Friday, July 30, 2010

The Holy Spirit in the World Today, Part 2

I have to admit, it was my first time hearing Jürgen Moltmann and it was sometimes difficult to understand what exactly he was saying. Apparently, he was translating from his own German notes. His paper, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, takes to task the Trinitarian implications for the church with a specific focus on the Spirit. He covers an amazing amount of topics in this paper from the churches in Germany during WWII to ecology. His paper is broken down into three parts: 1) the charismatic community; 2) the reconciliation of the cosmos; and 3) the three paradigms of the church. I'll summarize and offer some thoughts.

Without giving too much attention to the Spirit, I would say, Moltmann argues that the church is intrinsically pneumatological and in some sense leaves it at that. There is no mention of how the church is in the power of the Spirit until Moltmann gets to the section on the charismatic church, which is towards the end of his paper. He begins by noting, as many church historians will note, that the twentieth-century is marked as the time when the global church came more into focus and the "Christian nation" began to fade. He gives the example of parochial churches in Germany during WWII where if one went to a church service one is counted as a visitor and never a participant, it was a church for the people--to serve symbolic, never real liturgical needs. Against these parochial (Nazi-sponsored) churches arose the Confessing Church (Ger. Bekennende Kirche) which gave people the opportunity to become participants. As the Christian nation disappeared what took its place were the charismatic communities. (Note: charismatic should not be read as having to do with spiritual giftedness, but should be read as Moltmann would explain later as a 'non-hierarchical community of friends'.) For the sake of space, I'll leave off summarizing everything and leave it to you to listen to his wonderful paper.

Moltmann gives a nod to the Amish-Mennonite tradition when he says that in some sense their way of life can be understood as monastic (and be misunderstood as a retreat from this world as opposed to an alternative to this world). I mention this only because of the discussion Halden is having over at Inhabitatio Dei. While I understand the frustration that is had when people think it is cute what your particular tradition (read denomination) is doing but nevertheless themselves adopts your position. To have all traditions look the same would just make it so that one or the other is compromising something of their own for the sake of the other. This sounds nice, but each tradition will cease to be itself and no longer have the distinctions which make the Baptists Baptist and the Methodists Methodist. Every tradition would be the same and therefore there would be no tradition. There are certain things that I think every church should adopt, obviously; and being a peace-church is among them. I would advocate for unity through diversity as opposed to unity through compromise. As Halden writes, "
The divisions are much deeper, much more real, and indeed must more theological than such sorts of ecclectic ecumenism of convenience tends to acknowledge." (Italics mine.)

That aside, we return to Moltmann. As mentioned above, Moltmann's definition of these charismatic communities is a community where everyone is accepted as she or he is, and where no one is higher or lower in the community strata and can contribute to said community. The theme of these churches is the Spirit in us, while in high-church it would be the Father above us and in Luther-inspired churches it would be Christ with us. These three paradigms make up the whole history of Christianity and Moltmann argues that we are currently in the first paradigm (of the Spirit). In regular Moltmannian fashion, we have a Trinitarian motto for the church that should be ours to follow: "God as Father above us, as Christ with us and as Spirit in us."

Unfortunately, the implicit pneumatology of Moltmann's eccleisology left much to be desired from this paper. I wondered how Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Amos Yong or Yolanda Pierce might have handled this subject. Even so, the paper highlighted the experience of emerging churches and charismatic churches everywhere where acceptance always comes before belief. The Spirit who lives in us is the one who makes the level playing-field. It is in these communities of the Spirit where we have brothers, sisters and comrades, where everyone is accepted and respected as image bearers of God, and where there is an end to race, age, sex and class.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I've made the leap

I have ordered the Hendrickson reprint of Church Dogmatics that is available at CBD for only $99 USD(!). Hopefully I can blog my way through this massive series and move on to von Balthasar. As much as possible, I will try to follow the advice of WTM but we'll see how that goes.

I'd still like to see what the covers will look like, but I can't complain about getting CD for $100. Just please don't be ugly, CD, please.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Nota Bene

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Holy Spirit in the World Today, Part 1

I am a few weeks late to be posting on the Holy Spirit and the World Today conference that took place towards the end of May, but with the semester coming to a close and graduation weeks away I could not find the time to listen to the papers being presented. However, now that all final papers are turned in, thesis accepted and commencement over, I have finally found the time to listen and comment on some of the lectures.

I started listening with what sounded like a preparatory paper given by David Ford on "Keys Issues in Pneumatology." The title alone led me to believe that this was one of the first papers given in order to create a common foundation for all those who came to listen. However, as I listened to the paper, I found this not to be true. Ford often commented on papers given by Moltmann and Williams; so listener beware: this is not the first paper given. (For the schedule see here.) Besides giving four ways in which pneumatology (and theology for that matter) should be done, Ford says that the twentieth-century has not been the greatest for pneumatology and that Spirit has often been relegated to subcategories of others theological fields. He cites creation ("the Spirit hovering over...") and the Trinity ("the Spirit being part of the Godhead") as examples where the Spirit is spoken of but not treated independently outside of those discussions. I can say of my own experience that this is true. A very good friend of mine once commented that Spirit is often treated as something read about, not lived with and this seems to be just what Ford was getting at.

