Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Abortion and Capitalist Discipline

I appreciate Isaac's recent comments in yesterday's post about Bell's conception of forgiveness overcoming capitalist discipline. I believe that Bell provides a way forward, and that he is absolutely correct about forgiveness. However, I'm not sure we fully grasp how deeply capitalism has plumbed our souls. I read this article in the LA Times about an abortion doctor in Arkansas that has performed over 20,000 abortions in his career. What is most chilling to me is how abortion is reduced to an economic decision: the mother determines the value of the baby and weighs it against the cost of delivering and caring for the baby. Pope John Paul II referred to our culture as one of death. In A Community of Character, Stanley Hauerwas refers to abortion being the inevitable outcome of a society that cannot receive children.

It is articles such as these that let us know just what is at stake and should also call us to realize that our theology is not just a series of logic games. At stake is the life of the world.

LA Times Article

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bell, Day 5: Forgiveness and Desire

In a response to my sermon for the first Sunday of Advent, Isaac provided a link to his sermon. I think that in that sermon, he raises the issues that are at stake in Advent and also in the last chapter of Bell's book. Today's post will be short, and I am hoping to begin a conversation about forgiveness. I suggest you read Isaac's sermon and then read the Bell excerpts below.

In chapter 4, "The Refusal to Cease Suffering: Forgiveness and the Liberation of Desire," Dan Bell moves beyond his deconstruction of capitalism and the faulty ecclesiology of liberation theology. He begins a positive move to construct an account of Christianity that can overcome capitalist discipline. The move is constructed around forgiveness. His account of forgiveness moves beyond the notion of forgiveness as an idea, a technique or a strategy. For Bell, forgiveness is
"The therapy of desire that Christianity enacts to counter capitalist discipline, that forgiveness is the name of the ensemble of technologies that God has graciously made available to humanity in Christian communities for the sake of healing desire of the madness that is capitalism. Said a little differently, it is God's gift of forgiveness in Christ, and not the relentless pursuit of justice understood in the classic sense of rendering 'what is due,' that liberates desire and gives birth to communities capable of resisting capitalism. Through the reception and return of God's gift of forgiveness- receiving and giving it- communities are formed where desire is liberated from capitalist discipline" (144-145).
Forgiveness then is the grammar that structures Christian life. It is a grammar that structures our lives in such a way that our desire is freed from the bondage of sin and then disciplined in such a way that it might flow freely in doxological return to God. The community built on justice as "rendering what is due" will never fully participate in this grammar. At best, it can redistribute income, punish egregious offenses, but will always in the end be a reactionary movement that will culminate in continuing adversarial relationships where victims and victimizers are continuously made, cast down, and made again. Bell proposes that forgiveness makes possible the economy of charity (See Augustine's "furnace of charity" in De Trinitate), which comes via Christ's life, death, and resurrection, and our gracious participation in it.

Tomorrow, I will address forgiveness and the atonement. On Thursday, I hope to look at forgiveness and eschatology.

Here is a question I would like to pose to everyone. What makes up the ensemble of technologies of desire that is Christianity? What specific technologies would you place within the grammar of forgiveness?

For example, I would place lament in this list. Prior to my theological training, I was trained as a political scientist and historian. In previous American wars, even the secular state was able to lament publicly her wounded and dead. The state organized public meetings where the names of the dead were read aloud, and the entire town mourned collectively. Granted, this was not inherently Christian, but the point is that today, there is no attempt to lament the dead. They are swept under the rug. Their lives are minimized with the logic that "we've only lost two thousand soldiers." I am afraid that the Church is guilty of doing the same thing. Being influenced by politics and talk radio, there is little room for lament in a church. Everything must be positive, affirming, warm. To lament is to run the risk of driving away the "consumers" you are trying to reach and convert (Think Purpose Driven Church language here). I would think that the ability to lament together as the body of Christ is essential to any ensemble of technologies called forgiveness.

What would you include?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Preparing to Receive a Most Unexpected Gift

Isaiah 64:1-12 (ESV)
Note: I will be preaching to the children at the front of the congregation, so this will be a little different than my other sermons.

A baby is always a most unexpected gift. It is one of the few things in our world today that despite all of our efforts we have little control over. Sure, Tom Cruise can by his own sonogram machine, so he can watch his baby develop. Sure, technology lets us identify gender and see little photographs along the way. But ultimately, there are many unanswered questions about a baby. When will he come? Was the ultrasound right? How big will he be? Will he be healthy? Will he look like me? What will his personality look like? Will he have colic? What color will his eyes be? What color will his hair be? Babies remain one of the few unexpected gifts in life, because there are so many questions that we cannot answer before their arrival. All we can do is prepare for their coming.

As a church, we will be celebrating the arrival of Baby Timothy sometime in the next few weeks. Already, his parents have begun their preparations: a new room for big sister, cleaning out the nursery, buying a crib, purchasing infant clothes, diapers, wipes, cleaning everything... There is a tremendous amount of preparation in order to welcome a new baby into the world.

The same is true as we prepare for Christmas, our celebration of the birth of Christ. Advent means "a coming," "an arrival." Just as with Baby Timothy, preparing to receive the birth of the Lord requires a great deal of preparation. We have already prepared our sanctuary. Many of us have begun preparing our homes. However, most importantly, we must prepare ourselves to receive the gift of Baby Jesus. What does it mean to prepare ourselves to receive the Christ Child? It means that we must prepare ourselves to receive God's most unexpected gift.

1) We must truthfully confess our current situation.
Walmart does not like Advent. They tried to start Christmas in September. Even before they removed the Halloween candy and masks, they had dancing Santas, singing reindeer, and candy canes out in the store. They want to commercialize Christmas, removing any religious significance. For them, Christmas is just a good time to sell people a whole bunch of merchandise. The only preparation to be done is to line the shelves with cut-rate merchandise and prepare to fill the pockets of their investors with healthy profits. Notice how as Christmas has been so heavily commercialized, there begins to be a move to sheer Christmas of any mention of Christ, to have holiday trees and sing holiday songs. We can blame the ACLU all we want, but as a nation, we have already done this in most of our lives.

To prepare to receive God's most unexpected gift, we must begin by truthfully confessing that this nation is hostile to the Gospel, unopen to the reception of a baby King. We must realize that the world is not a Hallmark card with a warm fire and friendly songs of good will. The world is perfectly bent on destroying itself. In short, we must begin by confessing that the world without Christ is perfectly lost. To understand this better, let us look at the Isaiah reading for today.

2) We must confess our complicity (vv. 6-7).
The talk radio climate of America today drives me absolutely crazy. There is never any confession about how together we have done these things and made certain mistakes. Instead, there is always an effort to place blame on the other group, the other person. To prepare our hearts for God's most unexpected gift, we must begin by confessing our complicity in the current mess. In Isaiah's words, "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" (v.6). Advent is a time for confession. It is a time for us, as the Church, to reckon with our complicity in a world gone mad. How do we contribute to all the evils and ills we see regularly? How are we subject to those powers and principalities that tempt us and others to worship something other than God? We prepare our hearts by truthfully confessing and opening ourselves ever deeper to the penetrating light of the Gospel that casts out darkness. It is in our confession that we begin to become a holiness people.

3) We must believe that our salvation comes in God alone (vv. 1-4, 8-11).
In verse 1, Isaiah cries out on behalf of his people: "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!" After being completely broken by the Babylonians and subjected again to slavery, after witnessing the destruction of the Temple and the city walls, Israel finally gets that her salvation does not come from playing power politics, building a strong military, balancing power in the region, building a strong economy. Isaiah cries out that their salvation will come only if God decides to come again, to rip open the heavens and to descend to the earth. They realize that no matter how hard they strive, salvation belongs to the Lord and to those who wait upon his arrival. After we confess our situation and our complicity, can we celebrate Advent by waiting on God to save us? Or wil lwe instead continue to rely upon the military, the police, the banks, the credit card companies, Hollywood to save us. Can we believe that God is the source of of our salvation, and that he will remake us, just like a potter, into his divine image?

4) We must prepare to receive God's arrival as it comes, not as we desire it (v. 12).
In verse 12, Isaiah asks God, "Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord? Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?" The answer is no. God will act and act decisively. At the right time, God sends his son, Jesus. It was a most unexpected gift, so unexpected that even the heavens must have held their breath. Imagine that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes not by ripping the skies apart and demonstrating through acts of power his divine strength. Imagine instead that the fullness of God, the hope of humanity's salvation is entrusted to the womb of a young peasant girl. Imagine the King born into abject poverty. If we are truthful, this is a hard story to accept, as it was for Israel during Jesus' life. According to Matthew's Gospel, Jesus still comes to us in the face of those least welcomed in our society. In the parable of the sheep and goats, all ask Jesus, "Lord, Lord, when did we receive you?" Jesus replies, "when you did this to the least of these my brethren, you did it also unto me." We must fight the powerful temptation to force Jesus into a mold of our own making, an idol that meets our every need without any cost or expectation.

