“Call the Super—the faucet is leaking, and there are missiles on the roof!”: Olympics Edition

So far, coordinated dissent has been specific: bus drivers went on strike to demand a bonus for transporting an extra eight hundred thousand passengers; protestors gathered in Trafalgar Square as part of a global day of action against Dow Chemical’s sponsorship; and East London residents resorted to legal action to try and stop the installation of High Velocity Missiles on their building’s roof. Last week, bus drivers accepted a new offer of a £577 bonus to recognize their increased workload; Dow Chemical is still sponsoring the events; and the High Court ruled in favor of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), agreeing that a tower block was a suitable site for the missiles.

The missiles, put in place as part of an air security plan to protect the Olympic site from terrorist attacks, cover most homes in East London: residents within range must like it or lump it. In an article for The Guardian, Stephen Graham, author of Cities Under Siege, places the missiles in the context of a larger “total security” operation, which will leave a legacy of its own: “The security preoccupations of the Olympics present unprecedented opportunities to push through highly elitist, authoritarian, and speculative urban planning efforts that otherwise would be much more heavily contested–especially in democracies.”

Via: Guernica, The Grand Project of the Olympics (Natasha Lewis)

So, this story demonstrates excellently how a planned event can serve as the trojan horse for all sorts of public security policy changes that, inevitably, do not go entirely back to “normal” afterward. The military may remove the missiles from the roof, and the “dispersal zones” may not become a permanent part of crowd-control and the restriction of public assembly in London. But London will have been a place where, in order to feel safe, society was subjected to a quasi martial-control for a time. At the next sign of instability, those measures are all the more ready-to-hand if needed.

The story also contains a heckler shouting “You prick!” at everyone’s favorite big society thinktank guru Philip Blond.

Legislating against Homosexuality :: Black and White

This is one of those columns that I read hoping and praying that it’s a complete farce. Unfortunately, so far as I can tell, it’s not. A Kenyan journalist suggests that Ugandans and other African Christians are adopting a strong anti-homosexual political agenda, at least in part, because of their adoption of a colonial paradigm in which the American (read: “white”) leadership is somehow inherently superior.

Wherever you come out in the wash on the issue as it pertains to homosexuality—though minimally, I want to adamantly challenge the idea that legislation is the proper vehicle for the agenda—the racial component of this story is chilling. It reinforces for me the need to be explicit and intelligent about the intersection of theological discourse and racial injustice—the latter being far, far, more deeply rooted in the former than most of the racially-privileged ever realize.

Anyone want to buy a hundred copies of James Cone and mail them to Uganda?

h/t: Immanent Frame

ecological thinking :: the basileia of God

The Greek word basileia underlies the “kingdom” of “kingdom of God” in English translations of the New Testament. The word can, and has, be translated by a range of terms, from “reign” to “empire” to “regime” and more.

I’m wondering what would shift in our thinking about the human relationship with creation (or conversely, what might shift in our thinking of the human relationship with God) if we began to use another term, already theologically freighted, namely “Dominion.”

“Dominion” is, of course, the English word most frequently used to translate the Hebrew word kabash from Genesis 1:28, and is a familiar term in Christian circles. It is also a pejoratively loaded term in ecological circles because it is (mis)taken to imply that humanity has a God-given right to do whatever the hell they want with God’s green earth, because it’s all here to serve us human-beans anyway. Some of us are convinced that human beings belong in both ecologically-minded circles and Christian circles, and are trying to wrestle out the best way to think about these things.

If Jesus’ ministry is to announce and inaugurate the dominion of God, setting prisoners free, restoring sight to the blind, liberating the oppressed, what does that imply for our “dominion” on the planet? What do “dominion” and “love” have in common?

Tertullian on military service :: Christ among the barbarians

Tertullian
Tertullian

“To begin with the real ground of the military crown, I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians. What sense is there in discussing the merely accidental, when that on which it rests is to be condemned? Do we believe it lawful for a human oath to be superadded to one divine, for a man to come under promise to another master after Christ, and to abjure father, mother, and all nearest kinsfolk, whom even the law has commanded us to honour and love next to God Himself, to whom the gospel, too, holding them only of less account than Christ, has in like manner rendered honour? Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs? Shall he, forsooth, either keep watch-service for others more than for Christ, or shall he do it on the Lord’s day, when he does not even do it for Christ Himself? And shall he keep guard before the temples which he has renounced? And shall he take a meal where the apostle has forbidden him? And shall he diligently protect by night those whom in the day-time he has put to flight by his exorcisms, leaning and resting on the spear the while with which Christ’s side was pierced? Shall he carry a flag, too, hostile to Christ?…Is the laurel of the triumph made of leaves, or of corpses? Is it adorned with ribbons, or with tombs? Is it bedewed with ointments, or with the tears of wives and mothers? It may be of some Christians too; for Christ is also among the barbarians.”

