Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Politics and Presidential Passion

James K.A. Smith recently blogged about Mark Lilla'  NYT article regarding Obama's overly intellectualized engagement with the world.  As Smith summarizes, Obama and others "lapse into the rationalist whine about people being governed by their passions and keep hoping they'll be be "rational" like us (we're not)." Instead, Obama and the democratic party need to understand that the way to lead is "to harness, direct, and channel the passions."

I want to make two quick comments.  First, Lilla criticizes Obama for having the wrong "underlying assumption about human nature."  For Lilla, the problem is ultimately intellectual:  if Obama had the correct intellectual understanding of human nature, he would engage in politics differently (meaning correctly, like us).  Thus, Lilla's critique ends up performing the same mistake he criticizes:  he tacitly assumes that core force behind Obama's "intellectualism" is intellectual (and even provides an intellectual history of the mistaken idea).  No attempt is made to consider why Obama might resort to a detached,  intellectualized description of the democratic losses.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Silencing Speech, Speaking in Tongues: Bonhoeffer and the Beginning of Theology

"Teaching about Christ begins in silence."  D. Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer begins his lectures--transcribed and formed into the book Christ the Center--with these words on the silent beginning of theology.  It's a complicated opening.

The silence that precedes "teaching about Christ" cannot be discerned before this teaching actually commences.  Not all silences are this silent beginning:  the silent foreground of teaching "has nothing to do with the silence of the mystics, who in the their dumbness chatter away secretly in their soul by themselves" (27).  The only way to distinguish "proper silence" (27) from this silent "chatter" is to refer to what follows this silence (teaching about Christ or self-enclosed chatter).  It thus seems that theology has no beginning, for its proper beginning--silence--is constituted only after theology is already under way; and its commencement (teaching) can only begin properly, as real theology and not empty chatter, out of a proper silence (which is absent when it begins, or is its absent beginning).  "To speak of Christ means to keep silent; to keep silent about Christ means to speak.  When the Church speaks rightly out of a proper silence, then Christ is proclaimed" (27).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Promise and Failure of "the Secular"

One of the strange features in the Milbank article discussed in my previous post was his mention of the necessity to physically defend "the physical space" of the church "in the name of secular justice."  This surprising endorsement of "the secular" reminded me of a working document released a little while ago by the Roman Catholic Church, on the Church in the Middle East.  This document laments the lack of the separation of religion from politics in the Middle East and proposes the necessity of a secular government (modeled on European forms of religion, secularity, and government of course).  It seems a surprising move coming at a time when the pope is encouraging Europe to reconstitute itself through a return to Christian roots and the abandonment of secularism.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Violent Being: Milbank and Fanon Between Love and Power

"However, this means that the realm of total mutual exposure, the realm of weakness within which "all defences are down," might ironically be seen as requiring defence against an exterior which refuses this exposedness."  John Milbank, "Power is necessary for peace:  in defense of Constantine"

It would probably be better to keep my peace and not read John Milbank.  Ever.  But I did and I want to engage what he has written from another trajectory of violence, the germinal violence of Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks.  Fanon, like Milbank, is looking for a space of intimacy.  Consider the beautiful and prayerful lines at the end of the book:  "Superiority?  Inferiority?  Why not simply try to touch the other, feel the other, discover each other?  Was my freedom not given me to build the world of you, man?" (206).  It's a desire for a world with intimate possibilities, a world where the mediation of whiteness ("there will always be a world--a white world--between you and us" 101) no longer disrupts every relationship.  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Blasphemous Confessions

Such blasphemies, because they are violently extorted from men by the devil against their will, sometimes sound more pleasant in the ear of God than a hallelujah or some kind of hymn of praise (Luther, Lectures on Romans).  

