Thursday, August 17, 2017

Charlottesville, Virginia

A few times a day, I group text with two of my closest friends, Brandy and Jen. It was a normal day on Thursday, August 3 when we were texting about our typical subjects: academia, politics, our writing (or lack thereof!), dating, and hanging out with each other again. None of us live near each other so this is the best way to keep in touch. Shortly prior to this particular group text message, Brandy moved to Charlottesville, Virginia for a post-doctoral fellowship in the Religious Studies department at the University of Virginia. I live fairly close to Virginia so I asked Brandy when she wanted me to come visit her during the month of August. She joked at one point in the group text that I could come down and join the clergy counter protest for this alt-right rally entitled “Unite the Right”, which was supposed to take place on Saturday, August 11. If you watch the news for any decent amount of time, you know who the alt-right are and what they believe. I did not think it would be a particularly memorable event, and without much thought, I agreed to attend so I could protest with my friend. I then signed up for the Clergy Call organized and led by phenomenal leaders Seth Wispelwey and Smash Patty in local congregations in Charlottesville. Little did I know what was coming for us.

A few days later, I received an email from the Clergy Call organizers warning about the dangers of attending the counter protest against the Neo-Nazis at the Unite the Right rally. I read the email with some concern, but I still had no idea what was coming for us. I told Brandy that due to personal reasons, I could not risk getting arrested right now. She told me I could still attend the protest and be the designated person to bail her out of jail. I quickly agreed.

The few days leading up to the Unite the Right rally on August 12 were very consuming for me. I led a conference for my job, and I also faced some personal issues that were unfolding at the same time. On Friday, August 11, I planned to drive down to Charlottesville after my work conference wrapped up in the late afternoon. By the time I actually made progress driving towards Charlottesville, it was the early evening, and I was completely exhausted. At one point during my drive, I called Brandy with the intention of telling her I was going to skip the rally and drive home instead. I remember calling her, and she talked about her preparations for the clergy counter protest. In that moment, I did not have the heart to tell her I was too tired to visit. I wanted to be there with her more than I wanted to go home and sleep, so I kept driving. Brandy texted me late that evening while I was still driving to let me know that she was stuck in the church where the clergy gathered that evening to worship in order to prepare themselves spiritually for the counter protest on Saturday. I did not know this at the time, but my friend was trapped inside that church, because Neo-Nazis were outside the front doors blocking in the congregants with tiki torches in hand. I am thankful she never told me all these details at that time. I do not think I could have handled the truth in my state of exhaustion.

I finally arrived at Brandy’s apartment in Charlottesville shortly before midnight. She told me that we were going to attend a sunrise service the next morning to spiritually prepare for the counter protest. She said we had to be there by 6 AM. I was not happy about the early wake-up call given my exhaustion. But she said Cornel West was preaching so I knew it would be worth attending.

We woke up early and arrived to First Baptist Church on West Main Street where hundreds of people gathered for an interfaith worship service. The church was energized as we sang many African American spirituals sung during the civil rights era. It was a moving worship time. At this point, I still had no idea what was in store for the day. I had no framework for what to expect, and I was not expecting much beyond a peaceful protest and a few fascists showing up to this rally. This was my first time in Charlottesville, after all. How bad could it possibly get?

Once the interfaith service ended, the leaders asked the clergy who were planning to be on the front lines of the counter protest to meet in the front of the church. Only 40 or 50 clergy members and other individuals stayed. It was disheartening to see how many people left the church when the organizers of the counter protest hoped that we would have huge numbers for the event. One of the leaders of the Clergy Call, Rev. Sekou Osagyefo, began to speak to the individuals who stayed to counter protest in Emancipation Park. After kicking out media and government employees from the sanctuary, Sekou spoke some harsh warnings to those in the room. He told us that if we were not prepared to die that day, we should not attend this protest. He told us that if we were not prepared to be beaten that day, we should not attend this protest. At this point, I look over to my friend Brandy with my eyes wide open with fear and panic and ask her what he is talking about. Brandy assures me that we will not die, and we will not be injured. She tells me Sekou is trying to prepare us for the absolute worst, but that death and injury properly will not happen. But Sekou keeps repeating these warnings, and suddenly, I realize that I am entering a real battle zone.

I did not prepare for any of this in any way – spiritually, emotionally, or mentally – and I also did not receive the weeks of non-violent training that Brandy underwent. At this point, I am convinced that I should stay as far behind as possible to protect myself. When we finally formed a line to leave the church and march towards Emancipation Park by foot, I stayed in the very back of the line with the non-profit volunteer lawyers. I figured that if I stick with the lawyers, I would be safe (probably not the best logic!). There was an eerie, almost deafening silence in the town as we walked through the streets. It felt like a ghost town as very few people could be seen anywhere in the streets. Right before we made it to Emancipation Park, we had to make a left turn up a small hill. I was still marching in the back at this point when I saw over a dozen armed male militia at the top of the hill with AK-47s in hand. Fear engulfed my entire body, and I quickly locked arms with other clergy members for fear of being on the outside of the group. We finally made it to Emancipation Park when we lined up along the one side of the park, arms interlocked with each other. I believe the original goal was to have enough clergy to circle the entire park, but there were only enough clergy present to line the one side.

