like any good ghost, the holy ghost haunts the world towards justice #halloweentheology

I wrote this paper a few years back and think it’s good to revisit it, especially on Halloween!

“for in the one spook we were all haunted into one house
jews or greeks, slaves or free
and we were all made to be spooked by the phantasm.”
1 Corinthians 12:13 (New Revised Specter Version)

white ghost outline shapes

In the Pentecostal church of my youth, we read the King James Version Bible, which has sprinkled throughout the New Testament a most halloween-ey phrase, a holy ghost. I witnessed this ghost spook congregations with healings, tongues-talkin’, and spontaneous revivals. Yet, this holy ghost has not stopped frightening me, even outside my Pentecostal tradition! This specter whispers visions of God’s Realm, but it is not able to transform the world on its own; rather, it seeks agency from humans and creatures alike. John Caputo, a self-identified weak theologian, spells out divinity not as a strong force siding with the wealthy and powerful, but as a call, a promise found with the no-bodies and the marginalized. In this way, God intervenes not through economics, politics, or any system where the powerful reign, but as the Scriptures assumes: through sex workers, stutterers, the imprisoned, and a poor Palestinian Jew killed by an Empire. I will focus on two aspects of the holy specter: 1) the equalizing measure of the holy ghost to fall on anyone, non-discriminate of race, class, or social location. 2) the anti-oppressive spooking found in early Pentecostalism, which still haunts white supremacy today. Like any good ghost, the holy specter haunts and beckons: it calls for justice and equality, expecting humans and creatures to help transform the world for God’s Realm.

Caputo declares that all are subject to the haunting specter. But before we step into the realm or the whisper of the unknown, it would be best to write some about weak or radical theology. This line of thought started with the Death of God theologians, most notably Thomas J.J. Altizer, who claimed God’s death in the 1960’s. Altizer and his ilk exclaimed that the supernatural God found in the holy scriptures no longer existed, if this God ever existed. They insisted that divinity is not above the Earth floating around in the heavens, but is immanent and became immanent because of Jesus. As well, for them, since on Christ’s cross God died, no split exists between the secular and the divine; rather, divinity permeates the universe. Weak theology picks up where Death of God theology left and adds to the conversation of immanence  with Jacques Derrida. For weak theology, God does not exist and instead of taking the Tillichian route of God as existence, takes the less worn road and declares, “God insists. God is neither presence nor absence, but insistence. God does not subsist; God insists.” [1] 

If Caputo is correct, and I believe he is, that the holy specter is haunting all, what might this look like? First off, the negative cultural residue must be wiped away from “haunting.” In Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, she writes, “Being haunted draws us affectively, something against our will and always a bit magically, into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as a transformative recognition.”[2] Haunting opens new faculties of knowledge, away from cerebral only understandings of life. Many Pentecostal and Charismatic worship services are haunted in this way. They become spaces in which one’s theological knowledge becomes obsolete because new experiences of the wholly ghastly are overwhelming. For instance, every Sunday morning in my youth, my great-grandmother would speak in tongues during worship. The holy ghost landed on this woman, who was born and raised in a country trailer park. She had no formal education above middle school and this hallowed haunter swept into her during the service without any qualms. She was haunted, and I can still see its shadow.

Second, the holy ghost can be found haunting the pages of our sacred script declaring an egalitarian religious participation. Paul, influenced by the specter, included the well-known ancient metaphor of the body in 1st Corinthians 12:12-31. In this passage, Paul wrote that ghastly gifts are all necessary and equal. If one is an ear they should do their best to listen well and if one is a foot they should respect their position and walk or run the best they are able. Then, adding a twist to this seemingly hierarchical metaphor, Paul declares, “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another” (12:24-25). As a result, the specter’s gifts are for the common good, whether it is wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues, or interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:8-10). And these gifts, which we receive from the holy ghost are an extension of God’s grace. Thus, what we receive is for the building up of our communities and not for personal gain.

