A Counter Expansion

In Christ, the world is not turned upside down.  The world is toppled.  The pieces are scattered.  And it is in the Scattered that the reversal begins, where the Narrative is countered.  It is not the Divine hand driving a teleology towards an eschaton.  It is the proclamation that triumphs over the eschaton.  Through the scattered, the kerygma spreads.  The Realm spreads.

Jesus’ Realm never dominates space, instead the Scattered expand in spite of the dominance of space.  Just as they always have.


Youth in Mexico (2): Water of Chaos, Water of Life

June 22, 2013– “Water of Chaos, Water of Life.”

In the beginning there was the divine, the earth, the darkness, and the deep waters.  Chaos.  In ancient text, deep waters often symbolize chaos.  The divine over the chaos, as in Genesis or Jesus walking on the water, is said to be the divine exerting control over the chaos.  But I prefer a different interpretation, since to us humans, we still experience the chaos.  In this interpretation, the divine is present in the chaos, not subjecting it to the divine will.

Think about it, if there was no chaos, we’d never encounter stranger, we’d never have our walls knocked down, immigrants would never cross our borders, and we’d sure never fall in love.  When Jesus calms the waves and walks on the water, Jesus may have have exerted some control, but the disciples were confronted with a new, confusing reality.  Water is chaos.

The chaos of strangers, of encountering the invisible poor, of the executions that happen out of sight, be it in Abu Ghraib or outside the walls of Roman Jerusalem, this chaos leads to renewed thought, passions and commitments, to a new way of life.  Jesus said I am the water of life, the one who drinks of me will never thirst again, and when they crucified him and pierced his side, water poured out.  Water is life.

Water Communion [pours water over other’s hands]

Water-Giver: Water of Chaos, Water of Life, bring us together.

Water-Recipient: But I cannot hold it, Amen.

Youth in Mexico (1): Two Big Questions

[These next posts are reflections I gave before and during a recent trip to Mexico with the ELCA's Youth in Missions program.  This was given at opening worship.]

June 16, 2013– “Two Important Questions”

Read Romans 15:5-8

We don’t want to give you the answers, because that would be us pretending we have them.  And rather than simply asking you to find the questions for yourselves, we want to challenge you to find the questions that belong to Others.  To marginalized and disenfranchised Others, especially.

As an example, I will discuss what I think to be two of the most important questions in the entire New Testament.  The first is “Why was Jesus executed?” Not simply ‘sent to the cross for us,’ but tortured and publicly executed by the Romans?  And the second question is, “Must the Gentiles be circumcised?”

First, we have various interpretations of the death of Jesus in the New Testament.  Blood Atonement in Hebrews 10, Mercy for the Martyr in Romans 2, Ransom in Mark 10, Forgiveness of Sins in Matthew, New Covenant in Luke.  Also, in Luke you have the motif of the death of the righteous man.  In Luke there is no atonement, and it is evident that Jesus suffers at the hands of the Powers, the Powers of Jerusalem and of Rome.  In its own way, the cross is an injustice that the resurrection corrects.

We must not forget that–that in its foundational elements, the cross is injustice, a State sanctioned murder.  That’s not to say that the different biblical claims are wrong, but rather that they are true to Jesus-communities’ struggles to understand and explain a tortured, dead Messiah.  How could they not struggle?  My cousin, who doesn’t always attend church, brought his wife and 4-year-old son to a Passion play this past Easter.  At the crucial moment when they crucified Jesus, when the audience was silenced and moved, the 4-year-old yelled out, “Don’t kill Jesus, he is a good man!”  This 4-year-old’s cry rings truer than most Theologies of the Cross that I’ve ever heard, because it’s raw, because it understands basic inhumanity.

In psychoanalysis, when a community encounters a traumatic event, the phenomenon of differing  stories is evidence of both the historicity of the event and and of its traumatizing nature.  If all accounts of the cross matched, this would be evidence of a manufactured story lacking trauma.  Instead, the memory of the cross, even over two or three generations, is broken and scattered, much like the Jesus-communities after the destruction of Jerusalem.  The New Testament reflects this broken and scattered community, who struggled to deal with their memory of injustice.

The second question, “Must the Gentiles be circumcised?” is one of ethnicity.  Judaism in the Ancient World was not a religion, but an ethnic category.  So now if you think of “conversion” to Judaism, then accepting the cultural codes found in the Torah becomes quite understandable.  For the Gentiles, in Greek = the [other] nations, circumcision was difficult for obvious reasons.  And as Judaism spread out from Jerusalem, its boundaries became less and less rigid, giving rise to certain ethnic conflicts in heterogeneous gatherings.

