May 23, 2011

did you get carried away by the RAPTURE?

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Judment DayAre you ready for JUDGMENT DAY? Haven’t you seen all the websites warning us to prepare? One website predicts that the RAPTURE will occur some time in 2011 [link]. Not to mention the thousands of billboards and ads sponsored by another group of Christians warning:

May 21, 2011
The BIBLE Guarantees It! [link]

If you haven’t prepared yet, don’t bother, it’s too late… looks like you missed the boat.

But just in case you’re wondering what the RAPTURE is all about, I suggest the following video. While Harold Camping, who predicted that end of the world would occur on May 21st, was obviously wrong, one thing remains certain, it won’t be long before RAPTURE enthusiasts announce another date:

“Are you ready for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ? The greatest prophecy in the bible is not far from fulfillment. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God and the dead in Jesus Christ will rise first. Then those of us who are alive and still remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

“Are you ready for his return? Some day soon in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye… events unspeakably strange and startling will occur…. Speeding trains will plunge unsuspecting passengers into a black eternity as Christian engineers are snatched from their throttle. Operations will be halted mid way as believing surgeons are caught up to be forever with the Lord…. There will be milk deliveries unmade, there will be stores remaining closed… housework will be left undone because Christian maids have been promoted to higher realms…”

“For some [Christians] it will mean joyful release from suffering and pain… To all Christians the rapture will mean removal from the presence of sin, drinking, from murder, gambling, unbelief… from wars and rumor of war.”

But for the unsaved: the rapture

” you will be LEFT BEHIND to suffer tribulation as the world has never seen…
The sea will become as the blood of a dead man, rivers and fountains will be turned into blood, men will be scorched with great heat, men will be covered with noisome and grevious sores. The islands of the sea will disappear. There will be lightening and thunder and a great earthquake such as was not since man was upon the earth.”

“Are you ready to pass through all these horrible experiences and then go on to a black eternity? Or are you ready now to accept the Lord Jesus as your Savior and be caught up to meet him in the air when he comes for his own?”

There is some debate amongst Christians who believe in the Rapture whether they’ll be whisked away before or after the suffering begins. The pre-millennialists, who seem to be the majority, insist they’ll be carried away beforehand [link].

But most agree that, all the sinners who aren’t “born again,” or “saved” (depending upon your vernacular) will be LEFT BEHIND to suffer these “unspeakable torments.” If you’re worried you’ll be caught unprepared, you can go to yet another site RAPTURE READY [link] and find all the info you need, including new predictions for Jesus’ return.

Beam me up, ScottyFor me, the RAPTURE sounds like one of those hairy moments on Star Trek when Captain Kirk, trapped on a planet about to be eaten by space monsters, shouts into his communicator: “BEAM ME UP SCOTTY!” When I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, all I want is to be transported out of there. Given the massive problems confronting us today: the threat of violence, the ecological crisis, the rapid growth in global population which will place an ever increasing strain on the world’s limited resources, its easy to understandCatherine Keller Apocalypse Now and Then why so many Christians want to believe in the RAPTURE, but is it really the Christian thing to do? Isn’t this running away from our problems? Refusing to take responsibility for the mess we’ve made of things? Leaving others to suffer the consequences? Think about it: the tribulations described above read like a grocery list of the bad effects of OUR irresponsible behavior.

As process theologian Catherine Keller demonstrates there’s a link between “imagining the world out of existence,” and the “material habits of world-waste ruining our civilization.” The “expectancy that Our Father will make us a shiny new world when this one breaks explicitly correlates with a willingness to dump this one.” (Keller, Apocalypse Now and Then, 2)

In 1996 when Keller published this she stated that one-fourth of all Americans believe in this kind of end of world scenario (Keller, 8). A decade later a 2005 Newsweek poll revealed that 55% believe in the Rapture, suggesting that RAPTURE READINESS is on the rise - a response to heightening crises around the globe. As our consumption increases unfettered, I’d be willing to bet that the May 21st flop will hardly put a dent in this trend.

To understand the logic at work here, we need to return to the key RAPTURE texts. The pivotal Greek word which appears in these passages is αἴρω (airō) = to take away [see lexicon]. In Matthew 24:37-44 [link], one of the most popular Rapture texts, αἴρω describes the plight of those who were swept away by Noah’s flood. Jesus warns his Noah's Floodlisteners:

For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and SWEPT THEM ALL AWAY, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Notice that in Jesus’ retelling of the Genesis story of the Flood, Noah is LEFT BEHIND in the ark while the SINNERS are CARRIED AWAY. Jesus continues: “Then two will be in the field and one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” Given what Jesus says above, those taken are those swept away by the flood. How did it get reversed?

This is followed by a short parable: “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not have let his house be brokefleeing the delugen into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.“ Those who believe in the Rapture equate the thief with the Son of Man who’s going to sneak into the house unannounced and steal those who are ready away to safety. This is despite the fact that earlier in the chapter Matthew warns that the coming of the Son of Man coincides with a tidal wave of violent events which will flood Jerusalem, a deluge will happen so quickly that there will be little if any time to escape.

