The other day I got a message from a friend and former professor of mine from our Malone days, John David Geib, who is in the middle of facilitating a class on all-things Dylan. He’s calling the class, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m only Bleeding) Deconstructing The Song That Deconstructs Heads from The 60s till Now” or something to that effect. Anyways, back in college him and I would talk about Dylan and the possibility of having a class on his stuff someday and hearing the news that he is actually doing it made me happy (though I will confess a little jealousy too). I had similar visions of grandiose (or should I say Johanna) when I was at Fuller. Ryan Bolger and I often semi-joked around about doing a class on the “The theology of Bob Dylan.” Anyways, these are all still dreams and with my PhD studies relegated to the part-time moments when I can steal away from other responsibilities (and social interactions online) it feels far off. Continue reading
I’m way late to be posting about this book, but I still operate under the “better really late, than even later than that” motto. I was sent “The Divine Commodity” by Skye Jethani, editor of leadership journal, [Powell's affiliate link embedded] shortly before we packed up all our stuff and moved to the great state of Washington. My initial take with books to review is that I give them an hour or two of skimming and then I’ll write the 150-300 words required, which usually takes me another half-hour or so. I figure this is the best way to make sure I break even with a free book, but Skye’s book blew me away. I read every page carefully, I couldn’t put it down. It is very well-written, engaging and fun to read.
The basic premise of the book is that the narrative of American consumerism is all too powerful in scope and is shaping and sapping the church’s imagination. The book is part American-cultural history, part theology, part art history based on the life of Vincent van Gogh. It deals with topics such as branding, the power and influence of Disney on the imaginations of children, consumerism, mega-churches, isolationism, and desire. Jethani draws on many voices from the church from Augustine, to Brother Lawrence, to the Quaker Thomas Kelly, to the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier to the fourth century Egyptian peasant Pachomius. The book presents troubling signs of consumerism within the church, suggested practices (such as the practice of silence) for resisting these pressures, and Vincent van Gogh as a model for the church to recapture its imagination. Every chapter ends with a discussion around van Gogh’s life and work, and includes color illustrations of various paintings of his. For Jethani, van Gogh’s art was different from both Realism and Impressionism, one hand Realism tried to paint reality according to the naked eye, whereas Impressionism was more about emotion. Instead van Gogh “believed art should do more than present reality; it should represent reality by uncovering the truth that is not apparent to the naked eye.” Accordingly, the church should follow suit and not live as reality is, but as it should be, unmasking, disentangling, the many narrative threads in our lives, drawing upon the light of God, rather than the darkness of human greed, excess and consumption.
This is a very important book for the church to read and Jethani has done a good job preparing it for use in our communities: it is accessible, comes with handy discussion questions, and educational in a way that engaged many pop culture references. I highly recommend it to all.
Check out the Divine Commodity site as well.
From the Synopses & Reviews on Powell’s Site:
Consumerism, which has invaded the church, has created a culture that values style over substance and image over reality. But through Scripture, history, engaging narrative, and the inspiring art of Vincent van Gogh, Skye Jethani explores an alternative vision of faith that liberates us to live as Christ’s people in a culture opposed to his kingdom.
The human imagination is the key battleground in the conflict between the kingdom of God and the consumer culture. Drawing from the vivid imaginations of Impressionist painters, particularly Vincent van Gogh, each chapter of The Divine Commodity uses personal narrative, biblical exposition, and cultural observation to show how consumerism has shaped our faith, and then challenges the reader to use their sanctified imagination to envision an alternative way of expressing the Christian life in our culture.
Liz Oppenheimer has recently edited a volume of online conversations from a rich variety of Quaker authors and brought them together in “Writing Cheerfully on the Web,” a play on the George Fox’s famous line, “Walking Cheerfully Over the Earth.”
Here’s what Quaker Books has to say about it:
This book brings to print the online conversation that has been mending our historical schisms and pointing to who we are as the Religious Society of Friends. Writings from 32 Friends from across all the Quaker Branches. On topics such as Convergent Christianity, our traditions. With an index of blogs and a preface by Brent Bill.
I have an essay in the book as well, one you will recognize from this blog. If you’re interested in an introduction into the convergent Friends conversation, or want to find out what other Quakers have to say around an assortment of issues then this will be of interest to you. It is now available at Quaker Books (http://bit.ly/BHFPd).
See also Cat Chapin-Bishop’s post for more info.
