Saturday, February 10, 2007

Another Tempting Quote

"... A pauper, barefooted and hungry, came and sat on the throne. 'god,' he whispered, 'the eyes of man cannot bear to look directly at the sun, for they are blinding. How then, Omnipotent, can they look directly at you? Have pity, Lord; temper your strength, turn down you splendor so that I, who am poor and afflicted, may see you!' Then -- listen, old man! -- God became a piece of breaid, a cup of cool water, a warm tunic, a hut, and in front of the hut, a woman giving suck to an infant. The pauper stretched forth his arms and smiled happily. 'Thank you, Lord,' he whispered. 'You humbled yourself for my sake. You became bread, water, a warm tunic and my wife and son in order that I might see you. And I did see you. I bow down and worship you beloved many-faced face!'"

Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ, p. 331.


I've discovered that icons make me remarkably happy. I was browsing the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America's website the other day and began to look through their online, where they sell icons. I quickly realized that I could buy lots of unmounted icon prints for about 50 cents each. Then I could decorate my entire room with icons. (As there would be absolutely nothing odd about juxtaposing iconography with an Absinthe poster, a print of a WWII era poster reading: Grow Hemp for the War, and a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas poster. Not to mention my poster defining religions in terms of shit.) The prospect of putting up icons around the room made me quite happy. I have two very small ones up above my desk, and when I get the name inscribed on Michael, I'm going to have to figure out where to put him. But then, this isn't the story at hand.

I recently ordered and received a copy of Christ in the Margins which is a book of icons by Robert Lentz. As you might guess from the above paragraph, I got incredibly happy, squealed a little bit, and drove my biology major roomie up the way with "This is fascinating! Look at this! Jesus is shepherding a goat!" Br. Lentz is a contemporary iconographer who makes very interesting theological statements with his icons. Generally, he seems to be pushing the viewer to see God in all human beings and in unexpected places, but he does some other interesting things.

This icon of Juan Diego caught my eye. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is probably one of the most common in the world. Even my roomie, who is basically indifferent to religion, recognizes it. Sadly, other than this image, the only visual depiction of Juan Diego that I can remember seeing is from a Wishbone episode. (Granted, I was raised in the Church of Christ, where Mary isn't popular and definitely doesn't make appearances, so I was only familiar at all with the story through Wishbone. There might be more depictions of Juan Diego floating around.) However, what really caught my attention was the posing of Diego with the icon of Our Lady suspended over his torso. It was a pose that I, in the short time that I have been studying, looking at, getting excited about icons, come to associate only with the icon of "Our Lady of Sign." Mind you, my association could be incorrect.

(I "borrowed" this particular version from this website.)

As I'm quickly becoming fascinated with gender norms and gender constructions, I was drawn to Br. Lentz's icon by the reversal of gender roles. I'm not sure whether the reversal was intention or unintentional (given the theology of Br. Lentz's other icons, I suspect intentional), but it raised the question in my mind of how iconography can be used to subtly push the bounds of theology and, particularly, of Christology. I am fascinated by alternate Christologies.

I was, of course, delighted and giddy.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Well, maybe they'll change the rules...

"Lutheran Panel Votes to Expel Gay Minister," from the Washington Post.

It's sad that the panel decided to expell Schmeling, especially since the marjority of his congregation supports him, but it's hopeful that since they considered the policy they were following to be bad and possibly in violation of their church constitution that their will be some positive change in the near future.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Labyrinth Walking

Yesterday, I walked a labyrinth, set into the floor of a local Memphis church, with a small group of other students. I'm not very good at concentrated meditation per se, so I found my mind frequently wandaring to various asundry matters. Random things. You know, like the stitching that was starting to pull out a fabric scuplture in the sanctuary, or the oddness of the Russian grammatical forms in the version of the Jesus prayer I had memorized.

I also found myself thinking about the spiritual meaning of walking the labyrinth. There is of course, the obvious symbolic meaning of the numerous twists and turns, but I continued to notice other symbolism in the process of walking.

For one thing, while walking, I rarely felt that I was walking with anyone or following anyone through the labyrinth. I was roughly in the center of the group, and occasionally I could look ahead and see the contuinity between where I was and where the people ahead of me were on the path. However, it was far more common to be walking in the opposite direction of the people I passed. They were on a different section of the path, but the momentary sensation was that I was walking against the current, and perhaps going in the wrong direction -- even though we were on the same path.

The second feature I noticed was the amount of time one had to spend on the margin of the labryrinth to reach the center. Reaching the goal required one to fully explore the edges. Significantly, I think, one of the last turns of this labyrinth took one out to the margins. The final step before reaching the center was a visit to the margins. Interestingly enough, First Congo had placed a table with information on social justice efforts they support just beside that particular segment.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


"It's like a country club for people near poverty."

Used by a girl to describe the facility at which she does her "community" service.

Please. Just no.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Metaphorical imperialism...

The implications of this metaphor from this BBC article are interesting.
The Y chromosome is a package of genetic material passed down from father to son, more or less unchanged - just like a surname.
Okay, I understand that writers write with an intended audience in mind, and I'm sure that the writer had in mind a specific audience for whom the metaphor works, but the writer made some interesting assumptions about that audience that could well exclude much of the world's population. It assumes patriarchal naming traditions, and there's a certain amount of a colonial attitude about it.

Just stood out to me.

Signs the conversation is between theology geeks...

"It would suck to get to heaven and find out your martyrdom is invalid."