A recent post at AUFS has enticed me to make a few comments on my own understanding of "confessional" theology.  Duke is a place that prides itself in producing confessional theologians, theologians who write in and for "the church," whose theology is situated within the historic confessions of faith ("orthodox"), who take seriously "the grammar" and "liturgical performance" of "the historic Christian faith."  To put it briefly and polemically, Duke intends to produce Christian theologians.  As such, it has placed much emphasis on what it means to be "properly" Christian.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Columbus Day: Ralph Ellison and the Waters of Meribah

My previous post suggested that attempts to construct the proper grounds on which to meet the other is an attempt to control the relationship, even if that comes masked in good intentions.  What must be clarified is that to reach out and actually touch the other, in Fanon's language, is to be exposed to another whose existence you cannot control and whose consciousness you cannot predict.  This exposure provides a helpful way to approach Columbus and anti-Columbus day festivities.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Beyond a Common Ground: Levinas, Fanon, and Touching the Other

"To approach the Other in conversation is to welcome his expression, in which at each instant he overflows the idea a thought would carry away from it.  It is therefore to receive from the Other beyond the capacity of the I, which means exactly:  to have the idea of infinity."  E. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, p. 51

This past weekend I went to a conference at Duke Div on "Friendship at the Margins."  During lunch on Saturday, various "practitioners" were invited from the community to lead sessions on how friendship influences their ministry.  I led one about forming friendships with refugees.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Post-nationalistic Theology and Fictive Christian Ethnicity

There was recently a discussion at the Inhabitatio Dei blog about whether "postliberalism" was a defined and coherent school of thought.  Instead of searching for the commonality within one stream ("postliberalism"), I am interested in looking at a trajectory which holds together even a larger number of theologians (e.g., postliberalism and radical orthodoxy).  The trajectory linking many contemporary theologians can be called:  the production of Christian identity beyond nationalism, or to make it a little shorter, post-nationalistic Christianity.

E. Balibar, in "The Nation Form" (printed in __Race, Nation, Class__), clarifies the relationship between the rise of the modern nation state and religious identity.  Nationalism did not ultimately arise as an analogous form of religiosity, for despite whatever commonalities one can find between the two, the difference remains even greater.  The transfer of religious ideals--"the sense of the sacred and the affects of love, respect, sacrifice, and fear which have cemented religious communities" (95)--to the nation presupposes this difference.  Otherwise, "it would be impossible to understand why national identity, more or less completely integrating the forms of religious identity, ends up tending to replace it, and forcing it itself to become 'nationalized' (ibid).  To describe nationalism as simply a modern religion is to render oneself unable to account for the way nationalism absorbs, replaces, and modifies the very category of religion. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

On Milbank's Imperialist Refusal of Difference

From the AUFS blog I saw that John Milbank has recently attributed the problems of "political Islam" to "the lamentably premature collapse of the Western colonial empires (as a consequence of the European wars);"  This should surprise no one, as Milbank expressed those thoughts in the essay "The End of Dialogue," published the same year as his famous Theology and Social Theory (to cite one place).  Given Milbank's comfortability with Orientalist categories of thought (East, the West, Islam, the Third World, etc) and his overt endorsement of (or at least sympathy for) the imperialist and colonialist framework within which those categories function, the difficulty for those of us disturbed by Milbank's theological imperialism is to find a way to respond.  The framework of thought is invincible as any objection to it will simply be dismissed as evincing a "culpable" or "criminal" naivety, or worse, the taint of Eastern-Protestant-Islamic-Modernist-Antiquated-Secular influence.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Discipleship and Bourgeois Theology

It took me many years to free myself from I called in my memoirs the 'bonds of my class.'  I know that even today there are many who accuse me of behavior instilled by the 'bonds of class,' especially some feminist women.  Perhaps they are right and one never overcomes the class into which one is born.  I don't know. 
--Simone De Beauvoir

It's an honest, and a bit terrifying, account of her life as an intellectual:  born into a bourgeois family, Beauvoir wonders whether she was ever able to overcome these class bonds and think for and from a different social situation.  Is she able to transcend the class--and the cultural forms that went with it--into which she was born, or does she remain, despite her best efforts, another bourgeois intellectual?  She doesn't know, and this confession is remarkable given her vast erudition and relentless pursuit to understand herself and the world into which she is born.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why Resettle Refugees?

