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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

There's a problem with the structure

One of the things I find myself talking about most often in regards to literary theory, is the notion of structures. Everything in our world is built, in some sense or another, around a structure. There is the structure of the family, whereby we assume there should be a mother, father and a few kids. As most people are aware, this structure has come under radical critique in recent years because, namely, that structure is fading away. Lob whatever reasons you want at this reality, but it is there. Likewise, one of the ways to view the current Occupy Wall Street protests is to view it as an opposition to structures. This time, the structure coming under critique (to put it mildly) is the capitalistic structure that has given a few the upper hand in the economic sphere.

When people react to a structure in this way, it is usually because there is a deeply felt notion that the only way to change the structure is to rally against it. This is contrasted with the familial model I gave earlier, where that structure has changed due to numerous cultural forces that caused the critique to happen. Divorce, remarriage, non-U.S. family structures becoming more wide spread, whatever it may be, these have forced many to re-imagine the structure they have put so much faith into.

Something similar has been happening to the Protestant Christian church in the United States. Largely dubbed the "emergent church" this reaction against the perceived problems with the structure has resulted in a way of interacting with the faith that many deem "heretical" and "blasphemous." Being that I was one of those individuals who saw a problem with the structure and found solace in the emergent stream, I am not sympathetic towards calls of heresy. In my experience, the individuals involved in the emergent movement have always wanted to call the structure of Western Christianity into question in order to find the deeply hidden way of life that would lead to the world being changed.

Enter Peter Rollins.

I am waiting on my copy of Rollins' new book Insurrection to arrive in the mail, so I can eagerly devour it, much as I have his previous books. Rollins is an interesting figure, one who does not simply want to uncover something that has been hidden in a faulty structure, but to burn the structure down and start anew. Or at least that is what I am getting from the lead up to the release of Insurrection. I'll leave you with the videos below and after I get a chance to read through Insurrection, I will have some thoughts on it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Rob Bell to start a TV show?

I just found this post from Jesus Creed that says Rob Bell is getting ready to move to L.A. to begin work on a spiritually themed TV show. It's also going to be somewhat biographical of Bell. As someone who has been a big supporter and defender of Bell and who has been enriched by his books and sermons, I'm not that excited about this. Definitely not something BIlly Graham would do. For whatever reason he feels this is the next proper step, I hope that it is and that God blesses this action. That said, every ounce of literature loving, anti-consumerist, anti-TBN, anti-vague spirituality... ness, does NOT want to see this happen. Good luck, Bell. We'll always have Velvet Elvis.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Enthusiasm and the Spirit? (via The Immanent Frame)

A blog that I stumbled upon a few months ago, called The Immanent Frame, recently posed a question; What comes to mind when you think of spirituality? Attached to the very brief article is a description of a project the blog is hosting with another blog where it asks artists, writers and scholars what they think of when it comes to spirituality. The first post on that website is titled "Enthusiasm" and I think it's a great look at the way in which the idea of "letting oneself go" to a non rational agent of some form has been discursively suppressed. What strikes me about this is that, while highly academic and not explicitly Christian, I think it is something to keep in the back of your mind with the recent influx of "Spirit led" Christianity in the world sphere. The money passage for me, in this regard, comes from a quotation of John Wesley;
Hume’s contemporary, John Wesley, argued that if enthusiasm was taken to mean “a divine impulse or impression, superior to all the natural faculties,” which for a brief time suspends reason and the other senses, then:

"both the Prophets of old, and the Apostles, were proper enthusiasts; being, at diverse times, so filled with the Spirit, and so influenced by Him who dwelt in their hearts, that the exercise of their own reason, their senses, and all their natural faculties, being suspended, they were wholly actuated by the power of God, and “spake” only “as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

But this, Wesley notes, is not what most of his contemporaries meant by enthusiasm. Instead, they meant by it a kind of madness, a specifically religious madness, in which the sound mind preserved by true religion was destroyed. The enthusiast, for Wesley, is the person who believes he has grace when he does not, or who understands herself to be a Christian when she is not. Enthusiasm is a kind of self-deception against which Wesley must warn those to whom he preaches. For Wesley the criteria for distinguishing between what we might call true and false enthusiasm, or between true religion and enthusiasm, are themselves spiritual.
It's an incredibly complex quote and I think, in one sense, it rings very true with what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians (roughly chapters 12-14) regarding the gifts of the Spirit; that there are many different aspects of the Spirit, but that there are litmus tests and that a Christian must be willing to discern between them. While Amy Hollywood is interested in charting the course of the limiting and evolving ideas of enthusiasm, with a religious background, I think in some sense her words can give us a unique insight into why perhaps there has been a "quieting of the Spirit," in Christian history. This in turn can potentially help us to see why there has been a hesitancy in Western Christianity to engage fully with a Pentecostal and Charismatic notion of faith. I will contend though that I am taking Hollywood's argument a tad further, but I think it is warranted.