Thirdly, since the holy ghost rests beyond our idea of presence or absence, no one or group is able to have a definitive word on this mysterious character. Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz, German theologian, understanding this conundrum writes, “It seems easier to talk about God or about Jesus as the Christ than to try to describe in doctrinal form a reality that encompasses us when we encounter it and evaporates as soon as we try to pin it down.”[3] Like the negative theologians of the past, we are at a loss for words when it comes to this holy specter. We stand on equal footing, knowing that at any time the haunter of hopes can cast its shadow anywhere or at anytime transforming the world all together.

Notably, the Early Pentecostal Revivalist and Reverend William Seymour wrote of the strange workings of the hauntingly specter. In his magazine, Apostolic Faith, he wrote a section in 1908, titled “Questions Answered.” One of the questions asked was, “Is it necessary for a person to leave their home duties in order to wait at some place for the Holy Ghost?” He responded profoundly, “No; you can wait right in the kitchen or in the parlor or in the barn. Some have received the baptism of the Spirit in their barns, some in the kitchen, some at family worship, some on their porch, some about their business.”[4] The holy ghost can spook anyone at anytime, no where is safe.  For the holy ghost is not a kindly Casper the Friendly Ghost, who got along with everyone without any problems. No, this holy specter haunts the world for the common good, often disrupting the lives of the comfortable and well-off.

For a short time my grandparents lived in North Carolina. They lived on a farm and were faithful members of the Catholic Church. My grandmother will frequently share with me a story about her interaction with the Klu Klux Klan when she lived there. My father was only a few months old, around 1962, and one night she heard some chaos pursuing outside at the farm across the hill. She looked out the kitchen window and sees the KKK dressed in their white robes burning crosses at her African American neighbor’s farm. She calls the police. The police do not show up and the African American family move days later. That story haunts my grandmother because she knows that this was a violent act. Agreeing with our ghostly theorist Avery Gordon, “haunting, unlike trauma by contrast, is distinctive for producing a something-to-be-done.”[5] For my grandmother, she retells this story to haunt her hearers to not be like them.

The haunting that the KKK performs cannot compare to the haunting of the holy haunter. While the KKK burns crosses, kills black and brown persons, and seemingly dress like ghosts. The holy specter calls for justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, hospitality, and love.[6] The specter of specters is heard, but not seen. It spooks. When the holy specter enters a KKK meeting, members repent of their violent ghosting, they burn their sheets, and humble themselves to listen and ask for forgiveness from black and brown families and communities they have harmed.

In the early American Pentecostal Movement, racism was at the forefront. Two preachers founded American Pentecostalism. First, the founder of the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, KS and one of the first preachers to teach on speaking in tongues, a white man named Charles Parham. He was the pastor of the service in January 1901, where speaking in tongues first occurred. A few years later, a young black man, a son of two slaves, and blind in one eye came to hear Parham speak about this phenomenon, his name was William J. Seymour. Because of the racist laws, Seymour was not able to sit in the same room to hear Parham speak, but sat outside the door and listened. After spending a few days there, Seymour took up the cause of Pentecostalism and started to preach about it. He eventually led the Azusa Street Revival from 1906-1909.

Seymour as a Pentecostal had the holy spirit as the most important Person of his theology. He believed that the geist of eternity did not commend social or racial divisions. Gastón Espinosa, a Pentecostal Latino theologian wrote that the Azusa Revival “grew precisely because it was a transgressive social space wherein racial-ethnic minorities, women, the working class, and others could cross some of the deeply inscribed unbiblical racial-ethnic, class, gender, and national borders and boundaries of the day.”[7] This revival transcended time and place. Being is spooked by time.[8] When spaces are smoked with holy fire, time vanishes.

Racism, sexism, and classism are so prevalent in the US then and now. The haunter causes discomfort in the powers-that-be. When Parham visited the Azusa Revival, he condemned it in an editorial piece writing, “frequently a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen thrown back in the arms of a big buck nigger and held tightly as she shook in freak imitation of Pentecost.”[9] Parham’s vision of Pentecostalism was segregated; blacks and whites should attend different services. The Azusa Street Revival spooked him and after this Seymour never publicly wrote of Parham again.

