Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I Bid You Badiou - Chapter 7; Paul Against the Law . . . Again

Badiou's Saint Paul Chapter 1
Badiou's Saint Paul Chapter 2
Badiou's Saint Paul - Chapters 3-4
Badiou's Saint Paul - Chapter 5
Badiou's Saint Paul - Chapter 6

In chapter 7 of Saint Paul Badiou attempts to slain the giant by approaching the theological quicksand of Paul's understanding of faith vs. works / grace vs. law. There is such enormity of thought and history connected to this discussion that I was not sure much room could be spared for additions.

And after reading over the chapter again I am not sure that much was added. The question initially was why law should be placed on the side of death. The answer is simply is that law 'objectifies' salvation disallowing the unity of thought and action. Not only is law always relegated to the particular and so cannot be part of the universal it also determines the subject in a cycle of the 'automatic repetition' of sin. Here Badiou deals extensively with Romans 7.

The law is what gives life to desire. But in so doing, it constrains the subject so that he wants to follow only the path of death.
What is sin exactly? It is not desire as such, for if it were one would not understand its link to the law and death. Sin is the life of desire as autonomy, as automatism. The law is required in order to unleash the automatic life of desire, the automatism of repetition. For only the law fixes the object of desire, binding desire to it regardless of the subject's 'will.' It is this objectal automatism of desire, inconceivable without the law, that assigns the subject to the carnal path of death.
Clearly, what is at issue here is nothing less that the problem of the unconscious (Paul calls it the involuntary, what I do not want). The life of desire fixed and unleashed by the law is that which, de-centered from the subject, accomplishes itself as unconscious automatism, with respect to which the involuntary subject is capable only of inventing death.
The law is what, designating its object, delivers desire to its repetitive autonomy.

This emergence of sin is, in keeping with his thinking, a subjective disposition. But as a sinful subjectification it is de-centers the subject dividing thought from action (what I want to do I do not do). In light of this Badiou states that salvation is possibility of thought being unseparated from power and action. Thought, in itself, cannot overcome this division. What is required is a grace that exceeds the order of thought. Grace flows from the event of the resurrection which declares that life need not be bound by death.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Bid You Badiou - Chapter 6; The Site of Death / The Event of Life

Chapter 6 is for me one of the more difficult chapters to understand in this book. I think this difficulty in understanding comes from the conceptual content being both foreign and also heretical (from the perspective of historical orthodoxy). I was constantly trying to negotiate within myself whether or not I was actually understanding the content and if I was understanding it whether or not I could accept it. I found this in itself an interesting exercise in learning and reading.

This chapter deals with the role of death as it relates to the resurrection of Christ. Badiou begins by framing the chapter with the question of whether Paul is morbid as Nietzsche has characterized him; or in the more Hegelian framework whether death functions in dialectic of truth (I am woefully ignorant of Hegel to articulate this any further). Badiou maintains that if resurrection is caught up in this dialectic then the possibility of grace "is dissolved into an auto-foundational and necessarily deployed rational protocol." Grace rather is an "affirmation without preliminary negation." I can pick up Badiou's strand of thinking later in the chapter but here I lose him. He continues,

This de-dialectization of the Christ-event allows us to extract a formal, wholly secularized conception of grace from the mythological core. Everything hinges on knowing whether an ordinary existence, breaking with time's cruel routine, encounters the material chance of serving a truth, thereby becoming, through subjective devision and beyond animal's survival imperatives, an immortal.

What Badiou seems to be developing, and perhaps this is where my orthodoxy gets in the way of understanding, is the radical possibility of living truth apart from the apparatus of religious law or intellectual foundation. Badiou,

Let us posit that that it is incumbent upon us to found a materialism of grace through the strong, simple idea that every existence can one be seized by what happens to it and subsequently devote itself to that which is valid for all, or as Paul magnificently puts it, "become all things to all men."
Yes, we are the beneficiaries of certain graces, ones for which there is no need to invoke an All-Powerful.

I will set that final statement aside for now. From here Badiou articulates the non-dialectical nature of resurrection and how then death functions in relationship to it. Paul is not viewed as having a theology of suffering as such. Suffering is certainly to be expected but that is only because of living apart from the dominant discourses of wisdom and law. This changes how we understand the cross. For Paul then there is no "path of the Cross. There is Calvary, but no ascent to Calvary." This appears to be entering into another discourse that allows the play of competition and mastery. Elevation and status through suffering.
This leads us finally to Badiou's statement on death. In Paul death is placed on the side of flesh and law (subjectively conceived and not biologically or platonically) and therefore can have no sacred or spiritual function. Whereas death was the invention of man (Adam) Christ (the second Adam) comes to reveal the human possibility of life. Badiou makes a very important move here. With the death of the fully human Jesus God enters into complete filiation with humanity.

Such is the unique necessity of Christ's death: it is the means to an equality with God himself. Through this thought of the flesh, whose real is death, is dispensed to us in grace the fact of being in the same element as God himself. Death here names the renunciation of transcendence. Let us say that Christ's death sets up an immenentization of the spirit. [emphasis his]

The transcendent space between God and humanity exists only so long as the law occupies the mediating gulf. With death the gulf is collapses and establishes the site of the resurrection. This is the event of reconciliation though not of salvation. Resurrection (salvation) is that which emerges from the site. However Badiou again makes it clear,

Resurrection is neither a sublation, nor an overcoming of death. They are two distinct functions, whose articulation contains no necessity. For the event's sudden emergence never follows from the existence of an evental site. Although it requires conditions of immanence, that sudden emergence nevertheless remains of the order of grace.

Resurrection and life must not be contingent on the discourses of mastery which is the subjective of law and of death even though life emerges from the site of death. The language is not always clear to me in this area for we are not to speak of an 'overcoming' of death though on the same page Badiou speaks of a 'killing' of death. What is important is the universal 'yes' be maintained.
Here Badiou again brings this thinking into relationship with Nietzsche as sibling not opponent. Both are interested in introducing a 'new' man unfettered from law.

The truth is that both brought antiphilosophy to the point where it no longer consists in a 'critique,' however radical, of the whims and pettiness of the metaphysician or sage. A much more serious matter is at issue: that of bringing about through the event an unqualified affirmation of life against the reign of death and the negative. Of being he who, Paul or Zarathustra, anticipates with flinching the moment when 'death is engulfed in victory.' (1 Cor 15:24)

Christ comes out of death and does not remain contingent to it. There remains then not the dialectic of death and life but the subjective choice of death and life.
Badiou concludes the chapter by confusing (offending?) me in even further. In trying to understand why this event offer as universal ability to suspend differences Badiou instructs us that, "it is essential to remember that for Paul, Christ is not identical with God, that no Trinitarian or substantialist theology upholds his preaching." This conceptual framework must be divorced from the metaphor of "the sending of the son." In this way the infinite does not die on the cross. It is important for Badiou that "terminating the abyss of transcendence, be immanent to the path of the flesh, of death, to all the dimensions of the human subject." That Christ must be entirely and solely human. And so Badiou arrives at the statement, "Paul's thought dissolves incarnation in resurrection."
I cannot for the life of me follow all his thinking here. It appears important that it not be the 'infinite' that dies but that it is a fully human expression. That it is the human who invents death and also that it is the human that experiences and expresses the possibility of the infinite through the immanentization of the spirit. This should of course be obvious for Badiou from the outset appropriates this as the secular reality/possibility of the event. Does this disqualify it outright for the orthodox believer? We'll keep plugging along for now.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Delighting in Simple Prairie-Like Vistas of Truth; Or the First Installement of Monday Night Raw

