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.