Thursday, February 23, 2006

Metanarratives and the Christian Stories

What are Christians to make of the postmodern incredulity toward metanarratives, is it a proof that postmodernity needs to be rejected by those of faith? Or are we missing what Lyotard meant by metanarratives?

Metanarratives are totalizing stories that depict the unfolding of history to its ultimate culmination. So for modernity examples of this would be the Marxists attempt to immanentize the eschaton by revolution. Justification for the revolution was a certain philosophical understanding of history, a totalizing story that told us of the proletariat's need to rise up in order to form a classless society. While the stories of the bible are often read in this grand totalizing way there are considerable differences between the stories modernity tells and those that are revealed in the scriptures.

The biggest difference that I see while reading around the topic of postmodernity and how it intersects with Christianity, is that the stories of modernity are stories that often seek to legitimize the status quo. They legitimize the aims of society, whether it is the capitalistic nation state or the party that will finally bring about the last revolution. In the end they seem to be self congratulating to those in power. While in contrast the narratives of the scriptures seem to always be in the service of de-legitimizing the people of God, to insist that they are not who they ought to be, that they are in need of rebuke, that they are a people in need of correction, that they are called to be people of the kingdom, but are never called the kingdom people.

To me this is a rebuke to much of Christianity that seems to tell the Christian stories within the stories of modernity.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Axis of Evil?

I am delighted to be reading blog entries from my friend Paul Nikkel over at Deinde again, after being in hiding in the artic tundra of Canada for two months, I thought perhaps he was using his vast technological skills to 'come up' with the next big archeological find that would convince even the most stalwart skeptics that the ancient Israelites preferred Mac OS over that other os. Well instead he offers some first hand examples of kindness and compassion in hopes of tempering the rhetoric of 'evil'.

Also check out the discussion between James Crossley and Pete Philips, here, here, and here.

And don't forget what is fast becoming my favorite commentator on all things random, AKMA.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Bishop of Rhome's take

My good friend Adam Groza has just put up a moving article by Mark C. Taylor honoring Derrida. This is a great introduction that helps to undo the derrida monsters that still persist.

Check it out here!

Friday, February 03, 2006

He can preach too!

For all of you who do not get the Sojo mail updates I thought I would post this homily by Bono!
If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It's certainly not because I'm a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I'm here because I've got a messianic complex.

Yes, it's true. And for anyone who knows me, it's hardly a revelation.

Well, I'm the first to admit that there's something unnatural...something unseemly...about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the south of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert...but this is really weird, isn't it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind.

Mr. President, are you sure about this?

It's very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned - I'm Irish.

I'd like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I'd like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws...but of course, they don't always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you're here.

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here - Muslims, Jews, Christians - all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

Yes, it's odd, having a rock star here - but maybe it's odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was...well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays... and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land...and in this country, seeing God's second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment...

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.

Perhaps because I was a believer.

I was cynical...not about God, but about God's politics. (There you are, Jim.)

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick - my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world's poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord's call - and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic's point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.

'Jubilee' - why 'Jubilee'?

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lord's favor?

I'd always read the scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)...

'If your brother becomes poor,' the scriptures say, 'and cannot maintain shall maintain him.... You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.'

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he's met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he's a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn't done much...yet. He hasn't spoken in public before...

When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,' he says, 'because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.' And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favour, the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18).

What he was really talking about was an era of grace - and we're still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate - in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn't a bless-me club... it wasn't a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions...making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.

But then my cynicism got another helping hand.

It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called AIDS. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The ones that didn't miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children...even [though the] fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move.

Mercy was on the move.

God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet...conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on moms and quarterbacks...hip-hop stars and country stars. This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!

Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.

It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened - and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even - that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying...on AIDS and global health, governments listened - and acted.

I'm here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here's some good news for the president. After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund - you and Congress - have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here's the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There's a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.

Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.

Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the tsunami. 150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature." In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."

And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews - but not the blacks."

"Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than 2 million Americans...Left and Right together... united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.

We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King - mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market...that's a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents...that's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents...that's a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That's why I say there's the law of the land?. And then there is a higher standard. There's the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it's OK to protect our agriculture but it's not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that's what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won't, at least. Will yours?

[ pause]

I close this morning

This is a dangerous idea I've put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God...vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.

And this is a town - Washington - that knows something of division.

But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the scriptures call the least of these.

This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.

'Do to others as you would have them do to you' (Luke 6:30). Jesus says that.

'Righteousness is this: that one should...give away wealth out of love for him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.' The Koran says that (2.177).

Thus sayeth the Lord: 'Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.' The Jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.

That is a powerful incentive: 'The Lord will watch your back.' Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it?. I have a family, please look after them?. I have this crazy idea...

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.

Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what he's calling us to do.

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to 10% of the family budget. Well, how does that compare with the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than 1%.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing.... Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional 1% of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is 1%?

1% is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

1% is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. 1% is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. 1% is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. 1% is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This 1% is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

1% is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism toward Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than 1% now. We're asking for an extra 1% to change the world. to transform millions of lives - but not just that and I say this to the military men now - to transform the way that they see us.

1% is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, 1% is the best bargain around.

These goals - clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty - these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a globalised world.

Now, I'm very lucky. I don't have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don't have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don't have to make the tough choices.

But I can tell you this:

To give 1% more is right. It's smart. And it's blessed.

