Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Evolution of the Doughnut

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


Friday, May 28, 2010

A Question of Orthodoxy

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

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


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

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

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


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hearing is not Hearing

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


This is the Work of Song; This is Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Middlesex Response

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


Friday, May 21, 2010

Make New / Made New

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


Thursday, May 20, 2010

All at Origin

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

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


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

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

SK responds to this acknowledgment,

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


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


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


A Totally Useless Post on Market and Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

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

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

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


Monday, May 17, 2010

Patmos Idol

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

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

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


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

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

Harman writes,

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

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

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

Harman concludes,

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


Friday, May 14, 2010

Peace and Clean Floors

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


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Plan A and Plan B and a Whole Lot of Drama

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

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

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

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


Kierkegaard's Works of Love Part I

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On the Horizon

As some of my quotes have alluded to I am almost finished Kierkegaard's Works of Love and I have just started Marion's God Without Being. I hope to post more substantially on both of those in the near future. And heck if I can keep pace for awhile I may even venture into Kant alongside The Anti-moderate's reading group.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Mercy as Real

It has for some time now been my sneaking suspicion that if God exists then everything is symbolic. I am not completely comfortable with the word 'symbol' here as I have slowly been influenced by some Lacanian descriptions of the Real, Symbolic and Imaginary. But the point of this thought is that we tend to tend to create a divide between such things as sentiments, images, metaphors, customs while on the one hand while those things that directly sustain our physical life are in another category (breathing, eating, sleeping, etc,). When the chips are down we must attend to the things of physical maintenance. These expressions are given voluntary or involuntary priority. Perhaps this is a sort of dualism I am not sure. If God exists, though, then life is symbolic. Life is not fundamentally material because material is symbolic (and so also therefore is breathing, eating, sleeping, etc.). I am certainly not denying materialism only that is derivative and not fundamental. If this is somehow accurate it has significant implications. Towards the end of Works of Love Kierkegaard writes,
Mercifulness is the truly significant . . . The eternal has understanding only for mercifulness. SK's unpacking of mercy touches on some of my lingering thoughts.

The basic idea at work in this section is that money has no value in the eternal. Mercy is the economic currency. He reworks the Gospel story of the woman who offered her two pennies and says and that if she had been tricked out of them on the way to the Temple and was unable to offer anything at the Temple she still would have offered more than those who offered out of their riches. For mercy is a work of love even if it can give nothing and is capable of doing nothing. One of the main correctives that SK is offering is that our view of mercy retains its monetary quality and so mercy is directly related to giving and this way will continue to exclude and condemn those (the poor) who have 'nothing' to offer.
In this way the poor man is trapped in his poverty and, in addition, is excluded in the world's view from the capacity to practise mercifulness, and consequently is designated and abandoned as the pitiable object of mercy, who can at best bow and thank - when the rich are so good as to practise mercy. Merciful God, what mercilessness!
SK then offers a plea for the poor to be merciful on the mercilessness of mercy that is so concerned with giving. But should not needs be met? SK then speaks for the eternal who says, there is only one danger, this, that mercifulness is not practised. He continues bluntly,
The fact is that the world does not understand the eternal. Temporal existence has a temporal and to that degree an activist conception of need and also has a materialistic conception of the greatness of a gift and of the ability to do something to meet need. 'The poor, the wretched may die - therefore it is important that help be given.' No answers the eternal; the most important is that mercifulness be practised or that the help be the help of mercifulness. 'Get us money, get us hospitals, these are the most important!' No, says the eternal; the most important is mercifulness. That a man dies is, eternally understood, no misfortune, but that mercifulness has not be practised is.
There is nothing real in the economy of the eternal except mercy and mercy has no direct (only incidental) relational to material transfers (the SK is clear that this position is no rejection of material exchange).
I am going to need some more time and work to continue to explore this but what I am seeing so far is the repositioning of materialism (nothing new for many theological expressions). What I am interested in is the extent to which this ends up simply positioning God for the further misuse or misunderstanding of the material realm. A basic component of this for SK is the inevitability of death. We all die. We cannot solve that problem though we act as though we can through monetary exchange disguised as charity. The problem rather is the sickness unto death which is the despair of living fully in selfhood. It is mercy that gains currency and traction in this economy not money (though it is not rejected outright). Hopefully more to come on this.