The possibilities of change, growth and transformation have been subtle but constant companions with me in the past 5 or 6 months. First, I can testify that change is possible. I can also tell you that it is not irreversible, at least some changes anyway. Perhaps that is a difference between change on the one hand and growth and transformation on the other. I cannot tell you if these changes occur through the presence of imminent factors or if they were performed through gracious transcendence. The categories do not seem important in any event. What is clear to me as change lingers, waxes and wanes is that the flow of mastery winds through all these movements and expressions. Binding and loosing are tremendous theological realities.
It is my prayer that the frail reed of change would not be snapped. But perhaps worse than being snapped that it would not be preserved, encased ready for reproduction for reproduction is the great enemy of transformation. Reproduction is the great illusion of the divine and attempts at ubiquity. Omnipresence cannot be bulk, mass. The great divine presence is space, or something of the sort.
I fear mastery. I fear to be mastered. I fear that I might master. I hope for thought. I hope for expansive and breathed thought. I hope for barefoot thought running in the dewed grass of renewal. I long for brave and secure thought venturing in dense texts and delighting in simple prairie-like vistas of truth. I hope to be, at times. To exist in the shivering reality of being myself among others. Of being myself. I hope to write, think and act like love, conception, bearing and birth. And then to care. I see no mastery in these places.
There is ahead the vigorous and consuming task of gracious presence . . . of Sabbath.


The Dude was a Lady

Well I'll be. George Eliot was a woman.


Ben Gibbard on Priorities and the Meaning of Life

Here is the conclusion to a recent interview with Death Cab for Cutie's frontman Ben Gibbard.

I would rather make great records than make great relationships. When I’m at odds with myself, I would rather fuck up every relationship I’ve ever been in and write great records. And not because I need a breakup to provide me with material. Not like that.

It’s hard enough having a relationship with one person, but to have a relationship with three other bandmates that you are so intimately tied to and you spend so much time with—and to have that actually work and function—is just astounding. I have been in a band for more than 10 years now. I never thought I’d be doing anything for 10 years straight, let alone a band, and I feel so fortunate for that. I have been allowed for some reason to do that. But it’s even more amazing that we get along better now than we did 10 years ago.

An ex-girlfriend once got upset when I told her that music is the most important thing in my life. It’s more important than anyone else could ever be. I don’t want to be overly dramatic and say it’s the only thing that gets me up and keeps me going. But people in your life come and go. As you go through your life, you make friendships, you break friendships, you have relationships. Music is the one thing I’ve always been able to rely on. So why wouldn’t it be the most important thing in my life?


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Style, Power, Content and Difficult Texts

There is a great post and discussion over at Larval Subjects.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

I Cite Site

If any of you do not regularly visit Jodi Dean's blog I Cite here are a few reasons why you should (I am also collecting these links so that I can quickly refer to them in my sermon prep).
Running of the Poor - Part 1
Running of the Poor - Part 2
Shoppers are Torturers
Revolution of the Hungry


The Pope is Hot

The Wall Street Journal comes to the defense of the Pope's recent statements in the U.S.


I Bid You Badiou - Chapter 5; A Paul Divided

Badiou's Saint Paul Chapter 1
Badiou's Saint Paul Chapter 2
Badiou's Saint Paul - Chapters 3-4; Earthen Vessels \ Carrying Death

Badiou begins chapter 5 by stating that the subjectivity expressed by Paul is a divided subjectivity which is between flesh and spirit. Badiou emphasizes that this is a subjective division and not a platonic division between soul and body but of a division within thought. This division allows for a new object of discourse.

For the Greek the object of discourse is finite cosmic totality. This is a discourse of place, of knowing belonging. Christian discourse attests to the vanity of places. Badiou cites Paul's acknowledgment of being the 'refuse' of the world.
For the Jew the object is elective belonging. The mark of this belonging is manifest in the observance of the law. In Christian discourse the Christ-event comes as pure excess, "grace without concept or appropriate rite."
This is leads to the abolition of the local, undivided subject who is defined by race, origin, locality, ritual, etc. In order to maintain this understanding Paul must advocate a true antiphilosophy unlike that of Wittgenstein, Nietzsche and Pascal who continued to concern with "knowledge." Paul's work does not attempt to heal wisdom and it does not attempt to critique it. It is for Paul obsolete in so far as wisdom falls under the "formula of mastery." Paul rejects both the modes of sign (Jew) and wisdom (Greek) as both enforces modes of mastery. Paul is not interested in overcoming these discourses he simply does not enter into them.
Badiou addresses Paul's understanding of Jesus as 'son' as further indication of how the subject is founded apart from the discourses of mastery. We are able to identify ourselves as offspring but we are never able to identify with the singular Father. This a universal egalitarian perspective (We are all God's coworkers 1 Cor 3:9).
In order to maintain this perspective Paul strips Jesus of any significance historically. In this way Jesus is "neither a master nor an example. He is the name for what happens to us universally." Here Badiou offers an interesting comparison between Nietzsche and Paul. Nietzsche is of course highly critical of Paul but Badiou argues that this intense response to Paul is because "he is his rival far more than his opponent." Both figures desire for substantial shift in the individual's subjectivity. Badiou argues that Nietzsche relies on three themes of which Paul is the founder. 1) the self-legitimating subjective declaration; 2) the breaking of history in two; 3) the new man as the end of guilty slavery and affirmation of life. The problem with Nietzsche is that he attempted to maintain that Paul's motif was death when it was just the opposite. In Paul "life takes revenge on death." What Nietzsche was genuinely and correctly opposed to was Paul's universal. Paul offered an absolute and unrelenting all which abolished the status and privilege attained by the strong.
Paul advocates a subjectivity founded on grace. This subjectivity is a becoming and not a state. It must always function in relationship to the "not - but," for you are not under law, but under grace. The not always functions to shut down and dismantle the discourses of mastery and the but seeks to open paths of faithful work towards a universal communion.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Meeting in the Dark

Well it looks like the Dark Theologian is finally offering extended reflection on the Dark Prophet.


I Bid You Badiou - Chapters 3-4; Earthen Vessels \ Carrying Death

I realize that I am essentially working chapter by chapter in Saint Paul so for earlier references see;
Badiou's Saint Paul Chapter 1
Badiou's Saint Paul Chapter 2

Chapter three of Saint Paul addresses the context into which Paul's letters were written; that they were substantially prior than the writing of the gospels, that they were substantially different than the gospels, and how they came to be recognized as canonical.
In chapter four Badiou expands his account of Paul's two main referents, Jews and Greeks. What he sees Paul addressing is not two ethnic groups but two subjectivities or discourses (law and wisdom). Rather than adopting or adapting these discourses Paul initiates two other discourses. It is the third discourse that is the 'Christian' discourse properly speaking while the fourth (mystical) remains at the margins.
Badiou begins by explaining the Jewish and Greek discourses.