I met with a pastor yesterday to talk about how his church could be involved with refugees. He mentioned that he had previously helped about refugees from Laos. He talked about how the government had armed locals to fight, promising them a better future, and then withdrew, leaving them to be persecuted. Later, they invited these people to come over as refugees but they gave them barely enough to even get started. He then said, “America has a history of doing this—sadly. They offer to help, promise a better life, and then don’t give you enough to even get started on your way—it creates a lot of frustration. Indians know it, African Americans know it, and I think those Laotians know it.”

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Theology and Obedience: Bound to the Transgressor

As I've spent the past year reading Barth in my spare time, I've slowly started to figure out what he is doing with certain repetitive gestures.  Throughout his Dogmatics, Barth will say things like "the Christian theological tradition has always been in agreement that..." (IV/1, p. 179) and "the mystery which is alone relevant in Church dogmatics [is]..." (177).  He will frequently make a brief aside that such-and-such belief is part of the Christian confession, or such-and-such is an attribute of the Christian God.
It's tempting to read Barth--and I think many people do read Barth--as stabilizing a kind of strong form of Christian theology--theology is done in and for the church.  Theology is the church's reflection on its own grammar, its own language of belief, its own confessions.  The faith is handed down to us and our task, as theologians, is to seek to understand it (faith seeking understanding....).  Barth, on this way of thinking, is ultimately concerned about restoring a properly Christian mode of theological reflection:  theology can speak confidently to the world when it is situated back within the life of the Church.  Theology exists in obedience to the faith that has been, is, and will be proclaimed in the church.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Samaritan Savior: immigration, missions, and the foreign love of God (Part 3)

I want to conclude by bringing out four implications, the first two relating to how we see ourselves and see others, and the final two relating to how we live as missionaries.  
First, Jesus comes to us, but as a Samaritan.  We have already seen how this form breaks our tie with our own people.  Our savior comes to us but not as one of us; he comes to us from outside, as an alien.  We have to follow him, but he is not the image of our people.  In fact, he’s closer to the counter-image, the opposite, of everything we pride ourselves in being.  Jesus shows us that our salvation is not tied to the destiny of our people.  We need not make our people “the right” kind of people; nor do we need to assure others that we are indeed the right kind of people.  Our people--our folk, good people like us--will rightly leave us on the side of the road.  They are not our future.  Our hope does not rest in our people, in the strength or goodness or purity of our people.  It rests only in the miraculous help that comes to us, Jesus.  But Jesus comes to us as someone like Tanveer, someone we think our people must exclude.  And if he comes to save us in this form, then salvation means that Jesus comes and breaks our connection to our own people.  Jesus comes to us, but as a Samaritan.

The Samaritan Savior: immigration, missions, and the foreign love of God (Part 2)

We don’t want to hear this.  We don’t want to hear that we are not the saviors but the naked person, covered in blood, bruised and broken, on the verge of death, incapable, lost, without hope and unable to even give voice to our needs.  That is us.  That is you.  We don’t want to hear this word.  We want to look at ourselves and say, hey, I’m a pretty good person; I know what I’m supposed to do as a Christian and I generally do it (and at least I know enough to know that I will fail and need grace).  I’m doing alright for myself, and for others.  I can help my neighbors.  I can offer them my strength.  I can serve them with my wisdom.  I can really help them.  Just tell me who they are, who needs my help, and I’ll go.  

