Friday, June 27, 2008

Junk Mail

I haven't figured out how to set better junk e-mail restrictions on Outlook and so I have to do a lot of deleting every morning. There is a preview pane to see e-mails before you actually open them. Sometimes I smile a little at whatever one-liner is included, mostly I am disturbed at how many ways the penis can be referred to as a love 'weapon'. But this morning I just laughed,

Remember there was one dwarf that Snow White loved the best, the one with the big wang.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Little Terror

Zizek quoting Maximlien Robespierre on terror,

If the mainspring of popular government in peacetime is virtue, amid revolution it is at the same time virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue. It is less a special principle that a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country's most pressing needs.

I will set aside any qualitative judgments on that passage and consider whether the stick-up boy Omar Little from The Wire comes close to functioning in that role. A stick-up boy is someone who robs the drug dealers. Omar repeatedly talks about living by a code and when a drug dealer tries to pin a murder charge on him in revenge Omar has some credibility when he tells the police officers, "Did you ever know me to do a civilian?" More than this Omar operates with prompt, severe and inflexible actions. Another aspect of the revolutionary space that Zizek promotes is its radical egalitarianism. Omar runs with a tight group in which he himself is gay and includes his lover, women, and his blind "mentor" Butch.
I suspect Omar's mettle comes from a mixture of suffering (indicated by the giant scare across his face) as well as having a moral/spiritual framework from youth (in one scene he is attacked brining his mother to church). I have as yet to understand the 'human' role that would allow a revolutionary event that I understand Badiou or Zizek to advocate to be anything less than the terror that has occurred in the past.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Not Violent Enough

Zizek takes an entire chapter in In Defense of Lost Causes offering commentary on how we might understand Martin Heidegger's connection to Nazism. Zizek dismisses the characteristic justifications for this. 1) Heidegger was never really a Nazi, he just made superficial compromises in order to save what he could of the autonomy of the university. 2) Heidegger was, for a limited period, a sincerely committed Nazi; however, not only did he withdraw once he became aware of his blunder, but the acquaintance with Nazi power precisely enabled him to gain an insight into the nihilism of modern technology as the deployment of the unconditional will-to-power. 3) Heidegger was a Nazi, and there is nothing to reproach him with for this choice: in the early 1930s, it was a perfectly legitimate and understandable choice.
Zizek subtitles this chapter "Why Heidegger took the right step (albeit in the wrong direction) in 1933. He is interested in showing that Heidegger's association rather than being an anomaly or mistake was actually somehow deeply embedded in his overall thinking.

The association of course is not with the extermination of the Jews but with the possibility of revolution. What is sought through revolution is the creation of space, the suspension of temporality, and the emergence of something new. What becomes the criticism of the Nazism exertion of total power was not that it went too far but that it did not go far enough. What Heidegger hoped to address was the primal conflict in being that sustains the social order. This opens the way for Heidegger's discussion on violence. Zizek offers an extended quote,

Violence is usually seen in terms of the domain in which concurring compromise and mutual assistance set the standard for Dasein, and accordingly all violence is necessarily deemed only a disturbance and an offense. . . . The violent one, the creative on who sets forth into the unsaid, who breaks into the unthought, who compels what has never happened and makes appear what is unseen - this violent one stands at all times in daring. . . . Therefore the violence-doer knows no kindness and conciliation (in the ordinary sense), no appeasement and mollification by success or prestige and by their confirmation. . . . For such a one, disaster is the deepest and broadest Yes to the Overwhelming. . . . Essential de-cision, when it is carried out and when it resists the constantly pressing ensnarement in the everyday and customary, has to use violence. This act of violence, this decided setting out upon the way to the Being of beings, moves humanity out of the hominess of what is most directly nearby and what is usual.

It is this sort of thinking that has liberal critics condemning Heidegger as allowing space for such expressions as Nazism in his thinking. Zizek claims that to level this critique is to confuse the two violences. He writes in his typical style,

What one is tempted to add here is that, in the case of Nazism (and fascism in general), [is that] the constellation of violence is rather the opposite: crazy, tasteless even, as it may sound, the problem with Hitler was that he was not violent enough, that his violence was not 'essential' enough. Nazism was not radical enough, it did not dare to disturb the basic structure of the modern capitalist social space (which is why it had to focus on destroying an invented external enemy, Jews).

