Friday, August 31, 2007

A Moratorium on Solutions to the Problem of Religious Dialogue

Most who know me know that I have few buttons that can be pressed to evoke any sort of dramatic response. Often enough I don’t even recognize intended insults. But for some reason when someone solves the “problem” of religious tension with one fell swoop in a newspaper editorial I start to get a kink my neck and a desire to ridicule both the person’s face and their mother.

See here for said article in local newspaper.

For a few weeks The Kitchener Record experienced some brief volleying over views on religious differences.
Enter Michael Cahill. He summarizes that,

Second Opinion columns and letters to the editor have attempted to explain and defend some of the positions and issues. Let me paraphrase some of the relevant submissions, "all religions share a belief in their own truth" and also, "we shouldn't discriminate against people of faith." Assertions like these are, of course, quite mistaken, but not in the way you are probably thinking.

Oh yes Michael those poor imbeciles have got it all wrong, but what is this? Not in the way I was thinking? Do go on.
Michael swaggers out with his opening line to catch us off guard with his brash and edgy outlook,

I, quite frankly, believe in very little, and have faith in very little else. Having said that, allow me to try and put some things into context.

I don’t know what to believe anymore Michael. Help. I need some guidance.

When we are at our very best as people, we will meet each other as we are. As individuals, regardless of how we feel, or how we look, we meet each other and become friends, neighbours, and co-workers. We all share in common the daily aggravations of life.

Ah yes the ties that bind. Our dog peeing on the newspaper, our pesky kids pulling off some crazy hijinks. Why can’t we just communicate that to the Iraqis? Or the troubled youth wanted to take his life or others. I’ll get on it. But, why does it seem so hard to get this crucial point across?

If we see each other through the distorting lens of our own self-interest -- religious or cultural -- then we have become victims of corporate media and AM talk radio.

Ayyyeee. I didn’t know that AM talk radio was big enough to have a separate branch from corporate media! This is serious. But you have cleared yourself of such self-interest Michael. Enlighten me.

[insert four sentence re-cap of the history of religious pluralism]

Now, after several centuries of living together I'm sure that we, as people, have all learned that one does not wander into a Zoroastrian worship space and yell "fire," and one does not show up late for synagogue eating a bacon sandwich.

Surely we have all come this far.

Again, if only we had a team of translators working on this for the various dialects in Iraq. Perhaps it would be helpful to share some of your own experience Michael.

I share with my good friend Kaz the observance of Ramadan, and an annual beard-growing contest. My friend Bhupi is one of Canada's most talented mehendhi artists (henna tattoos). She is also a devout Hindu. And her husband Sanjeev makes the most wicked martinis in Cambridge.

And my old chum Margot Sangster, the noted Buddhist philosopher, once said to me, "Yes, we all take different paths up the same mountain."

How would you summarize if you had to wax philosophically on the matter?

Regardless of our individual faiths we share a common starting point, and a common destination. When we as people differ, when there is conflict, it is because of narrow self-interest and politics. It's not because of faith.

To be aware of, and celebrate our differences, be they religious or otherwise, is a form of discrimination in and of itself. It is to our credit that we do so. And let's recognize that no one religion is the one true path to anywhere -- recent statements from the Vatican notwithstanding.

So sayeth Michael Cahill. Amen.

I am not entirely sure why this is such a button for me. For a time there was a stream of liberal rhetoric that I wanted to buy into but now pieces like this just drip with an arrogance and not-so-subtle colonialism that just grates.

Regardless of our individual faiths we share a common starting point, and common destination.
So that which is beyond human experience unites us.

When we as people differ, when there is conflict, it is because of narrow self-interest and politics. It's not because of faith.
It is the details of the life in between that is the problem.

And let's recognize that no one religion is the one true path to anywhere.

What the hell does that even mean?

I call for a moratorium on any solutions for religious dialogue.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Transcedence, Immanence and the Sacred

Much of my thinking and reading lately has come to a head over the issue of immanence and transcendence. In recent blogosphere ventures I encountered several posts on the issue (Larval Subjects here and here, Rough Theory, Transcendental Enquiries). There is understandable criticism over forms of transcendence which need to appeal to something outside in order to explain things or solve things. This of course is the common domain of much religious expression as well as Hollywood plot making where a miraculous visitor or event intervenes to change the course of someone’s life. This is part of the overall criticism of the weakness of religion, religion as a crutch.