To celebrate Advent is to prepare to receive God's gift as it is given. To celebrate Advent is to prepare to rejoice in God's gift in just the way it comes. To celebrate Advent is actually to believe that God acted decisively in that manger and on that cross and in that empty tomb. It is to believe that God is still coming to us today, and that he will come again to us in final glory. To celebrate Advent is to journey into a world gone mad with the good news that there is a king who has come and brought the fullness of God's salvation with him. It is to announce that this good news is free to all who will receive it. It is to announce that the King will come again soon, and all who believe will become a part of his glorious kingdom forever.

Are we prepared to receive this most unexpected gift?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bell, Days 5-7

The next few installments will begin on Monday. I have to get ready for Church tomorrow.



Friday, November 25, 2005

Bell, Day 4: The Church and Desire

To summarize briefly, Bell sees a serious flaw in liberationist ecclesiology, which prevents liberation theology from resisting capitalist discipline. He states,
"While the liberationists are busy building a bridge over the chasm between the theological and the political by means of a socio-analytic mediation, the capitalist order has effectively filled in the chasm and is sending its minions (fed on fast food, dressed in some retro pastiche, brandishing corporate logos) swarming across a divide that is no more and never was. In other words, for all that is praiseworthy in their ecclesiological efforts, liberationists continue to define the Church within the limits of the secular order. Even as they insist that the theological and the political be correlated, they maintain the division between the realms: the Church is not an immediately political option. At best the Church inspires or motivates Christians under the force of the value of love or the preferential option for the poor to move into the real world of social conflict" (71-72).
Rather, for Bell, "where capitalism constitutes a veritable way of life that exercises dominion by capturing and distorting desire, resistance must take the form of an alternative way of life that counters capitalism by liberating and healing desire" (72). This alternative way of life is the Church. To paraphrase Stanley Hauerwas, the church does not have a social ethic, it is a social ethic. This more substantive ecclesiology must collapse those things modernity and capitalism place in dialectical tension: theological and social, religion and politics, physical and spiritual. Bell adds,
"This ecclesiology ... will begin by conceiving of Christianity not as the apolitical custodian of moral values... but... as a social, political, economic formation (an ensemble of technologies of desire) vying with other formations (technologies of desire) on a single field of lived experience. It will start with the recognition that the Christian mythos finds its political correlate, not in the state ...but in the Church as the exemplary form of human community" (72).
The Church as a community is not just one other community in a sea of communities, nor is it an interest group or lobbying agent; instead, it is that community that is formed and ordered by worship of the Triune God. As a result, Bell states,
"The Church's politics is not defined by the secular order. Thus, it finds no home in civil society. The Church's politics culminates not in the centralized rule of the state and its civil society but in the Kingdom of God. The politics of the Kingdom, in turn, amounts to nothing less than participation in the divine life of the Trinity, a life that ... is characterized... by a perichoretic dance that celebrates difference. Thus the Church embodies a de-centralized , participatory politics that defies the discipline of the state and its civil society" (73).
As a result, the Church moves beyond social chaplaincy and is reclaimed as a
"fully material or embodied reality (the Word became flesh), whose practices- such as baptism, catechesis, Eucharist, discipline, prayer, and discipleship- do not merely 'mediate' and 'values' but rather transform the material circumstances of Christian... existence" (86).
Thus, it is in the corporate embodiment of these historic practices of the faith that Christianity becomes a therapy of desire. For Bell (following Augustine), humanity is human only in that it desires God. Capitalism is sin because it corrupts desire and disciplines that corruption into a way of life called idolatry. To go to Milbank briefly, in Theology and Social Theory, he declares that the purpose of this ecclesiology is to "tell again the Christian mythos, pronounce again the Christian logos,and call again for Christian praxis in a manner that restores their freshness and originality" (Milbank, 381). The Church, through this process, begins to heal the wound of sin and to return human desire to its source, the Triune God. Thus, the practices listed above by Bell provide the grammar for a more robust ecclesiology. It is to these that we now turn.

Bell talks at great length about liturgy and confession. I am discussing the others he mentions based on other readings and thought within the RO movement.

1) Liturgy
For Bell, the liturgy first and foremost makes the body. To borrow from de Lubac, the Eucharist makes the Church. The Eucharist, which we will discuss in a moment, must again be the center of all Christian worship. On liturgy, Bell states that the liturgy is "a technology of desire through the assembly of memory" (93). Quoting Talal Asad discussing Cistercian life,
Bell states,
"Through the rich language and imagery of the liturgy... the monks were given a new vocabulary that enabled them to 'redescribe, and therefore in effect reconstruct, their memories in relation to the demands of a new way of life'"(93).
Liturgy, for Bell, is much more than just a linguistic performance. Instead, the reading of Scripture, the proclamation of the Gospel, the singing of hymns "are embedded in an ensemble of technologies that act on and shape material bodies in particular ways" (94). The particular ways that Bell mentions are those ways in which are bodies are renewed and restored which allows our desire to return to the Father in doxological praise.

2) Confession
Moving away from Foucault, Bell states,
"Confession is not concerned with the social control and repression of a primordial desire. On the contrary, it is part of a process of recognizing that desire has already been captured and controlled, that desire's present orientation or direction in the world is not an ontological given" (95).
Instead of a societal means of control and repression, confession functions to uncover "those technologies of knowledge, power, and the self that had assembled desire in a particular way" (96). It is in the confession of sin, that it can begin to be re-narrated and overcome in worship and practice.

3) Eucharist
To return to de Lubac's point, it is the Eucharist that makes the Church. In much of Protestantism, we have succumbed to a very Zwinglian view of the Eucharist, reducing it to a memory of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. Often, the celebration of the Lord's Supper is almost equivalent to a visit to a statue of a dead hero. Instead, we must return to some view of "real presence." In Bell's account, one is immediately confronted by the economics of the Eucharist. The Lord offers up His body for our salvation, giving us His own flesh and blood to sustain us. Immediately, the economics of scarcity, which is the core of capitalist thought, unravels. To say that there is scarcity in the world is to deny the superabundance of love revealed to us in the Eucharist. We give and receive; we share; we confess; we offer up; we remember; we participate in Christ's death and resurrection and confess an eschatological hope in His return. William Cavanaugh has an outstanding article entitled, The World in a Wafer, that helps here.

4) Baptism
Earlier, we talked about how capitalism de-territorializes human societies but then re-territorializes them in ways that make production and consumption more effective and efficient. The end result is the creation of economic classes. I am reminded almost of Huxley's Brave New World where humanity genetically engineers itself for different tasks, from the enlightened leaders to the coal miners. Baptism resists this capitalistic re-territorialization. To be baptized is to be a part of the Body of Christ, the Church. This identity transcends all others. In teh West, that we have lost our baptismal identities helps to explain why we cannot even muster the energy to examine how capitalism disciplines desire in our society.

5) Prayer
Lex orandi, lex credendi. This statement would seem to best summarize the role of prayer in Christian ecclesiology. It is telling that prayer is often of little significance in Christian life. Often, capitalism so subvert our desire for God, that our prayers are little more than consumeristic lists of what "I" desire. True Christian prayer opens us up to God's indwelling presence in the Spirit, connects us to each other in the Body, as well as to the entire communion of saints.

6) Discipline
Much like confession, discipline is often seen as a tool of social control rather than as a technology of desire. Christian discipline is always redemptive, seeking to restore the sinful party to full communion with God and the Church. Often, church discipline is carried out as the will to power. Instead, Christian discipline is the bodily practice of brothers and sisters being bound together in love. It is charitable to speak the truth to one another, to help one another, to support one another. Ultimately, excommunication must always remain a possibility; however, even then, the hope is that the person will realize her sin and the sting of separation from the Body, then repent and return to life within the community.

