Saturday, July 25, 2009

Michael Sandel's Leith Lectures

The vast number of you who are fans of my blog will recall that this past week, while at the Chautauqua Institute, I heard Michael Sandel lecture. I enjoyed his lecture immensely and so did some googling and found the link to the audio of his Leith Lectures. It is a series of four lectures. Scroll down to begin with the first which is entitled Markets and Morals. This is an expansion upon the lecture that I heard at Chautauqua. You can also follow the next link in this post which will direct you to the transcript of Markets and Morals. The second lecture is entitled Morality in Politics and this is a link to its transcript. Genetics and Morality is the third lecture and this is the link to its transcript. Finally, A New Politics of the Common Good and this is the link to the transcript. to avoid confusion, the audio is found at the link 'Leith Lectures' above.
I highly recommend this lectures and hope you listen and enjoy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Novak on Friday at Chautauqua

Michael Novak was the morning lecturer. I couldn't decide whether to go or not. He was advertized as a 'theologian' here at Chautauqua; but I dispute that. He does refer to and write in a style that utilizes theology and philosophy, but I think that he is more interested in espousing and defending capitalist ideology. He is cofounder with the now deceased Neuhaus of First Things. Most recently he caused quite a furor on the blogosphere with his critique of the Pope Benedicts latest encyclical. One can often learn a lot through disagreeing and so I thought that the challenge of Novak might help me clarify my own thought. But, I didn't really want to hear another pep rally for unfettered capitalism, especially with Bible quotes. I went shopping instead to get the obligatory souvenirs for the family... which I quite enjoy really. The boys get Chautauqua caps and t-shirts, Roberta a roomy, fluffy pink Chautauqua hoody, and I gave myself a chautauqua pen and baseball hat.
Anyway, I wandered back and Novak was delivering his lecture. Luckily (for me I suppose) he didn't seem to have a clear point or objective in mind. Instead he seemed to be thinking outloud, wandering a bit cognitively searching for a thread or stream of an cogent idea... and not discovering it frankly. I was a bit disappointed on one hand, because I thought a theological defense of capitalism would be a useful foil for sharpening my own thoughts... and a bit relieved that I could go do something else. Which is what I did... Novak wasn't making any sense so Malone and I wandered off.
Finishing a sermon instead of attending the afternoon lecture. It is thundering and raining and so I'd have to stand in the rain to hear the lecture anyway.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Paul Rauschenbusch at Chautauqua

Paul, Rauschenbusch, great-grandson of Walter Rauschenbusch, delivered this afternoon lecture on Ethics and Capitalism. In my humble opinion, Rev. Rauschenbusch brought to this weeks program what had been sorely missing; a clear, concise, Christian critique of Capitalism. While Michael Sadler did approach a critique of Capitalism, the other lecturers that I heard, Niskanen and Friedman specifically, simply espoused the glories of Capitalism.

Rauschenbusch entitled his lecture 'Yoking Freedom to Love'.

Rauschenbusch began by talking about how 'encompassing' Capitalism is, and anyone who had heard Sadler would recognize his point. Rauschenbusch went on to suggest that those who lived in a Capitalist society needed to practice attentiveness and engagement in capitalism as opposed to passive participation.

Rauschenbusch made some bold claims such as 'Economy should have a purpose' and the suggestion was that it should have a purpose other than simply profit, and his own suggestion was that the purpose of a capitalist economy could be creativity. In this idea Rauschenbusch's thoughts on capitalism merge and agree with Catholic thought as expressed by Cavanaugh... human being are created to be creative, which Genesis ch. 2 highlights. Rauschenbusch also connects with Friedman (and Sacks) by suggesting that Capitalism has the potential for creative good.

Rauschenbusch then criticizes the practice of Capitalism that allows the majority of profit, property and therefore power to collect in the possession of a few. Again Rauschenbusch reminded me of Cavanaugh by highlighting that this consequence (the majority left wanting of wealth, resource, or even just enough to live) diminishes their freedom... that which capitalism proposes to protect most ardently. (I was also reminded of Marx's criticism that Capitalism leads to alienation, but Rauschenbusch didn't go there, and I understand that decision)

Rauschenbusch suggests that we reclaim a theological term 'sinful' to describe the a system that alienates humans from each other and distributes power to the hands of the few. But then he suggests that Christian's can also help to move us toward a 'Morally Mature Capitalism' that values or has the purpose of connection, community and commitment.

