings that speaks of an all. I would not become that person if I did convert but perhaps there is a returning to that site or a navigating that site for understanding how the 'all' embraced the particular and remained particular in relation to the 'all'. Are there conceptions of conversion that avoid a static evanglicalism or a banal 'journeying'. Can we understand our conversion as orientation to the One who now orients us? You have abandoned your first love . . . repent and do the things you did at first. (Rev 2:4-5). Marion looks to the Eucharistic site (as so many of the theologians I have been reading do) but I do not find it there yet . . . I am not sure I ever will. Perhaps I will eventually be found there but something is missing.


Kierkegaard's Works of Love - Part II - Love Believes All Things and Yet is Never Deceived

So how is that love can believe all things and also that the lover is never deceived? This position is contrasted to mistrust, which believes nothing. Mistrust attempts to constitute itself on the basis of knowledge and so belief is irrelevant giving rise to disbelief. The point that SK wants to make is that disbelief is an active position not a result of knowledge. Both mistrust and love acknowledge that deception stretches out as far as the truth and so while it is always at risk of being deceived, it is still always possible to believe.

SK responds to this acknowledgment,

And so it is; so it shall be. Precisely because existence will test you, test your love or whether there is love in you, for this very reason with the help of the understanding it presents you with truth and deception as two equal possibilities in contrast to each other, so that there must be a revelation of what is in you since you judge, that is, since in judging you choose. . . . [Judgment] takes place every moment, because existence judges you every moment you live, inasmuch as to live is to judge oneself, to become open. . . . When deception and truth are presented as two equal possibilities in contrast to each other, the decision is whether there is love or mistrust in you.
Wherever truth may be, deception is also possible even in the purest of motives, feelings, or rationales. And conversely, "what appears to be the vilest behaviour could be pure love."
Love has no more access to knowledge than mistrust. It is only the decision that separates them. And knowledge offers only possibilities (even contrasting) not realities. Mistrust believes nothing and so logically it seems that it cannot be deceived. But mistrust has no greater claim to knowledge and so belief must also speak up and say to mistrust that it is being deceived out of the blessedness of love. But surely love, in some circumstances, can also be deceived. This is wrong. Love is the highest. The highest cannot be deceived. So to remain in love, which believes all things, is to never be deceived. And so the only possible deception is self-deception, to be deceived out of love, to become mistrustful.
Where love may be 'deceived' is the lower order of love which is market driven. Love as supply and demand. In this way one might swindled out of love. They have given love but received no love in exchange, they were cheated. This depends on SK's original sketch of love as love of neighbour and not erotic love or friendship. In the lower order of love it makes perfect sense to navigate both mistrust and 'love'. The lower order of love is a temptation to be guarded against.
The true lover is reconciled internally to love and understands the misunderstanding that may occur around him (being mocked as a fool). In all cases so long as the lover preserves herself in love she will not be deceived (for love is the highest good). Only the deceiver remains deceived as he cheats himself out of the two greatest goods which are to love in truth and to be loved in truth. The true lover has surrendered, offered, his love and so he cannot by definition be deceived out of it.
The erotic lover is ashamed to go loving the deceiver but the true lover "regards it as a victory if he might only succeed in continuing to love the deceiver." SK offers this by way of comparing the true lover and the deceiver,
Do you know, my reader, any stronger expression for superiority than this, that the superior one also has the appearance of of being the weaker? The stronger who looks like the stronger sets a standard for his superiority; but he who, although superior, appears as the weaker negates standards and comparisons - that is, he is infinitely superior.
This appears to me to be the existential position par excellence. That one is so reconciled to himself (in the God-relation for SK) that deception becomes literally impossible for one is already existing in the highest order, the infinite order. And so any possible deception is only ever self-deception.
As a side note. The only unease I had with this chapter was around the idea of a love that suffers abuse, that is, in an abusive relationship. However, what must be understood is that SK is always speaking in terms of the love of neighbour. Erotic love can indeed be corrupted. In this way a person may break from the erotic relationship while continuing to 'believe all things' which overcomes the drive for retributive justice and holds open the possibility of redemption, eternally.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Ears to hear.
Ears to hear.
Ears to hear.
Ears to hear.
This is a maddening phrase. And, I think, it is supposed to be.


A Totally Useless Post on Market and Gospel

I have quite enjoyed the brief exchange based loosely around Peter Rollins and the Emerging Church over at AUFS.