There is obviously much more that can be said here. As a pastor of a Protestant church, I see everyday the perversion of desire brought about by sin. I also see the limits on ecclesiology that Protestants must confront, or our crisis will only deepen. Bell is critical of the Latin American liberationists for their mistaken ecclesiology. In the U.S., we struggle even to identify capitalism as not Christian, so deep is its subversion. Can we begin again to develop such a radical ecclesiology with the hope that desire can be healed and that again we might worship God in Spirit and in truth?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bell, Day 3: A Crisis of Ecclesiology

In Chapter 2, "The Church of the Poor in the Wake of Capitalism's Triumph," Dan Bell wrestles specifically with the self-identified crisis faced by liberation theology in Latin America. On one hand, the liberationists have bravely and fiercely opposed the excesses of savage capitalism in Latin America. However, Bell argues that their vision is not sufficiently radical to escape capitalist discipline, but instead has been subverted and circumscribed by it. The end result has been a "deficient" social theory, usually a hybrid of capitalism (democratic capitalism) or a variant of Marxism. Bell sees both the cause and the solution to the crisis in the liberationist understanding of the church. Today, I will focus on the cause- faulty ecclesiology and a dependence on statecraft.

1) The origins of a New Christendom ecclesiology in Latin America
Beginning in the 19th century, the liberal revolutions in Latin America witnessed a gradual decline in the power and authority of the Church. Often, the new liberal states were hostile to the Church. This trend changed in 1922 with the election of Pope Pius XI. The Pope lost confidence in conservative political parties to represent the church, and so he shifted the Church's emphasis to social witness. The Church shifted its role in politics towards an indirect influence. The Church would focus her energies on an active laity that were formed "in the principles and values of which the Church is the custodian" (45). The development of Catholic Action groups spread throughout Latin America in the 1920s and 1930s and produced a new generation of Catholic reformers and progessives. Jacques Maritain became the influential voice of New Christendom. The New Christendom that emerged during this time viewed the Church as "a moral and spiritual force that works at the level of the human heart, not at the level of politics... a sort of leaven of the temporal realm" (48). Thus, a New Christendom ecclesiology favored "a withdrawal of the Church from the temporal realm of politics" (48). With regards to this shift, Bell states,
"At the heart of this vision was the desire to sever the ties between the Church and the status quo by withdrawing the Church from direct involvement in the political realm. As a consequence of the Church's evacuation of the temporal realm in favor of an indirect, moral influence, the state was left as the uncontested overseer of the political realm. Politics was a matter of statecraft" (51).
2) The Liberationists Partial Rejection of New Christendom.
Following World War II, capitalism mutated dramatically, and the reform movements supported by New Christendom floundered. The Latin American states also went through a dramatic shift in the 1960s as new, more authoritarian regimes rose to power. These new regimes had little time or desire to effect reform, but were instead concerned with warfare and national security. Violence replaced reform in many Latin American countries. At the same time, many Catholic students and priests became very concerned with the plight of the poorest of the poor in Latin America. As this group of priests and students witnessed the horrors of poverty, they began to challenge New Christendom's withdrawal from politics and called for a much more radical Christian commitment to the poor. Out of this movement, liberation theology was born. Gustavo Gutierrez develops the idea of the Gospel's preferential option for the poor and for the Church of the poor.

Bell critiques liberation theology for not pushing far enough. The liberationists recognized clearly that the Gospels quite clearly have political and social implications; however, liberation theology never fully breaks from the moorings of New Christendom ecclesiology. Indeed, Bell states,
"The liberationists' break with New Christendom did not include a rejection of New Christendom's vision of an apolitical (indirectly political) Church and politics as statecraft" (65).
Instead, the liberationists' hope is to create a Church that recognizes the plight of the poor and calls upon the State to work for justice for her poorest citizens. "The state remains the great hope countering the depredations of the capitalist order" (70). The ultimate failure of liberation theology is its failure to realize that capitalism is "not simply an economic system that has escaped its proper domain and can be reined back in by the state" (44). In making this mistake, the liberationists continue to "define the church within the limits of the secular order" (72).

I will close this section with an outstanding quote from Bell and with an apology because there are many intricacies and details that I am glossing over. Here is the quote:
"Liberationists fail to appreciate how savage capitalism, through the neoliberal art of governmentality, renders even the 'free space' of civil society a form of discipline and control. In this era of global capitalism, when Coca-Cola and Nike find their way into every nook and cranny of the earth well ahead of clean water, roads, and life-sustaining diets, far from furthering the cause of liberation and life, civil society can only be a means of discipline, an instrument in of the regnant capitalist order for overcoming resistance and forming desire in its own image. Indeed, by opting for civil society, Latin American liberationists reflect a commitment to the same insufficiently radical vision that led them to the point of crisis at the 'end of history' in the first place, namely, a vision of a Church that traffics in abstract values and apolitical options while the state is granted sovereignty over the social, political, and economic field" (70).
3) What does this mean for us today?
As I read Bell's arguments about the failures of liberationist ecclesiology, I cannot help but see our own ecclesial context in the same light, if not worse. At least the liberationists called for social justice, an end to poverty, and worked to feed the poor. In most Western countries today, Bell's critique (at least for protestants) would sound strange. Why would the church involve itself in "secular" politics? How could the Church do anything else but form the private morality of the state's citizens?

Bell calls for a radically different ecclesiology. He states that "the Church is a public that, short of emasculation, cannot inhabit the private, apolitical space assigned to it as a prison cell by modernity" (73). He argues, "that refusing politics as statecraft and reclaiming the Church as a fully social, political, economic reality in its own right may establish it as a genuine site of resistance to capitalist discipline" (43). Tomorrow we will begin to examine the scope of this ecclesial vision put forward by Bell.

The Struggles of Liberalism as the End of History

Many thanks to David at La Nouvelle Theologie who found this editorial by Francis Fukuyama, who wrote the article about liberalism being the end of history. The editorial linked below highlights the struggles of the Dutch to deal with Islamic fundamentalism. It appears that the liberal paradigm is struggling with problems of its own creation- multiculturalism. To me, multiculturalism is an attempt to have catholicity without baptism and creeds. It is interesting that Fukuyama pits tolerance, multiculturalism, and political correctness over against national identity. It seems that Europe has been down this path before...

Here is the link.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bell on Capitalism And Desire

Chapter One of Liberation Theology after the End of History is entitled "The Infinite Undulations of the Snake: Capitalism, Desires, and the State-Form." In this chapter, Bell begins with the critique of capitalism made by Gilles Deleuze coupled with Michel Foucault's work on governmentality. Deleuze argues,
"Capitalism ... extends its dominion over humanity not merely through the extraction of labor and production of wealth, but by capturing and distorting the constitutive human power, desire" (9).
Bell, via Foucault, also connects Deleuze's account with the modern bureaucratic state. He states that contemporary capitalism is
"a discipline of desire... showing that the state-form encompasses much more than that ensemble of institutions called 'the state,' ... it encompasses a whole host of 'technologies of desire': technologies present in the social, cultural, and religious as well as political and economic registers that shape and form desire in particular ways" (9).
Following Augustine, Bell understands humans as constituted by their desire for God. However, sin corrupts this desire and reorients humanity towards other ends. Capitalism is a sin because it "captures and distorts human desire in accord with the golden rule of production in the market" (2). Turning again to Deleuze's critique, Bell declares,
"Capitalism disciplines desire ... by means of a pincer movement. The capitalist machine deterritorializes desire: it overruns all previous social formations and releases the flows of desire that these formations had organized and regulated. The capitalist machine also reterritorializes desire: it subjects desire to the axiomatic of production for the market. In the process capitalism relies on the state-form to prepare desire for participation in the capitalist order" (19).
Thus, capitalism, once spawned, moves quickly to explode any territorial boundaries that might hope to contain it. In recent years, this deterritorialization has become evident. Bell states,
"Capital assumes the form of the transnational corporation, the division of labor is internationalized, flexible manufacturing systems are advanced, a standardized market/global culture and consumption patterns expand, the informal sector of the economy grows, complex systems of credit and exchange are introduced, and so forth" (17).
Capitalism is not constrained but is indeed very flexible, "whatever it takes to ensure production for the market" (18). As capitalism's "victory" unfolds, individual nations begin to resemble neighborhoods. There is no need for homogeneity, capitalism can deal with difference to a point: as long as all people and nations agree that production is the end of life. However, capitalism commodifies difference, removes it from its tradition and narrative, and sells it to the highest bidder, thus destroying its very particularity.

It is at this point that the nation-state becomes necessary again to capitalism. The nation-states serve capitalism by "reterritorializing the flows of desire that capitalism unleashes" (19). Since teleological institutions stand in opposition to capitalism's market telos, these must be destroyed or co-opted. Once destroyed, the desire freely flows; however, this can be problematic, witness the longing in the U.S. for meaningful community life, for public morality, and for the good old days to return again. It is at this point the state is most necessary. Deleuze declares that the state is far from an "emancipatory agent" but is instead a "repressive instrument of the capitalist order" (19).

