Jesus Amidst The Ruins

Nov 23 2014 @ 5:47pm

Asseenfromthecross-vi

Alice Su has spent six weeks reporting from Iraq, where, as she puts it, “faith seems saturated in hatred and blood.” In an essay about coming to terms with what it means to believe in God in the face of the devastation and suffering she’s witnessed, Su re-reads the gospels’ accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus:

What the hell is this Gospel? Why would the disciples believe it, as Jesus died and Roman rule continued? Why should I believe it, as I stand in front of a Yazidi woman whose daughter is enslaved, counting atrocities in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and Sudan, feeling like the smallest person in the world, taking notes and knowing they’ll do nothing but elicit some fleeting public sympathy and exert a featherweight bit of pressure on military and political powers?

In Iraq, I consider this unlikely message: Jesus did not end suffering and injustice, but He will end them. He did not fight the way the world fights, with swords and guns and drones and jingoistic anthems. He did not win an ethno-nationalist victory for the Jews. He did not stop Lazarus from dying, nor did he heal every person or raise every Beloved from the dead.

Christ rejected Pharisees and went to the sinners, even to the Gentiles. He was like a Palestinian going to the Israelis, a Sunni going to the Shia, a Kurd going to an Arab, a Yazidi going to an ISIS fighter. He crossed all the lines. He didn’t form a new club to supersede all the others. He said, being in a club won’t save you. Nothing you do will ever save you. Stop trying to be good. Seek God, repent and ask to be saved.

He washed feet.

Then He died.

(Image: The Crucifixion, seen from the Cross, by James Tissot, late 19th century, via Wikimedia Commons)

Racial Justice In The Real World

Nov 23 2014 @ 4:58pm

In a wonky but rewarding interview, political philosopher Charles Mills asserts the need for liberal theory to better grapple with racial justice. He turns to a term – the “epistemology of ignorance” – from his book The Racial Contract to help explain the complexities of doing so:

The phrasing (“epistemology of ignorance”) was calculatedly designed by me to be attention-getting through appearing to be oxymoronic. I was trying to capture the idea of norms of cognition that so function as to work against successful cognition. Systems of domination affect us not merely in terms of material advantage and disadvantage, but also in terms of likelihoods of getting things right or wrong, since unfair social privilege reproduces itself in part through people learning to see and feel about the world in ways that accommodate injustice. “Ignorance” is actively reproduced and is resistant to elimination. This is, of course, an old insight of the left tradition with respect to class. I was just translating it into a different vocabulary and applying it to race. So one can see the idea (and my later work on “white ignorance”) as my attempt to contribute to the new “social epistemology,” which breaks with traditional Cartesian epistemological individualism, but in my opinion needs to focus more on social oppression than it currently does.

Mills goes on to make a related point, that we “need to ask how it came about, and has come to seem normal, that ‘social justice’ as a philosophical concept has become so detached from the concerns of actual social justice movements”:

Read On

Mental Health Break

Nov 23 2014 @ 4:20pm

So. Many. Colors:

The Mid-Life Rebound

Nov 23 2014 @ 3:34pm

Jonathan Rauch isn’t alone in preferring his 50s to his 40s:

Studies show quite strongly that people’s satisfaction with their life increases, on average, from their early 50s on through their 60s and 70s and even beyond – for many until disability and final illness exact their toll toward the very end (at which point it’s hard to generalize). In a 2011 study, for example, the Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen and seven colleagues found that “the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade” – a finding that is “often met with disbelief in both the general population and the research community,” despite its strength. …

Rauch adds, “In my own case, what seems most relevant is a change frequently described both in popular lore and in the research literature – for some reason, I became more accepting of my limitations”:

Read On

We’ve featured the work of Matthew Vines many times before, and want to highlight a speech given at a conference recently held by his organization, The Reformation Project. A keynote speaker, David Gushee, one of the foremost evangelical ethicists in the United States, used the occasion to announce his support for the full-inclusion of LGBT Christians in the Church. The above video of Gushee’s remarks is longer than we usually post, but it’s worth watching in full. (You can read a transcript of his remarks here.) For a sense of why this matters, Jonathan Merritt sketches Gushee’s place in the evangelical world:

It is difficult to overstate the potential impact of Gushee’s defection. His Christian ethics textbook, “Kingdom Ethics,” co-authored with the late Glen Stassen, is widely respected and was named a 2004 Christianity Today book of the year. He serves as theologian-in-residence for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a coalition of 15 theological schools, 150 ministries, and 1,800 Baptist churches nationwide.

While other pro-LGBT Christian activists — including Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network and Matthew Vines, author of “God and the Gay Christian” — have been dismissed in some circles as wet-behind-the-ears youngsters without formal theological training, Gushee, 52, is a scholar with impeccable credentials. He can add intellectual heft to what has largely been a youth-led movement, and is not someone who can be easily dismissed.