The courage that Heidegger sought that he did not find in Nazism was the courage to attack, with violence, the ontological order of being that sustained the social order. For this violence to be in some way transformative then it must someone be able to be turned also on one's self.
I am not entirely sure how I feel about this chapter but what it did raise for me was the question of violence in the Old Testament, particularly the 'Conquest Narratives'. What appears to be necessary for Heidegger and Zizek is the presence of totality in revolutionary movements, complete abandonment and commitment. There is this sort of absoluteness in the God's violent edicts of the Israelites entering the land. Reality consists of symbolic actions under the sovereignty of God. The actions of the Israelites needed to reflect complete trust in God. The sin of the people was not the violence but the half-measures of violence. The violence that still in some way served the people themselves. I am running out of steam and time here but the further question would then of course be how this relates to the question of violence and Jesus. Is there any sense in which Jesus acted as 'violent one' in order to open up the space of transformation?


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

That Sinking Feeling

In four days I will be preaching on the issue of Canada - First Nations relations. The texts that will be read are Exodus 3:7-15 and Philippians 2:1-11. At this point I feel simply sunk in the conflicting or ambiguous stories and the sheer complexity of it.

Initially I wanted to trace a theme of possession and ownership that still determines the relationship as it functions today but it is of course not simply binary as there is praise and corruption to be found at nearly all levels. It is one thing to sift through documentation dealing with land claims (I will not even wade in here). I have no doubt that First Nations people have legitimate claims here but when documentation is penned by those in authority who are known to have had questionable characters and motives it must be frustrating trying to agree on the "primary sources". I am thinking also of the residential school system which our prime minister will be apologizing for in 10 minutes time. There have clearly been atrocious physical and sexual abuses that have occurred as native children were often forcibly removed from homes so that they would attend these schools. It is also addressed that schools of this sort at that time in history were often the site of abuses (I know our small town school had its abuses). There are others who had a positive experience at residential schools and how they would not be prepared for life without them. In addition there are those speaking from within the native community claiming that they know people who are fabricating the stories of abuse. Growing up near a native reservation I remember all the racist stereotypes of what people from that community did and how they lived. I saw way to many homeless and impoverished native men on Winnipeg's north end main street. I have witnessed beautiful celebrations of native community and spirituality when I was working with an "at-risk" youth. I heard a number of young native people talk about the corruption that occurs within their tribe . . . that you have to be in the right family or know the right people to get more of the government money. I drove through Caledonia the morning one of the land-claim protests became violent.
I am not sure what else I should have expected. This is life. But how is it that I can even begin to speak about this from the pulpit? The Exodus texts speaks of a God who sees, hears and feels a people he calls his own. This God calls an individual as the one who will bring the people into a 'spacious land'. God promises to be with this individual and when this persons asks the name of the one who is sending him God speaking, "I AM WHO I AM." In the Philippians passage Paul pleads with the church to "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." He then goes on to proclaim our need to have the same attitude as Christ and so follows the great kenotic image of Christ who,
being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross

These are both passages about identity. They are identities that are not determined, solid or fixed. The project of European settlement in Canada was one control and possession. Whatever was encountered in the new land was to be determined and fixed under the emerging political power. There are of course varied stories within this project but the overall movement was undeniably one of control. I suppose this is where I will work from. Hopefully from this place of uncontrollable identity we can begin to learn of, ironically, firm and absolute living as it is being taken up with Christ whose name is above all names. A life of absolute contingency and relationship to neighbor and God . . . I still feel sunk.


A Nietzschean Call to Worship?

In both Milbank's Theology and Social Theory as well as David B. Hart's The Beauty of the Infinite (though I can't find the reference right now) it is stated that "post-Nietzschean social theory suggests the practical inescapably of worship." Does anyone know who or what stream of thought is being referred to? I don't think either authors offer specific footnotes at that point.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

God Forbid . . .

My mother-in-law was out for a visit recently (no not a set-up for a bad joke) and visiting Chapters she said I should pick out a book. After much soul-searching and gnashing of teeth and I was trying to decide between Taylor's A Secular Age and Zizek's In Defense of Lost Causes. I thought I would wait for the paperback of Taylor's tome (it also seemed a little referency for me) and decided on Zizek. Some of his work is joyfully accessible, namely chapter two's abundant movie critiques. However, all too much of it is still a little over my poorly formed political and psychoanalytical head. I was caught by a section on his critique of democracy, or his critique of the critique of democracy. Zizek views Wendy Brown's work on Nietzsche as all too un-Nietzchean as she reducing him to one who simply nudges us from slumber with no real attempt at changing us towards "a positive liveable project 'beyond democracy.'" He goes on characterize her application of Nietzsche and here I immediately read the word pastors in place of theorists. Fair . . . unfair?