It has got me thinking of 'market logic'. Now I suspect the use of this term over at AUFS is pulled directly from specific theoretical constructs but I want to only consider it here as a lay person. A market is a space in which exchange occurs. There is commonly accepted (even if grudgingly) transference of value in that after an exchange both parties are supposed to remain essentially equal. The reality in our market however is that inequality emerges. The discussion at AUFS seemed to acknowledge that it is impossible to escape or live outside of the market logic. However, there were also allusions towards a sense of compromising fidelity in this reality. Now basic to the theology of the Gospel or to put it less removed basic to the Gospel is that it is free. In as much as the Gospel enters the market it is vanished and replaced with an idol . . . an idol fits perfectly into the marketplace. You believe there is an exchange of value but there is only an impoverishing. The Gospel allows for no marketing because there is no measurable exchange rate.
The discussion turned towards finding a space or repetition which does not fall immediately prone to re-capture.
The answer? The possibility of divine worship and divine judgment.

"When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with Babylon and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:
" 'Woe! Woe, O great city,
O Babylon, city of power!
In one hour your doom has come!'

"The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more— cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men.

"They will say, 'The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.'

And what is asked of the inhabitants from the voice of heaven?
Come out of her, my people
Is this the reverse of Jeremiah's exiled community? What are we coming out of? Where are we fleeing towards? Where is that smell of smoke coming from!?
He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.


Kierkegaard's Works of Love - Part II - Love Builds Up

Kierkegaard is adamant in his case for the equality of love. Love is so central because it is that aspect of reality and eternity in which there is no basis for exclusion (when love is present all may participate). SK is certainly a great talent and it could perhaps be questioned the extent to which such a talented articulation can be in the service of a radical accessibility.
In any event SK begins the second part of his Works of Love with a reflection on language. Language allows for transference, that is that the same thing spoken can mean many things (nothing new). The phrase 'build up' is a term that scriptures can make ever new with meaning for when understood spiritually it is always present whenever love is present. And so when things are said, even if they are contrary and opposite, if they are done in love they do not tear each other down but work together in building up.

There is no word in the language which builds up in and by itself, and there is no word in the language which cannot become edifying and which in being said cannot build up if love is present.
Love creates the condition for particular spiritual meaning regardless of the form of language.
From the beginning to the end the discourse is on love . . . Love is the ground; love is the building; love builds up. To build up is to build up love, and it is love which builds up.
What is being created here? Or is this a description of that which creates? There is no creation or creating without love. The towers to heaven are 'air-castles' for SK. Air-castles are all that human endeavor can accomplish. This is clarified in the extent to which a human, the lover, may participate in up building.
Therefore when the discourse is about the works of love in building up, it must mean either that the lover implants love in the heart of another person or that the lover presupposes that love is in the other person's heart and precisely with this presupposition builds up love in him - from the ground up, insofar as in love he presupposes it present as the ground. One of the two must exist for building up. But I wonder whether or not one person can implant love in the heart of another person. No, this is a more-than-human relationship, a relationship unthinkable between man and man; in this sense human love cannot build up.
It must be emphasized that the presupposition is also 'in-love'. SK describes this an act of self-constraint. There is no confidence in the self to create love.
A teacher presupposes that the pupil is ignorant. A disciplinarian presupposes that the other person is corrupted. But the love, who builds up, has only one mode of progression - to presuppose love. . . . For love can and will be treated in only one way - by being loved forth. . . . The lover has indeed done nothing; he has only presupposed that love was fundamentally present. The love works quietly and earnestly, and yet the powers of the eternal are in motion.
But this does not mean that the lover is inconsequential to the relationship.
The more perfectly the lover presupposes love to exist, the more perfect is the love which he loves forth.
But the ground is never laid finitely.
This opening chapter of the second part is intriguing and spurring. SK admittedly at times talks about this 'in theory'. This is the realm of the spiritual, of the invisible. Throughout this work SK is not concerned that any discernible difference is made in the external or material world (yes those with a political ear raise your flags!). However, I believe this is because no desirable change can be made in the material world if one does not become spiritual. And then according to SK the change is infinite (even if nothing changes. Is this perhaps related to the misappropriated Pauline admonition to 'remain as you are'? Any change of infinite significance will only occur when participation in the spiritual is understood and entered into. Just thoughts. Open to criticisms or clarifications.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

From One Who Doesn't Know Better to Those Who Do

As pathetic as it may come off I take my participation in the blogosphere seriously (okay yes it sounds terrible to me too). I do not have access to educational facilities and contexts where I can explore the things that are interesting to me. And I consider my presence a very real form of education. I encounter commentary on authors and ideas that I am working with. I can ask questions from and interact with those who have had the privilege and diligence to work long and hard on these things. But what I am coming to realize is that I am the stupid kid in this class (at least the quiet non-commenting ones can leave room for doubt!). I have never really had this experience before.

