Finding the Words

If it brings me to my knees// It’s a bad religion – Frank Ocean[1]

I’m a deadbeat cousin, I hate family reunions//Fuck the church up by drinkin after communion// Spillin’ free wine, now my tux is ruined – Kanye West[2]

Here it is not the creativity of the fatwa that matters, but rather its capacity to enable a self to stay and advance upon an already defined path toward an ideal Muslim self. And that capacity is found not in reforming them to fit modern times, but in the skill of using them discerningly to “say the right words at the right time” for the person who seeks guidance… – Hussein Agrama[3]

 

I’m not terribly pious these days. And it is for that reason, that I have a growing respect for the Catholics who only cross themselves when the bulls are down by three and there are only seven left on the clock. This strikes me as an honest way of living, because it proceeds from within the practices at hand without attempting to supersede their fictional character. It’s all in the act. But there are two ways things can go: Are we working with the material or is it working on us and moulding us? Or perhaps there is a third way (no theobro), could it be the case that it is both? No, it is not both. And I’m not going to elaborate on that.

It turns out that the taxi driver knows very little about unrequited love, and the kinds of ‘bad religion’ that try to redeem it, and sometimes the communion wine is not enough to drown out debt or police sirens. Can I have a bottle to myself, please? And yes, I will drink from a chalice and I would like to see you try and stop me. With that said, it is still the case that we are just trying to discern how to say the right things at the right time. It would be nice if there were mufti’s who cared for all of us, but the wilderness is pretty remote and sometimes it is hard to stay in touch.

On his latest album The Life of Pablo, it seems like Kanye is exploring the hard work of discernment and guidance. This is a gospel album, but in what sense? Where exactly is the good news of this album? It is in no particular place. It makes its appearance on no particular song. If you are looking for some kind of ‘event’ (truth or otherwise) you will not find it here. Instead, you will find the sounds and textures of the extended present, and if you listen carefully you can hear some good news. The good news is that there is still news to be told. The rights words to say, have not been discerned, but thankfully there are still words to be said. And thankfully, there is still a Kanye West to say things amidst the ongoing failures at saying the right things at the right time. The scattered nature of Kanye’s latest runs against the grain of other artists attempts to retrieve ‘purpose’ and reach a state of stability. The gospel of Purpose vs. The gospel of ongoing discernment and making of life. Bieber has found a gospel or a “purpose” that acts upon him. Kanye has found nothing, and is trying to slog through the material at hand, and occasionally say a prayer or two.

The Life of Pablo is not that far from ‘no church in the wild’. There really is no church in the wild, but all is not lost. There is still the sounds of our attempts to organize, to say the right things at the right time. This might not be church in the wild, but I think it works for now. Like Buzzer-beater prayers, it is a fiction that I can live with.

 

 

[1] Frank Ocean “Bad Religion” Channel Orange (Def Jam, 2012).

[2] Kanye West “Real Friends” The Life of Pablo (GOOD music, 2016).

[3] Agrama, Hussein Ali. Questioning Secularism, P.182

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MyLife: A meditation on Knxwledge (and scattered thoughts)

Think of the statement “Get a Life. What this statement usually implies is that your life is being wasted. There is an absence. You need to stop doing things that aren’t worth doing. What if I don’t want ‘a life’? After all, I’m already living. What is the difference between ‘a life’ and the already-lived?

Get a life. We can reasonable assume this is a call to something that I don’t already have. ‘A life’ is something I need. What is ‘a life’? In this context it is a call towards transcendence. It is something that I don’t already have, it is something that I need. It is something that the already-lived must achieve.  Continue reading

The Impossible possibility of Belief: Advent and the question of (dis)belief outside the limits of whiteness alone

I believe you when you say that you’ve lost all faith/but you must believe in Something.

In a matter of hours Advent will come to an end and Christmastide will begin. Advent is supposed to be a season of waiting , anticipation and hope. At this point in time , I’m lacking in all three areas; after a year like 2014 I feel as though there is little to hope for and nothing good to anticipate.  Continue reading

Let it Go down : Grand Imaginations and breaking with the present

Oh, we said our dreams will carry us
And if they don’t fly we will run – Santigold

For those of us called to be theologians, sinking deep roots into “the terrain of
spirituality and practice” is indispensable. We do theology because we want to
collaborate fundamentally in bringing about a different kind of world in the here and-
now.
– M.Shawn Copeland

Our thoughts take a particular form in the world , and once they take form , they settle into our lives and become part of our imagination. Some people have thin imaginations and others have thick imaginations. I would like to focus on thick imaginations , or what one could call a grand imagination. The term ‘grand imagination’ is more relevant to theology , especially at this time. So much of what is thrown around in the academy has to do with recovering the grand imagination of the christian tradition , committing oneself to its preservation , translating the works of the great architects of this imagination. After all , theology is the queen of the sciences right?!?! The Queen must sit upon the finest of thrones! Nothing less than the Summa Theologiae can sustain the weight of her gold & silver. She can only be served by the most “serious” of thinkers (preferably men with no desire for other men…and a lack of Melanin would be nice too).