"Yeah, see being burnt wasn't good enough, but we're feeling gracious today, so you get a do-over. Try again. Maybe being dissolved in acid. See you soon."

Inspired by a conversation today after my martyrdom class. Same classmate has also commented, "Crucifixion would be so much easier now days. Nail guns -- the Romans would have loved them!"

I live for moments like these.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

And back to my strange obsession....

I have an odd obsession with Focus on the Family. It's probably akin to the obsession most people have with train wrecks, or the obsession some people have with the rise of Hitler or the reign of Stalin. Something along the lines of, Just how does this go on anyway?

So I was flipping through hoping for a repeat of wonderful moments like the time James Dobson admited that gender roles need to be taught or the review of Audioslave's latest CD that praised Chris Cornell's increasely spiritual lyrics. (I believe that Chris Cornell's lyrics have been profoundly spiritual for quite sometime, and that he's far closer to Gnostic than right wing Christian. Oh, and that he just might be a prophet. I hope more fundie kids start listening to Cornell, maybe they'll wake up and take religion seriously.) Unfortunately, today has yet to turn up anything remotely amusing or ironic. Instead, I found this article on Nancy Pelosi. Which is just annoying.

While the author, Matt Kaufman, claims that his concerns about Pelosi are not based on her gender and that "what matters first and foremost about a candidate isn't gender or race, it's where the candidate stands on the issues," the rest of his article makes his misogynistic preconceptions blindingly apparent.

First, he mocks the historical importance of Pelosi's ascendency to Speaker of the House. Mind you now, I don't really care for Pelosi. I'm a libertarian, not a democrat, and while I'm more than delighted to have a powerful figure in Washington who supports abortion rights, gay rights, and generally not making me live according to someone else's conception of Christianity, I'm not too delighted by the fiscal policies of the Democratic Party. (Of course, the Republican Party's fiscal policies of the moment suck as well, so I currently vote based on social not financial issues and lean toward the Democrats.) But it's about damn time a woman had a federal, elected position of power in this country. Concerns about Pelosi's politics aside, I'm happy we finally have a female speaker of the house. And I'm saddened that she felt the need to use gendered language to talk of how she'll lead, but it's a step in the right direction, and a very historic moment that indicates that our country is continuing to move in a direction to overcome mass cultural sexism.

Second, he claims that our culture places too much emphasis on attaining political power. That statement alone is probably correct. I think my great aunt achieved something as valuable as Nancy Pelosi has when she taught me and a number of my cousins that "Anything a man can do can be handled by a woman in long pants and sturdy shoes." And possibly when she and her twin sister became the first women to wear pants to church and stared down the eldership. Small victories are important. For feminism as much as anything. But by making this point around Nancy Pelosi's macro-level victory Matt Kaufman sends a clear message that he believes that women, especially should stay out of that dirty, nasty public square.
Regrettably, some people have their priorities messed up. Nancy Pelosi may think "from the kitchen to the Congress" is a big promotion, but in truth, what she did in the kitchen was probably more valuable than what anyone (not just her) does in Congress. And that's not because women should be confined to the kitchen, but simply because it was one of many valuable things people do close to home, with their families, where real life takes place.
Tell me, would this argument have been made about a man? Does the Shrub have his priorities out of order because he ran for public office? It's ridiculous to pretend that this essay is not influenced by a certain formulation of gender norms, so let's not lie to ourselves.

Then, of course, there's the obvious canon within the canon reading of the Bible. While I do agree that our culture undervalues the work done by men and women on the micro-level (including families, houses of worship, local communities, and coffeshops), the Bible, which Focus on the Family claims is the source of their values, doesn't look upon family life as the be all and end all of human existence. Check out Matthew 8:21-22, "another of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' But Jesus said to him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'"

Oh dear sweet God, why?

Church compared to Starbucks. This unchurched little girl says, "the hell?"

As previously mentioned, I have issues with megachurches. So, it was with great interest that I read this article at the Washington Post. A Washington, D.C. area church is expanding rapidly and rather than helping start independent churches in the area, they are going to build satelitte churches and broadcast their worship service from the central church to the satelitte churches. Franchise churches! FRANCHISE CHURCHES!

Yes, I was raised in a Restoration Movement church, and while I have a number of issues with the Churches of Christ, I'm in many ways a Restoration Movement thinker. Read as, I think congregations should be reasonably independent of each other. Not that they shouldn't work together, or that there can't even be a certain amount of an extra-congregational unifying structure (obviously, not a straight RM thinker here.). But each congregation should be able to function as a independent unit -- not simply as a geographically disjointed extra auditorium.

Depending on their location, different congregations have different needs. An inner-city congregation has vastly different needs than a congregation in a rich suburb, and a rural congregation has yet another set of needs. (BTW, there are even more differences, I know of rural congregations that need a kick in the seat of the pants more than anything, and of rural congregations that while I respectfully disagree, I find to be honest, and genuinely in search of the truth.) Franchising religion can't accomplish this! Religion is not a case of one size fits all. Nor does one coffee suit all.

The article brings up a good question at the end of the article. Is this plan intended to bring more people to Christ? (A goal, which while I, personally, wouldn't place pre-eminence on, is understandable.) Or is it to glorify the leaders of the megachurches and further inflate their egos.

Then there is my concern that ministers be able to minister to the individuals in their congregation. Or maybe just to keep the other ministers from harming the individuals within the congregation. But I already ranted about that.