His final movement is to suggest 1 Cor 13 as our scriptural and theological guide... to allow love to guide our economic decisions and shape our practice of capitalism.

finally rauschenbusch gave us all something to do... look for companies who practice love in their business ventures; paying living wages to workers, taking care of the environment, among other virtues. by supporting these companies and boycotting companies who do not practice love we shape the Free Market Economy with our own love.

I found Rauschenbusch's lecture to be insightful. he did not shy away from being critical, but did so constructively. I found his talk to be quite prophetic, cutting through what was ideological defense of Capitalism, with gospel truth and in a way that pointed to a resurrection after so much loss.

He was also very gracious at the booksigning and I enjoyed talking with with.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vincent Miller and Frederic Jameson; Postmodernism and consumerism

I took a break from lectures at Chautauqua. The topic of the week has to do with Ethics and Capitalism and I was hoping that we would hear a bit about the ethical weakness in current American free markets and how we might address them. But, Dionne, Niskanen and Friedman were making the case for the ethics OF Capitalism... how capitalism is ethical in and of itself (that is friedman and dionne more than niskanen) Anyway... I've been reading Vincent Millers' Consuming Religion and so I'm just putting up his summation of Frederic Jameson

The scintillating cascade of cultural symbols and practices is driven by the voaracious appetite of capitalist production, not by the dynamisms of the traditions from which they are drawn. Commodities and cultural objects are best suited to their task when their conditions of orgin are masked. Traditional resonances are welcomed only insofar as they deepen their aura of desirability. commodification drives both the postmodern circulation of cultural wares and their evisceration. It demands ever more and ever shallower things....
We consume so many things that we simply do not have the mental energy to consider their origins. this abstraction has effects that go far beyond providing 'moral insulation' for the gluttonous postmodern consumer. This abstraction of the commodity from its production simultaneously sunders consumption from production, futher reinforcing alienated passivity.'

Frederic jameson; Postmodernism, or, the cultural logic of late capitalism

Word for the day: Simulacrum; 1. a slight, unreal or superficial likeness. 2. an effigy, image or representation

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Benjamin Friedman

Today's afternoon lecture at Chatauqua was given by Harvard Prof. Benjamin Friedman and was a summation of his book The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. Dr. Friedman's main these is that in order for there to be 'moral' progress in a particular society, say development in the areas of tolerance or fairness, there must be economic growth and development. He cites an historical time-line in America where economic growth preceded 'moral' progress and where economic decline preceded 'moral' decline. He called the potential for grow and therefore moral progress 'Good News' and stated that he chose that phrase specifically.
His argument reminded me of Jeffrey Sachs' book The End of Poverty in which Sachs highlighted some of the social benefits of economic growth. For instance, and this is my example, many young women in Thailand, who do not have the benefits of education or opportunity for work, are forced into prostitution so as to provide financially for their families. Economic growth would provide alternatives to this situation. Friedman doesn't make this specific example, but I think that Friedman does make a good point; economic growth and security is important, very important, for the moral lives of humanity. We see this same point in the Genesis and Exodus narratives where God leads Abraham and later Moses and Israel toward the prosperity of the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. God wants Israel to live as Brueggeman has summarized in his commentary on Genesis, in 'Safety, Security and Status' (at least I think those were the three 's' words that he used)
However, in Exodus and in the retelling of the Exodus events in Deuteronomy there is also a warning, that if Israel focused only on its material wealth and failed to live within an economy of trust which in practice is an economy of living with enough and sharing generously with others, this safety and security would be lost to them.
From my perspective, this is where Friedman's argument looses some momentum. For he fails to deal with the underside of the story. for instance the economic growth in early American History that went along-side slavery. Or the way in which immigrant populations or even child-labor was utilized in factories during the industrial revolution. This does not completely undermine his theory, but I would have liked to hear him address these issues. And this is what was seriously lacking. One may not want to launch into a Marxist rejection of Capitalism, but neither can one completely buy into this idea that moral progress depends of economic growth... there are also instances where such growth was concurrent with moral lapse... even in our own current economic downturn... which was preceded by much growth.
What I did find hopeful, although Friedman said little about this point, was that he at least mentioned something Niskanen avoided; that there was a societal obligation toward those who cannot avail themselves of growth in increase of living standards. Friedman called this 'Labor Market Luck' and he seemed to suggest that in times of economic growth, it is inevitable that not everyone will recieve the benefit of growth, but that the moral development should address this lack of economic luck in a responsible manner.
Deuteronomy builds this into the fabric of the story of security. It is the Jubilee practice that maintains a certain social responsibility for the unlucky. I am not so certain that a Free Market Economy automatically or consistently encourages this 'altruism'. Niskanen didn't think so... Friedman seemed to hint it might. However, what Friedman said suggested to me that Capitalism at least didn't shut the door to social resposibility and that it just might have some space to allow for charity.

