Sunday, November 27, 2011

Nonviolent Resistance and Triumph Over Oppression.

I can count on one hand how many times I've been so spiritually moved and humbled by someone's words. This simply leaves you speechless:

"I realize that [the nonviolent] approach will mean suffering and sacrifice. It may mean going to jail. If such is the case the resister must be willing to fill the jail houses of the South. It may even mean physical death. But if physical death is the price that a man must pay to free his children and his white brethen from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing could be more redemptive. This is the type of soul force that I am convinced will triumph over the physical force of the oppressor."

- Martin Luther King, Jr., "The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness" in I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World, 69.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Barth's Romans.

As I was attempting to switch places in my room to read this evening, I accidentally knocked over a book. When I picked it up, I realized the book I knocked over was Barth's infamous The Epistle to the Romans. I had to read this entire book in one week about two years ago for class. I flipped through to see all the markings as this was the second book I had ever read by Mr. Barth. But I stumbled across this particular excerpt at the end of chapter two, which includes lots of underlining and two words next to it: "so beautiful." And it still is:
Consequently, His action must be exercised invisibly and in a manner wholly contrary to our expectation. God does not live by the idea of justice with which we provide Him. He is His own justice. He is not one cause among many; He is not the final solution which we propound to the problem of life. Therefore His appearance is incomprehensible and without known occasion, and His judgment is according to His own justice. And yet, there is a claim to salvation from the wrath of God: the claim IS where every claim is surrendered and broken down by God Himself: where His negation is final and His wrath unavoidable; when God is recognized as God. The claim IS where the history of the relation between God and man begins; where there is no history to record, because it only occurs, and occurs eternally. The claim IS when men dare - but even this is no recipe for blessedness but only the eternal ground of its perception - to go forth into the fresh air and to love the undiscoverable God. And this occurrence IS - in Jesus Christ.

- Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 76.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Women as Theologians?

Given my limited time recently, it seems I only have the chance to post interesting excerpts I find from assigned readings. This post will be the same. But this text was particularly meaningful to me. I am currently pursuing my second masters degree and this is my fourth year of graduate studies. These past four years have been filled with a lot of interesting experiences as a female seeking a theological education. Without attempting to essentialize any specific qualities or traits, I continually find that I think very differently from my male peers. I process information differently, I learn differently, and I relate to others in theological conversations differently (and sometimes this difference is seen as negative). Since I have had very few female peers studying systematic theology at my previous school, I don't have any way to validate whether or not this is simply because I am not, in fact, a male or if this seeming alienation is a much more personal otherness that I alone inhabit. Regardless, I have felt like "the Other" as a woman studying theology both in more conservative and progressive circles.

One main way in which I feel different is the neutrality that men seemingly possess (and Shaw highlights this) when engaging the theological. Even if some men are particularly charismatic or impassioned, I find that there is still a level of neutrality and detachment that is considered proper, and good. But to me, my theological interests are a direct outworking of an existential commitment to Jesus Christ. Therefore, ideas and concepts are not merely interesting or intellectually stimulating, but radically shape and influence various parts of my life. And I welcome this integration. However, at times I have felt shamed for how emotionally and spiritually "attached" I am to the process of becoming a theologian.

In the following (lengthy) excerpt, Jane Shaw talks about the difficulties that women face when seeking to be theologians and how strict and oppressive binaries exist between men and women in relation to their respective identities as engendered thinkers. It was quite comforting to read a woman who articulates my questions, concerns, and struggles as one who constantly struggles to understand what it means to be a Christian, a woman, and an (aspiring) theologian:
We need to ask: how can women forge our identities as people of faith who are gendered as female and think about God? How is that possible when religious experiences and ideas have been read as mystical, as signs of possession or prophecy, as healing gifts, but not as theology? How do we retain all those vital elements of religious experience, profound components of our relationship with God, and at the same time write and speak theologically? In many ways I am asking an old question - how do we relate the life of the mind to the life of the spirit? - but I am adding the twist of gender. Is it possible for women, constructed as 'feminine', to incorporate and embrace all these elements: the spiritual, the intellectual, and embodied religious experience More fundamental than the question of the possible compatibility of feminism and Christianity is this complex set of questions about the (in)compatibility of being a woman, a thinker and a person of Christian faith ...

How then is it possible for women to have a subject position such that we can think, speak and write theologically, and simultaneously have a spiritual life which is healthily connected to the psyche, body and emotions, when the characteristics of woman have been constructed as incompatible with the qualities which constitute an apparently legitimate theologian; that is, male, rational, often clerical, disembodied and supposedly neutral? The poststructuralist critique of an Enlightenment, rational, self is helpful for women (and others constructed as being on the side of irrationality) because it lays bare the ways in which human beings have been constructed as 'female' and 'male', as embodied and disembodied, as feelers and thinkers, as those who experience God in an emotional way and as those who can think and write about God in a systematic way. Such a critique shows that qualities apparently required for the writing of theology are only arbitrarily assigned to women rather than to men, though that arbitrariness is deeply associated with the wielding and retention of power. Who gets to speak and write publicly about God is a political matter; it is about power. Conversely, the association of woman with the body and emotions, whereby our experiences of God are assigned to the realm of mysticism, possession and the like, rather than formal theology, is also at one level arbitrary and at another level thoroughly related to the exercise of power. ...