Jill Harms Photography
It was around 9 AM when we made it to Emancipation Park. The first song we sang was “This Little Light of Mine.” Never have the words to this song felt so vulnerable and almost foolish. We sang this song as armed militia and a few Neo-Nazis began to pass us on the sidewalk. As time went on, more and more Neo-Nazis began to trickle into the park along the sidewalk. The clergy line kept singing songs of freedom, praying, kneeling, and standing peacefully to be a counter witness to the hate and violence of the Neo-Nazis in that space. At one point, we kneeled on the ground to pray one by one while a member of the armed militia stood directly across from me with his AK-47 in hand. I was overwhelmed with seeing a weapon like that so close to my body as I kneeled on the pavement, weaponless and full of fear. I have never felt so vulnerable before the powers of the world before. I kept wondering, “is this what Jesus is calling me to do?” All my theology of resistance became real in those moments alongside Emancipation Park. We were fighting against the powers of darkness that engulfed this park.

Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/Sipa USA via AP
As more Neo-Nazis passed the clergy line, they verbally abused us one by one over the course of a few hours. One man screamed that Jesus hates us. Another screamed that we hate the white race and are contributing to white genocide. Another man boldly came up to the clergy line and asked us if we have ever read Ephesians 5 and 6, because then we would know the Bible does not allow women to be clergy. He said we should be submitting to men. Another man taunted us for a good while asking us where we went to seminary, and tried to get us to answer questions about theology and the Bible to prove we were legitimate clergy. I can not fully remember everything that was said to me that day on the clergy line. Online trolls are one thing. We all know not to feed the trolls on the internet. But it is another thing to have the trolls right before your face yelling vile truths that contradict everything you believe. It took the sheer grace of God for me to stay silent in the midst of the verbal abuse.

One man came up to the clergy line with a t-shirt of Adolf Hitler’s face right above a large swastika. He was very eager and adamant to inform us that he worshipped the same Jesus we do. It was in that moment that I realized how far darkness can take a person into complete falsehood. I wanted to look that man in the eye and tell him that his Jesus is not the one who hung from the cross for those he despises. But I could not say a word. It nearly took my breath away when they chanted "Black Lives Don't Matter" and "Fuck You Faggots" over and over again. It felt like they just kept coming one by one. They showed up by the dozens along the sidewalk before my eyes with their weapons, shields, sticks, helmets, and zealous hatred. There were so many of them and so few of us. They looked nothing like I expected. They were young boys who looked strikingly similar to my nephew, my cousin, my neighbor, or any average white kid you would see on a daily basis. This was not the hooded Nazi's of my parents generation. No, this was far more covert and dangerous.

A few hours after the clergy arrived, the anti-fascists (or “Antifa”) showed up with their banners denouncing white supremacy. They were small in number compared to the Neo-Nazis, but I was so thankful when they finally arrived with their message that Black Lives Matter, that LGBTQ+ lives matter, and that hatred will not win this fight. They offered members of the clergy line water and food. Some put their hand on my shoulder and gave me a smile. I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I felt less alone in this fight against darkness.

Photo by Heather Wilson
At one point, the clergy line broke up as some clergy, including my friend Brandy, were planning to form a blockade on the steps leading up to the park. The intention was to stop Neo-Nazis from getting into the park to attend their rally. The clergy knew how vulnerable they were next to the Neo-Nazis because each one were committed to non-violence. Some of the clergy did not want to join the blockade, but it was too dangerous to stay in the streets as more and more violence was breaking out. Those clergy began running toward a café a few blocks away, which served as our safe house for the day. I started running with them when all the sudden I stopped, and said I could not leave my friend Brandy behind. They told me twice that I could either stay or go, but that they had to go. I did not know what to do. I wanted to go with them, but I could not leave my friend without knowing if she was okay. I decided in that moment to turn around and stay. I stood on the corner across the street from the steps of the park and watched my friend lock arms with other clergy members. I had to watch as Neo-Nazis came charging in by the dozens and forcefully plowed toward the clergy blockade. A blanket of fear engulfed me as I watched my friend stand there not knowing if she would make it out of there alive. If Antifa had not eventually stood between the clergy blockade and the Neo-Nazis, my friends would have either been badly beaten or died. Antifa saved their lives. 

While I stood on the corner, I also tried to dodge the many bottles full of feces that were thrown in the air from the Neo-Nazis. I tried to not breathe in the tear gas and the pepper spray clouds that kept coming my way. At one point, the clergy line dispersed, and I was reunited with Brandy. We did not know what to do next so we tried to stay on the outskirts of the scene. The Neo-Nazis just kept coming in groups over and over. We were far outnumbered, but I watched countless Antifa youth risk their lives, one by one, to fight back. Many of them were eventually carried away covered in blood from being beaten. Some screamed in the middle of the street as their eyes burned from the pepper spray. It was the most horrific scene I have ever seen in my life. I coughed so hard at one point from breathing in pepper spray that I wet myself. I could not stop coughing. It was terrifying. 

This violence and chaos ensued for over an hour. The police did nothing. I looked over at the police many times in the midst of the chaos only to find some laughing at certain points. I was not surprised, but I was still disillusioned by their lack of response. 

