Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology

imagination, community, and following jesus

In sex, as in other things, we have liberated fantasy but killed imagination, and so have sealed ourselves in selfishness and loneliness. Fantasy is of the solitary self, and it cannot lead us away from ourselves. It is by imagination that we cross over the difference between ourselves and other beings and thus learn compassion, forbearance, mercy forgiveness, sympathy, and love—the virtues without which nether we nor the world can live. Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community by Wendell Berry

Recently, I went out with a few friends who have preschool and elementary aged children. Our conversation overflowed with stories of their children’s engagement with the world. They shared stories of how their kids embraced the May Day pole ceremony and how they react to beat-bop jazz and heavy metal. As a Youth Worker I too have plenty of stories up my sleeves. My favorite stories are ones where the child’s imagination shocks my own sense of the world. For instance, I handed out bags to the elementary kids to fill with presents. The first boy took the bag and looked at it and said, “My archenemies, we meet again.” I wish I still had these kinds of interactions with inanimate objects! In the opening quote, farmer, poet, and activist, Wendell Berry makes the distinction between fantasy and imagination. Imagination is that which is in the communal conscience. Fantasy, on the other hand, is a solitary moment of one’s desires without recognition of the community. In the US, fantasy is commonly related to going to space or sexual acts.

Further researching imagination I came across Jesuit theologian Roger Haight. In Haight’s texts Jesus: Symbol of God and The Future of Christology (a smaller and less dense Symbol), he tips his hat to Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts on the imagination. Aquinas breaks down imagination in three parts:

First, everything that we learn about the world comes through sense data and the imagination. Like Aristotle and the British Empiricists, our minds are blank slates that are filled with our interaction with the world. This is in contrast to Platonism that says that we already have all knowledge we are merely wiping off the charcoal stains off our minds.

Second, this is similar to the first, that we can know nothing unless it has been received from the senses. All of our knowledge comes from what we perceive from the material world. Haight says that everything that we think has an “imaginative residue.” When one thinks of dreams, which are often imaginative new events, they are not so far out of this world that one can explain them to others.

Lastly, Aquinas wrote that one has an active and a passive imagination. Our passive imagination is what we store in our memory. Active imagination happens when we create new images out of the material world. Aquinas gave the example of making a golden mountain. Both things separated exist and are part of the world, but a golden mountain takes an active imagination to create.

Understanding this through Berry’s definition, communities experience the world in similar ways, which is their passive imagination. For their active imagination, communities construct  lexicons, habits, and relationships in particular ways. In the Christian tradition, this can be seen in the Gospels. The Johannine community culturally were Greco-Roman who used popular Greek Philosophy, aka Platonism, to speak of Jesus. Does this degrade John’s Gospel to lesser than God’s Word? Of course not! What it does show us is the deep importance of Jesus to their community. Around the world, Jesus and God  are known by different names. According to the liturgy in the Jesus Sutras of Eastern Asia, Jesus is prayed to as the Jaded-Face One. To be jaded in Eastern Asia means that to have experienced life to the fullest and thus be divine.

Jesus, Mary, and Martha

The problem today is we emphasize fantasy too much. We have an active fantasy life and force those desires on others. The work of imagination is found in the midst of community. Of course, this is not perfect, but if we are aware and intentional in our imagination-creations then possibly we can create a better and more just society.

Practically speaking:
What songs, stories, art work, dramas, etc. does your community gather around?

How does your community engage with the other?

How do others perceive your community?

Christian communities around the world and throughout the ages gave the Divine a personal name. Has your community done this or have they used their experience with the Divine to add to God’s qualities?

Beliefs, Christainity, Philosophy

anti-metaphysics and jesus

The ancient philosophy of metaphysics is a spectre in our society. One assumption attributed to Plato, is that for everything we can see physically on earth, there is a perfection of that thing in the heavens.* For example, if someone were to make a table, the perfect table would be in heaven that we are trying to reflect. Plato makes a story of this idea in “Allegory of the Cave.”

The Forms permeate U.S. culture still . This is especially apparent for those running for President and other positions in the government. Mitt Romney said that President Obama blocked “true economic recovery.” Romney believes that there is one “true” way to encourage an economic growth. Yet, is he being told this from heavenly economics or his ideology? As humans, we do our best to manage how things operate and make our best guesses with how to live and with what relationships to have. Sometimes we fail in our experiments, but most of the time we succeed what we are after and can repeat such actions.

I guess the problem is that some people believe that they are absolutely correct in assuming certain ideas, believing that these things are from the heavens. Christian fundamentalism understands the world in this way. It came to full force with Harold Camping and his followers who believed last year that May 21st 2011 would be the return of Christ to earth. They received this insight from an interpretation of Scripture that for them was the “true” way, a way of interpreting from God.

There have been many philosophers who have combated the idea of metaphysics. These include Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Satre, and Gilles Deleuze. The first two are existentialists, which says in a nutshell that “existence precedes essence.” Things in themselves do not have inherent meaning, but  we as a culture, people, society, and individuals grant them meaning. This is why two individuals can attend the same event or watch the same movie and give two different responses  . The last person mentioned was Gilles Deleuze was an anti-metaphysical postmodern philosopher who wrote about things like capitalism and schizophrenia, cinema theories etc. Much of his books are rather are hard to understand,including Difference and Repetition. (I hope to one day write a blog post about Deleuze once I know more about him.)

Maybe you are wondering what this has to do with Jesus. It seems that some authors of the New Testament had the world-view that included Platonic metaphysics. For example, the author of John begins with a prologue and writes “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The “Word” is in reference to Jesus, who is the perfect form of God. Another Platonic writer  in the New Testament is the author of the letter to the Hebrews. S/he declares that Jesus is the heavenly high priest making sacrifices in heaven, and since Jesus is a Form then he too must be sinless, a perfect human come to earth.

The other Gospel writers do not appear to take such a stance, e.g. Mark’s Gospel has no reference to Jesus as being eternal, but as “Son of Man.” Therefore, I take a position that we must perform Christology from the bottom up rather than top down. Roger Haight does this in his text, Jesus, Symbol of God. He recommends “an incarnational christology in which the created human being or person Jesus of Nazareth is the concrete symbol expressing the presence in history of God as Logos” (p. 439). Once we take the view of Jesus from an anti-metaphysical or existentialist point then Jesus is eternal in another sense. It is no longer about Jesus being eternal and worrying about all this implies, but the concern is where Jesus receives power and authority. Top down Christology, one is not concerned with Jesus, but Jesus as an Form. In this way, one does not have to concern herself with the history of Palestine or the Roman Empire, but only about Jesus as the perfection Son of God. Yet there must be a happy medium where we care about discipling people for the kin-dom of God and a balanced historical-critical reading of the Scriptures.

Lastly, I want to stress that we can not have a “pure” anything, e.g. reason, Christianity, etc. We only have the reality we live in and we must do our best to try out new things and live in a way that is good for ourselves and the rest of society.

*There are plenty of other things that accompany metaphysics like ontology, but for this post I wanted to focus on the Forms/Ideas.