The remainder of the chapter richly plays out and critiques Foucault and Deleuze's critique of capitalism and the nation-state. I will turn to one aspect of the chapter that captures the heart of Bell's project. According to Foucault, the crisis of capitalism led to a shift from a strictly disciplinary society to one of control. Bell writes,
"Neoliberal government aggressively encourages and advocates the extension of economic reason into every fiber and cell of human life. Economic or market rationale controls all conduct. Capitalism has enveloped society, absorbing all the conditions of production and reproduction" (31).
According to Foucault, capitalism seizes control of all things: our games, our children, our churches, our schools. However, this control is exercised in a much different way. In the past, control was won via enclosures. The body was disciplined and made docile by being pushed through a series of enclosures that formed that body: schools, hospitals, factories, armies, prisons. It was modeled into a certain societal norm (31). However, these enclosures are deteriorating today, and are being replaced by a new norm of control. Bell states,
"In societies of control (capitalistic societies), the body is rendered pliable not by careful containment and conformity to a norm, but by a flexible, variable, modulation that is ubiquitous... The human being is no longer enclosed but in debt and unlike the enclosure, debt goes everywhere, all the time. The credit card has surpassed the time card as the dominant mechanism of insertion into the economy" (32).
Capitalism, then, completely restructures the world according to commodification, production, and consumption. It develops a grammar that powerfully structures life. Out of this grammar, a language emerges that supports and trains people to live in the capitalistic rendering of the world. The grave danger of the victory of capitalism is that it is anarchic, chaotic, even schizophrenic. There is a constant cycle of deterritorialization followed by reterritorialization. While global capitalism hints at catholicity, ultimately it is a cruel parody. The catholicity of capitalism is the constant state or threat of war. Bell states,
"Capitalist discipline distorts desire into a competitive force: competing for resources, for market share, for a living wage, for the time for friendship and family, for inclusion in the market, and so forth" (35).
By granting scarcity ontological purchase and forming societies governed by the logic of capitalism, the end of capitalism makes the end of history one of constant struggle and conflict. This will play out not just on the battlefield but on our streets, in our families, in our homes. The other becomes a potential threat. Augustine's "furnace of charity" is replaced by the furnace of distrust.

What does this mean for the church?
1) Realizing that capitalism is not Christian.
2) Realizing just how deeply capitalism has structured our bodies and eveen our church bodies.
3) Realizing that capitalism is an anti-liturgy, even an anti-Eucharist.
4) Confessing our complicity in the victory of capitalism.
5) Lamenting the effects of capitalist discipline.
6) Submitting to Christian grammar and discipline.
7) Learning Christian language.
8) Believing again that worship and prayer of the Triune God is the center and end of all living things.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Re-Enchanting The Liturgy

Father Kimel at Pontifications has an interesting post regarding the liturgy and the Eucharist. What struck me as interesting is his description of the fear that Catholics are moving towards a more Protestant understanding of the Eucharist as a symbol. At the same time, many of us who have discovered RO are moving towards real presence in our understanding of the Eucharist.

If you have a moment read the post. As I read, I was reminded of an essay written by Catherine Pickstock in The Postmodern God entitled, "Asyndeton: Syntax and Insanity. A Study of the Revision of the Nicene Creed. In this article, she describes how the liturgical "innovations" actually affected Anglican undertanding of God, space, and time. While this essay is not an easy read, her thorough reading of the changes made to the creed clearly delineates the problems with recent "reforms" of the liturgy.

Day One with Dan Bell

The title of Bell's work is drawn from an influential article written by Frances Fukuyama in 1989. With the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Fukuyama claimed,
"The unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism on the stage of world history, the triumph of consumerist Western culture, the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism" (1).
Indeed, Fukuyama claimed that history was moving inexorably towards a "universally homogenous state characterized by liberal democracy in the political sphere combined with easy access to VCRs and stereos in the economic" (1). The collapse of the Soviet Union and the movement of China towards a communist variant of state-sponsored capitalism would seem to bolster Fukuyama's case even further. Citizens in the Western powers are called upon to celebrate that "we are all capitalist now!" For Fukuyama, the end of history has come, and only those who refuse to realize this fact will remain bound up in history.

Dan Bell, on the other hand, declares,
"The end of history has not been brought near by the boardrooms of New York and Tokyo or the staterooms of Washington DC and Mexico City, nor does human desire find its satisfactions in the capitalist market. Rather, history finds its end far from the boardrooms and away from the marketplace, on a hill where a poor person, uttering the words, 'forgive them,' was crucified" (1).
Thus, Bell reveals that both capitalism and the Church proclaim the end of history. Capitalism proclaims the market and the supportive governmental and cultural institutional structures as the end of history and ultimately as humankind's hope for salvation. Bell, on the other hand, sees the end of history in Jesus' crucifixion and "what comes next" (1-2). The "next" for Bell ultimately is the Church working out the ramifications of the end of history, revealed in Jesus' death and resurrection, in her ecclesial life.

Bell highlights that more is at stake than just mere consumerism. How often do we reduce Christian critique to a simple critique of the excesses of American materialism?!? Instead, capitalism and Christianity operate with a radically different vision of God, culture, government, and daily living. To critique capitalism, Bell seeks to oppose it as a metanarrative that structures the world in a certain way. It is an ensemble of technologies that disciplines desire to deliver it to the market (This will be discussed in depth tomorrow). Consequently, the Church must again be able to pronounce and embody a way of life that offers an alternative to capitalist discipline, a language that exceeds the economic language of capitalism, and an account of history that does not end on Madison Avenue and Wall Street.

A Week with Dan Bell

In a class I am currently taking on forgiveness, we are reading Liberation Theology after the End of History: The Refusal to Cease Suffering by Dan Bell. This is really a fantastic book on a number of different points. This week, I will look at some of Bell's claims and the theological implications of those claims. Here is a rough schedule of how I will approach this task:

Day One: The End of History
Day Two: Capitalism as an Ensemble of Technologies that Shape Desire
Day Three: The Crisis of Ecclesiology in Liberation Theology (and our own)
Day Four: Christianity as an Ensemble of Technologies that Shape Desire
Day Five: Forgiveness: The Liberation of Desire
Day Six: The Implications of Forgiveness: Atonement
Day Seven: Forgiveness and Eschatology

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Advent 2005

Below are listed the weeks of Advent and the specific preaching themes I will be following for Advent. In terms of Radical Orthodoxy, I am focusing heavily on the idea of gift- the gift that is Christ, the very unexpected nature of this gift as an infant and as a returning Messiah, the way the gift is received, participated in, and shared, etc. I will be interested to hear your thoughts and comments.

Sunday, November 27, 2005- The First Sunday of Advent
Gospel Reading: Mark 13:24-37
Sermon: Preparing Our Hearts to Receive the Gift

Sunday, December 4, 2005- The Second Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Sermon: Receive the Gift

Sunday, December 11, 2005- The Third Sunday of Advent
This Sunday, we will celebrate a modified version of lessons and carols. All groups in the church will share gifts in some way, via reading, singing, prayer, etc.

Theme: The Most Unexpected Gift

Sunday, December 18, 2005- The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Luke 1:26-38, 47-55
Sermon: Pregnant with the Word!

Sunday, December 25, 2005- Christmas Day
Scripture: Hebrews 1:1-4; Luke 2:1-20
Sermon: Open the Gift!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Hauerwas & Yoder Book Suggestions

In a Scott's post below on Veteran's Day, David Jones asked me what I would suggest for a Stanley Hauerwas & John Howard Yoder reading list, urging everybody to chime in. So, I thought I would dedicate a full post in short response to provide better visibility for all.

I asked David if he had yet read Yoder's The Politics of Jesus. This was his response and inquiry:
To directly answer your question - no. It's on my book-list to purchase, but I debating if I should buy Yoder's books before Haerwas' books. What say you?

Both giants have written many books and slowly but surely Yoder's books are becoming available. Which books are mandatory reading for both? For example, Hauerwas says The Politics of Jesus and the Preface to Theology are the two most important of Yoder's books.

Yes, Yoder's Politics of Jesus is required (even though I still haven't read it yet, hah).

Most people usually begin reading Hauerwas with his Resident Aliens. I just finished reading his Unleashing the Scripture, but I don't think a Roman Catholic reader would have much use for it because the thrust of the book is arguing against sola scriptura, which seems to be a distinctly Protestant phenomenon as far as I can tell.

