Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Ironic Violence of Cheryl Kirk-Duggan`s Violence and Theology

The past few days I have been working through a lecture concerning violence for the theology and film class that I will be teaching this spring. I have used Cheryl Kirk-Duggan`s text Violence and Theology as a primary aid to survey the conversation. I generally have an appreciation for the insights of feminist and womanist scholars and yet find myself quite frustrated with her limited scope of domestic and sexual violence.
In her section on Sexism as a form of violence (p. 15-17), her portrayal is unidirectional...male to female. As a male I find this to be a violent portrayal men. As a feminist or womanist scholar committed to searching out the suppressed notions and narratives she fails to acknowledge that men too suffer violence at the hands of women. Violence in her definition is that which causes harm (p. 2) and is relational (p.2) and has a breadth of levels including psycological, emotional, mental, attitudinal etc (p. 2). Her feminist convictions here blind her to the violence, using her own definition, that women may do to men in the most intimate of relationships. Not only this, she makes a point to note that heterosexism is a form of violence (p.17), and yet she fails to note that violence may occur in these same sex relationships. Are we to think that these relationships are above violence... I understand that these constitute a minority percentage in domestic violence, but this would seem to have fallen into her womanist hermenuetics. She has missed the the opportunity to bring to light the violence that men do to men and women do to women within homosexual relationships.
Phyllis Frus, in her essay Documenting Domestic Violence in American Films contained in J. David Slocums edited volume Violence in American Cinema suggests that `women are batterers too` is a myth created by journalism objectivity. While she is concerned with physical violence she too easily dimisses female to male violence and creates a reverse sexism similar to Kirk-Duggan. Frus does note in passing that 5% of women do hit their partners.
I certainly agree that men likely do more violence to women than women to men, but both women have missed the mark by ignoring the complicated landscape of families and relationships present in current society. The irony is that their womanist and feminist hermenuetics that are meant to uncover the suppressed stories of women in particular, and humanity in general, join in the violent suppression of certain voices.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ecclesial and Social Space

Most recently I picked up Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier’s edited volume The Community of The Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology. William Dyrness’ article “Spaces for an Evangelical Ecclesiology” brought together several of my theological interests: space, ecclesiology and liturgy. Dyrness picks up on Hannah Arendt’s comment that the “institution adds to belief is the public space of appearance.”[1] Essentially the church embodies its theology in the world. But what shape does the church take on in public space? American ecclesiology has suffered because of the privatization of faith and thus ceding any real public space. Dyrness feels that what happens at church is the key to understand what the church is in its nature. Within the liturgy of the church, the performance of liturgy actually effects or constitutes what they celebrate and honor.[2] The church’s theological identity is cultivated in a physical and spatial realm.

Dyrness describes three ways the church is constituted in social space: interpersonal unity of all believers, its particular practices shape the body, and the first two conceptions relate to all other spaces in the world.[3]

Dyrness also suggest the church occupies a particular historical space. Again the privatized and unmediated conversion event so prevalent in evangelical history falsely assumes that it is disconnected from a tradition. Ironically it does not recognize that this itself is a tradition. All church communities are the product of some form of tradition. These traditions give a firm footing to stand on, as well as “[4]nourishment of our ecclesiastical identity.”

He also suggest a third conception of space the church entertains: symbolic space. Dyrness argues that this if this is not the most important, it is the most salient, and most difficult for evangelicals to grasp.[5] For evangelicals, it is more than a suspicion of culture, rather “symbolic illiteracy” where symbols have been replaced by signs.[6] With our imaginations dimmed, no longer do we understand how things, places, or acts can teach or nurture because they have been weeded out of the evangelical tradition. This state now seems the norm. Dyrness helpfully recounts how the Reformed tradition denied the symbolic potential of spaces by locking the churches, thus creating a metaphor that particular spaces were symbolically vacant. The pulpit and sanctuary only held meaning during the performance. They were still often beautiful but were primarily utilitarian; without any symbolic significance. This emptiness was the result of a positive impulse of sending the gospel into the world. Philosophically the same thing was going on.

