Monday, March 31, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
I am not suggesting that the personal relationship does not have its merits, though it is not strictly listed in the bible and is a fairly recent addition to our Christian vocabulary and language. And yet, it is an over-simplification of the Christian faith that ignores the body of Christ as God’s chosen vessel of embodying the liberating message of the Gospel to the world. The church is certainly a broken vessel, and yet it is how God, in the name of Christ, empowered by the Sprit is at work within our world. We cannot dismiss it so readily as we are apt to do.
The image on the left is a blurred long exposure of a hanging chandelier in a Sioux Falls hotel. The image on the right is a pendant light that hangs in a stairwell at Sioux Falls Seminary. Their juxtaposition creates a conversation about the tenuous balance of fluidity and rigidity of the ecclesial constitution which becomes the bearer of God’s light in the world.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
This is another piece in the Axis Mundi series which explores the sacred in our every day lives. This one uses the literal body as the space of sacrality. We are strange creatures who both worship and degrade our bodies. We suffer under cultural expectations of what is beautiful and we suffer at the hands of others both intentionally and unintentionally. And yet, if we are created in the image of God, and somehow that means we have been made as physical beings, the human body in a substantive way is sacred.
I love how this piece came together. I was not interested in trying to perfectly match the structure of one to the other but rather the suggestion of line and movement toward and sort of embrace of the other.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
We who are sitting here today have both the benefit of knowing history and the outcomes of this story: Good Friday brings Easter Sunday. And yet, because we know the story, we can never experience it again for the first time. But let me invite you to part company with your preconceived notions. Suppress your tendency to know what will happen. Try to hear the story with virgin ears not dimmed by your memory. And perhaps then we may glimpse a new reality of this dark day.
Old Testament Job 14.1-4
Psalm Psalm 130
Epistle 1 Peter 4.1-8
Gospel Matthew 27.57-66, John 19.38-42 (Blended)
Remembering our Journey Thus Far
We are here appropriately scattered and silent. We have come this far in this Holy Week to sit here in silent wonder…confusion…sadness…profound tension of life and death. We have journeyed with Jesus into
And now, our
Themes Amidst the Void
Today is a day of tensions.
Our historical vantage point allows us to know of what comes tomorrow. But today we are in between…caught in the middle of sorrow and hope. Today is lived in the tension between the crucifixion and the resurrection…between despair and joy…between presence and absence…between the darkness of Friday and the light of Sunday…between the defeat of life and the victory over death…the end and a new beginning.
Today is a day of silence.
Today we sit in a no-mans land of scripture. With only few words of history. Our scriptures say little of this day. Only Matthew (26.62ff) shares that the priests and Pharisees visit Pilate on the morning of the Shabbat, asking to secure the grave. As scripture is silent on this day, we become silent. In this sparse day of words, we are left to contemplate and re-live the disorientation of the original followers. Scattered, they observed the Sabbath in utter confusion… weariness… and hopelessness. As
Today is a day to consider our mortality.
We live in a death denying culture. Even in death, the mortician tries to beautify the body. We go to the doctor, take vitamins and medication, eat right and exercise not just to be healthy, but to prolong life and delay death. We all dedicate significant mental and physical energy to postponing that final breath. But the truth is we are dying from the moment we are born. Death is not one final act but the final moment of a long process of dying. Today we are reminded of our finitude that we may, as the Epistle has told us to live the remainder of your days “not by human desires, but by the will of God.”
Today is a day of mourning.
It was for the faithful of that time a day of profound loss. Not just of a friend and rabbi, but failure of a communities Messianic dreams. Their hope for salvation crushed, hung out to dry on a cross, and now dead in a tomb. Regardless of how these men and women understood salvation and Jesus as the Messiah, those hopes had literally been killed. This is a day of mourning of the loss of a friend and shared dreams. Today the alter remains bare. Today there is no celebration of the Eucharist, for
Today is a day of rest.
The tendency of today is to rush in preparation for tomorrow. Groceries to buy. Meals to prepare. Homes to clean for family gatherings. Miles to travel. And yet, the heart of this day is the Jewish Sabbath. A day of rest. Today we are to see the connection to the first Sabbath…the Sabbath of creation. On the seventh day of creation God ordained a day of rest from the work of creation. Today, God incarnate rests in a tomb from the work of redemption.
Today is a day of waiting.
Again because we are caught in this tension of historical knowledge that this Jesus will rise, we must wait in this tension. I suspect that we are prone to jump all too quickly through this dark day. We don’t like to dwell too long on such topics. But to forget about this day in between the extremes of death and the resurrection is to miss a significant part of the original experience. What we transverse in a few moments of reading was played out historically over a good number of hours. In the course of only a few verses we move from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. To make our journey complete, we must not rush through this day. We cannot speed up the hours no matter how uncomfortable they may be. We must wait and pray like the disciples horribly suspended between Friday and Sunday.