What is Jewish discourse? The subjective figure constituted by it is that of the prophet. But a prophet is one who abides in the requisition of signs, one who signals, testifying to transcendence by exposing the obscure to its deciphering. Thus, Jewish discourse will be held to be, above all, the discourse of the sign.
What then is Greek discourse? The subjective figure constituted by it is that of the wise man. But wisdom consists in appropriating the fixed order of the world, in matching of the logos of being. Greek discourse is cosmic, deploying the subject within the reason of natural totality. Greek discourse is essentially the discourse of totality, insofar as it upholds sophia (wisdom as internal state) of a knowledge of phusis (nature as ordered and accomplished deployment of being).

Badiou continues by saying that "Paul's profound idea is that Jewish dicourse and Greek discourse are the two aspects of the same figure of mastery." These divisive subjectivities at once dependent on and in conflict with each other not allowing for a universal presence. In order to proceed from this conflict an event is required which is "a-cosmic and illegal."

One may also say: Greek and Jewish discourse are both discourses of the Father. That is why they bind communities in a form of obedience (to the Cosmos, the Empire, God, or the Law). Only that which will present itself as a discourse of the Son has the potential to be universal, detached from every particularism. . . . That the son, and not the father, who is exemplary, enjoins us not to put our trust any longer is any discourse laying claim to the form of mastery.

For Badiou then Paul offers himself as neither prophet nor philosopher but apostle. And an apostle is one who is faithful to the even of the resurrection and who names the possibilities that this rupture implies. In this way Paul strictly speaking "knows nothing" (here Badiou cites 1 Cor 8:2). Focusing on Paul's words in 1 Corinthians Badiou sees the criteria for recognizing the event as that which puts language in deadlock. As such it is folly to the Greeks and a scandal to the Jews. Paul is understood to go so far as saying that God is not Being as being exists in the realm of these prior discourses. Badiou points to subversive statement in 1 Corinthians which says, "God has chosen the things that are not in order to bring to nought those that are." These is the abolition of all previous discourses. This is "pure beginning." There is no proof and no knowledge. This becomes the inherent 'weakness' in Christian discourse.
Badiou briefly outlines the 'fourth' discourse which the nondiscourse of mystical experience. This is significant for Paul but never a means for legitimation. The universal discourse must rather be a shared discourse of the event. In this way the 'weakness' of Christian discourse will not be relived through any 'hidden' force. To grant the fourth discourse primacy of place is to replace into the Jewish discourse of the sign. And so the fourth discourse will remain but marginal and essentially inactive in any public sense. Badiou understands the weakness of the third discourse to be what Paul refers to as the treasures in earthen vessels. Badiou concludes the chapter with some sense grandeur over this weakness,

The treasure is nothing but the event as such, which is to say a completely precarious having-taken-place. It must be borne in humbly, with a precariousness appropriate to it. The third discourse must be accomplished in weakness, for therein lies its strength. It shall be neither logos, nor sign, nor ravishment by the unutterable. It shall have the rude harshness of public action, of naked declaration, without apparel other than that of its real content. There will be nothing but what each can see and hear. This is the earthen vessel.
Whoever is the subject of a truth (of love, of art, or science, or politics) knows that, in effect, he bears a treasure, that he is traversed by an infinite power. Whether it not this is truth, of precarious, continues to deploy itself depends solely on his subjective weakness. Thus, one may justifiably say that he bears it only in an earthen vessel, day after day enduring the imperative - delicacy and subtle thought - to ensure nothing shatters it. For with the vessel, and with dissipation into smoke of the treasure it contains, it is he, the subject, the anonymous bearer, the herald, who is equally shattered.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Bid You Badiou - Part II

Badiou understands Paul as someone who has become. His subjectivity flows entirely from encounter with the resurrected Jesus. There was no lead up, it simply ruptured his present existence and created someone new and without precedent in him. It is Christ resurrected that legitimates his existence, subjectivity and message (Paul does not seek immediate confirmation for the emerging church leaders in Jerusalem). This message leads to Paul found small critical masses of 'comrades' who express faithfulness to the resurrected Christ (they repent and believe). It is from these small and early communal formations that we see Paul as social organizers as his epistles come from the need for maintenance within these groups.
In (short) time Paul's message creates conflict with both Jews and Greeks. Among the Jews there is pressure to legitimate this message within the contingencies of their religion, primarily in circumcision and food laws. It must be stated clearly that in response to the law Paul is not in opposition what matters is adherence to the truth of the event. Following the law is nothing and not following that law is nothing (circumcision in nothing, uncircumcision is nothing, 1 Cor 7:19). This conflict leads to the Jerusalem council where a compromise is brokered that maintains the value of recognizing the historical site Jesus' resurrection (Jewish-Christianity) as well as acknowledging an openness to alternative expressions of faithfulness to the message (Paul's gospel). The conflict should not be underestimated as it erupts again when Paul confronts Peter's duplicity in matters of custom (Peter is breaking Jewish law until he sees James at which time he attempts to reconform to the customs, Gal 2). Badiou sees this experience as decisive in the formation of Paul's message which in large part "is that the law has become a figure of death." There is no more negotiating between law and Christ. Here lies Paul's decisive break with the conditioned expression of Jewish religion, even as it recognizes Jesus as the Messiah.
Badiou then turns his attention to Paul's encounter with the Greeks. Though will to enter conversation Paul offers no sustained critique after the philosophers in Athens burst out laughing at the mention of the resurrection. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul is even more clear that he has no intention in meeting human wisdom with wisdom. This would assume that the event of Christ could come the legitimation of a controlling body of knowledge or natural order.
And so we encounter Paul's two primary referents Jews (law) and Greeks (wisdom). What follows is Badiou's account of how Paul attempts to maintain a social expression that will not fall under controlling paradigm of either.

Okay, time for bed . . . stay tuned.


The Hit is Out

Eric over at Life's Paradox posted Nazbo Rap II. Little did he know the harm done in the video by mocking the Anabaptists in the opening.
(sorry this is terrible)


Pastoral Care to Men

Previously in this series;
Preface to Theology and Gendered Ministry
Framing Gender Differences
Understanding the Gendered Jesus - Part 1; Graham Ward's Cities of God
Understanding the Gendered Jesus - Part 2; Graham Ward's Christ and Culture
Theology and Gendered Ministry: A Critique of (Some) Contemporary Men's Ministries
The conclusion to my work in this area was little thin but for anyone following this thread here it is.

There are of course numerous issues that are currently typical of men’s experience. In The Care of Men issues revolving around employment are among the most pressing for men.[1] What I want to focus on is that when ministry is geared specifically to men then I would argue that the issue is primarily and most often what it is to be a man. This may appear tautological or assumed within the fabric men’s ministry but given the framework of contemporary men’s ministry I would maintain that it is of primary concern. There is near consensus among the various men’s ministry websites that something has been lost. What has of course been lost is that time when masculinity simply was when there existed a male ontology as Ward put it. Men have not done the work that women have in terms of gender reflection. In the development of women’s self-understanding there appeared to be an integration of masculinity. I am thinking particularly of the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter that pointed both to physical and economic strength for many women.[2] This has not been mirrored in men’s ministry. The Seven Promises of the Promise Keepers include nurturing a close relationship with a few men and developing a strong marriage but nowhere include the need for greater internal or external relationship with femininity.[3] Recent GodMen events do not allow women to attend and state clearly that only men can understand the specific needs of men. There are scores of men’s ministry websites popping up all the time and I have yet to see prominent feminine images. The converse rather is true with hypermasculine images of warriors, muscles and athletics are dominant. The primary message is to fight and win back what was lost.