Many Christians, have been told, some of them since they were children, to read these cataclysmic events, not as the effects of their own behavior, but as signs of the RAPTURE, that when the moment comes they’re to be ready and awake, waiting for Jesus to transport them out of there…. but what if it’s really the opposite scenario?

For instance, following 9/11, Americans were easily SWEPT into a war, which many of us now regret. Unfortunately, at the time, it was nearly impossible to resist being CARRIED AWAY by the demands for revenge and the patriotic fervor which overtook the nation. Isn’t this closer to Jesus’ statement in Matthew’s text? Since 9/11 we’ve experienced the painful costs of getting CARRIED AWAY: a war which has stolen not only our loved ones, but also our sense of national security. If only we had recognized the thief in the night we could have stayed awake, we wouldn’t have let our fear get the best of us, if only…

As long as we place our hope in some form of rescue, we won’t be ready. When the tidal wave of trouble comes, as it always does, we’ll be caught off-guard without a lifeboat. Jesus is not up in the sky, he remained on earth. Caught, as he was, between a rock and a hard place, he never cried out, “Beam me up Scotty!When everyone around him, including the disciples, were overtaken by fear and CARRIED AWAY by the flood of events, Jesus chose to be LEFT BEHIND!

Left Behind Video GamePaul Nuechterlein says it well, “Jesus himself ultimately became the one left behind. All others had gotten swept up in the unanimous violence against him. He was the only one not caught up in the flood of violence as a perpetrator and instead became its victim for our sakes. “

Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary [link]

Why would Jesus choose to be LEFT BEHIND, to become a “victim for our sakes”? French thinker, René Girard claims that in the midst of this contagion Jesus became the scapegoat - to expose the role of the victim, who is forced to suffer the consequences ofRene Girard our bad behavior. This casts an alarming light on all the apocalyptic fervor in the United States. Isn’t it a form of preparation, a way of tapping into mass hysteria unconsciously motivated by fear, by which we achieve the unanimous emotional threshold that must be reached for scapegoating and Jesus Abandoned on the Crossits ensuing catharsis to occur? Over the course of our history countless millions have been scapegoated. Eventually it has to catch up with us… and somewhere hidden in the back of our minds we know this.

The thief who comes in the night may be read as the tidal wave of violence threatening to overtake us at any moment, a form of judgment or Second Coming, or even a sort of advent of an “unrepresentable” object of fear breaking into our reality - the accumulated suffering of the past centuries, the unfathomable amount of bloodshed - enough to fill an ocean. The countless masses who died unnecessarily of hunger and disease, the people trampled underfoot by the relentless march of global capitalism, beginning, as Keller describes, with the rape andLeft Behind Cartoon pillage of the Americas by the European conquistadors.

I find it interesting that another rapture text Matthew 11:12 goes ignored: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” The Greek word for “take it by force” is ἁρπάζω (harpazō) = carry off by force, a derivative of αἱρέω which is closely related to αἴρω (airō) = to take away. The Latin is rapio, rape. Isn’t it related? The ravaging of the environment, global warming - all this is represented in the video above, “Are you ready?” Are you ready for the accumulated effects of this violence to finally exact its revenge? Incredibly, belief in the RAPTURE resolves all this by transforming “the object of fear into the site of hope,” (Keller, 6) a mechanism so powerful, it even renders it’s gruesome subject matter suitable for children’s cartoons and video games.

The apocalyptic fervor of Jesus’ own time allowed the people to deflect the pronouncement of judgment delivered by John the Baptist, the greatest of prophets. but tensions continued to mount until, in the blink of an eye, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, the people CARRIED AWAY once again.Left Behind

I’d rather be LEFT BEHIND, to stay put, to wait, and let it come before it goes that far. And even if the waters rise and the flood approaches, Jacques Derridato seek ways to resist apocalyptic fervor. Rather than deny or deflect our violence onto others, to prepare spaces within ourselves, a sort of Noah’s Ark, in which we integrate what we’ve always denied and learn to live on in new ways. As LEFT BEHIND “we have begun to respond.” Indeed I read the RAPTURE as postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida does: “We have begun to be caught up, we are caught up, in a certain responsibility - as if it were possible to think a responsibility without freedom. We are invested with an undeniable responsibility at the moment we begin to signify something….” (Derrida, Politics of Friendship, 231)

Let me end by offering a song from my RAPTURE PLAYLIST: “Runaway” by The National [link]The National

There’s no savin’ anything
I was swallowing the shine of the sun
There’s no savin’ anything
How we swallowed the sun

But I won’t be no runaway
‘Cause I won’t run
No, I won’t be no runaway
What makes you think I’m enjoyin’ being led to the flood?
We got another thing comin’ undone
And it’s takin’ us over

I’d also like to leave you with Peter Rollins [link] revised version of the RAPTURE [link]:

Peter Rollins Rapture

Just as it was written by those prophets of old, the last days of the Earth overflowed with suffering and pain. In those dark days a huge pale horse rode through the Earth with Death upon its back and Hell in its wake. During this great tribulation the Earth was scorched with the fires of war, rivers ran red with blood, the soil withheld its fruit and disease descended like a mist. One by one all the nations of the Earth were brought to their knees.

