By now, you have probably heard the news that
over ninety twenty-four people are dead in a devastating tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma. At least twenty nine children have died. Two elementary schools were in the path of the mile-wide storm. The behemoth just churned through everything, traveling twenty miles in forty minutes. The devastation is immense. It is shocking. A people and land are in shock.
Does it seem that this is happening all too often? Or more regularly than it used to? It doesn’t matter at this moment. Statistics and measures do nothing now. If anything, everything is a race against time to find and save and give comfort to the survivors. In a moment, everything was destroyed. Now, the responders grab all the time they can. In time, everything happens. And shock is a way to temper time. Time slows, for better or for worse, in shock.
We must love one another in this terrible time. This is when love is shown and must be shown. Comfort and aid and many tears of pain and lamentation. As time increases after this Event, so does lamentation. And with lamentation comes sorrow and wailing and loss. And natural disaster seems so unnatural, so disordered. It causes so much disorder. Natural disaster leaves so much disorder in its wake of immense energy release, when order reaches its tipping point. Order has spun itself out. Everything is awry. Now, we assemble a kind of order in response.
Now, is the time we must give. And we must be careful how we give. There is shock. And shock makes everything delicate, makes everything tenuous. We must give tears and blood and money and basic material things for those who have lost everything. But there are things we cannot replace or give. Lost loved-ones taken in a moment are rooted in time and hearts and minds and prayers. There are people and animals to help. Help. Help.
Lamentation. Tears. There is no explanation. Rationalization gives no comfort. Do not say to those who have lost children, “Everything happens for a reason” or “God has a plan.” This is twisted, unkind logic. What logic is there in this terrible tragedy? What plan is this that kills children? What kind of a God is this and is this the god that you have given your heart, love, and allegiance to? Think twice about the cold comfort of words and logic. There is no grammar for what has happened. This is unspeakable. And there can be only lamentation, tears.
And the pietistic moralizers will soon come, proclaiming from a safe distance that such tragedy is divine wrath against a wayward people who have abandoned their God. This is Oklahoma, one of the most conservative and church-going states in the Union. And your god would pick this town, out of all towns, and people and children? Does your god eat His own, this awful, abusive Father? Is your god Moloch, the child-eater? Your moralisms undo you and your kind. In your indictment, you indict yourselves and your hearts. You leave them alone, these people. Leave us alone. Your stone hearts and acid tongues have no place here. You have already received your reward, the empty reward you give yourselves.
The cries of “Why, Lord?” and “Oh, God!” must be answered in and by us and our actions. In the appearance of God’s absence, we must be present. Therein God has the opportunity to seem near, whether God exists or not. Can there be divine comfort? I hope so. Some will experience it. Others will not. Lamentation may ask for answers, but answers will not suffice. Love must act. There is no test of faith here, no “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Who wants to handle a dead child? Who can?
This is trauma, when the world upends itself and folds mercilessly onto unexpecting lives. Let us be mercy and grace. If God acts, then God acts in and through us. Words fail. There is the limit of language and theory and theology and theodicy. Love one another. Help. Help. The present is bleak. Help.
Pentecost is the queerest day of the Christian year. It is strange. It is unexpected. It is unwieldy. It is overwhelming. And we have sought to encapsulate and confine and control it within time, within a calendar to bring it back when we want it to occur. When we can expect it. When we can anticipate it. But that’s not how Pentecost operates. And that’s why we mark Pentecost, to make sure it operates in some way that we can fathom.
Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit, the wind, the breath of God. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit makes people uncomfortable. People look at Pentecostals and charismatics and see strangeness, madness, and more. And they have laid claim to the Spirit and have institutionalized, defined, delineated, and laid claim to the vocabulary, grammar, and rhetoric of the Paraclete. And we have let them. Pentecostals are not uncomfortable with the Holy Spirit, they revel in it. But they should be uncomfortable. They should be as uncomfortable about the Paraclete as anyone. The Holy Spirit, who births the Church should always make the Church uncomfortable.