Friday, May 07, 2010

On Writing Theology (Again)

Sorry things just keep leaping off the pages for me in light of the ongoing conversation here and over at F&T. From Marion's God Without Being,

To try one's hand at theology requires no other justification than the extreme pleasure of writing. The only limit to this pleasure, in fact, is in the condition of its exercise; for the play from words to Word implies that theological writing is played in distance, which unites as well as separates the man writing and the Word at hand - the Christ. Theology always writes starting from an other than itself. It diverts the author from himself; it causes him to write outside of himself, even against himself, since he must write not of what he is, on what he knows, in view of what he wants, but in, for, and by that which he receives and in no case masters. Theology renders its author hypocritical in at least two ways. Hypocritical, in the common sense: in pretending to speak of holy things. . . . This experience, however, is so necessary that its beneficiary knows better than anyone both his own unworthiness and the meaning of that weakness. . . . He remains hypocritical in another, more paradoxical sense: if authenticity (remembered with horror) consists in speaking of oneself, and in saying only that for which one can answer, no one, in theological discourse, can, or should, pretend to it. For theology consists precisely in saying that for which only another can answer. . . . Indeed, theological discourse offers its strange jubilation only to the strict extent that it permits and, dangerously, demands of its workman that he speaks beyond his means, precisely because he does not speak of himself. Hence the danger of a speech that, in a sense, speaks against the one who lends himself to it. One must obtain forgiveness for every essay in theology. In all senses.

So perhaps their is a morality (or liturgy maybe) in all this but not of motivation because that requires a discernment of degrees but rather of an overall posture in understanding and accepting (prostrate) just what it is one is doing in writing theology. And well I guess writing about theology is just plain damned!


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Put on Your Rally Caps

I'm not sure how many hockey fans are out there reading this but the Montreal Canadiens are in a unique position. They came into the playoffs ranked 8th (just qualifying) and came back from 3-1 series deficit to oust the number one ranked Washington Capitals. Last night they just tied the series 2-2 against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. I have no shame in saying that I have jumped on the Canadiens bandwagon. For some reason that phrase went through my mind as they defeated the Penguins and I was reminded of my criticism of 'academic bandwagonry' in my letter below. I thought to myself "Yes, sports teams is where bandwagon jumping belongs." However, it is sports fans that are by far more loyal to their teams than academics are to their theories/theologies. And despite some resistance by the folk at AUFS it is hard to deny that academic work will always be guided by some larger trends and 'bandwagons'. But perhaps there are yet to be some theories/theologies or (dead) theorists/theologians who are still waiting to rally, to oust the top ranked dynasties. Is there some value in sticking with a losing theory/theology? I suspect we would all say that there is but are we really faithful to them? Are we really willing to go through 10 or 20 years of being mocked as a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs who have no prospects of making the playoffs never mind a playoff run because of a deep love of something that is all but absent to every other reasonable person? But who knows? There is always next season. And you might think that a team that just makes it into the playoffs surely could not compete with the rigor and depth of the season's number one ranked team but . . . And surely they could not stand against the talent and experience of the defending champions but . . .
I never thought Yoder would make the run that he has (damn pacifist puts up a good fight). So whose big foam finger have you been hiding? Who are you willing to wear a rally cap for at the cost of your intellectual capital?
Me? I'm waiting for a'Kempis to get called up from the minors. Brother Lawrence may be bush league but he's all heart. And the charismatics, I hear their goalie is on fire.

Late roster addition - Schleiermacher may be a cagey veteran that's been overlooked as well.


A Briefer Note on Motivations

In preparation for an upcoming church class on baptism I came across the following words of Robert Jenson. I thought it related to my own discomfort around motivations,
After baptism, it is too late for promises to do better, too late for 'getting myself together,' too late for guilt to be of use. The baptized have their lives to live after the effective and specific hearing of the final judgment. Therefore their moral life is the common life of those who are past having anything to lose or gain in their relation to their fellows. It is the common life of those for whom ulterior motivations and mitigations, while psychologically operative, are nevertheless morally irrelevant.
- Taken from Christian Dogmatics Vol 2


I Read and am Liberated

Given how Ben has shifted my letter below towards the realm of writing more generally I thought I would share a short response I had written to my first encounter with Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet. I was quite literally startled by it. Needless to say I was not concerned with his motivation. Well actually that is not quite true I was quite interested in the story behind this work. After Pessoa's death these writings were found scattered in trunk destined for oblivion until they retrieved and edited. Perhaps this is as close to Ben's pure motivation as you are going to get.

