Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Fulfillment of Life: Newtown and The Tree of Life

"They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks." Isaiah 2:4

This is a beautiful, beautiful piece of art. I aways, always tear up when I look at it.   

The phrase, "I had thought I had lost my ability to be surprised" I borrow from David Steinmetz professor of Church History at Duke Divinity School on the heels of the Nickel Mines, PA Amish school shooting. I have not talked to him about what happened at CT but I am sure he would agree this is just as surprising if not more so. Twenty Seven Dead, 20 of them just babies. Babies with their whole life in front of them. My heart aches and hurts when I think about it. It makes me sick. 

For some reason this sculpture is all I can think about...

The Tree of Life sculpture displayedrecently in the British Museum of Art in February 2005, was made as a part of the Transforming Arms into Tools initiative in the post-Civil War country of Mozambique.  It represents an imaginative vision ofthe passage in Isaiah 2:4 where it is written “They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” It is a quite literaldepiction of this biblical prophecy due to the materials used in the sculpture, namely decommission weapons.  The passage and the sculpture relate to each other in a very intimate way.  I think the Tree of Life gives imagination to the Isaiah prophesy and in turn the Isaiah prophecy makes sense of the sheer oddity of the formation of the sculpture itself. 
                Isaiah’s prophecy functions historically in a time where a vision of a new reality is needed.  With Isaiah’s prophecy signals a shift in prophetic speech from merely informing present events but also future ones as well.  This particular passage,2:4, in its entirety reads, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; theyshall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” During this periodthere was a large amount of political strife in the kingdom of Israel andJudah.  This was a period (namely the 8th Century) when Judah was influential enough to be a force in world events.  This was long before the Babylonian Exile and contemporary with the fall of the Northern Kingdom.  What was needed from the Lord was a vision of a future whose situation was peaceful.  This was a message of hope for thepeople, that after exile came restoration and the end of war between nations.  Isaiah 2:4 is situated as a part of a larger universal prophecy (chapters 2-4) meant to offer salvation to all.  In this hopeful future, weapons of war (swords and spears) shall be beaten into tools of peaceful existence (plowshares and pruning hooks). 
            Likewise, the Tree of Life sculpture is made to commemorate a contemporary example of this hope, the later twentieth centurycivil wars in Mozambique.  Between the years 1976-1992 the country was plunged into civil war amid competingpowers in the nation.  In addition,world powers with interest in the area poured approximately seven million weapons into the country to continue and enforce the war.  After the Civil wars had ceased local Bishops and Christian artists sought to create communal images that the nation could hold to begin the process of reconciliation and more importantly conceptually envision a non-violent existence.  This started the Transforming Arms into Tools initiative where citizens would exchange their weapons forvaluable tools such as sowing machines and plows.  The Tree of Life (above) is a sculpture made out of those weapons collected and decommissioned by the Mozambique civil government. AK-47s, handguns, and ammunition clips make up the structure of the sculptureas they have been cannibalized to fit the form of a tree, which is meant todraw to mind the tree of life depicted in Revelation 22.  It is a beautiful structure, where the trunk is made of the remains of tools of death and the leaves are hollow magazine clips.  This transformation is the healing and transforming of a bloody past.  Here citizens of once warring people give up their weapons for the tools of peace while transforming weapons intopeaceful beauty.
            These two works are meant to make sense of one another.  On the one hand Isaiah’s vision is grounded in the speculative, leaving the reader and hearer to wonder what that might look in aconcrete situation.  On the other,what does one gain from turning guns into a tree? 
            The future hope of deliverance from strife that Isaiah wishes to point to is meantto signify harmony unseen to his contemporaries and still to modernreaders.  In the sculpture, the weapons signify a peaceful end and a new image for the things Mozambique citizens used to commit murder against one another.  After a twenty-year period of civil war it takes creativity to transform the social imagination of violence to peace, and the artistsbehind the sculptor give voice to a liberation from violence by literally beating swords/guns into a tree of life while handing out plowshares.  These two works, Isaiah and Tree of Life, make sense of one another because The Tree of Life gives us the tangible form of what Isaiah meant by the hope for transformation of weapons into objects of peace.  Isaiah, also, gives us the cipher on which to interpret the Tree of Life as a work of art.  For if we did not have the vision of a time when swords would be beaten into plowshares then the making of a tree out of automaticweapons would be a meaningless gesture. These two works give us a hope of a time when “nation will not lift upsword against nation and peace reigns.”