My interest in transcendence does not grow out of a need to appeal to something beyond what we can see, experience or explain. However, I also do not assume that humans have the resources or senses to bring all of reality under a loosely scientific model of inquiry and explanation. That may lead some to view my thinking or theory as weak. I am beginning to understand that what I am concerned with is the relational aspect of reality. To paraphrase Nietzsche, “Suppose truth was a relationship – what then?” This is definitely a structural approach to reality. Meaning arises in contextual relationships.

I am however not satisfied with the view that this leads to an evasion of meaning, that meaning is endlessly deferred. This is I suppose where people explicitly or implicitly appeal to a transcendent source to stabilize or deliver meaning. This is where I begin to move towards what may be viewed as an incarnational (any other terms available?) view of reality. What I mean by this is that all of reality, reality as such, has its being (ontology) in a certain potential which as of yet has not bowed and submitted to human colonization. This is where the poetic and aesthetic become most helpful. The poetic respects the possibility of reality. My guiding quote in the header is becoming more and more significant for my thought, “There is another world, and it is the same as this one.” Beauty has not yielded her secrets but she still invites. This is not some plea for something “outside” to clarify or correct. This is the eternal task of relationship, of taking ourselves out of a perceived centre and hovering around the sacred absence necessary for relationship. This in turn leaves not a deferral of meaning but honouring its abundance.

Criticize where necessary. This is certainly a work in progress.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rilke - Letter 3: Part II

Rilke offers interesting commentary on art, sexuality and gender. Though many comparisons exist between the birthing process of human life and of art Rilke encourages further that the artist offer the truly human in the artistic process. In this letter Rilke refers to the poet Richard Dehmel as one who writes in heat. He acknowledges that such writing indeed moves him, that Dehmel’s “poetic power is great, strong as a primitive instinct; it has its own unyielding rhythms in itself and breaks out of him as out of mountains.” But he continues to say that, “this power is not always honest.” Rilke claims that Dehmel’s artistic urge as “it comes to the sexual” does not find a “clean” sex world, that is it is not sufficiently human.

“[It] is only male, is heat, intoxication and restlessness, and laden with the old prejudices and arrogances with which man has disfigured and burdened love. Because he loves as man only, not as human being, for this reason there is in his sexual feeling something narrow, seeming wild, spiteful, time-bound, uneternal, that diminishes his art and makes it ambiguous and doubtful. It is not immaculate, it is marked by time and by passion, and little of it will survive and endure. (But most art is like that!) Nevertheless one may deeply rejoice in what there is of greatness in it, only one must not lost oneself in it.”

In the realm of art and beauty categories of male and female carry significant currency. In earlier posts I reflected on the role the feminine womb or interior played in spiritual formation. Here Rilke warns of the heat and restlessness of the masculine. It is receiving the artistic urge “in community,” in the “clean” sex world of the human that abiding beauty emerges. I am intrigued by Rilke’s notion of a “clean sex world”. This image both evokes and distances itself from cultic representations of the sacred in the Hebrew Bible. Having sex rendered one ceremonially unclean and required a distancing from the holiness of God. However, the union between God and humanity is often rendered in sexual terms. As with Rilke this too is conceived of as a (ceremonially) “clean sex world”. In the New Testament this would be expressed with the image of “the pure spotless bride”. In the Bible as with Rilke this union emerges only in trust and humility. In the Bible this is conceived in the act and life of worship for Rilke this is conceived in the space within and beyond ourselves (trust), “in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence.” In this space the artist is called to “await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity.”


Monday, August 27, 2007

Theology and Philosophy

Check out this post at Larval Subjects. If the post itself does not interest you take a look at the comments section. I waded in over my intellectual head on the debate between philosophy and theology. Larval Subjects made some of the most clear and concise arguments for their separation that I have comes across in a while. Hopefully I can post more fully on some of my reflections after that engagement.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rilke on Poetry - Letter 3: Part I

"Let me here promptly make a request: read as little as possible of aesthetic criticism - such things are either partisan views, petrified and grown senseless in their lifeless induration, or they are clever quibblings in which today one view wins and tomorrow the opposite. Works of art are of infinite loneliness and with nothing so little to be reached as with criticism."