Growing up I was always working ahead in class and I attended less than prestigious colleges and seminary where again I needed to push myself to keep things interesting. With my PhD cut short I feel that I was not able to attain a level of intellectual discourse that I encounter on many of the blogs I frequent. I am aware that it takes more than just going the through the academic motions to achieve this level but I simply beginning to see that I am surrounded by people who are engaging in a way that I simply have not yet learned or disciplined myself to do. So in the process I ask dumb questions or make inaccurate observations and begin to feel like I am the kid who others wish would stop putting their hand up.
To be honest it is making me realize how difficult it must be for many people in school. I am tempted even in this forum to just not bother. The stakes are a little higher during early formative education. So what do I need to learn? I definitely need to learn patience and care. I need to check my ego and not get reactive when someone puts my comments in check. And I need to keep a posture of learning rather than defending. How wonderful it is when someone shows me that I am wrong! What a gift! Seriously. And I need to stand up for my thinking even in the face of overwhelming opposition (that I have seriously considered) if indeed I remain truly unconvinced.
So with that I plan to return to the blogosphere tomorrow morning with my shoes shined and laces tight. Please don't whisper about me in the hallways or snicker if I ask a dumb question and I will try and approach a given post with the care that reflects the manner and mode it was written in.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Patmos Idol

I think that unconsciously I hope to have the opportunity for a death bed repentance. Not so that I can have my fill of carousing (though I love saying carousing) and still guarantee safe passage to the next party but rather that I can be able to have some sort of 'fullness of vision' over my life so that I see more clearly the errors and ditches I was too often face down in. I have the unhelpful view that I will actually have greater clarity at the end than I do now.

In the middle of the final chapter in the Book of Revelation we have John making himself explicitly visible as the recipient of the vision for the last time in the text. He says,

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!"
Oops! Maybe John should have glossed over that embarrassing little detail. It could have stayed between him and the angel (maybe the angel put the screws to him though to keep it in . . . if you take away one word . . . ). Even at the very end and perhaps especially at the very end idolatry lurks over the entire vision of God's new heaven and new earth. What would it have meant had John ignored the angel or that the angel would have accepted John's worship? The book of Revelation is about worship and how it orients the realities of heaven and earth. And yet the one who receives the closest taste of true heavenly worship, this one ends up on the brink of idolatry (twice; cf. 19:10). With this little illustration it is hard to deny that from beginning to end the Bible is riddled with people confused or plain ignorant over what worship is. Jesus said in John's Gospel that "a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth." Was this ever not the case or plan of God?
Have you ever tried to think about something that literally made your head hurt? (most worthwhile books perform this upon me at some point) We prefer to have our thinking resolved (or at least I do . . . that's why my head starts hurting). We tend towards the possession of understanding rather then the act of understanding.  But if we have any interest in thinking about God our thinking cannot come to rest. Because wherever our thinking rests will be the place that an idol is built.  For the most part we are fairly clear what our idols are.  There is money (or whatever symbol of economic control you choose . . . oh say a 7000 lb bronze bull outside of Wall Street will do!).  There is our nation (I am sure you have heard of the issues at Goshen College).  There is our coffee cup our laptop case our library shelf our clothing labels our hood ornament our theologies our rituals our ornate crosses our Bibles our . . .   So we know these things, for the most part.  But still we gather our idols at the cost of the new heavens and new earth.  We continue to carry on commercial trade in the great whore of Babylon (she is pretty damn sexy riding that beast and all).  We know these things, maybe even John knew it at that moment as well but we are so pathetically desperate in the hopes that we can get a piece of the pie, a little bit of God.  That is the idol right, a little bit of god.  Everyone knows its not God but its my piece of God.  My piece of God's power.  My piece of God's pleasure.  My piece of God's wrath.  My piece of God's protection.  My piece of God's status.  My piece of God's love.  My piece of God's truth.  That's what happened to John.  He was (rightfully) overwhelmed with a piece of God's truth and so he was willing to take hold of that as God, complete, final, praise God
So what can keep us from being carried along in the relentless torrent of idolatry which is as much as anything the unifying strand of biblical theology.  We are the prodigal children seeking to own the gift of God at the cost of abandoning our relationship with the ever-giving God (H/T Jean-Luc Marion). How can we worship in spirit and in truth?  What is true worship? It is simple.  It is right there in the text of Revelation. Maybe, in the end, like the angel reaching over to stop us from yet another idolatry, worship is a gift. This may be our way out from the endless construction of idols.