 The observer of the Tree ofLife should be perplexed yet moved. Perplexed at the leaves meant to signify new life thatare made from magazine cartridges.  In Revelation 22 it is written, 
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Rev. 22: 1-5
We become moved because of the hope in a time when the weapons of warwill have no use but to be made into trees and works of beauty.  This tree in particular shows a world struggling against war a peaceable kingdom where swords will be beaten intoplowshares and spears into pruning hooks. This tree witnesses to reality as it should be.  We cannot call this work of art hopelessly utopian because it is rooted in the struggles of Mozambique and the transformations Isaiah prophesies.  

So, why a tree? Why art? Why now? In times like these do we not have better things to do? It is true, we owe it to the victims to be in solidarity with them. I think thats what Jesus would do. 

Our problem is to learn how to mourn. Mourning and lament in the wake of tragedy rather than screams of gun control or gun ownership expansion deal with pain in a realistic and redemptive. The fact that we think that more violence, more guns would beget peace is outrageous. That somehow more guns near children solve the issue, I am not convinced. 

For example, two days before this tragedy in Newtown a man shot his son after trying to sell his handgun in Penn. ( 

It did not make national news. But this should cause us pause about the ways we deal with tragedy, death, and violence. 

This tree represents God's way of dealing with violence. 

But I am convinced that death is not the final say. As Nicolas Wolterstorff, writes on the loss of his son
To believe in Christ's rising from the grave is to accept it as a sign of our own rising from our graves. If for each of us it was our destiny to be obliterated, and for all of us together it was our destiny to fade away without a trace, then not Christ's rising but my dear son's early dying would be the logo of our fate. (Lament For a Son, pg. 92)

Furthermore, images such as the Tree of life symbolize our fate. The fate of the world at the hands of a God who does not abandon creation to its own violence.

We think whoever has the most bullets lowers crime and ends war, but the only time war ceases and violence stops is when those things are beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks.

Its reality transformed and assigns the only amount of worth to our weapons amount to, torn apart to make a divine statement that death shall not have the final say.

That guns and weapons ultimately serve as the paint on the eschatological work of art.

The reason I think on this work of art, is that it is a window. A window to the future that is breaking in on us. It is a reminder that the reality where children's bodies aren't subjected to unspeakable horrors. Rather, it is a reality where
rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe away all the tears from her eyes - and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and he that sits upon the throne will say, 'Behold, I make all things new.' (DBH, Doors of the Sea, 104) 
The children's fate lies with this reality. This should not cause us to abandon grief and lament or give cheap answers to bewildered parents. Rather, it provides the overarching context for discussions once the time for talk has begun.

I think of this painting because if a window to that eschatological place needed to be seen it is time like these. Because it reminds us that it is not idealistic hope to yearn for this, but is a reality which comes to us in a tree.

Maybe even a tree such as this...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

We Interrupt This Program: Ramblings on a Misunderstood Verse

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
John 15:13 (KJV)

"Nonresistance is right, in the deepest sense...because it anticipates the triumph of the Lamb that was slain."
John Howard Yoder

****Sorry this is like my 8th blog on non-violence, more on Cinema and Creed to come****

Sooooooooo, I was in Target the other day where all great theology flows. I was waiting for a prescription to be filled when a lady struck up a conversation. She asked where I was from, what I was doing in Durham, etc. Finally it came up I was in Seminary. She got excited and so did I. So we talked Church talk and some other things before she asked the question, "I think its great we live in America, A Christian nation where we are free to worship don't you?" 

Usually I just cheekly nod and let it pass, but stupidly I didn't this time. I said, "Well this place is home and I like home, but I don't think Christians owe the nation anything for any privilege to worship God or not. I just think that's a bad way to look at it."

She was not expecting this response.

She fired back this: "Well what about all the wars that we have fought to preserve freedom of worship."

