Thursday, May 27, 2010

Technology as Perpetuating the Buffered Self?

Well, it's been a hell of a long time since i've done this. this has been a long year with many transitions moving from flagstaff, az to st. paul, mn. one of the reasons for not writing is that i have been swamped with papers and getting into the new grove of writing/reading phd materials. it has been a rich year through trinitarian theology, theological hermeneutics, including philosophical hermeneutics, and organizational leadership developments over the past 100 years. another reason beyond all this busy work where i've been hibernating is just becoming cynical about this social technology, part of it being that i wonder how much of it actually perpetuates the buffered self that charles taylor speaks about in his book a secular age.

charles taylor takes a detailed look at the sources of the self, the origins and consequences of the development of the self through modernity. In chapter seven, “The Impersonal Order,” he suggests that the mechanized world has involved a withdrawl. Descartes, he offers, is responsible for taking this withdrawl to the point of disconnection between the location of where meaning is constituted in the mind apart from one’s existence as an embodied agent. He says that what has resulted from these Cartesian influences is that the real ontological center of experience has shifted to the mind, even as experiences themselves are caused in other areas of the body. For example the notion of taste and the experiences that occur in the senses in the body are understood to be constituted first in the mind, where we think that is the case. Taylor calls the process by which the self perpetuates this gap “disengagement.” This disengagement comes, he says, from the “role of disengaged thinking in the most prestigious and impressive epistemic activity of modern civilization.” This disengaged way of thinking becomes a self buffered from the rest of the world where one lives isolated, in the mind, apart from the bodily existence of the world. Taylor suggests that this is an illegitimate explanation of how the self actually functions in the world. He notes, however, that it remains one of the strong cultural trends of modernity.

In the FB age where we can "hide" people we've friended because we're damn sick and tired of their clear misguided updates and don't want to hear from them anymore or where we can de-friend them completely without them even knowing it. Sure social media gives us access to a plethora of information and more importantly people we can connect with, but how does it help us to converse better with one another? Does it? More often, than not, I'm thinking we find those areas of interest that are more like us than different from us. And when we do find those differences from ourselves we just peer in, as if a scientist doing exploratory research on some distant land that we would never choose to be a part. Sure we can connect with like minded people, but is it having an affect of helping us to engage with difference better or is it merely perpetuating the way we'd rather just live a buffered, withdrawn and disengaged existence, without in any real way, engaging the other as other.

I believe the other is irreducibly other which means that there is more difference than sameness and this is scary as hell when we come to realize this. what do you all think? is there ever a time when social media can lead to healthy, healing and constructive conversation? where and when has it happened? maybe you all can help me think about this.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Celebrating Curiosity with Jurgen Motlmann

My reading this morning in preparation for my Monday systematic theology exam takes me into Jurgen Moltmann's The Coming of God. He's a theologian with a fascinating story of later conversion. After being drafted into the Germany army of WWII he gave himself up to the first British soldier he saw. A POW chaplain gave him the scriptures and his imagination was captured in a new way.

His primary way of thinking about God is around themes of hope, particularly fascinating given his place in history. Jurgen feels that hope is recaptured best in the way we think about the end things, the future that God accomplished in Jesus on the cross and by raising him from the dead and the implications that has for us here and now. This book published in 1996 follows a dozen or so previous books, the first of which was published in 1969 entitled a Theology of Hope.

What captured my own interest was what I read in the preface regarding his understanding for what is known as theological method, his way for how he engages in God. You might just pick up on why I resonate with his thoughts, not the least of which is that my blog's namesake follows his own thoughts for engaging God. Enjoy these selected quotes.

“What interests me are theological ideas, and their revision and innovation. I have first to discover everything for myself, and understand it, and make it my own. Theology has continued to be for me a tremendous adventure, a journey of discovery into a, for me, unknown country, a voyage without the certainty of a return, a path into the unknown with many surprises and not without disappointments. If I have a theological virtue at all, then it is one that has never hitherto been recognized as such: curiosity."

"I have never done theology in the form of a defense of ancient doctrines or ecclesiastical dogmas. It has always been a journey of exploration. Consequently my way of thinking is experimental – an adventure of ideas – and my style of communication is to suggest. I make suggestions within a community. Theologians also belong to the communion of saints, provided that the true saints are not merely justified sinners but accepted doubters too, thus belonging just as much to the world as to God."

"Theology is a communal affair. Consequently theological truth takes the form of dialogue, and does so essentially, not just for the purposes of entertainment. For me theology is not church dogmatics, and not a doctrine of faith. It is imagination for the kingdom of God in the world, and for the world in God’s kingdom. This means that it is always and everywhere public theology, and never, ever, a religious ideology of civil and political society – not even so-called Christian society."