Following on from the Medieval expanding place into space came the dismissal of the power of particular places. Space was homogeneous and the norm thereby diminishing places to mere subdivisions of space.[7] We perhaps can also see the hegemony of time entering the theological realm as granting or constitutive of the validity of place. Only at certain times do places have meaning. Outside of those events, the particular places slip back into homogenous space. Rather than time happening in place; place happens in time and to a lesser degree space.
All three spheres are needed to constitute or incarnate the church in the world because they give us “fixed points by which we orient ourselves.”[8] While Dyrness uses “space” in different ways (metaphorical, physical, historical, sociological) all three have wonderful potential for further study. The emphasis on the visible church by its constitutive practices would make a very exciting study within the idea of place. I think ecclesiology has much to regain from the atomized privatization so ingrained in evangelicalism. Sheldrake’s words are helpful here suggesting that the people of God are the place of God, described in Paul’s words as the temple of the Spirit.[9]

The historical place is really contextualization or realization of place within a historical framework. Studies from this perspective need to be aware of both present and historical contexts and the distance between for application. Dyrness’ conception of symbolic space is powerful and important. It is helpful to see how historical traditions have eliminated imagination from our consciousness. I should return to Casey to see how this might mirror the hegemony of time over place, and space over place. With the shift of the liturgy and conversion to “event” which is really a time consideration, there should be some parallels. For all the fruit of the others, I do appreciate a return to symbolic spaces or places. These places, things, and acts really do give us tangible and public means of orienting our lives within. If we are to emerge from the privatization of faith, we must give public or spatial expression of what the church is.

[1] William Dyrness “Spaces for an Evangelical Ecclesiology” in The Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology, ed. Mark Husbands & Daniel J. Treier (Downers Grove, IL: IVP), 252. Dyrness quotes from Paul Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination.
[2] Ibid., 253.
[3] Ibid., 255-261.
[4] Ibid., 266.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 267.
[7] Casey, 134.
[8] Dyrness, 271.
[9] Sheldrake 37-38.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

american gothic

October brought a return of a recruiting pilgrimage to eastern Iowa (Luther , Warburg , UNI, Loras, UDubuque, Central and more). I love travelling in Iowa in the fall. I love the colors...the farmers in the fields (i even try to have compassion for them on the highways). This trip brought a new destination to my lonely admissions counselors travels. I wandered passed Eldon Iowa where the famed American Gothic home still stands. This home lives, in our collective memory as a gift of Iowa's greatest artist Grant Wood. Painted in 1930, it now hangs in the Chicago Art Institute.

It was a fun experience to see the home and to walk around it. What was more interesting was the museum just to the south. The museum had a collection of kitsch that boggled my mind. This national treasure has been raped by our advertising and consumer society...everything from ducks to Mickey and Minnie mouse have been imaged in those overalls and dress. And on everything from matchbooks to lunchboxes. If you do a google image search for American Gothic One can even borrow from the museum itself the top half of the dress and overalls and a pitch fork to have your very own picture taken in front of the home.

This is one of my favorite shots from the visit.

Below are just a few images I found on a google image search of how this national treasure has been re-used.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jewelry by Nicole Vanderhill

This is just one of Nicole Vanderhill's beautiful works. I've known Nicole since our high school art classes. Her father, Rein, was one of my art professors at Northwestern. Below is a link to to her website.
I love the organic shapes of her work. This one especially. Stones of similar color and variety of shapes trickle delicately down to a single stone.

Monday, December 10, 2007

a peculiar people

I appreciate the NKJ translation sometimes to raise new thoughts about scripture that has grown stale in familiarity. One recent discovery in relation to Israel is that they are often called a "peculiar people." This typifies the Jewish existence: immersed within, yet completely different. They were peculiar to outsiders. I fear that our inwardly therapeutically driven faith bears little resemblance to early Christianity. Certainly cultures have changed, but we as Christians, for the most part, constitute a fairly unrecognizable lot in the world. We are called to be a "peculiar" people, and the deeper I realize this, the further I feel from most churches and certainly the politic of the world. Comparisons against family and friends are valuable insofar as they are committed to a radical discipleship which subverts the ways of the world for its own good. I've slowly been catching glimpses of what this means for me over the past year. I difficult and painful journey that make me question much of the contemporary Christian way. Unfortunately mainstream Christianity offers little in the way of true discipleship through its fads of books, video curriculum and reliance on Christian celebrities. My gut feeling is that we have compromised the true power of the Gospel. We have capitulated to culture. And we justify it by the "need" to meet peoples “needs.” Do we accommodate the Gospel to people or isn't it true that we are taken into the Gospel story, God's project and by doing so are re-formed towards our original purpose and intent. We have been called a peculiar people unto Godself. We have been created in an undividable being (mind, body, spirit). Though today we as the church, have forgotten this. Faith is relegated to an internal choice. Religion becomes the external and physical bodies choice to participate or to create itself as its own god. This is Gnosticism. If this had been intended, what purpose do our bodies serve. This earthly triad works in similarity to the Divine Trinity: together. Our faith certainly is spiritual, it is emotional, it is intellectual, but it is also bodily. We must recover this and the power of a physical witness in society. An altera civitas. That peculiarity of the Israelites was exemplified in their daily physical life through interactions with culture.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Santa, St. Nicholas, and Touchdown Jesus

A few years ago I read Touchdown Jesus: The Mixing of Sacred and Secular In American History. While I disagree with R. Laurence Moore’s underlying premise that religion is and should be a private matter (he is most interested when it “trespasses” into the public square) he does offer some quality insights into the peculiarities of religion and America especially when it comes to Christmas.