As I think of my own church context it is true that less men are actively involved in the life of the church. Many of the popular expressions for public discussion include sports. Part of the argument coming from men writing on this issue is that the church is not challenging enough for their ‘warrior’ or competitive nature. I would argue that retreating into nature (or sports) to be among men is just that, a retreat. Not that it is wrong but that if it is not equipping to encounter the sexual difference within themselves, among themselves and in relationship to women then the time spent there will likely be reduced to playing ‘cops and robbers’ or King of the Castle where dominant masculine expressions repress the holy tension of sexual difference. I suspect that if adventure, risk and strength are sought they may be found in exploration of internal and external sexual difference.

[1] Christie Cozad Neuger, “Men’s Issues in the Local Church: What Clergymen have to Say,” in The Care of Men, ed. Christie Cozad Neugar and James Newton Poling (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997), 46-69.

[2] Wikipedia, Rosie the Riveter, retrieved April 3, 2008 from

[3] The Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper,


I Bid You Badiou - Part I

This Sunday I will be preaching on Acts 17, the well known passage of Paul's encounter with the philosophers in Athens. In preparation I thought I would finally read Badiou's book on Saint Paul and see how Paul faired with this philosopher. Badiou has been receiving fairly good press among many theologians and biblical scholars. There is certainly significant insight gleaned throughout. Badiou states in the Prologue that he cares "nothing for the Good News he declares." But then comes the statement that sets the tone for the entire work, "But he is subjective figure of primary importance." Badiou is looking to configure a contemporary subject from the example of Saint Paul; or to use his own words, "to refound a theory of the Subject that subordinates its existence to the aleatory dimension of the event as well as to the pure contingency of multiple-being without sacrificing the theme of freedom." For Paul the entirety of his project consists in the statement "Christ is resurrected". It is this event that allows Paul to level or demolish all communitarian difference. Identity and law become founded in an event that while have a historical site is founded on no historical or cultural narrative. It is owned by no people but is for all people. It is universal.
Badiou summarizes Paul's procedure;

if there has been an event, and if truth consists in declaring it and then in being faithful to ti this declaration, two consequences ensue. First, since truth is evental, or of the order of what occurs, it is singular. It is neither structural, nor axiomatic, nor legal. No available generality can account for it, nor structure the subject who claims to follow in its wake. Consequently, there can be a law of truth. Second, truth being inscribed on the basis of a declaration that is in essence subjective, no preconstituted subset can support it; nothing communitarian or historically established can lend its substance to the process of truth. Truth is diagonal relative to every communitarian subset; it neither claims authority from, nor (this is obviously the most delicate point) constitutes any identity. It is offered to all, or addressed to everyone, without a condition of belonging being able to limit this offer, or this address.

This leads Badiou to offer four maxims of the truth as universal singularity as it applies to Paul and to our contemporary context.
1. The Subject does not preexist the event and thus the extrinsic conditions of his existence or identity will be argued against (i.e. neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female).
2. Truth is entirely subjective and therefore under no law.
3. Fidelity to the declaration is essential, for truth is a process, and not an illumination. This process requires the presence of faith (or conviction) at the point of declaration, love as its militant address and hope (or certainty) as the force understanding the completion of the truth.
4. A truth is of itself indifferent to the state of the situation. This requires a distance for the State and from what corresponds to the State in people's consciousness: the apparatus of opinion. One must not argue about opinions, Paul says.

Okay I should actually get to work now, more later.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Out and About

See I Cite for a great and horrible list. The Valve explores the Bible as literature (not).


Sunday, April 20, 2008

In as much as you are able . . .

In as much as you are able the next time you pass a child and make eye contact offer them a sincere smile. They will encounter enough already that tells them that the world can scary, chaotic or threatening. They may even encounter enough that tells them that they are the center of meaning and that they deserve to have what they want. They will surely encounter message of expectation and demand, shame and failure. But of simply spacious kindness there remains limited resources.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Theology and Gendered Ministry: A Critique of (Some) Contemporary Men's Ministries

Previously in this series;
Preface to Theology and Gendered Ministry
Framing Gender Differences
Understanding the Gendered Jesus - Part 1; Graham Ward's Cities of God
Understanding the Gendered Jesus - Part 2; Graham Ward's Christ and Culture

Given the preceding discussion on gender (see above links) it is important to ask the question of what is implicitly involved in men’s ministry, particularly in North America. The general history of gender in the modern West appears to be the movement of women from an inferior form of male to a distinct and ‘opposite’ sex (though still inferior). Then came a growing movement among women attempting to establish themselves as fully equal humans able to participate in all of life to the extant that particular individuals are able. This led to a crisis within masculinity as men were forced to redefine their own identities or to reject emerging feminist identities. It is important to ask why this led to a crisis among men.[1] I would suggest that the crisis among men relates directly to power dynamics inherent within any social system. Whether within a family or in a society an internal shift always creates pushes and pulls within the whole system. The reactions to change often expose those who are poorly self-differentiated, those whose own life was dependent on the stability or subordination of another.[2] In social terms this can be set more clearly in terms of power and law. In The History of Sexuality Foucault explores the “‘analytics’ of power: that is, . . . the specific domain formed by power relations.”[3] Dealing particularly with sexuality Foucault states that power is always established in relation sex in a negative expression, one of “rejection, exclusion, refusal, blockage, concealment or mask.”[4] This leads to his next statement which is that “sex is placed by power into a binary system: licit and illicit, permitted and forbidden.”[5] Which is further developed into a “cycle of prohibition” and “the logic censorship” which relegate aspects of sex into non-existence. Once caught into this framework the cycle is self-perpetuating and self-justifying. “One must not talk about what is forbidden until it is annulled in reality; what is inexistent has no right to show itself, even in the order of speech where its inexistence is declared; and that which one must keep silent about is banished from reality as the thing that is tabooed above all else.”[6] The stability of the dominant system depends on the ‘inexistence’ of that which is under its power.

It is important to remember that the first statement on the domain of power and sex is its negative relationship. It is confusing that such extreme outcry has emerged from particular men and men’s group as to the apparent ‘feminization’ of the church. Though the vast majority of church leadership is male and church attendance is divided roughly 60 percent female and 40 percent male writers such as Leon Podles mourn the loss of the masculine church which he says men lost already in medieval period.[7] Were the ratio of leaders reversed feminists would be celebrating in the streets. I do not discount that as an institution the church is far more open to feminine expressions in comparison to other social institutions in the West. What I am interested in is the type of response this can engender in men. In family systems a well-differentiated individual is able to accept, even welcome growth and increased independence of an individual within the family. This is not the type of response typically encountered by men writing on this issue. Rather, what is being revealed is the power-relations that had been implicit in the church structure prior to these shifts. Podles assumes that the church and God were once explicitly masculine. Historically women in the church, as in biology, were relegated under the larger masculine hierarchy (Podles argues that masculinity itself, ‘that which separates,’ is analogous to holiness). This relationship follows the structure of power relations that Foucault describes. As women became ‘existent’ and emerged from outside the power structure the structure appeared to be destabilized but had no ‘positive’ response. On this subject Ward writes that “the reality of women calls into question the governing male ontology, the hierarchal ontology, which supports . . . exploitation.”[8] The only response was a renewed attempt to relegate women back into constraint and render them ‘annulled in reality.’ This type of response only seems to confirm that much of the church had functioned under an unequal power structure that did allow the creative tension of sexual difference as Ward outlined above. In Podles’ ecclesial construct feminization is a threat as opposed to a complementary or even necessary expression of the church. Podles writes that “Christianity is [now] a religion of and for women.”[9] And if this is wrong, as it is in his account, then the response is to restructure a church that is of and for men as opposed to a church that embraces male and female as divine expressions of being human. This is a negative power relationship. The only ‘positive’ content that tends to emerge from specific male ministries is the need for men to gather and express themselves in complete exclusion to women. What is ironic is that even this expression requires women otherwise there would be no framework for ‘separating,’ which is key in Podles understanding of masculinity (and even more ironically, key for Ward’s notion of sexual difference and ‘space’).

