Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My Book
My book of photographs, creó Dios los cielos y la tierra, is now available here.
The collection shows images from my travels this summer in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Couples old and young, architecture, Mayan ruins, Cathedrals, children, food, life, religion, art. It's all there. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Rene Girard and the Theology of the Cross
I have recently found an English tranlsation of a 2004 review of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ by Rene Girard. His thought on the myth religions vs. Christianity seems to speak to the truth of the theology of the cross. A theological of the cross sees a thing for what it is.
The full text (in English) is here.
Here is a significant excerpt:

Almost all religions are, I believe, rooted in collective violence analogous to that which is described or suggested not only in the Gospels and the book of Job, but also in the songs of the Suffering Servant in second Isaiah, as well as in many Psalms. Pious Christians and Jews have wrongly refused to reflect on these resemblances between their sacred books and myths. An attentive comparison reveals that beyond these resemblances, but also because of them, we can observe a difference, at once subtle and gigantic, between the mythical on one side, and the Judaic and the Christian on the other, which makes the Judaeo-Christian incomparable with respect to the most objective truth. Unlike the myths that systematically adopt the point of view of the crowd against the victim, because they are conceived and told by the lynchers, and thus they always see the victim as guilty (as in the incredible combination of parricide and incest that Oedipus is accused of, for example), our Scriptures, the great biblical and Christian texts, acquit the victims of the crowd, and this is exactly what the Gospels do in the case of Jesus. This is what Mel Gibson shows.

Whereas myths incessantly repeat the murderous delusions of crowds of persecution (which are always analogous to those of the Passion), because this illusion satisfies the community and furnishes an idol around which it can come together, the greatest biblical texts, culminating in the Gospels, reveal the essentially deceptive and criminal character of crowd phenomena, on which the mythologies of the world are based.

In my view, there are two principal attitudes in human history: there is the mythological, which tries to dissimulate violence, because in the final analysis, it is on unjust violence that human communities are founded. This is what we all do when we give in to our instincts. We try to cover the nudity of human violence with Noah’s cloak. And we turn away if necessary, in order not to expose ourselves to the contagious force of violence by looking at it too closely.

This attitude is too universal to be condemned. This is in fact the attitude of the greatest Greek philosophers, in particular Plato, who condemns Homer and all the poets because they take the liberty of describing in their works the violence that the myths attribute to the gods of the city. The great philosopher sees in this brazen revelation a source of disorder, a great danger for the entire society.

This is certainly the religious attitude that is the most widely shared, the most normal, the most natural to man. And today it is more universal than ever, for modernized believers, Christians as well as Jews, have at least partially adopted it.

The other attitude is much rarer; it is even unique. It is found only in the great moments of biblical and Christian inspiration. It consists not in chaste dissimulation but, on the contrary, in the revelation of violence in all its injustice and all its delusion, everywhere where it is possible to observe it. This is the attitude of the book of Job, and it is the attitude of the Gospels. It is the bolder of the two attitudes, and in my view, the greater. It is the attitude that has allowed us to discover the innocence of most of the victims that even the most religious people over the course of history have never ceased to persecute and kill. This is the common inspiration of Judaism and Christianity, and it is the key, one must hope, to their future reconciliation. It is about the heroic inclination to put the truth above even the social order. It is to this enterprise, it seems to me, that Mel Gibson’s film makes every effort to be faithful.

Translated by Robert Doran

Also: There is a fantastic recent article abour Girard's view that Europe is on the verge of a new Christian renaissance. Philosohies and ideologies are dead, he says. Relativism has failed. Only religion offers anything. Here's a quote:
"In my opinion, Christianity proposes a solution to these problems precisely because it demonstrates that the obstacles, the limits that individuals put on one another serve to avoid a certain type of conflicts."

The French academic continues: "If it was really understood that Jesus is the universal victim who came precisely to surmount these conflicts, the problem would be solved."

According to the anthropologist, "Christianity is a revelation of love" but also "a revelation of truth" because "in Christianity, truth and love coincide and are one and the same."
Click here to read all.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Christianity Today recently published an article that, I believe, shows in part how real apologetics works. The articles is by Preston Jones, a Christian college professor who really likes punk rock. His story: He writes the (atheist) lead singer of Bad Religion. A lengthy correspondence ensues on issues of science, faith, life, etc. Now published as a book. What I appreciate about the prof's approach is his eschewing of debate and the idea of "winning." He also rejects the silly manipulative "listening" that is now supposed to be evangelistic.
A neat piece.

Some highlights...

On "Debate":
I've tried to resist the construal of our correspondence as a "debate." Yes, we disagreed and went at each other, but we didn't debate.

Debate is about winning, and that's important in many contexts. But I didn't care about winning. Nor did I care about "listening" in the gushy, politically correct sort of way associated with people-friendly evangelism.

On Evolution:
In those months of dialogue I also saw the devastation wrought by the passion for pseudo-scientific theories on natural history among some Christians. Many of my students believe that six-day creationism is an essential Christian belief—that if the first chapters of Genesis can't be taken literally, then the whole Bible is a fraud. What tragic nonsense!

Before Greg and I corresponded, I didn't care. "You wanna believe the earth was created six thousand years ago? Whatever." But Greg helped me see that this kind of gaping ignorance promotes the perception that theologically conservative Christians are the enemies of learning.