Far from all the suffering, high up in the heavenly realm, God watched the events unfold with a heavy heart. An ominous silence had descended upon heaven as the angels witnessed the Earth being plunged into darkness and despair. But this could only continue for so long for, at the designated time, God stood upright, breathed deeply and addressed the angels,

“The time has now come for me to separate the sheep from the goats, the healthy wheat from the inedible chaff”

Having spoken these words God slowly turned to face the world and called forth to the church with a booming voice,

“Rise up and ascend to heaven all of you who have who have sought to escape the horrors of this world by sheltering beneath my wing. Come to me all who have turned from this suffering world by calling out ‘Lord, Lord’”.

In an instant millions where caught up in the clouds and ascended into the heavenly realm. Leaving the suffering world behind them.

Once this great rapture had taken place God paused for a moment and then addressed the angels, saying,

“It is done, I have separated the people born of my spirit from those who have turned from me. It is time now for us leave this place and take up residence in the Earth, for it is there that we shall find our people. The ones who would forsake heaven in order to embrace the earth. The few who would turn away from eternity itself to serve at the feet of a fragile, broken life that passes from existence in but an instant”.

And so it was that God and the heavenly host left that place to dwell among those who had rooted themselves upon the earth. Quietly supporting the ones who had forsaken God for the world and thus who bore the mark God. The few who had discovered heaven in the very act of forsaking it.

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May 4, 2011

pub(lic) spirituality: next meeting May 16th, 2011

image001.jpgTired of keeping your spirituality to yourself?

Had enough of privatized religion?

Pub(lic) Spirituality is an open discussion that meets monthly. Bring your ideas, your questions, your poetry, or whatever else sparks you!

No agenda, no secret password.

Visit us on Facebook [link]

next meeting:
May 16th, 2011

Empire Brewing Company
in Armory Square
120 Walton Street

Affiliated with St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral [link] an urban church

Empire Brewing Company

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April 23, 2011


the desertIf you know me, you know I’ve had a rough year, actually a rough couple of years. I rarely write about myself, but every now and then I turn confessional… of a sort.

Tonight I attended the Easter Vigil - my favorite Christian liturgy… that and Good Friday. On Friday, meditating on the empty altar (the cross is removed on Maundy Thursday) - I didn’t need to invent a context - it was all too real for me: my marriage just ended, I’ve lost the man I loved, and an unbearable emptiness has exposed itself at the core of my life.

For me, the stripped altar reflected the stripped idealizations that had, for too long, held me in their grip: beginning with the myth of marital bliss that John and I had projected to almost everyone around us (when we split, many of our friends were shocked). Yet even deeper than this was the way we had come to idealize each other, daily denying the singular reality of the person we had promised to honor as our spouse. The roles we had learned to play, and the way those roles easter vigilmitigated any true intimacy, led us to lose sight of each other, of what was singularly lovable in the other person - with the effect that as the demand to conform to each others’ ideals intensified, so did the disappointment!

So I come away from the Easter Vigil with a new sense of awareness… that’s all (sorry, no resuscitated bodies)… but it’s far and away enough… a commitment to honor and love, as best I can, others as completely other, to resist the temptation to control them, to idealize them, or domesticate those relationships…. this takes vigilance! Rather than fill that empty space in my heart, I allow new spaces to open.

So I pray to stay awake (as I start to drift asleep) and I pray for new life (whatever that is) in the face of this, my impossible task. ~ Sue Wright

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March 9, 2011

risky business

risky businessHow many preachers choose to ignore difficult gospel texts when they show up in the lectionary readings for Sunday morning?

mother daughter conflictThis happened at my church. The priest focused his sermon almost entirely on the epistle for that Sunday, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, completely avoiding the gospel reading: Luke 12:49-56 [full text]. But who can blame him? Jesus, in one his more apocalyptic moods, says some pretty disturbing things:

I CAME to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I HAVE COME to bring PEACE to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather DIVISION! From now on five in one household will be DIVIDED, three against two and Simpsons Fightingtwo against three; they will be DIVIDED:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

You’d have to be crazy to preach on that! It’s just too RISKY. Any clergy who wants to keep their job would be well advised to avoid such texts. People don’t want to hear it. When thinking about the MESSIAH TO COME, whether past or present, most folks in the pews envision that figure as a bringer of PEACE and tranquility, not DIVISION. And certainly not family conflict!

The priest at my church gave a nice sermon. It was kind of long, but provided a moving description of faith. Ignoring Luke, he took his cue from the famous line in Hebrews:Cloud of Witnesses

…we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame… (Hebrew 12:1-2)

He shared the experiences of his generation, which lived through WWII: the soldiers who risked their lives for something bigger than themselves. He told the story of a pilot of a B17 who crashed with his entire crew, never seeing the outcome of his sacrifice. He described what it felt like to live through that moment in history, “when the future horizon was so uncertain,” and how, in the face of incredible circumstances, those soldiers risked everything.