David Halperin writes “queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence.” What is the wind? Nothing. It has no Being (I’m attempting to steal from Jean-Luc Marion, here). It is action and praxis.
The Holy Spirit is queer. And s/he would embody queerness, except s/he has no body, per se. S/He is spirit. S/he is enthusiasm, God-within-ness. S/He enables bodies by entering bodies, Church bodies and human bodies, alike. S/He queers bodies.
In Pentecost, the Holy Spirit queers the four elements of Creation: There is baptism (water) by fire in spirit (air) poured out upon flesh (earth). The Body of Christ is made queer in its creation. The Church was born queer, as, “in the beginning”, all people, “male and female”, were born queer, breathed-in, enthusiastically, “god-in-ly”. Free will is a queer thing, isn’t it?
Performance and Acts. Praxis. The manifestation of theory in motion. Phenomenologically, the Holy Spirit is queer theory embodied and enacted. The Acts, the Practices of the Apostles are queer acts. These are queer apostles and they are made queer at Pentecost. And as swiftly as the Church is birthed, it sought to institutionalize itself, to reify itself. To find structure for itself, to normalize and stabilize its world.
But the Paraclete resists the heteronormative hegemony that the Church has sought to claim since its beginning. The Holy Spirit upends this heteronormativity, but s/he upends all homonormativity, as well. Remember, the Holy Spirit upends every and all normativity. And it upends the power of men, giving power to such women as Lydia and Dorcas. Because the power does not belong to men. It belongs to the Paraclete, the Helper. Power belongs to the doer, the doer in Christ. And that there is neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Greek in Christ, therein lies the universal, the universal that upends own universality. So, there is less trans- and inter- than human, all too human, human that shapes and molds and is shaped and molded like wet clay. Gender and sex and ethnicity and nation and culture are all queered and queering. This is the power of the Holy Spirit. S/He makes the holy profane and profane holy.
And today we remember that the Church is made up of all of us. Pentecost is when the Church remembers its birth. So there should be cake. I was told there’d be cake. We read in the Book of Acts that there are candles, that the apostles have flames appearing over their heads and the wind blows and the candles are not blown out. And the Church is the Bride of Christ, so I guess there should be wedding cake? I like cake. Where’s the cake? Where’s the Gift, the charismata? (More on wedding presents later)
But isn’t the Bride of Christ a woman? Tell that to the men in pulpits who preach on Sunday mornings against same-sex marriage. You, sirs, are married to Christ. Where is your bridal gown, sirs? Is it kept in a closet? Did you speak in strange tongues the ecstasies of Theresa of Avila or Julian of Norwich on your wedding night? Is not the power you claim from Scripture, and God, and Spirit, and gender actually your hubris? The Dove shall throw down every Hegemon and crush it under its talons.
The Pentecostals and Charismatics and Evangelicals who seek to lay ownership and superior power by the Holy Spirit risk being the new Sadducees. They have institutionalized the Paraclete the most. They have jailed the Dove in a cage, thinking they pull it out when they want. But how wrong they are. They are lucky the Paraclete is not Euripides’ Dionysus in “The Bacchae”, when the offended and marginalized god turns the women of Thebes mad to shred and devour their tarted-up and leering King Pentheus. Hubris will get you in trouble. The Paraclete fights fire with fire.
The Paraclete, the Helper, unnerves and upsets all structures and expectations. And it helps and comforts and gives gifts. But receiving gifts makes one uncomfortable. The Paraclete queers at the institutional level. The Reformation and Vatican II made the Church uncomfortable and gave it (and gives it) comfort. And the Paraclete queers and gives comfort to the most downtrodden. And it all starts on Pentecost.
And in the queerness of creation, all things are upended. Language is confused. Action is confused. What the fuck is going on?
UR DRUNK, APOSTLES! GO HOME!
But they aren’t drunk. They’re queer. They’re unwieldy. They’re unexpected. Behold, something new is being made, is being gifted, is being helped, is being done. But there is no Being. The Paraclete queers all Being in the wind, in the flame, in the flesh, and in the water. The elements are queered and become something new in creation. A new creation.