William Niskanen on Capitalism

This mornings post-worship lecture on the ethics of Capitalism was delivered by William Niskanen, senior economist of the Cato Institute. The title of his lecture was, 'The Undemanding Ethics of Capitalism' and it became immediatly obvious that Niskanen studied under Milton Friedman in his full throated defense of Capitalism. Niskanen was skeptical of suggestions post economic crisis that corporations should be more socially responsible. He correctly in my view saw that there were practices in the housing, particularly the mortgaging area that were major causes of the economic downturn, but offered little by way of an answer to those problems. Self-interest is assumed and even lauded, but when self-interest adversely affects the broader society, say the selling of an inadequate or even dangerous product, Niskanen didn't have much to say accept that this should be illegal. This was the major weakness I thought of his lecture. He was skeptical of Corporate ability or interest in social responsibility, but didn't address practices which endangered the public.

He was skeptical of Pope Benedicts latest encyclical Caritas in Veritate and although I have not yet read this, Niskanen seemed most skeptical of the place of charity in the macro-economic system. In this way Niskanen seems most influenced by Adam Smith who doubted that humanity could be motivated by altruism (charity) and that empirically humanity had proven itself to be motivated by self-interest. This is most likely true, but from a Christian pespective, at least THIS Christian's perspective, part of Jesus' ministry was meant to teach and encourage disciples to broaden their perspective on 'the neighbor.' Or, take the story of Zacchaeus. Was not the lesson that Zacchaues' life previous to encountering Jesus was lived with self-interest, and that his 'salvation' was his altruism? his concern for his poor neighbor, not based on self-interest? The same could be said for the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Perhaps Capitalism and the Free Market Economy cannot be any more than undemanding in its ethics. Regardless of Niskanen's reaction, the church is called to practice charity. How then do we live in and work in an economic system which has little to no space for the most cherished of our virtues? How do we learn to live in a moral geography that is so different from the one we are taught in the gospels, for in free market economics based on Adam Smith, humanity cannot be expected to be 'caring' or to invest time or effort into a worthwhile project without the added value of financial reward, much less our own fianancial investment without the promise of gain. But our faith suggests that we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves, give to all who ask, and the story of Zacchaeus suggests that like him, we find salvation when we practice financial self-sacrifice for the good of our community. Do we create pockets of our own micro-economies, (As Cavanaugh has suggested) in which we can embody charity? Is the practice of tithing meant to teach us how it is that we live in this economic world of self-interest, but live not of this same world?

I ran across this quote from Vincent Miller quite by accident which offers a critique of much that Niskanen assumes. this is from his book 'Consuming Religion' pp 50-51

'The social isolation of the single-family home corresponds to narrowed practical and moral concerns. Although late-twentieth century free-market conservatism arose from a complex of historical factors, its blindness concerning the common good and its suspicion of public investment and social safety nets correspond well to the narrow concerns encouraged by the single-family home.... This results in a trucation of Aquina's ordo caritatis. We may rightly have a greater moral obligation to our immediate family members than to those less directly related to us, but this social arrangement threatens to transform that gradation of obligation into a stark distinction. Social isolation and the burdens of maintain a family in this system make it unlikely that other people's needs will ever present themselves. If and when we do encounter them, we are likely to be so preoccupied with the tasks of maintaining our immediate families that we will have little time and resources to offer'

Monday, July 20, 2009

Michael Sandel Lecture

I just returned from a lecture by Michael Sandel at Chautauqua. Sandel is a Political Philosopher at Harvard. The premise of the lecture was that the United States, over the past thirty years has slowly and without question, consideration or debate, shifted from utilizing a Free Market Economy to becoming a Free Market Society.