I tried to think of a story representative of my generation. Who among us has run the race? And sad to say, the best I could come up with was the movie Risky Business (1983), an iconic film for those of us who came of age in the Reagan Era. Family TiesUnlike WWII, the mid-80’s were a period of relative peace and prosperity, when most white, middle class teenagers, like myself, experienced life as safe and secure. We thought our futures were guaranteed. To this day my Gen-X friends and I romanticize that last gasp of suburban tranquility, epitomized in TV shows like Family Ties. Little did we know that we would be the first generation deprived of the opportunities our parents took for granted. Yet even before the American Dream began going bust in the 1990s, Risky Business, challenged the cookie cutter reality of the 1980’s suburban cutlure by exposing the one thing it couldn’t provide: a life free of ANXIETYJoel opens bathroom door

In the very first scene high school student Joel Goodsen (played by Tom Cruise) recounts his recurring nightmare: “The dream is always the same. Instead of going home I go to the neighbor’s. I ring but nobody answers. The door is open, so I go inside… nobody seems to be there… I hear the shower running so I go upstairs to see what’s what. Then I see her, this girl, this incredible girl [in the shower]. What’s she doing thereGirl in shower I don’t know because she doesn’t live there… she says ‘I want you to wash my back.’” but Joel can’t find the shower door. “Finally I get to the door and I find myself in a room full of kids taking their college boards. I’m over three hours late; got two minutes to take the whole test. I just made a terrible mistake. I’ll never get to college; my life is ruined.

Joel lives in a well-to-do suburb of Chicago full of lawyers, doctors, bankers, and the like. His parents are Joel late for college boardcaricatures of the white suburban establishment. Even though his father owns a Porsche, Joel’s parents live passionless lives, frozen, so to speak,Risky Business Cyrstal Egg within the icy confines of their shallow, predictable lifestyle. This is perfectly represented by the large CRYSTAL EGG, cherished by Joel’s mother, a very expensive object which occupies a place of honor atop the fireplace mantel.

Throughout the movie, Joel’s parents lecture him in mild, but overbearing parental tones: “Did you get your SAT scores?” “My house, my rules.” “Be good.” “We TRUST you.” With the result that Joel Goodsen, being the epitome of the “good son,” becomes extremely ANXIOUS about his future - he’s afraid to detour even the slightest degree from the course his parents have outlined for him, convinced that one slip up will cost him his admission into Princeton, his father’s alma mater, and ruin his FUTURE.

Joel’s mother lectures him in mild but overbearing tonesIn another dream Joel is about to make love with the neighbors’ babysitter. The police send a SWAT team to surround the house. “Alright Goodsen, we know you’re in there… the house is surrounded.” In the dream, his parents arrive, taking hold of the bullhorn, they plead in their same mild tones: “Please Joel, … get off the babysitter, don’t throw your life away like this.” The babysitter’s father, dressed almost exactly like Joel’s father in a cashmere cardigan and casual pants, is more threatening: “You’ll never have a future, not if I can help it. You got that? NO FUTURE.”

The truth is, Joel’s FUTURE is slipping away, but not because of any slip ups on his part. Joel is so ANXIOUS he’s unable to take any sort of RISK, he cannot ACT on his PASSION. He’s growing up to be a very typical, mediocre Parents with bullhornyoung man. It is this mediocrity, more than anything else, that jeopardizes his FUTURE. As Bill Rutherford, the Princeton admissions officer, says, “your point average is 3.14, your class rank 52, which places you in the 84th percentile, is that correct?… junior varsity tennis team, recording secretary Spanish club, varsity track team one year, honorable mention Cook County Science Fair, Future Enterprisers, yearbook staff, student council two years. Well Joel your stats are very RESPECTABLE, you’ve done some solid work here, but it’s not quite Ivy League is it?”

Joel & babysitter surroundedWhen his parents take a trip, leaving him home alone, the POSSIBILITIES this presents only intensify his ANXIETY. His best friend Miles tries to challenge him: “No guts Goodsen… sometimes you gotta say ‘What the f*ck!’ make your move.” Joel’s response is pathetic, “Me, I don’t want to make a mistake, jeopardize my future.” But Miles persists:”Joel, you wanna know something? Every now and then say, ‘What the f*ck!’ ‘What the f*ck!’ gives you freedom, freedom brings opportunity, opportunity makes your future…. your folks are going out of town… you’ve got the place all to yourself…what the f*ck!‘”

Soren KierkegaardJust the sort of advice you’d expect from a teenager. “What the f*ck!” smacks of irresponsibility, a lack of respect, a certain reckless immaturity… But what if “What the f*ck!” demonstrates something else? What my favorite 19th century religious thinker, Soren Kierkegaard, terms EARNESTNESS, the most serious sort of RESPONSIBILITY. For postmodern philosopher, Jacques Derrida, “What the f*ck” might even betray an INFINITE RESPONSIBILITY. But such responsibility requires PASSION, the sort of PASSION that can only be fueled by DESIRE. As Kierkegaard says, “EARNESTNESS of feeling is a FIRE” that is always at risk for being cooled (Concept of Anxiety, 149); it must be ignited through ACTION.

Joel’s Dance 1The first evening he’s alone, Joel blasts Bob Seger on his father’s expensive stereo system, something he was expressly forbidden to do, and performs the iconic dance in front of the CRYSTAL EGG [watch on YouTube]. As rebellious as this behJoel’s father prohibits stereoavior may seem, it leaves Joel as ANXIOUS as ever.

