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.