Sandel marks the beginning of this transformation with the Reagan/Thatcher era in which Gov't was the problem and the free market was the solution. Sandel is not, however, making a partisan stand with Democrats, for he then suggests that Clinton/Blair, while perhaps making some modifications, really followed this same assumption.

The key question for Sandel is 'Should market values be applied to all questions of the Common Good?' Should we answer 'Of course not!' Sandel then highlights a number of areas in our society where Market Values are applied to Common Good questions, such as; Immigration, Health Care (for profit Hospitals), War (where in Iraq the number of private contract and therefore, for profit participants outnumber military participants) Law Enforcement (where Sandel noted the vast increase in private security compared to public law enforcement.) Education (for profit schools) and Prisons.

Sandel's major point is not necessarily that market values are always bad or wrong, but simply that we have begun to apply them to all areas of moral reasoning without considering the consequences. Market Values do not always fix the problem according to Sandel and he illustrates this basically in an instance where a pre-school was experiencing a high rate of parents being tardy in picking up their children at the close of the day. So they applied a financial fine to those who were late, which in effect is appling a market incentive to correct a negative behavior. After the fine was imposed, the phenomena of late arrival by parents increased instead of decreasing, as so many parent apparently assumed that now they were simply paying for an increase in service.

Some practices (bearing children or reading for instance) have a good that is implicite. Applying and market value, a sum of money to those practices changes not only the practice but also the way that we think about the practice itself according to Sandel. He highlights another example, which was quite controversial, about surrogate mothering. His suggestion was that applying market value to the bond between mother and child, or the use of a womb, implicitely changed the way we think about family, parenting, and even the human body (at least, this is what I heard him suggesting.) He specifically highlighted the booming industry of surrogate mothering in India, (an instance of out-sourcing, since women provide cheaper 'labor' through the renting of their wombs, in India than in the west. I will blog more later... but I have to go buy a Sandel book and have him sign it... oh, and I have to eat lunch.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What does 'Being Saved' mean?

‘Baptists also should revisit their understanding of conversion as an experience with Christ, rather than the popular 20th-century transactional acceptance of a set of beliefs about Christ’

This quote comes from an on-line article at Associated Baptist Press by Robert Dilday and Ken Camp. The article summarizes a talk given by Bill Leonard, who is a Baptist Historian. Leonard describes the changes in the American landscape both around and within Baptist churches and how these changes affect the Baptist Church. Notably in his talk Leonard focused on the declining numbers of young families in Baptist churches and how it is that Baptist churches should proceed in an age when being Baptist is not as influential as it once was, when being a part of a church is no longer considered important.

I found the quote above very interesting, even though it doesn’t sound all that radical. At its heart, in its earliest inceptions, as I understand it, Baptist faith grew out of the idea that the conversion of a person involved a connection between the beliefs and practices of the believer. It was not enough to simply recite a creed and accept a certain constellation of ideas, but one also had to practice faith. On a certain level, Baptists were originally intended to be a small group of Christians who decided that they needed to gather together to show ‘the Church’ and the wider world, what life with Christ should look like… This involved an assumption that ‘the Church’ had failed to hold people accountable to following Christ, simply being satisfied if the creed or ideas were accepted. So the Baptist church was meant to be a witness to the Church and to the world of how belief should shape, influence and yes change (hence the term conversion) the practices and actions of the believer.
Which I think is an important point for us to consider as Baptists today. We tend to focus so much on ‘Soul Liberty’ the idea that each individual is free to read and interpret the bible as s/he sees fit, that our faith becomes very individual centered, or as Leonard says, focused on a ‘set of beliefs’. So that the highest ideal is that we are free to construct our own ideas about who Jesus is and what Jesus did. While soul liberty is important it is not an end or a value in and of itself. It is connected to the witness that the free individuals gathered and covenanted together, offer church and world. In other words, it is not enough to think about Christ, or ‘believe’ but a Christian will ‘follow’ or practice the life of Christ. This is how I understand Leonard’s phrase, ‘an experience with Christ’. It assumes that to know, one must have a relationship with the one known. It also assumes that if we know and are known by Christ, we will be changed. Finally it assumes that there will be something distinctive about the way Christians ‘live’ in the world. That is what I am interested in exploring… what is different or distinct about the way Baptist Christians live in the world… what looks odd or unique about our thinking and living?

the Existence of God

My friend over at theological snob recently posted on the existence of God. You will find his post below...