As I looked on to see the crowds of people fighting and could hear the deafening sound of fists hitting flesh, I began to wonder if this is God’s judgment upon America for our original sin of racism and slavery. This nation was founded upon the kidnap, rape, and enslavement of African and Caribbean bodies for our profit. While the concentration of pure and unadulterated hatred in Emancipation Park might be novel for this time period, the seeds and roots of that hatred are as old as the United States. This country has never confronted and repented for the devastating and continual violence done against black and brown flesh. From slavery to lynching to segregation to imprisonment, we continue to oppress, enslave, and kill all that does not fit into the toxic mold of white supremacy.

In the early afternoon (the actual time escapes me), the Governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency. The National Guard came out with a water tank, and told everyone through a loud speaker to leave the area, or we would be arrested. Brandy and I made our way to the safe house at the café I mentioned earlier. We rested there for a bit, and the owners of the café kindly gave us free food and beer. At one point in the afternoon, my friend Gregory messaged me on Facebook to tell me that counter protestors were forming again and headed towards Water Street. Word on the street was that the Neo-Nazis were headed to a public housing area, and organizers in the area asked for counter protestors to come help stop them. I wanted to join him and the other protestors, but I did not know where Water Street was in relation to this café. I figured I would join up with them later at some point.

A few minutes later, someone came into the café and told us we had to come out immediately as something happened. A bunch of us from the cafe began running down the block to Water Street where we were met with bodies spewed all across the street. I would later learn that a Neo-Nazi terrorist drove his car into this crowd of counter protestors and killed one protestor named Heather Heyer. It felt like a war zone. Chaos and confusion filled those streets as we stood helplessly on the sidewalks wondering how this could happen. 

Eventually, Brandy and I left downtown Charlottesville and went back to her house to sleep. It is hard to know how to recover from the horror we witnessed that day. Do you drink? Do you sleep? Do you talk to others who were there? Do you watch the news? Do you pray? What can you do to cope with such violence? How do you make sense of it? Where do you go from there?

I left Charlottesville the next day to return home. I drove home with an endless amount of questions swimming through my head, not knowing if I will ever receive answers. My theology was deeply challenged that day as I stood on that clergy line. I realized how deeply I am already part of the violence of white supremacy even if I committed to a nonviolent protest and even if I denounce the Neo-Nazis. I wondered what it means to witness against white supremacy today as a white Christian in light of the rise of the alt-right. I wondered if this rise in Nazism requires a different response than what I would normally advocate. 

I wrote this post, because since Saturday, I have been having great difficulty sleeping. I wake up in the middle of the night, and I can not get those rage-filled faces out of my mind as they play over and over again in my head. The heaviness of the future bears down on me, and I begin to realize how much work there is to do to fight against this darkness that is coming back over this nation afresh. I remember that blanket of fear that I felt as I watched my friend stand on those stairs as Nazis charged towards her. I begin worrying about war, violence against vulnerable communities, more hatred against those who are already oppressed, and what the future of Trump's presidency will mean not only for this nation, but for the world. 

I was told that writing my story could help with the trauma and the confusion. I hope at some point to share some theological reflections. But for now, I wanted to document my story from the front lines of Charlottesville and encourage you, dear reader, to resist the power of white supremacy on all fronts.

Friday, December 19, 2014


Hello? Can you hear me? It's me, Kait Dugan.

I realize now that I only blogged once in 2014 (!) Wow. This year has been a whirlwind for me. Between getting deeper into the throws of my full-time job at the Barth Center, moving to New York City, and starting my PhD last summer, this blog wasn't going to see the light of day. I don't know if that will change much in the future. But here I am today on my first day of my first real and glorious vacation in over a year and I had this spontaneous urge to blog while enjoying the quiet bliss of my apartment.

I don't do theological doodlings or things like that. I'm definitely not witty enough for such things. But I thought perhaps I would share a bunch of random thoughts that have been circulating through my mind these past however many months. They are occasional and fragmentary but still substantive. I hope this might prove useful or interesting to someone other than myself.

1. I can't get Willie Jennings' questions to Beverly Gaventa at this year's SBL Pauline soteriology session out of my mind. Gaventa gave, per usual, a fascinating paper on the justice of God and what that might mean from a Pauline perspective. As always, Gaventa championed the resounding "all" of God's salvation, which reverberates throughout Paul's letters. And in good apocalyptic agreement, I nodded with her as she proclaimed the cosmic scope of salvation for the world. Gaventa also put even further distance between divine and human conceptions of justice. I personally loved this. I have no idea what people mean or intend to communicate when the word "justice" is thrown around like a cheap piece of clothing. What does it mean to get justice for the death of Eric Gardner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and countless others who have died at the hands of racialized systemic violence in this country? Is an indictment actually justice for such unspeakable evils?

But Jennings, a man who I just received the privilege of meeting and talking, asked her some pressing questions. First, he wondered if it is the same thing for a Gentile to proclaim the universal language of the Pauline corpus compared to Paul himself? I sensed here that there's a flattening out of the very real distinction between oppressor and oppressed that might make it nearly impossible to truly speak prophetically against the evils of this world. But also, how is the pronouncement of universal salvation an enactment of whiteness? Second, he wanted to know how fruitful it is for us to press and emphasize the difference between human and divine justice? Does this not take the urgency out of our pursuit for political and social upheaval against oppression? Point dually noted. But I don't know. I can't shake the feeling that nothing less than the resurrection of the dead can be associated with God's justice.