For many Christians, reading from Galatians or Martin Luther, think only strict adherence to the Law is critiqued: “Faith in Christ trumps following the Torah.” Or in less nuanced thinking: “the Jews were criticised because they followed rules, while the Christians were free to love.”  However one sees the Gentile form of Christianity trumping its earlier Jewish forms, this is turned on its head by Romans.

When we encounter other ethnicities, races, and other forms of difference, we must go beyond the question of how are we different.  We must always ask if and where is there privilege, an arbitrary power imbalance.  In the Roman communities, the Gentiles had this privelege, and Paul critiques their dominance.  For this reason he concludes Romans with these words in 15:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.  For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,

and sing to your name.”

On our trip to Mexico, try to find the questions posed by the lives of others.  Why do they live in difficult conditions?  How does privilege affect one’s views of another culture?

Materialism and Metaphysics

From Max Horkheimer, “Materialism and Metaphysics”

Contemporary materialism is not principally characterized by the formal traits which oppose it to idealist metaphysics.  It is characterized rather by its content: the economic theory of society.  Only when the formal traits are abstracted from this content do they emerge as distinguishing marks, such as are regarded as important today, for classifying the philosophical views of the past.  The various materialist doctrines, therefore, are not examples of a stable and permanent idea.  The economic theory of society and history arose not out of purely theoretical motives, but out of the need to comprehend contemporary society.  For this society has reached the point where it excludes an ever larger number of men from the happiness made possible by the widespread abundance of economic forces.  In this context is formed the idea of a better reality which will emerge from the presently prevailing state of affairs, and this transition becomes the theme of contemporary theory and practice.  Materialism does not lack ideals, then; its ideals are shaped with the needs of society as a starting point and are measured by what is possible in the foreseeable future with the human forces available.  But materialism does refuse to see these ideals as the foundation of history and therefore of the present as well, as though they were ideas with an existence independent of man.  The efforts of idealism in this direction do more honor to history than to the idea.  For ideals can become moving forces, in so far as men try to turn them from mere, even if justified, ideas into reality.  But history has never ceased till now to be a record of struggles.  Even with a view to success in realizing its ideals, materialism to relate “what has happened and its happening now, the unique, accidental, momentary event… to an overall context of value and meaning,” as cultural history does.  It can therefore hardly be understood by the latter, any more than by metaphysics generally.

Critical Theory, p. 45-46




Die Mitte der Zeit

Whereas in Mark the narrative itself provides a broad unfolding of the kerygma, Luke defines the narrative as the historical foundation, which is added as a secondary factor to the kerygma, a knowledge of which he takes for granted (Luke i, 4).  The factual record is therefore not itself the kerygma, but it provides the historical basis for it.  This separation of kerygma and narrative makes it possible for each to develop as an entity in its own right. – p. 11

Conzelmann is right about the separation of the kerygma and the narrative, but he is naïve not to include the Judaic traditions.  In other words, what if Luke is producing a narrative that interprets tradition in order to critique Theophilus’ understanding of the kerygma?  Why not give a simple theological treatise?  Why tell the story?  In short, the narrative serves to interpret the tradition producing Luke’s own version of the kerygma.

Must leave the historical Jesus and and the theological behind in order to encounter the narrative in its own narrative space.  I mean, it is called The Middle of Time and the whole first section is “Geographical Elements.” How imminent and spatial does one have to be in order to be present?  

Crossan, Time, Parables

Time and Parables.  It is against this understanding of temporality and historicity that the parables of Jesus will be interpreted in this book.  They express and they contain the temporality of Jesus’ experience of God; they proclaim and they establish the historicity of Jesus’ response to the Kingdom.  This does not mean that they are timeless truths or metahistorical models.  But, on the other hand, they do not so much fit into a given historical situation as create and establish the historical situation of Jesus himself.  There is, of course, more to Jesus’ life that the parables which express its ontological ground.  He was not crucified for parables but for ways of acting which resulted from the experience of God presented in the parables.  In this regard the parables are cause and not effect of Jesus’ other words and deeds.  They are not what Joachim Jeremias called “weapons of warfare”; they are the cause of the war and the manifesto of its inception.  In summary: as against Jülicher, the parables are not timeless moral truths beyond all and above all historical situations; but, as against Jeremias, neither are they to be located in Jesus’ own historical experience as visual aids to defend a proclamation delivered before them and without them.  Jesus’ parables are radically constitutive of his own distinctive historicity and all else is located in them.  Parable is the house of God.