I recently received an e-mail from one of the college students I worked with in my previous position. Without giving out all of the details, she asked me about the "epistemology" of the existence of God, i.e. how do we know that God exists. Here is a portion of my reply:

In truth, it is just as difficult to prove the existence of God as it is to disprove the existence of God. This is a basic epistemological problem for everyone - believers and non. When I took my little walk on the AT I struggled with the existence of God, accepting the very real problem that I cannot prove God exists. I ended up at the point where I recognized that I need God to exist and have to settle with that. It is not a comfortable place, but it is where I stand at this point. On the other hand those who do not believe have to decide that God does not exist - it is a choice that must be made and at that point epistemology is moot. There are some much smarter people who have contributed to this conversation - Kierkegaard is good - try the Philosophical Fragments and Either Or. Fear and Trembling is good, but focuses more on ethics. I would start with that. Ironically, I think Nietzsche is good, but I don't know enough to recommend a book. Bonhoeffer's Sanctorum Communio, especially the first chapter, makes a case for the difference between believing in God and not.As I stated, the difficultly is that we cannot prove God exists and there will always be a gap which one must jump. Either we could engage in a "reductio ad absurdium" by asking again and again "and then what," or, "what was before that," or we can find a stopping point and name it God. There are proofs for the existence of God: Aquinas - Cosmological Proof, Anselm - Ontological Proof, but they actually demonstrate the existence of God, or the nature of God.

Here is my response....more in the traditional baptist area of testimony. Believing in the existence of God, for me is ecclesiology. I believe that there is a God who loves humanity because of the church that raised me. I don't mean that they told me God existed and I've never questioned it. I mean through their acts of kindness and compassion for my family as I grew up... because of the caring and the sacrifice they showed in caring for us through difficult times of personal loss and economic struggle. I never doubted that God cared for me, because this group of people who prayed to God and sang to God cared for us. I know that isn't a foolproof argument. Churches don't always maintain this witness and they do not do so consistently. This same home church was very much against homosexuality and were I gay, I'm sure my testimony would be very different. It seems terribly irrational and illogical that the existence of God is proven through such a diverse, contradictory, and often inconsistent means as the church, but there it is... and that seems to be what the Bible says, from God's call of Israel to be a priesthood, to Christ's promise to be present with the one or two who would gather in his name, to Paul calling the church the 'body of Christ' the gathered community is the 'proof' for whatever that may be worth.

Theosnob asked what weight this 'proof' would have with 'non-believers', an excellent question
Again my response;

I think my answer to the existence of God is the only way to engage with 'non-believers'. Let's face it... you can quote all the Augustine, Aquinas or anybody else you want... but that will ahve little to no meaning to most non-believers. You can try the unmoved mover is you want to (Aristotle I believe) but I don't think that will have much weight. the only thing we really have to share with non-believers is our experience. It is not an intellectual proof, but emotional I know... but I believe in the existence of God because of a loving community that believes in God. You too non-believer, can experience that presence in my community. In my opinion, most intellectual questions of the existence of God stem from emotional issues of hurt, abandonment, disappointment, or loss. 9 times out of 10 an intellectual answer will mean very little... the promise of a loving community offers hope in a way that intellectualizing cannot. The only way to show God is to show a community that lives in the way of Christ. What more do we really have to offer?

I really appreciate Theosnob engaging me in this question, especially because it gives me something to post on my own blog.

This entire discussion really connects with something I have been thinking about quite a bit lately; what is the church (specifically the baptist church) meant to be showing the world or teaching the world through our worship, liturgy, and faith practices? I am beginning to think of church through the lense of witness. Instead of gathering to worship to have our own individual needs met... we gather to worship so that the world can see 'the way' of Christ in action, and therefore come to know this Christ and more than know, to experience life with and relationship with Christ. The connection is that our purpose in gathering for worship and discipleship is to bear witness to the existence of God. From our liturgical events, such as baptism and communion, to our practices, such as prayer and forgiveness and tithing, to the simplest supportive phone call to a sick friend... we are proclaiming the existence of God. Others will come to believe in God through the experience of God's love as ennacted by God's disciples, the gathered church.

Which leads to my word for the day: Empiricism: A theory of knowledge which asserts that knowledge arises from experience... One of several competing views about how we know... a branch of philosophy called epistemology.