Understanding the contemporary context of men and the church aids pastoral care givers in their ability to discern the larger web of issues that may be implicitly or explicitly informing a particular situation. The questions that need to be asked include the following. To what extant should particular ‘male’ expressions be endorsed and what expressions need to be brought into greater relationship with feminine difference and space? What are issues for men as men and what are issues for men as humans in a particular social position? It is only after understanding the theology of gender relations that these can questions can be answered appropriately as a pastor.

[1] It should that other factors, such as economics, can also be attributed to the shift in masculinities in the West. See R. W. Connell, “The History of Masculinity,” in The Masculinity Studies Reader.

[2] With reference to family systems see Edwin H. Friedman, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (New York: The Guilford Press, 1985).

[3] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1978), 82.

[4] Ibid., 83.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 84.

[7] Originally published Leon Podles, “Missing Fathers of the Church: The Feminization of the Church and the Need for Christian Fatherhood,” Touchstone 14.1 (Jan/Feb 2001). Retrieved April 2, 2008 from This article updates and applies is early work The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 1999).

[8] Ward, Christ and Culture, 138.

[9] Podles, “Missing Fathers.”


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Archiving and Print Friendly Blogs

Just below the IndieVision widget to the right is a new Print It button. This is a new widget by HP that offers printer friendly pages that are great for, well, printing but also for archiving blogs as the pages come up as .pdfs.
Oh and also notice the little printer at the bottom of each post.


Coming Into Existence

In building up his case that the coming into existence of ‘the god’ Kierkegaard reminds us that there was no advantage to understanding the god for those contemporary with him. Coming into existence is an event that is not accessible to immediate sense perception. This is true of all of ‘history.’ History is always that which comes into existence and as such becomes entirely inaccessible to immediate sense perception and enters the realm of belief. This feeble paraphrase from the Interlude in Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments reminded me that no one has ever had direct access to history as such. This is of course obvious but not often made visible or respected in historical discourses.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In and Beyond Language

I recently commented on a post over at Mixophilosophicotheologia. He was exploring other modes in which language and Christology could be understood. I am making an article by Graham Ward available which I think substantially expands the discussion and looks beyond the traditional structure of the relationship between language and theology. My thoughts on his work are integrated in my posts below on gender, theology and ministry.


The 'R' Word and the Grapes of Wrath (Update)

(Update - For the most recent comment on the 'R' word see today's post at I Cite)

I experienced an interesting and quite meaningful convergence of readings recently.
First, I am reading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time and have been following the Joad family for some time as they were driven off their farm in Oklahoma during the Depression and head out west to California and the promise of land and work. As they near and reach California they are confronted with the reality that there are scores more people who have flocked here than there is work. These 'immigrants' are not welcomed by the locals as their impromptu tent villages are frequently raided and there wages are lowered as people will fight just to make enough to eat. Tom Joad (who was recently released from prison) catches a whiff of something in this mix,

When you're in jail - you get kinda - sensin' stuff. Guys ain't let to talk a hell of a lot together - two maybe, but not a crowd. An' so you get kinda sensy. If somepin's gonna bust - if say a fella's goin' stir-bugs an' take a crack at a guard with a mop handle - why, you know it 'fore it happens. An' if they's gonna break or a riot, nobody don't have to tell ya. Your sensy about it. You know. . . . Stick aroun'. Stick aroun till tomorra anyways. Somepin's gonna come up.

The next day a young man confronts a contractor trying to take advantage of cheap labour. An accompanying police officer tries to arrest him and struggle ensues among a number of them. After this scene Steinbeck includes one of his shorter interpretive chapters interjected within the narrative. Here is a selection,

The great highways streamed with moving people. There in the Middle- and Southwest had lived simple agrarian folk who had not changed with industry, who had not formed with machines or known the power and danger of machines in private hands. They had not grown up in the paradoxes of industry. Their senses were still sharp to the ridiculousness of industrial life.
And the suddenly the machines pushed them out and they swarmed on the highways. The movement changed them; the highways, the camps along the road, the fear of hunger and the hunger itself, changed them. The children without dinner changed them, the endless moving changed them. They were migrants. And the the hostility changed them, welded them, united them - hostility that that made the little towns group and arm as though to repel an invader, squads with pick handles, clerks and storekeepers with shotguns, guarding the world against their own people.
In the West there was panic when the migrants multiplied on the highways. Men of property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry. . . . And the men of the towns and of the soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and the invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights.
We can't let these Okies get out of hand. And the men who were armed did not own the land, but thought they did. And clerks who drilled at night owned nothing, and the little storekeepers possessed only a drawful of debts. But even a debt is something, even a job is something. The clerk thought, I get fifteen dollars a week. S'pose a goddamn Okie would work for twelve? And the little storekeeper thought, How could I compete with a debtless man?
And the migrants streamed in on the highways and their hunger was in their eyes, and their need was in their eyes. They had no argument, no system, nothing but their numbers and their needs. When there was work for a man, ten men fought for it - fought with a low wage.
And this was good, for wages went down and prices stayed up. The great owners were glad and they sent out more handbills to bring more people in. And the wages went down and prices stayed up. And pretty soon we'll have serfs again.
And now the great owners and the companies invented a new method. A great owner bought a cannery. And when the peaches and pears were ripe he cut the price of fruit below the cost of raising it. And as cannery owner he paid himself the low price for the fruit and kept the canned goods up and took his profit. And the little farmers who owned n canneries lost their farms, and they were taken by the great owners, the banks and the companies who owned the canneries. As time went on, there were fewer farms. The little farmers moved into town for awhile and exhausted their credit, exhausted their friends, their relatives. And they too went on the highways. And the roads were crowded with men ravenous for work, murderous for work.

And the companies, the banks worked at their own doom and they did not know it. The fields were fruitful, and starving men moved on the roads. The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line. And money that might have gone for wages went for gas, for guns, for agents and spies, for blacklists, for drilling. On highways the people moved like ants and searched for work, for food. And the anger began to ferment.

Now compare this to a section from Brian McLaren's new book Everything Must Change. He is responding to those who may still be apathetic towards the growing economic gap between rich and poor.

People who ask such question often haven't seen what I've seen: huge factories where people - mostly women, and often, mostly young girls - work harder than any CEO has ever worked, running sewing machines for eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, earning them pennies an hour. They are glad for these jobs because they are better than having no work and no income at all. But their labor enriches, not them, but already rich people in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, or Hong Kong. This kind of inequity can only lead in one direction: revolution.