So, with that out of the way, and keeping in mind that I haven't read all that I'm going to recommend, here is a short reading list:
  1. Resident Aliens

  2. Where Resident Aliens Live (a follow-up to the above)

  3. The Peaceable Kingdom

  4. Against the Nations

  5. Cross-shattered Christ: Meditations On The Seven Last Words

  6. etc.

  1. The Politics of Jesus

  2. What Would You Do? - a specific answering of the often-brought-up question that goes something like "What would you do if a bloodthirsty, half-crazed, machine gun weidling terrorist was going to lill your wife and kids, kick your dog, drown your cat and burn your house down if you did not attack and kill him?" (this version of this question comes from Halden Doerge, one amazing reviewer of books on Amazon.com) -- this question is used to pigeon-hole a forced answer to justify mortal violence on the small scale and then a logical leap is made to justify violence on a large scale (war).

  3. For the Nations

  4. The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel

As you can see, there are plenty of other Hauerwas books, so it really depends upon what topic you want to read about. Some of his books are just collections of essays with a particular bent, but he covers a lot of the same recurring themes: liberalism, capitalism, war, suffering, aging, etc.

Pertaining to Yoder, I actually have only read his small "What Would You Do" essay (contained in the small volume above), so those suggestions above are only guesses.

To answer your question about who should be read first, I don't think it matters a whole lot, but I think it probably would have served me well to read Yoder's seminal work before digging into Hauerwas. Hauerwas doesn't engage Yoder's works directly too often, but what Hauerwas does do often is emphasize that much of the New Testament, and especially the sermon on the mount, is unintelligible unless we Christians are a non-violent community of people, and he attributes this wisdom to Yoder.

In Hauerwas' Unleashing the Scripture, the latter part of the book is a collection of sermons that tie into the thesis in the beginning of the book that "no 'text' can be substituted for the people of God" (28). The following is an excerpt from the sermon titled "A Sermon on the Sermon on the Mount" which I hope will clarify my comment above about needing to be non-violent Christians:
The Sermon [on the Mount]'s ecclesial presuppositions are nowhere more clearly confirmed than in the Beatitudes. There we see that the gospel is the proclamation of a new set of relations made possible by a people being drawn into a new movement. The temptation is to read the Beatitudes as a list of virtues that good people ought to have or as deeds they ought to do. We thus think we ought to try to be meek, or poor, or hungry, or merciful, or peacemakers, or persecuted. Yet we know that it is hard to try to be meek-- either you are meek or you are not. Even more difficult is it to have all the characteristics of the Beatitudes at once!

Yet that is not what it means to be blessed. Rather the Beatitudes assume that there are already people in the community who find themselves in these postures. To be blessed does not mean "if you are this way you will be rewarded," but that "happy are they who find they are so constituted within the community." Moreover, the Beatitudes assume that we are part of a community with diversity of gifts--a diversity that creates not envy but cooperation and love.

It is only against a background like this that we can begin to understand the illegitimacy of questions such as, Does the Sermon on the Mount require me to be a pacifist? The Christians who remembered the Sermon did not know they were pacifists. Rather, they knew as a community they were part of a new way of resolving disputes--through confrontation, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Peacemaking is not an abstract principle but rather the practice of a community made possible by the life, death, and ressurection of Jesus (pp. 70-71).

It is here where I think Hauerwas would say that it was John Howard Yoder that showed him how essential non-violence is to the Gospels. It was Yoder that revealed to him that it is from this perspective of a community already constituted by nonviolence (or meekness, etc.) that the Sermon on the Mount finally makes sense to us.

I'm sure others would be better equipped to offer some Hauerwas and Yoder suggestions, but these are my own from what I know of their work thus far. So if anybody else would like to chime in with revisions or additions to what I have listed above, feel free!

P.S. Stay tuned to my blog in the next couple weeks. I'm going to be making a couple of longer-form posts on Hauerwas in his defense. He's usually very misunderstood. The answers as to why that is are varied, but I will try to do my best to represent his work with what little resources and time I have.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Living in the Real World (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

Every Friday afternoon in the fall was more or less the same for me. A 2:00 meeting to walk through our assignments and our roles for that evening. Then, a half hour of drilling myself to make sure I knew my responsibilities as well as the other members of my team. Then, it was time to put on the game face. I was not naturally mean, so I had to prepare for what was ahead. I would drink a lot of caffeine, listen to Guns and Roses Welcome to the Jungle, take a handful of Advil, and think about what had to be done. Then, it was time to tighten the straps on my shoulder pads, pump up my helmet, tape up my ankles and shoes. By 7:00, we were bouncing off the walls. There are few things like that experience, to walk out of a steaming hot locker room, and feel the cool air, hear the eruption of the crowd and the sounds of the band. It is like going to battle. Much of football is mental, convincing your opponent that you are bigger, stronger, smarter, and faster than him, so you never let your guard down, you never let fear show on your face. I thought it was the most real experience of my life.

We are obsessed today with reality. We are obsessed with being "real." The most popular shows on television are "reality" shows; however, at root, none of these examples are real. For instance, prior to any football game, there is a great deal of fear. There is a good bit of nervousness about how you will play, whether you will let your team down, whether you will fail. The majority of your time is spent appearing to not be nervous and afraid, when inside your guts toss and turn. It becomes necessary oftentimes to be "real" by presenting an image of someone that you are not, to help you avoid feeling and being revealed as weak and vulnerable. It becomes important to attempt to delude ourselves into believing that the images that we construct are real, even if the consequences are disastrous.

As a fifth grader, we had our own little version of a fight club. Every morning when we were dismissed to the bathroom, all the the fifth grade boys would bunch up, and inevitably the fights would begin. There is a bizarre ritual involved in boy fights, a strange grammar for how these fights are resolved. You see, at heart, both boys are scared to death. They might lose. They might get beaten up. They might be called all kinds of names. Their popularity rides on their performance. Thus, the fight begins with each boy talking and insulting the other one. As the dance continues, it progresses to pushes and increased insults and taunts. Finally, one boy will start the fight by throwing a punch, and then it is on. If both boys were asked separately, most would confess that they had no real desire to fight, but did so just to save face and to maintain a certain image of what it means to be a man. Reality means being willing to throw punches to satisfy an image and not look weak.

In counseling people having marital problems, I have discovered the same problem. To "keep it real" means to always point out the other's faults, to not expose one's own, and to keep the other on the defensive: to not talk, to not share emotions, to not express love in meaningful ways. Often, the more insecure the man, the more often this becomes verbally and physically abusive, as he seeks to overcome his doubts and fears by confirming the image of the strong man and the weak, submissive woman. Reality becomes doing anything to anyone so as not to appear vulnerable.

Nations also do the same thing. There are always deep-seeded fears amongst nations. There is the fear that someone will attack your nation and take what is yours. There is the fear that you will be seen as being weak. To be seen as weak is to become vulnerable to attack or exploitation. Therefore, it is imperative to be strong. The image of strength drives nation's to do almost anything to keep up the illusion of safety and security. The reality of the nations is the desperate quest to appear stronger than all her neighbors, and to do anything to maintain this appearance.

It is exactly to this point that Paul turns in his letter to the church in Thessalonica. The church there is a beachhead community, a mustard seed of faith in a sea of emperor worship. God's gracious love has invaded Thessalonica, and Paul has come to reveal what is truly real and what is truly false. In Chapter 4, Paul draws on the language of a visit by a king (a parousia) to tell the church in Thessalonica about what will happen when King Jesus comes- the dead will be raised, the living wioll be caught up in the air, and all God's faithful children will come to be with Him for all eternity. This is reality. This is the real world, the real kingdom. In today's lesson, Paul reminds the Thessalonian church of this reality as it applies to them as citizens of Christ's kingdom. Facing stiff persecution and tremendous suffering for their faith, the Thessalonian church must have been sorely tempted to turn towards the false reality of the peace that Caesar offered. All it took was a public confession that Caesar was Lord, and one could worship anything privately. The reality of the world would say go ahead and make this confession, and then go to church and worship in peace. However, for Paul, this is not the real world revealed by Christ Jesus, and this will not be the world that will survive in the next world.