Ghosts, and specifically the holy specter, haunt us not that we become fearful of it, but so it may waver our present state of comfort. For Parham, the state of his racism, his sympathy for the KKK, and his pro-Jim Crow attitude shook when he encountered the revival. When the holy ghost enters churches today, it often shakes them of their apathy of the poor, their neglect of the systems of injustice including racism, sexism, transphobia, the prison-industrial complex, and the disregard of single parents sitting in the pews. The holy specter does not side with the powerful, but haunts them until they share with those without. The haunter of hearts does not accept the apathy of the middle class manager, yet spooks them until they have relationships with their neighbors. The holy ghost haunts that we may love better, share fuller, and listen more deeply to the needs of others.

The Christian tradition does not play enough with pneumatology. For example, Augustine wrote that the Holy Spirit is the love between God the Father and God the Son. In this case, God’s Spirit has little to no human contact. Or process theologian, Blair Reynolds, who wrote, “Life in the Spirit means more than merely acting in harmony with or in obedience to the will of God. Because God is not beyond or exclusive of the world but is its receptacle, we are in direct contact with God, hence capable of entering into a mutual relationship with God.”[11] Therefore, it is impossible to leave God’s presence, which may seem logical for panentheists, but without the haunting that I’ve described why would there be a need to be transformed? What I attempted to do in this post is combine popular culture, God-talk, and social justice to sort out a spooktacular pneumatology.

The holy specter cannot be controlled. It can visit us at any moment and it will. It spooks. Or in the words of Caputo, “Specters are highly egalitarian; they disturb everyone.”[12]  It haunts us, calling us to live as if we’re already in God’s Realm.

ghost-clip-art-aieo4bxi4


[1] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 31-33

[2] Avery F. Gordon and Janice Radway, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, 2nd edition (Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2008). p. 8

[3] Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz, God’s Spirit: Transforming a World in Crisis (New York : Geneva: Continuum Intl Pub Group, 1996). p. 5

[4] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014). p. 194

[5] Avery F. Gordon, “Who”s there?’: some answers to questions about Ghostly Matters., website, October 26, 2007, http://www.averygordon.net/writing-haunting/whos-there/.

[6] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 31

[7] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014). p. 101

[8] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 34

[9] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014). p. 99

[11] Blair Reynolds, Toward a Process Pneumatology (Selinsgrove Pa. : London ; Cranbury, NJ: Susquehanna Univ Pr, 1990). pg. 158

[12] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 19


Bibliography

Caputo, John D., Katharine Sarah Moody, Tad DeLay, Ross Pennock, Micah Purnell, John Hardt, Joshua Harris, et al. It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call. Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015.

Espinosa, Gastón. William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History. Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014.

Gordon, Avery F., and Janice Radway. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. 2nd edition. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Jensen, David H., ed. The Lord and Giver of Life: Perspectives on Constructive Pneumatology. Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

Moltmann, Jurgen. The Spirit of Life. 3rd Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

Muller-Fahrenholz, Geiko. God’s Spirit: Transforming a World in Crisis. New York : Geneva: Continuum Intl Pub Group, 1996.

Reynolds, Blair. Toward a Process Pneumatology. Selinsgrove Pa. : London ; Cranbury, NJ: Susquehanna Univ Pr, 1990.

 

Youth Group Worship Service Concerning Social Justice

I had a wonderful time leading a Vesper-like service for a youth group from Yorktown, NY. The theme of the service was faith and social justice. Tonight they also volunteered with food prep and will help out tomorrow at the soup kitchen. I thought I’d share the bulletin since I enjoyed creating it so much! 

Christ of the Breadlines.jpg

 

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.

– Thomas Merton


Tonight’s service will grapple with God’s calling for justice
throughout Scripture and our response.


Creation as a whole is very good

Genesis 1:29-31 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that was made, and indeed, it was very good.