The next night Joel’s Dance 2he takes his father’s Porsche out for a cruise, something else he was told not to do. Joel says with self-satisfaction, “Porsche. There is no substitute.” When he recounts this to Miles the next day, Miles is unimpressed: “You’ve done the old man’s car bit, that’s a good start…”

And why should Miles be impressed? The Porsche is a substitute for true rebellion, for ACTION. Joel is doing what his father does, it’s a repetition of the same behavior lacking any any expression of Joel’s Dance 4real PASSION, an evasion of true words and ACTION, of having to say, “What the f*ck!” As Kierkegaard would say, Joel has defrauded POSSIBILITY and the RISK that comes with it. His desire remains focused on precisely the objects his father prohibited him…. which explains Miles’ disinterest in Joel’s little “joyride.”

So what’s Joel’s hangup, what’s he so ANXIOUS about? Simply put: the peace and security of Joel’s middle class world depends on the strict control of DESIRE, on the cooling of EARNESTNESS, on extinguishing PASSION and any ACTION which might ignite it. Joel’s parents and their peers are devoid of all this. Their desire, their sexuality, are channeled through socially accepted Joel’s Dance 3venues and policed by external constraints which manifest as suburban conformity. Lacking PASSION, they’re unable to express any genuine concern for their fellow man, focused as they are on the shallow, pre-programmed pursuit of material wealth and security. It’s not that they’re greedy, you could even say they’re not greedy enough.Rene Girard ANXIETY prevents them from ACTING on their more passionate DESIRES.

As French thinker Rene Girard explains: DESIRE is MIMETIC, it is always provoked by another’s desire, which means it’s extremely dangerous [read girard on desire] The more passionate the desire, the more mimetic it becomes. If cut loose, MIMETIC DESIRE spreads horizontally, crisscrossing the community one neighbor to the next. Like a wild fire, it’s nearly impossible to control. wildfire And no desire is more unruly than that of a teenage boy - it can ignite an entire neighborhood.

Joel’s DESIRE must be tamed, and safely-channeled as quickly as possible, before it sets his suburban community ablaze, before it provokes multiple and competing desires, a contagion of jealousy and rivalry which could quickly escalate into violence. To avoid rivalry, DESIRE is always directed away from the neighbor, prohibiting what Girard calls INTERNALLY MEDIATEDThou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods desire [link], and is redirected towards safe objects: expensive cars, SAT scores, an Ivy League education. Girard calls this EXTERNALLY MEDIATED desire [link]. To come of age in Joel’s suburban neighborhood, means to sacrifice DESIRE and PASSION before he has a chance to ACT on it - no wonder Joel has nightmares about the police surrounding the house!

So why would Jesus want to kindle such a fire? Why would he cut DESIRE loose? Why on earth would he long for that?

If Joel merely did what he was told and imitated the desires programmed for him by his parents and peers, if instead of going to the neighbor’s house, he came straight home - he would close the door to possibility, to opportunity and freedom, he would close the door to the coming of the MESSIAH.

Thank God, Miles decides to play a joke on his best friend. Ignoring Joel’s protests, Miles sends a prostitute to the Goodsen home. When the uninvited visitor arrives, Joel opens the door to discover she’s a transvestite - LOL - he immediately slams the door shut. The transvestite, who’s now stranded in the suburbs, asks to use the phone to call a taxi, “Joel be a courageous person, open the door.” Joel is kind enough to open the door, thus exposing himself to a dose of uncertainty joel peering through door at transvestiteand risk - which helps him muster the courage later that evening to take a further risk. The transvestite leaves Joel with a phone number: “Ask for Lana, it’s what you want, it’s what every boy off the lake wants.” Joel calls the number to arrange for another prostitute to come to the house, he dons a cashmere sweater, downs a scotch and falls asleep on the couch, but this time he leaves the door unlocked

When Lana (played by Rebecca De Mornay) arrives, she proves to be much more than Joel bargained for. If he had known, I’m sure he would have kept the door locked! But DESIRE has already opened the door to the unpredictable, to the OTHER and all the POSSIBILITY this presents, exposing Joel to an unforeseeable FUTURE.honor thy father and mother

Joel, however, EXPECTS his economic arrangement with Lana to conclude by morning, but he lacks enough cash to pay her $300 fee lana-joel-next-morning.jpg(prostitutes cost more than he realized). Leaving Lana at the house, he goes to the bank to cash a savings bond. When he returns, the CRYSTAL EGG is gone… Lana has stolen the centerpiece of PEACE and TRANQUILITY in the Goodsen household. Joel now learns that there’s more to be ANXIOUS about than just losing his virginity. As Kierkegaard would say, he’s about to get an EDUCATION in POSSIBILITY.

Indeed, unlocking one door quickly opens another and before you know it Joel’s home is invaded by prostitutes, transvestites, and a pimp named Guido - people he would never normally meet. At first all he wants is a return to normalcy “I just want my egg back, I want my house back!” But as these people enter his life, creating a fair amount of chaos, they actually have some positive effects upon him. Yes, Joel is suspended from school, “his record ruined,” he’s kicked out of Future Enterprisers, but by remaining open and continuing to ACT in the face of all this uncertainty, he finds he can take risks, which previously he could only ever dream of.