If you're in the area or interested in listening in on an amazing upcoming conversation with Jurgen Moltmann check out the upcoming 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversation in Chicago September 9th.

Friday, April 10, 2009

an american passion

This for me was the Good Friday sermon proclaimed to me this morning to hear through NPR and wanted to pass it along. An American Passion "Camilo Jose Vergara has been photographing America's urban neighborhoods for more than 30 years." Watch the photographs and listen to the radio story "Finding Jesus In America's Inner-City Alleyways."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 is now up and going. Check out here their first video interview and production of Shane Claiborne.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Albuquerque EC Conference: The Nature of Being Church

This last weekend one thousand gathered in Albuquerque for another emerging church conference. But to say this was just another ec conference would be dismissive of a larger movement and initiated beginnings of things to come. I've been to ec gatherings before, but nothing like this, perhaps and primarily because it was an attempt to include EVERYONE at the table, Roman Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals (even though protestants are evangelical and catholics simultaneously, ah the dreaded language barrier). Under the facilitated leadership of Richard Rohr and Brian McClaren, and in conjunction with Phyllis Tickle, Alexei Torres-Fleming, Shane Claiborne and Karen Sloan, the wisdom of the years was able to make space for a hospitable environment of blessing, sharing, and appreciation for who we are, individually and collectively.

I came with a group of 18 from Lutheran Campus Ministry at Northern Arizona University. Mind you, our own group included yes some Lutherans, but a pentecostal, a menonite, non-denom and baptist students. Our own community of LCM reflects a diverse denominational background that adds to the richness of learning to be church. We had just flown in, leaving VERY | 3:30 a.m. | ungodly early from New Orleans where we spent Spring Break being renewed reconstructing homes and encountering the ambiguous complexities of loss and hope that arise from tragedies such as Katrina. Of the 32 that were with us in New Orleans more than half now joined us for this conference and so for me I was able to experience the event through the fresh eyes of our university students many of whom had never heard of the emerging church.

Katie, a women's studies major, 19, is the most delightful human being you will meet. She is without agenda and embodies pure joy, irrespective and beyond her youth and potential naivete, I have the sense this is her gift. She shared one of her table time conversations with us. McClaren as always initiated the youngest at the table to begin. She was clearly the youngest by at least 30 years. And so reflecting on Alexei's talk she told her group "this is what I feel called to do with my life. I feel called to be with these kind of people." It wasn't as much her inspired sense of call that caught my attention as the response of those gathered around the table. She continued, "they listened to me as though I was the most important one there at the table. Then they began to pour themselves into me and share their wisdom with me in the most honorable way imaginable." Then Katie said that an older, "wiser" I like to say, man in his late 60's grabbed her hand and gave her the sign of the cross on her forehead, blessing her. Tears began to flow as she shared her experience.

Arriving home and on Tuesday attending text study with some colleagues and retired pastors we were asked to recount our time in New Orleans and Albuquerque. One of the retired and somewhat wise clergy asked, "did you come away with something that local congregations can do in their parishes?" It caught me off guard for a moment because directly the answer was no. There was no program we were given, there was no plan of implementation. Sure there were the challenges from Shane and others to be more active in our faith. But the essence of it all grew of the nature of how we were with one another, reflecting the nature of God in our midst, connecting us together as God's people in special and profound ways. It was less about the functional and organizational aspects for church, the nature of the thing itself through our very engagement with one another. You might even say that the conference was less about asserting as it was about attending to the Christianity that's been emerging in each of us and our traditions over time for the sake of discovering, hearing, experiencing something fresh and new. This nature is about listening, blessing, making space in me for you even as you differ from me, and through it all staying at the table because this thing doesn't belong to us but God. The nature of things comes down to the fact that, for me, this weekend embodied the very presence of Christ at work in the church all for the life of the world.

The event was more an experience filled with some of the greatest denominational diversity I'd ever been a part of. Over a decade ago I attended the World Council of Churches in Salvador, Bahia and while there was great diversity there it didn't have the feel of really making space for each other as this event did for me. It was an experience of blessing and integration among generations in these various denominations. And with the "wiser" generation at the table too it added a necessary source of connectedness and life that is frequently missing for me as I attend emergent events. There are so many that dismiss the older folk as irrelevant because of their antiquated theological stances and ways for practicing church. But underneath it all those supposed "old" people share a profound and deep love to passing on, and a sharing in the faith, with young emerging church folks who not only will be the church someday, but are right here and now, even as many of them struggle to figure it all out.