 

Tertullian is arguing in support of a Christian soldier who refused to put on the laurel crown given to his company after a military victory. Wearing the laurel crown had some connotations of devotion to the civic deities of the Empire and was against the practice of the North African Christian community. The crown itself, however, is not the major issue in Tertullian’s mind as he is writing. He is more concerned with the unity of the church’s witness to the surrounding culture than with buttressing any legalism. At least some of the Christians of Carthage were beginning to question whether it was really a grave matter to participate in some aspects of Roman civic religion. Tertullian’s answer refuses to honor the legitimacy of the question about precisely where to draw the line of idolatry. Not only does he question the crown, he questions the actions that lead to being rewarded and recognized as a servant of the Empire.  In this context, he offers a powerful argument against Christian participation in the military—Christ is also among the barbarians!

As much as Tertullian wants to distinguish “Athens” and “Jerusalem,” it isn’t because he’s consigned Athens to eternal destruction. As he writes in polished Latin, drawing on the best of the philosophical and rhetorical traditions of his day, Tertullian is concerned that Christ should be honored everywhere that he may be found—and not at the point of the world’s sword.

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Excerpted from De Corona, chapters 11 and 12.

William Cavanaugh :: differentiating soteriologies

“Modernity is unaccustomed to regarding political theory as mythological in character. The modern state is, however, founded on certain stories of nature and human nature, the origins of human conflict, and the remedies for such conflict in the enactment of the state itself. In this essay I will read these stories against the Christian stories of creation, fall, and redemption, and argue that both ultimately have the same goal: salvation of humankind from the divisions which plague us. The modern state is best understood, I will attempt to show, as a source of an alternative soteriology to that of the Church. Both soteriologies pursue peace and an end to division by the enactment of a social body; nevertheless I will argue that the body of the state is a simulacrum, a false copy, of the Body of Christ. On the true Body of Christ depends resistance to the state project. The Eucharist, which makes the Body of Christ, is therefore a key practice for a Christian anarchism.” (182)

“The dominance of state soteriology has made it perfectly reasonable to drop cluster bombs on ‘foreign’ villages, and perfectly unreasonable to dispute ‘religious’ matters in public.” … “As Raymond Williams and others have argued, war is for the liberal state a simulacrum of the social process, the primary mechanism for achieving social integration in a society with no shared ends. In a word, violence becomes the state’s religio [binding together], it’s habitual discipline for binding us to one another.” (194)

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From Cavanaugh, William. “Beyond Secular Parodies.” In Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, 182-200. Ed. John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Robert Mugabe as “prophet of God”? :: Police break up Eucharist in Zimbabwe

Police in Zimbabwe have violently disrupted an Anglican communion service, according to the Int. Herald Tribune. A schismatic bishop loyal to Mugabe, (so loyal in fact that he seems to have confused Mugabe with King David, calling him a “prophet of God”) has apparently brought the thuggish machinery of the Zimbabwean state down upon the heads of the faithful. If the outline of this story is correct, this pseudo-bishop’s actions ought to be recognized as a heretical and brought before ecclesial authorities. Here are a few excerpt of the story above: 

Over the past three Sundays, the police have interrogated Anglican priests and lay leaders, arrested and beaten parishioners and locked thousands of worshipers out of dozens of churches. “As a theologian who has read a lot about the persecution of the early Christians, I’m really feeling connected to that history,” said Bishop Sebastian Bakare, 66, who came out of retirement to replace Kunonga. “We are being persecuted.” 

Despite a High Court order requiring that Anglican churches be shared, church officials say that only people who attend services led by priests allied with Kunonga have been allowed to pray in peace.

There are as many dissimilarities as connections, but having spent the fall with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I cannot help but see echoes of the Kirchenkampf–the struggle between the nationalist German Christian Movement and the Confessing Church. 

Pray for the church of Zimbabwe in the months ahead—especially the church facing violence for its recognition of the difference between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Robert Mugabe. The unrest in that nation will only increase as the quasi-legitimate run-off election approaches (now set for the end of June) and Mugabe does his best to ensure that he’ll die at the helm of a bleeding country (rather than find himself alone in the disrepute he has justly earned for himself). The church can organize Zimbabwe’s people, hold them in solidarity, and call the government to account for its brutal mistreatment of human beings. Pray for the church to remain faithful to her one Lord and Savior, whose body is broken for the sake of those people bearing the sins of others on their own bodies. 

[5.17.08] Update: Here is a story from Christianity Today with more background on Kunonga,  H/T: Conger

varieties of secularism :: comments (1) “secular spirituality”

Series Index

I’ll admit that it has taken me longer than I would have liked to get around to writing a summary of my thoughts about the conference (which was now a month ago!), but “late” and “never” are still two different categories.

The first thing that I’d like to offer comments on deals with the papers offered by many of the conference speakers. A common theme among many of the presenting scholars was a search for something along the lines of a “secular spirituality,” though the shape of that quest was portrayed diversely by those considering it a worthwhile goal.

Simon During described in great detail a particular moment in which a novel’s main character finds an ordinary street corner, on an otherwise drab afternoon, to be suddenly and spectacularly remarkable. He refrains from attaching any meaning to the conjunction of cement, pavement, tufts of grass in the cracks, and sunshine, but nonetheless finds the sheer existence of such a scene, its “here-ness,” to be an uplifting and motivating experience. The unlikeliness of the whole thing coming together in just this way is cause for something like reverence—but it is a reverence entirely bound within the scene itself. During calls this a moment of “mundanity” and he speaks of the “mundane” as something which exists outside both the religious and the secular.
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