And every time we seek normativity, we sin against the Holy Spirit. When we seek to calcify the beingless praxis of the Holy Spirit, we blaspheme. We offend the Holy Spirit when we try to chain and cage the Paraclete. A helper in a cage is a slave. And we have enslaved our fellow human every moment we attempt to normalize our power over each one of us.
How do we disrupt, queer all normativity? By giving to one another, by being a Gift to one another as Christ is the Gift to us, as the Holy Spirit is a Gift for us. Giving disrupts the power dynamic and puts us in debt to one another. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit, when we give them to each other, disrupt all power relations and make us indebted to one another in the way we ought to be, indebted in the forgiving act of love. This is the wedding Gift that the Bride of Christ receives. This the Cake of the Charismata and Charismata Cake is of the tastiest of cakes.
So today is a queer birthday and a queer wedding! Rejoice! Eat your cake! Give each other gifts! Love one another as we have been loved and are loved. Release a flock of doves! Get drunk! Wear a wedding dress! Wear a tuxedo!
QUEER ALL THE THINGS!
Live in your performances! Live in your Acts! Be Nietzschean! Be Kierkegaardian! Be Paracletic! Be a Gift! Are you not one already? Today is our birthday, Church! Are we a boy? A girl? Something else? Something new! Yes, something new! We are a gift. A gift given in lovingkindess by our Creator who queers and is queer!
This is our day to remember that this is the queerest day, as every day should be a day for queering. Upend the Church in love! Make noise! Be confusing! Upend all societal expectations! Offend them! Queer all canons! Shall not the Church offend the World, the powers that be? Shall not the Church offend the Church? FUCK YEAH!
And will you, Church, dare reify, categorize, demarcate, and define the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, for us, the Church? Even you, O Pentecostals? God help you… God help you. It is not us who take back the Paraclete. It is the Paraclete who takes us and queers into the unexpected.
Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division, passed away by his own hand thirty-three years ago, today. There was a time when that anniversary was not as important in the popular culture as it is now. Now, in the hands of two aging generations, Joy Division flourishes. Joy Division street art abounds around the world. The band’s aesthetic is as iconic as it is subversive. New Order continues to tour and produce new material, ending its shows in homage. The music, that music! It continues to take hold. It grabs your wrist and won’t let go.
Yes, Joy Division represented and represents disillusionment, but it also represents disenchantment. The irony is that their music has the power to enchant. For example, “Atmosphere” has a magical quality to it. It trembles and shimmers. It shivers and quakes.
To be at a New Order concert and hear almost every audience member sing along the lyrics when New Order plays “Atmosphere” is to be a part of something memorial. The song is a dirge and a salve. If there ever was a Joy Division hymn, “Atmosphere” is it. The song is a plea, an admonition, an indictment, an observation, and a return to the first plea. “Don’t walk away.”
Joy Division asks us not to leave. And we don’t. We sing the dirge and we ask that our beloveds not leave us. But they may.
Bleak theology takes up that plea. Don’t walk away. All institutions have crashed and burned. Will the institution of love crash and burn, too. Love will, indeed, tear us apart, again. Church fails. We are told that the Church does not fail, that it cannot fail. But the paradox of the Church is that it is fully human, and thus not only does it fail, but that it has forever failed. This is why it is the Church. Preaching the Church Triumphant is propaganda. The Church Triumphant is Empire. Bleak theology resists the idol of the Church. It begs the Church to not walk away in silence.
Pentecost is tomorrow. It is the remembrance of the beginning of the Church and the church. Cathedrals will burn almost as hot as the flames over the apostles’ heads. The Church will burn. What of it?
On Wednesday, our Theology Circle finished Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. It seemed that everyone really enjoyed reading it and got a lot of insight out of it. As one reads through it, one discerns Bonhoeffer’s real attempt to lead the reader to the goal of communion, of Christian community. There is a real trajectory there. It’s all very sobering and edifying. And that’s probably why I haven’t blogged about it here.
