So I have been thinking something through for a while now and am finally coming to some conclusions that I think will probably set me on some sort of new theological and perhaps, life, trajectory over the coming months. There are a number of threads that I need to gather up before I set me agenda. Firstly I have to go back a number of years to a seminal moment in my theological journey. Without wasting too much time with detail, I reached a point where I realized that I had essentially 'lost sight of Jesus' through my involvement with the church. The church is essentially all about Paul--I mean Jesus plays a role, but I would argue that it could appear token if we were honest-the bulk of my early church induction was via the life and teaching of Paul. I took a turn and went on a path toward the rediscovery of Jesus--Jesus was the figure of interest to me pre-church, and I felt that I had lost sight of that equation, so I spent a number of years digging into the gospels in an attempt to reconnect with that and rejected Paul rather vehemently.
After a few years, I set about re-framing my view of Paul, which essentially meant rejecting the largely conservative read of Paul that I had been given with a broader, more open and essentially liberal view of the man, but suspicion and dislike still characterized my approach. Around the same time there was a resurgence of interest and talk about Jesus. Everything from Jesus Seminar stuff to Kingdom talk to emerging church Jesus-centred perspectives. But...
So cut to the past few months, maybe year or two, and a growing suspicion in my own mind that Christianity doesn't work, or isn't working, and that in spite of the supposed move toward Jesus things haven't really changed that much. Anyway two things of late, important threads, well three actually. I was at a conference a few weeks back and one of the speakers, who I have heard say the same thing before(and he is not alone in this view either), and whom I respect greatly, was talking about the formation of the church and put forth the idea that two of the key developers of the church, Augustine and Luther were both influenced by Paul, by Pauline theology, and, if there is to be any 're-framing' of Christianity, it is linked to a need to start afresh with Jesus as the basis. Now I have a fundamental problem with this on a number of levels, not the least of which is that I don't actually think that it is possible to do so, it is like trying to build an extension out of wood and attach it to a stone building or something--they don't blend, can't blend.
The second thing is Slavoj Zizek. A few years ago in a book, The Fragile Absolute, he wrote about the move back to Lenin, and his statement that, "there is no Christ outside of St. Paul." In a passage on the re-invention of either Marxism or Christianity, he argues that you cannot bypass Lenin in an effort to get back to an 'authentic' Marx, and you cannot 'fetishize the early authentic followers of Jesus against the Church's institutionalization epitomized by the name of St. Paul.
Third thing. The past few years I have been active in an Episcopal church where the gospel is processed and preached every week. The Lectionary of late, here in Epiphany, has been deep in St. Matthew and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount. So the past few weeks I have been immersed in this profound piece of scripture, literature, thinking and grappling with its content. And I have been continually surprised by the sheer volume of materials written about the SoM--commentaries, books, sermons, reflections--it is a passage of scripture that seems to inspire and enthrall.
And yet, not one mention of it in the writings of Paul. In fact, Paul barely references anything of Jesus' life or teachings, nothing, nada. Now, I find that really interesting, because when it comes right down to it, what we regard as necessary for faith and vital to 'christian' living didn't seem to be so to Paul, and he managed to spread a message and build communities of faith without referencing any part of the sermon on the mount or anything else as far as we know. I'll say it again, that is really fucking interesting to me. I mean there is reference related to eucharist in one of his letters, apart from that what seems to matter to Paul abot Jesus is crucifixion and resurrection, that's it.
This is where I am going to park my car for a while. Diving deep into 'not-red letter christianity' and reflecting on how perhaps we can understand Jesus through Paul.
Our viewing of Frida, the biopic about Mexican artists Frida Kahlo, threw up a number of issues that framed a fairly long discussion in our class this past week. One of the students wanted to know how it was possible to dialogue with a film that expressed ideas about communism, atheism and sexual or gender issues. I think that it exactly why it is ripe for a conversation but not everyone is on the same page, so we took a stab at exploring these issues with a view to some theological grapplings.
"Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritualess situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions."
We began with the full quote from Marx that is usually truncated and turned into something less than its true content. What Marx addresses is the condition of society as much as he addresses the problem of religion. That is not to say that he doesn't critique religion, but his lens is a societal one first and foremost. I am often surprised at the lack of engagement with marxist theory in some theological circles given its pervasive use in other disciplines--it would seem that a bare bones understanding of marxist theory and even marxist critique of religion would be a must--but I guess not.