2. I attended the Foley Square protest here in NYC the night after the grand jury released its decision in the Eric Gardner murder. Truth be told, I really didn't want to go. The protest started at 5:30. I didn't even step off the train coming back from work until 6:15. Then I had to travel all the way downtown to get to the protest. Serious pain. I'm exhausted, I'm in my work clothes. I'm not in any good form for something this important. And I'm a bit cynical. What will this accomplish? Isn't this just for my own white guilt, self-promotion and vanity? And why the hell are my questions making this mostly about me? But I can't shake this feeling I should go. So I press on downtown. I walk and walk and walk and finally find Foley Square. And it was there that something changed for me. There were countless people in this tight space with multiple helicopters hovering above us. There was a simultaneous calm and urgency there. This wasn't your mama's protest. This was something else. This was an interruption. This was an event. There was a spiritual quality to that night, which I still can't truly explain. As we marched through the streets, shut down traffic, and yelled "whose streets? our streets!," I began to believe that this was parabolic of the Kingdom of God coming into our midst. I don't say that lightly. I get nervous when anyone points to anything and says "see! there's the Kingdom of God! there's God at work in the world!" But countless people all struggling to resist the power of Death against black and brown bodies seems to be where Jesus can be found in this present world.

3. I've been reading Charles Marsh's new biography on Bonhoeffer recently entitled Strange Glory. It was on sale for $10 at AAR so I couldn't pass it up. I'm struck by the chapter on Bonhoeffer's time in America and more specifically in Harlem. Apparently his best friend Paul Lehmann, a professor at Union Theological Seminary, was concerned about Bonhoeffer at one point and thought he "was spending too much time in Harlem" (118). It struck me how much Bonhoeffer gave himself to this encounter with a new community. And it got me wondering, once again, if theology is more than simple second-order reflection, theorizing, or one's decision about material and form. Do the places in which we live and give ourselves over to the world matter at all? Does it matter if I do my theology in the zones of wealth and privilege? Leaving aside that there's no where to truly disavowal privilege no matter where you live and breathe on a daily basis, does it matter who we spend time with, who we are in close relationship with, where we sleep at night? Does it matter if all my friends think like me, look like me, act like me? Does it matter if I never have to encounter anyone on a daily basis or live in the same building with those forgotten by the world? Who are deemed meaningless by society? Is this not also critical for what our theology means and how it is formed? I'm not seeking purity or self-justification in these questions. I'm simply asking this as someone who thinks that the task of theology is discerning the spirits of the present age and resisting the powers that enslave us through speech and act. How can this happen if we live in the very places where the powers are not exposed in all their devastating violence?

4. I read a letter many months ago, which Karl Barth wrote to Juergen Moltmann on November 17th 1964 and I still haven't been able to stop thinking about it as I struggle through my own doctoral research. Barth writes that he has many critical concerns and hesitations about Moltmann's theology namely due to the "unilateral way in which you subsume all theology in eschatology, going beyond Blumhardt, Overbeck, and Schweitzer in this regard" (175). But I wonder if Karl subsumes all theology into protological categories through his doctrine of election. If it was balance he was after, he seems to perform the very act for which he is criticizing Moltmann but simply shifting the furniture around. Barth says Moltmann's theology suffers from "onesidedness" (176). But in these times, in this present evil age that Paul speaks about, might eschatological onesidedness be the only way to speak prophetically? Am I simply suffering from the youthful enthusiasm that I'll regret as I age?

5. I've been thumbing through Ted Smith's new Weird John Brown during some of my subway time. It's good. It's compelling. I don't quite know where Smith is taking me at this point, but I'm still in chapter three. He argues quite convincingly for the inadequacy of an immanent account of ethical action. Smith convincingly asserts the necessity of a particular and unique John Brown moment of apocalyptic interruption in our midst, which poses a question "to successive moments in national history." Only a transcendent apocalyptic interruption of a John Brown in our midst will "not so much secure existing powers as reveal them for what they are" (20). I like that.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Exercise of Power and the Refusal of Power

Nobody says its like Lehmann, eh?

"The royal trappings worn by Jesus, viz., the crown of thorns and the purpose cloak (but not insignificantly perhaps minus the mock-scepter cane), are patently a mockery of Jesus' royal pretensions and a ridicule of his weakness masquerading as strength. How undangerous can any human being get! 'In fact, it is just such a man who claims to be the king of truth! The ho logos sarx egeneto has become visible in its most extreme consequences.' Jesus, on the other hand, at the apex of defenselessness, and all but at the nadir of helplessness, dramatically reverses the field. His silent presence turns that unmasking devised by his accusers and his judge against itself. It is they who stand before the world unmasked. ...

Perhaps the most awesome thing about the imminent crucifixion was - and is - the ambiguity hidden in its inevitability. Jesus, like Pilate, was on his way to his appointed end. But whereas Pilate's exercise of power was caught in the vise of inevitability and the will-to-power, Jesus' refusal of power was caught in the vise of inevitability and the will-to-death of the people of destiny. Pilate's reluctant acceptance of the unavoidable is the final irony of the exercise of power, the strength of which is weakness. The people's passionate pressure to make the unavoidable happen is the ultimate pathos in a refusal of power, the weakness of which is its strength. Like Nietzsche's tightrope walker, Jesus goes down before established power, which he must oppose, and the fury of the people of destiny whose destiny he has come to affirm and whose fury he has come to abate."

