It’s official.

The Homeless Lazarus and The Rich Man’s Spikes

imageThe issue of homelessness has recently been brought to the forefront of the public mind due to the installation of “defensive urban architecture”, otherwise known as anti-homeless spikes. The spikes appeared in London, but certain U.S. laws carry similar “anti-homeless” sentiments: people arrested for feeding the homeless (here, here, and here), homeless people criminalized for sleeping outdoors (here is a list of examples and a major example in Dallas, Texas) and attempts to ban sleeping in cars, as well as certain areas now criminalizing panhandling. In America, student loan debt is crippling financial stability for individuals and family alike, with many college graduates, dropouts, and those unable to complete their education facing the possibility of homelessness themselves. Were it not for the benevolence of family or friends providing a place to stay, some college students would have no place to lay their head. Even those who obtain a strictly minimum wage job in America cannot truly afford one-bedroom housing. What do the streets have to do with the Church?

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Happy June!

How five months have gone by already, I have no idea. To be honest with you all, I wish I had more progress, knowledge, and insight to show for myself. This month, I’ve made more progress on the self-analysis and reflection front than anything else. I mostly blame this on the books I finished this month: Mark Tungate’s Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara, and Elizabeth Wilson’s Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity.

This month’s post revolves around some of Wilson’s sharpest insights regarding how clothing blurs the line between appearance and reality, and how they intersect with James K.A. Smith’s thoughts on desire, imagination, and the good life.

Three Quotes

Wilson writes,

A new dress code, by now almost a cliche of the 1980s, has come into being to signify ‘leisure.’ The leisure for which the woman in track suit, leotards, leg warmers is costumed is actually both display and ‘work’… The bright uniform acts out a lifestyle, as does the elaborate make-up, the artificially flushed cheek and kohl-enlarged eyes of health-made-erotic. The natural signs of exertion on the other hand, such as sweat and glistening forehead, must be rigorously concealed. The correct costume of the fitness freak has its own obsessional details that alter from year to year, and to wear leg warmers drawn too high, or the wrong kind of leotard is to spoil everything. It all mimics casual informality, but is minutely thought out.(emphasis mine)

Leotards? Leg warmers? Keep in mind that Wilson first published this book in 1985. If I bring this quote into 2014 by switching out the leotard, leg warmers and track suit for yoga pants, unblemished Nikes, and a Starbucks drink, you have a picture of the “uniform” or “dress code” that signifies the leisurely lifestyle of the generic middle class woman. Maybe it’s just a trend in Southern California, but it is impossible to miss these ladies if you’re anywhere near a Starbucks or a Target before 12 p.m. during the week. Really, whether or not these women actually go to the gym and live the active lifestyle their clothing seems to suggest is of no concern. What I am concerned with, however, is how our clothing embodies a lifestyle, why we wear clothes to embody a lifestyle when we don’t actually live that way, and why we don’t care that we’re frauds. Really, this is applicable to our clothing as well as our behavior on social media.

Check out this awesome post by my fiancée, Aubrey!

The Potter and The Clay: Comparing Calvin with Early Church Theologians

image         What is the relationship between the potter and the clay, between God and humanity? John Calvin states:

Cannot I determine, saith God, with regard to men, as the potter, who forms the clay as he pleases? We must maintain this principle, – that men are thus formed according to God’s will, so that all must become mute; for uselessly do the reprobate make a clamour, object and say, ‘Why has Thou formed us thus?’ Has not the potter, says Paul, power? This is what must be said of God’s hidden predestination… God determined, before the creation of the world, what he pleased respecting each individual; but his counsel is hid, and to us incomprehensible. [1]

In the above passage, Calvin draws on Isaiah 45.9 and Romans 9.21 to comment on Jeremiah 18.7-10. For the French Reformer, the metaphor is disproportionate, because “God has much greater power over men than a mortal man over the clay”.[2] Calvin then points to St. Paul’s application of this metaphor, who, according to Calvin, “spoke of the hidden purpose of God, by which he has predestined some to salvation and some to destruction.”[3] In other words, “the potter will nevertheless have absolute power over his own vessels, or rather over his own clay.”[4] The logic of the potter and the clay metaphor seems straightforward enough: the clay is made how the potter wants it to be made, and God has made all of creation, with both good and evil events, with according to the Divine will (leading to the argument of the “best of all possible worlds” in high Calvinism). This interpretation can be found in numerous Protestant pulpits and theology books today.[5] However, I want to push back – is this interpretation in continuity with earlier theologians of the Church? Is Calvin going against the metaphorical flow of Jeremiah?