Such a rethinking of and through our identities is necessary if we are not to fall into the kind of crisis which befell Bondi when, in order to write theologically, she tried to take on the male rational subject position and ignored the emotional, the spiritual and the embodied. In this process of rethinking, I do not imagine that we shall arrive at any easy compatibility between feminism and Christianity, and I do not think that that should be our goal. I shall never find myself agreeing with all the church's doctrines and political positions, and yet I can still find myself spiritually nourished and sustained by regular attendance at worship and participation in Christian communities. Furthermore, by suggesting alternative understandings of, and roles for, men and women, in presenting our experiences and thinking about God as theology, and in trying to integrate the rational, the spiritual and the embodied, we shall be challenging the 'status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true' (Foucault) in our Christian communities and in the church at large. This is not a comfortable position to be in: the incompatibilities and conflicts may seem impossible at times. But staying with such a stance is a matter of faith if we believe that the gospel calls us to build the kingdom of heaven on earth, to seek justice in all that we do, because God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. And so finally I ask not whether Christianity is viable for feminists, but whether Christianity is viable without feminists and the multiple voices, work and perspectives of other marginalized groups; whether the church can, in good conscience, fail to acknowledge that such work is indeed theology?
- Jane Shaw, "Women, Rationality and Theology" in Swallowing a Fishbone? Feminist Theologians Debate Christianity, 59, 63-65.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Poor and the Kingdom of God.

"Blessed are you poor for yours is the Kingdom of God" does not mean, it seems to us: "Accept your poverty because later this injustice will be compensated for in the Kingdom of God." If we believe that the Kingdom of God is a gift which is received in history, and if we believe, as the eschatological promises - so charged with human and historical content - indicate to us, that the Kingdom of God necessarily implies the reestablishment of justice in this world, then we must believe that Christ says that the poor are blessed because the Kingdom of God has begun: "The time has come; the Kingdom of God is upon you" (Mark 1:15). In other words, the elimination of the exploitation and poverty that prevent the poor from being fully human has begun; a Kingdom of justice which goes even beyond what they could have hoped for has begun. They are blessed because the coming of the Kingdom will put an end to their poverty by creating a world of fellowship. They are blessed because the Messiah will open the eyes of the blind and will give bread to the hungry. Situated in the prophetic perspective, the text in Luke [6:20] uses the term poor in the tradition of the first major line of thought we have studied: poverty is an evil and therefore incompatible with the Kingdom of God, which has come in its fullness into history and embraces the totality of human existence.
-- Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation, 170-171.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Barth's Actualistic Ontology.

This "true profundity", as Nimmo calls it in the following lucid excerpt, is why I appreciate Barth's theology as much as I do. There is no other God except the God revealed in Jesus Christ. This is the good news of the Gospel. God is truly with us and for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is times when you stumble across passages like these when study quickly becomes doxology:

"Barth's actualistic ontology goes far beyond the dynamism of God as a Being in act, however: the true profundity of his actualistic ontology lies in the statement that God in Godself is 'not another than He is in His works'. The true identity of God, in other words, is revealed in the works of God. In the act of revelation, posits Barth, God declares the reality of God: 'not only His reality for us - certainly that - but at the same time His own, inner, proper reality, behind which and above which there is no other'. The ways and works of God thus correspond perfectly to the being of God - the essence of God to the existence of God."

- Paul Nimmo, Being in Action: The Theological Shape of Barth's Ethical Vision, 7.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Question is the Answer.

I'm preaching for the first time in my life tomorrow morning as I am a chaplain at a psychiatric hospital. I'm planning to preach on God's solidarity with the poor, oppressed, helpless, and hopeless through His own experiences in the suffering of Jesus Christ's life and death. I have experienced a wide range of emotions this week, but I've gleaned a lot of comfort from Karl Barth's writings on the task of preaching the Word of God. Here's something that was particularly meaningful to me amidst my preparation:

"Our questions about human life, even in their highest forms, are mere questions to which the answers sought are additional and must be matched to them. But as the Bible takes these questions, translating them into the unescapable question about God, one simply cannot ask of hear the "question" without hearing the answer. The person who says that the Bible leads us to where finally we hear only a great No or see a great void, proves only that he has not yet been led thither. This No is really Yes. This judgment is grace. This condemnation is forgiveness. This death is life. This hell is heaven. This fearful God is a loving father who takes the prodigal into his arms. The crucified is the one raised from the dead. And the explanation of the cross as such is eternal life. No other additional thing needs to be joined to the question. The question is the answer."

- Karl Barth, "The Need of Christian Preaching" in The Word of God and the Word of Man, 120.