- Paul Lehmann, Transfiguration of Politics, 61-63.

Monday, September 2, 2013

On Reading Barth: Another Form of Feminist Resistance (A Response to Janice Rees)

Perhaps this post is really not a response to Janice Rees’ most recent post at WIT, but rather a post that is a long-time coming. I can’t decide [1]. But nonetheless, it was her powerful post that inspired me to break my silence as a woman in theology studying Barth. 
I, too, read Brandy Daniels’ post at WIT regarding the good old Boys Club with much relief, admiration, and thankfulness. Brandy, per usual, has the courageous ability to consistently offer a prophetic voice on many topics that few of us are willing to openly discuss. And if there is anyone who can relate to Brandy’s experience of said club, it is me. I often find myself one of the only women in various theological circles. As much as I’ve gotten used to this scene, it still can be rather taxing in various ways, to say the least. Similarly, I read Janice’s post with a lot of agreement and kept nodding my head with great relief, admiration, and thankfulness as well that someone, hell anyone, had finally written these things publicly. I support and understand her resistance to the academic guild of Barth studies. But I also felt, however unintentionally on the part of Janice, like I have so many countless times in the past, alienated from my women colleagues. Ironically, I often feel the most judgment and objection to studying Barth from other women. And this has repeatedly left me feeling like I don’t truly measure up as a feminist because I’m not refusing to engage or study Barth who lingers as the theological coach for so many white male academics. This can leave me wondering if there’s any place for me in the women’s club, either. 

There is no denying much of what Rees writes. I’ll engage her points accordingly. First, yes, Barth does seem to serve as a boundary line for what counts as “serious scholarship.” This frustrating ideological defense mechanism usually allows many the excuse to not engage with other critical voices and witnesses that might vulnerably and necessarily deconstruct one’s basic theological presuppositions through a hermeneutic of race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. Second, depending on where you stand within that “confessional identity” that Janice mentions, Barth is often touted as the line (or transgression of said line) of orthodoxy. For those who think Barth was not, in fact, the living embodiment of heresy (they really do exist!), the old Swiss gets brought up time and again about how not to do “liberal theology” (cue scary music). In a few sentences peppered with phrases like “turn to the subject,” “subjectivism,” and “reason,” these confessionals will tell you why they genuinely believe Barth is the savior of all theological discourse both then and now and until the second Parousia. It almost becomes a paint by number dialogue in which you know in advance, without even engaging folks like this, exactly what they will say and how they will say it in order to reject those they think warrant the Barth trump card against dangerous liberalism. And then finally, and most interesting to me, Rees explains her resistance to reading Barth by bravely asserting that Barth scholarship is an academic power in itself that must be resisted. American Barth scholarship is the personification of the white male heterosexual who feels sorry for himself that he gets persecuted for not engaging with more critical theologies. 

So you might be asking what could I possibly have to say that would push back on any of this given my agreement with much of it. Well, I often wonder if our legitimate critiques of Barth and Barth scholarship leaves any room for women like myself who are genuinely interested in studying Karl Barth. [2] I can still remember a female friend asking me a couple of years ago how in the world I could be interested in Barth since I was a woman and a feminist. Didn’t I know that the field was dominated by men? And wasn’t I turned off by Barth’s theology that was so masculine partially through the unfailing use of masculine pronouns referencing God? As a proper feminist, this should bother me to the point where I stop reading Barth and start publicly voicing my reasons for such rejection. From that moment on, I realized that studying Barth was going to be a bit of a lonely road. [3] Not only was it a boys club, but now some women were suspicious and somewhat disappointed when they found out that I’m interested in Barth (or apocalyptic theology for that matter!). Now I don’t measure up to what it takes to be in the girls club. And you can’t even begin to imagine the insecurity and isolation that occurs when you feel excluded from the “new feminist orthodoxy” as a woman and Barthian theologian. I often wonder if others, especially these female critics, think I am trying to fit into the boys club instead of assuming that I am seriously and authentically interested in this particular theology precisely because I am, in fact, a feminist theologian.

I wish there was space within the theological academy for women to critically engage and appropriate Barth in ways that brought him into desperately needed conversation with other critical theologies. And I’m not talking about the token engagement that can pass in certain projects. I’m interested in profound and rigorous bilateral dialogue between Barth and other critical theologians in order to create something new. [4] The most ironic part of all of this is when I realize just how “radical” Barth is on certain issues and the lines of continuity that can be drawn between him and other theologians who most within confessional boundaries might typically render “not serious” or “unorthodox.” [5] To my surprise, when I read Barth, I see him as an incredible support and ally for many basic theological concerns within theologies of race, gender, and sexuality. [6] And to my even greater surprise, there are very few individuals actually doing this work to highlight such critical and profound lines of continuity. [7] These voices rarely exist partly because of the points Janice mentions and also due to the fact that few people, especially women or people of color, are encouraged to enter into these spaces to say NO to such powers by creatively appropriating Barth in new and exciting ways. It is almost as if the push to not engage Barth is, ironically, a further solidification of his power within the academy. I am tempted to think that true and effective resistance to the problems of Barth scholarship can come about through using other theologians to deconstruct him and utilize his theology to support critical concerns and efforts. And I’d like to have other women and people of color in these spaces with me witnessing to the Gospel more faithfully through such critical engagement.