Today is a day of hope.
As God rested from the work of first creation on the first Sabbath preparing for the for the eight day of creation and the first week; we are to see God Incarnate resting in the tomb from the work of redemption because tomorrow begins the first week of new creation…a new covenant. In the work of the cross we are to see an image of original creation.
Tomorrow, what was lost, will be reclaimed.
Tomorrow, the old will be made new.
Tomorrow, what was broken will be restored.
Tomorrow, those in exile will be welcomed home.
Yesterday’s end brings tomorrow’s new beginning.
And those amidst death, as we are, can hope for new life and resurrection because tomorrow we will see the death of death itself.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
This is another piece I created (and re-created) several times for the Common Ground show last year in Sioux Falls. For some time I have been wrestling with ideas of our human constitution. Are we body? Are we bodies and souls? We are commanded to love with our whole heart, mind, and strength? How many parts are we? Are these ideas of body and soul remnants of a Platonic dualism? Do they send us down Gnostic paths? This piece is suggestive of those wrestlings. The image was taken on my brother-in-laws farm in Springside, Saskatchewan last summer.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
We saw this at the Indianola Balloon Classic a few years ago. I've seen it on the cover of a book recently as well.
As my friend Dave said, "If this is how we are going to meet Jesus in the clouds, the rapture is going to disappoint a whole lot of people..."
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Ok...I saw this in a church office while attending a friends wedding and just had to take a picture of it.
So much fun with this one...
Kairos or Chronos?
Woe to you when my batteries run out...
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Mt. 4.17)
Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. (John 7.6)
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
The passage states, “When he came to
The scroll was open to Isaiah 61 which should be read a fuller understanding for this context but Jesus’ own words suffice as a summary. Verse 19a of the Luke passage or 2a of Isaiah 61 mention the “year of the Lord’s favor” which points to the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 where all property shall be returned to its rightful owners and debts are forgiven.
With that in the back of my mind, my recent viewing radically changed my perception of Tyler Durden. Kelton Cobb, in The Blackwell Guide to Popular Culture states that Jack apprentices Tyler’s in an “ad hoc twelve-step program that Tyler devises to free Jack from his bondage to the dominant paradigm of consumerism” (p. 11). I began to wonder, is Tyler a sort of
Much of what the Lukan passage suggest and recurs throughout the Gospel is liberation from illness, oppression and the structures of society.
Another telling scene is in the basement of Lou’s bar or tavern. Lou enters and proceeds to pummel
Another telling scene takes place in the back of a convenience store…the epitome of unnecessary consumption. With the glow of soda machines in the background the store clerk, Raymond K. Hessel is hauled out at gunpoint and made to kneel on the ground.
Another central question that should be asked is the nature of the violence. To what end is the violence. Is there meaning in or redemption from the violence? In these particular scenes it would seem that there is. The cross, the supreme act of violence in the
And yet, we must consider (as one of my students pointed out) not only what
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Friday, March 7, 2008
The Hegelian synthesis suggests that from a thesis will arise its anti-thesis and as a way to mediate between the two a synthesis will emerge blending and rejecting elements of both the thesis and antithesis.
Fight Club, while giving voice to the frustrations of many post-moderns, seems to utilize this very modern construct.
The thesis is represented by Edward Norton’s character Jack or the Narrator as a buttoned-down un-happy white-collar worker in an un-ethical and mind-numbing job. His antithesis, Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt is the alpha-male unrestrained by societal rules and its ways of functioning.
For this to work we must ask, does the film ultimately condone the violence of
I think we see the synthesis at work in
Robert Bellah in Habits of the Heart describes individualism in two particular forms: utilitarian and expressive. Benjamin Franklin is the epitome of the utilitarian expression of individualism where the individual rises to su
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 (p. 333-4) 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” (p. 35). We hear this in our language of “finding oneself.”
Fight Club seems to critique both the materialistic utilitarian individual as well as the self-cultivating expressivist. And yet, the film avoids becoming preachy and dictating the synthesis. It is left to the individual to navigate and mediate between the utilitarian and expressivist, as well as the emasculated consumer and ultra-violent alpha male. Jack becomes the one who has su
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
1 The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want. 2 He makes us lie down in green pastures; he leads us beside still waters; 3 he restores our soul. He leads us in right paths for his name's sake. 4 Even though we walk through the darkest valley, we fear no evil; for you are with us; your rod and your staff— they comfort us. 5 You prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies; you anoint our heads with oil; our cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord our whole life long.