Now, we’re in hiatus for a few weeks until we figure out what to read next. We’re probably going to do some liberation theology and since that’s grounded in suffering, I’ll probably write on that. Also, I’ll probably live tweet it. Does anyone live tweet a theology circle? Well, I may give it a shot.
I finished off an essay on John Locke yesterday. Just a primer. It’s been years since I’ve read him and he’s quite influential, especially on David Hume, which I look forward to rereading. And I will write about Hume. Now, I’m going to read a synopsis of George Berkeley.
New Star Trek movie! EEP!
So, former South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, won his old congressional seat last night, defeating Elizabeth Colbert Busch with 55% of the vote. To be honest, I didn’t think he’d win. But for all the moral posturing of social conservatives, I think that the New York Times summed it up:
“We are not trying to elect the ‘how is your conscience’ candidate,” said Charm Altman, president of the South Carolina Federation of Republican Women. “We are trying to elect someone who can govern.”
Indeed, Charm. Indeed. Is it so wrong for anyone, especially a conservative woman that believes in the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, to endorse an adulterous husband and father? A man who divorced his wife and left his sons to pursue his South American “soul mate”?
Sanford has pled the “King David defense”, saying that King David “fell mightily, fell in very, very significant ways, but then picked up the pieces and built from there.” Well, true. He did. But Nathan, the prophet, did have to call him on his shit in the first place. Everything was going just fine until someone saw something and said something. And did this whole “I saw you bathing and I think you’re hot, so to have you, I got your husband killed” thing really get in the way of David’s governing? According to 2 Samuel, not at all. This was solely a personal matter. David says, “Oops. I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.” And yay! Repentent King David, politically unscathed. AND after his love child dies, he consoles Bathsheba by sexing her up and she becomes pregnant with Solomon. So it all ends up for the best, really. Because Solomon was a wise and great man who upheld traditional, biblical marriage, as well. Representative Mark Sanford, moral paragon.
It’s been a while, but we’ve seen this before. President Bill Clinton had his infamous affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. And the GOP-led House of Representatives, led by Speaker (and perennial presidential candidate) Newt Gingrich, who was cheating on his second wife at the time, impeached him on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton said his conduct was “not appropriate”, but as far as I know, he never publicly repented. However, he did stay married to his wife, unlike the socially conservative Mark Sanford. And we’ve seen Clinton’s star continue to rise since he left office. The star of Sanford, it seems, is back in office.
Was it ultimately about sexual impropriety in both these cases? I don’t think so. It was about abuse of the office. Sanford won re-election because he ran on a platform of responsible government and responsible spending and he’s familiar. He’s family. And family is forgivable, right?
The interesting thing here is Sanford’s “biblical” strategy to gain favor. America, especially evangelicals, love a comeback story with a repentance hook. As the Times wrote,
In his victory speech, Mr. Sanford promised to be a “messenger to Washington, D.C.” Then, after introducing one of his sons and his fiancée, Mariá Belén Chapur, who had just flown in from Argentina, he spoke of the redemption he had found on the campaign trail.
“I am an imperfect man saved by God’s grace,” he said.
Everyman Representative Mark Sanford, politically unscathed. Conservative Christians can like Sanford and despise Clinton because of his public, pietistic repentance. The panacea of grace carries a lot of weight. And it can help win elections, if the right voting ears hear it. And if your district really, really despises President Obama.
It will be interesting to see Representative Sanford in action until the 2014 election cycle, when he’ll have to defend his seat and his congressional record. I’m curious what kinds of legislation he will bring and what kinds of speeches he will make from the floor. Will he be a strident force for “biblical” marriage and conservative, traditionalist morality? By citing King David, he certainly has opened up new old interpretations.