I am attempted to be a little more critical (pun possibly intended) here of Rilke, although I am sure this is the wearied experience of many an academic. I am critical only to the extent that it is not necessary to rule out criticism as such. I would look more to George Steiner in his Real Presences whose project seems to be the banishment of the secondary. He did not outlaw criticism but only those criticisms that could not stand up with their own internal merit.
Even here I am hesitant only because following either Rilke or Steiner would mean the end of most of the blogosphere (not the worst thought of course). I have often been tempted to leave a final post telling people get off-line and sink their hands in the nearest patch of loose soil.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Rilke on Poetry - Letter 1

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a series of ten letters to the aspiring poet, Franz Xaver Kappus. This was a response to Kappus' desire for critical and constructive feedback from the poet. Kappus asks the loaded question of Rilke, "Are my verses good?"
Rilke perceives that he is not the first to have been asked that by Kappus, namely that Kappus has submitted his work to editors and been rejected. Rilke responds,

I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only a single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all - ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night:
must I write? . . . And if this should be affirmative . . . then try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose.

And if out of this turning inward, out of this absorption into your own world
verses come, then it will not occur to you to ask anyone whether they are good verses.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What is it Again that I am Doing?

I am beginning to challenge my sub-title of exploring A Social and Theological Cartography. I think that my work is sufficiently theological but I am not sure what I mean by exploring a “social cartography”. I do not have much of a head (or at least background) for social and political theory. I am of course concerned with the social in terms of place, people and relationships (of whatever sort; economic, physical, cultural, linguistic, etc.).

What is it exactly, however, that I am “charting”? As it stands my sub-title appears to be dividing the sacred and secular. However, my guiding image is the quote by Rilke which speaks of the other world which is this one. In many respects my cartographic method is more literary/aesthetic/poetic (with a touch of philosophy) than social (at least in terms of theory or method). Am I charting social and theological realities or am I in the end simply trying to chart The Real via these tools. If I may be so presumptuous as to assume that I hope to chart reality (leaving the term unqualified) then I think it may be unnecessary or inappropriate to speak of my work as a “social cartography” as I have been more or less convinced of the modern construction of the social. I am not entirely comfortable with the adjective “theological” mostly because I do not find myself working alongside many of the theological projects in the blogosphere (I am using this reference given my medium).

Somewhere in the midst of this is a concern for holiness or the sacred and the forms it takes or the forms we shape around it. My guiding image of what a map is flows from the Tabernacle which was embedded in the life of Hebrews and helped them navigate the reality of God-Among-Us. Perhaps I hope to map the sacred. But this too is not right. The most sacred space in the Tabernacle or Temple was between the wings of Cherubim and was an absence. Is it then a phenomenology of the sacred? Perhaps. But I don’t know enough about that term to use it.

Do I resign myself to pursue
A Social and Philosophical/Aesthetic/Theological Cartography . . . of (Sacred?) Reality.

Perhaps all that we end up charting is ourselves, our interior and exterior location (see posts and comments below) and three-dimensional structures (such as the Tabernacle and culture) are built as our maps are further constructed in relationship.
And, if prostrated, perhaps the sacred will move within.


Anglican Church of Canada

For those of you who had some passing interest in the General Synod held in Winnipeg for the Anglican Church of Canada I recently came across an account that simplified and clarified what happened regarding the issue of blessing same-sex union. The General Secretary for my conference attended as an ecumenical presence and gave this brief account (for his full account read here).

Their Synod is comprised of delegates of three “houses”: the House of the Laity (137 were present), the House of the Clergy (116 were present), and the House of Bishops (40 were present). Any motion/resolution must pass in all three Houses in order to be accepted. Defeat in any House means that a motion is defeated.