I have begun read­ing Fer­nando Pessoa’s The Book of Dis­quiet. From the first pages of this journal-like ‘fact­less auto­bi­og­ra­phy’ some­thing was stirred in me. Sud­denly the sim­ple and hereti­cal phrase emerged from within claim­ing, “This book will be my sal­va­tion.” I have never had that sen­sa­tion before in read­ing. I began to feel like the text itself, with or with­out my per­mis­sion, was begin­ning to search me. It was begin­ning to read me aloud back to me. The text was keep­ing in step with me. As I thought it too was think­ing. As I thought it was already think­ing ahead of me. At every pos­si­ble turn it opened paths that I did not know existed. And then it became clearer. I can­not antic­i­pate its goal, its des­ti­na­tion, and so I must humbly fol­low it. So I must decide if it is a sav­iour or a false mes­siah. I can­not know this ahead of time because I can­not assume to know where I will end up if I con­tinue to fol­low. As of now I am read­ing in faith. But then I ask myself what this means for the church, for my faith in God. Have I not already deter­mined the end of my faith, its goal and des­ti­na­tion? Is not the church just a well-rehearsed con­struct that offers no real sur­prise or alter­na­tive? Could this text actu­ally demand more faith than my church? For­give my heresy for the moment. And as though my tex­tual com­pan­ion was already antic­i­pat­ing all this I read the sim­ple and rev­e­la­tory phrase, “I read and am lib­er­ated.” I have already found myself in the text. The text can allow me to be more of myself than I am. I read on … for who I can still become? The author makes no claims as a mes­siah in fact I found out that this man­u­script was found in a trunk after his death. The text is mak­ing no claims to power or con­trol. And still I read on and so I read the cry, “Do my words ring in any­one else’s soul? Does any­one hear them besides me?” For­give my heresy but tonight … I will read on.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A Brief Note On Platitudes

So what was it I was doing with that open letter? The letter was met with mixed responses most of which were confused and more than a little annoyed. I can see now that much of the content was a limp wristed flailing at many things (many of which were not well founded in AUFS). But I have to say that I was quite pleased with responses which ranged from the almost sympathetic to some equally unfounded flailing (fair enough).

One thing that stuck with me was the notion of platitudes which I was accused of making in my statements on motive. I have not wanted to write that criticism off. A number of the commentators either rejected my apparent use of platitudes outright or acknowledged the temptation towards them (even their potential genuineness) despite their ultimate uselessness. I am thinking of this because of my Farewell post that I left this blog with about a year ago. I find looking at it an embarrassment at least the last line. I hoped to spend more time staring out peacefully into the world. The definition of platitude in my Oxford Canadian Dictionary says, a trite or commonplace remark, esp. one solemnly delivered. I think I am guilty on that account. But what keeps a statement from being a platitude? What makes a statement moving? When I wrote that last line I was thinking that simply staring out silently into the world will actually be more beneficial than the time and energy I put into blogging. So why didn't I just say that? I think I am guilty of platitudes primarily because I am bad poet.


Monday, May 03, 2010

An Open Letter to An und fur sich

Given some of the comments in Anthony Paul Smith's recent post over at an und fur sich I thought it might be a good time to put this up.

As I have discussed in an earlier post I have returned to the theo-philosophical blogosphere. In my time off I have discovered the meaning of life . . . no really. Life is meant to be an act of worship (I'll leave how I understand that dangling for now). I am, God help me, actually trying to have this inform my thought and actions. So I have returned to reading many of my old favourites and in many instances I find great insight and challenge in their posts. In my year off I have seen an und fur sich become quite a little powerhouse blog. The contributors have accomplished high academic achievement and are beginning a promising publishing career. In addition to this they are working primarily in an area of great personal interest to me which is a rigorous engagement with biblical/theological tradition and contemporary (broadly) European philosophy. I linked to Adam K and Anthony P S's forthcoming works and read the brief descriptions on Amazon (I do not know how they personally feel about them).

An excerpt from Adam's description reads,

This is a new theory of the atonement, showing that the Christian account of salvation can only fully make sense if approached from a social-political angle.

Anthony's description reads,

This volume brings together a vanguard of scholars to ask what comes after the postsecular and the postmodern - that is, what is Continental philosophy of religion now? . . . The essays do not propose a new orthodoxy but set the stage for new debates by reclaiming a practice of philosophy of religion that recovers and draws on the insights of a distinctly modern tradition of Continental philosophy, confronts the challenge of rethinking the secular in the light of the postsecular event, and calls for a move from strictly critical to speculative thought in order to experiment with what philosophy can do.

