Rollins, Zizek, Durruti, Tillich: Religion Deconstructed, Wisdom Demolished By Love

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”  I had occasion to be reminded of that recently.  It comes from Marx and Engels, and Slavoj Zizek uses it as the title of a recent treatise.

In his affirmation of pyro-theology, Peter Rollins takes up Buenaventura Durruti’s claim that “the only church that illuminates is a burning church.”   Cross-search Durruti’s quote with Zizek and you get this, which basically encapsulates, beautifully, Rollins’ own project.  Hear Zizek:

For this reason, Christianity is anti-wisdom: wisdom tells us that our efforts are in vain, that everything ends in chaos, while Christianity madly insists on the impossible. Love, especially a Christian one, is definitely not wise. This is why Paul said: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” (“Sapientiam sapientum perdam,” as his saying is usually known in Latin). We should take the term “wisdom” literally here: it is wisdom (in the sense of “realistic” acceptance of the way things are) that Paul is challenging, not knowledge as such.

With regard to social order, this means that the authentic Christian tradition rejects the wisdom that the hierarchic order is our fate, that all attempts to mess with it and create another egalitarian order have to end up in destructive horror. Agape as political love means that unconditional, egalitarian love for one’s neighbour can serve as the foundation for a new order.

That Rollins takes Zizek (and Tillich) as major influences is clear, and I love the accessibility of Zizek’s piece in The New Statesman.  Rollins’ new book, The Idolatry of God, builds from ideas like these if this fantastic lecture is any indication.

This, plus mysticism is the Christian future.  I don’t see very many other ways forward, at least not very many that make sense, as Baptists say, to “us and the Holy Spirit.”

If Jonathan Fitzgerald is right that the New Sincerity is making a new, earnest morality possible, it’s also the case a that a New and Faithful Pluralism is helping more and more Christians explore themes like these, saved anew by the radical implications of a God bound by love over retributive justice.   Yes, please.

Keith Olbermann Just Took Me To Church or The Phantom Trillion

In the 90’s, Keith Olbermann was part of a flawless thing called SportsCenter. Even though the political commentary and overall style he’s developed since then isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, this Special Comment from the July 11th edition of Countdown is essential viewing for anyone who cares about the justice issues tied to humanity’s basic failures of compassion, empathy, and care.

“Face it,” Oblermann says, “we do not take care of one another. Not we as in progressives, not we as in Americans, not we as in the West. We as in a species.”

If we’re being honest, we know that Olbermann is right. And even though he’s not saying anything particularly new, the bluntness of the charge is just a little jarring, even in the context of waning hope in hoped-for change. We, the People, do not take care of one another. It’s no wonder that They, our leaders, do no better.

And what about another set of “we’s?” We the stewards of the planet,we the image-bearers of God? What about we who believe loftly things about the the Holy? For Christians, what about that we called the Body of Christ? I read a ten-year old stat estimating the global income of organized Christianity (churches, denominations, and parachurch ministries) hovers around $270 billion annually. I’ve read elsewhere that the yearly global income for Christian individuals (the compensation they get from having jobs) is $10 trillion. Extend the tradition of a 10 percent tithe from each of these groups toward eradicating poverty, and you’d do it in a year. We’re talking about $1,027,000,000,000. Don’t know what $1 trillion can buy? Look here and here. One Trillion Dollars can purchase all the homes that foreclosed in 2007 and 2008 or pay the rent for every US renter for 3 years. Universal preschool for all American 3 and 4 year olds? No problem! That only costs $35 billion. American Christians could pay that themselves.

But my 1 trillion number (see Ron Sider’s Rich Christians In an Age of Hunger) represents a global tithe, so let’s consider global implications. According to VisualEconomics, access to clean water for everyone on the planet now without it only costs $8.84 billion. That’s with a B. Christendom has $1 trillion, with a T, to play with every year. Clean water, then? Fine. What, Christians? You want to sponsor a million kids through Children International for a year? That’s just south of $300 million (with an M). No problem, Church! One new home at $175,000 a pop for each one lost in Katrina? You’re thinking bigger, but that’s only $48 billion. You’ve got $1 trillion and change to spend every year (plus the other $9 trillion you’ll use for basic needs, creature comforts (in developed countries), and, in some contexts, unprincipled extravagance). You could feed everyone, clothe everyone, give everyone access to water, heal the land, clean the water, and clean the air in perpetuity. Talk about an endowment. Oh, and you could send kids to school, heal diseases, and bring animals back from the brink of extinction. You could (and would) eliminate the root causes of war. Or you could keep trusting the bulk of the money you give away (via taxes) to people who keep finding new reasons to make war so vital.

The Church could end poverty, scarcity, sickness, and famine without a dime from the rest of the world. Obviously, that doesn’t mean it should do so by some centralized economic fiat. The last thing anyone needs is a megalith, even one as diverse and nuanced the global church really is, setting this kind of agenda. Noting that the Church could foot the bill for the saving of the planet doesn’t mean that the Church is otherwise equipped to do so, and it doesn’t even mean that something called “the Church” exists in any sort of organizationally connected way across the world. We may (and I do) believe in the mystical Body of Christ, but can you imagine the impossibility of mobilizing every Christian group under some sort of prime directive?