Brown thus accomplishes a domestication of Nietzsche, the transformation of his theory into an exercise in 'inherent transgression': provocations which are not really 'meant seriously,' but aim, through their 'provocative' character, to awaken us from out democratic-dogmatic slumber and thus contribute to the revitalization of democracy itself . . . This is how the establishment likes its 'subversive' theorists: harmless gadflies who sting us and thus awaken us to the inconsistencies and imperfection of our democratic enterprise - God forbid that they might take the project seriously and try to live it . . .

The only change I might make is that in the church we also don't like to get stung. This is all the more acute for me as this Sunday I will be preaching on the relationship between Europeans and Canadian aboriginals . . . throw in the fact that tomorrow our prime minister will be offering some formal apology for our residential school system that sought to 'assimilate' natives into the European construction of Canada.


Saturday, June 07, 2008


Ontario the have-not province.

Between April, 2006, to April, 2008, Ontario lost 130,000 manufacturing jobs.

Consider Windsor. Its unemployment levels have shown no net growth since the end of 2002, when the Canadian dollar started rising. Over the past five years, building permits have dropped 75% and new-home prices are up only 1.3%, compared with an average rise of 38% in the rest of the country.


Friday, June 06, 2008

Things You Would Hear In A Medieval Youth Sunday School Class . . .

A month or two ago I was in our youth Sunday School class and asked us to go around and share the last time we experienced God. This question was perhaps not formed in the most helpful way. Nearly all of us who shared including myself referred to a time when we felt in some way threatened and that the comforting presence of God became apparent to us. This morning as I continued to slowly peck through the new edition of Milbank's Theology and Social Theory I came across his critique of the anthropological claims of religion as that which deals with the lacunae or gaps of life. He writes specifically how experiences of the sacred created appropriate life transitions when ambiguity or confusion arises, how sacrifice restores people to an ordered state when chaos or broken relationships occur, and how theodicy (hmmm theodicy does not show up on my online spell checker) functions to understand suffering and tragedy. Milbank argues that these views marginalize theology as a minor component of social reality and that pre-modern consciousness would have had a much more integrated understanding of God's presence.
All this to say that we offered very modern answers (or that I asked a very modern question) in Sunday School. I wonder what the pre-modern answers would have been?
Why I experience God in the wholeness of my body and the meaning of the words on my lips.
Any other ways a medieval youth Sunday School class would respond?


Is There Blood?

I recently viewed There Will Be Blood and well I know that I don't necessarily need to 'get it' but I didn't. Yes, I witnessed a man isolated and isolating by his compulsions. I noticed the distant aspect of the 'brotherhood,' it was the one venue that offered any hope to Daniel, but in the end they were both false brothers that he killed, was this the modern severing of faith and family?
Any thoughts out there on this movie? I had high hopes and I'm not sure what to make of it.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Everybody Knows

I wish had more time to blog on this experience but two nights ago I came home to find a message on my answer machine telling me that someone from my church had an extra ticket to see Leonard Cohen that night. Arriving at the theatre my friend kept ushering us closer and closer to the stage until we arrived at our fifth row centre seats. Leonard emerged a frail man of 75 in his black double-breasted suit . . . but his voice. Johnny Cash maintained a certain texture in his voice into his old age but Leonard Cohen's remains full and robust. Early in the concert I needed to overcome a slight dissonance in hearing some of his more critical songs sitting among what was a majority of hipster throw-back yuppies. But after every song I was reminded of the raw depth of his lyrical ability. The dissonance is of course acknowledged by Cohen himself. This was made plain to me as I heard Everybody Knows with new ears. I am coming to recognize that poet does not look for truth nor for change but rather the poet looks for honesty, simple honesty to the fullness or particularity of their experience.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that youve been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows youve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

And everybody knows that its now or never
Everybody knows that its me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when youve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old black joes still pickin cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the plague is coming
Everybody knows that its moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows its coming apart
Take one last look at this sacred heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows

Oh everybody knows, everybody knows
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Obama Out Church Shopping

Obama quits his church after months of criticism (NY Times).