“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

~ Howard Zinn

Thank you, Howard.

He might disagree, but at least he knows what he disagrees with

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, recently published an article in The Christian Post in response to a recent Newsweek article on polyamory. Despite having strong moral objections to polyamory, he largely presented it fairly and without sensationalism. A few sticking points were dismissive gestures like the phrase “experimented with bisexuality” or putting the name Center For Sex Positive Culture in quotes, but he gave fair definitions of what polyamory is before explaining how it fits into his worldview. While we might strongly disagree, Kudos to Dr. Mohler for his honest engagement of a subject he finds objectionable.

Making Room

I mentioned this on Twitter, but I think it bears further exploration. More and more my expression of my faith and my politics (Christianity and Anarchism) is in gracious hospitality. I’m not always good at it (either the grace, the hospitality or both), but making space for others seems to be the most true way that my beliefs take shape.

Even from the start of Jesus’ narrative, making space is important. No one made space for his parents just before his birth, so they made space for him where they could find it. I often seem to reference Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” when talking about my ideal of working in the world, and I’m going to do so again. In it he sings “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

We live in an inhospitable world. We live in a world of rigidity, of yours and mine, of control and institution. But in that world, there are always little places where the control is broken. Those are the cracks. When Mary and Joseph and whoever else may have been involved go and find a feed trough for the kid, they’re moving in those cracks. Maybe making new ones, holding old ones open or even making existing cracks bigger. They’re making space.

In my world making space means several things. One is the conventional idea of hospitality. I offer physical space to people. They have a place to stay, food to eat, etc. Even that, though, is bigger than it sounds. Making room for people means making sure that they have a place in which they feel comfortable being themselves. It’s only with actually doing that for people that it’s become so important for me. Being in my home is, I hope, a place where people can relax into themselves, not have to be on guard, and feel safe. Especially emotionally. I’ve done that more over the last year or so than I ever have before. I didn’t realize how nourishing it is to me until I started doing it. But whatever I may do to offer, I get back the joy of having real connections with other people, and knowing that I facilitated their connections with others. Hospitality is not a cross to bear. It’s a joy that I share with people. More of our political, ethical and religious practices need to come from joy.

But there’s something more than opening my home in making room for others. It means cultivating an openness to and grace when dealing with other points of view. This part is harder for me, but no less important. Making room for people in the conversation is as important as making physical space for them. Being open to receiving others is at the heart of hospitality. It is non-authoritarian at its root, as I’m not even imposing my reality on them. That’s a lot harder than cooking supper. But the source is still joy, as making room for others in the conversation is where you find those cracks that allow you to really commune with another.

When Jesus said “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” he wasn’t speaking in metaphor. The people we open ourselves to are not acting as substitutes for God. It’s in those real, true connections that are only found in gracious opening that you experience God directly. That’s how the light gets in.

Going beyond opening my home and being open to the other, even when there are significant differences, there is the creation of the space to do this work. The blogs, books and conferences of the emerging church are doing this. I think Kink for All is doing this. And what I’m trying to do right now in starting a poly meetup is doing this. I have a need, and I think others have a need as well, to find connections over this common point, to offer and receive support. In creating a space for this, I am acting out my hospitality.

So, other than the non-imposition of worldview, what has this to do with anarchism? Making space is direct action. It is not relying on any power structure or institution to meet people’s needs. It’s saying “I see this need. I will meet it.” It is also mutual aid. The more we make room for each other, the more we offer to each other, the more we thrive without the need for coercion and force.

I’ve been worrying lately about how on earth I can live my faith and live my politics in a world in which I have material wealth (comparatively) and am privileged by society because of my race, gender and education. And everywhere I looked I found joylessness and asceticism as the solution. I found anger and self-hate over being born into a sin filled world. Kate Bornstein wrote in the preface to Pomosexuals, “it’s too scary to look at without some promise of laughter at the end of the read, some playfulness as a reward to all the painful self-inquisition.” That’s how a felt as I looked for ways to bring my beliefs into practice. All I found were indictments of myself for being born in a fucked up world, and no one seemed to want to work from the joy of existence to fix it.