Moore begins by asking, “How is it possible that at the start of the 21st century, with seemingly everyone sensitive to issues of religious pluralism, and relatively few people declaring publicly any longer that America is a Christian nation, that a day which explicitly sets one of the worlds religions above all others is a national holiday? Is not the public recognition given to Christmas a far greater violation of church/state separation than school prayer?...With the exception of the highly secularized national day of Thanksgiving, Christmas is the only religious holiday that gets national recognition, and with surprisingly little complaint” (p.28).

Moore builds his case to answer this question on the national economy. He suggests that American Protestants had thrown out the holiday of Christmas because it was a Roman Catholic creation. And yet, Christmas slowly eased back into the American consciousness through the practice of giving gifts. Moore states, “American commerce saw a way to make money. American gift giving recalled less the visit of the three magi to the Christ child than the visit of St. Nicholas (later the jolly American Santa Claus)…[which with department stores] transformed Christmas in America into an economic necessity. American prosperity from year to year stands or falls on the success of sales during the holiday season. No imaginable Supreme Court is going to create obstacles to this consumer juggernaut. Nor is any Jewish group or Islamic group likely to finance a test case to bring down Christmas. They too are merchants” (p. 28-29).

It seems that the religious connotations of the holiday have been suppressed while another consumer oriented, general good will type of message has co-opted the holiday. What continues to surprise me is that Christians both recognize that “their” holiday has been co-opted which they are upset about, and yet, they are quite unwilling to make the changes to subvert what it has become. It would seem they want consumerism and Jesus without considering whether or not that consumerism is compatible with the anticipation of Advent or the life of Jesus. I believe Moore is right when he states, “To people who say every year that it is time to put Christ back in Christmas, there are two possible answers. The first is that he has never been there, so no model exists for putting him back. The second answer is also a warning-if Christ ever were allowed to dominate the public celebration of Christmas, the national holiday would have to be scrapped” (29).

Saturday, December 8, 2007

"And his name shall be called snacks are with us": Christmas and Kitsch

Christmas astounds me. More accurately I am amazed at the ways in which it is perverted and marketed. What Christmas joy I might actually have left is being killed off daily by the ubiquity of Christmas music, consumerism, and just bad theology. One solace has been the Advent Liturgy and its focus on anticipation and waiting rather than our cultural illness of immediate gratification. That aside I am constantly incensed as both an artist and theologian at the horrific nativities that clog our lawns, tables and store shelves. Plastic and mass produced Jesus, Mary and Joseph's replete with an eerie glow from the light-bulb up their rear. What are we saying about the holy family by imaging them in a hollow, mold-injected plastic with an artificial light? It is these types things that suggest to me that the iconoclasts had it right.

Here is a link to a host of Christmas kitsch to simultaneously brighten and steal your Christmas joy.

I can't decide which is my favorite...B'gok!

Be sure to look at all 3 pages and the 2007 additions!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Place and Plurality of Meanings

One of the issues I have struggled to come to terms with is the obvious layers of meaning. If places are, in some sense, socially constructed by events of individuals and communities over time, certainly there will be a variety of meanings, possibly even within the same community. Jerusalem may be the quintessential contested place. Places are layered with meaning. Memory is embedded and continues to be embedded. Each place is shaped by those shared memories. It is here again that we should listen to the power struggles over place and consider whose voices and memories are not being heard about this place. I think both Inge and Sheldrake have helped me see particular experiences in particular places, while perhaps quite different from others interpretation of that place, do not end in those interpretations. The meaning of that place transcends the individual experience to point beyond self and place to the sacred potential of all places. God has claimed this spot, pointing to the eventual redemption of all places. We will certainly have different memories and interpretations of places, but the diversity is united in the light of Christ.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Place & Placelessness

I have discussed defining places in terms of embodiment and memory that give orientation to our interactions in the world. Because of these attachments, humans are rooted in place and we constitute who we are by our relations to particular places and not others (wrong side of the tracks). There is much to say about the particularity of place and our self-understanding. We are at home in our house, city, country and earth. Yet, for the Christian, this home is not home. It is temporary. There is a constant tension between our home here, and our future home…wherever that may be. Stanley Hauerwas’ Resident Aliens suggest that same idea. As do our ideas of pilgrimage, refugee, and the disapora. Combining these thoughts with orientation and disorientation, being in and out of place, home and homelessness, the tension for the Christian life becomes more evident. Considerations of place may be particularly helpful in elucidating these complexities.