My friend Rhett Smith asked me on twitter yesterday where he should start if he wanted to get into some of iek’s writings. There are a few different places to start because he has such a huge corpus and covers a variety of topics. For instance the different areas of his work you can dive into are:
- Film Criticism
- Hegalian Philosophy
He was interested in learning more about his use of Psychoanalysis, which is almost solely based on Jacques Lacan’s work. Here are my recommendations on this particular subject, if you’d like to chime in about the others please feel free ((all these links have embedded referral codes in them to Powell’s independent bookstore in Portland Oregon. I strongly support local bookstores and hope you will too. If you purchase these books through these links I also receive a little kickback from the sale)):
- Sublime Object of Ideology is his first book, is pretty lucid for iek and focuses on his use of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, which he applies mainly to social critique.
- “How to Read Lacan,” is a super easy to read, short and fun. In it Zizek expounds upon key quotes and texts from Lacan’s corpus and applies them to movies, and contemporary cultural examples.
- Finally, “Looking Awray: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan Through Popular Culture” takes an indepth approach to Lacanian psychoanalysis and uses it to exegete film.
- You can also find more of iek’s books on Lacan on my delicious site.
Finally, If you’re interested in getting books that cover the four main pillars of iek’s thought: Hegel, Lacan, Marx and Christianity then I highly recommend the four volume: The Essential Zizek: The Complete Set (the Sublime Object of Ideology, the Ticklish Subject, the Fragile Absolute, the Plague of Fantasies).
Rhett asked me today about books I’ve found helpful on the subject of Christian nonviolence, which reminded me that I had planned on doing a post about some of my favorite books on the subject for quite some time. Here’s a list of books I recommend on the subject, they are in no particular order other. If you have your own favorites please post them below.
- A Declaration on Peace: In God’s People The World’s Renewal Has Begun by Douglas Gwyn, George Hunsinger, Eugene F Roop, and John Howard Yoder. A book focused on an ecumenical dialogue between Brethren, Quakers, Mennonites, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Discusses not just pacifism but a “renewed vision of the entire purpose of God in the world.”
- Biblical Pacifism by Dale W. Brown. This book covers important biblical passages on peace.
- Binding the Strong Man by Ched Myers. A very helpful commentary on the Gospel of Mark which looks at the nonviolence of Jesus.
- Transforming the Powers: Peace, Justice and the Domination System edited by Ray Gingerich and Ted Grimsrud. A collection of theological and ethical essays rooted in Walter Wink’s idea that “the powers are good; the powers are fallen; the powers must be redeemed.” Among other things the book looks at how the powers might be redeemed through the nonviolence of Jesus.
- Jesus and Nonviolence by Walter Wink. A small yet very influential book on understanding Jesus as a nonviolent revolutionary. Walter Wink’s trilogy on the powers including “Engaging the Powers” also cover these issues.
- The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanely Hauerwas. Christian Ethics rooted in how the church is to live as an alternative peaceable community in the world.
- Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context by Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee. Stassen and Gushee base their ethics in the Sermon on the Mount and the “transforming initiatives of Jesus,” then move on to look at key ethical questions from war, to abortion, euthanasia, gender roles, marriage, etc.
- Peace by Walter Brueggemann. An Old Testament look at the shalom of God.
- What About Hitler? Wrestling with Jesus’s Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World by Robert W. Brimlow. Among the many questions pacifists get asked is What About Hitler? Brimlow tackles this question head on and does so with a thorough use of Scripture.
- What Would You Do? If a violent person threatened to harm a loved one by John Howard Yoder. In this short collection of essays a number of authors look at hypothetical questions in ethics and other ways to respond to violence.
- Nevertheless: Varieties of Religious Pacifism by John Howard Yoder. Yoder dispels the myth that there is only one version of pacifism by explaining the nineteen different versions of nonviolence throughout history.
- The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. The most important book written on the nonviolence of Jesus in recent history Yoder shows that Jesus’ nonviolence was not simply a personal piety but the very political character of the kingdom Jesus announced and enacted.
- Strength of Love by Martin Luther King Jr. This is a short book of King’s sermons all profoundly moving and deeply committed to nonviolence.
If you just want a couple of the basics I would recommend these three: The Politics of Jesus, Jesus and Nonviolence, The Peaceable Kingdom.
Edited: April 6th 6:40am
I want to commend to you the latest Fuller Theology News and Notes, a magazine that comes out bi-annually and is edited by a Fuller professor. This issue was edited by ethcist Glenn Stassen and is called the Long Reach Toward Just Peacemaking. The issue has a number of great Christian thinkers in it talking about practical ways to embody peace in the world. What’s Just Peacemaking? A kind of hybrid between Just-war and Pacifism, but still with the historic Christian refusal to war. Here are just peacemaking’s ten practices taken from the introduction:
- Support nonviolent direct action. Based on Jesuss way of transforming initiatives (Matt. 5:3842). See James Burkes article herein.
- Take independent initiatives (also Matt. 5:38-42). This is how George Bush Sr. and Mikhail Gorbachev disposed of half the nuclear weapons of America and Russia.
