Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kaleidoscopic visions of the kingdom

From Park View Mennonite Church, 1600 College Ave, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
During my four years in seminary I was fortunate to have overlapped with the first seminary cohort as part of the local Mennonite Hispanic Initiative, which is committed to providing church planting resources, leadership development, and theological education to the Hispanic and Latino community here in Harrisonburg. One of the MDiv students is Byron Pellecer, pastor of the Iglesia Discipular Anabaptista (IDA), which currently meets Saturday evenings in the building of Harrisonburg Mennonite Church. Byron and I had a number of classes together and became good friends and brothers in Christ.

This past Sunday at my congregation, Park View Mennonite Church, Byron preached with his good friend, Marvin Lorenzana, who is an EMS MDiv alum and Director of Multicultural Services at EMU. I had been under the impression that Byron was going to be preaching in Spanish with Marvin translating to English. But then something amazing happened: While preaching, Byron would switch back and forth between the two languages, and Marvin would follow along. Here's the sermon...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Political Theology: Chick-fil-A, Capitalism, and Free Speech

From Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
"There is Power in the Blog" - the amazing name of the blog for the Political Theology journal, has just put up my first contribution there...

There’s no such thing as a free chicken sandwich.
(And it’s a good thing, too.)

Here's the summary:
In this post I want to focus on two interrelated things: 1) The capitalist logic to expressions of morality in the digital age, and 2) its effect on our understanding of the principle of free speech. What I’ll argue is that contemporary moral discourse is marked by a sense of victimhood which fuels the vitriolic and polarized nature of its expressions. In a society saturated by competing values disconnected from substantive moral traditions, this vacuum is filled surreptitiously by the moral logic of the “free” market. Moral discourse and outrage, then, has a deeply economic quality with a thin ideological sheen. The second part of my argument rests upon the first in that appeals to the principle of Free Speech – e.g. the Chick-fil-A flap – act simply as a screen for the phenomenon described in point one. Finally, my brief constructive remarks belie a vision for radical ecclesia which resists such destructive practices by enacting a politics and economics which emanates from the story-shaped practices of the body of Christ.
Check it out...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hauerwas on psychology via mental illness

From Harrisonburg, VA, USA
My wife and daughter are on a little vacation at the beach this week, and since we also did a whole lot of running around in June, I'm staying home to work, which in addition to my gainful employment includes taking care of both our cat and our neighbor's cat while they're also away. So...my evenings are kind of quiet this week. Last night I caught some episodes of Battlestar Galactica, since it had been since early June since I last saw one and I only watch that show when my wife's not around. (Nerd stuff.)

Tonight I thought I'd feed my brain a bit more so I watched a three-lecture series that Stanley Hauerwas delivered at Fuller Theological Seminary's 2011 "Symposium on the Integration of Faith and Psychology." I wanted to hear what the old man had to say about psychology, knowing it would be pretty harshly critical, but I was somewhat puzzled (at first) to see him spend the first two lectures reading from his stunning memoir, Hannah's Child, drawing specifically on the parts related to his 24-year marriage to a wife who struggled with mental illness.

It's not until his final lecture where he finally gets around to doing the theological explication of all that had come before, even then reflecting on the writing of his memoir. How this "integrated" with psychology can only be glimpsed explicitly in a few of his offhand remarks, so he's doing what he does best (and may have learned from Yoder): He changes the subject.

Watching all these is a three-hour time commitment, but if you haven't read his memoir this is a great way to get significant bits. It's also great to see him do his work. As I recently indicated, Hauerwas is like a fine wine. He not only gets better with age, he gets better the longer you hang with him.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Discipleship and evangelism for the Web

From Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Graphing the RT blog homepage.
(Courtesy of http://www.aharef.info/static/htmlgraph/)
Yesterday I focused on creationist debates over the Internet. My argument there was, in brief: It's impossible to avoid the constraining reality of the nation-state and its interlocking projects in the creation and maintenance of the Internet, and Christian pacifists should not miss this fact.

Continuing this line of thought, I was drawn to another thought-provoking article: Web Literacies: What is the 'Web' Anyway? by Doug Belshaw.

As Belshaw points out, the World Wide Web is a system which makes use of the Internet for its "plumbing." And it is precisely this relationship of the Web to the Internet that makes some of the his claims quite intriguing (and problematic).

I admire Belshaw for being deeply committed to his work, as a read through his about.me profile will illustrate. He obviously wants to make a difference in the world. He is a man of conviction. (He even characterizes some of his work as "evangelising!")