Today is the two-hundredth birthday of Søren Kierkegaard. It’s hard to grasp that. This man, this singular man and thinker has been more influential upon my thinking and sense of self and understanding of the world than any other person. In fact, it’s difficult to say much about him and his influence, it is so entirely pervasive. I have not read nearly enough of his formidable corpus of work and what I have read, I haven’t read it carefully and deeply enough that I don’t feel I am competent to explain very much. I’m not a Kierkegaard scholar and I know he would hate for any of us to call ourselves “Kierkegaardian.” But here we are, in 2013, with 200 years of a very influential man’s ideas and words embedded deep within us, whether we know it or not. The rise of Existentialism in the twentieth century exemplified the anxiety, dread, and uncertainty of the age. Albert Camus and Karl Barth both were deeply indebted to him. War brought uncertainty. Kierkegaard offered a kind of salve. And after the war, more uncertainty still. And Kierkegaard grew in influence.
I discovered Kierkegaard through Camus. A high school friend tangentially introduced me to Camus, though it was probably because of his love of The Cure’s “Killing an Arab” and a particular kind of Mod posturing more than any else. We never spoke about The Stranger, really. My entrance into existentialism was more roundabout than most. I read about it more than any actual philosophical texts. During my sophomore and junior years, I was devouring Vonnegut and various classic dystopian novels in my north central Texas high school library. Formative, yes. But in fiction. I was starting to wrestle matters of Christianity and there was the ever-present ennui and frustration of adolescence. I read about Camus and discovered Kierkegaard. And that was it, really. I found not an answer, but a fellow traveler – a very articulate, transgressive one.
But I walked around Kierkegaard (I think he would chuckle about that, knowing his penchant for perambulation and indirect communication) for years, reading about him more than his actual work. I didn’t feel I was ready. I read bits and pieces until I finally read Fear and Trembling in its entirety during my junior year of university. And that was when I found my actual grammar, vocabulary, and rhetoric. That was when things got infinitely better, and infinitely worse.
The genie was out of the bottle. There was no turning back. Kierkegaard had sat down in the chair across from me and, with a sly look in his eye and a wry grin on his lips, had laid out a wide array of utensils and instruments. Despair, anxiety, hope, love, truth, and faith. This was my new meal. The task was now how to cut, analyze, and digest all of this.
Kierkegaard got me into theology as an academic discipline and I have my career path because of him. But probably more than anything else, he provided the reassurance that what I was (and still am) going through is, indeed, a good thing. Melancholia is not sin. And the self-deceivers are those true-believers of ideologies, religious and otherwise. They are the sinners. They are those who live in bad faith, Sartre’s or otherwise. They commit the sin of hubris. And Kierkegaard attacks them, whether it be the official Lutheran church of the Danish State, or the Copenhagen press, or the Hegelians. He attacks them. Mercilessly.
And it is God who he loves and cannot fathom. It is a paradox, an absolute paradox. He desires to be a Knight of Faith and can only wonder at Abraham. He knows that Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Kierkegaard, in all his angst and frustration and working out of his salvation in fear and trembling makes the path easier, because he points, poetically so, a rhetorical direction of working through one’s own path toward Mt. Moriah. He points out that there is a secret that he cannot tell and and cannot explain and he points out that each individual must go their own way. He helps us by writing that ultimately, he cannot help us. We must go on, ourselves.
So, today is a special day. And I am pleased to celebrate it with a toast of Danish aquavit and maybe some hard bread and herring.
And maybe a little prayer in thanksgiving for the Melancholy Dane.
The marathon begins in violence, death, and tragedy. Most people do not know that Pheipippides, who ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persian threat in 490 BCE, died with the words, “Rejoice, we win!” on his lips. We, as civilizations, have worked hard, through the institution of spirited competitions, to hegemonize violence into collegial and fraternal sport. Iliad ends in funeral games in memory of the dead of both Trojan and Greek. In 776 BCE, Hellenic city-states established the Olympic Games among themselves, transforming internecine squabble into a religious festival of idealized virtue, force, and power. Games are ways of keeping us from killing each other. Well, they’ve become that way, at least. Our gladiators no longer wield swords and fishnets.