- Use cooperative conflict resolution (Matt. 5:2126). This is how American President Jimmy Carter achieved peace in the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel. See Paul Alexanders article and www.matthew5project.org.
- Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness. (Matt. 7:15). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa lanced festering historical injustices in this way.
- Advance human rights, religious liberty, and democracy. During the twentieth century, democracies with human rights fought no wars against one another.
- Foster just and sustainable economic development. See Bryant Myerss article herein.
- Work with cooperative forces in the international system. Empirically, the more nations are involved in international organizations, communication, travel, missions, and international trade, the less they make war.
- Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights. Empirically, nations more engaged in the UN avoid war more often. Unilateral policies cause more wars.
- Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade (Matt. 26:52). This makes war less likely.
- Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups. Every Church a Peace Church (www.ecapc.org) has links to church peace fellowships.
Each of the essays builds on this in one way or another. I highly recommend reading Mennonite Scholar Kent Davis article An Abrahamic Paradigm for Just Peacemaking, Fuller psychology professor Cameron Lee’s Making Peace In Our Families, and Evelyne A. Reisacher’s, who does Islamic studies and intercultural relations at Fuller, Evangelical-Muslim Peacemaking: Drink Lots of Cups of Tea.
I saw this today on my favorite fan site rushmore academy and it made me really happy. It didn’t hurt that L really likes this book, and that Arcade Fire’s song “Wake Up,” from their album Funeral, is playing in the background really helps too.
This makes me all the more excited about another movie based on a children’s book coming out this year: The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
A while back when we were at the Convergent Friends weekend I got a copy of “Counsel to the Christian-Traveller: Also Meditations and Experiences” by William Shewen. It is an early Quaker text that was originally published in London in 1683, Shewen was among the early prominent London Friends. He got started as a writer while engaged in a pamphlet war with the Baptist Jeremish Ives in 1674 (6). Shewen’s collection of writings has been reprinted by Charles Martin who runs InnerLight Books (You can preview the book there as well). Anyways, I’m enjoying (very slowly) working through this book, more as a devotional text than anything. One interesting thing about the book is that the first couple chapters are just lists of Scripture passages early Quakers understood as being key to how they understood the Light as well as “the Holy Scriptures.”
I just came across this quote a little later in the book and it really struck me as a beautiful and challenging saying:
Put your hand to the plow (look not back) keep it there until the fallow ground be plowed up, and the briars and thorns rooted up and destroyed, so that the seen may grow up in you to perfection.
Have you know the kingdom and the power, in which it stands, like a little leaven hid in the three measures of Meal? Hinder not its working; let it leaven the whole lump?
Do you know the field where the pearl of great price is hidden? Then dig deep, and find it; and when you have found it, sell all, and purchase it, and then you will be the wise Merchantman indeed (19).
I’ve written about Henry Jenkins in the past, he’s Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and writes constantly about fan culture or “fandom,” remix, and other contemporary cultural happenings. I didn’t know much about him until last year when my doctoral advisor recommended I read Jenkins book, “Convergence Culture” for a methods class I was taking. The book was astounding and has really impacted my recent research. In the book he argues that technology and mass media has moved to a more participatory “convergence” culture, where the traditional flow from producer to consumer has been disrupted. Now the consumer becomes the producer and creates the media he or she wants. Convergence culture allows small communities all around the world to gather around given topics and interests and produce information, media, etc., on those things. Fan culture is an example of the possibility for meaningful communities that are not limited to geographical space.
In his book Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture 1992 Jenkins was the first to celebrate fan culture as not something weird or cultish, but as something that has subversive tendencies that challenges status quo consumerism. ((Later he’s remarked that consumerism is also to be found within fandom but still maintains that fan don’t play by the rules of consumerism))Fans make their “primary” texts (or objects), examples are anything from Star Trek episodes to the Lord of the Rings trilogies to bicycles (critical mass, ((the image above is of a critical mass outing taken from Flickr, unfortunately I can’t find the original source but the image isn’t my own)) midnight ridazz, etc), resources to build on and have fun around. They don’t simply consume these texts but they reread them and produce new cultures out of those texts. Another example of this is fan fiction: in fan fiction people extend the original narratives and lives of the characters turning them into something that is their own creation.
In Convergence Culture Jenkins writes that fandom, as displayed within convergence culture, is characterized by these five things:
- Appropriation – A person appropriates in their own life a particular text, work, and practice relating to their fan object. Often these objects are reinterpreted in their own life.
- Participation – There is an openness for people to participate at all levels within the community. They are so inspired by it they write music, create events, etc.
- Emotional Investment – People become really invested in this this object, topics, etc. It is something they are really into and something they want to talk about.