The guiding principles for the four ways of theological enterprise for Ford were: wise and creative. He does not go on to define wise and creative, per se. However as one listens on, Ford shows how exactly wise and creative theology is done. 1) Retrieval of the past; 2) Engagement with Mind, Church and World; 3) Thinking; and 4) Communicating. Number 2) is where I believe Ford hits his stride. Noting that theology is not simply a mind exercise but is inherently liturgical. In the same way we think theologically we are thinking in terms of the one we worship and to whom we pray. Secondly, he says that for theology to be genuine there must be commitment to the Church. Now, it may be easy to take this several different ways, but taking this and what he said earlier about the connection between liturgy and theology, one sees that he means our theological endeavors (be they monographs or seminars) should be for the sake of the community of faith. Going along with Number 2), Ford says this:
"Theology that is not involved in worship and in prayer is not going to be Christian."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rome, Women and Children

In the real world and in the world of the Internet, there is discussion among Christians about the relationship between women and the Church. Professor Kirk at Storied Theology discusses the former and relates the latter. Recently, there was a New York Times (NYT) article that discussed a recent revision to Vatican law. And even in the Anglican Communion there has been discussion about the ordination of women.

According to the article in the NYT, the Catholic revision went on to add the ordination of women to a list of "more grave delicts."
But what astonished many Catholics was the inclusion of the attempt to ordain women in a list of the “more grave delicts,” or offenses, which included pedophilia, as well as heresy, apostasy and schism. The issue, some critics said, was less the ordination of women, which is not discussed seriously inside the church hierarchy, but the Vatican’s suggestion that pedophilia is a comparable crime in a document billed a response to the sexual abuse crisis.
While discussion within the Church of England has been slowed in the past due to a desire to maintain ties with the Church of Rome and Eastern churches, the Anglican Church is now moving towards the ordination of female bishops. This decision by the Roman church to include ordination of women on a list with pedophilia does not make things easier for the English churches. Or for other communions who have already moved in that direction, for that matter.

As one who is not acquainted enough with canon law, Catholic dogmatics or even the Catechism, this finding by the Roman church is devastating--to say the least. One could only hope for a retraction (if possible) of this internal ruling, but for the time being this is unforeseeable. As one who advocates for the ordination of women at all levels, it is unfortunate to read such a thing. While the Catholic Church might be fighting against would-be do-it-yourself ordination and unsanctioned, unsupervised ordination the internal law only raises more theological questions than it tries to answer.

In a letter to the NYT, Frances Stelz laments concerning the finding:
it is incredible that the Vatican can equate ordination of women and the vile, pathological behavior of some Catholic priests who abuse defenseless children.
She closes her letter in this way:
Some of the same women the Vatican has shut out of the priesthood tirelessly minister to wounded and damaged children throughout the world. Fortunately, it is through them that the real work of Jesus in the Catholic Church continues

Friday, July 16, 2010

Thoughts on "One Hundred Years of Solitude"

I wish many things, but as I came to the end of One Hundred Years of Solitude I wished that my Spanish was better than currently. There are certain things missed in translations, as most people will admit, that cannot fully be brought over from one language to the another and mean the same thing. Everything inside of me now desires to read Marquez in the original Spanish.

Marquez writes a story about a family that comes upon a certain place and founds a city, Macando. Written in mythic language, the reader finds themselves wrapped up in a world where women live beyond the lifespan of generations of children; where gypsies visit the town and share the secrets of foreign lands; and where the lines of sexuality between brothers and sisters are blurred. This is the land of Macando, this is the family of Buendia.

Without going into much detail on my part, Marquez writes of the Buendia family as any other family and this is what makes them special. It is not they are particularly good at doing something, or that they have become rich by doing something else and therefore need a TV show. What makes them interesting is the fact that they exist in this time in this place. They are because they are.

It is by their names that the Buendia family exists into eternity because it is by their name that they continue to live on the past in the present repeating the events and the characteristics of their patrilineage even without wanting to. Time, then, is nothing more than an idea that shapes the world around us; we do not control it. It could have been said that we shape the world, but in this story we see that we fall into the same footsteps as our parents and their parents before them into timelessness where our great-great-great grandmother grows old with us, goes blind but still sees; where plants and wildlife constantly takeover homes only to be pushed back, only to grow back again; a cycle of timelessness. There is nothing strange about this, though, and we live in this reality that truly nothing is changed while yet everything changes on a daily basis. The paradox of time is what Marquez tries to get at with this timelessness in One Hundred Years.