I Pity the Fool Who Don't Like this Post!

In my ongoing quest to construct some personal sense of meaning for in what the hell I think I'm doing in this life at this point in time I was happy to stumble across Graham Harman's post on What Philosopher's Want. In many ways this was a clear and specific inroad towards what I was looking for in my Open Letter AUFS. Harman, taking some cues from Levi at Larval Subjects and his favourite sports writer Bill Simmons looks to explore the philosopher's purpose not through direct inquiry into the greater purpose or meaning of their work but rather with an indirect route of interests that exceed or are formed outside their work.

Harman writes,

The Simmons column was saying that each NBA superstar is motivated by something slightly different. Jordan = winning. Kobe = greatness. Shaq = fame. LeBron & Dr. J = to amaze people. Barkley = fun. Nash & Stockton = team.>Now, if you were to ask philosophers what they want, you’d probably hear “truth” as the answer a boring number of times. But that’s too self-congratulatory and unrevealing, so lets disqualify “truth” as an answer, and think instead about the particular conditions that one demands the truth should meet.

So what conditions does he explore?
1. What non-philosophers does a given philosopher admire?
2. What is your favourite philosophical book?
3. Which classic book of philosophy do wish you had written, which were you glad you didn't write.

Harman notes that he simply cannot imagine Nietzsche having written Kant's Critiques.

Harman concludes,

Many people may say they want the truth, but the fact is that people will quickly turn their heads away from truths that don’t meet a certain sort of longing, and that’s going to be different for each person. We are surrounded by truths as by a sandstorm, but zero in on specific ones. Engineering and economics are full of truths, for instance, but they didn’t interest me enough to devote my life to them. (emphasis mine)
The idea here being that our larger intellectual efforts are informed by influences external to those pursuits. Harman is not concerned to dig 'beneath the surface' of these factors to cite deep seeded pathologies. He is content at this level to identify a 'surface' motivation that informs the life's work of an individual (as in the NBA stars). So perhaps all of them are ultimately looking for affirmation and praise but that does not change that their means are not drastically different producing, in turn, different effects or performances in the same playing field.
For myself two figures stand significantly outside the academic field of philosophy and theology that I can point to in stirring my motivation. The first is a little more peripheral. As a kid growing up I, like many of the rest you!, was fascinated by Mr. T on the A-Team (aside - NOT excited about the remake). How could a 10 year old boy not love him? At the beginning of the episode he would be helping some inner-city kids fix their bicycles and by the end of the episode he would have built a tank out of spare parts to help rescue some motherly figure from the town's evil sheriff or something. But as I grew a little older I began to see Mr. T outside of the show and I realized that for the most part he was the same guy. He dressed the same way. He interacted the same way. He had the same attitude. What was impressed on me was some sense of congruence or authenticity.
The second figure was Johnny Cash. I can remember taking a road trip with my parents and picking up a Johnny Cash tape at some truck stop. He sang about sickness, anger, hatred, love, faith, murder, forgiveness, paradox, struggle. Here was someone who may not have been speaking the truth but who was again (in my mind) being congruent with their experience and their expression.
From here it was a short step from these figures to a deep love and appreciation for Dostoevsky, Rilke, Kierkegaard and certain strands of phenomenology. I am motivated (among other things) by a desire to simply express myself. I can read over my writings (theological, personal, fictional) and see at times when I was writing like or for someone that excluded my own expression. I am aware this is a complex idea and perhaps I am coming off as naive but again that is the point. That I am at least expressing where I am at (however and by whomever that I was formed).