Reflection: What goodness have you seen this last week? Has there been a moment when everything in world seemed to be working together?

“King of My Heart” by John Mark and Sarah McMillan

Let the King of my heart
be the mountain where I run
The Fountain I drink from
You are my Song

Let the King of my heart
be the shadow where I hide
the ransom for my life
You are my Song

Refrain:
You are good, good, ohhh
You are good, good, ohhh
You are good, good, ohhh
You are good, good, ohhh

Let the King of my heart
be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
You are my Song

Let the King of my heart
be the fire inside my veins
the echo of my days
You are my Song

Refrain

When the night is holding onto me
God is holding on.

When the night is holding onto me
God is holding on


Yet the world is not as it should be

Habakkuk 1:2-4
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrong doing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore, judgment comes forth perverted.

Reflection: God has called the world and us good. Where have you seen us screw it up this week?

Prayer: Let us write down on post-it notes those places and situations where the world could be better. Once you’ve written it down, please place it on the prayer wall.

“Lord, listen to Your Children Praying”

Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying
Lord, Send Your Spirit in this Place
Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying
Send us love, send us power, send us grace


Jesus’ call for justice

Luke 6:27-36 Jesus said, “But I say to you that listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Holy One; for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate, just as God is compassionate.”

Reflection: Have you seen or heard about someone who follows Christ and performs such acts?

“For Everyone Born”
Shirley Murray (vs. 1,2,4) and Chris Shelton (v. 3)

For everyone born.jpg


James on how we judge the poor

James 2:1-7 My sisters and brothers, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen up: Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that God has promised? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

Reflection: Are you surprised that these verses are in our Scriptures? Ponder on those moments when you’ve judged another person based on how they dressed, or what they drove, or how they spoke.


All of creation yearns for justice

Romans 8:18-25 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for creation was subjected to uselessness, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that all of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Prayer: Use the markers to color in the world based on what you think the world needs.

Love: Purple
Peace: Blue
Justice: Green
Compassion: Yellow
Kindness: Red
Healthy Relationships: Orange

Globe.jpg


We pursue justice together, not alone

“We have all known the long loneliness
and we have learned that the only solution is love
and that love comes with community.”
– Dorothy Day

“Guide My Feet”

Guide my feet while I run this race
Guide my feet while I run this race
Guide my feet while I run this race
For I don’t want to run alone

Hold my hand…

Search my heart…

The Prophet Isaiah of America Saith

Isaiah 2:2-4

In the days to come
God’s justice will extend beyond the heavens
encircling galaxies, borders, and flags
All peoples and creatures shall recognize such love
They will say, “Have you heard? The Not-Yet has become the Now-Is!
People who once lived on the streets, now have roofs over their heads.
Our bellies are full of food and joy. Prisons are empty!
Oil is no longer necessary to survive!”
God has given us all these beautiful resources
and imparted in us how to use them.
World peace agreements will be immediately signed
with God overseeing that they are enacted
Warheads, drones, tanks, and guns shall
be melted into communion tables,
tennis rackets, and new bridges.
The people of nations will learn gardening skills,
they’ll design new musical instruments,
and neighbor will care outrageously for neighbor.

Ramblings on about Anti-War, the Election, and Calvin

I’ve been thinking about how difficult voting with a clean conscience appears to be with this election, and perhaps all elections. I consider myself a single issues voter; my issue is justice. More specifically, I care deeply and have been part of peace movements for almost a decade. Unfortunately, the nominees for President are rather slim pickings when it comes to justice and peace issues. Neither wants to shut down Guantanamo Bay* or side strongly with the Black Lives Matter movement or even consider to decrease/eliminate our military budget.