And speaking of epistemology... check out this link,, D. Stephen Long on.... you guessed it... EPISTEMOLOGY!!!! What do you think of this?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Home Again

We just returned from our weeks vacation at Papoose Pond in Maine.

I completed 'Ecologies of Grace' and will be blogging about that, as well as Kavanaugh's 'Following Christ in a Consumer Society.' I started Marx's 'the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts,' but did not finish it. I completed the Strain and Dead as a Doornail, for my fun reading.
So Now I'm into 'Consuming Religion' by Vincent Miller and 'Power and Money' by Jacques Ellul.

Onto a few picture of our camping fun.

This is 'ice cream sunday night'...

Fun in the pool... I know, they look nervous there, but they are really having fun...

The boys rode their bikes all over the campground. They had a great time and we have already reserved our site for next year.

Friday, July 03, 2009


We vacation at Papoose Pond in the great state of Maine starting on the 4th. We went last year and on the second day the boys were having so much fun they asked if we could come back every summer for the rest of their lives!!! so, we're going back.

Will return on the 11th to post many pictures and thoughts on all the reading I'm going to catch up on!!!


The Annual July 4th Post

I regularly visit the Religionblog of the Dallas Morning News. Its tough to find papers covering matters of faith. There is Articles of Faith from the Boston Globe but that ranges as you will see if you check it out, from 'All Catholic News All the Time' to a rediculous video of someone playing Michael Jackson tunes on a church organ in an Episcopalian Church. (Just when I thought I might try to recover some connection with the Anglican Tradition, from which Baptists separated, they go and do this and I thank God for Smyth and Helwys!!!!)

Anyway this link is from Religionblog and its about Believers and the Fourth of July. As you can read the blog asks the question of the relation of religious and national allegiance and how the two interact. You will note that most of the panel of responders essentially say the same thing... that we can celebrate the blessing of the freedoms afforded us by our nation, but must always remember that our ultimate allegiance is to God and his Kingdom. Sounds good doesn't it? But here is my problem with their response and this comes from being influenced by Yoder and Hauerwas; Essentially each panelist speaks to the good that Christians and their faith can do for the Nation. In other words, our faith serves the constitution and the values of our nation. But none of them truly address what Christian's should do when faced with cultural and societal norms and customs that do subvert the basic values of our faith. They do make a few anemic nods toward the 'prophetic' nature of church, but no one ever fleshes out issues like abortion, war, capital punishment, consumerism, the history of racism and slavery. My fear is that in focusing so much on how good Christians make our nation better these panelist are implicitely doing what they say Christians should not do, which is forget our ultimate allegiance. While I am not suggesting violent uprising or even protest, as Christians, I believe, and Yoder strongly suggests that there is a peaceful revolutionary aspect of worship. We are to present an alternative which is a peaceful critique of the American Culture in which we live. Even the assumption that we are fortunate that our country affords us freedom to worship is questionable theologically. What do we mean by freedom? How does our culture define freedom and how does the Bible define freedom? Where does freedom come from and lead to according to our faith?
In seminary I did a paper on including the American Flag in worship. I studied and recorded all of the symbolism of the flag; the colors, the striped, etc. But then I suggested that in addition to the traditioning meaning of the various colors (say red for the blood of those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom) that same red also symbolized the blood of African Slaves, Native Americans, Chinese Immigrants used in the builiding of the railroad, etc, etc. My point was not that my interpretation of the symbolism of the flag was the 'real' meaning of the flag... all its symbolism is at play at once. But the symbolism of slavery and the massacre of native americans should also then be ackowledged, so that our celebration of the constructive aspects of the flags symbolism must be held in humble tension with the destructive elements. Prayers then must offered not only of thanksgiving and blessing, but also of repentance and forgiveness and redemption.
Hauerwas is definately against all forms of worship that celebrate the fourth... I agree, but in order to be both pastoral and prophetic believe that in worship we can both celebrate and critique and bind the two together in honest preaching and in confession and pardon.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Vacation Reading and More Cavanaugh

Word of the Day
Instantiate: to represent (an abstraction) by a concrete instance.

Vacation Reading:
The Sookie Stackhouse aka Southern Vampire Series # 5 Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

I haven't read the first four... this was the only one in the local library, which is why I really son't get into libraries. Anway, I'm a big fan of Trueblood and so I'm reading this for fun

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pan's Labyrinth and HellboyII and the anxiously awaited Hobbit. Co-written by Chuck Hogan. Another vampire book. You can figure out why I read so many vampire books, I'm afraid to consider it in depth.