- Collective Intelligence (rather than the expert paradigm) – There is room for everyone to have something to say and contribute to the collective understanding of the group. Collective intelligence doesn’t need credentials, degrees, etc., experiences and insights are beneficial to the community and conversation.
- “Virtual” Community – These are communities that are not necessarily built around face to face meetings. Some of these people know each other and some are unknown, but more often than not these groups will have times to meet face to face.
In his class on this subject Ryan Bolger argues that this is how we should evaluate communities, not just fan communities, but communities in general. That is to say that community within convergence culture is no longer relegated to dinner tables, not that it shouldn’t happen there as well, but that “community” is now extended in both space and time through the global flows of mobile technology. To reduce community down to a physical interaction betrays what we know of how people actually interact in our world today. We all have those things we get really excited about and build communities around, whether they are religious interests and concerns, academic interests, pop cultural texts, or a consumer product, our communities are now being shaped, reshaped and constructed in very different ways.
If you are interested in more thoughts on virtual community and convergence culture check out my two articles here:
Ryan Bell, the pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Hollywood, invited philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins to do a two day conference called “Beyond Evandelism” at their church building (You can read Bell’s recent post on Rollins talk last night).
In his talk Peter Rollins discussed a number of things important to the church: the ironic gesture and fetishism. According to Rollins, the trouble with mission and the church is that we try to bring people into our buildings, lock them in and scare them into believing. He pointed out that human desire is best experienced in a triangle. We need a third (someone or something) to tell our fantasty/desire/experience too. He told the story about the two strangers who were the only survivors on a shipwreck and were stranded on a deserted island. After many months there they started to become friends: initially they really begrudged each other for being the only two people on the island. And finally one night they have a real nice evening together. The next morning the guy seemed a little down and the girl asked what was wrong, the guy couldnt explain his troubles. Then he had an idea. He asked the girl to put on a mustache and a wig and meet him over by the tree. She thought it was really weird but decided to go along with it. When she, looking like a man, met up with the guy later the guy said, Hey Buddy, youll never guess who I had sex with last night! This story illustrates that often pleasure can only be enjoyed when it is shared with others (It seems to me that twitter and facebook status would be a good examples of this kind of triangulation. We turn the all aspects of life, mundane or otherwise, into a pleasure that can be shared with others).
Often God fills this triangulation for Christians. God fills the space so that “we can sleep at night.” God becomes a crutch to lean on so we dont have to face the harsh reality of life, which often looks meaningless. Rollins said, We want God to be this third, so we can place our projections, and keep us from facing up to our issues.
This was essentially Bonhoeffer’s point as well. Ryan Bell in his reflections on the talk wrote:
In his time, Bonhoeffer make the observation that God was always on the retreat, with less and less power, reduced to an idea – simply an explanation for what we cannot explain. We need God to help us face the likelihood that life is meaningless, everyone we love is going to die, that we have come from nothing and will return to nothing. So, God is pushed to the margins, not only of our lives, but also of society, to the point where God has now power at all anymore.
In modernity, God becomes intellectualized. We go to church believing while we are there, that is we believe intellectually, but when we leave we are “practical atheists.” We dont live the rest of the week like we really believe. Our faith is intellectualized to the point that we can critique social practice while engaging in that social practices. Think of those influenced by the green movement who are critical of big cars, but who drive just as much or more in their smaller efficient vehicles than those with the gas guzzlers. Instead of asking, why own a car at all? Or why do I drive so much? They intellectualize their passion for sustainability so that they dont have to really believe in a way that would change their practice.
This is what Rollins called the ironic gesture. This sentiment goes against pascal who didnt care what people believed so much as that they lived according to a world where God exists.
What has happened in our form of mission is that by bringing people into the church and making sure they believe in certainty and out of fear the church ends up having to believe for people. The rituals, the pastor, the sacraments all believe for us, these things becomes the third in the triangle. They believe on Sunday so we dont have to believe the rest of the week.
This happens when the church becomes a fetish. An example of a fetish is money. We know money isnt magical but we go on living as though we believe that it is. A fetish prevents us from experiencing the true reality of our social situation. Church as a fetish allows us to continue in our horrific jobs, abusive relationships, unethical corruptions, etc. So in order to really find God and free these people we need to remove the church.
The first response to this, and the most provocative, is to say we need to remove the church so that people can be free to face reality and believe themselves. But this would only be the antithesis of the problem. What is needed instead are robust, “powerful practices” as James McClendon called them, that are rooted in both believing and practicing. We need communities that interrupt the flow of the third, and push us to confront the reality of God and encounter Christ. What does it look like for the church to disrupt this ironic gesture? And what has it looked like for God to do it to our churches?