I, calmly, said, "Well I am a pacifist. I don't like war. I think war is awful. And besides we have not fought a war like that in a long long time."

She then cocked her hip and placed her hand on it. She then lifted her head slightly and said, "Well, There is no greater love than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friend." 

She obviously thought this one liner would end the conversation.

We Christians have a terrible way of throwing out a single line of Scripture thinking that it ends conversations like these with no further explaination. However, this is like throwing a tarp over a junk heap and expecting people not to notice the smell.

Anyway, we talked for a few more minutes politely and she smiled and left once her prescription was filled.  I on the way home came to one conclusion:

We believe in war.

In fact, War points to the fundamental beliefs of society. (Democracy,  Liberty, Freedom, Capitalism, etc.) Both inside and outside the Church, we argue tooth and nail for it, because we fundamentally believe that it will bring about a better world rather than merely a more violent one. So, we scoff passionately at the idea of non-violence. It seems logically impossible in our society to even have a perspective of global relations where war isn't the major influential force that gives meaning. The old adage "If you want peace, prepare for war" is a logical impossibility.

Furthermore, the more disturbing notion is the lack of credibility non-violence has among Christians.

If we look longer at the text, and read it in its entirety we might note that Jesus is talking about himself who lays down his life for his friends (the world). We should read this text as saying Jesus lays his life down for those in his closest circle, but rather Christ dies for all. This is so basic to Christian teaching its almost not worth saying. So when Christ says love has no greater meaning than to lay down life for a friend, he talks about his love for those in whom he lays down his life for (those who are about to crucify him) without resisting. Christ communicates God's love by laying down his own life for those friends who would murder him.    

It's ironic this passage is being used to communicate the killing of enemies for the sake of a few and the holiness of war rather than its original intention of the peaceful loving of all, despite the consequences.  And it is even more ironic that in the Church, war is more rational than pacifism.

The love of war runs deeper than than Christian convictions. And so we believe in war, but we only kind of believe in Christ.

I think its because killing takes but a moment, and forgiveness takes a life time...

 So I have come to this conclusion. We must say that either Christ does not conquer the world through peace, or we must admit that Christ lays down his life for the world in order to save it making it impossible for us to save the world by killing. And then also admit that we much rather prefer killing people.

This conversation is more important than ever in light of another shooting. Most argue that the right to carry would have saved these people. However, so could a Church who loves the shooter first (before such things happen) thus making such an incident impossible. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Creed and Media 1: The Father Almighty and Tron Legacy

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible...

Rowan Williams writes in Tokens of Trust (TT), "God is to be trusted as we would trust a loving parent, whose commitment to is is inexhaustible, whose purposes for us are unfailingly generous." (pg 19) 

The hardest thing to get in the life of faith is that God cares. I do not know why that is the case. For whatever reason whenever the worst happens, God cares. It would be easier to believe that God did not care so that we could discard God once and for all. However, this is not the case. Somehow we have to reckon the awfulness of life and a loving God trying to find a way to reconcile the two. We have to trust that God is continuously acting towards us in a generous way, or acting toward us in a way which redeems the awfulness. This is not to say that God causes the awful things in our lives to bring the best out for us. Rather, God only acts toward us in an extremely generous way and only good. 

I believe this is what is meant by God being the "Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible." The things that we need, the things that bring us wholeness are basic to the ways God has created to us. God created us to be happy (beatitude). However, to know what completes us/makes us happy involves the deep knowledge of the one who makes us and who is almighty, capable of making us happy.

Tron Legacy is a movie about just this. The sequel to the Disney classic reboots the micro world envisioned by its creator Flynn. However, Flynn lives two lives. One in the real world and one in the cyber world. In order to maintain order in both worlds (the cyber and the real one) Flynn creates in his own image "Clue" to maintain the cyber world. Eventually, Clue rebels against his creator and tries to create for himself the "perfect system". Clue murders and destroys many programs (cybernetic equivalent of people) in order to fill that emptiness meant for his relationship with Flynn. Ultimately Flynn, out of love for Clue, his son, and the system reunites Clue with his own being destroying himself in order to bring balance. It is Flynn and Flynn alone who can set everything right. 