The weekend produced in me hope for what could be as we move forward as a church. I'm one who hold the opinion that first and foremost what that all means is that this is Christ's church and it will never die. The only question is, will we be a part of it as it moves into the future? If it's going to be anything like we experienced in Albuquerque I'm thrilled to be sharing and living into something new and with a greater diversity for what God is up to in us and the world.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A People's History of Christianity by Diana Butler Bass

I just received my copy of the newest book, A People's History of Christianity, from Diana Butler Bass yesterday and look forward to engaging it soon. I have for quite a while appreciated her contribution to framing our faith since first hearing a couple years ago at a conference in Richmond, VA lecturing and sharing in conversational collaboration with Brian McClaren. You can hear a great half hour lecture on her new book from her recent conversation March 8th at The National Cathedral's "Sunday Forum."

As a side note I've got to say that I especially appreciate her reference to radical hospitality she describes within the early church, a concept that I've been communicating for a long time at the heart of who we are as the people of God in Christ. Listen to the lecture and get this book, it's a necessary re-framing for "a", (how humble is that?!) history of Christianity reflected through a people's loving engagement of and with it.

Thank you so much Diana for this new look at where we've been.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Becoming Homeless: When Language Falls Short

"I've got issues (front), some of which I'm aware of (back)." If I were to have T-Shirt campaign this is the one I'd promote. As a matter of fact, maybe that's what I'll do. Anyone want to order one?

I'm flailing these days about how best to speak of God. I'm an incessant theological thinker, to a fault perhaps. I just can't help it and don't want to apologize (not in the defending sense of the word, but in the feeling bad sort of way) for it either. Many colleagues don't affirm this new grasping for descriptions around God to the point where I often feel like I'm trying to become as irrelevant as possible for the sake of staying alive.

I find myself wanting to listen and ask questions more than speak. Even though I write books in my head (as my CPE supervisor used to say about this introvert) I find myself becoming more and more silent and with-drawn into the dismissive territories of culture where life is lived and engaging in honest, vulnerable and transparent ways and where flaws aren't feared to subvert divine beauty but enhance and drawn attention to it.

I'm at a cross-roads these days wondering where I really fit in. I'm completing a two year interim in a congregation where initially I was going to spend my time cultivating an emerging community. I am looking forward to time away, cave time some would say, to listen to the Spirit deep within bubbling up and in new ways. I've been schizo really, giving language to a traditional community while yearning to speak a new language which takes so much energy to describe to the traditional community that I feel I'm always having to explain or defend myself.

Through it all what I struggle with more than anything is realizing an emptiness to a language that once brought me life within the framework of my faith. There are completely new and different categories by which I embrace my faith in the world. Previously it was enough to talk about God, say words about Jesus to get at some semblance of encounter with God. But for what? To hold on to God as if in any way I actually could? Perhaps this is the challenge, perhaps this is the illusion. I feel homeless to the limited reality of what words can deliver.

I've been drawn deeply to the homeless as a compassionate concern of mine befriending my local homeless shelter. This has been a tug at my heart since college, a deep residing concern for people who aren't treated as people, but objects. Thinking back I find myself sharing some of values for homeless living, not in some romantic, bohemian kind a way, but in the sense of longing for something beyond what it actually is, in search of a community who will embrace me in my ugliness, not for what it could be, but for how it is currently in need of being held, affirmed. It is this in-person-dynamic-engagement where God emerges and is felt beyond the very words that can frequently domesticate God.

No word can ever really solve a homeless person's issue (as if their issue is greater or less than my own) or make them feel any better. And yet, in another radical sense, words are the very thing that validate and encourage human dignity. This is precisely what I'm yearning for, a community of so-called "homeless" people who willingly and openly engage the divine in, with and around all of who we are as if God has already shown up our gathering waiting to be discovered. You see, for me, I know through the conversational forums, listening and making space for me in one another, God is somehow becoming present in ways for which "churchy" language, space and time, has created a vacuum. This is why it is becoming so important for me that the very language we reserve for God be created as safe havens of respectful and fragile engagement that affirms the presence of God in our midst. I wonder, if we can move away from language as words that define to language as art that provides hints and shades, colors and hues, referencing fragmented and blurry images of the One creating and sustaining us, one with another.

Maybe what I'm journeying toward is reflected in this word of encouragement from a FB friend: "as indicated in the early christian letter to Diognetus, for Christians "any foreign country is a motherland, and any motherland is a foreign country." Somehow we are suppose to be a migration rather than territorial movement i think." A people of the WAY? A lot more challenging.