Paul tells the Thessalonians, "For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'There is peace and security,' then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape." Empires always invest heavily in propaganda. Their chief tool is to flatten the whole world into their realm of control. There are no answers, no questions, no risks, no dangers that the Empire cannot address. She is the guarantee of peace and security. Thus, we must give her our unquestioning allegiance since she is reality, and outside her there is nothing but chaos and danger. Worship me, she says, because only I can deliver peace, safety, security, and prosperity. Paul tells the Thessalonian church that when Jesus comes, His judgment will fall upon this vision of reality like a thief in the night. They will roam the streets proclaiming peace and security, but they will not escape the judgment to come. The reality that there is a God outside YHWH, a peace outside the shalom of Christ will come crashing down. For Paul this is not an opinion, it is reality.

However, there is another reality at work in this passage. Yes, judgment and death will fall upon those who worship the false gods of the nations and adopt their false reality. At the same time, those who belong to Christ belong to a different reality. We are children of the light, children of the day, and our destination is not death and destruction. Contrary to much of what sells in bookstores, the day of the Lord will not fall upon us unawares. We know it is coming and should prepare ourselves for the eventual awesome and awe-filled Day of the Lord, that apocalyptic day when evil, injustice, and unrighteousness are judged and destroyed. Paul tells us that since we know this is the case to not be deceived and fall back into the darkness. Instead, we are called to live as children of the light who are awake and sober.

To be awake means to view the world through the eyes of Christ. In baptism, we put on Christ Jesus. We surrender our lives to take on his life. His reality becomes our own, and Paul calls on us to be awake. To be awake, to keep our eyes open, is a call to active faith. On one hand, as the baptismal covenant suggests, it is to reject Satan and all of his evil works. It is also the call to be like Christ, to see the world through his eyes. Paul tells us that the children of the light put on the breastplate of faith and love, the helmet of the hope of salvation. To be awake means to realize the reality does not come by the false projection of an image of yourself that hides your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. After all, the armor worn by a centurion was a way to encase the weakest parts of the human body and to project an aura of invincibility. The ways of darkness teach us to encase our lives in armor, to wrap ourselves up in chains, fences, and seclusion in order to be safe. Security comes via alienation, fear, and doubt. Not so for the children of the light. Paul tells us that to stay awake means to allow the light to shine upon our vulnerabilities and weaknesses: to show the world just how weak we are, daring even to walk into battle with only the protection of love, faith, and the hope of salvation.

Paul also tells us to remain sober. It takes a certain sobriety to walk into battle secured only by faith, love, and hope. The powerful temptation is to turn away from the reality made visible in Christ Jesus, and to drink again the wine of the Empire. When the fiery darts of the evil one begin to strike, it is very east to be seduced by the lies of false reality and security promised by Caesar. In training to be a Roman soldier, the first thing one had to learn was to remain in the ranks when the fighting began. When enemies were charging, the most natural thing to do is to run away, but to do so meant certain death for you and your neighbor. Instead, soldiers had to be disciplined to stand firm, to tighten their ranks, and to rely upon the man standing to the right and to the left, to the soldier to his front and to his rear. He had to learn to listen for the sounds of the trumpets and drums, and the voice of his commander. He had to believe that this was the the reality that would deliver him to salvation. In the midst of the battle, to be sober meant to take very seriously one's training and to not be seduced into the drunkenness of fear that will allow to do incredibly stupid and risky things.

Paul calls upon the children of light to likewise be sober. It is not enough to be awake. The church must also be actively sober. We must train ourselves through the practices of our faith to not become drunk on the false promises of salvation offered by the empire. Instead, we must learn that true reality is to walk into life's battles together, covered in the breastplate of faith and love, and wearing the helmet of the hope of salvation. It is to realize that our lives are bound up together, that we must build one another up, rely on one another, and trust one another. As armies train to know how to withstand the battle, so too must the church train together. The early church declared, "The rule of faith is the rule of prayer." In other words, to be awake and remain sober means to pray, to worship, to love others as ourselves, to build up the body, to show compassion to the weak and downtrodden, to extend hospitality to all people. Strange is the army that goes into battle without the appearance of invulnerability, without the glint of steel and the bright shining armor reflecting the noonday sun. Even stranger is an army that will receive even the weakest and sickest into her ranks. Imagine an army of prostitutes and accountants, of thieves and fishermen, of old women and foolish men. The reality of Caesar is that this is nothing. The reality of Christ is that this is His body.

During the Bolshevik years of the Soviet Union, there was an active attempt to destroy Christianity. Stalin sought to replace the imagery of baby Jesus with baby Lenin, and the image of the powerful God of the Old Testament with his own image as Father Joseph. Churches were dynamited. Priests were killed. Yet never could the Soviets for all their power and willingness to kill and destroy able to prevent the grandmothers from coming to church to pray. They would meet anywhere. Many went even to Siberia's brutal gulags. Here was an army of elderly women who knew reality. Here was an army that was awake and sober, clothed in the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of salvation.

The question for us today is to hear what is at the heart of what Paul is saying. In an age when the church has been seduced to believe that our salvation is protected by the military, by power politics, by blind faith in the nation-state, can we realize that right now we are doing the one "real" thing in all the world? Can we realize that our strength will not save us, but that worship, prayer, and faithful living will form us into a mighty army of God? Do we believe that salvation could possibly come not on the tip of a 30,000 lb. daisy cutter bomb, but in a manger in a barn in Bethlehem, and on a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem? Can we believe that by continuing to do what we already do- faithfully and over time- that we will help God bring salvation to the world. That reality is frightening and awesome. It is also the reality of Christ Jesus.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

my sermon for sunday nov. 13, my last sunday at blakemore/west nashville umc

1 Thessalonians 5
1I don't think, friends, that I need to deal with the question of when all this is going to happen. 2You know as well as I that the day of the Master's coming can't be posted on our calendars. He won't call ahead and make an appointment any more than a burglar would. 3About the time everybody's walking around complacently, congratulating each other--"We've sure got it
made! Now we can take it easy!"-suddenly everything will fall apart. It's going to come as suddenly and inescapably as birth pangs to a pregnant woman. 4But friends, you're not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? 5You're sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. 6So let's not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let's keep our eyes open and be smart. 7People sleep at night and get drunk at night. 8But not us! Since we're creatures of Day, let's act like it. Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation. 9God didn't set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. 10He died for us, a death
that triggered life. Whether we're awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we're alive with him! 11So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you'll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you're already doing this; just keep on doing it.

(around the altar have tall chicken wire fence encasing it with a sign on the front of fence that reads, "KEEP OUT")


There was a little girl who lived in a small town not a lot unlike where we live. Next door there was a neighbor girl about the same age. They enjoyed playing together almost every day after school and in the summers. One day the little girl's grandfather began building her a tree house. He cut the wood and began building. Pretty soon she had a little treehouse in her back yard that was just her size. She had furniture and posters, a table with a tea set and her favorite toys in the tree house.

One day the little girl next door noticed the treehouse and yelled up into it to the little girl, "hey, can i come up and play?"

A voice from inside the treehouse yelled back, "No, this is my treehouse, keep out!!!"

The neighbor girl went away sad while the little girl continued to play with her favorite toys in her new treehouse. A few days later at the neighbor's house, hammering could be heard. The little girl looked in the yard next door and to her suprise, right next to where her tree house was, another treehouse was being built by the neighbor girl's dad.

In a couple of days,there stood next to one another TWO TREEHOUSES. And on both treehouses there were signs on the doors- MY TREEHOUSE- KEEP OUT!!

Early one morning both girls were outside playing in their treehouses- one having a tea party the other cooking breakfast for all her favorite dolls. The little girl realized that she and "her friends" were pretty hungry. Tea was good but it didn't satisfy their hungry bellies. "Oh man", she said.

"What's wrong" came a small voice from inside the other treehouse. "I have just had tea but now I'm hungry and I don't have anything to eat or to feed my friends."

"That's funny", said the neighbor girl, "I just fed my friends breakfast and now we're thirsty and we don't have anything to drink."

The little girl thought for a moment, "do you want to come over and have some tea?"

"I can't", said the neighbor, "you have a "keep out" sign on your treehouse."

"Oh", said the little girl. "Well I could change it. I could change it to "WELCOME".

The neighbor thought for a moment and said,"I could bring over the leftovers from breakfast and you and your friends could share it."

So that day the little girl took down the sign that was on the door of her treehouse that said "KEEP OUT" and replaced it with another sign- one that read, "WELCOME". And on that day, two little girls enjoyed tea and breakfast together and after they were finished, they asked the dad and the grandfather to help them build a bridge that would connect their treehouses so
that they could always visit each other when they wanted to.