Monday, July 23, 2012

Creationist debates over the Internet

From Harrisonburg, VA, USA
And on the sixth day, Al Gore gave us...
(Photo by Lawrence OP via Flickr.)
It should be obvious to anyone who knows me: I owe a great deal to the existence of the Internet. My entire professional life would not have been possible without it, including my new job at Eastern Mennonite University, which entails convincing graduate programs to invest more energy and imagination in recent innovations in web-based tools for advancing online education at EMU. And here I am saying this on a blog.

Yet there is an aspect of the Internet that has taken on new significance after my theological education at EMU, steeped as it is in the pacifist Anabaptist tradition: The Internet's inextricable link to the nation-state.

It's impossible to avoid the military (and therefore the nation-state) in any account of modern, post-WWII digital technology, including the Internet. The military has been, and continues to be, a huge source of funding for technological innovations. (Entrepreneurs take note: I hear drones are a big growth sector!)

Then there are the debates about who or what is primarily responsible for the creation of the Internet, signaled in this piece from Ars Technica, my go-to nerd website: WSJ mangles history to argue government didn't launch the Internet.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hauerwas is like a fine wine

From Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
His dad's name was Coffee for crying out loud!
He gets better with age. The Australian Broadcasting Company's always-excellent Religion and Ethics website has posted what I think may be Hauerwas' most succinctly argued essay which covers the broadest range of topics he's tackled over the years. It's long but oh dear is it worth the time...

The politics of the church and the humanity of God

One big point that's been a hallmark of his work is highlighting the story of modernity, including the accommodated church's complicity in modernity and its dire consequences. There's this nugget:
(David Bentley) Hart observes when Christianity passes from a culture the resulting remainder may be worse than if Christianity had never existed. Christians took the gods away and no one will ever believe them again. Christians demystified the world robbing good pagans of their reverence and hard won wisdom derived from the study of human and non-human nature. So once again Nietzsche was right that the Christians shaped a world that meant that those who would come after Christianity could not avoid nihilism.
This is paired with the critique of constantinianism, which he picked up from John Howard Yoder (and which people consistently miss when they accuse him of wanting a "theocracy"). He also spends a good bit of time talking about Barth, which helps keep his political and ethical comments theologically rooted (which sometimes gets missed in his episodic writings, and which he also gets accused of downplaying). His pacifistic, non-coercive theological understanding also finds voice in respect to topics he's tackled before:
The humanity of that God Christians believe has made it possible for a people to exist who do in fact, as Nietzsche suggested, exemplify a slave morality. It is a morality Hart describes as a "strange, impractical, altogether unworldly tenderness" expressed in the ability to see as our sisters and brothers the autistic or Down syndrome or disabled child, a child who is a perpetual perplexity for the world, a child who can cause pain and only fleetingly charm or delight; or in the derelict or broken man or woman who has wasted their life; or the homeless, the diseased, the mentally ill, criminals and reprobates... Such a morality is the matter that is the church. It is the matter that made even a church in Christendom uneasy.
Virtue, language, and narrative also get small treatment. To cut off my temptation to elaborate further, I'll simply let the snippets here speak and hope that a few people take the time to think of the huge implications for the Christian faith if Hauerwas is correct (and I continue to think he is, in large measure, correct on a good number of things).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Putting the belief cart before the virtue horse

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library,
Leslie Jones Collection, via Flickr.
After having just read Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue and Brad Kallenberg's Ethics as Grammar, it seems that everywhere I turn now in my nerdly reading, virtue and "the good" is on the tip of many tongues. This seems especially true to many reflections on matters of contemporary American life, including the role of "religion" in said life.

While I'm not categorically opposed to efforts at reclaiming some sense of virtue in this American life, I don't hold out particularly high hopes for such a project. The vice of greed in its many manifestations, I fear, has permeated too deeply into the halls of power in this country (Ex. A) for such a reformation to take hold substantively, not to mention the necessity of having to provide a substantive account of "the good" at a societal level, which is impossible in our pluralistic society. As one sociologist suggests, we must hold to a set of ideals as "the good." But the problem with ideals is they don't exist (to turn a phrase from Stanley Fish), and to hold out abstractions as that which a liberal-democratic society should strive for doesn't get us past the pickle of plurality. Who adjudicates the inevitable conflicts when substantive accounts and implementations of the purported societal good? (Resisting the temptation to drop the MacIntyrian line, "Whose...? Which...?" I've played it too much recently.)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Headline: "Alum collapses after four years of grad school"

The relieved family; photo by Lindsey Kolb/EMU
It's a little hard to know how to characterize this post, since it's simply a link to a nice article written up by Laura Amstutz about my four years of grad school at Eastern Mennonite University. So I'll just tag it as "memoir" for posterity, and re-post the picture of my lovely ladies celebrating with me on seminary graduation day. (My wife and I both were at it again the next day, for my other masters and her MA in counseling...)