Then again, that’s what Jesus did by giving the Great Commission and promising the Holy Spirit. Perhaps if all Christians understood the economic power they possess and the practical implications of loving one’s neighbor as oneself, this phantom trillion would find its way to points of need. Perhaps if the Church was busy consciously investing even 10 percent of its annual income to overcome the systems that breed injustice, hate, and other things we still call sin, Jesus’ talk of the Kingdom of God being here even now would make a hell of a lot more practical sense.

Brennan Manning has said that one of the biggest causes of atheism with reference to Christianity are “Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That,” Manning says, “is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” I’d go even further and suggest that the conformity of so many Christians to the status-values of consumption, possession, and unsustainability is also one of the biggest enablers of global scarcity and the atrocities that come with it. Faced with the kind of evil that flourishes where hope and charity do not, perhaps the oft-repeated “Where is God in this?” isn’t quite the question. Consider this instead: “Oh, God, where are the Christians? Where were the fraction of their resources that could have stopped this in the first place?”

Yes, I’m claiming scandal as a member of the movement. I’m appealing to classic Christian expectations of ourselves. I’m not saying the Church must act because all other faiths or governments have failed. I’m saying the Church must act because it has failed to be the Church. We’re good at giving time and talent, but what is it about the way we’ve spent our treasure that allows inequity and scarcity to run and reign so freely? Do we have a misplaced trust in the structures of church government and Christian organizations? Or are we, paraphrasing Jesus, seeing where our hearts don’t lie in the faces of all those who will die before this post is finished because we’ve finally let them?

Help us, Lord.

Yes, much of the phantom trillion gets used in responsible ways by good people towards precisely the things I’m talking about. But what if global Christianity were led from the margins (even as Jesus led)? What if we recast the idea of tithe as a fraction of our treasure given back to God in the world and not our institutions? What if we empowered charity: water to complete its mission? The enraging thing about that proposition is that we could really do it. And we aren’t. Not in intentional, global ways. Often not with the recognition that the outright care of other people is the Gospel. What if we helped WorldVision, Compassion International and other groups with scant administrative footprints put themselves out of business? Nothing would make them happier! What if we used our economic clout to be a global force against genocide in Darfur and Burma? What if we empowered local Christians and other people of good will already working in those places in system-changing ways? And what if the Holy Spirit helped us?
Even without a moratorium on traditional patterns of giving, and even recognizing that our poorest sisters and brothers can’t often give something as concrete as money, the rich Christians in the industrial world could raise a second trillion every year without denying themselves or their churches very much of anything. So far, we haven’t, and that’s the even greater greater scandal.

Help us, Lord.

Recovering Pietists In Good Company: One of Many Lessons from the U2 Concert

Thanks to my sister and F. Bil (future brother in-law), my wife and I got to go to the U2 concert in Philly on July 14.  I have many thoughts, pictures, and reflections to share, and this post will be the first.

The show was great and, in a good way, exhausting.  There was so much content beyond the music, and I found myself analyzing every bit of video, every factoid on the massive screen before the show, every partnering of song-choice, faith, hope, and activism.  It was really, really great.

I’ll offer the cartoon below as my first bit of commentary.

I feel like I should say more, but I won’t.  We can do that in the comments. Or when I get around to writing about the thin line between (oops, there I go.  I said I wouldn’t say any more!)

Awe and Richard Rohr

August, 2010

Last night I was listening to Richard Rohr address a group at Soularize 2007.   He was talking about Aquinas and the idea of co-natural knowledge and like seeking like in human experience.  Good people see good in people.  Kind people see kindness. Hateful people see only through the prism of their hate.  So it is with our experience of God: “The divine image in us,” Rohr said, “sees the divine image over there. God in us sees God, God in us loves God.  There’s a part of you that’s always said ‘yes’ to God.”

Karl Barth said that the Holy Spirit is the recipient in us of God’s own self-revelation.  For Barth, God is the author (Father) of God’s self-communication to humanity, and because God only communicates God’s full and true self to us, this communication is also God’s full self (Son/Logos): the content of God’s self-revelation is God.  In Barth’s understanding, the Holy Spirit then is God receiving God’s self-communication (which is also God) in us.

I like both of these related ways of thinking, but there is, of course, something more self-consciously contemplative about Rohr’s application.  For Barth, God’s self-communication seems basically initiated by God the Author, and though I doubt Rohr would disagree, he seems naturally more interested in the ways God encounters God’s own creative works in us.  For Barth, we are receivers, and for Rohr, I think, we are detectors, maybe Geiger counters.

This morning, as I walked my dog in the first cool August morning teasing Pennsylvania with the rituals of fall, I considered what it is about nature that is so awe-inspiring. What is it about any beautiful thing? Perhaps awe is God in us encountering and recognizing God’s own creation in the world?  If so, we are sorts of conduits, not just the hands and feet of God, but in a very real sense also God’s eyes and ears, God’s experiential interface.  You might say we are blessed in this way to be a part of God’s own communication with God’s self.  We are part of God’s ongoing internal conversation.  What else could communion with God mean?  Why seek anything less?