There's a lot that I want to say to you as a congregation- as friends and family. I want to say things like- for the last 5 years I have felt less like a staff person and more like a friend and family member to a beautiful church and beautiful people.

I want to say something like- I have been part of a youth group that has made it easy for me to feel like I've suceeded because my youth have taught me and given to me as much if not more than I feel that I have given to them. The youth of this church and West Nashville have embodied the kind of community that we all dream about- one that says "Welcome" and not "keep out". I have seen kids from all walks of life show up through the doors to the youth room and not get turned away but embraced with open arms and listened to.

Where did these kids learn that remarkable ability to say "WELCOME" instead of "KEEP OUT"? Well, from those who model it- THIS CONGREGATION.


We are living in a time when it is very easy to get caught up in playing the game of who gets to be in and who gets to be
left out. Our political leaders play that game, decision makers play the game all the time. And yes, even in the church, our UM church- we play that game- way too easily sometimes.

And as I look at recent events- some events even made by within our own denomination, I wonder why fear has to be such a motivator to build walls and exlcude.

It's real easy to say he or she doesn't talk like we do, look like we do, dress like we do, have the same skin color as we do, so I'm not sure this would be the right place for them to be. And in very subtle ways we create invisible fences around the "table", around our church and in God's eyes, we've just denied someone grace, the chance to experience and receive God's grace.


It's funny but one of the things that I'll take with me from Blakemore and West Nashville is the memory of two pastors with very different preaching styles but two very similar messages, who standing at the table with bread and cup in hand look out at us and one says- "IN THE UNITED METHODIST TRADITION THIS IS NOT OUR TABLE- THIS IS GOD'S TABLE- AND SO ALL ARE WELCOME" and then I think of the other pastor who says, "THIS IS AN OPEN TABLE, YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A BAPTIZED CHRISTIAN TO PARTAKE- IF YOU ARE SEEKING A RECONCILING RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND NEIGHBOR THEN THIS IS FOR YOU."

You may hear about leaders and decisions in our denomination who try and put fences around the table, around the doors. We as a congregation, youth group, sunday school class, etc... may even from time to time struggle with or be tempted to put up a fence and hang a sign that says "keep out".

But today the gift and story that I take with me is of a church, a youth group, a group of frends, a family who strives to make sure that the fences are never put up and the sign that hangs out front always says, "WELCOME" not to our house, but God's house.


(facing the altar with fence around it; take the KEEP OUT sign down)

I think I'll take this down- this isn't us... does anyone think that this is us?

(youth come up and take the fence away; turn sign around and it says "WELCOME"; and place sign on altar.

Thank you for 5 wonderful years of ministry, partnerships, and frienships. Jen and I will be leaving our membership here cause we know where home is.

And as I travel on down the road let me leave you with words that Paul left with the thessalonian church , "speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you'll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you're already doing this; just keep on doing it."

In other words- you've got a great treehouse here, invite everyone over for tea and breakfast.

Jonathon Norman



also found at my blog

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What Happened to Veterans Day?

Ed. Note: I know this sermon starts strangely for me, a Christian pacifist, but bear with me. It makes sense in the end.

What has happened to Veteran's Day? It seems to me that the holiday has morphed into something else and has lost its way, just as has all of American culture. It seems that as the Greatest Generation passes away, so too will the celebration of Veteran's Day. I remember the old time Veteran's Day celebrations where all of the WWII veterans put on some portion of their uniform and gathered in the town square for a parade, a meal, speeches, and a time for a community to remember. I don't think it is any great shock that these celebrations largely revolved around World War II and the veterans of this war. These celebrations were almost liturgical in effect, as an entire community remembered her personal sacrifices for "the boys overseas" and for her boys who lost their lives in the War. Literally, the war touched everyone, economically, culturally, and socially. World War II literally remade the fabric of American life. Veteran's Day made possible a celebration of victory over the Nazi's evil reign and the militaristic Japanese domination of Asia. There was an evil enemy that was overcome heroically by the sons of small town America supported by the sacrifices of those same small towns. Veterans Day was a time to remember.

Today, the celebrations are attended by just a few. The parades have just about ceased. Now, the schools offer the JROTC kids a half day out of school to carry the flags. The rapidly disappearing Greatest Generation still attends, but the celebrations are no longer times of community remembrance. I see yellow ribbons on cars. I see patriotic worship services at church. I see flags on houses. But I do not see a community remembrance of her sons and daughters that she sacrifices for the protection of the nation. I do not see a community that together seeks to sacrifice alongside her sons and daughters "over there." The reason is that there is no longer much of a community. There are increasingly only individuals and the state.

The lack of community is even more apparent with regards to those killed in the war on terror. In American wars prior to Vietnam, the entire community gathered publicly, in prayer vigils and other community spaces to see the lists of those killed in battle. The community gathered and mourned together and similarly supported one another. Today, the media does not show the return of the bodies of the nation's sons and daughters killed in battle. There names are not read aloud. In fact, to talk about the dead is considered an act of defiance against the nation. There is no communal lament.

This is warfare in the Twenty First Century, and it is a strange beast. In an age of politics when the only community is virtual, warfare must also become virtual. It must be fought in a way that does not inconvenience anyone, does not appear too costly, and is appealing for a consumeristic population. "Shock and Awe," with embedded reporters, satellite phones, and real-time pictures from the back of an M1 Abrams tank, exemplify this phenomenon.

In place of community remembrances, Veteran's Day is replaced with sheer sentimentality and contrived performance. We cannot address the tougher issues of wounded and disabled veterans, of mentally ill veterans, of widows and children who have lost parents. We cannot allow these faces to be seen publicly because the reality that war requires a tremendous sacrifice from the entire community would become too real to bear. In a nation where community is illusory and virtual, there can be only virtual, disembodied, ahistorical heroes. To seriously remember would prove too great a challenge.

What happened to Veteran's Day? My sermon this week centers on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. There, I want to explore the apocalyptic nature in which Paul confronts the Roman Empire. In my reading of this passage, Paul is doing what Augustine does later in The City of God. He attacks the worship of Caesar in Thessalonica by calling together an ekklesia in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will worship, wait, and persevere until his coming (parousia). At that time, destruction will come upon the worshipers of Caesar, who cling to "Peace and Security," like a thief in the night. However, the ekklesia will stand as those veterans of many campaigns wrapped in the breastplate of faith and love and in the helmet of the hope of salvation. The veterans of this campaign will be remembered as they remember the One who called them. You see, this celebration is marked by the remembrance of death- Christ's and ours and all the saints. It is marked by remembrance of resurrection- Christ's and the hope of our own. It is marked by remembrance of Christ's return- when all the saints will receive eternal salvation!

More to come later. I'd appreciate any comments.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

American Liberalism

The discussion of liberalism is popping up everywhere on our blogs. Jonathan Norman makes reference to the presence of fundamentalisms of the left and right in American political discourse. He asked me to write a statement about these fundamentalisms, and I wanted to post it here to draw feedback from everyone. It is overly simplistic and reductionistic, but I tried to write in such a way that people not versed in the theology we've all been reading and discussing could easily grasp some of what we critique as the effects of liberalism in American culture. Does this capture and describe the phenomenon?

Fundamentalism of the Left
Steeped in the vision and language of modernity, the rational autonomous individual is the chief moral actor. Institutions and culture are of secondary importance. As a result, the language of liberal fundamentalists is connected very much to the issue of defining fundamental rights. These rights usually center on the individual's freedom to associate, to speak, and to choose what to do with one's own body. The government should remove itself from personal decisions regarding bodily practices, but should be able to intervene in economic situations to redistribute wealth more equitably. Liberal fundamentalism is highly deterministic in that the purpose of the government and the end of life is connected to a certain vision of liberty- a liberty that seeks to overcome the traditionally empowered by effecting a shift to the traditionally disenfranchised (i.e. protecting the presentation of Buddhism or Islam while absolutely prohibiting Christianity from the public square).

There is little room for meaningful dialogue because all the decisions and outcomes are prescribed ahead of time.

Fundamentalism of the Right
Also steeped in the language and vision of modernity, so also is the rational autonomous individual the chief moral agent. Institutions and culture are of secondary importance. Again, the language of rights also dominates here, although usually spoken in the language of "values." The fundamentalism of the right is centered on the right of the individual to compete unencumbered in the market, to freely use money that is inherently hers, and to be left alone by the government except in the arena of the body where "public morals" must be protected. Thus, a conservative fundamentalism is also highly deterministic. It also paints a picture of the way the world should operates and ahead of time determines how conversations and dialogue should end.