Friday, May 14, 2010

Peace and Clean Floors

Salem at the Carmelite Monestary in Niagara Falls.
People go to stay in the guest houses of monasteries and convents (in surprisingly large numbers) to absorb an atmosphere of 'peace'; it is a break from the conflict and tension, a move into another world from which strain is supposedly absent. The world of the cloister is one in which some new level of awareness has been attained, and its inhabitants breathe a different air. And we less fortunate (or less committed), are briefly admitted into it, for our nourishment and refreshment.
. . .
The popular concept of the peace of the cloister, like the glib misunderstandings of the Buddha's contemplation, is a damaging error - damaging of the people who hold it, damaging to those onto whom it is projected. It encourages most of us to think of peace as something intrinsically separate from the hard and familiar world, something we cannot expect to see realized in most of the reality we know: and it demands the impossible from the cloister, increasing tenfold the real and heavy pressures of that life.
. . .
God's peace has something to do with an acceptance of God's world in its complexity.
This is taken from Rowan Williams' The Truce of God. Whenever I am in one of those 'peaceful places' like the image above I tend to look at the floors and see how clean they are. Floors that clean do not come from a natural spirituality. The peace that comes in being able to perform that duty and create that space is a hard fought peace indeed always on the verge of descent.
I had not read anything by Williams in a while. This little book is a good reminder of his basic premise that heresy is the tendency towards simplification.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Plan A and Plan B and a Whole Lot of Drama

The plan (A) once was to find work in an area that I found stimulating, meaningful and rewarding. The plan (B) is becoming about how I can responsibly support my family while remaining faithful to our beliefs and sense of calling. I see these as drastically different plans.

Plan A sought to accommodate to the requirements of particular institutions so that I could fit within them. This has been true about my work in the church. Attaining the relevant education was not a serious issue. I pursued this primarily in a selfish manner (understood in the most faithful way). I even got a chance to do a little teaching. This was also a great experience. By and large I did not feel a great deal of pressure placed on me to mould and be moulded in a particular manner (though all my teaching was as an adjunct or assistant). I tried working in community service for a short time. I have some fond memories but at almost every turn I was confronted with an internal frustration that I still cannot quite articulate. I worked in an environment which, as a whole, wanted me to do something that I either did not understand or did not feel capable of doing. This feeling has been translated in the church. I have worked full time as a pastor for about three years now. There are probably only two aspects of this work that I have really connected with. One, not surprisingly, has been preaching. The church affords me significant prep time and are fairly receptive to my style (although there is some murmuring about it leaning a little to close to lecturing . . . which I think is an accurate criticism at times). The other area, a little more surprising, is in the church's rites of passage particularly funerals and child dedications (weddings not so much). I appreciate these because for the most part I sense that these times are actually meaningful to those who participate. The people involved have their lives intersecting something beyond their usual rhythms. This has happened in other jobs but it appears to occur largely outside the actual stated goals and parameters of the position I am filling. A good part of my time ends up in trying to figure just how I can find the resources to do something that does not make a great deal of sense to me. I pursued pastoring because I loved studying and discussing the Bible and I loved the hope that came when we could vulnerably care and pray for one another. I am hoping in my remaining months at my church that I will reconnect with those things in some way.
So I am fortunate enough to be coming an anticipated shift in my life. I am leaving a job and physically moving to another area. This is a great opportunity. I count it also a slightly more severe fortune that I have not been able to secure any work in Manitoba after my move. I turned down one opportunity and I was passed by on some others.
Two motivations are primarily driving this line of thinking right now. One is an increased sensitivity towards the sort of doxological end that my life is taken up into. We are created as worshiping creatures so I need to be aware of where my knee is bending. Second, I am trying to figure out to what extent to need to 'suck things up' and be happy that I have a job on the one hand or attentively listen to what I might be 'called to' on the other. I feel at times like I am being terribly immature about all this neglecting the great opportunities and work environments that are afforded to me (all this may well boil down to just that). However, I am becoming increasingly aware that not all work is created equal. I have worked some shitty factory-type jobs in which I was more meaningfully connected to my co-workers and I have worked some jobs in which I felt the need to create meaning for a audience that wanted to receive at low cost (if not free . . . well they do have to pay my salary). I need to emphasize that I am not discarding as meaningless everything happening within a given church. But that cannot keep me from clearly articulating, as best I can, the interface of biblical reflection, critical thought, and prayerful posture over top of my ongoing experience. What emerges from this complex? What emerges is a desire to either radically re-configure plan A so that I no longer seek to 'fit' into a professional role. Or it is to follow Plan B which is simply to express that which sustains my spirit and call and allow the so-called necessities of living to become secondary or derivative.
I have heard that someone facing great temptation about how they were to live their life once said a human cannot live by material food alone but rather life is nourished with feeding on every word that comes from God. There are stories of another who cried out,

All you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread?