Since I’m a new Presbyterian I thought John Calvin, a founder of Presbyterianism, might give me some insight into our predicimate, but unfortunately I was sidetracked by his affirmative writings on war:

In Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin declared war to be lawful and right. His reasoned “that in the Apostolic writings we are not to look for a distinct exposition of those matters [i.e. war], their object being not to form a civil polity, but to establish the spiritual kingdom of Christ” (4.20.12). Calvin depoliticizes the Gospels and the letters of Paul, Peter, John, and James. He completely ignores the Imperialist context they were resisting. For example, Paul rebukes Peter of not practicing reconciliation around a meal with non-Jewish Christians (Galatians 2:11-14). James tongue-lashed the rich for condemning and killing the non-violent righteous one (5:6). Or even John’s First Letter, which declares that loving other people and loving God go hand-in-hand (1 John 4:20-21).

For Calvin the Scriptures show “in passing that Christ by his coming has changed nothing [i.e. war and violence] in that respect” (4.20.12). In other words, Christ came to bring a spiritual kingdom, not to change the present one. This kind of logic has made it possible to kill hundreds of thousands of people since Calvin’s time. But then must we ask Calvin: “What does Jesus mean when he prays, ‘May God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven’ mean?” Does nationalism exist in God’s heaven? Will heaven’s borders have tanks, drones, or angelic national security guards? How does someone who’s faith demands of them a respect and love for all people, especially the poor and marginalized, would want to even wield a gun, or even be violent? What say ye, Calvin?   

I am reminded of “Garden” by The Collection

“So I shot a man in Afghanistan, he was bleeding on me 

then he said his name was Jesus and he never had an army 

as he took his dying breath, the last thing that he thought he’d tell me is 

“It’s better to die for nothing than to kill just for your country””

Sure, Calvin does not tickle my fancy when it comes to war, but will this effect my reading of him as I go further into the Presbyterian rabbit hole? I’m not sure. 

What I am sure of that is there are many other faithful Christian anti-war/pro-peace advocates whom I adore and look to for inspiration including these two incredible women, Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa:

Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, New York, 1979

*Still disappointed that President Obama did not fulfill his promise to shut it down.

bft’s reading/listening/watching list (8/28)

Here’s what I’ve been listening to and reading this week. Enjoy! 

Music

Two great subversively religiously albums released this last week. 

The Chairman Dances ‘Time Without Measure’

Time Without Measure

I can’t stop raving about this album! Just look at the track titles. When Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin are in the first song, you gotta know it’s going to be good. 

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin
Augustine
Fannie Lou Hamer
Thérèse
Jimmy Carter
César Chávez
Kitty Ferguson
Catonsville 9 (Thomas and Marjorie)
Peter Gomes and Nancy Koehn
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Collection: Ars Moriendi B-Sides
The Collection has imaginative lyrics, a profound message of peace, and a joyful sound.

Article

Hypercarceration: A Neoliberal Response to “Surplus Population”
by Jan Rehmann

This was written by my mentor and thesis advisor, Dr. Rehmann. 

Abstract:

The skyrocketing increase of U.S. incarceration rates from the late 1970s onward indicates a particular neoliberal response to what Marx analyzed as the deep-structural production of “surplus population” by capital. This essay reevaluates the classic contributions of Marx and of Rusche and Kirchheimer and relates them to approaches that emphasize racial continuity, from “convict leasing” to the “New Jim Crow” of the current incarceration system. What is needed is a multifaceted approach that accounts for the overdetermination of class and race relations. Today’s U.S. prison system is a particular way of “managing” the devastating social consequences of high-tech capitalism that has lost its hegemonic ability to mobilize its subjects on a “voluntary” basis. A part of the surplus population needs to be sacrificed in a theatrical spectacle in order to keep the working class, the poor, and the threatened middle class complacent and under control.

Sad News

Detroit’s Heidelberg Project will be dismantled over the next two years

I go to the Heidelberg Project every time I visit Detroit. This imaginative folk street art will surely be missed! 

Heldiberg
Snapped this when I visited this past January.

Quiz

What Garden of Earthly Delights Abomination Are You?

I got butt gardener.

 

Lament like hell for the living

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
-Habakkuk 1:2-3

Maybe it’s the heat, or perhaps it’s because theodicy has been on my mind for the last 10 years, or mayhaps I just enjoy good music. Any way, ‘Prayer In C’ by Lilly Wood & The Prick has been my song for the week.