The Samaritan Savior: immigration, missions, and the foreign love of God (Part 1)

Tanveer Ahmad was born in Pakistan, in 1962, the fifth child in a poor family.  As an adult, he made his way to his brother’s store in Saudi Arabia and from there started traveling.  One time, he came over to the U.S., to New York, and fell in love with the city.  He eventually got a visa to come over to the U.S. and headed straight to New York in 1993.  Eventually, as often happens to new immigrants, he ended up in Texas, working at night in a gas station.  The store was in a bad location and was robbed, repeatedly.  During one robbery, he pulled out the store’s unlicensed gun to stop the criminals; the cops came to the store and fined him for brandishing the weapon.  Though he left Texas to work in New York as a cab driver, that incident would continue to haunt him.  It would undermine his attempts to get a green card, especially after 9/11.  Being a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan would make it difficult to renew his visa; having a “disorderly conduct” charge involving a deadly weapon made it impossible.  In 2005, having failed to get proper documentation, Tanveer overstayed his visa.  His roommate had done the same thing with his student visa.  After a raid by immigration officials to capture his roommate, Tanveer was told by these officials to report to immigration.  Tanveer did, where he was promptly arrested and placed in one of the many the detention centers, which currently hold a total of over 500,000 people awaiting deportation.  In this for-profit, private prison, Tanveer suffered a heart attack.  His pleas for medical attention were ignored.  Eventually the guards took him seriously but had to first request permission from their superiors to take him to a hospital.  Tanveer died at the hospital, and became one of over one hundred people who died in custody while awaiting deportation, many of whose deaths are connected to medical neglect, and some to abuse.  

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sex, Colonialism, and Anglicanism: the ethics of mourning.

When I have time, I enjoy reading the New York Times online with my morning breakfast.  As I opened the "world" section of the paper, I noticed a headline and read the article at once:  "Same-Sex Couple Stirs Fears of a 'Gay Agenda.'"  I shut the computer and finished my breakfast, trying to think through the problems, again.

Skyler and I have been talking a lot about the Anglican church in Africa and the issue of homosexuality.  We are Anglicans, in AMIA (and so under the Rwandan Anglican church), and want to go to over to Rwanda.  We've also been following the Ugandan Anglican Church's response to the proposed bill that would allow the execution of homosexuals (interesting enough, a bill that came a month after three American evangelicals gave a series of talks on the evils of the gay rights movement, how it would destroy a family-based society, and how homosexuals can be converted into heterosexuals--read more HERE).

The article I read at breakfast discussed the arrest of a same-sex couple in Malawi after having a party to celebrate their engagement.  The whole article painfully illustrates the complexities of even holding a discussion on this topic between the two continents, let alone reaching some kind of mutual understanding.  For instance, the article quotes the Rev. Zacc Kawalala, who says, "The West has its gay agenda.  It wants to look at Africa and say, 'If you don't accept homosexuality, you are primitive.' But we're not as wicked as the West." Another person comments, "These immoral acts are not in our  culture; they are coming from the outside.  Otherwise, why is  there all this interest from around the world?  Why is money being sent?"  Discussing a different case, in which a person was arrested for putting up posters supporting gay rights as human rights, a police spokesman commented, "You wouldn't allow a poster that says, 'Let's Rape the Women,' would you?"

Within these few quotes we encounter the history of European and American imperialism, in the idea of its "agenda," in its self-professed superiority over the "primitives," and in its attempts to control politics through finances.  We have the creation of a cultural unity by the declaration of the "transgressor" as fundamentally and irredeemably "alien" (the purity of Ugandan culture being safeguarded from the "threat" of homosexual acts by declaring these deeds "foreign").  This cultural practice is, sadly, something countries in the West share (note, not "used to have").  Finally, we have a question that vexes our own political institution, namely, that we all agree government needs to legislate morality, we just disagree on whose morality it ought to legislate.  The idea common among many that homosexuality is wrong but that the government should not legislate against it depends ultimately on the evaluation of how socially "harmful" such an act is to the political body (I will have to speak further on this attachment to the governmental investment to "ensure, maintain, or develops it life"--to quote Foucault--at another point).  And if this latter analysis is correct, then we return to the first two problems with even more force:  how do we talk about these problems beyond "the West's" past and present assumption of "cultural strength"?  Given the deep history of imperialism, how can we expect those who've experienced the horrors produced by our imperial endeavors to not assume that we are, once again, trying to export our own sense of our superiority?  In short, we can't figure out how to discuss these questions within our own country, even among the predominantly white, middle-to-upper-class Americans that form a large portion of the Episcopal and Anglican church.  How can we do it across these divides?