Gushee summarizes his approach to the issue this way:

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Famous At Eighty

Nov 23 2014 @ 1:25pm

Reviewing Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, a new biography of the British novelist, Alan Hollinghurst reminds us of her late-in-life flowering as a writer:

She published her first book, a biography of the artist Edward Burne-Jones, when she was fifty-eight; her first novel appeared when she was sixty. She was, as she said, “an old writer who had never been a young one.” How different it would have been if, like her close contemporaries Muriel Spark, Angus Wilson, and Anthony Burgess, she had started publishing fiction in the 1950s, if she’d moved in the shifting currents of influence and allegiance and left her mark on the literary history of those decades. But as it happened she made her debut at the age when others are going off or giving up, and after diffident beginnings rapidly emerged as an utterly distinctive talent, with no obvious debts to anybody. In America she achieved fame at the age of eighty with The Blue Flower, her finest and most demanding book, and also her last. She died, aged eighty-three, in 2000.

This triumph of late productivity is unavoidably tied to loss, the paradoxical freedoms of bereavement. Edward Burne-Jones was written immediately after her father died. Dedicated to her children, it reaches back into the cultural world of the generation before her own that she had always found so fascinating: it is a passing on of knowledge. Her first novel, The Golden Child, a “joke” as she called it, was written to amuse her gravely ill husband Desmond Fitzgerald, and is dedicated, posthumously, to him. Everything that followed is thus the product of a near quarter-century of widowhood.

James Wood, meanwhile, parses her distinctively stylish prose:

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An Open Faith In Burma

Nov 23 2014 @ 12:38pm

dish_natpwe

While attending a nat pwe – a festival devoted to the folk spirits, or nats, of Burmese tradition – Will Boast finds another side to the celebration:

I’d been told by locals that nat pwes were also “gay” festivals and to expect to see “many ladyboys.” The junta’s attempts to subdue nat worship had an unintended effect: the role of the nat wife [or nat kadaw] was embraced by an already marginalized group. Homosexuality is illegal in Burma and has been since its British colonizers instituted a late-nineteenth-century ban on “intercourse against the order of nature.”

Government restrictions opened a professional vacuum, says scholar Tamara C. Ho. Becoming a nat kadaw offered the achauk—a Burmese term for gay and transgender men—both “a vocation and queer visibility.”

Anthropologists differ in their readings of the gendered aspects of nat worship. Still, nowhere else in Burma, not even in vast, multi-ethnic Yangon, did I see any cross-dressing or open displays of affection between men. In a country marked by socially conservative, austere Buddhist ways, the nat pwe, it seems, provides a rare moment during which the usual rules can be suspended.

(Image of male dancer at nat pwe festival by Flickr user Thomas)

Faith Moves In Mysterious Ways

Nov 23 2014 @ 11:49am

After reflecting on the way Mormons have changed their teachings on polygamy and race, Will Saletan posits that the LDS Church will come to affirm the lives and loves of gay people:

When you look back at these stories—not just the reported facts, but the way the church has recast them—you can see how a reversal on homosexuality might unfold. First there’s a shift in the surrounding culture. Then there’s political and legal pressure. Meanwhile, LDS leaders have to grapple with the pain of gay Mormons—now acknowledged by the church as “same-sex attracted”—who sacrifice for an institution that forbids them to love and marry. Within the church hierarchy, less conservative voices gradually replace leaders who have died or stepped down. Eventually, the time is right for a revelation. When you pray hard enough, and you know what you want to hear, you’ll hear it.

The church is well along this path. Two years ago, it acknowledged homosexuality as a deeply ingrained condition and said it “should not be viewed as a disease.” Today, in its essay on polygamy, the church affirms its defense of traditional marriage, but with a caveat. “Marriage between one man and one woman is God’s standard for marriage,” the essay concludes—“unless He declares otherwise, which He did through His prophet, Joseph Smith.” It happened once. In fact, it happened twice. When the time is right, it’ll happen again.

Not so fast, Douthat replies.

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On The Morality Of Mind Games

Nov 23 2014 @ 11:11am

Michael Thomsen describes the objective of Ether One, a game that recreates the experience of dementia for the player: “Your job is to dive into the mind of Jean Thompson, a sixty-nine-year-old woman diagnosed with dementia, and retrieve a series of lost memories.” Players are encouraged to “collect” memories, represented by tchotchkes and mementos that can only be carried one at a time:

As a player, you’re never sure what’s important and what isn’t, so the system encourages you to take everything. This hoarding is repaid with periodic puzzles, such as a door with a numeric lock whose code can be found on the bottom of a previously collected mug. As the game progresses, these puzzles increase in complexity, as does the array of random objects filling the shelves. The collection gradually overwhelms the player’s ability to remember just where all of these things came from and why they seemed important enough to retrieve. Why did I bring this plate all the way back here? Whose hat is this supposed to be again? It’s a tidy simulation of the cognitive degradation of dementia.

Thomsen goes on to ponder the moral implications of games designed to simulate mental illness:

If a game is going to be a game, in the sense of a progressive series of challenges leading to a definite end state, it can’t represent dementia or Alzheimer’s with anything other than a self-conscious artifice. We’re used to suspending some disbelief to enjoy shooting games, but it feels like bad faith to say that a disease should be the basis of a similar kind of entertainment. Our desire to entertain ourselves within systems that make triviality and tragedy indistinguishable says more about us than the depicted subjects. If violent war games are driven by delusional power fantasies, then empathy games are driven by a parallel delusion about how caring we are in reality.

The View From Your Window

Nov 23 2014 @ 10:34am

Budapest-Hungary-12-58 pm

Budapest, Hungary, 12.58 pm