Granted, this movie lacks certain aspects of the Creedal confession of God the Father. God cannot die in the absolute since as Flynn does. However, the God of the Creed is the Father Almighty who brings about the greatest things for it. It is not necessarily that Flynn destroys Clue (and himself) but that God possesses the power to bring completeness to the system THAT GOD MADE. 

The only one who knows how to complete is the one who made it in the first place. 

I am drawn to this because often times texts don't come. They just don't. Loneliness happens, it does. That incompleteness can only be fixed through a one who acts generous toward me. This acting is miraculous. Because a miracle is none other than an incomplete creation's incomprehensible emptiness being filled. Can't explain it. Just sometimes the creation opens up to its creator and is brought to its completion. This rehearses the ultimate completion that comes to all in the eschaton. 

Thus, why am I drawn to this display of faith? I have no idea, just every now and then I am drawn to the holy in ways that I do not expect, but nevertheless was what I need. Can't manufacture it, just longingly trust the one who acts generously, the Almighty maker of heaven and earth. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Trust, The Nicene Creed, and Media

We live in a media charged culture.

I don't lament this fact. Mostly because the movies, TV, music, even news relies on concepts that only make sense within the Christian Narrative. And thus the pain caused by the perversion of these concepts only are converted, saved, and redeemed by the same Christian Narrative.

The fact that both Christians and non-Christians might believe culture can be conceived without the person of Christ is staggering. Furthermore, If it were possible, with some sort of super-magnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of His name, how much would be left? (Pelikan)

Thus, this blog will be an introduction to a series of blogs I hope to do on explaining the Nicene Creed through popular media. This is in order not to say that we need media to understand the Creed, but that the media needs the faith in order to explain its own display of these concepts.

I believe this is important because when we don't receive that text we have been waiting what feels like a life time for, when you lose that job that is the only thing you know how to do, and when that person dies that you loved with all your heart...when that happens that broken heart, thirst for justice, etc it is the lamentation of the fullness of Christian theological understandings. Culture tries to save itself by recycling these symbols and concepts but it never fully saves itself only prolongs the inevitable.

Then the task of this new blog set then will show how we have trusted the wrong things in light of trying to achieve happiness (beatitude). We have trusted, for example, love for love's sake, peace for peace's sake, justice for justice's sake, etc rather than the peace, love, justice that exists as a gift of God alone and within God alone. These concepts are largely unachievable without the Triune God especially in today's contemporary world.

Not saying that those non-Christians cannot love someone, but that there exists a fullness in the Triune God which simultaneously is its source and fullness.

So what will follow, hopefully, is an engagement with pop-culture in the theological framework of the Creed. And, I hope to show where trust belongs.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Martyrs not Heroes: Thoughts about masculinity as we close in on Father's day.

I owe much of the thoughts of this to Tripp York, and if anything sounds off base its me not him. I would recommend picking up his book on the matter. You can buy it at Amazon. It is called: A Faith Not Worth Fighting For.

(also since this is an article about masculinity I use the masculine pronouns for things...don't hate me)

But anywho...

What do you think of when you hear the word manhood/masculinity? Popularized in the media and social imagination of the United States suggests one thing (esp. in the south), and in general we have expectations of what the 'man' does. Such stereotypes are: tough, un-emotive, bread winner, etc. The proclivity to distance is the one which concerns me the most. Still, where does this thought come from? That men are these unemotional creatures whose sole responsibility lies in his ability to transcend feeling and be a man? That he has to prove himself in light of some predetermined standard of becoming a 'man'?

One answer might be in our elevation of the hero. Heroes, from the time of the Greeks forward, represent cultural elite who capture the imagination of the populace while also serving as a model for ethical ideals. Heroes in the classical sense were men, for the most part, who though they were less than gods had shrines built in their honor do their extraordinary greatness (usually in battle and physical combat). Some of the famous heroes in the Greek world are: Hercules, Hector, Achilles, Perseus, etc. These men were considered great, and though not being gods were believed to possess the power to protect the living because of their great capacity for violence in their own lives. Politically venerating the heroes ensured the Greek polis numerous soldiers willing to kill for the state.

