Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Many feel that mobility or tourism and consumption are dangerous to place. Tourism is a fascination with place without identifying with it. Tourists come in, consume, and leave. Other than the economic boost that tourism offers, no real construction of place is made, except for the nostalgia of the tourists.
Many also see that the private and public divide has had crucial effects on our conceptions of place in American society. Sheldrake discusses this modern divide between interiority and exteriority by suggesting that “exposure has the connotation of a threat rather than the enhancement of life.” As a result, city planning focuses on consumer needs (which is really a public venue for the private life) and creating safe distinctions between people groups (gated communities are a great example). “Public space thus becomes bland and neutralized as its main purpose is to facilitate movement across it rather than encounters within it.” He continues by saying that for the city to recover, the outer life needs to be rediscovered. Perhaps that is why city planning is changing tactics to reconstruct the idea of the neighborhood trying to encourage community.
 Cresswell, 46. Cresswell picks up on Marc Auge’s term.
 Ibid., 43.
 Sheldrake 149.
 Ibid., 149. So much more could be said about the loss of place due to architectural changes especially within the church architecture. The same blandness and utility seems to the norm for many new churches.
 William Leach has written “Country of Exiles: The Destruction of Place in American Life” where he explores this and other phenomena of the loss of place in America. I did not get to this text this semester but it looks fascinating.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Luke 18.9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
The Gospel reading this week was a challenge to me. We see the Pharisee standing alone, a position of arrogance, praying an arrogant prayer about his supposed righteousness. In one sense we should be thankful that we are not either born into those situations, or been forced into others, or have willingly chosen those routes. But the Pharisees prayer sets himself against the others through a sense of condemnation of the others. And yet the tax collector, standing far off, which suggests his own fear and humility before God, was completely familiar with his own sinfulness. Despite the Pharisee’s supposed righteousness was wiped out by his attitude. While the tax collector, fully acquainted with his sinfulness approaches God in utter fear and lack of self worth. And it is the tax collector, despite his sinfulness, who is seen as the righteous one. While he was a sinful man, at least he knew it.
As I pondered this passage, I wondered about the idealism of many
Friday, October 26, 2007
Theological questions have often had interesting effects upon the discussion. A subtle slide toward space began with a theological emphasis of God’s infinity. If God is infinite, so must the universe be. An infinite space is required for an infinite God. Casey suggests that this is the fateful turn from ancient to modern thought. For many who followed in this line of thought, infinite space was often paired with the ubiquity of God creating a divinization of space or panentheistic view of the universe.
We also can see the diminishment of place to space in modernity’s love of the universal rather than the particular. Place represented the particular and often the radically particular. On one hand we have Newtonian physics expanding space to infinity and on the other Descartes internalizing place. It is the creation of two extremes: the expanse of one, creating a vacuum of place, leaving the only certain place for place within the self.
 Casey, 76. Casey has some very interesting interpretations of Genesis by reinterpreting it through place rather than time. Cosmosgenesis tells of events in places (p. 7).
 Casey, 78.
 Ibid., 111-113.
 Ibid., 159.
 I suppose we see Decartes emergence here rooting the foundation of knowledge within the self.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Perhaps we can move towards defining place by saying that it is intimately connected with human experience. Philip Sheldrake has said that place is the “dialectical relationship between environment and human narrative.” Likewise John Agnew, a political geographer has said that spaces are places invested with meaning. Beyond location and the materiality of place there is a “sense of place” referring to the subjective and emotional attachment to places. In these conceptions space is place waiting to happen; waiting to be infused with human life and experience to give it particularity and meaning. Space is what exists between places of our awareness and meaning. What begins as unfamiliar space becomes ordered and experienced places by which we begin to orient our lives around and in.
Places are both individual and corporate centers of life. But space and place are not mere backdrops to human narratives. Instead, they are characters themselves as participants in the historical and social drama,, each with its own living and breathing personalities. Sheldrake’s dialectic points toward the reciprocal shaping of environment by humanity and humanity by the environment. Place becomes a way of understanding; though this is often done without much conscious articulation. Place is not just ontology but epistemological in aspects of what we emphasize and don’t. As places rise in our memory, they become mediating interpreters of other places.
 Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
 Philip Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 1.
 Quoted in Tim Cresswell, Place: A Short Introduction, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 7.
 Cresswell, 11-12.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Today our OT text was a familiar one from Genesis 32.3-8, 22-30 where Jacob wrestles with the strange man all night. Several things caught my attention with regards to sacred space.
In the text Jacob wrestles with God, has his name changed, and received a blessing from God. From that encounter, “Jacob called place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”
Several things regarding the nature of place are important here: encounter and naming. The encounter is primary. Jacob encounters either God, man, or angel and wrestles with him through the night. Despite the variety of translations and opinions over who Jacob met that night there was an encounter with someone greater than he. And yet, Jacob fought on.
Second, the naming of that place is important for several reasons. Naming an event would seem to give it an importance from all of the other more mundane moments of his life. This placed-event was an important thing. Naming that place also roots the event on earth. Was this just a dream or spiritual state the Jacob wandered into? Would that necessitate a place to named? Perhaps, but knowing the physicality and earthiness of the Psalms and OT imagery, I would have to think that the place to be a literal marker. And if that place was to be marked it was a significant event, not only for Jacob, but for all who entered that area as well. This place was to be a reminder to all. We also see the name of the place does not designate the struggle of the place, rather the meaning of the place. Jacob does not commemorate his struggle with God, rather that God has been made known here.
This was not the first place that Jacob named either:
We see that naming becomes a key to understanding sacred space not just in terms of events but the meaning behind them. As we look to places of importance in our lives we need to name them, maybe not literally, but be aware of what happened there and the significance of that placed event.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Students bring an incredible life to this place. A sign hanging in one hallway reads, “Knowledge available here, bring your own container.” Yet when there are no classes and containers to be filled during the summers, reading weeks, and holidays this place takes on a significantly different feel.
It is calm.
Like the church stripped of its textures and candles before Easter,
this place too has been stripped of its life. The building, halls and classrooms, awaits in a silent vigil for its animating life to return.
I am drawn to these images but still lack a quality description of what I am attempting to capture. With some, space and angles. With others the common place and even the absence of explicit subject matter. Perhaps in the ordinary and overlooked spaces…those we rush by…or those we deem to have little interest or worth have captured my attention. The modern utilitarian nature
of furniture with no users, rain stained ceiling tiles, the interplay between disparate shapes, flash and shadow, gradations of color all are present. Perhaps it is only me who senses an impersonal indifference within these shots…perhaps a loneliness witnessed in the offset empty chairs seemingly anticipating or reflecting the last human conversation.
This place, designed for an educational community, facilitation of transfer of knowledge and wisdom, seems drab without that which
it was created…humanity. Only through flesh and blood do these convenient mechanical utilities find their true usefulness.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
If we have separated the self from family, religion, work, and tradition, what is left to constitute the self? The simple answer is our preferences. But, what are these choices really based upon? If selves are simply defined by their preferences which are arbitrary, “each self constitutes its own moral universe, and there is finally no way to reconcile conflicting claims about what is good in itself.” Without any larger objective framework for right and wrong, good and evil, the self and its feelings become the moral guide. The self is constantly in progress but without fixed moral end and is able to adapt behavior to various social roles. Self-awareness and self-knowledge leading to personal happiness become the keys forming ones personal moral convictions.
Finding oneself also means finding the story in which our life seems to make sense. Yet they seek to do this as individuals without reference or perceived shared experience with a “larger generational, historical religious context” Each life stage becomes a crisis of further individuation. Public work and the private lifestyle enclave become the means of orienting or filling ones divergent selves.