Brining up the 'R' word reminds him of an earlier conversation with a man from South Africa who used to be a part of violent revolutionary actions. In jail he later became a Christian and responded to McLaren's visit. Notice also that like Tom Joad he had spent time in prison and begins to sense what is going on.

He had heard my speak on these matters a few days before our dinner. "I was home the other night after you spoke," he said, "and picked up Das Kapital by Marx. I hadn't read it in over twenty years. Your lecture made me realize that we have to think about economics again. Marx's prescription was faulty, but at least he diagnosed a problem: the exploited and excluded poor won't abide their marginalization forever. We escapted a bloody revolution in 1994 when we peacefully dismantled apartheid. But if we can't dismantle the inequity of our current economic system, we will have an explosion of violence that nobody can imagine. The sheets will run red. I feel it. I feel it when I walk in the slums. Its like a volcano, ready to explode - the anger of the poor, the hopelessness of the poor."


Monday, April 14, 2008

The How of Revelation

Does anyone have any idea how Revelation can post all these books?
Graham Ward's Christ and Culture is now available.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

This Just In! Pope Gets Good Press!

A recent Newsweek article suggests that Pope "Benedict XVI may have had his own "June 1979 moment"—a moment that was missed, or misunderstood, at the time." June 1979 is referring to Pope John Paul II's trip to Poland that is now recognized as a catalyst in the downfall of communism in eastern Europe. The event being referred to for Benedict is the controversial lecture in September of 2006 where a Byzantine emperor offered a sharp critique of Islam. It seems this has actually evoked the possibility of much positive dialogue between Catholicism and Islam.

By quoting a Byzantine emperor's sharp critique of Islam, Benedict XVI drew worldwide criticism. Others, however, including significant personalities in the complex worlds of Islam, took the pope's point about the dangers of faith detached from reason quite seriously. And over the ensuing 19 months, there have been potentially historic tectonic shifts going on, both within Islam and in the world of interreligious dialogue.

I have pasted the rest of the article below as the Newsweek articles will be inaccessible after a period of time online.

How Benedict XVI Will Make History

The master teacher who follows John Paul is a moral leader who's begun an unprecedented conversation with Islam.
George Weigel
Updated: 3:54 PM ET Apr 12, 2008

According to a title first used by Gregory the Great (590–604), the Bishop of Rome is the "Servant of the Servants of God." The Roman Catholic Church recognizes 265 of those servants as legitimate popes. Some were historical titans; others labored in obscurity. Some were saints, including more than two dozen martyrs; others were scandalous sinners. Some were reformers whose legacy in Catholic doctrine and practice is visible today; others were complicit in corruption. Some were men of genius, both intellectual and organizational; others were mediocrities. A few years back, a veteran Vatican bureaucrat remarked that "God has been very kind to us; we haven't had a wicked pope in 500 years." That wistful expression of gratitude suggests something of the papacy's staying power while hinting at its complex history.

The influence and magnetism of the modern papacy are, in fact, surprises. When Leo XIII was elected in 1878—the first pope in 1,100 years not to control substantial territory as an internationally recognized sovereign—many thought the papacy an impotent anachronism. Leo, however, created the modern papacy as an office of moral persuasion. John Paul II, elected precisely 100 years after Leo, turned the papal bully pulpit into something to be reckoned with in the world. John Paul was one of the key figures in the collapse of European communism; he also played a significant role in democratic transitions in Latin America and East Asia, while defending the universality of human rights and challenging the intolerant secularism of European high culture.

That many Catholics feel a deep personal connection to the pope is another relatively new, and in some respects surprising, phenomenon.

When the first American Catholic diocese, Baltimore, was erected in 1789, few Catholics in the nascent American republic felt a personal bond with Pius VI. Beset by anticlerical Italian revolutionaries determined to incorporate the Papal States into a unified Italy, Pius IX (1846–1878) was the first modern pontiff who attracted popular Catholic sympathy and support. (He was also the first pope to set foot on sovereign American soil. Having fled Rome and Garibaldi's legion in 1849, Pius visited the USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides," then berthed in Gaeta harbor. Capt. John Gwinn, USN, was court-martialed for allowing the pope aboard, in tacit violation of American neutrality in Italian politics.)

The millions of Catholic immigrants who came to America between the Civil War and World War I were certainly aware of Leo XIII (who defended trade unions), Pius X (who permitted children to receive holy communion), Benedict XV (who bankrupted the Vatican helping World War I refugees and POWs) and Pius XI (a fierce critic of Nazism and communism); yet these popes were hardly popular icons. Pius XII (1939–1958) was widely venerated, but he was a remote figure who seemed to inhabit a different plane; it was thought quite remarkable that such an ethereal personality used a telephone, a typewriter and an electric razor.

It was "Good Pope John"—now Blessed John XXIII—who sealed the bond of personal affection between the papacy and U.S. Catholics of every age and condition; when he died in June 1963 after a protracted struggle with stomach cancer, it seemed like a death in the family. The pontificate of his successor, Paul VI (1963–1978), was riddled by bitter controversies over worship, sexual morality and church governance; when Pope Paul died at Castel Gandolfo on Aug. 15, 1978, just about everyone was ready to turn a page. Paul's immediate successor, the charming John Paul I, might have been another John XXIII but died after 33 days on the job.

Over the next 26 years, his successor evolved from "John Paul Superstar" into the first universal pastor of the age of globalization; as NBC's Brian Williams said at the time, John Paul II's April 2005 funeral was "the human event of a generation." Tens of thousands of American Catholics have visited his tomb in the Vatican grottoes and sought his intercession since he made his final journey to what he called "the House of the Father."

Benedict XVI inherited from John Paul II a certain set of expectations about who popes are and what popes do. A less pyrotechnic personality than his predecessor, in whose pontificate he played a major intellectual role, Benedict has drawn far less media attention than John Paul (at least outside Italy). He very much matters, however, in both the public and personal senses of popes "mattering"; one just has to look closer and deeper to discern the imprint of the shoes of this fisherman.

The Grand Strategy of Benedict XVI
Modern popes deploy a distinctive form of power: the power of moral persuasion. Its effects are sometimes difficult to recognize.

Take John Paul II's epic pilgrimage to Poland in June 1979. Cold-war historians now recognize June 2–10, 1979, as a moment on which the history of our times pivoted. By igniting a revolution of conscience that gave birth to the Solidarity movement, John Paul II accelerated the pace of events that eventually led to the demise of European communism and a radically redrawn map in Eastern Europe. There were other actors and forces at work, to be sure; but that John Paul played a central role in the communist crackup, no serious student of the period doubts today.

In 1979, however, the effects of the moral and spiritual revolution John Paul triggered were hard for some to discern. On June 5, 1979, The New York Times concluded an editorial in these terms: "As much as the visit of John Paul II must reinvigorate and reinspire the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, it does not threaten the political order of the [Polish] nation or of Eastern Europe."

What accounts for this myopia? Granted, the Polish pope had not used the vocabulary normally associated with affairs of state: over nine days and 40-some addresses, John Paul II said not a word about politics, economics, the Polish communist regime or its masters in Moscow. Rather, he spoke of Poland's authentic history and deeply religious culture while summoning his people to a noble project: the restoration of their true identity. The message was received by those with ears to hear, and history changed as a result. (Including John Paul II's personal history, for the pope's success hardened the conviction in Moscow that something drastic had to be done about this meddlesome priest. The assassination attempt of May 13, 1981, followed in due course.)