It is perhaps this seemingly insurmountable divide that points us in the exact direction we must travel:  we cannot discuss the question of sexuality apart from the operations of European/American, Christian, colonial endeavors.  The inability to "bypass" this painful, problematic history forces all of us to go right through it, into the middle of it, and try to find our way out.  The "West's" arrogant pretensions are cut out from under it by this lingering awareness of its guilt, a history that cannot be forgotten or evaded, but must be confronted and mourned.  

It's the "Western" Anglican church's inability to mourn this tragic history that creates its tendency towards amnesia.  As Behdad argues in a different context, this kind of amnesia functions as a "Freudian notion of negation," a "repudiation, by means of projection, of an association that has just emerged" (__A Forgetful Nation__, p. 4).  In "negation," one "may acknowledge an event, but the subject either denies its significance or refuses to take responsibility for it" (p. 4).  The refusal to take responsibility often takes the form of projecting "his or her guilt onto others by blaming them for what has occurred, attempting thus to hide the implications of his or her own action" (p. 5).  The Church of Uganda identifies this kind of projection in the issue of women's ordination.  They say that comparison of women's ordination to homosexual ordination is insulting, for the patriarchalism of Western Christian missionaries actually curbed the religious leadership of women traditionally found in Ugandan society, and that Ugandan Christians started allowing women into positions of leadership before the West.  In other words, the Western church tries to secure the high ground by projecting their own sinful heritage (patriarchalism) onto the African church; they then tried to use this "disavowal" (they are backwards and guilty, we are moral leaders) to advocate their continued leadership (as "innocent" moral authorities).  

The conservative American Anglicans under African leadership (AMIA), have often used this post-colonial context to berate the "liberals."  However, placing oneself under the authority of bishops in Rwanda does not ipso facto mean that the colonial history has been effectively confronted,  mourned, and surpassed.  Churches like AMIA have the ability, and calling, to remind the "Western" church that it cannot declare itself a moral authority on sexuality and dismiss its African brothers and sisters.  To do so is to take the position, again, of imperial sovereignty.  But these AMIA churches do this not from a place outside of the problem, but from an awareness that they too have been formed inside of the problem.

Perhaps it would be easiest for white, Western Anglicans to start by mourning the loss of their cultural supremacy as well as their sinful enactment of and attachment to this supremacy.  Most realize that the project of imperialism was indeed sinful (though most mistakenly think of it as "safely" lodged in the past and overcome); but recognizing that a broken attachment was/is sinful does not mean one no longer suffers from the loss of it.  The loss must be acknowledged, which is why the mourning must address both the loss of the sinful power and the sinfulness of the power now lost.  

This ethical stance of mourning is not an attempt to stall the church, to bide our time, to wait passively or ignore the political urgency of people who face jail, and possibly death, for being gay.  Much needs to be said.  But we won't get anywhere if we keep trying to ignore or evade our guilt, for our attempt to render ourselves "innocent" not only ignores the imperialist history, it reenacts it.  To begin with mourning necessitates starting in a place of dependency--we do not know how to mourn this history, and so we cannot mourn it alone, but we must seek the help of those whose did not benefit from the cultural supremacy but suffered under it.  

(it should be noted that I stuck with the term "western," sometimes in quotes, sometimes not, because it was introduced by the persons in the article and it provided a convenient shorthand; it should be read with all the typical qualifications and disavowals.  