What I am interested in , is how a ‘grand imagination’ might shape our present world and determine our place in it. Or to put things more clearly , how this grand imagination seeks to explain the conditions that made its existence possible. It does this by not naming these conditions. The grand imagination was brought into existence by the transcendent. It has no points of contact in the world. None of the common marks of humanity (race , disability ,gender , class & sexuality) play any role in its existence. The grand imagination is able to admit that there is an order to things that precedes it , and that it has played a role in creating and sustaining the current order and is even capable of admitting that the current order of things is troubling. The solution? More of itself. It has classical texts , art , music , architecture , morality , Goodness , Truth and Beauty to offer us. The present order has got to go! As long as it is making room for the grand imagination to take over. Continue reading

So Speak and So Act…

Language, the essentially human in [humankind], can be abused in order to dehumanize [humanity]. The task of a theory of language in the most ambitious sense therefore consists of a defence of the humanity of language, for the sake of the language of humanity.[1]

What we say sits right beside who and what we are. Our speaking does not take us away from the particularities of our life. Language is a central part of our being-with one another. It has two kinds of significance; we use language to communicate with one another in daily life. This is something of a ‘second-order’ kind of significance, since we (Wittgenstein and others notwithstanding) don’t spend that much time reflecting on the basic and fundamental structure of language. The other kind of significance I call ‘first-order’ because the feelings of discomfort that it evokes in others, is very acute. What I have in mind is expressions of pain. In the past few days, I’ve been thinking about crying in public. People do not know what to do with this. It’s considered a disruption of the dominant aesthetics in the public sphere. In other words, it’s an act that acknowledges that things have gone wrong. This expression of pain is a form of language that is rarely, if ever truly heard. The cries of Tina Fontaine’s mother and others like her, have been overlooked and simply ignored for as long as this country has existed. The screams and tears of those being bombed and losing loved ones in Gaza is drowned out by the sound of the next explosion. The agonized screaming of those who are exhausted by the non-value attached to black life, is silenced with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Throughout his work, Gerhard Ebeling makes reference to what he calls “the experience of the world”. For him this is essential for Christian faith. I think he is correct, and for this reason, I will use the term with reference to the experiences of those on the underside of various forms of violence and domination in the world (western cultural hegemony, patriarchy, state violence, etc.). As I said before, language is an important part of our being-with one another, and this involves pain and suffering. Going back to contemporary events, such as the turmoil in Ferguson following the murder of Michael Brown, and the recent murder of Tina Fontaine in my own city , I’m wondering what people have said in light of this? There has been screaming, lament, condemnation and prayer, among other things. With this in mind, I think Ebeling is right when he says that “Language contains within itself the whole fullness (and paradoxically this also includes the whole poverty) of the life and suffering of the human race”[2].

One of the problems in Christian communities of faith is the question of what must be said. Too often nothing is said, or a posture of (false) mediation is assumed. This is unacceptable. The debilitating force of settler colonialism and the non-value attached to black lives are not unspeakable evils; they are very speakable evils. The task at hand for those communities who choose silence, is to join those who are speaking the language of suffering. Ebeling is right when says that “If the language of faith ceases to be in dialogue with the experience of the world it has effectively become the language of unbelief”[3].

The church who is not engaged with the troubles of ‘undersid Continue reading

On this Good Friday: Reflections from M . Shawn Copeland

On this Good Friday, let us kneel before the broken, crucified body of Jesus. Let us kneel before the disappeared and murdered bodies of thousands of peasants, workers, vowed religious sisters and brothers, ministers and priests in Latin America; the raped and abused bodies of young boys and girls and women who have survived sexual assault by clergy and church workers; the torn bodies of prostitutes forced to trade themselves for survival; the rejected bodies of gays and lesbians; the swollen bodies of children dying in hunger; the scarred and bruised bodies of women, men and children suffering with AIDS; the despised bodies of red and brown and black and yellow women and men. To kneel before these bodies is a first step in grasping our collusion in their suffering and death; it is a first step in grasping the absolute gratuitous love of the crucified Jesus. Let us kneel in love and thanksgiving for the wondrous love of God.

 

Eberhard Jüngel on Evil

 It is high time that we expose the common reduction of evil to a mere infringement of the moral law as a trivialization from which evil profits. A gradation of evil, yet to be developed, must certainly proceed from this insight which, to be sure, is given only on the basis of the experience of reconciliation: anything that renders problematic being as a being-together deserves to be called evil. The tendency toward a lack of rationality, beginning in a misuse of the relational richness of life, finds its terrible consummation in death’s perfect lack of relationality.

 – Jüngel, Eberhard. Toward the Heart of the Matter, Christian Century (Series: “How my Mind has Changed”), July 15, 1990. Tr. P. Capetz.