At one point Joel’s parents call to check on him and hearing a party in the background they’re suspicious, “Is that a WOMAN’s voice?” But rather than threaten him with punishment, they simply demand conformity in those same mild tones: “We TRUST you.” Meaning we know you won’t break the rules and disobey us. Joel, tells himself, “It seems to me if there is any logic to the world, ‘Trust’ would be a four letter word.” He’s sick and tired of the pressure to conform. Joel having come this far is not willing to turn back: he make’s a decisive break from his previous programmed existence, and taking his life into his own hands, he takes a leap into UNCERTAINTY. In that moment, when he decides to ACT, his words to the Princeton admissions officer couldn’t be more fitting:risky business princeton interview

[Movie Clip] “You know Bill, there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years, sometimes you got to say, ‘what the f*ck!’ Make your move.” But beware, when that moment of rupture comes, when Joel Joel’s momenttakes this leap, it appears reckless and irresponsible, a violation of everything respectable, of all normalcy. “What the f*ck!” is disruptive, not simply because it’s a challenge to parental authority, it’s open-ended, it isn’t programmed. It’s not just “What the hell!” It’s far more RISKY than that. As Jacques Derrida says, the future is full of risk, “the future can only be anticipated in the form of an absolute danger. It is that which breaks absolutely with constituted normality and can only be proclaimed, presented, as a sort of monstrosity.” (Derrida, Of Grammatology, 5) As Joel’s future opens up, it may feel to him that he’s adrift in uncharted water - no wonder people get anxious! But as my favorite postmodern theologian, John Caputo, warns “Faith is not a safe harbor, but risky business.” [Tikkun, Mar-Apr. 2010]Crstal egg on mantel

Therefore, if and when the MESSIAH COMES, too many of us may prefer to remain safe and secure in our egg, with the doors locked. But this is a FALSE PEACE. As Lutheran pastor Paul Nuechterlein says on his website [Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary]:

“The old way of peace meant sacrificing the desires and goals of the daughters and wives in families. As families have rightly become more egalitarian so has the discord, in many instances, increased between husbands and wives, parents and children. Divorce has increased greatly.”

By breaking free of his parents middle-class conformity, Joel is not free to desire as he pleases, for desire remains MIMETIC. But as his desire brings him into contact with others, Lana for instance, he’ll experiences some of it’s effects: for instance, the rivalry and conflict of competing desire. At the same time he’ll be freer to ACT, to respond in the midst of a crisis to the needs of others, to welcome the unexpected visitor. As Caputo says, keeping “the net of social relationships open makes possible what Arendt calls ‘natality,’ the fresh, natal, initiating power of a new action, a new beginning or a new start. Each day is a new day, a renewal of the day, risky business egg catcha new gift. Today is always new. Today you begin again.”(Caputo, Weakness of God, 169)

When Joel’s parents return, only after Joel desperately reconstructs their home and furnishings, making it appear exactly as it did when his parents left, returning the EGG to its proper place on the mantel (Joel has to go to great lengths to retrieve it) it appears at first that the family routine will continue seamlessly. But this time there’s a difference: Joel’s mother finds a small CRACK in her CRYSTAL EGG, “the crevice through which the yet unnameable glimmer beyond the closure can be glimpsed.” (Derrida, Of Grammatology, 14) There is hope! ‘Natality’ is born afresh. A totally unforseen and unprogrammed FUTURE announces itself - Joel’s father gives Joel the news: Joel has been accepted into Princeton, the future which was originally denied him due to mediocrity, has now opened wide, not as a reward for doing everything he was told, on the contrary, but as a Joel able to take riskspossibility that belonged to a FUTURE that his middle-class existence would have blocked. So while Joel may appear to fulfill his father’s expectations - he will go to Princeton - it will be on very different terms. His days of playing it safe are over.

And truth be told, his education at Princeton will hardly be the one to matter most, to actually form his character. Only his education by way of POSSIBILITY, by way of DESIRE can transform Joel into a person of INFINITE RESPONSIBILITY - capable of running the race - one who has grappled with the effects of INTERNALLY MEDIATED DESIRE [more of this in an upcoming post]. It certainly won’t be Joel’s father, who upon learning of Joel’s acceptance to his alma mater, can only say, “Having I been telling you every once and a while you’ve just got to say, ‘What the heck!’” - Sue Wright

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September 20, 2010

are you THE ONE?

Jesus ComicIs Jesus THE ONE? Do we really know? Wherever Jesus went, people hounded him, demanding to know, “Are you THE ONE?” Why were they so obsessed with this question? Maybe it’s human nature - a perennial longing for a messiah, some need for a superhero to deliver us.The Matrix Movie Poster Or maybe the question of Jesus’ identity was just a ploy, a literary device, used by the biblical writers to capture the reader’s imagination? It works in the movies: The Matrix, Star Wars, Dune, the TV Series Legend of the Seeker… they even used it in the final season of LOST. But why? What is it about THE ONE? Why does this messianic figure hold so much power over our imaginations?