I don't believe that scientists, the overwhelming majority of whom conclude that some evolutionary process has been underway, are part of a great demonic plot to undermine the Bible. I don't believe that scientists are lemmings, chirping the same supposedly anti-God tune. Greg's own doctoral dissertation shows that most leading evolutionary biologists don't think that religion and evolution are incompatible.

Yes, there are materialist fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins and William Provine (Greg's advisor) who claim to be stating facts when they're really stating atheistic opinions, but they are easily matched by Christians of high academic stature who acknowledge the evolutionary workings of the natural world—I'm thinking of John Polkinghorne, Kenneth Miller, Owen Gingrich, and Francis Collins.

I really think that Christians need to get over being hung up on evolution, mainly because it seems to have happened, and because there's nothing anti-God about it. And our theologians need to face the implications of evolution for how we think about the Fall and providence, among other things.

Read it all. (PS--From the Gratuitous Name Dropping Department: Owen Gingerich was my undergraduate thesis advisor.)

Spaceballs Returns!
This movie was a formative influence on my childhood. Lines frequently spring to memory ("I can see your Schwartz is as big as mine."). Just saw today that Mel Brooks is turning Spaceballs into a cartoon to debut in 2007. Read it all.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Friday, July 21, 2006

Bono on Grace
I've just finished reading Bono in Conversation (Riverhead 2005), a collection of interviews between the U2 frontman and his long-time friend Michka Assayas, a French writer. It is a wonderful read, with much to ponder. Many passages made me laugh out loud, and others made me think. Lots of revealing stuff about the history of U2. Bono's childhood, and his work in Africa. But I was most struck by Bono's profound understanding of the difference between the theological concepts of Gospel and Law, which he names Grace and Karma, something I've been thinking a lot about lateley. Bono is deeply aware of his own need and just as aware of God's remedy. I'm posting the exchange here (Assayas's questions in bold):

Assayas: As I told you, I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

Bono: Yes, I think it’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

I haven’t heard you talk about that.

I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma and into one of Grace.

Well, that doesn’t make it clearer for me.

You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the Universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “As you reap, so will you sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

I’d be interested to hear that.

That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going it finally be my judge. I’d be in deep trouble. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

The son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world so that what we put out does not come back to us, that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled… It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Lauren Winner's winner of a piece on evangelical abstinence pledges. She rightly sees that "law" doesn't cut it, and only grace and a loving community will affect the transformation the law demands.

Here's an excerpt:

So why is the church's approach to teaching chastity falling short? Consider the popular "True Love Waits" virginity pledge: "Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship."

This pledge and others like it are well meaning but deeply flawed. For starters, there's something disturbing about the assumption that teenagers are passively waiting for their future mates and children, when the New Testament is quite clear that some Christians are called to lifelong celibacy. (Paul, for example, did not have a mate or children, and Dan Brown's fantasies notwithstanding, Jesus's only bride was the church.) Chastity is not merely about passive waiting; it is about actively conforming our bodies to the arc of the Gospel and receiving the Holy Spirit right now.

Pledgers promise to control intense bodily desires simply by exercising their wills. But Christian ethics recognizes that the broken, twisted will can do nothing without rehabilitation by God's grace. Perhaps the centrality of grace is recognized best not in a pledge but in a prayer that names chastity as a gift and beseeches God for the grace to receive it.

The pledges are also cast in highly individualistic terms: I promise that I won't do this or that. As the Methodist bishop William Willimon once wrote: "Decisions are fine. But decisions that are not reinforced and reformed by the community tend to be short-lived."

During our first year of marriage, my husband and I lived in a small apartment inside a church. On Tuesdays, Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon met downstairs. As I got to know some of the regulars, I began to wonder if there wasn't something the church could learn from the 12-step groups in our midst.

Read it all.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Refreshing in its humorous honesty comes this quote from the NYT. The article on stemless wine glasses features a conversation between the writer and Hildegarde Heymann, viticulture professor at UC-Davis:
"Emboldened, I made a confession. 'Riedel recommends only filling the glass one third of the way to enhance aromas,' I told her. 'But I have lots of children, and I drive a lot of car pools, and I have a job. And at the end of the day, sometimes I fill the glass, um, a little higher so I can feel like I am only having one glass.'"
Read it all.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Great Doonesbury comment on Harvard.
Click here.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Another lifestyle choice! From the NYT on couples who live apart ("Living Apart Together," or LAT):
"As much as anything, though, the rise in L.A.T. relationships may be due to a growing unwillingness to compromise, particularly among members of a generation known for their self-involvement."

One wonders what love means when there is no mutual submission and sacrifice. "I love you, but only if you don't ever get in my way."

Read it all.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I've been following the crisis in Zimbabwe for a while, with a mixture of dismay, sadness, and simmering anger. Mugabe gives more evidence for the human capacity for self-deception and staggering ego. People who think the human race is improving, or that people are fundamentally good, need to take a look at Zimbabwe.
Toilet paper in Harare is now over $400... per sheet!
Click here to read all.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

From Stephen Metcalf at Slate:
"I often wish I could be a good Kantian, motivated only by the moral law, the same way I sometimes wish I could be a believing Christian, motivated only by agape. It would be equal parts terror and joy, and as a nice secondary effect, it would sweep away forever the ability of David Brooks or Tom Wolfe to draw any conclusions about a human being from his or her Visa bill or ZIP code."
Read it all.