With everything said, I want to make one thing abundantly clear. At the end of the day, the issue isn’t truly about getting more people to read and study Karl Barth nor should it be. Women should be encouraged and free to engage anyone they want within theology and other academic disciplines including the male-dominated field of Barth studies. And women should feel free to follow Janice in not reading Barth if they don’t want to as a one form of powerful resistance. Afterall, isn’t that freedom for women to be exactly who they are and study whatever they want the true ethos of feminism? Unless women feel genuinely free of shame for doing so (or not doing so!), I fear that we are doing a disservice to the cause of gender equality. I hope to see more women free to go wherever they want and perhaps some of them will continue to infiltrate those spaces dominated by men including Barth studies.

[1] This is an important disclaimer since some of this post extends beyond Janice’s own reasons for not studying Barth because it offers a response to those who object to women studying in male-dominated fields. 
[2] I am extremely indebted to Barth for many of my theological presuppositions and my general methodological orientation. However, my interests and theological concerns extend far beyond Karl Barth to include namely apocalyptic theology, feminist and womanist theologies among liberation theologies, gender theory, and various other figures including Bonhoeffer, Käsemann, Kiekegaard, Delores Williams, Judith Butler, Moltmann, and many more that would be too long to list here. If I continue to use and appropriate Barth, I will not necessarily be interested in doing so in order to “get Barth right” for the sake of Barth scholarship, but rather to offer a greater faithful witness to the Gospel.
[3] I find the same is true for other topics in which I am interested, namely apocalyptic theology. I’ve received criticism for being interested in this discourse not only for the phallic and violent rhetoric, but also because the field is quite dominated by white heterosexual men.
[4] The (almost tragic) irony in all of this is that what I’m advocating here is exactly what Barth would have wanted: “Theological work is distinguished from other kinds of work by the fact that anyone who desires to do this work cannot proceed by building with complete confidence on the foundation of questions that are already settled, results that are already achieved, or conclusions that are already arrived at. [One] cannot continue to build today in any way on foundations that were laid yesterday for [one]self, and [one] cannot live today in any way on the interest from a capital amassed yesterday. [One’s] only possible procedure every day, in fact every hour, is to begin anew at the beginning” (Barth, Evangelical Theology, 165).
[5] I use the word radical here, but I should admit that given the overuse of this word, I’m not entirely sure what it means any longer. 
[6] Just the other day, I stumbled across a fascinating essay by Jaime Ronaldo Balboa entitled “Church Dogmatics, Natural Theology, and the Slippery Slope of Geschlecht: A Constructivist-Gay Liberationist Reading of Barth” (Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 66/4, 771-789). Balboa’s essay serves as an exceptional example concerning how Barth’s own theology can be read against other parts of Barth’s theology namely his problematic conceptions of heteronormativity.  
[7] I would like to note that some of my colleagues are doing profound and interesting work in Barth studies that have direct implications for discourses regarding liberation from various forms of oppression including race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. even if their projects are not an overt engagement with these concerns.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Recent Findings.

I don't have much time to engage in leisure reading these days. Most of my time is devoted to my new job and doctoral applications. However, I manage to squeeze in some time to read theology usually while walking across town to a coffee shop (oddly enough, I do some of my best reading while walking) and I've been finding some great stuff. I am fully aware that this blog has been reduced to a quote machine, but you'll have to indulge that tendency for a bit longer (if I still have any readers out there!). Here are four random excerpts from what seems like a stack of books I've been trying slowly to make my way through this summer:

"A major -- if not the major -- significance of The Theological Declaration of Barmen is its documentation of the church on the way from confessional faithfulness to confessional responsibility. On record, it seems that the confessional story -- from Nicea, Chalcedon and the Symbolum Romanum to Trent; and from Trent, via Augsburg and the Formula or Concord, on the one hand, and the Geneva, Scots and Westminster Confessions, on the other, to the Catechisms: Roman, Lutheran and Reformed, and the unexcelled irenic tonalities of Heidelberg -- seems more preoccupied with the responsibility of faithfulness of the church to its calling to be the church than with the faithfulness of the church to the responsibility intrinsic to being the church in the world for the sake of the world. The watchwords of responsibility for faithfulness have been the formative and authoritative bearing of Holy Scripture upon the content and witness of the Confessions, the proclamation of the World and the celebration of the Sacraments, the grace, faith and obedience by which individual believers receive and express their salvation in this world and the next. The world -- for the sake of which the church is called to be the church -- was largely left to its own devices, under the custodial watchfulness of a power settlement which neatly, if not always smoothly, divided responsibility between things spiritual and things temporal. This arrangement, dubiously ascribed to divine appointment, managed, with less than unexceptional operational effectiveness, to keep the world in tow and on course until the unfailingly anticipated Second Advent, which seemed to have fallen into the awkward habit of continual postponement."
- Paul Lehmann, "On Faithfulness, Responsibility and the Confessional State of the Church," 22-23.