Yah*, you never said a word
You didn’t send me no letter
Don’t think I could forgive you
 
See our world is slowly dying
I’m not wasting no more time
Don’t think I could believe you
 
Yah, our hands will get more wrinkled
And our hair will be grey
Don’t think I could forgive you
 
And see the children are starving
And their houses were destroyed
Don’t think they could forgive you
 
Hey, when seas will cover lands
And when men will be no more
Don’t think you can forgive you
 
Yeah when there’ll just be silence
And when life will be over
Don’t think you will forgive you

Its posture of prayer, questioning, and lament fills my heart with such joy. Partly because it’s good to know that there are songs like this out there, since this would never be sung in the context of a church service. As well, it harkens back to the tradition of the prophets, like Habakkuk (quoted at the top) and the psalms, especially Psalm 6 with the psalmist pleading with God saying, “For in death there is no remembrance of you;  in Sheol who can give you praise?” (6:5). In other words, don’t let my enemies kill me, for who will praise you then. 

As well, “Prayer in C” has these great statements and questions about forgiveness:
1. God does not respond to my pleas and prayers. How can I forgive God?
2. Our bodies are deteriorating. How can I forgive God?
3. The world is falling apart: children dying, housing destroyed. How can those effected forgive God?
4. Once the Earth is destroyed and no living creatures are around, will God forgive Godself?

This lament is not as much as the singer becoming an atheist; rather, it’s her expressing frustration and wanting God to respond with cosmic justice, quickly.

It’s hard not to have this plea daily.

Tonight, I’ve been reading all that I can about Imam Maulama Akonjee and his assistant, Thara Uddin, who were murdered in Queens. My prayers go out to their families. This was an act of evil.

I am reminded of the eternal words of Mother Jones: 

pray for the dead.png

May I live with such zeal for life and that I surround myself with like-minded lovers of life. 

Soon I will write something of more substance on my own thoughts about theodicy. 

*Yah, of course, is a shortened name for YHWH (or God).

Hope is not fantasy

This week I picked up Keywords of Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle and it has been a treat. Since each chapter is around four or five pages long, I’ve been using it as a radical daily devotional.

This is from the chapter on hope:

Hope is not fantasy, faith, optimism, or wish, but rather the strongest of all human emotions. “Hope, this expectant counter-emotion against anxiety and fear is therefore the moist human of all mental feelings and only accessible to [humans], and it also refers to the furthest and brightest horizons. It suits that appetite in the mind which the subject not only has, but if which, as unfulfilled subject, it still essentially consists”(Bloch 1995, 75). In this view, hope possesses a utopian function, which enable us to engage with the “not-yet” dimension of reality that inhabits the present and can be anticipated her and now. Hope in this sense is willful rather than wishful: it informs people’s concrete behaviors to forge a better life. 

IMG_4040.JPG

bft’s reading,listening,&watching list (8.7.16)

It’s the beginning of another week and so it’s time for the reading/watching/listening list of black flag theology!

Enjoy!

Article

71 Years Ago Today, The US Govt Carried Out
One of the Worst Terrorist Acts in the History of the World

The attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrendous. Hundreds of thousands dead in an instant and hundreds of thousands have suffered the long-term consequences of radiation. The article linked above is one of better ones I found explaining the bombings through a political lens I can appreciate.

I took this photo today at a peace vigil for Hiroshima and Nagasaki and for nuclear proliferation.

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Wokémon provides for leftists a way to enjoy Pokémon. The quote coming from Venusaur’s mouth is by Berta Cáceres, a Honduran human rights and environmental activist, who was murdered earlier this year. I like Wokémon because it is a good access point for Pokémon lovers, including myself, to be introduced to critical theorists, activists, and politicians.