One of the more critical procedural issues was fixing the percentage of votes required for passing the resolutions. The original resolutions suggested 60%. There were some who attempted to move this to 67% over two consecutive Synods. That motion failed. Others then moved to change it to 50% plus one. That motion passed. As it turned out, none of the key resolutions gained 60% in all three Houses.

The issue at hand was clearly defined. They were attempting firstly to resolve whether the church has the authority to bless same-sex unions, and secondly where the authority to decide would lie. They dealt with these questions by addressing three key resolutions:
1. Whether the blessing of same-sex union was a doctrinal or simply a pastoral issue. The Theological Commission of the Primate that had studied the matter proposed that it is a doctrinal issue, but that it is not a “core” doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada. The first resolution asked delegates to agree to this understanding.
2. Whether the blessing of same-sex unions, as a doctrine, is in conflict with (or consistent with) the core doctrine of the Church. The Theological Commission recommended that it was “consistent with” the core doctrine of the Church. This was amended by delegate process to read that it is “not in conflict with” the core doctrine. The second resolution asked delegates to agree to this understanding.
3. The authority to decide whether or not to bless same-sex unions would lie at the level of the diocese. The resolution was seen to be “permissive and not prescriptive,” i.e., that each diocese be given the authority to decide whether the blessing would be permitted or not. The third resolution asked delegates to approve this “local authority – permissive but not prescriptive – option.”

The first resolution passed in all three Houses.
The second resolution also passed in all three Houses (although it was a very narrow margin in the House of Bishops - 21 in favour and 19 opposed).
The third resolution passed by in the Houses of the Laity and Clergy, but was defeated by a narrow margin in the House of Bishops (19 in favour and 21 opposed).

There was confusion after this synod and I finally understand why. The church was not ready to put into practice what it affirmed doctrinally (i.e. that the issue was "not in conflict with the core doctrine" of the Anglican church)

Anyway, for any of you who may care to know.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Poet of Ordinary

In his Letters to a Young Poet Rainer Maria Rilke rejects any notion that a poet require an "eventful life" to write good poetry.
He writes,
If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place. And even if you were in some prison the walls of which let none of the sounds of the world come to your senses - would you not then still have your childhood, that precious kingly possession, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention thither.

After reading this first letter of a collection of ten I turned to the other book I had with me, Marcel Proust's Swann's Way. The first 50 pages are an expansive and metaphysical/aesthetic account of his anxiety over being with his mother. Towards the end of this account he pours over a childhood experience of eating a piece of cake and tea.
He writes,
No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestions of its origin.

In an attempt to recapture this feeling he continues to eat and drink but realizes that the experience is only weakened and so concludes that,
It is plain that the object of my quest, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The tea has called up in me, but does not itself understand, and can only repeat indefinitely, with a gradual loss of strength, the same testimony.

His reflection continues,
I put down my cup and examine my mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail nothing. Seek? More than that; create. It is face to face to with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.

Proust continues to trace his pursuit for a few more pages before accepting the loss of what he could not retrieve and return to the routine of the everyday at which point he receives the gift he was searching for, the memory triggered by the tea and cake.

I am beginning to recognize the real significance of poetry. There is reckless and abundant meaning in its care. You begin to suspect that every room that you enter whether physically or in mind drips with meaning and possibility and that all that can be known is there to enter into. As the quote in my header suggests,
There is another world, and it is the same as this one.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Quote of the Day

I use iGoogle to get some basic news and info feeds and I subscribed to a quote of a day and, well, some of them are actually pretty good.

"Nietzsche was stupid and abnormal." - Leo Tolstoy

On a further note there are several Ernest Hemingway quotes that keep coming up and they are all quite lame.


The Space of Life II

In Hester Prynne the body carries and births the desire of the soul and act of the flesh. In Rev. Dimmesdale all remains buried and cancerous in the heart. Hester continues to live with her act through her child and on her chest. She is drawn inward judged by world and by herself for seven years. She offers only acts of survival and charity. She is emerging to me as one of the clearest examples of Protestant monasticism. Rev. Dimmesdale remains the model of fierce righteous preservation. He is the priest offering strange fire on the alter.
I am noticing more and more the aspect of feminine bearing.
Mother Mary bore the Messiah within her womb and pondered within her heart. Hester and Mary are structurally made with cells that monks seek to reside. Teresa of Avila is able to explore her Interior Castle.
In her opening discourse she writes,
I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions. If we reflect, sisters, we shall see that the soul of the just man is but a paradise, in which, God tells us, He takes His delight.
Let us imagine, as I said, that there are many rooms in this castle, of which some are above, some below, others at the side; in the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse.