"Like any systematic interpretation, systematic theology attempts to give an intelligible account of the maximum amount of data with the minimum amount of explanatory principles. The primary data to which the theology of the Christian church is committed comprise a tradition of witness in history, through varying cultural contexts, to the God made known in events concerning Jesus of Nazareth. The purpose of such an account is not, as the name 'systematic' might seem to suggest, to reduce the life of the Spirit to categories of rational abstraction. Nor is it to camouflage, and thereby domesticate, the subversive character of the church's mission amidst the sufferings of this world by painting that mission in colors merely conforming to some prevalent intellection (or anti-intellectual!) terrain. What is at stake in this disciple for the church - and I think for the academy as well - is at once a critical and constructive task: a 'testing of the spirits' (1 John 4:1) and an 'account for the hope' (1 Pet. 3:15)."
- Christopher Morse, The Logic of Promise in Moltmann's Theology, ix.

"The central point in Bonhoeffer's critique of religion is the absolute distinction between Christ-centered reconciliation and 'redemption myths'. He could say that 'redemption is at the heart of the Gospel' but, also, more typically, that the idea of 'redemption' has become more difficult and remote in a 'world come of age', which is no longer interested in 'religious questions'. The fundamental problem with 'religions of redemption' is that they draw people out of the world instead of placing them more fully in the world. They treat God as a stopgap for our incomplete knowledge of nature, death, suffering and guilt. They prey on psychological weakness and intellectual ignorance and encourage the idea that faith is an escape from personal, scientific and political challenges. ...

The way in which Christ encounters human beings is developed positively in Bonhoeffer's Christology by focusing on what it means to be truly human. It is not enough to criticize religiosity in the cause of self-affirmation. Nietzsche's disdain for self-sacrifice and the Christian idea of remission of sins must be met by its life-affirming alternative in the self-giving love of Christ for the world."
- Max Champion, "Bonhoeffer: Redemption after Nietzsche?" 99-100.

"Could we wish anything else that this saving hope should always be declared at the cross, should always set a boundary against everything in our world, and should always manifest itself at that boundary. Were we to know more of God than the groans of creation and our own groaning; were we to know a Jesus Christ otherwise than as crucified; were we to know the Holy Spirit otherwise than as the Spirit of Him that raised Jesus from the dead; ... There would be no salvation. *For hope that is seen is not hope* ... If Christianity be not altogether thoroughgoing eschatology, there remains in it no relationship whatever with Christ. Spirit which does not at every moment point from death to the new life is not the Holy Spirit ... All that is not hope is wooden, hobbledehoy, blunt-edges, and sharp-pointed ... There is no freedom, but only imprisonment; no grace, but only condemnation and corruption; no divine guidance, but only fate; no God, but only a mirror of unredeemed humanity. And this is so, be there never so much progress of social reform and never so much trumpeting of the grandeur of Christian redemption. Redemption is invisible, inaccessible, and impossible, for it meets us only in hope. Do we desire something better than hope? Do we with to be something more than [men and women] who hope? But to wait is the most profound truth of our normal, everyday life and work, quite apart from being Christians. Every agricultural labourer, every mother, every truly active or truly suffering man [or woman] knows the necessity of waiting. And we - we must wait, as though there was something lying beyond good and evil, joy and sorrow, life and death; as though in happiness and disappointment, in growth and decay, in the 'Yes' and in the 'No' of our life in the world, we were expecting something. We must wait, as though there were a God whom, in victory and in defeat, in life and in death, we must serve with love and devotion. 'As though?' Yes, this is the strange element in the situation. In our journey through time, we are still men [and women] who wait, as though we saw what we do not see, as though we were gazing upon the unseen. Hope is the solution of the riddle of our 'As though." We do see. Existentially we see what is invisible, and therefore we wait. Could we see nothing but the visible world, we should not wait: we should accept our present situation with joy or with grumbling. Our refusal to accept it and to regard our present existence as incapable of harmony, our certainty that there abides in us a secret waiting for what is not, is, however, intelligible in the unseen hope which is ours in God, in Christ, in the Spirit, in the hope by which we are existentially confronted by things which are not. We can then, if we understand ourselves aright, be none other than they who wait. We are satisfied to know no more than the sorrow of the creation and our own sorrow. We ask nothing better or higher than the Cross, where God is manifested as God. We must, in fact, be servants who wait for the coming of their Lord."
-Barth, Epistle to the Romans, 314-315.

Also, for some reason, I became interested in the topic of boredom a couple of months ago. I think this was probably due to the fact that I found myself feeling boredom to whatever extent. Like the true nerd that I am, I solved my problem of boredom by reading about what other thinkers and theologians wrote about the topic. If I get time in the future, I'll post my thoughts on boredom and some interesting passages I discovered, most notably from Kierkegaard. I found a lot of relief and comfort in Kierkegaard's wisdom in his essay "Rotation of Crops."

Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Thy Kingdom Come!"

This was too incredible not to share:

"'Thy Kingdom come' - this is not the prayer of the pious soul of the individual who wants to flee the world, nor is it the prayer of the utopian and fanatic, the stubborn world reformer. Rather, this is the prayer only of the church-community of children of the Earth, who do not set themselves apart, who have no special proposals for reforming the world to offer, who are no better than the world, but who persevere together in the midst of the world, in its depths, in the daily life and subjugation of the world. They persevere because they are, in their own curious way, true to this existence, and they steadfastly fix their gaze on that most unique place in the world where they witness, in amazement, the overcoming of the curse, the most profound yes of God to the world. Here, in the midst of the dying, torn, and thirsting world, something becomes evident to those who can believe, believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here is the absolute miracle has occurred. Here the law of death is shattered; here the kingdom of God itself comes to us, in our world; here is God's declaration to the world, God's blessing, which annuls the curse. This is the event that alone kindles the prayer for the kingdom. It is in this very event that the old Earth is affirmed and God is hailed as lord of the Earth; and it is against this event that overcomes, breaks through, and destroys the cursed Earth and promises the new Earth. God's kingdom is the kingdom of resurrection on Earth."