I want to spend the next few minutes thinking about hospitality which has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years, both inside and outside of the church. And yet the two conversations are often radically different each competing for our desires. Elizabeth Newman, professor at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond Virginia has written a powerful reflection on the nature of the Christian hospitality called Untamed Hospitality: Welcoming God and Other Strangers.
Beth begins by critiquing our cultures distorted understanding of hospitality. The world around us sees hospitality through the eyes of HGTV, Martha Stewart, Southern Living, or Ladies’ Home Journal. We are sold images of the immaculate private retreat homes, lavishly decorated for this and every season where only the select few are welcomed. We see friends gathered to rough hewn Asian hardwood tables sold at your local Pottery Barn…enjoying elaborate feasts cooked in beautiful shining pots from Williams Sonoma…served on the newest line of dishes from Crate & Barrel.
This is how many in our cultures think of hospitality.
So too, our cultural perspectives on hospitality have become synonymous with sentimental expressions of forced smiles, nice manners, pleasantly bland conversations and has often been relegated to the private sphere of our home life.
Not all forms of hospitality are confined to the home. There is of course the hospitality industry of spas, hotels, restaurants, cruises and resorts. This form of hospitality operates on the market economy where services are exchanged for money. Here, hospitality is rooted in our culture of leisure and consumption, branded and bought identities and lifestyles, and is driven by our desire of desire itself.
Perhaps we have been invited to sail away from the busyness of life on a Carnival Fun cruise that will take care of your every need or whim…for a price.
We are also invited to soothe the soul by comforting the body through luxurious indulgences of exotic skin treatments and massages at spas…again for a price.
I am not criticizing these things outright, but we must ask, are these really acts of hospitality…or is it mere entertaining?
Hospitality as entertaining/entertainment is concerned with cultivating a particular appearance rather than a true self giving to ones guest. What is intended to welcome another into ones way of life becomes a way to hold others at a distance.
And yet in our Psalm today we are given a glimpse of God’s hospitality.
John Goldingay says Psalm 23 is a psalm of radical trust told through symbolic images of Yahweh as shepherd and host, protector and provider. Yahweh acts as our caring shepherd by his guidance and protection and as generous host where we enjoy feasting and celebration.
Several things in this psalm stood out in my preparation.
First, Israel refuses to see a distinction between their physical and spiritual needs. Yahweh, is the satisfaction of all. If we are to take this psalm seriously we must consider our own consumption in the market of desire and the call to utter reliance upon God’s ways to first define our desires and then offer their fulfillment.
Second, a shepherd generally watches over a flock rather than individual sheep, this psalm is a recounting of Yahweh’s past protection and provision recalling Israel’s exodus and journey through the wilderness. The powerful potential of the psalm recognizes that its hope is intimately tied to its memory. By rehearsing God’s past hospitality, we reconstitute our hope for the future in our present celebration and worship.
Newman states, “Just as God provided manna for the Israelites in the wilderness, Christians acknowledge that God continues to provide living bread in the body and blood of Christ and living water in the pools of baptism. God has provided for us and always will.”
This table and these elements become the means of God’s hospitality. Here we are received and welcomed through the power and gift of the Spirit to participate in God’s own triune life…an unimaginable abundance of self-giving and receiving.
But here at this table we also receive our identity. This table and these elements become a central means of forming the distinctive characteristics of God’s flock utterly dependant upon God’s protection and provision.
Gathering together as we are and through these practices, we are more than a collection of individuals. Alexander Schmemann goes further suggesting that in the liturgy, we become “a whole greater than the sum of our parts.” Here the Spirit gathers us from around the globe to forge us into the physical body of Christ that we may embody God’s hospitality to the world, unbounded by the walls of our homes.
At this table you are not held at arms length.
Here you are welcomed into the life of God.
Come and receive the Gifts of God for the People of God.
Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanks giving.
 Elizabeth Newman, Untamed Hospitality, 23.
 Goldingay, Psalms Vol. 1, 345.
 Newman, 15.
 Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 25. See also Newman, 49.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
First we should consider a basic concept of nihilism. Literally it suggests “nothingness” emanating from a “complete rejection of and possibly the destruction of beliefs and values associated with moral and traditional social structures. Philosophically, nihilism represents an attitude of total skepticism regarding objective truth claims. Nihilism views knowledge as dependent upon sensory experience alone, so that moral and theological claims are meaningless” (Stan Grenz, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms).
In many ways, these ideas are embodied in the film. There is a rejection of capitalism and consumerism that most hold dear in our culture. There is a rejection that violence is bad. Pain, or other sensory experiences becomes the means to awaken to real life. We see that latter with the scarification ritual in the soap-making kitchen.
That same scene also gives us other insights into the nihilism of the film. Many forms of nihilism are naturally paired with atheism. If there is no God, than there can be no moral absolutes.
“Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God? You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. Never wanted you, and in all probability he hates you. this is not the worst thing that can happen. We don’t need him. Fuck damnation, man. Fuck redemption. We are God’s unwanted children. So be it. It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we are free to do anything.”
Kelton Cobb in The Blackwell Guide to Popular Culture states, “This is a bitter theism, a resentful affirmation of God’s existence” (p. 265-6). God seems to be a given. And yet we are forced to contend with the apparent realities of life rather than what we would like to believe about God. His experience colors his concepts of God. In return, he renders God as irrelevant.
The article on Nihilism from the Encyclopedia of Philosophy edited by Donald M. Borchrt also suggested, “nihilism is caused not so much by atheism as by industrialization and social pressures, and its typical consequences are not selfishness or suicide, but indifference, ironical detachment, or sheer bafflement.” This claim certain helps see the effects of consumerism as an institutional violence.
And yet, the nihilism portrayed in Fight Club is not absence of hope.
In many way’s the film is nihilistic. And yet there are glimmers of hope not unlike our eschatological hope. Times are dark and yet we can see and imagine a purer reality as it has been promised, and in some ways is already present.
Monday, March 3, 2008
Consumer culture emasculates by fostering false idealized images that motivate men to change what and who they are: men. They run longing for this idealized image to which
At the outset of the film we find the emasculated Jack seeking solace and identity in consumable products rather than in himself…whatever that may look like. In an early scene where Jack and Tyler first appear in the same shot, sitting side by side on the airplane Tyler reads the emergency instruction card to which Jack replies something about the great responsibility that seat has to open the emergency door.
In one scene Jack describes the relationship between he and Tyler as, “Most of the week we were like Ozzie and Harriet.” We are not confused who is whom in this analogous pairing.
In another scene at Marla’s apartment, Marla says to
Craig Detweiler in his book, A Matrix of Meanings says, “A longing for God and fathers informs every frame of Fight Club” (p. 42.). We see this theme boy with out father-figures recurring throughout the film. In a later poignant scene, the two men sit and discuss their fathers.
Jack: “I can’t get married, I’m a 30 year old boy.”
Elsewhere in the film
Our culture’s lack of fathers point of orientation in development renders an incomplete identity that must be filled by things. Ultimately the we are shown what it means to be a man by those products rather than our fathers.
Jack narrates to the audience, “I felt sorry for guys packed into gyms, trying to look like how Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger said they should look.” And turning to
We have been sold a false bill of goods and the scales have fallen from our eyes. The mute now have a voice to combat the culture…to give an expression to their (and ours) discontent.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
I saw the film first in 1999 when the film came out against the advice of a good friend who was thoroughly disappointed with the lack of fighting. He had hoped that it for a boxing movie to which Fight Club is sure to disappoint. The film is certainly violent, but it serves a different purpose than a film like Rocky where the hero rises against the odds to greatness. Fight Club uses violence as a subtext to explore what is necessary to subvert the dominant paradigm of consumption.
Fight Club is a scathing critique of our branded and consumable identities. The Narrator played by Edward Norton, who remains nameless save a few 3rd person references as “Jack” is shackled by societies addiction to things. The fact that he largely remains nameless is suggestive of two things: 1) that he finds his identity in those things he buys and 2) Jack is a sort of everyman in which we are to see that we too are kept by these consumeristic desires.
In response to the question of police about the destruction of his apartment, Jack states, ““That condo was my life. I loved every stick of furniture in that place. That is not just a bunch of stuff that got destroyed, it was me!” It was ME! His identity had become those things. In a consumer culture we can buy our identity, change it on a whim because we are buying not simply clothes or furniture but a lifestyle that tells others about who we are. For Jack, identity was found in his stuff…his Ikea furniture, his AX ties and DKNY shirts etc. In one poignant scene Jack tells
In that same poignant scene come the most scathing critique of consumerism.
Tyler Durden: Do you know what a duvet is?
Jack: It's a comforter...
Tyler Durden: It's a blanket. Just a blanket. Now why do guys like you and me know what a duvet is? Is this essential to our survival, in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word? No. What are we then?
Tyler Durden: Right. We are consumers. We're the bi-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don't concern me. What concerns me, are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra.
Jack: Martha Stewart.
Tyler Durden: Fuck Martha Stewart. Martha's polishing the brass on the Titanic. It's all going down, man. So fuck off with your sofa units and string green stripe patterns.
Here we get a glimpse of the final scenes of the film. That this cultures ways of consumption, this lifestyle obsession is coming to an end. We are left to wonder now in retrospect, does
If we are to critique our culture which in embedded in consumption, we must also provide a viable alternative in which we locate our true identity. Which the church has: the story of God in