p. 32-33

Bultmann and Paul

Nevertheless, this basic position is not a structure of theoretical thought.  It does not take the phenomena which encounter man and man himself whom they encounter and build them into a system, a distantly perceived kosmos (system), as Greek science does.  Rather Paul’s theological thinking only lifts the knowledge inherent in faith itself into the clarity of conscious knowing.  A relation to God that is only feeling, only “piety,” and not also a knowledge of God and man together is for Paul unthinkable.  The act of faith is simultaneously an act of knowing, and, correspondingly, theological knowing cannot be separated from faith.

Therefore, Pauline theology is not a speculative system.  It deals with God not as He is in Himself but only with God as He is significant for man, for man’s responsibility and man’s salvation… Every assertion about God is simultaneously an assertion about man and vice versa.  For this reason and in this sense Paul’s theology is, at the same time, anthropology…

Therefore, Paul’s theology can best be treated as his doctrine of man: first, of man prior to the revelation of faith, and second, of man under faith, for in this way the anthropological and soteriological orientation of Paul’s theology is brought out.  Such a presentation presupposes, since theological understanding has its origin in faith, that man prior to the revelation of faith is so depicted by Paul as he is retrospectively seen from the standpoint of faith.

NT Theology, p. 190-191.


In Defense of a ‘Radical’ Christology


This is a response to Christian Piatt’s Patheos blog from Thursday, part of an ongoing dialogue about Subverting the Norm 2.

I wrote a blog about Diversity in STN2 but never posted it.  I’m still struggling with that issue.  Let me share two thoughts however.

1) Diversity is a product of capitalism, a way to promote community ideologies in order to comfort the privileged and to hide the material disparities that continue to exist. For me, ending material disparities is the goal, not mingling races and cultures.  (I’m in an interracial marriage, so I realize that’s a little easier for me to say).

2) Subsequently, I don’t believe in “having” diversity.  If encountering the other is truly important to you, go where you are the minority.  Be the diversity.  Suspend your own space in other spaces.

That being said, I have no problem with the Radical Theology movement being primarily white male movement; although I think there is growing heterogeneity with females and LGBTQ in this realm.  It provides an important space for self-critique, and structural critique for the church.  On the other hand, I, like Piatt, have been asking around about possible Liberation/Radical hybrids, to borrow a phrase from @postmodernegro : “a hyrbridity of critical postures.”

Personally, I would love to sit with a handful of thinkers and practitioners in the field of liberation theology and talk about how – if at all – these radical theology concepts dovetail with what they’re doing on a daily basis.

I’m a little confused, however with Piatt, whether or not he sees a connection between the Latino Reformation and Liberation Theology.  I’m sure there must be some places of overlap, but politically, I can only imagine that they go in opposite directions.   Still, I believe his basic assertion is a fair statement of the problem.  Let me frame it in my perspective:

Radical tradition doesn’t “do” anything (to embody Christ, necessarily).  And Liberation theology (and those from the non-white traditions) fail to adequately deal with its metaphysics (see this article from the Other Journal), which in my opinion replicate and perpetuate oppressive powers within their racial and ethnic spaces (i.e. strong patriarchy).

In the future, I’m not sure if there’ll ever be a theological friendship between Liberation and Radical, the way that was found between Process and Radical at Subverting the Norm 2.  Perhaps (intended), there can be one formed over Christology, a direction I believe and hope the Radical tradition is heading.

Founded upon early forms of historical materialism, a foundational Materialist Christology, similar to Fernando Belo’s commentary on Mark and Ted Jennings Insurrection of the Crucified, can form the basis for a Radical Liberationist Christology, one that could challenge all colors of the church into challenging the problems of capitalism and institutionalized power, perhaps even through alternative forms of labor within the church.

I couldn’t bring myself to title this post, “In Defense of Radical Theology,” in part because, I believe the metaphysical divide with Liberation theology is too large.  Also, I am not a fan of the theological endeavor.  And yet, like @JesKastKeat from this podcast, I think ‘Radical’ is a also a bad name.  Perhaps Radical Theology is in need of rebranding, but certainly, as a white movement, it is doing its job challenging white privilege by challenging its metaphysics, and pointing our gaze, not at our navels, but at our material practices (albeit, they are still just gazes).  Material Christology, anyone?