In John 10:22-30 [link] Jesus actually refuses to answer the question: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” In fact, his response seems to lead them on:

“I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

people question jesus in         templeIf Jesus is THE ONE, if he’s all that the church creeds have claimed him to be (the Messiah, the Son of God, half Legend of the Seeker Posterhuman, half divine) why not admit it and get on with the business of saving the world? Why keep us in suspense this way?

Maybe the author of John’s gospel was afraid to divulge the answer too soon, knowing just how quickly we might lose interest in the story. Or maybe Jesus himself, understanding the power of suspense, utilized it to his advantage as a way to draw followers. Not only is he evasive, he taunts his interrogators, telling them that the reason they don’t GET IT, the reason they don’t BELIEVE, is because they don’t BELONG to his SHEEP. Isn’t this the same as saying, “you don’t BELONG to the club,” or “you’re not one of us, so you don’t get to have eternal life”? Jesus sounds like a manipulative jerk, or worse, some sort of cult leader. But isn’t it also true that’s there’s something in our makeup that allows messiah sorts to make their claims, which allows the script writers and the TV producers to play that card in the first place?

Look at the The Matrix. It grabs our attention in the very first scene. Before any action, before we encounter a single person or face, we hear the line, “Morpheus believes he [Neo] is THE ONE.” One line and we’re hooked. We watch the entire movie waiting to find out - is it Neo, is he THE ONE? There’s no need to ask ourselves what it means, we all seem to GET IT from the start. Grasping at every clue, we hold our breath in anticipation, waiting for the evidence that will prove beyond all doubt that Neo (Keanu Reeves) is really it. And sadly, when we finally got the answer, the rest of The Matrix trilogy seems to lose its steam.

Neo stops bullets in mid airFrom the beginning, the primary characters, Morpheus, Trinity, and Cipher, are focused on this single question of THE ONE’s identity. Morpheus tells Neo, “You are THE ONE Neo… I’ve spent my entire life looking for you,” that person, who according to the Oracle’s prophesy, will free humanity from the Matrix. Morpheus BELIEVES his search is finally over - how can he be so certain?

Upon meeting Neo, Tank, a member of Morpheus’ crew exclaims, “God damn, I got to tell you I’m very excited to see what you’re capable of. If Morpheus is right – I’m not supposed to talk about this – but if you are… it’s a very exciting time.” Their expectation becomes even more heightened when Neo begins to demonstrate almost superhuman powers - he must be it!

However, just when they begin to BELIEVE it’s true, that Neo is THE ONE, Neo goes to see the Oracle [watch]. She like all the others asks Neo if he’s THE ONE. Acting totally clueless (in Neo flyingtrue Keanu Reeves fashion) Neo replies, “Honestly, I YouTube Oracledon’t know.” After questioning him further the Oracle tells Neo, “Sorry kid, you got the gift, but it looks like you’re waiting for something.” Neo asks, “For what?” Turning her back on him, the Oracle replies, “I don’t know, another life or something…”

What’s going on here? Neo has all the powers you’d expect THE ONE to possess. Morpheus is convinced it’s true. Trinity is convinced it’s true. So, what’s the Oracle playing at? And what is Neo’s hang-up? Why won’t he take on the role everyone expects of him. What’s holding him back? Is this just another scriptwriter’s ploy?

Neo wakes up in the matrixBut in fact, there IS a very real problem: Neo does not BELIEVE he’s THE ONE; and as long as HE thinks this way, he can’t be it, because he, like most of the characters in the movie, is passively waiting for someone else to step up to the plate. Morpheus, however never loses hope, he insists that when Neo is ready, he won’t have to dodge bullets. Morpheus tells Neo, “I told you that I would show you the door. You have to walk through it… you must free your mind,” but not in the way Morpheus expects. Neo may be physically freed from the Matrix, but he is still trapped within a mental ENCLOSURE, one which continues to render him and all the others passive, as passive as SHEEP.

Slavoj ZizekSlavoj Zizek, a philosopher with a knack for picking apart movies, provides an important clue: “when some of the people ‘awaken’ from their immersion into the Matrix controlled virtual reality, this awakening is not the opening into the wide space of the external reality, but first the horrible realization of this enclosure, where each of us is effectively just a fetus-like organism, immersed in the pre-natal fluid.” But “this utter passivity” is itself the fantasy, “the notion that we are instruments” of the Matrix, controlled by machines, “sucked out of life-substance like batteries.” As Zizek says, “we should turn around the state of things presented by the film.” (Zizek, “The Matrix: Or The Two Sides of Perversion,” The Matrix and Philosophy, 264) [watch Neo’s wake up scene]Neo Wakes Up Within the Matrix

We construct the Matrix, the virtual ENCLOSURE or symbolic order in which we live out our lives safe and secure, protected from any real responsibility for our actions. We choose to be passive victims of this fantasy, so passive that we forget that we are the one’s who constructed it in the first place. No wonder we require someone with super human powers to bail us out, to fix things when something goes awry. Heaven forbid, we take responsibility ourselves.