The opposite of the hero is the martyr. The hero is great because of violence, the martyr is great for their unwillingness to fight. Action is key to both, but what do we define action? The hero takes violent action in order to ensure a new trajectory. Martyrs do the same. However, the key is the action which obtains that trajectory.

The hero rallies more to his cause in hopes that the mounting violence and warfare will result in their rule. When a martyr, who is by definition innocent, dies for the sake of their cause they stop the wheels of history. The historical examples are numerous: Tibetan Monks slaughtered, those killed in the protests at Tiananmen Square, all the martyrs in the early Church, etc. Not to mention those who have achieved so much through the same tactics which didn't end in their deaths (i.e. the Civil Rights mov't, Gandhi, etc). Their willful offering up of their lives reveals the injustice of violence or a regime. In their act, they upend history, turning it on its head and sending it in a new direction. They provide us with a true conviction and imagination to end strife and conflict. Violence only leads to escalation, laying down one's life seems to lead to peace.

I believe that the way of peace is not tried because we assume once all are dead, evil will reign. But in the crucifixion the death of one led to death of death and evil's claim on us. Of course, this is through the resurrection that we obtain this. Churches who venerate heroes (in the classical sense) rather than martyrs lose site of the way of the cross.

There are things worth dying for, but not worth slaughtering.

Masculinity is construed in terms of the hero. The father is the great conquerer and protector of the family. Therefore, stereotypically they possess less of the ability to love as their feminine counter parts. We sheepishly write off men for not being thoughtful or caring because "oh he's just a guy." And when we encourage men, we say things like 'toughen up', 'man up', or 'be a man'. Generally this means toughen up to the point that you can lock out all emotion and do 'manly' things (generally these are violent things). Regrettably, we train our young men in this manor. To the point where their identity is coupled with an image of violence and conquering. They want to be heroes.

What would happen if we switched the paradigm? After all the Church should venerate the martyr rather than the greek hero (for we only exist because of the martyrs). What would happen if the martyr was the paradigm for masculinity? What if 'manning up' was more about sacrificial love than being tough?

It would mean that masculinity would involve presence. The hero is present only to the one he tries to conquer in violence, strength, and malice. However, the martyr is present to God, the Church, his murderer, and himself in sacrificial love. The distance the hero puts between one's enemy and themselves in violence distances them to the point of callousness. One, in violence, does not care for the individual one is seeking to conquer. The hero cares not for the enemy. The martyr does. The martyr does to the point of acknowledging the love for the other in their own death and unwillingness to take the others life. And is only means of being present. If toughness, heroics, and violence is the posture of the man, then callousness is the outcome. However, if  men wish to be truly present (to their parents, kids, wife, the other, etc) then the posture of martyrdom is the only way to true humanity.

This means that to be truly man is to be truly human. For to be truly human is to be Christ like. And Christ is always present. Always. And we may not like this paradigm of non-violence, but one must contend with martyrdom as a Christian politic.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Bachelor

So I owe much of this blog to my friend Luke in pointing this out for me. And I am really not making all this up on my own. Rather and I am piecing together what I have already been taught.

Recently there have been many, many, many blogs and articles about homosexuality and marriage. Recently, North Carolina passed a bill preventing the lawful marriage of homosexual couples. This was heralded as a great victory towards protecting the sanctity of marriage.

However, in addition to the bill there was a pastor who came out saying that homosexuals should be confined behind electric fences. You get the impression some Christians really hate the homosexual community.

Yet, always taking a step back from issue and all the anger, what about the larger issue of the sanctity of marriage? Of love? Or even humanity in general? All these questions circulate in this discussion which is often too narrowly approached.

There is a popular TV show called the Bachelor (and its counterpart the Bachelorette) wherein one single bachelor (or bachelorette) is brought 25 single counterparts of the opposite gender to choose a suitable mate. This show is shot on location at some of the most exotic locations around the world where men and women compete openly to attract the attention of the one single person of the opposite gender. Furthermore, for a certain number of weeks a televised audience views petty arguments between the crop of single men or women, confessions of love after a few days, and sweeping romantic gestures financed by the studio.