Our discussion was fruitful in that it managed to put some things on the table that seem to have been largely ignored by many of these students, funny how a film about art became a catalyst for conversation about everything but that topic.
Picasso's Desmoiselles d'Avignon was our foray into the world of modern art this week. Picasso's first major breakthrough perhaps. The real focus of our conversation was the idea that this work presents a shift in the art world--form over content. The subject matter is fairly mundane by art standards--five women in a brothel, originally he planned to place a sailor in the work--nothing particularly provocative by the time Picasso gets around to this--but the new approach, the use of african masks, the loss of singular focus in the painting, the sheer energy Picasso put into this piece to break new ground, throws up this idea that the subject matter, the content, is essentially redundant, what does count is the form. Prior to this art essentially took models from nature and built from there, Picasso reverses this idea and the form, cubism, becomes the focus not the subject. Form over content is a challenge for theologians, given the emphasis on content, on the meaning of things. McLuhan made a similar assertion in his thinking on technology, arguing that content was meaningles etc. So what do we make of this, well, I think it does invite reflection on just how influential and informative a form can be. The form changes the content---if you look at this painting it is very difficult to determine its exact meaning--there are meanings, your eyes have to keep moving around the painting from shape to shape, from one facet to another--you can never, the painting, never allows you to settle on a single perception. There is, of course, a deep theological lesson here--multiplicity of meaning-the form of the text is more important than the content.
Natacha Atlas and Basha Beats released, Egypt Rise to Freedom Mix in honour of the uprising. You can download the song for free on Six Degrees' site.
“This is a remix of material from “Mounqaliba”. We were inspired to do this by the news from Tahrir
Here’s a translation :
Let us stand together and awaken ,
Let us question, learn and study;
Listen, understand and think.
Let us understand,
Permit us to know-
Permit us to know freedom.
Let us know there is a land
where words are the purveyors of truth,
heads are held high,
And human will is regarded above all.
Where the world is not split into a thousand fragments,
Under siege, forgotten, or lost -
Let us perceive of it,
Let us know that place.
Let us know our land,
where words are the purveyors of truth.
You can find the video and many other cool musical things here.
I just wrote a review of King of Limbs and Firefox crashed in the middle of it--bummer, because I was on a roll. I have spent much of the day listening to Radiohead's latest offering and we are swimming in deep musical waters, deep and dark. f this album has a predecessor it is surely Kid A, the electronic influences live on, but in new complexity. I have been realy struck by the layers of what is going on here--the more you listen the more you hear, and listen you must--this is Miles Davis not Peter, Paul and Mary--music you have to find as music that music you. There are so many sounds going on, distortions, loops, samples, strings, disjointed lines and melodies, accoustic guitars that seem to appear out of nowhere, out of context even, and yet, it all works, held together by a fearless group of musicians who continue to push and challenge the boundaries of what makes for pop music, and that voice that appears like a melancholic angel forming disonant melody lines over everything.
I have read a few reviews already and there seems to be a bit of disappointment amongst some about King of Limbs--not enough real 'songs' not enough anthemic melodies--this is certainly no In Rainbows, as I said it is the child of Kid A and maybe The Eraser, Yorkes solo project and maybe even Johnny Greenwoods love of both dub and his film score stuff--bits of this occasionally reminded me of his score for There Will Be Blood. Sublime, I think I might call it, that dark underbelly of romanticism, the gothic back story to culture's progress, a haunted beauty unique to itself. Enough of the waxing lyrical, I like it so far.
Lotus Flower is the first single from Radiohead's latest release, King of Limbs. The new album is downloaded, ears are open! On this one Thom Yorke gives us some fine erratic dance moves to a song that, at first listen at least, seems like classic mid-tempo Radiohead--maybe not new ground, but no complaints from me yet.
A chain of hotels in Britain has teamed up the School of Life to produce something else for relaxation in a hotel room other than the minibar. Minibar for the mind is a collection of ideas, inspirations and provocations.
I think The School of Life is a marvellous idea, Los Angeles needs something like it, I think it would prove incredibly useful in a city like LA.