24 December 2010

"You are My Sunshine"

Here's the scene from the Star Trek: Voyager episode, "Someone to Watch Over Me," in which the holographic doctor (a man with no name) is love-smitten when he teaches Seven of Nine (a female Borg freed from the collective) the song, "You are My Sunshine." The DVD with the episode arrived in well-timed fashion today, Christmas Eve. Now, "my sunshine" can celebrate Christmas, 24th century style.

23 December 2010

pay attention to the body

“All who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” Our Keukabiblia Bible study is moving to chapters 10 and 11 of 1 Corinthians. Paul’s warning about failure to discern the body appears in verse 29 of the latter chapter. This is part of his critique of the Corinthian church and their observance of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist—or rather, the lack thereof.

The apostle begins this section in verse 17 with the rather diplomatic statement, “I do not commend you.” It seems that the divisions of rich and poor have not only been maintained among these followers of Christ, but they’ve found expression at the very heart of worship. He speaks of the agape or love feast, which was joined with the Eucharist, in which “each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk” (v. 21). His outrage boils over in the next verse: “What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”

This failure of love—this failure of generosity—is due to the aforementioned failure to discern the body, to recognize the body of Christ. Consequently, Paul’s verdict is that “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (v. 30).

What’s going on here? Verse 28 says, “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Is this failure in discernment a faulty self-diagnostic? Is it a question of being oblivious to what the body and blood of the Lord are all about? In extreme cases, does that lead to visible effects in health, even resulting in death? (I suppose the opposing maladies of overindulgence and hunger would seem to make that evident!)

There clearly is also in operation a reality that is communal, even political, in nature. Failure to discern the body is in line with one of Paul’s often repeated sentiments, “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (10:24). When we fail to love our neighbor, across the street or across the world, we fail to discern the body. We fail to recognize our sisters and brothers and our unity with them.

In his book, Deeper than Words, Brother David Steindl-Rast uses the concept of “the holy catholic church” from the Apostles’ Creed and expands on it. He says that “our horizon has grown wider…Truly catholic is only that faith in Life and its ultimate Source that all humans share. It remains alive in the hearts of humans who are not even aware of it.” (139)

That’s something deserving of our attention!

15 December 2010

Advent Conspiracy 2010

I'm not sure about the figures quoted, but I guess the point is made. We rush through Advent, ignoring its call to renewal and healing, and take the life-giving joy out of Christmas. Advent, in the eyes of our consumer culture, really is a conspiracy!

09 December 2010

tortured truth

Five years ago, the journal Biblical Interpretation published an essay by Jennifer A. Glancy [pictured left] with the eye-catching title, “Torture: Flesh, Truth, and the Fourth Gospel.” I came across it while researching the gospel of John. In the article, she wonders, echoing Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” Continuing, she asks, “Does truth dwell in flesh?” (107)

The introduction to John’s gospel is filled with compelling ideas. Verse 14 of that first chapter serves as a bit of a summary: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” It is that combination of “flesh” and “truth,” as well as the passion overseen by Pilate, that prompts Glancy’s question, “Is it possible to embrace flesh as a locus of truth and still to condemn the practice of torture? Through my carnal reading of the Johannine passion narrative, I attempt to do so. I do not know if I succeed.” (109) I can’t help but appreciate her play on words—the Word becoming flesh, the incarnation, carnal.

I also appreciate Glancy’s stated humility, understanding the difficulty of her project. As to that project, she includes as a footnote to her title the statement, “July 10, 2004. I date this manuscript to situate it in a particular moment in the history of torture.” That phrase, “in the history of torture,” is especially appropriate, considering that tomorrow is Human Rights Day. Sadly, we have mirrored the imperial values of Roman law about torture, which meant “the infliction of anguish and agony on the body to elicit the truth.” (108)

We have our own law, or at least legal opinion, that guides our own attempts to wrench truth from flesh. For example, there’s the notorious August 2002 Justice Department memorandum arguing that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority to authorize torture (though in legalese, it’s not called that) in interrogations of suspected terrorists. Glancy remarks, “An Empire of torture recognizes no limits in its campaign to force truth from flesh.” (118) I wonder, is that us? Are we “an empire of torture”?

She speaks of three intentions of torture, which sometimes may overlap. There is “judicial” torture, in which the intent is to discover the truth. Secondly, there is “penal” torture, which is meant as punishment. Finally, there is “terroristic” torture, which “is part of an attempt to control the larger population to which the individual belongs.” (115) When we include the element of sexual humiliation (those crucified were naked), there are uncomfortable parallels with our own behavior in Iraq.

Does it matter that our torture is directed at the (suspected) terrorists? At the enemy? Aside from the stench of its blatant illegality and bankrupt political philosophy (despite whatever fig leaf of legality we devise), Christians should be the first to speak against torture. We worship the tortured one, one who identifies with the tortured.

Commenting on the strangeness of a resurrected body that retains wounds, Glancy uses almost mystical language. “Wounds tell the truth of flesh given for the life of the world, the indelible truth of flesh tortured, perhaps, simply, the truth of flesh…Skin demarcates the boundary of each self from the world, distinguishing what is me from what is not-me, what is you from what is not-you. Jesus’ open wounds blur what is Jesus and what is not-Jesus. Splinters stripe bloody flesh. Slivers of skin are pounded into a wooden beam. The ground is stained a ferrous red with fluid that hemorrhages from Jesus’ side. Jesus’ ‘spaces of absence’ gape open to expose his truth to the world.” (133-4, emphasis added)

Is it too much to hope that, in this new moment in the history of torture—Human Rights Day of 2010—we can repent of and investigate our own torturous practices and allow for some measure of justice?

03 December 2010

Nightwish, "Ghost Love Score"

Here's a band I recently discovered, even though they've been around since the 90s, Nightwish, a Finnish symphonic metal band. This was from their classic concert in Helsinki, which was operatic vocalist Tarja Turunen's final one with them.