This being said, the show disregards that emotions are being manipulated on purpose and the featured character gets to play 25 women in full view of the entire world. If the sanctity of marriage involves the courtship between one man and women, what about this wildly successful show?

The Bachelor is not the worst. A few years back there was a show called Married By America. In this gem, six single men and women were matched up by online vote by the American audience. In fact, the first time these couples met were the night they got married on the live season premier. This show merely tries to recreate the popularity of the Bachelor by heightening the shock factor and continually redefining the ability to instrumentalize humans for profit. Furthemore, with all these reality TV shows the rise in Drive through Wedding chapels, the Hollywood Circus Wheel of marriages, and an almost half divorce rate amongst couples in and out of the Church, one begins to wonder weather homosexual marriage is the thing destroying the sanctity of marriage? Or of love? Or of the human person? Maybe its the rest of us.  

And onto another issue of desire/love and the human person. This is the central issue pertaining to the question of homosexuality. And Christians need to find better ways than electric fences to talk about homosexuality.

The means to address the homosexual question is the Eucharist (borrowed from Hauerwas). In this central Church practice, one encounters love (paschal mystery), desire (in the form of eating slaking hunger), and the human person (the re-appropriation of all material reality). Thus, the continual taking of the Eucharist means both a physical training and an ontological shift in the ways Christians view these matters. Furthermore, we learn what desire/love is in the mystery of the Eucharist. There we eat, learning the importance that material substances plays in the natural functioning of the human body but also how those material substances are a gift meant to be cherished.

These gifts enhance the community and enrich the gathering. It enriches by way of giving the community the tools to love/desire in a fallen world. For as we train our appetite at the table, we learn how our love/desire contributes to our Christian life. Furthermore, it means recognizing the quest for virtue in other humans/material beings who struggle like the rest of us. The question is learning how our particular desires contribute to our witness (individually and corporately) and which ones need to be trained in light of the Eucharist.

And this meal only has weight because it has the power of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and consists of the Trinitarian Drama where the therapy of the Triune dance wears of the edges of our shattered desires and love. Simply put, the Eucharist is a practice of the Trinitarian love.

In this respect, anger towards our fellow human (such as electric fences) needs attention as much as our sexual appetite. However, I do not offer any answers on who is right or wrong on this discussion. I rather challenge a serious look at the Eucharist as a means of recovery of conversation and re-evaluation of all desire under the Triune Economy.

Chuck Norris, Pentecost, and Christian Conviction.

So I really do like Chuck Norris jokes. I really can't help it, they are funny. That being said, the man recently caused me to think about some issues in the Church these days.

Recently the man himself (the Chuck) was cast in the sequel to the 1980s and 90s action star packed film 'The Expendables". I will admit, I saw the first one, but out of morbid curiosity. (I will probably see the second one for the same reason) The first movie possessed the depth of a soap dish, but the action of every war combined. The real draw of this movie however was the bringing together of all the famous action stars of the 80s and 90s. The film included Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Bruce Willis, Jason Stathom, etc. However, in the sequel they literally went to the extreme and found every old action star and threw them in a feature film (i.e. Van Damme, Norris, etc). This is where Norris comes in.

I assume with all the recent buzz around the Chuck Norris jokes Stallone and producers wanted Norris in the film. However, Norris being a publicly (and published I might add) professed Christian had a problem with the script, namely the amount of cussing. If you saw the first Expendables you might know what Norris was referring to. He quickly responded saying that if he was to be apart of the movie they must limit the amount of swearing in the film. The Christian world was impressed and he got his way.

This being said, looking at the broader outlook of the movie, is cussing the thing to be upset about? In the first movie, hundreds if not at least a thousand people die in variou bloody skirmishes. I imagine with the increasing star pool, the Expendables 2 will have the same amount of death if not more. I appreciate the stance of Norris, but what does it say when a Christian seems to care more about the display of cursing rather than the extreme violence in such a movie. For some reason, it seems we have become more comfortable with violence as a way of life, than swear words.