Thus, it is even more troubling when here not a competitor dies or is killed, but when spectators are murdered and maimed. The Boston Marathon is a century-old and storied event in its own right. It is a monument of and for virtue, of our highest, loftiest ideals and goals. There is a distinct form of unkindness in this attack. I say “unkindness” because the being a cheering spectator for this endurance event is a kind of kindness, a kind of encouragement. The attack was an act of a kind of discouragement, which ultimately failed and continues to fail. The marathon began with a proclamation of victory and sudden death.
But what is this victory? When Boston was attacked, a whole people shuddered. The city-state of Boston mourns and the United States with her. And then the city-state acts and the United States with her, capturing a nineteen year old who grew up here, a citizen of barely seventeen months. What causes a young man to turn like that? His older brother? Had his displaced sibling turned to Salafism for a sense of identity or was it a more diffuse anger? Immigrant children, those of the 1.5 generation, half-in/half-out, are difficult to discern. And then there are the traditional questions of grief that seek overarching, superstructural answers of intent and purpose. We like intent and purpose. Marathons are embodiments of intent and purpose, which is why when bodies are shattered and ripped apart in Boston, it is intent and purpose denied. Our virtues are thwarted and it affects us deeply. Where is our victory?
The small victories are found in the people of Boston pouring out themselves in the midst of trauma. They poured out their blood for the bloodied. They poured out their tears for the weeping. Kindness is victory. Kindness is not vengeful. Kindness acts through and beyond fear. Kindness transcends fear. Kindness is forgiveness, a most difficult kind of kindness.
Trauma has no aftermath for trauma is aftermath. Bleak theology is a theology of trauma. This theology exists in the event of aftermath. In aftermath, there is doubt and uncertainty and the need and desire to act in reaction. It is mindful of this Moment, of this Event. It lives in this Event and is critical and metacritical. It knowingly acts in the midst of sorrow, knowing that we must act in the moment of sorrow and woe. It is not an analytic theology. It has no time for that. Bleak theology is a theology of crisis. It can only ever live in the moment of crisis. And it does live. It is sorely contextual, because trauma is of the Moment and a memory and re-membering of the Moment.
So what does bleak theology offer in the aftermath of this past week in Boston? For one, it offers no pedantic theodicies or causations for this specific turn of events. It seeks to serve in kindness in relief efforts. It does not participate in the institutionalized and militarized police response. Bleak theology’s post-punk roots resists (even tacit) hegemonic participation in the organism and organic membrane of the polis, the body politic. Bleak theology does not chant “USA! USA!” in the streets. It squeezes the hand of the injured and the sorrowful. Bleak theology operates with the subversive mandate of kindness found in “love one another” in the hope for a God that will protect and serve the traumatized, whether that God exists or not. Kindness is the ultimate resistance. Kindness is risky. Bleak theology risks kindness in the trauma of God’s seeming absence.
Let’s not romanticize things. Three people are dead, including one child. Almost 180 people are injured. In Iraq, on that same day, at least 75 people were killed and more than 350 people were in injured in bombings across the country. When will this race of violence end? It won’t. But we can help those who are hurt by it. We must. It is the only we can win. Kindness is the only victory.
For the duration of this week, I am in a location within which it is difficult to be filled existential angst and theological misery.
We’ll see how things feel after my first surf lesson this afternoon.
In the meantime, please enjoy this academic and spiritual resource, the Lutheran Insulter, by which you can receive a very real (and accurately cited) insult from Martin Luther.
Early last night, as I passed through Manhattan’s Columbus Circle subway station on the way home, there was a beggar sitting and hunched awry at the bottom of the steps to the A train. His legs were splayed around him, as if in a strange circle, his hands raised. His right hand held a cup. The left hand held a coin between his index finger and thumb. I remember his pants were filthy, dragged-across-the-ground filthy. There was a look of pain and helplessness about him. I remember his ragged, light brown beard, his oily, shaggy hair. He seemed to be in his early thirties. A bag of chips lay next to his knee. He was ten feet from a kiosk full of candy and drink and food.