The individual, while striving for self-reliance still seeks out social interaction in the lifestyle enclave. He is afraid to admit the need to such interaction at the expense of his independence and identity. Rather than an empty, unencumbered, consuming self, what would the interactions of a encumbered self look like? The authors suggest Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue to describe communities of memory. Communities are in many ways constituted by their past and re-telling those stories as its central narrative, and by doing so, “offers examples of men and women who have embodied and exemplified the meaning of the community.” Traditions are built upon the stories and lives the community and “contain conceptions of character, what a good person is like, and of the virtues that define such a character.” These stories tell of health and sickness, success and failure bind the community to the past and turn to the future in hope. We see our part in the story being woven into the greater whole. This takes place at the family level as we pass on stories, heirlooms, and practice family rituals. Communities of memory are also practiced at the national level seen in our holidays and monuments. But powerfully we see the potential for this in the church. Each Sunday and liturgical year, our journey to the church building and worship services re-enact and re-constitute the Christian narrative and community. History and memory become the key to constituting ones future. These communities are enacted in special ways called “practices of commitment.” Memories, hopes, and fears are not only passed on orally but are also practices that define the “patterns of loyalty and obligation that keep the community alive.” Yet, where history is forgotten, community “degenerates into life-style enclaves.”
America has had a varied past of established and disestablished religion. However, once it is disestablished it becomes a private matter to be practiced within the church walls and at home. For many in America, religion is a private and optional matter not to enter the public domain. As a private matter, the autonomous individual, apart from the constraints of any religious system is free to concoct a spirituality as they choose. The authors highlight a woman named Sheila Larson who has named her religion or faith after herself. “Sheilaism” is based on “her little voice” to “love yourself and be gentle with yourself” and “take care of each other.” Since religion is a private matter, diversity or plurality is not only acceptable but encouraged.
 Bellah, 72.
 Ibid., 76.
 Ibid., 76-77.
 Ibid., 82.
 Ibid., 153.
 Ibid., 154.
 Ibid., 221.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Several common themes emerge for American individuals: self-reliance, leaving home, leaving church, and work. Self-reliance is a nineteenth-century term popularized by Emerson. Self-reliance in the biblical and republican traditions maintains a collective note expressed in the Puritans who left society to rely upon each other. Yet for the utilitarian and expressive individualists, self-reliance was purely individualistic.
Individuation is a natural part of human development, yet it is a hyper-individuation in America. “Childhood is chiefly preparation for the all-important event of leaving home…in late adolescence” and becomes a recurring theme throughout life. Coming of age means “breaking away from dependency on parents and relying themselves.”
Not unrelated to leaving home, many American’s leave church as well. It is expected that during ones youth, decisions will be made about whether or not to attend church and subsequently which one. Individuals cannot merely assimilate the views of their parents but must make them “particularly and peculiarly one’s own.” This is heightened in Protestantism by “demanding…a unique conversion experience.” The authors point out a fantastic irony by saying, “just where we think we are most free, we are most coerced by the dominant beliefs of our own culture. For it is a powerful cultural fiction that we not only can, but must, make up our deepest beliefs in the isolation of our private selves.”
The demand to “make something of yourself” through work is also a common theme for American individuals. Our sense of work shapes how we view ourselves. For some, jobs are to make a living. For others, the career traces progress through achievement and advancement and is built on success and self-esteem. Whereas calling suggest that ones work and morals are inseparable as an offering of the self into a community for the larger good.
 Bellah, 47.
 Ibid., 47.
 Ibid., 98.
 Ibid., 55.
 Ibid., 57.
 Ibid., 63.
 Ibid., 65.
 Ibid., 66.
Friday, October 12, 2007
The authors suggest that cultural traditions are conversations or arguments about the meaning of the groups shared destiny. Americans have often used a biblical and/or republican mode of discourse to speak of the country’s shared destiny and meaning. The Puritans become the prime exemplar in their desire to create a community where one could live a truly spiritual life. A libertarian sense of freedom is rejected in favor of a “moral” freedom of what is “good, just, and honest” in the context of the covenant between God and humanity. In contrast, the republican ideal casts Thomas Jefferson as the exemplar of public participation for the larger good of society. Equality is conceived as a universal principle defined in primarily political terms to allow equal citizen participation in a self-governing society.
The authors describe individualism in two particular forms: utilitarian and expressive. Benjamin Franklin is the epitome of the utilitarian expression of individualism where the individual rises to success through hard work and personal initiative. Many believed that if each individual vigorously pursued his or her own interest, the social good would also automatically emerge. Societal participation becomes contractual where individuals enter merely to advance ones self-interests.