Should I listen? I don't even know where that voice is coming from. But something feels near. The voice anticipates and says shortly after,
Seek the LORD while he may be found.
I am really not hoping to be dismissed as suffering from hyperbole or melodrama but it doesn't matter. Marion says that the difference between being and non-being is the difference between a world that can found and fund its own being and the one who is called from non-being into being. I find increasingly a lack of resources (not a lack of looking for them) to found and fund my being and so I do hope in being called forth. I am drawnto plan B but terrified that I may follow it and I am terrified that I may not follow it. I believe that perhaps in this time the LORD may be found. I don't know. What I do know is the impending and persistent approach of slumber that seems to come at times when above all one should be keeping watch.


Kierkegaard's Works of Love Part I

The first half of Kierkegaard's Works of Love affirms that Christianly speaking love is always in the contexts of works and that Christian love is above all and ultimately only love of the neighbour. This is set in distinction between erotic love and friendship. It has been a little while now since I read this opening section and there was nothing too striking about his exposition (in comparison to the second half). I would need to re-read if I wanted to do any kind of thorough commentary. What I did take note of, in light of my recent coursework in systems therapy, was his concept of self-love and loving the other-I. And as I worked through his break in love-of-self I began to see some of the larger implications for criticisms of SK's lack of social vision for the church.

Appropriate self-love is necessary for Christian love and as one cannot love their neighbour as they love themselves (as we hear all too often now). Of course Kierkegaard's concept of self-love is no light and fuzzy matter as it is the rendering of the self naked and alone before God. And so self-love becomes a love of self-renunciation. As usual SK takes an additional step in our received commands. He says that loving your neighbour as yourself can be stated, you shall love yourself in the same way as you love your neighbour when you love him as yourself. In this way SK creates another push in keeping someone from focusing too much on what 'self-love' is before they can properly get on to the task of loving their neighbour. And this way SK moves quickly away from meditating on the value of self-love towards the need of self-renunciation.
SK rejects erotic love and friendship as foundationally unchristian because they are loves of preference (and therefore exclusion). SK does not reject friends and lovers as such but demands that they be set within the context of neighbour love. SK criticizes these two loves not only for their preference but because of their tendency towards an insulated self-love . . . that they in fact do not actually love the person or persons they intend to. In this way the friend and the beloved are not loved for themselves but rather the lover loves the other-I. In beginning with the inadequacies of self-love SK writes that,
The fire of self-love is spontaneously ignited; the I ignites itself by itself. He then shifts his target to erotic love and friendship. But in erotic love and friendship, poetically understood, there is also self-ignition.
He states that, poetically speaking, erotic love and friendship is based on a devoted admiration. This admiration has its source and sustenance in the lover not the beloved and so ultimately this becomes an act of self-love as any interference becomes a threat to self and so quickly jealousy or unfaithfulness emerge.

As he progresses SK addresses the notion that love is the fulfilling of the law. He asks, in what sense is this said? He provides this analogy,

The relation of love to the law is like the relation of understanding to faith. The understanding reckons and reckons, calculates and calculates, but it never attains the certainty which faith has. So it is with the law: it defines and defines but never reaches the sum, which is love. When one speaks of a sum, the very expression seems to invite counting, but when a man has become tired of counting and nevertheless is all the more eager to find the sum, he understands that this word must have a deeper meaning.
SK says though that there is no quarrel between law and love only that one requires and the other gives. Love does not wish to do away with any of the law's provisions but in love they become complete. There is no quarrel, then, any more than between hunger and the blessing which satisfies it.
In order then to break out of a despairing self-love SK inserts the 'infinite' difference between worldly love and Christian love.
Worldly wisdom thinks that love is a relationship between man and man. Christianity teaches that love is a relationship between: man-God-man, that is, that God is the middle term. . . . For to love God is love oneself in truth; to help another human being to love God is to love another man; to be helped by another human being to love God is to be loved.
This is the manner in which a non-preferential love can be initiated and sustained. I think this is a significant statement in how it can move quickly counter any superficial or serious claim of a destructive individuality. SK remained focused and relentless on the initial building blocks of humanity which in fact is not the individual (self) but the self in relationship to God (self-God) from here it is possible and actually occurs simultaneously (which is important to remember) to relate as self-God-other. It is not hard to imagine (though reality may be another case) a web spreading out from these basic relations. But I suspect because SK was so unyielding in his position as an individual that he could never construct such a web because that would assume a position outside and beyond that of the individual and one can never go beyond that. I am offering conjecture here. In this we might be able to more fully proclaim that Christ will build the church.