Perhaps the deeper reason for missing the impact of John Paul II's "June 1979 moment" lies in the filters through which many people read history today. According to one such filter, religious and moral conviction is irrelevant to shaping the flow of contemporary history. They may give meaning to individual lives; but change history? Please. The world has outgrown that.

Or has it? The different personalities of John Paul II and Benedict XVI sometimes mask their shared (and unshakable) conviction that religious and moral ideas can redirect the course of human affairs. And that, in turn, suggests the possibility that Benedict XVI may have had his own "June 1979 moment"—a moment that was missed, or misunderstood, at the time.

That moment was the most controversial episode in Benedict XVI's pontificate: his Regensburg Lecture on faith and reason, delivered at his old German university on Sept. 12, 2006. By quoting a Byzantine emperor's sharp critique of Islam, Benedict XVI drew worldwide criticism. Others, however, including significant personalities in the complex worlds of Islam, took the pope's point about the dangers of faith detached from reason quite seriously. And over the ensuing 19 months, there have been potentially historic tectonic shifts going on, both within Islam and in the world of interreligious dialogue.

Benedict has received two open letters from Muslim leaders; the October 2007 letter, "An Open Word Between Us and You," proposed a new dialogue between Islam and the Vatican. That dialogue will now be conducted through a Catholic-Muslim Forum that will meet twice yearly, in Rome and in Amman, Jordan. The forum will address two issues that Benedict XVI has insisted be the focus of conversation: religious freedom, understood as a human right that everyone can grasp by reason, and the separation of religious and political authority in the modern state.

Perhaps even more important, given his influence in Sunni Islam, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited Benedict XVI in November 2007. Subsequently, the king announced his own interfaith initiative, aimed at drawing representatives of the three monotheistic faiths into a new conversation, and negotiations between the Holy See and Saudi Arabia opened on building the first Catholic church in the kingdom. (A new Catholic church, also the first of its kind, recently opened in Doha, Qatar.) Abdullah's voice was noticeably absent from the chorus of critics who charged Benedict XVI with "aggression" for baptizing Magdi Allam, a prominent Italian journalist and convert from Islam, in St. Peter's Basilica on March 22. That all of this has happened after Regensburg is, at the very least, suggestive.

In addition to reshaping the dialogue between Catholicism and Islam, Benedict XVI has made significant changes in the Vatican's intellectual approach to these volatile issues. Catholic veterans of the interreligious dialogue who did not press issues like religious freedom and reciprocity between the faiths have been replaced by scholars who believe that facing the hard questions helps support those Muslim reformers who are trying to find an authentic Islamic path to civility, tolerance and pluralism. Thus Benedict XVI has quietly put his pontificate behind the forces of Islamic reform—and may have found a crucial ally with a Saudi king who is wrestling with Wahhabi extremism in his own domain.

The pope is thinking in centuries here: a reformed Islam capable of living with religious and political pluralism could be an ally in the struggle against what Benedict once called the "dictatorship of relativism." In any event, an Islam recognizing religious freedom and affirming the separation of religious and political authority would be good for Muslims who want to live in peace with their neighbors, and good for the rest of the world. The stakes couldn't be higher.

Benedict knows that, just as he knew exactly what he was doing at Regensburg. He won't see the fruits of his labors, as John Paul II saw the fruits of June 1979. He has, however, set in motion new dynamics in contemporary history, which is no small accomplishment.

The Master Teacher
Modern popes matter in spiritual microcosm as well as historical macrocosm. John Paul II touched, and changed, millions of lives. Go to an American seminary today and ask the seminarians who their priestly role model is. Or visit a parish marriage-preparation course and see how John Paul's "Theology of the Body" is reshaping the Catholic understanding of marriage, sexuality and family life. Graduate schools of theology are filled with students writing dissertations on the thought of John Paul II, whose intellectual impact on Catholicism will reverberate for centuries.

Benedict's personal influence on Catholics is perhaps less dramatic, but it is no less real to those who have seen or heard him personally. Joseph Ratzinger is one of the most learned men in the world; he is also a master teacher who can unpack complex Christian doctrines in an accessible way. That helps explain why he continues to draw enormous crowds to his Wednesday general audiences, some larger than those drawn by his predecessor. The tag line in some Roman circles is that "People came to see John Paul II; they come to hear Benedict XVI." That contrast is too sharply drawn, but Benedict's skills as a teacher have certainly touched a significant 21st-century yearning for solid religious food. His first two encyclicals, on love and hope, were consciously framed to speak to the fears of a deeply conflicted world by reminding the world of Christianity's basic message.

Benedict's catechetical skills with children are also striking. Six months after his election, he met thousands of Italian 8- and 9-year-olds who had just made their first communion. One of them asked how Jesus could be present in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist when "I can't see him!"

To which the pope replied, "No, we cannot see him; there are many things we do not see, but they exist and are essential … We do not see an electric current; yet we see that it exists. We can see that this microphone is working, and we see lights. We do not see the very deepest things, those that really sustain life and the world, but we can see and feel their effects … So it is with the Risen Lord: we do not see him with our eyes, but we see that wherever Jesus is, people change, they improve, there is a greater capacity for peace, for reconciliation …"

Another youngster asked why the church urged frequent confession. Benedict answered: "It's very helpful to confess with a certain regularity. It is true: our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same … Otherwise the dirt might not be seen, but it builds up. Something similar can be said about the soul, about me: if I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I'm always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must work hard to improve …"

What the pope can say so winsomely to children, he will likely say to adults during his American pilgrimage: "Look again at the basics of Catholic faith and practice. They exist for a reason. They just may satisfy the hungers of the human heart. Give them a chance."

Popes matter in ways that challenge our conventional thinking about the way the world works. Popes no longer claim the power to bring penitent princes to their knees in the snow, as Gregory VII did with Henry IV; the modern papacy deploys a greater power, the power to propose and persuade, religiously and morally. Popes matter by changing lives and changing history.

Which, as it happens, was the only power Saint Peter had.

Read a different view on the pope's visit from NEWSWEEK's Lisa Miller.


Understanding the Gendered Jesus - Part 2; Graham Ward's Christ and Culture

Previously in this series;

Preface to Theology and Gendered Ministry

Framing Gender Differences

Understanding the Gendered Jesus - Part 1; Graham Ward's Cities of God

Having outlined the theological significance of Jesus’ body Ward, in his chapter “Divinity and Sexual Difference,” looks more specifically at the implications of his theological context of gender differences. Ward guides his discussion with the work of Luce Irigaray whose primary focus in the relationship between religion and gender is the existence of difference, space and desire. To maintain that Christ was humanly only as a man among other men forecloses difference, space and desire (which requires two) and demands that women must identify with the masculine gender for salvation. Difference must be maintained in gender because “sexual difference seems to me to assure the limits of being human which allows space for the divine.”[1] If Christ is the body of salvation then Jesus must somehow be more than just masculine. Some have argued that Irigaray’s position returns to a biological essentialism of heterosexual difference. Ward rejects this saying that her framing of sexual difference between the role of the phallus and two lips of the vagina is symbolic noting that they “do not necessarily map into bodies possessing male and female genitalia.”[2] Irigaray then looks to the body of Christ with the knowledge that it may contain more maleness. She finds that “there appears, in the form of a wound (his side), the place that, in women, is naturally open.”[3] It is within Christ himself that sexual difference may be maintained in particular contexts. And why is sexual difference important? In the Bible it is in the space of separation, difference and desire that creation and redemption occurs. “Desire is both the creator and the creation of space. Only where there is space, where there is distance, where there is difference, can there be love that desires, that draws, that seeks participation. . . . In the beginning God created by a process of separation.”[4]