Expressive individualism, a form of Romanticism and best exemplified by Walt Whitman, arose in reaction to the materialistic pursuits of utilitarian individualism. Expressive individualism sought to cultivate the self and self-expression where each person has a “unique core of feeling and intuition that must unfold if individuality is to be expressed.” These sentiments are easily identifiable in Whitman’s writings, as well as, Emerson, Thoreau, Melville and others. For the expressivists, “the ultimate use of the American’s independence was to cultivate and express the self and explore its vast social and cosmic identities.”
 Ibid., 27. See Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 206-207.
 Ibid., 30-31,
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 333-4.
 Ibid., 35.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
This sociological study explores the nature of the individual’s participation in both public life through local politics, activism, and voluntary associations and ones private life in terms of love, marriage, and therapy. The first chapter highlights four very distinct individuals which serve to illumine their points through out the text. Even though they betray sharp contrasts in many ways they all share a common individualistic vocabulary in conversations about morality, society, and politics which they call the “first language of American individualism.” Their differences often come in a variety of second languages.
These four individuals give us a broad look at cultural values and the difficulty of reconciling them. The authors claim that our “American cultural traditions define personality, achievement and the purpose of human life in ways that leave the individual suspended in glorious, but terrifying, isolation” because ones selected “values and priorities” are merely a personal choice, as long as it does not interfere with the choices of others, and not justified by a “wider framework of purpose or belief.” The good is then defined by one finds rewarding however, as ones preferences change, so does the good.
Where there is no shared standard value system, individuals all exist on equal ground where tolerance becomes the virtue of plurality. As a private matter, one cannot impose upon another’s chosen values. In such a world, conflicts are resolved by “honesty and communication” of ones “needs and desires” as matters of “technical problem solving, not moral decision.” Morality then is based on the highly subjective nature of personal preferences. Values are arbitrarily chosen. As a result, successful self-reliance and self-fulfillment become the standards for choosing those preferences and yet, that self-fulfillment is done in radical isolation without means of affecting that same fulfillment for others. The only, and very ironic, fragile unity that such a strident diversity is able to bring about is in the language of individual rights.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Margaret Miles, in her Image As Insight, reminds us that religion too has often been described as a “way of seeing” not just with actual eyesight, but with insight. A vision that peers beyond the common surface and into the depths of existence. This movement from eyesight to insight “implies perceiving a quality of the sensible word, a numinosity, a ‘certain slant of light,’ in which other human beings, the natural world, and objects appear in their full beauty, transformed.”
Both photography and religion have been described as “ways of seeing.” For Peter Berger, photography is concerned with the creative compositions of light and matter, texture and shadow, angles and f-stops. Yet for Margaret Miles, religion uses the same eyesight as insight into the Light beyond, behind, or within the matter itself.
Perhaps there is a similar thread of awareness between the photographer and the religious person…always looking for beauty.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
There is one scene that I have asked several people about but none have seen what I feel I saw. There is a scene where the main character is reunited with his family that feels an awful lot like an inversion of the prodigal son. In the biblical story, the son leaves with is inheritance and spends it unwisely and ends up living among the pigs and longing just to eat the pig slop. He then turns home hoping his father will have him back. His father throws a magnificent feast. In the film, the son goes to live the highlife as a chef at a prominent Parisian restaurant dining on the best cuisine. He then is discovers his family is living in Paris too. He goes with his brother to meet his father. He is welcomed back with open arms and a banquet of garbage with the older brother happily looking on. There is so much that seems familiar but with the circumstances flipped.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Revelation for Christian Theology is not just concerned with the revealed truth but also the process or means of. So the question that has and still looms large over theology is the nature of revelation. It is a question of epistemology: how do we know? It has been said that revelation is the “Achilles heel” that allows Christian systems of theology to stand or fall.
This piece hints at those ideas. The image of Christ, the summit of revelation, sits atop more general revelation of the sky. Both are upheld by the strength of the achilles tendon and heel.