It came to being in church yesterday, hearing a sermon with so much focus on sin, and being confronted with the sheer absurdity of letting a 4000 year old moral code dictate my ethics. I wasn’t there to hear about adultery, I was there looking for God. And then it came time for communion, and I prayed, “Please, just give me something physical, something tangible in the body and blood.” At this church trays are passed with the bread and “wine” and as I reached to pull the small cup from the tray I found it stuck. This is the second time recently that this has happened. I felt frustrated and thwarted in my search for that tangible connection, but just as the woman with the tray started to whisper “Try another one,” I gave the cup a slight twist and it broke free. As I pulled it toward me Elizabeth whispered, “You always seem to find the stuck ones.”

I laughed. It made sense. I don’t have to break down an oppressive world. I just need to make sure I make enough cracks to keep people from getting stuck in that oppression and hopelessness. I tried not to laugh as the bread dissolved on my tongue. When I want a tangible reminder of God, I only have to make room for that of Her in the people around me. If God is the light, I just need to keep living in the cracks, and inviting others into them. That is disregard for authoritarianism. That is faith in Christ. That is hospitality.

Book Review: Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?

James K. A. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida,Lyotard , and Foucault to Church is the opening book in the “Church and Postmodern Culture” series Smith is editing. Smith’s goal in this volume is to introduce the idea of the three thinkers named in the title and demonstrate how their thoughts can in fact be a boon to Christianity. Smith does this well, ultimately showing that the tearing down of Enlightenment belief in universal reason creates room for those in the Christian narrative to thrive.

The biggest failing of this book, however, is that Smith stops short of applying the tools of postmodernism to Christianity itself, instead making a case for Radical Orthodoxy. Smith continually views Christianity as a single narrative (seemingly that of Creation, Fall, Redemption and End), never making room for the other narratives that can be and are born of the same Scriptures and traditions. It would seem that his reliance on tradition as a place in which Spirit manifests in time and place would make room for the evolution of tradition, but he repeatedly places non-creedal Christianity outside of the realm of tradition, generally equating it with modern evangelical Christianity. (As a slight aside, when I do attend worship services, the church I attend is both liturgical and non-creedal, something Smith is apparently completely unfamiliar with.) To Smith it seems that though tradition speaks to the importance of particularity or time and place, some deviations from tradition are simply too far outside it to still be part of the tradition.

Despite the lack to giving Christianity itself a postmodern treatment, and despite the ultimate case made for Radical Orthodoxy, the book is worth a read to those interested in the place of the Christian faith in an increasingly postmodern culture. The first four chapters do an excellent job of introducing the ideas of Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault and a possible relationship between them and Christianity. Just know that if you’re looking for the place of postmodernism in Christianity, then you’ll have to look elsewhere or use the groundwork done by Smith in all but the last chapter and find that place yourself.

Things I read recently

From James K. A. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, pg 28.

Our Christian faith – and correlatively our account of apologetics – is tainted by modernism when we fail to appreciate the effects of sin on reason. When this role is ignored, we adopt an Enlightenment optimism about the role of a supposedly neutral reason in the recognition of truth. (We also end up committed to “Constantinian” strategies that, under the banner of natural law, seek to build a Christian America.)

From James K. A. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, pg 51.

Deconstruction’s recognition that everything is interpretation opens a space of questioning – a space to call into question the received and dominant interpretations that often claim not to be interpretations at all. As such, deconstruction is interested in interpretations that have been marginalized and sidelined, activating voices that have been silenced. This is the constructive, yea prophetic, aspect of Derrida’s deconstruction: a concern for justice by being concerned about dominant, status quo interpretations that silence those who see differently. Thus, from its inception, deconstruction has been, at root, ethical – concerned for the paradigmatic marginalized described by the Old Testament as “the widow, the orphan and the stranger.” To put it differently: Wall Street and Washington both want us to think that their rendering of the world is “just the way things are.” Deconstruction, by showing the way in which everything is interpretation, empowers us to question the interpretations of trigger-happy presidents and greedy CEOs – in a way not unlike the prophets’ questioning of the dominant interpretations of the world. As such, we are free to interpret the world differently.

Cornel West (or, perhaps, Abraham Joshua Heschel; the text is unclear)

“To prophesy is not to predict an outcome but rather to identify concrete evils.”