Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Conversion

In Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa awakes from some "unsettling dreams" to find himself "changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin." Gregor is now a bug and must now live out this reality. As we gather from the proceeding narrative this change was not unrelated to how he perceived himself before this occurrence both at his work and at home with his sister and parents. However, one morning things were entirely different.
It took some time to realize the similarities with the sermon I preached this past Sunday. It was on three parables (Matthew 13:44-50). The parables are about conversion and judgment. In the first two parables treasure is found. The one who finds the treasure sells all to obtain it. The third parable is about the end of the age when angels are sent out to judge between righteousness and wickedness. Kafka's work was a confirmation of the reality of conversion, a term that is almost entirely unpopular. Kafka reminds us that perhaps conversion is not a one-way street and that there may be a downward conversion or anti-conversion. Our existence is always in movement. Some conversions have been sought and received and perhaps others have been the result of a mid-life realization that one's youth and vision has been utterly replaced. If we do not place ourselves before the transcendent Giver then we will remain subject the forces of existential gravity.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Time That Remains

Giorgio Agamben's The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans is an exposition of the first verse of Romans and with it the Apostle Paul's concept of messianism and, eventually, its relationship to the work of Walter Benjamin. This was one of the more interdisciplinary works that I have read. The result was that I often felt critical of his linguistic approach to the NT text, appreciative of his philosophical sensibilities, and completely lost in much of his political theory.
Agamben is concerned with the implications of what he understands messianic time to be in the writings of Paul. Messianic time is neither historical-chronological nor apocalyptic. Messianic time is the space that opens up within our chronological experience. Agamben likens this to the reality opened up within the metrical system of rhyming poetry stating that "rhyme issues from Christian poetry as a metrical-linguistic transcodification of messianic time." The poem remains within historical time but opens a new space within it, what I would understand as a type of aesthetic space in which experience and meaning emerge in excess. Agamben is much more interested in the political and juridical implications of this thinking which I do not fully follow.
Interested in the role of law in Paul's messianism Agamben concludes that the messianic abolishes the space between the sign and meaning. Paul does not serve Jesus the Messiah but Jesus Messiah. "Paul does not believe that Jesus possesses the quality of being the Messiah; he believes in 'Jesus Messiah' and that is all." I take this to be communion and Agamben explores this as the living word within us. For Agamben this means that "there is no such thing as a content of faith." To believe in the messiah is not to believe something about him. This nearness to the word acts rendering the word of law inoperative "in de-creating and dismantling the states of fact or of law, making them freely available for use." And it is this nearness to the word that ultimately "extinguishes languages."

Agamben's work has confirmed for me the enduring value of exploring an aesthetic understanding of the sacred and the potentiality of our world and experience.
"There is another world, and it is the same as this one."


Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Image is Everything

Sifting through some old pictures I knew at some point that I would come across this one. This was taken about 10 years (that's right boys) at a Zao show in some dingy little house on the outskirts of Seattle. Other than the local Winnipeg Christian hardcore scene (which in retrospect was really quite good) this was my first hard-hardcore show. I absolutely love this picture. Centered in the frame is the trendy rock-a-billy kid (does that still have currency?). Then to the left is the tough guy, face grimaced, thrusting a poor kid into the fray. Then on the right is a guy pulling off three stellar moves. First he is shark position with his left hand raised to enter the water. For added hardness he sports the teddy-bear (anyone want to make something of it!). To top it off he's got a guy in a full choke hold, with his victim still trying to bust out some of his own moves.

For those of you new to hardcore dancing see the following helpful videos,

"How to Hardcore Dance"
(Ah, I'll never forget when Kev introduced to the world of hardcore dance in my dorm room. Yes this video is terrible I know.)

