Wednesday, April 26, 2006

My Sabbath Paper

I’m writing a paper right now that argues that sabbath-keeping and other forms of Christian practice (monasticism, prayer disciplines, even liturgy I suppose) are a form of resistance to the numbing, homogenizing, market-driven forces of what some cultural critics term “the culture industry” or “spectacle.”  I think this is interesting for a number of reasons: first it offers an interesting alternative to the kinds of resistance evidenced by subcultural avant-garde movements like dada or punk.  It does similar work – a resounding “no” to the cultural forces that tell us to buy our identities and force us into monotonous existence.  But it does it in a different way.  It is in some ways less radical – only one day a week, we choose to not participate.  In other ways it is better because it is a turn, not only away from consumerism and competition and unending labor, but TOWARD something.  Rather than leave us with the nihilism of Debord and others, Christian practice like Sabbath-keeping gives us something to affirm as well: communion with God, human community, our own health.  Of course, this argument is not without problems.  Punks and Situationists would reject this solution out of hand – isn’t the church just the Man we’re trying to stick it to?  Sabbath-keeping isn’t remotely as sexy as avant-garde art and rebellion.  Also, the affirmation of community that I see as a positive outcome of Christian practice runs counter to the extreme individualism and autonomy intended by these other resistant movements.

I posted about this Barbara Brown Taylor article that supports my argument nearly a year ago.  I’m now exploring the ways that this works and the problems with it, and for whom it works.  Those interested in reading a longer exploration can ask for the paper in a few weeks.  I just thought I’d throw the ideas out there for the benefit/discussion of my interested readers.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Multifaceted Evangelicals in the News (for once)

A recent NY Times article talks about divisions among evangelical Christianity.  I was talking about it with Jim and we decided that these kinds of spectrum representations of Christianity are sometimes helpful, but most often problematic (my friend Kristy agrees).  One of the more obvious difficulties is that it is intensely focused on the white American church, to the exclusion of the significant African American tradition.  Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t talk about White American Evangelicalism, it is certainly a group that has a lot of cultural capital right now, not to mention political sway, but it certainly simplifies the landscape of the Christian Church.

Other interesting questions, though, arise from this piece, that have been part of the church dialogue for a while now.  How do we find public space for more nuanced views of religion and culture and politics, away from the fundamentalists who seem to get the most media facetime?  How do we engage culture without sacrificing Christian identity?  I think it’s unfair of the writer (even if he is presenting a majority opinion) to call emergent theology “watered down.”  I think it is a disservice to postmodern theologians to call their perspective less rigorous or serious.

I also think it is a testament to the media’s usual framing of Protestant Christians especially as only the Christian right, that the writer seems a bit awkward in framing evangelicals who are concerned more about typically progressive issues like global warming and AIDS.  The tendency of public debate in this country to polarize leaves little space for moderates, or highly nuanced views of anything, but good for the New York Times to at least observe that things in American Christianity are not just Dobson and Fallwell.  

Monday, April 10, 2006

religious expression

Kristen posted about this article today – Evangelical Christians (some at Georgia Tech) are suing for the right to protest anti-discrimination policies meant to protect homosexuals.  They claim speaking out against homosexuality is part of their religion and they should be allowed to do so.  Here’s the problem, though.  The constitution never said you had a right to enforce your religious views on other people.  In fact, that’s the whole POINT of religious freedom – the Christians who came here in the first place wanted to make sure they could practice Christianity without other people making them change.  So why, now, do Evangelicals think it is within their rights to harass, bully, and otherwise discredit homosexuals.  Even if I did agree that homosexuality was sinful (and I don’t) I don’t think it is biblically mandated or a constitutional right that these people should persecute homosexuals.  The Bible, and especially the new testament, lead me to believe that Gentiles are not under the law.  So I’m not sure where, exactly, these people get off thinking it is part of their religious practice – just like worship and prayer – to tell other people what they should or shouldn’t be.  I really think religious expression that makes other people miserable is a different thing from, say, public prayer.  And this quote was ridiculous:

"Think how marginalized racists are," said Baylor, who directs the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom. "If we don't address this now, it will only get worse."

That’s right.  Those poor racists.  Somehow I don’t feel bad about marginalizing people because they want to marginalize others because of who they are.  I think conservatives like to call that a “preemptive strike”…

Sunday, April 09, 2006

On Palm Sunday

Ever since WA training I’ve been a little uncomfortable with the way a lot of people sing “Blessed Be Your Name.”  It’s a song taken out of the book of Job, and it’s so happy-clappy, often, that it seems the congregation isn’t even aware of the words they are singing.  “you give and take away… Lord blessed be your name.”  I always wonder if we are really willing to say those things along with Job, even as we often do, bouncing up and down, eyes closed, hands raised.

It seemed appropriate for Palm Sunday though.  Palm Sunday, with the crucifixion looming less than a week away.  The people of Jerusalem waving palm branches and shouting hosanna!  Palm Sunday, like that song, has the same mix of impending horror and frantic joy.  It seems these people have no idea what’s to come, and worse, they are the cause of it.

And I wonder what other terrors we are ignoring as we bounce along with our praise songs.  Whose tragedies do we ignore as we shout out “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

but I'm not oppressed...

So I’ve been thinking a lot about inequality, as one does in grad school.  And I can whine all I like about sexism.  I’ve felt the expectations that I act, interact, and perform in certain ways.  I’ve had experiences where men have said rude things about my ability, or I felt like I was considered less qualified than someone else because I’m a young woman.  But really, in the long run, I have things pretty good.  I’m white, heterosexual, educated, protestant, upper middle class (well, my parents are, I’m in grad school…).  So I’m left with this question: what do you do when you are on the other side of the injustice?  What am I to do as a young, relatively powerless, but clearly not as powerless as some people, intellectual?

I can’t speak for these underrepresented groups.  That’s condescending.  Not to mention that I have no expertise in what they want or need, or how to change things in a way that would make them happier.  But I don’t see doing nothing as an option.  I’m not in a position where I can really help the downtrodden move up in society, even on the individual level (at least not yet).  So, what DO we do?

I think one thing is to listen.  To stop talking all the time, but to ask good questions and to listen to people who don’t always get listened to.  Perhaps it is our job to find the smart voices and amplify them.  But I really think that people in powerful positions, or positions of privilege, never go wrong with listening more.  So I guess my next job is to figure out what exactly it is that I should be listening for.  But I think Barbara Ehrenreich has one good idea.  I think politics is another way – to pay attention to whose interests politicians are acting in, and vote for further justice.  Any ideas, oh faithful readers?