These descriptions as well as the sites general academic engagement raise many questions for me as I return to reading and reflecting on them. I am interested in hearing Adam and Anthony and anyone else at aufs speak about the driving/compelling motivation of their projects (speaking more broadly then just their posts and publications). To me these descriptions and many of the posts imply the themes of production and speed, themes inherent to the academic process generally. We always need to be thinking of what is next and what is new (even if that means 'recovering' what has been neglected or forgotten). This is a pervasive phenomenon, throwing new at the market and seeing what will catch. I cannot actually imagine that there is a 'new' theory of the atonement out there and if there is then I cannot imagine it is true (but I will not stake my reputation on that statement). Actually as I think about it I am not sure the atonement can be theorized at all! And I read Anthony's description as a response to the growing trend of dissatisfaction with movements like RadOx (of course it is larger than that) which continues to strike me as academic bandwagonry (Let's get on board with Derrida then push him off, let's get on board with Milbank then push him off, let's get on board with Zizek and then . . . ). I know it is all more subtle and sophisticated than this but it is hard to deny this in academic 'progress' . . . until the renaissance of Derrida or Neo-postmodernism . . . oh the things we have forgotten and misunderstood!).

I am also quite sure that the hope of the folk at aufs is not simply to feed the academic machine (though I know that is part of professional development and advancement) and so I want invite you to speak about both your motivation and their hopes, to what end is your overall striving aimed and why do you think this form will facilitate that. Or do you have any aspirations that are not professionally driven. And I would ask you do this in a spirit of openness in a way that does not reflect the expectations of the academic/intellectual life. I am not asking you to defend anything (my above statements where not meant to be criticisms just reminders of a larger issue that spurred this post). I am not concerned that you sound rigorous and robust and all those other intellectually driven adjectives. I just want to hear from you because as far as I know I respect and even admire you and what they seem to be trying to do (and of course more than a little jealous of where you are and where I am not). But the problem is that I am not sure just what you are trying to do because I see it is all so shrouded in the mist of academic/intellectual protocol.

I know that in a sense this is a very narrow minded invitation and naive and perhaps it does not deserve a response. But I simply cannot shake the nagging question of why. Is there a hope for a better humanity in all this? Is there a belief in the pursuit of truth? Is there an attempt to honour God? Is this simply a personal preference, disposition or pleasure? Is this the result of chain of circumstance? A neurotic or compulsive conclusion to family and environmental upbringing? Is this the adventurers thrill of exploring the unknown? Addiction to thought? I am not kidding here I really would like to know. As I near as I can figure out at this time I pursued these things initially out of a response to God as I knew God manifested in the forms that seemed to come most naturally to me and in time there was increase of personal drive for achievement and status as well as a continued pleasure/obsession in the process (I have yet to uncover the family baggage that has played into all this other than this sort of pursuit affords me the opportunity to be less social).

You (and heck, anyone else reading this) are welcome to respond here or at your own site.You are of course welcome to ignore this . . . no offence. But I do find these communities helpful and at times even inspiring and so I ask you not pass over this invitation too lightly.

So to recap. I am drawn (uneasily) to aufs in the same manner that I am drawn (uneasily at times) to their interests. In the interest of understanding myself (I cannot always understand why I give it such value but I cannot help from partaking either) and your project(s) I would like hear about how you came to the place they find themselves, why the persist in it, and where they hope it leads (other than having the future fuck you! . . . although they can unpack that for me too if they want).

After sitting with this post for a little while (as well as receiving courage and clarity from Mark Manolopoulos at Church and PoMo) I would have to say that I still pursue many of the same interests for pleasure, an adventurers pleasure that endures obstacles and hardships (and impenetrable texts) in the nagging belief that there may be something beautiful on the other side. And in honesty I still pursue these interests because I believe in some manner I can a better grasp or gain advantage in (for better or worse) the world around me.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Point of View of My Work as a Blogger

I just finished reading Kierkegaard's The Point of View of My Work as an Author. This book essentially traces the manner in which his entire corpus is in the service of the religious, of being or becoming a Christian. SK calls this a backwards movement towards simplicity. You begin with the system, with cleverness, with being interesting and complex. SK says that he too began in this place with Either/Or but this beginning was a deception. It was a trick to gain a sort of attention, to intrigue. But for SK this was already in the beginning to have an eye towards the end. To be begin with the aesthetic as he calls it is simply to be 'emptying out'. A person cannot achieve existence as a Christian but one must create space for it. And so SK began at the beginning which worldly speaking is to begin at the high point. SK created a stir, a controversy, an interest. This was created through SK's celebrated use of 'indirect communication'. He used pseudonyms, irony, humour, paradox, etc. But then at the end of POV he takes up the voice of the reader and says, “What have you done here! Do you not see what you have lost in the eyes of the world by this information and attestation?” SK understands that, in the end, by making plain just what it is he was trying to do he has lost “every worldly form of the interesting.” He continues, “I began as an author with a tremendous force, to be secretly regarded almost as a villain – naturally for that reason charming and, especially as such, tremendously interesting and pungent.” As his literary career progressed Concluding Unscientific Postscript is considered the turning point where it his work become more explicitly focused on the simple issue 'becoming a Christian'. SK continues,
Gradually as I moved ahead and that public of Christians became aware, or came to suspect . . . I might not be so downright bad, the public dropped off more and more, and little be little I began to fall into the boring categories of the good. . . . And now, now I am not at all interesting any longer. That what it means to become a Christian should actually be the fundamental idea in the whole authorship – how boring! . . . The movement is not from simple to the interesting but from the interesting to the simple.