For other equally horrible hardcore dance instructions see here and here

"The Origins of Hardcore Dancing"
(Sorry a couple of f-bombs in the song being played here but it was sooo good. Notice how even the choke-hold was evidenced in these humble beginnings)

"Hardcore dance Drive-by"


Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Hope Filled Quote

"A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." - Thomas Mann


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Christ and Culture

The cover image of Graham Ward’s Christ and Culture is Caravaggio’s Doubting Thomas. The sensuality, grace and revelation communicated in this image infuses Ward’s text. Take the most graphic aspect of the image in Christ pulling back his robe guiding Thomas’s finger into the spread flesh of Christ’s wound. For Ward this represents how our concept of an erotic relationship is taken up into a larger spiritual or divine economy. Whereas Jesus’s post-resurrection encounter with Mary re-images a relational intimacy calling to mind Eden or Song of Songs so too Jesus’s post-resurrection encounter with Thomas employs erotic dynamics of sexual-spirituality. Ward quotes Luce Irigaray, “In the body of the Son of Man there appears, in the form a wound, the place that, in women, is naturally open.” (140) Ward reminds us of John’s testimony to the blood and water flowing from the wound of Jesus. Ward moves away from vulgar accounts of sexuality and erotic relationships as ends in themselves. In this way Ward is able to speak of the erotic relationship to Christ because “it is the completion or perfection of what is most desired in sexual intimacy; sexual intimacy being an intimation of the divine relation that operates between God and human beings.” (109) This allows substantial critiques and opportunities to engage the poverty of modern sexuality as well as more vigorous interpretations of such texts as Song of Songs and Paul’s analogy of the church as bride.

Another key aspect of Ward’s work is his discussion on the kenotic nature of Christ, that is, the giving or emptying aspect of his life and death (see Phil 2:5-11). The self-emptying of Christ is also set within the context of embodiment and sensuality. Our basic existence flows from our being a center of “touch”. We are covered in that which feels. Even our other senses are also centers of touch. In self-giving our “self” rises to greater extents to the level of touch and participation with the world around us and with that further away from any positions of “self”-centeredness. With Christ’s self-emptying he actually becomes the space that separates us from God and each other. I will need to re-read much of these sections as the subtleties are not altogether clear to me. However, one of the implications of this thinking is in the reading of Scripture. Reading Scripture becomes a spiritual exercise in which we dwell in the space of the Word. To bear fruit in the Word is to participate in the emptying dispossessed self of Christ were sign and meaning cannot be controlled or fixed but received and reflected. Here allegory becomes the dominant mode of communication and “a sacred space is opened. . . . This space can neither be limited nor defined.” (240) Meaning that emerges though is not arbitrary or relative though it is relational, being brought into relationship with the canonical Scripture, interpretive communities, and the living God keep the text is kept from being dominated hermeneutically. Taking seriously limited nature of human perception Ward writes that “Knowledge of God can only issue from allegory, an allegory created as the invisible operates through the visible, an allegory created by infinite love.” (243)

Ward offers a tremendous vision for a non-modern account of Christ and culture.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Shine Like Transfiguration

I finished reading Gilead this past week. The novel records the ailing John Ames attempt to pass on a type of biography to his young son whom he conceived late in life. Much of the narrative is proverbial in nature as insights and reflections ebb and flow with little sense of overall plot development. I talked one person who stopped reading it for this reason. However, the "story" begins to emerge in the second half of the book as past reflections and present circumstances overlap. In many ways Gilead represented for me the ability of writing and reflection to bring healing through the gentle exposure of ourself to ourself. Marilynne Robinson hints at this broader image of revelation throughout her work as the pastor John Ames continually muses on the surprise of God in creation. Towards the end of the book we read,

Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing except a willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?


Monday, July 09, 2007

The Lord's Left Hand

I had a dream last night that I was punching someone's face. After some time the man I was punching said to me, "You know your right hand really makes an impact but I can hardly feel your left." Lately I have been reflecting on my future education possibilities. My recent reading has reawakened some old interests that I wanted to pursue when I was at McMaster. As I was thinking about how I might eventually pick this back up a memory from high school struck me. Having reached 6 feet around grade 9 I was a pretty good little basketball player. However, as I grew older one guy noticed that I never dribbled with my left hand. He constantly exposed this weakness in me. It was of course at this time that I remembered the dream from the night before. Even if my overall goal was to be a basketball player (or boxer, or a theologian, or a pastor, or a Christian, etc.) I still need to develop the weaker aspects of my game. I suppose this observation is common enough but it is nice to be struck by it (with a relatively gentle left) in a timely way.