- Bonhoeffer, "Thy Kingdom Come!," 290-291.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Käsemann on Paul and early Catholicism

In researching for a final paper, I came across this incredible (and lengthy) excerpt, which nicely highlights Käsemann's insistence upon the primacy of christology above all else, which is never eclipsed by or contingent upon ecclesiology or anthropology:

"The theme 'Paul and early catholicism' catches sight of only a segment of that radical transformation which led to the ancient Church. However, this segment has paradigmatic significance. Here it becomes apparent that the nascent catholicism was the historically necessary outcome of an original Christianity whose apocalyptic expectation has not been fulfilled. It may likewise become clear that - expressed or not - the mark of nascent catholicism is the message about the world-pervading Church as the reality of the kingdom of Christ on earth. We have thus arrived at a perspective relative to the total problem and can now go on to test its accuracy once more in detail.

Against my exposition it will probably be objected that Paul himself already understood the Church as the world-pervading domain of Christ; this understanding did not begin with early catholicism. In itself, such an observation is completely accurate, as is shown by the Pauline motif of the Church as the body of Christ. But I do not agree with the reasoning behind it, which is my opinion isolates the phenomenon instead of locating it historically. I would like to reverse the process: That observation shows that the Pauline concept of the Church pave the way for the early catholic view. Just as the apostle prescribed for his successors the horizon of their mission, so he also presented them with the basic theme of their theology. He was not by any means assimilated into their salvation history solely as a prisoner of their illusions. They did not comprehend his distinctiveness, but they found something in his personal and theological legacy which illuminated their own reality. For the conception of the Church as the body of Christ is the adequate expression for a community which carries on a worldwide mission in the name of Christ. In this respect it far surpasses the other conceptions of the people of God and the family of God. It is not accidental that this conception has been carried over into the doctrine of the mystical body of Christ, and in the process was developed and modified, as is characteristic of catholicism generally. Its deepest theological significance, however, lay in the fact that it inseparably linked ecclesiology and christology together and thus made the Church an integral factor in the salvation event.

No where is this more apparent than in the letter to the Ephesians, which for that very reason has become the classical document for all doctrine concerning the Church. Here even the connection between ecclesiology and christology is given a sacramental basis, so that becoming a disciple of Jesus is no longer the basis but the consequence of being a Christian. The Church grows as it were out of baptism, and in the celebration of the Lord's Supper it is constantly reunited out of all the dispersion to which its members are subject in everyday life. The decisive factor here is that men do not act on their own but are passively joined to the salvation event. As the sole actor, Christ mediates himself to those for whom he died and over whom he chooses now to reign. The drama of salvation is not concluded with Easter. Rather, precisely for the sake of the Easter event, it has an earthly continuation, because the exalted one desires to manifest himself as Lord of the world. ...

Even this view can claim a precedent in Paul. He did in fact make the sacramental incorporation into the worldwide body of Christ the criterion of being a Christian, and thus rejected a mere historical or ethical connection with Jesus of Nazareth as this criterion. For him also the lordship of Christ on earth rests on the fact that the exalted Lord, present in the Church, binds his own to himself and to one another. By endowing them with the Spirit, he makes them capable of permeating the old world as the inbreaking of the new, following his own precedent, and thus of demonstrating his omnipotence in every place and time. ...

For [Paul], the sacrament grants no guarantee of salvation, but makes it possible the overcoming of the world effected by the Spirit through a faith under threat by the world. It therefore opens up the dialectic of Christian existence, which is both under temptation and determined by the Lord at the same time. The reality of the new life stands and falls with the promise that God remains faithful and does not abandon his handiwork. Therefore statements about the sacrament are paralleled, and in a certain way even paralysed, by others about the gospel or faith. The Church is the world under the promise and commandment of the heavenly Lord, the host of those placed under the word and thus summoned ever anew to the exodus of the people of God. This means that Christian existence is no manageable phenomenon within the bounds of a clearly defined cultic society, and the effect of the sacraments can not be described as formulas ex opere operato. For the Giver cannot be separated from his gift and, on the other hand, he is not identical with his means of salvation, but he remains Lord and Judge over and in his gifts.

There is for Paul no extension of the earthly Jesus in the Church as the earthly deputy of the exalted one. It is just where he speaks of the body of Christ that christology and ecclesiology are not interchangeable. The Lord's domain manifests the Lord, but it does not stand in his stead and take possession of him. The body is the field and instrument of the Spirit, not its substitute or its fetters. Paul is utterly misunderstood if one regards the primacy of Christ over his Church as meaning anything other than the exclusive lordship of Christ. If the Pauline motif is used in another sense, the apostle necessarily, though against his will, becomes the pioneer of early catholic Christianity."

- Ernst Käsemann, "Paul and Early Catholicism," in New Testament Questions of Today, 242-245, emphasis added.