When examining the Biblical Witness, we might note that the emphasis is quite the opposite. Granted I imagine Jesus would not have been happy having those who followed him being vulgar, but I believe the gospel narrative is more pointed about killing and violence. Everything from the beatitudes, to the Garden of Gethsemene, to even the cross suggests that the Christian life is not one that promotes violence. The core of this Christian story lies just in that incendiary moment where the Son of God peacefully offers up his life for all. Thus a Christian should take for granted the life of all, because Christ certainly does. Maybe we are taking the wrong things for granted when this becomes the norm.

This past week was Pentecost. However, it was also Memorial Day. I had a friend at a Church in another state tell me that the ratio for prayer requests for the latter vastly outweighed the former. (Namely 5:0) After exploring a few other friends who are pastors/leaders in congregations the result is the same. This leads me to believe that the Norris is not the only one to take the wrong thing for granted. My friend told me of two particular things said consistently. 1.) We should be grateful to those who sacrificed so we can come in here. 2.) I pray that the young people can learn the importance of Memorial Day.

Granted, I do not think we should disregard those who have died in our midst. But we are grossly mistaken if we think that America is the reason we can gather. In fact, the Church gathered for centuries before it was legal and that time is possibly the golden period of Christianity. Furthermore, and onto the second, I am much more concerned that our congregations feel more pedagogical about Memorial Day than Pentecost. The fact that I could get a better discussion to the question "What is the importance of the 2nd amendment?" than I could to the question "What is our responsibility to the story in Acts 2?" scares me. The Church is always a place where we should take the RIGHT things for granted. Such as mourning death, not celebrating violence and remembering where ultimate peace comes from The Cross, not Chuck Norris.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Politics and Fragile Society: A plea for pacifism.

Politics represents a curse for modern society.

According to Hannah Arendt, society suffers from its own laborious violence. Simply put, humanity in its beginnings housed families who worked to sustain basic, intimate functions needed for survival. (i.e. growing crops, making shelter, etc) However, whenever the families and communities became mobilized into a society their work became a matter of political importance. Furthermore, political use of people and their labor involved classifying the worth or goodness of a person based on their public performance of certain labors for the benefit of the whole. Basically people were instrumentalized based of their worth to the polis.

Granted I assume that it is not wrong for people to live socially, to work for the good of others. However, when a polis can define a person without intrinsic worth it means people are mechanized, recycled, and then ultimately discarded. The goodness of a person according to their worth must include the acknowledge that there is nothing special about labor. As previously mentioned, labor is a natural part of human existence post-Fall. Thus, a person is capable of work done by another.

This cycle wherein people can be easily recycled makes violence the central narrative of political authority. The constitution may claim for equality of all sentient beings, but in practice the dispensability of individuals is normative. This thought then names the struggle at the base of War, Capital Punishment, Poverty, Political Division, and Other Linguistic Forms of Violence.

As Christians, violence is unacceptable. The beatitudes for many show the central emphasis on peace as the first act of Christian response. However, this is an uneasy notion for Christians. The world seems to deny the possibility, but what does it say to at once say 'Jesus is Lord' and 'If you want peace prepare for war.' If one thinks about these two statements, they do not match.

Killing people and discarding them because of their use or non-use for a polis is violent in a way unintelligible to the Christian faith. Violence with respect to either means choosing to deny the worth of an individual. Furthermore, rights based politics makes a rebuttal seemingly absurd. But eventually the Christian must admit violence is incompatible with the faith.  

However, what does this mean for the protection of the innocence. As a Pacifist, I acknowledge that I do not know what I would do if I had the opportunity to protect the innocent. But violence for the sake of political peace and protection of the innocence results more in the death of innocence than their protection. Christ's victory represents the definition of peace. The Christian Politic must reckon with this mystery that the peace of the Christian Story of a man who was confronted with the choice to either continue his mission peacefully or to raise a sword. It was impossible for Christ to continue his mission without the cost of his life, but even stil he kept loving. This ability to love to the point of death for the hostile people is largely unmatched in history, but it is the essential Christian political confession.

Thus the Peaceful life of Jesus stretches what modern humanity thinks possible. And certainly not easy, but one which is meant to be followed. The world is on the fragile edge of destroying itself because it cannot sustain peace due to the fear of difference. Politics claims the ability to solve this problem, but Christ actually has.