Listen then to how St. John of the Cross in his Ascent of Mount Carmel sets out on his path of communion with God.
Wherein the soul sings of the happy chance which it had in passing through the dark night of faith, in detachment and purgation of itself, to union with the Beloved.

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings — oh, happy chance! —
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised — oh, happy chance! —
In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.

In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.

There is of course much that overlaps between the two writers but the initial images are striking. Teresa understands implicitly that she carries a space to bear communion with God. John of the Cross must flee in the night to find his lover. I think these images offer great insight into reflections on gender and homelessness/homecoming.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Well Aged Youth

I recently stumbled across Willy Mason (current video on IndieVision). The video to the right is from his first album. He released this around the age of 20 (jerk). His youth is fairly evident in it. However, his second album, If the Ocean Gets Rough (released about two years later) is ridiculously mature. When I first listened to it I assumed Willy was a seasoned singer/songwriter writing from the crucible of a long and weathered life. When I found out his age I looked into him a little more and found that I he came from a rich line of artists. You could begin to feel in him that there is a genealogy to beauty.
On his website there is such a self-awareness. Regarding his family's house-turned-studio we read,
3+ generations of personas and artifacts have passed through its moist, shady, and mostly mold-free interior, thus decorating its shelves and air molecules with a rustic and volatile stew of thought and melody. . . . [If] you think Willy Mason is some species of hot writer/musicianer, wait till you hear/read/see the unwieldy heavy brain matter of the ancestors/heroes/contemporaries he has ripped off over the years and is now shamelessly peddling.

Here is "The World that I Wanted" off of his new album. Sorry for the poor visual but the audio is alright.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Space of Life

Willem immediately understood what he heard. The sentences were few and simple but it was only later that night that their significance began to well up in his heart overflowing into his body and mind. It was as though knowledge or perhaps truth or whatever it is that words can carry actually had weight to it. It pressed him down on the rustled sheets of his bed. Then as though his nose were too heavy to be held upright his head slowly fell to his left and turned towards the window where he caught the light the moon. The moonlight held his gaze and he lay there motionless drifting away from what he was coming to realize. A slight kink in his neck broke the trance and he tilted his head slightly to stretch it out. With his head now facing the window at a new angle the moon somehow looked different. Willem sat up in bed and broke the silence by something between a laugh and sigh. The window was open at an angle and the moon that he saw was only a reflection. . . . The moon was not there. He took heart and almost allowed a smile. What he thought he had was no longer his. His life was not his own. His life was at the mercy of . . . what? He wondered what exactly was holding him together?

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

In taking the narrow way . . . there is room only for self-denial, and the Cross, which is the staff by which one may reach one’s goal, and whereby the road is greatly lightened and made easy. . . . For if anyone resolves to submit themselves to carrying this cross – that is to say, if they resolve to desire in truth to meet trials and to bear them in all things for God’s sake, they will find in them all great relief and sweetness that they may travel upon this road, detached from all things and desiring nothing. However, if they desire to possess anything – whether it come from God or from any other source – with any feeling of attachment, they have not stripped and denied themselves in all things; and thus they will be unable to walk along this narrow path. . . . I would then convince spiritual persons that this road to God consists not in a multiplicity of meditations nor in ways or methods of such . . . but that it consists only in the one thing that is needful, which is the ability to deny oneself truly, according to that which is without and that which is within.
- St. John of the Cross

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

And so we enter the tight and constricted space with the jagged pressures of distress and chaos. But once inside there is the promise of transformation, the sweetness of the Cross described above. And in time our breathing that was once anxious and short in this tight space will grow deeper and more relaxed and the space that felt so confining will take on the smooth and supportive contours of a mother’s womb waiting to birth new life.
- Sermon August 5th