This drawing into intimate relationship and the act of creation is not dissolution of the self. The space must be maintained and not foreclosed as the logic of patriarchy had it. In this space “we” emerge knowing more fully both “you” and “I.” There are two important post-resurrection stories that illustrate this. In John’s Gospel Mary encounters Jesus, but does not recognize him. Ward frames the encounter as heterosexual and one of desire. As Jesus calls her name she is drawn into desire and recognizes the partner in the space (Rabboni!). The recognition of this space prompts an immediate response and she draws into an intimate embrace with Jesus. Jesus tells her not to cling to him, the space must not be foreclosed, because he must return to God for this space to be inscribed in their faith. The other encounter is Thomas and Jesus. Thomas is the opposite of Mary. He is distant, isolating himself from the possibility of intimate space. Jesus must come to him and say reach out your hand and put it into my side. Place your hand in the place, that, in women, is naturally open. Here in this space there is also revelatory recognition, My Lord and my God! Here we have a ‘homosexual’ encounter in which the space of sexual difference is still able to be created. In both these examples sexual difference is created, regardless of biology. Wards states that “there is no theology of sexual difference, then, only the production of sexual difference in a theological relation. The encounter with Christ installs both the difference and its erotic form, its sexuate nature.”[5]

All relationships then produce sexual difference and carry an erotic nature (economy of desire). Theologically then we must think carefully through what it means to relate in Christ. “A body is, if you like, always in transit, always exceeding its significance or transgressing the limits of what appears. . . . The body exists fluidly in a number of operations between reception and response, between degrees of desire / repulsion, recognition / misrecognition, and passivity / activity.”[6] The body cannot be confined and reduced, it is in this continual negotiation that creation, love and salvation occurs. Gender is an expression of difference acting out within our various relationships in the body of Christ.

Ward offers a substantially different framework for understanding gender. Most scientific (and theological) approaches to the study of gender attempt to ultimately foreclose categories; to confine, dissect and analyze. This leaves individuals and groups working with prescriptive categories that do not apply to everyone and are often unjust in their relationship to other social groups. Ward does not discard biology as the body remains the primary site of meaning. It is, however, in the ongoing reality of relationships, of space, that allows people’s experience to be fully gendered, fully human.

[1] Christ and Culture, 139.

[2] Ibid., 139-40.

[3] Ibid., 140.

[4] Ibid., 145.

[5] Ibid., 154.

[6] Ibid., 157.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Full of Full Texts

Well worth exploring what is all being added here for download.


Understanding the Gendered Jesus - Part 1; Graham Ward's Cities of God

The theological paradigm of gender that I am adopting is taken directly from the work of Graham Ward in his books Cities of God and Christ and Culture.[1] Ward’s chapter “The Displaced Body of Jesus Christ” in Cities of God outlines his particular understanding of the gendered Jesus. In this chapter Ward finds in the Gospels the instability of Jesus’ gender. From birth Jesus appears to issue from promise and not from copulation. Jesus comes from virgin flesh and the line of Joseph. In medical terms the male Jesus who is circumcised (we assume his biology is confirmed here) issues from the XX chromosomal femaleness of his mother. Through his life the body of Jesus exhibits unusual expressions. “This man can walk on water. This man can sweat blood. This man can bring life. This man can multiply material so that five thousand are fed from a few loaves and fish. This man can heal by touch; and not just heal but create – wine from water, the eyes of the man born blind, the ear of the Temple guard.”[2] The body of Jesus and the material in contact with him are destabilized and often undergoes transfigurations. “I am the way, the truth, the life, the Temple, the bread, the light, the vine, and the gate.”[3] Christ is gendered but not bound by a gender. In his body Jesus transcends gender taking bread, breaking it and saying this is my body. Ward also points to Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain saying that the ‘body’ of God’s glory was shown through Christ’s body. At the eucharist Christ breaks his body so that a new social embodiment might be revealed. “Bodies are not only transfigurable, they are transposable. In being transposable, while always being singularities and specificities, the body of Christ can cross boundaries, ethnic boundaries, gender boundaries, socio-economic boundaries for example. Christ’s body as bread is no longer Jesus as simply and biologically male.”[4]
At the crucifixion Jesus’ body is objectified, degendered, displaced as it is acted upon as meat and not human. But that is only in relation to the structural powers of law. Theologically the body is still displaced, distanced, but it is also gendered in the feminine as mother. The pierced side of Jesus issues blood and water birthing the church. In the eucharistic body we are joined through taking in Christ. In the crucified body we are dispelled from the side of Christ. Ward draws great significance for us as we are caught up in these movements. Ward is worth commenting in full here,

It is not simply that the physical body of Jesus is displaced in the Christian story, our bodies too participate in that displacement in and through the crucifixion. At the eucharist we receive and are acted upon; now having been brought into relation and facing the acknowledgement of the breaking of that relation readers recognize displacement of the body as part of Christian living. Our bodies too, sexually specific, will perform in ways which transgress the gendered boundaries of established codes. In the Christian tradition which follows, men will become mothers . . . women will become virile.[5]

At the resurrection Christ’s body is raised corporeal but exhibits itself as even more unstable then in his prior life. He is now able to disappear, hide his identity and walk through walls. This increased instability reinforces to us that Christ’s identity and perhaps the identity of bodies in general cannot be finally determined, they keep their mystery and are able to offer revelation from that place.[6] Ward writes that,

The appearance / disappearance structure of Christ’s resurrected body serves to emphasize the mediation of that body – its inability to be fully present, to be an object to be grasped, catalogued, atomized, comprehended. The appearance / disappearance serves as a focus for what has been evident throughout – the body as a mystery, as a materiality which can never fully reveal, must always conceal, something of the profundity of its existence.[7]

With the ascension Jesus’ body receives its final displacement. Ward is quick to point out though “that displacement is not the erasure but the expansion of the body.”[8] In many ways it is Paul who is our interpreter of the ascended body of Christ when he writes in Colossians that the Church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. “The final displacement of the gendered body of Jesus Christ, always aporetic and transgressing boundaries, is the multigendered body of the Church.”[9] As the crucifixion is turned onto its head as an event of birthing so to the ascending of Christ, Christ ‘leaving,’ is a creating of space for the divine-human relationship which Ward states clearing as re-establishing,

a new anthropology, a new way of being human as being en Christo as the church. . . . The body of Jesus Christ, the body of God, is permeable, transcorporeal, transpositional. Within it all other bodies are situated and given their significance. We are all permeable, transcorporeal, transpositional. ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ.’ . . . The body of Christ is a multigendered body.[10]

[1] Graham Ward, Cities of God (New York: Routledge, 2000); Christ and Culture (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).

[2] Cities of God, 100.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 103.

[5] Ibid., 106.

[6] Ibid., 109.

[7] Ibid., 111.

[8] Ibid., 112.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 113.