I write this blog post largely because, as a non-Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian*, I have had that branch of Christianity come into my view in many ways recently. This is my attempt to deal with the issues in some sense, but also to hopefully start some dialogue on the nature of what is means to be a "Spirit led Christian."

 *I do realize there is an issue with using Pentecostal/Charismatic interchangeably; however, for the sake of space and meandering blog posts, I don't want to get into it here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Resurrection, re: Rob Bell.

I love this video. What I love about it though is not its flash and movement, though that does make it particularly engaging. What I love is the way in which Bell communicates the radical nature of the resurrection so poetically. If Jesus rising from the dead doesn't fundamentally change the way we interact with and view the world, then I wonder if we truly "get" the resurrection. I've loved Bell's communication style for a long time and this is simply a perfect example of it. I hope it moves you all as it did me.

Resurrection: Rob Bell from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

We regret to inform you...

Since graduating from my undergraduate university in 2008, I have had a really, really difficult time finding a job that doesn't rhyme with "me fail." For the most part, this hasn't been too bad. It's allowed me the freedom to explore other options in my life, like playing music and for now, going to grad school. All that said, the few times I have attempted to find something beyond the doldrums of capitalist insanity, it has been met with a very chilling and retching phrase; "we regret to inform you." This characteristic phrase of any big job rejection letter carries with it the feeling of, "we're sorry you will be disappointed in our decision, but well, that's the one we made." That phrase cuts like a knife. I can now chock another job up on that heap.

No, it wasn't anything really amazing, but it did relate directly to what I have been planning as my future career path. Which is why this one stings so much. Honestly, if I don't start racking up some experience in this area, I can pretty much relegate myself to the hell of big box corporate centers and as a self styled anarcho/communist. Which pretty much makes me die inside. I'm really starting to wonder if I'm even on the right path, which itself is a total contradiction to how I actually feel about the future (news flash; it's open ended and not predestined). I suppose I should be thankful for what I've got but... well... I just can't seem to get there.

Maybe this is simply God putting me through the metaphorical fire. You know, burning away any sense of pride so that I can be positioned in the right place to do something really great. Or maybe it's just the fucked up system we live in whereby the most selfish and best competitors win out, regardless of the cost on anyone else. Lovely.

All my pathetic ranting aside, I really am wondering what to do next. Aside from completing my degree, because I have put too much time and effort into it to not, I really don't know. I'm losing my drive to be a career academic (at least in English). The whole system is too competitive right now and with the dwindling economy, it's only bound to get worse. Some may see this as the cream of crop rising to the top, but sometimes the top is only there because they stepped on everyone else in the process.

I'm just bitter and grumpy though. Eventually, something has to turn out for good, right?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Regarding death... again.

There was a period of time, a few years ago, when I had several people in my life (family members and acquaintances) who all passed away within two years of each other. It was pretty rough to get through and made me re-examine a lot of my previously held assumptions on life, death and what happens after that. While I don't want to get too much into it, I will say that the idea of eternal conscious torture awaiting someone who fell prey to some hellish disease didn't exactly jive well. Recently, with the publication of a certain book, a lot of other people have become privy to these sorts of thoughts.

But, that's not what this blog is about.

Within the past week, there have been two people die that had some form of close relationship with someone I knew. These were both unexpected deaths and one of them can really only be described as horrendous. Obviously, it brings back into view questions of God, the afterlife, etc. etc. One thing that I am finding more than those as I very selfishly think on this* is the response from the people left behind; especially those on the periphery. The individuals who did not interact with those who have passed away except briefly. People's reactions who weren't of close association usually fall in the "that's so sad" category but then it is swept aside. It makes no impact and there is something telling there. I don't want to get to down on people, though. If you never knew someone and they weren't an essential part of your life, it is hard to drum up the same feelings you'd have if a family member passed away. It's just a strange reaction and more telling of how our corporate society deals with death, than any individual's idea.