And I passed him, but I couldn’t ignore him. And I looked around and I saw that his spine was cinched and folded in a way that can only come from the womb. And that there in his damaged circle at the base of a busy stairway, he could do nothing else, as pained as he was, but to ask for himself.
I went back to him, approaching him from behind and saw his spine more clearly, ridging through his untucked dirty shirt and I put a dollar bill in his plastic cup. He thanked me. I looked forward and nodded a quiet acknowledgement. I couldn’t bear to catch his eye. I hope he has a warm bed and a full belly, tonight.
This city is very rich and this city is very poor. This city is very healthy and this city is very sick. We can’t help everyone who asks for help. There are many people who we must help.
Suffering is here. Suffering is alive. And it whips its shattered back and tail as best it can, because it is in pain. The longer I live here, the troubling matters of theodicy sink deeper and deeper within me.
Sometimes, the easier way of handling theodicy is to dissolve or ignore any faith in God and to give kindness as materially as possible. Sometimes, it’s a dollar. Sometimes, it’s a piece of fruit. Sometimes, it’s a sandwich. Sometimes, God is a sandwich. A kind smile shared with that helps, too.
In John 9, Jesus circumnavigates the Pharisees’ trap regarding sin and a man born blind. “Who sinned?” ask the Pharisees. “The man or his parents?” “Neither,” says Jesus. “He was born blind so that God’s work may be revealed in him.” The older I get and the more suffering I see, the more this pericope annoys me. John has this person suffer his whole life to be the object of healing and the story to have a larger point. I don’t like this neat and tidy theodicy.
But for the dirty and broken man with the cinched spine in the subway, what good is this pericope to him? It is not surprising if he believes himself cursed by God and/or that he has cursed God, as well. What healing is there for him? Not physical. That’s for sure. What kind of theodicy is this?
Proof of suffering is easier to demonstrate than proof of God’s existence. Some may say that proof of suffering is the proof of God’s existence, or non-existence, or absence, or silence. Therefore, it is up to us to do something. Anything. QED.
If I had said, “God bless you.”, what good is that? If I said, “I’ll pray for you”, what good is that to him, at the foot of the stairs? I gave him a dollar. I didn’t know what else to do. There is suffering. And there is also the suffering that comes from helplessness. He was helpless. And I am almost helpless to help him. I could have done a thousand things. I did one thing – one thing that wasn’t enough. Nothing I could do would be enough. I tried to show kindness in a dollar. Something for him to eat or to help clothe him or find a place to stay. I didn’t know what else to do. And there was the old, barefoot man that got on the arriving subway car with us, saying like a mantra “God bless everyone. Please help. God bless everyone. Please help. God bless everyone. Please help…”
The suffering of New York City… it gets to you.
The always insightful Steve Wiggins writes on the recent (and reactionary) bill in North Carolina to make Christianity the state religion.
A choice quote:
Which Christianity would they choose? Who would be welcome in New North Carolina? Mormons? Mennonites? Methodists? Catholics? Well, at least Catholics vote the right way on key issues. Or some of them do. What we are talking about is actual state support of religious ideology. In a country where some of the finest state universities do not even have departments of religious studies, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has one of the finest in the country. And not all the faculty fill North Carolina’s preferred demographic.
A question that immediately comes to mind is whether North Carolina’s state universities’ religion departments would be required to teach de facto state Christianity. A declared state religion demonstrates the invested interest a state has in establishing, inculcating, and preserving a particular belief system. But what would that look like? And what kind of academic freedom is possible with an established religion?
Would there be an essential degree requirement in the state’s Christianity? Could professors teach in state institutions without signing a statement of belief in accordance to the state’s official Christianity? Could a teacher lose or be refused tenure? Could a student be failed or expelled for heresy? What would be the litmus test?
Do North Carolingian Republicans not remember how terrifying Roman Catholicism and Mormonism used to be? With state Christianity, would it not be only a matter of time until those Christianities become threatening again? And what about those liberal Episcopalians?! Scandal!
Good luck, North Carolina!
UPDATE: Sadly, the legislature has killed the bill. Very sad to learn this.