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

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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

The Schizophrenia of Our Piety: Demonology and Whiteness

Put contrary to the all merely theoretical demythologizing, the war with the demons for the earth has begun. We participate in it on one side or the other.

-Ernst Käsemann, On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene

Käsemann’s critique of pietism is always also a critique of whiteness, and always put in the context of a curious demonology – curious, at first blush, because Käsemann is a student of the dutifully demythologizing Bultmann. Pietism, here, isn’t just the 17th century German-Lutheran movement of the church which emphasized personal behavior and immediate experience over mediate doctrine, but the church that is homogenized through Western middle class notions of whiteness. For Käsemann, pietism precisely is the solidifying movement of normativity that seeks to theologically ground middle class norms and morality, or the kind of church (i.e. white, western churches) that don’t see violence committed against the indigenous, GLBTQ*, or black bodies, etc. as explicit demonology:

in midst of the inferno of creation terrorized by ideologies and despots, demonically disfigured by hunger, exploitation, torture, and murder, there exists the reality of a lordship of Christ that looks toward the resurrection of the dead and that thus resists demonic violence, concretely and bodily.

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

An Empty Apology: Liturgies of Repentance & Risking Identity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about apologies and repentance. On an inter-personal level, I recently received an apology from someone who said some very hurtful things to me. Collectively and institutionally speaking, I have lost count of how many articles, tweets, facebook posts, and blogs I have read by Christians calling for repentance in the face of Syria, Gaza, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown…and so many many more. I thought of the liturgies of repentance and lament that I’ve read and spoken in progressive white churches at times like this, times of great violence, grief, and fear. Indeed, having grown up in a church that gathered to worship God each Sunday without hardly a word said about what was going on in the world that this God created, I’ve been very grateful for these liturgies. I thought, at least there were white Christians who were gathering and naming the violence, the grief, the fear, the injustice, and their complicity in them. It was like a breath of air in the suffocating insulated apolitical worship scene of white Christianity.

What is an apology? From the Greek apologia the classical definition is “a speech in defense.” From there springs an entire genre called apologetics, essentially self-justifying speech. But what if we were to take a different etymological route with regards to the word apologia? What if we were to think of it as apo-logos where apo signifies a negation of logos, a dominant discourse?  What if an apology then were not a self-defensive speech used for the maintenance of something but a self-offensive or negating speech that effectively decomposes the logos in question? Such an apology would certainly be risky. Continue reading

Blood, blood, everywhere…

…and not a drop to spare.  (my riff on Coleridge’s “water water everywhere and not a drop to drink”)

For those following the book event on Gil Anidjar’s recent Blood: A Critique of Christianity over at the AUFS blog might also want to check out this poignant piece by Rhyd Wildermuth over at The While Hung blog entitled “Blood Cries Out from the Soil”.