So why have I shared these quotes? Other than the fact these statements are easily and readily dismissed or ignored in much Kierkegaard scholarship I have a personal motive. Having read more broadly in Kierkegaard this past year I am simply in awe of his creative output (though he claims to have approached his writing as a 'work assignment' . . . more on that another time). I cannot reproduce his approach. Even if I could it would be disingenuous to try. So I am hoping to begin again. I am hoping now to begin at the end. To begin and to work towards the beginning. To articulate simply and honestly. I will put it that way. I am coming to realize that honest is actually a significant disposition. We can be honest about any number of things and produce any number of expressions honestly but I know in myself when I am being dishonest. There are parts of this post that are dishonest. For that I am sorry. And so I hope to contribute here honestly and try to understand what that is. It is simple but it may not be immediately simple, at least to me.

Perhaps from now on my posts will be boring, so be it. I will however, try and be honest. I will strive for honesty in this place and if I do suspect and identify dishonesty then I will address and if I cannot address I will try at least to remain silent. And if you detect dishonesty . . . if the project of honesty itself riddled with dishonesty then call me on it.

I will also take heart in believing that SK was not entirely convinced of how boring his project really became. In shifting towards the explicitly religious SK looked to Governance and saw how
Governance assisted and assisted in such a way that the outcome of what I did truly benefited me and my cause, so that, to compare intellectual endowment to a stringed instrument, I not only remained in tune but gained an extra string on my instrument

What a great image. His thoughts continued to play but with Governance the instrument remained fully the same but also totally transformed to play in manner almost identical but also beyond the capabilities of its prior state.


One Year Later . . .

It has been just over a year since I last posted here. For about a month I have been drawn back into the theo-philosophical blogosphere. I rediscovered old friends and came across some new and interesting sites. I have also taken the time to ask myself why I have made this return. Before answering that question here is an update. I am now the proud father of a beautiful nine month old boy (Salem Christopher Immanuel). I have taken a parental leave from my pastoral position so that I can help out at home as well as work on a degree in spiritual care and counselling where I am focusing on the potential therapeutic insights and practices found in Soren Kierkegaard. I have given my notice at my church and so in four months time I will be unemployed and moving back to Manitoba where both our families live. As of yet I have no job lined up back in the motherland. But perhaps more than anything this past year has laid on me a deepening call to live faithfully (too much Kierkegaard perhaps). It has been a wonderful gift to be away from the church and away from any career pressures in general. It has been a wonderful gift to be in the presence of new life and all that may or may not lie ahead for him. I have been given the space to ask the simple and basic questions of life. The why and the what's the point. Why am I pastoring? Why do I continue to seek academic achievement? To what end is all my striving? And why again is it that I am striving?

So I have come to what I think is the basic Christian response to life. My life is meant to be an act of worship. There is nothing more and there is nothing greater. I also believe that if this reality is understood and accepted then it is lived as freedom. Freedom
from (impoverished claims on my time and energy) and freedom to (celebrate, pray, act, be still). I believe that I have tasted some of this truth and it looks to set my free. So why oh why would I return to the blogosphere after being nudged towards such a spiritual reawakening? Am I risking a return to slumber? Am I trying to carve out my own little corner of status and recognition? Am I in effect regressing? Maybe. While I do not believe that online relationships and communities are neutral I have found over the years that this is a place where I can connect on some level with people and thoughts and actions that inspire me. I no longer have the time and commitment for long term education or the qualifications to work in the academy (which has been my historical home for inspiration). I struggle to find inspiration and challenge in the local church and community (though I need to continue to look and nurture and receive). So I find myself drawn time and again to pockets and narrow corridors of the internet where others feel compelled, called, drawn, obsessed to express their own journey and similar passions and to learn from others in whatever limited manner this medium offers. It is one place and it is a limited and flawed place but it is a place. So I am returning to IndieFaith as the same person and as a new person. Something has changed and is changing. I hope that this can be one place in my life where meaning can thrive. I hope I can post here in honest acts of worship which means to confess, to proclaim, to challenge, to be challenged and perhaps to learn, or better yet, to be given a song to sing.

Its good to be back.