Flip Sides of the Same Coin
Truthfully, there is little difference theologically between the two sides. They just pick different sides of the same liberal coin. This is dangerous for Christianity immediately because lost in the ideological battles is really any need for Christ. As Milbank so beautifully spells out in "Can Morality Be Christian," in neither case is Christ necessary to the system. You can be a good moral liberal or a good moral conservative simply by being right on the proper set of issues. There is no need to confess Christ and Him crucified. Instead, there is a vicious cycle of violent attempts on both sides to narrate humanity's destiny via humanistic self-improvement. Since both narratives are not grounded in participation in God's Triune life, they ultimately and inevitably become nihilistic. They both become ways of death, ehich Jonathan reflects in his post. As Alasdair McIntyre points out in After Virtue, the debates become incommensurable. Take abortion. The Left musters an argument about a woman's right to choose, which if you accept their paradigm is rational. Similarly, the Right presents an argument regarding the sanctity of life, which if you subscribe to their argument is also rational. The two sides use similar terms but possess a radically different grammar; however, in all cases, the government becomes the primary vehicle to seek action. For Christians, this should be problematic because the Church should be the institution that forms and guides our lives. Our actions should be embodied as the Body of Christ, not in the pursuit of domestic political agendas (that by definition must be ideological). Fundamentalisms of the Left and Right reduce Christianity to nothing more than an ideology, and render Christian faith unnecessary.

Consequently, it will only be by learning the grammar embodied in good Christian liturgy that we can begin again to embody an ecclessiology that will enable us to live as a people who understand our lives to be nothing more than to be made into the image of Christ and faithfully witness to His power and grace. The way beyond neoconservatism and current strands of liberalism is to see them for what they are, name them, and move beyond them by participating again as the Kingdom of God.

Grace and Peace,

Remembering Duns Scotus

On his blog, Jonathan Norman today remembers Duns Scotus.

Since we have people contributing the blog who are medieval scholars from the Catholic tradition, I thought it would be interesting to see how he is received outside RO, where he is viewed as almost villainous.

In RO, he is considered the one who begins to destroy the Augustinian conception of the Triune God. RO traces the rise of secular reason back to the theological moves made by Duns Scotus. Specifically, they charge that he reduced God to sheer will, and a potentially arbitrary and cpricious will at that. He, in effect, flattens the world via his understanding of the univocity of being. As a result, the participatory structure of Augustine's Trinitarian theology is "flattened" or "unhooked" into a purely immanent realm. Again, RO does not charge Scotus with all of the moves made towards secular reason, but certainly see him, along with Henry of Ghent and William of Ockham, as the Medieval theologians who began the move towards Cartesian subjectivity, onto-theology, and the rise of secularism in the West.

Are their other readings of Scotus?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Pontifications on Preaching

Father Alvin Kimel (who is a collaborator here at Radical Preaching) has an excellent post on recovering preaching within the Catholic tradition. I think it is a very interesting topic for conversation, since roughly half of the people contributing to this blog are Catholic and half are evangelical Protestants (though not the run of the mill type). Please click on the link above, read the article and then let's discuss the role of preaching in worship and in Christian life.

Lectionary Readings for This Week

The lectionary readings for this week are as follows:

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

Sorry for the lack of posts last week. I had to shift over to a paper I am writing on forgiveness for a class I am taking at Trevecca. I hope to share some RO insights from that paper when I complete it. I hope you all are doing well.

Grace and Peace,

A Week with Stephen Long

Jonathan Norman is beginning another of his very interesting "A Week with..." series. This week, he will be featuring Stephen Long, who is a Methodist theologian who has written a book in the Radical Orthodoxy series. This book, Divine Economy, is a Christian critique of capitalism.

Please visit Jonathan's blog as I think it will be an interesting and rewarding read.

Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Remembering & Re-Membering: The Glory of All Saints Day

Last night, I was flipping around channels late and found the movie, Final Destinations 2. The first Final Destination movie begins with a character's premonition that a horrible accident is about to occur. He convinces his friends not to fly to France because he dreamed that the plane would crash. They don't go, and sure enough, the plane crashes, killing everyone on board. However, in this movie, Death will not be cheated. So, the remainder of the movie pits the friends' attempts to outwit, outlast, and outplay Death itself, usually losing. The message of the film brilliantly portrays the end of secular reason, a valiant struggle to conquer and overcome that final and most mysterious of adversaries, Death. In a recent talk at Baylor University, Stanley Hauerwas remarked, "In the Middle Ages, the prayer books indicate that people prayed that death would not come quickly upon them that they might have time to repent properly. In modernity, we pray that death will come quickly, that we will not tarry and be a burden to others. You see, in the Middle Ages, they believed in God. In modernity, we believe in death. In a chapter entitled, "Asyndeton" in The Postmodern God, Catherine Pickstock states, "The unspoken objective of modernity is to relinquish death by means of death, which is to say, to abolish time" (297). In abolishing time, modernity reveals not only its ahistoricity, but also its inability to accept saints. You see, to abolish time is to abolish saints.

Today is All Saints' Day, a most holy day, and a day for us to remember why it is that we reject secular reason. For the world exemplified in Final Destination, to live is to live in a "heroic" struggle against death, an adversary who remains one step ahead, having already charted the place and time for everyone's demise. To cheat death is only to delay the inevitable. The best that one can hope for is a "noble" death; however, this is impossible for modernity because in an effort to overcome death, modernity attempts to abolish time, to make life both ahistorical and atemporal. Thus, modernity cannot remember saints, because to remember saints means to allow time to pass, to realize that death cannot be succesfully managed, nor can it be overcome by will or power. To remember saints requires the remembrance of Christ, His death, His resurrection, and His glorification. Finally, to remember the saints requires the acknowledgement that the salvation offered by the nation-state is a parody of the salvation offered in Christ Jesus.

In the Eucharist, we remember not to forget the story of Jesus. First, we remember that He died in a very specific way at a very specific time. We remember that when accused and reviled by evil men, He went like a lamb led before the slaughter, uttering not a word in His own defense. Jesus does not attempt to overcome death through the technologies at His disposal. Remember the Elders taunt, "He saved others, let him save himself!" Jesus allows Himself to be handed over to death; however, this handing over is not an easing into the peaceful slumber of thanatosis. Jesus surrenders himself to death by fully trusting God to raise Him from the dead. Jesus' death on the cross is the ultimate note of his faith, trusting God even unto death instead of surrendering to the powerful temptation to seek an alternative path, an alternative form of salvation.

Second, we remember that Christ was raised from the Dead, having descended into Hell. We remember that Death does not have the last word. He has been defeated as have sin and evil. In faith, Christ surrenders to death, and faithfully, God raises Him from the dead.

Third, the Eucharist reminds us that Christ will come again, in all majesty and glory, to create the new heavens and the new earth, and to reign with His saints forever. At long last, the sting of death will be removed. The veil that shrouds the holy mountain and clouds the holy feast will be cast off, and Christ will remove our sorrows and sufferings, washing us clean, and inviting us to the feast of all feasts, in His glorious and eternal kingdom. Death, evil, and sin will be no more!

All Saints' Day helps us to remember not to "modernize" the Eucharist, to make it function as a promise of a far off day in the sweet bye and bye. Instead, All Saints' Day reminds us to remember that in the reception of the Body and the Blood, we become that which we eat. We become a part of His Body, in all of our temporality. In our local communities, we are charged to be His saints. All Saints' Day helps us to remember our identity by remembering the stories of those who have gone before us, who have faithfully embodied Christ's presence to the world. Modernity cannot tolerate the memory of saints in the Church because it cannot control and manage those memories. In Pinochet's Chile, the state went to great lengths to destroy the Church's ability to form saints (See Torture and Eucharist by William Cavanaugh to this point). The modern nation-state offers us an alternative form of salvation that is a parody of Christian salvation, just as the nation-state is a parody of the Church. This alternative form of salvation ushers us into a Final Destination world, where we must devote our lives to learning how to escape and outwit death. Our lives must be filled with the constant tension that if we let down our guard, allow ourselves to grow weak, fall asleep, even, that death will creep in and rob us of our life. We fail so often to see that this is not life, but a series of compromises with death that ends in our worship of death. William Stringfellow states, "Death in his ultimate cruelty entices us to believe that only he can offer salvation" (paraphrase). Our strength and smarts will not deliver us from death, but only worship in the Triune God. In remembering the saints, we remember those who refused death, exposed death, and now enjoy the fruit of resurrection, gathered in the bosom of our Lord!
14"These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15"Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:14b-17, ESV).