Thursday, February 11, 2010

LOST: Living Beyond Meaning

In the latest episode of LOST (season 6, episode 2), Jack Shepherd is, once again, confronted with a situation that he can't understand and yet requires concrete action.  Sayid, after having died and come back to life, is tortured by his saviors.  Jack decides he must act and confronts the people (the leader and his interpreter), demanding to know why they tortured Sayid.  They explain to Jack that they were "testing" him, that Sayid failed, and that he needed to take a pill.  For the medicine to work, Sayid must take it willingly, and only Jack can get Sayid to take the pill.  So, once again, it is all up to Jack.  He must talk Sayid into taking the pill, or Sayid will die.  At least, so they say.

But who to trust?  Jack doesn't trust them; he says he doesn't even trust himself.  You can't blame him.  The situation strikes us, the viewers, as almost banal:  of course, here we have another life and death situation in which a main character must decide what to do, and more importantly, who to trust, and in which appearances are inherently suspect.  We've seen it again, and again, and again.  Our frustration at the plot matches Jack's:  we are all sick of this inability to make sense of the story.  Or, more precisely, we (the audience and the characters) have grown weary of the incessant collapse of meaning as providing the "drama" of the action.  We know they can't make sense of their lives; they know they can't make sense of their lives; we won't even speculate as to how they are going to comprehend their lives on two different planes of existence, between a past that does not (or did not...) exist and a present they tried and failed to obliterate (or did they...).

LOST revels in this loss of meaningful explanations.  To focus on this episode--we have again a confrontation between Jack, as scientific doctor, and a green, homemade, "chinese medicine" pill.  Neither science nor spirituality has helped.  Jack has done them both, but neither gave him the ability to make sense of the island.  The characters are shackled by a complete inability to get hold of their situation, to understand it, to discern when they are acting freely and when they are being manipulated, when they are helping and when they are harming.  Good and evil are beyond them, or they have moved into a situation beyond good and evil.

They are beyond good and evil, not because they have exposed traditional ethical categories as tools of the weak to reign in the power of the strong, but simply because those terms are useless.  Is it "good" or "evil" for Jack to give Sayid the pill?  It's too simple given that Sayid died and came back to life, that he doesn't know what is in it, that it is offered by those who saved Sayid's life and then tortured him, etc.  And that is only focusing on what Jack knows (or at least thinks he knows).  What about all the interminable facts that he (and we) do not and perhaps cannot know?  What is good and what is evil then?  Who's to draw the distinction?  Does it even matter?  Is there really a difference?

Jack and Sayid place the question back to trust.  Who do you trust?  But that question unravels when you no longer trust yourself, when you are consumed by a kind of grief (or refusal to grieve), by a sense of failed responsibility and lost lives.  It is at this point that I think LOST has entered its most theologically interesting terrain.  For LOST is forcing us, as an audience, to make sense of a subject, an agent, who is not the center or ground of meaning.

When we ask whether something was meaningful, we implicitly add to you.  Jack has lost his ability to make sense of the events; they are meaningless because they are meaningless to him.  Meaning is acquired through interpretation--we provide the meaning.  To put it philosophically, we are all Kantians, whether we like it or not.  We all implicitly assume that we must make sense of things.

Instead of either celebrating or attacking this position, LOST places it in crisis.  The subject is overloaded by inconclusive, partial, inexplicable, and misleading data.  Not only is a governing interpretative framework lost (a way to organize or categorize everything, e.g., science and/or religion), but the subject itself is starting to crack.  Jack no longer knows who he is, where he is, when he is, how he is, and so he cannot figure out what to do.  Should he give the pill to Sayid or not?  He'll take it himself--see what happens!  Jack's motivating force is now centering on his need to avoid further guilt--he can't handle any more deaths on his hands.  If he just withholds the pill, he could be guilty, if he gives it to him, he could be guilty, but if he takes it, then maybe he won't be guilty.  Maybe.  Who knows?  Jack doesn't.  Not only has he lost trust himself, he has lost any sense of who he is (leader, failure, doctor, savior, deluded fanatic, etc).  He does not know what he does, nor who he is.  How does he--how do we--act in a world with that has lost all objective and subjective meaning?  The world is not meaningful, and we cannot make it so.