Ecologies of Grace; I've mentioned this on an earlier post
Karl Marx; Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture by Vincent J. Miller

I know those last two sound like work... but reading theology and philosophy relaxes me.

Cavanaugh Quote for the Day:
'Many people do not see their work as meaningful only a means to a paycheck. One's labor itself has become a commodity, a thing to be sold to the employer in exchange for the money needed to buy things...Our work was meant to be an outlet for creativity, a vocation to make our impress on the material world...Being more human means, at the same time, participating in the creative activity of God. 'The word of God's revelation is profoundly marked by the fundamental truth that man, created in the image of God, shares by his work in the activity of the Creator.' This is the true meaning of the call in Genesis to 'fill' and 'subdue' the earth, and to have 'dominion' over it (Gen 1:28).' [quoting Pope John Paul II, On Human Work; pg 39 in Cavanaugh's 'Being Consumed']

I think this will influence a sermon I'm working on about tithing. Instead of approaching tithing from a utilitarian pespective (paying the bills) or even a spiritual direction (tithing is a spiritual practice that is good for us) I am thinking about Tithing as a practice of the church meant to teach the world about the Love of God and to instantiate the Kingdom. This all inspired by the work of Yoder. Follow Cavanaugh and the Pope (sorry mom) we tithe as an action that give purpose to our work that is greater than simply earning and consuming. Tithing makes our work creative and allows us to participate in serving and protecting all of creation even if we are not working in career's normally considered 'ministry'. Through tithing, collecting garbage, accounting, computer engineering, etc are gathering into the creative work of the Kingdom of God and are a facet of our own discipleship.

just a thought

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Cavanaugh and von Balthasar on Eucharist and Consumerism

Word for the Day: Kenosis : a Greek word for emptiness, which is used as a theological term. The ancient Greek word κένωσις kénōsis means an "emptying", from κενός kenós "empty". The word is mainly used, however, in a Christian theological context, for example Philippians 2:7, "Jesus made himself nothing (ἐκένωσε ekénōse) ..." (NIV) or "...he emptied himself..." (NRSV), using the verb form κενόω kenóō "to empty".

In chapter 3 of Cavanaugh's 'Being Consumed' Catholic Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar is engaged to illustrate how Christians (specifically Roman Catholic) view consumption differently from the conspicuous consumption of our culture. Cavanaugh writes; 'If in consuming the Eucharist we become the body of Christ, then we are called, in turn, to offer ourselves to be comsumed by the world. The Eucharist is wholly kenotic in its form. To consume the Eucharist is an act of anticonsumption, for here to consume is to be consumed, to be taken up into participation in something larger than the self, yet in a way in whcih the identity of the self is paradoxically secured.... the Eucharist is not a mere sign that points to Christ; this particular piece of bread is the body of Christ. (pg 84)

I believe that one of Cavanaugh's criticism's of consumerism ( and postmodernism to an extent?) is that consumerism effectively transforms everything into a symbol to be bought and sold. We are so separated from the products that we buy... we do not know the process of their creation or assembly... sometimes not even their ingredients (what is in our suntan lotion or the processes that bring them to existence(how are the cattle that will one day be our steak actually treated while alive?)... that marketers do not present the thing itself in advertising (perhaps because we will not actually need it) but a package of symbols; love, power, success for the consumer to associate with the product. We are in a constant state of manipulation by market forces, seeking satisfaction of some sort, but never given the 'life' we are promised. For Cavanaugh, Eucharist provides an alternative to this process, for in consuming, we are consumed, ushered into a life that lasts, and connection with the God does offer safety, security and satisfaction to those who exist with 'Him'. Part of this is because the Eucharist IS Christ.

But Baptists see communion very differently and in my experience of my heritage... we proudly proclaim that the bread and cup are a symbol... which Cavanaugh would, I assume, find problematic... because the bread and cup aren't anything... they are just symbols... which can be marketed and therefore manipulated.

So I am wondering if the Baptist understanding of Communion ultimately participates with Consumerism in its 'symbolism'... if their is an alternative understanding of communion in the Baptist tradition that would combat consumerism... or is their some other Baptist Believe/Practice/Ordinance that offers a liturgical alternative to consumerism?