In some sense it can also be hopelessness, as one pleads for not one other child to be named after their father there is no escaping time. The same mistakes will be made and the same characteristics will be passed on until the end of time and until a whirlwind comes to begin to process anew in the same place with the same people.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thoughts on "The Politics of Jesus"

As I finished my undergraduate studies and looked forward to graduate (and looked hopefully to post-graduate studies), I realized how under prepared for academia I was (am). As I said before, I took it upon myself to prepare for graduate school by reading essential works for my field of interest (pneumatology and liberation theology) and began with Amos Yong's The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh (for a review, see here). Since finishing with Yong I moved onto Yoder's classic Politics of Jesus. Here, I offer some thoughts on Yoder's argument and text.

What Yoder wants to do is show how Jesus is the example for New Testament (NT) ethics and therefore the Christian ethos. "I will attempt to sketch an understanding of Jesus and his ministry of which it might be said that such a Jesus would be of direct significance for social ethics" (p. 11). He argues against the understanding of Jesus's ethical teaching as either temporary (p. 5), too pastoral , too personal, too spiritual (p. 6), not practical or as not concerned with it at all (p. 7).

On the back-cover, there is a quote by Stanley Hauerwas that reads as follows: "I am convinced that when Christians look back on this century of theology in America, The Politics of Jesus will be seen as a new beginning." Indeed. Yoder challenged many of us. His argumentation chapters like "God Will Fight For Us" (ch. 4) can be wanting and not fully engaged with a theological interpretation of scripture as it seems him goal. This should not detract from his basic argument that ancient people had an understanding of a God who intervenes on their behalf.

Yoder does hit his stride in places like chapter ten ("Let Every Soul Be Subject") and eleven ("Justification by Grace through Faith"). In chapter ten, we see Yoder the Exegete. Moving carefully over the letter to the Romans (rightly defined as an ecclesiological letter) and especially over the thirteenth chapter. He overturns common assumptions about what is meant by "the sword" and recognition of power. This chapter is truly a must read for those interested in political theology. In chapter eleven, we see a Yoder of the New Perspective. The first edition of this text comes five years before Sanders's landmark text Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Here he argues that the "fundamental issue was that of the social form of the church" (p. 216). Paul was not, Yoder says, "preoccupied with his guilt and seeking the assurance of a gracious God; he was rather robust of conscience and untroubled about whether God was gracious or not" (p. 215). He speaks more to the point about Gentile inclusion in the proceeding paragraphs and argues quite convincingly.

John Howard Yoder weighs heavy because of the way political systems have entrenched themselves in the lives of Christians. Politics and governmental systems have long been held to be the sword of God distributing wrath and justice alike and have been found to have biblical and theological justification for the most heinous of crimes imaginable. Here we have a John the Baptist, calling a people to repent and be baptized (perhaps rebaptized in the case of Yoder). Jesus then is to "have a clue to which kinds of causation, which kinds of community-building, which kinds of conflict management, go with the grain of the cosmos, of which we know, as Caesar does not, that Jesus is both the Word...and the Lord" (p. 246).

"This is my world"

In 2006, Michael Iafrate informed the uninformed about a new movie concerning the life of Jesus. Well, the time has come and this film has finally been released in the US and is available, if you are able, to stream instantly on Netflix (and this is how I've watched it). I've just been able to watch the film and I'd like to share some preliminary thoughts.

Jesus films in general fall into three categories (so I learned):
  1. Gospel film--Evangelistic; meant to persuade
  2. Jesus film--Narrative; meant to portray
  3. Christ-figure film--Unsettling; meant to provoke
Of the first kind, many films could be named, but one of our time that comes to mind is The Jesus Film Project. Just a quick perusal of their website indicates as much. But, what differentiates number 1 from 2? Is it the directorial intent? The story being story? The perspective? In the second category, things get a bit murky. Films that might live here are films like the Ben Hur. The last category is by-and-large the simplest to pin-down. Here we have movies like Ordet, Cool Hand Luke or Au Hasard Balthazar. In Balthazar the Christ figure is no other than a donkey. Our film, Son of Man, is perhaps a mixture of the three, but namely a Jesus film. There is no evidence of 1, and there is no reason to consider 3. However, all Jesus films are implicitly, at the least, Gospel films and must also be Christ-figure films.

Set in modern-day Africa, Son of Man has no A-list American (or European for that matter) actors, is not directed by the Coen brothers, did not have a million-dollar budget, but it deserves credit all the more. A film that sets Jesus as an African struggling for rights in an occupied territory who is followed by the working class of his day clearly mirrors the gospel accounts. However, unlike a Ben Hur or a Passion, this film is unapologetically political. Jesus fights as a non-violent revolutionary amidst war and strife, teaching his disciples to drop their stones (swords), to unite and live in solidarity. One cannot help but see the influence of liberation theologies on the film and rightly so.

At one point in the film, a young Jesus witnesses the killing of a group of children. Shocked and horrified, the child looks on. But an angel appears to 'take Jesus away,' persumably back to the Father. As the angel calls for Jesus to "come," we see Jesus shake his head and respond to the angel, "This is my world." In a world caught in the middle of political turmoil, human strife and suffering, the liberating Jesus is resolved all the more to stay, to teach, to live and ultimately to die as darkness covers the land.