And then there is Amy Winehouse. I was never too aware of her music and only knew of her controversy second hand. That said, I find no satisfaction or joy in making jokes on her death. Whether she was a victim of her own addictions and failings or the natural course of life, she was still an individual as any of the rest of us. As I am staring at my 27th birthday pretty soon, it's a little more close to home, in some sense. In regards to how our culture deals with death, the judgment on her has already been passed. "Amy Deadhouse" jokes and anything regarding her "getting her comeuppance" only highlight the insular experience death is for those left behind. It highlights the sheer lack of communal mourning that would occur in smaller societies. Mostly though, it exposes that not one of us are good 100% of the time and we all have a long ways to go, myself included.

If there is one thing I learned and am completely reminded of in this, it's that life is going to pass all too quick and if you really want to honor those who have passed, you should live your life to it's fullest.


* I am aware that writing a blog post about me thinking, somewhat intellectually, on a person's death can be very selfish and borderline disrespectful. I hope this comes across as neither.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Are we predestined or free-willed, part 2

In attempting to follow up my previous post on this matter, I need to lay some groundwork. First, since writing that post ten months ago, I have come across many ideas that have reshaped how I approach this topic and where I personally fall on this issue. So, I will start by explaining much the most thought on this issue that I have recently come across and we'll go from there.

After writing that post, I began attending Colorado State University for my Master's in Literature. One of the first classes I took was a graduate level course in literary theory, where I was re-exposed to the work of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and exposed for the first time to Ferdinad de Saussure, Gilles Delueze, Terry Williams, Judith Butler and Alain Badiou. These philosophers are some of the most vital and important in contemporary English studies, or have been at some point, and all of them deal, or have been used, with questions regarding ontology. Ontology, or the question of being, is essential to any discussion of free will. From a Christian stance, the question of ontology, or what our being constitutes, is a question that is usually assumed to have been answered from the get go. Most of us who were brought up in evangelical circles have been told the purpose of life is to worship God and get souls saved. I'm being reductionist here, but that is the general means by which most of my evangelical experience has answered the whole "what's the meaning of life/being" question. This short answer allows us to take a stance that is both free-willed and predestined. If the meaning of existence is worship, and the meaning of earthly life is salvation, then the "predestined" notion fits with worship and the salvation is free-willed, i.e. personal. Basically, what part of a free-willed, sinful person would worship a holy God, unless that person made a choice to and then the "deep longing" inside someone is filled by enacting their predetermined purpose, worship. This is how I've come to understand the argument from most of evangelical, Protestant Christianity in how this interplay works. Ultimately though, the stance is that God is in total control and most of our free will is, to an extent, an illusion. This highly Calvanistic tendency has permeated western Protestant Christianity, but I'm not ready to throw it out the window yet.

To take a step away from Christianity, I'd like to return to the postmodern philosophers I was talking about before. These philosophers have concerned themselves with a question of ontology, coming to a "conlcusion" if you will, where they reject any stable notion of being.* To go back to the example above, if someone were to say, "the answer is worship of God" then a response in this mode would counter by saying, "but you are not a being that can do that, because God, religion, and your notion of free-will are totally bound up in the ideological constructions of Western society. You do not have free choice, only the ability to work within a system that shapes you in a certain way." In essence, the notion of being is radically under question and to many in a post-structuralist mode, there is no "real" agency. To be reductionist again, free-will doesn't exist because there are forces (not insidious, just for clarification) that mold and shape every person to conform to the cultural norm of the time they are born, from birth. This is seen as neither good, or bad, just the way it is. Taken to its extreme, this is a form of relativism that isn't totally about "all truth is truth" but "all truth is a construction, so no one truth can be totally trusted as all encompassing." We are, in this vein, "predestined" in a sense, but without a end goal.

I am going to take up my further thoughts in other posts, just because this is turning into a long explanation. Look for part three soon.

*Badiou has been associated with an anti-postmodern movement of Continental philosophy, though from what little I've gathered he is not throwing the post-structuralist view totally out the window, and has been actively associated with attempting to return to some stable notion of being that doesn't rely on modernist assumptions and includes postmodern assertions.