The idea of a stable, external meaning was lost for us centuries ago (philosophically secured in Kant); the subjective production of meaning is gone too.  LOST assumes both of these points, and then explores the ramifications of these facts.  LOST explores a world in which providence--any kind of external, sovereign, divine control--cannot even be thought.  The only way for such an idea to get any traction, any force, would be to base it in our hope, our mental belief, our organization of the world as if such a fact--that God oversaw the world--were true.  The meaning would be one I produced through my belief (regardless of its truth) that God is ordering and sustaining our historical lives.  But we have even lost that ability.  We must now live beyond both the illusion of external meaning and the illusion of being able to provide such meaning ourselves.

This collapse of all meaning is not a new situation; in fact, it is precisely the situation in which Karl Barth wrote (sorry to be more predictable than LOST).  From 1945-1951, Barth wrote his account of creation, that is, in the aftermath of WWII and the holocaust, the Swiss theologian who was exiled from Germany for his refusal to swear allegiance to Hitler, wrote out his doctrine of divine providence.  And he says, right at the beginning, "It is quite plain what God wills as the Lord of the being created by Him, and as the Lord of its history, namely, what is the meaning and purpose, the goal and therefore the glory of His lordly action.  It is not plain because we have lifted the veil of this history and discovered its secret.  It is not plain because we have perceived, planned, or determined it ourselves.  It is plain because God Himself has revealed it to us in His Word.  And He has revealed it in the simple way in which He has revealed Himself--and we must take this seriously--as the triune God who as the Father is over us and as the Son is for us and both in the unity in which as the Holy Spirit he creates our life as a life under Him and again for Him" (CD III/2, p. 33-34).  God is over us and for us (and ruling over us because God is for us).  That is the simple and plain truth, written by this theologian living in the ruins of Germany.

It is simple and plain.  History, our lives as creatures, "do not have their purpose and goal in themselves or apart from the purpose and goal to which the covenant work of God hastens" (36).  Our lives are really made meaningful, but not by us.  Our lives are not meaningful in themselves; history has no meaning in and of itself.  History has meaning inside of--on the basis of--God's gracious decision to be with us and for us (so that we could be with and for God).  History is not a meaningful order; it is precisely the disruption of ordinary meaning, of predictably unfolding events within themselves, by the one who is Lord over history for our sake.  The ground of history comes from outside creaturely history (God) within creaturely history (Incarnation).  To put it more simply, the meaning of history is found only in God's address to us, Jesus Christ.  But this meaning is not a weapon, as if Christians now possess a meaningful sense of the world, and therefore ought to rule and govern and organize those who cannot make sense of the world.  To think that way is to still place our trust in the subject, in the person who can secure his or her own meaning.  That history is meaningful only in Christ means that no history is meaningless, nobody's  history is meaningless, because all history and all bodies have been brought inside of Christ.  We need not master the chaos, the collapsing order, the conflicting and irreconcilable perspectives because they all have already been mastered, by Jesus.  We need not find our meaning because our lives have been made meaningful...without our help.

In this light, the drama of LOST loses its edge because the struggle for meaningful action is misplaced. An action is meaningful neither when it accords with some immanent, self-contained world trajectory (e.g., the upwards path of evolution, or the rules of the island) nor when it accords with my own personal structure of meaning.  An action is meaningful when it is put to use by Christ, for his purposes.  The meaning rests neither out there in the world nor in here, in my mind.  It rests in him, in Jesus, the God who has willed to be, not once, but continually, gracious to us.

If this is true, then I am free from the task of having to provide some order to the world so that I can act in a meaningful way; instead, I am free to entrust my actions to the One who gives life meaning, trusting that he will continue to be gracious and forgive me, and hoping that, by his grace, whatever I do, will be of service to his glory.

(I should mention you should check out Brian Bantum's blog post on LOST, HERE).