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On Dialogues and Caricatures Regarding Atonement

imageIn disagreements, it is tempting to portray the other party’s beliefs in a simplified form that can be easily pointed out for its mistakes. We reduce complex thought systems into a single paragraph, devoid of their nuances, complexities, and realities so that we “win” the argument. This is what it means to caricature another. Many of us have been guilty of this sin because of its temptation to make us look wiser than we really are – parroting old critiques that have been discussed time and time again and quoting second-hand information without consulting the primary source firsthand. So we must be honest with ourselves: how many times are we discussing caricatures rather than the actual issue? Far too often, we do not have ears to hear our neighbor. We fail to understand what they’re saying because we aren’t even attempting to understand. We are too busy concocting responses to the voices in our heads instead of the voice of the other. Here, I turn to two examples that concern Atonement theology and how we (mis)understand others in dialogue.

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Early Church: Chrysostom and the Poor in Plain Sight

imageAre the poor invisible? Commenting on the “Lazarus and the Rich Man” story, St. John Chrysostom remarks,

Do you not seem to see the whole situation as if it were present? …You saw him at the gate of the rich man; see him today in the bosom of Abraham… [W]hen we see those who need help standing by in complete silence… [we are] moved to pity. [1]

For Chrysostom, seeing the poor – encountering the Other in their destitution – should move us into action. What happens when we ignore the poor? What if we simply walk by them, allowing our annoyance to overpower our compassion for another person made in the image of God? This is what the rich man did, Chrysostom claims. “Like a stone, shamelessly and mercilessly”, the rich man walked by the beggar who laid at his gate.[2] Francine Cardman explains,

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Divine Exception; Or, How to Justify Violence

imageIn America, we are once again facing questions of institutional violence, stemming from two current stories: The botched execution of Clayton Lockett and Sarah Palin’s statement that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists” during her NRA speech. While many Americans argue that this “violence” is better termed “justice”, we must not forget that justice can, in fact, be violent. We then must ask: How do we justify violence? The American mantra that “freedom isn’t free” implies the necessity of war. If we were to lift the curtain to reveal what is behind this phrase, it might read “freedom isn’t free, so we must torture terrorists, send out drones to bomb Middle Eastern countries, send our able-bodied citizens to other countries, and intervene in conflicts that don’t directly tie to our own”. In short, Americans must do whatever is necessary to maintain this “unfree” freedom.

We cannot limit our discussions of violence to these two major events. We must reflect on certain reactions by the masses. For example, according to a recent Huffington Post article, sixty-five percent of Americans still support the death penalty, and, out of her entire speech, Palin’s baptism statement at the NRA meeting received the biggest positive reaction. On Facebook, a friend of mine posted an article concerning the death penalty, and two comments caught my eye: “I tend to view the death penalty now as a solution without a problem” and “I’m totally fine with [the death penalty]. I’m serious. The Bible prescribes stoning people.” It is here that we must consider the role of religion within this discussion.

Palin’s violent baptism statements were stated in the context of discussing enemies who would “carry out jihad” against America. Palin’s belief that America is a “Christian Nation” predisposes her to viewing Islam as a negative religious power and influence in Middle Eastern nations. Regarding Lockett’s problematic execution, Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma stated, “The people of Oklahoma do not have blood on their hands. They saw Clayton Lockett for what he was: evil” (I want to note here that I refer to Lockett as a representative of not just himself, but of all those who are on death row and have been executed). Whether Fallin is aware of it or not, having blood on one’s hands echoes Genesis 4.11, where God tells Cain:

And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. (NRSV)

The language surrounding public justice and violence in America is thoroughly religious. I agree with David Perry: “For Palin, this is a holy struggle.”[1] One is lead to ask the “new atheist” question: Is Christianity violent? And we must answer that question with more questions: “Which Christianity? Whose interpretation of God?”

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