a few words

Month: May, 2007

a new low for the species :: Evian Atomizer :: (re)made in whose image?

I hate to give it attention (even disdain is a form of advertisement), but I came across a product so mindless today that I’m having trouble imagining the person who would actually spend $15.50 on something so inane. After we tried an odor-less, color-less free sample, the friend I was with captured it in a single phrase: “For people with more money than brains.” In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only possible use for this product is to show other people just how much money you have to waste on something that you can get elsewhere for free.

So what is the offending product?

In a double lined, pressure treated, painted, labeled, aluminum aerosol can sitting in a prominent cardboard and plastic display (featuring a beautiful young woman who is obviously deriving meaning and purpose in life from her use of the product), is well… um… water. Read the rest of this entry »

pauperes and ecclesium :: memory and movement

The first things that get “forgetten” are the hardest things to do. To serve the poor, to look out for those in need, to give a voice to the voiceless. We do many good things. But when we abandon the poor, overlook those in need, and leave the marginalized in the silence of the periphery of our lives, we crack the foundation on which everything else stands.

“Extra pauperes nulla salvus,” says theologian Jon Sobrino, tweaking Augustine’s dictum, “extra ecclesium nulla salvus.”

“Without the poor [church], no one is saved.” Doing theology means hard thinking, it also means meeting widows and orphans, addicts and those abandoned as our brothers and sisters (not primarily as widows, orphans, addicts, and abandoned sorts). Theology that isn’t done in the overlap of Augustine’s “ecclesium” and Sobrino’s “pauperes” undermines its own content. “With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

creeds and criticism (Part III) :: the Bible :: or why reading scripture apart from theology is like eating without food

Despite the contemporary desire to treat it this way, the Bible did not fall out of the sky. Christians are not “people of the book” in the same way that Muslims or Mormons are. The Bible is not eternal truth dictated word for word from the clouds to faithful scribes waiting pen in hand. Christianity’s attitude toward its book is significantly different.

As a starting point, we need to realize that the Bible wasn’t written for us. At least not primarily. Paul was not thinking of you when he wrote (or dictated) his letter to the Romans. We abuse scripture itself if we refuse to let Paul write to his friends at Rome, and recognize this as a conversation that we’ve been allowed in on. And if we start there, we had better understand what his friends would have understood from his writing before we start proof-texting individual verses out of context. That means hard work and study. Read the rest of this entry »

zimbabwe :: worse and worse

I have a soft spot in my heart for the southern African nation being mismanaged into shambles by an octogenarian autocrat who has been in power for far too long. In the 1980’s Robert Mugabe helped to lead the people of “Rhodesia” to Western-style self-rule, distancing the country from the legacy of diamond-guru Cecil John Rhodes and the lingering imperial presence of the British. He has been in office ever since.

The soft spot in my heart has begun to tear in the last few weeks as almost daily I read some new bit of news on the BBC about the state of the country. Here are a few links:

— The country with the world’s highest rate of inflation (previously 2,200% per year), now has a rate of 3,791%. I’ll give you an idea of what that means. Average inflation in the States hangs around 4%. That means that the milk you buy this year for $2.50 will cost $2.60 next year. If you were to buy a half-gallon of milk in Zimbabwe today for $2.50 (keep in mind that inflation has been running at rates in the thousands for years now), a year from now, that milk would cost you just shy of $95 dollars. Your employer can’t afford to give you a 3,000% percent raise annually, so you are trying to buy this milk on the same salary you’ve had for as long as you’ve been lucky enough to have a job. Money isn’t even worth carrying as toilet paper in Zimbabwe. Thousand dollar bills are literally worth less than the shiny bit of aluminum wrapped around your chewing gum. Read the rest of this entry »

words matter :: physicality and meaning

We think of words as non-physical things, unattached and uncommitted to location or time. Words are transient, the same word may pop up on a dozen different tongues and refer to a dozen different things.

Our common-sense way of thinking about words misses out on an important aspect of word-iness. There is no such thing as a pure word without physical mediation.

Think about it, we never meet words except where we meet them in the context of meeting something (or someone) physical. Whether that mediation comes in the form of a computer screen, a sheet of paper, a friend’s face, or a loudspeaker, words are always intrinsically rooted in tangible encounters. Spoken words rely on the vibration of molecules, written words rely on their arrangement in some opaque surface, and even the words in your mind are inseparable from the firing of little neurons in complex networks. Where there is no matter, there are no words. Read the rest of this entry »

Auden and Bonhoeffer :: scientists and theologians

Art is compatible with polytheism and with Christianity, but not with philosophical materialism; science is compatible with philosophical materialism and with Chritianity, but not with polythesim. No artist or scientist, however, can feel comfortable as a Christian; every artist who happens also to be a Christian wishes he could be a polytheist; every scientist in the same position what he could be a philosophical materialist. And with good reason. In a polytheist society, the artists are its theologians; in a materialist society, its theologians are the scientists. To a Christian, unfortunately, both art and science are secular activities, that is to say, small beer.
— W.H. Auden

Read the rest of this entry »

the pope and the populace :: liberation in South America

Of some relevance to the continuing conversation about theology and justice are the following: James K. Smith reacts to a NY Times article

I should probably offer my two cents…(hopefully it’s worth that)…

1. I’m by and large ignorant of the history of the relationship between Benedict (Ratzinger) and the liberation theologians of S. America – I know the basic outline, and not much more. So I’m hesitant to say much.

2. I’ll defend the prerogative of the church to discipline theologians whose teachings contradict the church’s gospel. Theologians are the servants of the church, not its masters.

3. I’ll adamantly insist that by and large, the global church has made invisible its one-ness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity insofar as it has been unconcerned (at least in practice) with the plight of the poorest and most marginalized of our brothers and sisters. As Bonhoeffer says, “this invisibility is killing us!” Read the rest of this entry »

creeds and criticism :: history lessons (part II)

It is the task of history, once the other world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world.

Here, Karl Marx raises his disdain for any story that focuses its attention on an “other world” to ground the meaning of the life we experience. The truth of this world, as Marx sees it, is made of the power relationships expressed through money and control. The truth of this world is the subjugation of the working classes by means of ideology, coercion, and religion – that great opiate by which the masses are kept from demanding all that they deserve in this life.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of man is a demand for their real happiness…. Religion is only the illusory sun about which man revolves so long as he does not revolve around himself.

Properly then, according to Marx, history’s task is to write the real story of what goes on in the world, without reference to “higher” realities or other worlds. The task of history is to set down the meaning of the only world we know in concrete political and economic terms, cutting through all the bourgeois cultural accretions that obscure the real power relationships. Read the rest of this entry »