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Article

5 Things ‘Arthur’ Neglected to Teach Us about Life

Before the craze of Arthur memes, Clickhole wrote the hilarious article linked above. My favorite section is: That You Can Live With Someone For 6 Years And They Can Turn Around And Forget You In A Second

When Buster moved away, he and Arthur kept in touch via postcard, demonstrating that the bonds of friendship are unbreakable. If only Arthur had mentioned that the same can’t be said for romantic relationships, when in the span of one argument, you can go from intertwined souls imprinted on each other’s cellular memories to strangers in the same bed with so much distance between you that it may as well be infinite, until finally there’s nothing left to talk about but the logistics of packing up the IKEA plates as you ring in your new life as a ghost in your own skin. Thanks for nothing, Marc Brown.

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emily nussbaum

When I finish reading Nussbaum’s television review in the New Yorker, I scroll through her tweets. She is on the pulse of pop culture and other than the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour from NPR, I more often than not trust her analysis.

 

I hear you call, apophatic theology

 

I Hear You Call, Pine Tree by Yone Noguch

I hear you call, pine tree, I hear you upon the hill, by the silent pond
where the lotus flowers bloom, I hear you call, pine tree.

What is it you call, pine tree, when the rain falls, when the winds
blow, and when the stars appear, what is it you call, pine tree?

I hear you call, pine tree, but I am blind, and do not know how to
reach you, pine tree. Who will take me to you, pine tree?


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One of the best things I did this summer was sign up for the Academy of American Poets’ poem-a-day. Through this daily email, I’ve been introduced to more diverse and eclectic poets, beyond my usual, yet still utterly amazing Francis Choi and Mary Oliver.

Today’s poem by Yone Noguchi knocked me on the floor. It leaves me with many questions. Is the pine tree calling out to the writer personally or to anything or anyone who will listen? Is this call actually a command? Does the call change depending on the environment of the pine tree (i.e. rain, wind, at night)? The blindness of writer too is curious at the end. Are they blind to the call, as if they need an interpreter to translate? Why would the speaker ask the pine tree for a companion, if they don’t even know what it is saying in the first place?!? This poem fills me with such content while at the same time has me wanting more.

What attracts me to this poem is the sense of mystery and what I believe to be apophatic theology  poetic style. The call from the pine tree is never understood fully. The writer thinks the pine tree is talking to them, yet doesn’t know with any certainty. In the apophatic tradition, God can only be understood through negation or beyondness. For example, God is beyond any human conception of love or goodness. God is beyond being. I’ll have to think further on this metaphor of God as pine tree. 

Yet, the last question still lingers: “Who will take me to you, pine tree?” Perhaps it is not a person at all, but an experience. The experience of mystery. The experience of beyondness. Or perhaps it is a person, but not an interpreter of the call, but someone just to hold our hand. Perhaps.

 

 

Theology, the future, and pop culture

The abstract for my paper, “The Eschatological Lens of Saga,” has been accepted at the Mid-Atlantic Pop and American Culture Conference in November. I’ve been so excited for it that I even started to re-read one of my sources for the paper, Jürgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope.

One quote struck me tonight, it reads,

“Theological concepts do not give a fixed for to reality, but they are expanded by hope and anticipate future being. They do not limp after reality and gaze on it with the night eyes of Minerva’s owl, but they illuminate reality by displaying its future. Their knowledge is grounded not in the will to dominate, but in love to the future of things” (36).

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According to Moltmann, it’s not necessarily the historical relevance of how a theological concept came about, but what the concept is pointing towards. For example, to assume that everyone deserves hell because of original sin presents a certain future, which one can act out in the present by being selfish or only enjoying the company of fellow-heaven goers. Rather than actually caring for those around you who are in need. Our theology shows us what we want the future to be like through our present actions. For a similar reason, I love reading Saga. Unlike other futuristic sci-fi films, such as Her and Lucy, which only white people are represented, Saga writer Brian Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples construct a future-universe much like the present: full of diverse populations, creatures, and hopes. A world I love being in living in New York.

I guess my conclusion is: theological concepts and visioning another world are not so different after all.