There is a continent - Africa - being consumed by flames.

I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did - or did not to - to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.

apocalypse NOW!

'Apocalyptic,' as I have appropriated it in my previous post is a rather narrow and perhaps banal description of much broader phenomenon. At the very least apocalyptic is resistance literature that is written in times where a community feels threatened. I like it when Wright states that apocalyptic literature, 'is a way of investing space-time events with theological significance; it is actually a way of affirming the vital importance of the present continuing space-time order,' no matter how bad in 'reality' things had become.[1] So I see 'apocalyptic' as a way of reclaiming the imagination by denying that 'evil' will have the last word. The cultivating of the imagination is essential to see beyond the status quo, to glimpse the 'reality' that we are not seeing. 'Apocolyptic' then has everything to do with social policy, in that it denies the prevailing 'empires' (what or who every they may be) the thing they desires most, the imaginations of their subjects.[2]

In this sense I take Paul to be an apocalyptic theologian, for as soon as Paul became convinced that in Christ's crucifixion and exaltation God had inaugurated the fulfillment of history, the delivery of the promises to Abraham, the return from exile, he understood his own role to be not simply the preaching of the 'good news' of that fulfillment. But also the organizing of communities and more specifically the imaginations of individuals within those communities upon the revolutionary ethic of the crucified Lord. [3]


N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 280-99.

[2] I am aware of the scholarly approaches and definitions of Apocalyptic and its cognates. My use of 'Apocalyptic' is, of course, in comparison rather basic and pragmatically suited to fit my discussion, and thus simply another construct. Precise definitions have still eluded scholars and continue to attract debate. See the informed discussion in, R. Barry Matlock, Unveiling the Apocalyptic Paul: Paul's Interpreters and the Rhetoric of Criticism (JSNTSup 127; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996). I like the notion of Paul's apocalyptic vision being akin to Edward Said's notion of 'decolonizing cultural resistance,' an alternative way of conceiving human history, so Said, Culture and Imperialism, 216. That being said it is not my contention that Paul was a proto-post-colonialist, but rather ironically, his gospel in its original setting was quite post-colonial. As John Howard Yoder reminds us 'Apocalyptic literature is written by and for the others.' John Howard Yoder. " Twenty Years Later: Translation of the Italian Epilogue in the Politics of Jesus." (Place Published, 1991), (accessed November 11, 2005).

[3] Horsley, "Imperial Biblical Studies," 165.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A prophetic Christian

A prophetic Christian is one who is attentive to the notion that human beings are unable to create error free or problem free situations, theories or traditions, and as a result prophetic Christians tend to be anti-dogmatic in thought and practice.

A prophetic Christian seeks to view each individual as having equal status, warranting dignity, respect and love, especially those who are denied such dignity, respect and love by individuals, families, groups, social structures, economic systems or political regimes.

The prophetic Christian seeks solidarity and identification with the downtrodden the disinherited, the degraded and disposed; and lastly, the good news of Jesus Christ, which lures and links human struggles to the coming of the kingdom--hence the warding off of disempowering responses to despair, dread, disappointment and death.

Prophetic Christian conceptions of what it is to be human, how we should act and what we should hope for are neither rationally demonstrate nor empirically verifiable in a necessary and universal manner. Rather, they are embedded and enacted in a form of life--a dynamic set of communities that constitute a diverse tradition--that mediates how I interpret my experiences, sufferings, joys and undertakings.

There are good reasons to accept prophetic Christian claims, but they are not a result of logical necessity or conform to transcendental criteria. Rather these reasons are good because they are acceptable and existentially enabling for many self critical finite and fallible creatures who are condemned to choose traditions not of their own creation. To choose a tradition is more than to be convinced by a set of arguments; it is also to decide to live alongside the edge of life's abyss with the support of the dynamic stories, symbols, interpretations and insights bequeathed by communities that came before.

-- Cornel West, The Cornel West Reader, 13-14

The good news and the apocalyptic imagination

There is something strong within me that resonates with Hauerwasian ideals, but here I must confess, I don't read Hauerwas very critically. For instance I have read very little Jeffery Stout, or others critical of Hauerwas's project. To be frank it is not really in my limited expertise to interact with such thinkers, and thus I will probably just stay conflicted until I have some time to sort through various issues pertaining to 'ethics'. But one thing I am pretty confident about is that American style consumerism has co-opted the western 'christian' view of what the gospel message was/is all about. But this epiphany, so to speak, has been more crippling than freeing. I feel as if I am in a coma where I can perceive the world around me but am incapable of acting.

My reading of the gospel has undergone some serious challenges and changes since this epiphany; I have been much more cognizant of social inequality, institutional racism, and other general malevolent practices of 'othering', as being central concerns of the gospel, not peripheral. Although I have been a follower of Christ for nearly half my life, I am a recent convert to prophetic Christianity, and while this conversion is welcome, nevertheless, I seem ever the more lost for it. Perhaps it is this state of 'lostness' that perpetuates a life of reliance, I don't know, that may just be wishful thinking.

The point of this post, if there is one, is to ruminate about what the good news ought to look like today, how it ought to be actualized in the life of believers today, and more concretely to start of a series of posts. I hope the posts will center on what it means to have an 'apocalyptic imagination' informed by the good news. But in all reality they will probably look more like an incoherent cacophony of half baked ideas, regardless I hope you will join the conversation.