And to be honest, churches are often prone to this sort of fantasizing. We construct the same sort of SELF-ENCLOSURE: we tend to rely on CREEDS and DOCTRINES, which allow us to feel safe and secure in BELONGING. Seems harmless enough… but the Matrix can only be sustained as long as everyone submitssheep coral to the fantasy, all the members of the FLOCK must be unanimous in BELIEF. Individuals or groups who doubt this reality or desire to get free are often viewed as a threat. But few communities, even so-called “Christian” ones, can admit this consciously. Instead we convince ourselves that we’re just following orders, that we don’t make the rules, that GOD or the MACHINES are in charge, and THEY decide who’s in and who’s out, they police the borders, THEY take care of problem-makers and gate-crashers. We blame the machines for the violence done to maintain The Matrix, to protect the FLOCK… and all the while, we remain PASSIVE SHEEP.

Rene GirardThus getting free from the Matrix entails much more than unplugging from the hardwiring of the system, we must recognize that we are the true architects of the system. We we are the architects of the Matrix. Contemporary thinker Rene Girard adds another clue: constructing the Matrix allows us to protect the FLOCK, but it’s not as simple as just fencing it in and casting out trouble makers. Every community must deal with the inner tensions that arise naturally from competition, jealousy and envy. In many cases peace and stability is achieved by channeling these tensions upon a sacrificial SHEEP, a scapegoat. That person or animal, chosen from within the community, acts as a SUBSTITUTE, bearing responsibility for the “crimes” of the entire community.

Agent SmithBut again, we tell ourselves it is God’s will; we blame the machines, or external forces like poverty, for singling out those unlucky few. We insist that they are guilty in some way: they’re trouble makers, they don’t fit in, they’re lazy, or a threat to society. The machines make sure that no one challenges these BELIEFS or disturbs the fantasy, leaving us free to go about our day to day lives, getting to work on time, taking the kids to soccer practice, watching our favorite SCI FI thrillers in the evenings, and without ever having to take notice of those who are rejected, cast out, or exterminated, all for our sake. As Agent Smith says to Morpheus, “Billions of people, living out their lives, oblivious.” neo-down-the-abyss.jpg

In fact, Neo is one of those sacrificed to maintain the fantasy. Refusing to conform with the system, Neo instantly goes from being one of the protected FLOCK, snuggly plugged into the Matrix, to the category of the SUBSTITUTE, the SACRIFICIAL SHEEP. The machines “hired” or appointed to watch over the FLOCK, dump Neo supposedly to his death, to be ground up and liquified into food for the living. Sadly it is precisely this sort of experience which makes someone aware that there are OTHER FLOCKS: those sacrificed to protect the living.

Reading John’s gospel within this framework, all these references to SHEEP, FLOCKS, SHEEP GATES, and SHEPHERDS take on all sorts of new dimensions. In the biblical tradition, SHEPHERDS sacrificed the first-born SHEEP to guarantee the safety of their FLOCKS. In Jesus’ day, these first-born SHEEP were kept in a coral outside the SHEEP GATE, which they passed through on their way to be sacrificed in the Temple. This allows us to read Jesus’ enigmatic statement: “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my SHEEP,” in a new light. Which sheep does he mean? On the one hand “my SHEEP” can be read as the passive SHEEP belonging to the protected FLOCK, or on the other hand it can be read as those SHEEP singled out and coralled for sacrifice. How many of us are even aware that the latter FLOCK exists? We tend to identify with the former FLOCK: those kept safe and secure within the fold, while those sent out through the GATE to be sacrificed are forgotten, never sheep flockto be seen again.

Could it be that our concept of the messiah, THE ONE, depends on what kind of FLOCK we belong to? Those questioning Jesus might as well belong to the Matrix, they are passive SHEEP waiting for someone to fix the symbolic order.

But what if, as Girard says, Jesus intentionally takes the role of the sacrificial SHEEP, and becomes a member of the sacrificial FLOCK? In doing so he disturbs the peace and security of the protected FLOCK, first by exposing their complicity in the system, and second by turning their awareness towards the plight of the excluded, the scapegoats, the sacrificial SHEEP. In the process, Girard says, we gradually lose our taste for sacrifice. However, as this increased awareness of exclusion and scapegoating breaks down so manyArizona Border fences, letting the sacrificial SHEEP go free, the passive SHEEP tend to grow more anxious, their need to reinforce the fences and protect the FLOCK from outsiders becomes more accentuated. We see this happening on the Arizona border, and in Europe with exclusion of the gypsies.

[link to the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church Pastoral Letter on Immigration]

Star Wars posterIn fact the more desperate we are to protect the FLOCK, to repair the fences and fix the crumbling system, the less likely we are to recognize THE ONE. As emerging church leader Peter Rollins says, “In Star Wars the Christ figure (Darth Vader) is a force for evil (as he must be in a pagan universe)… ” because he is “the one who brings imbalance,” [link to Peter Rollins’ blog] or as postmodern philosopher John Caputo says “if the Messiah did show up he would ruin everything.” He would be an interruption, someone who disturbs the status quo. (Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, 60) Those of us who want to remain passive and safe in the Matrix or in the Church would experience him as a Darth Vader, a threat to the system, not as a Luke Skywalker, or the sort of savior we claim to believe in.

Does this mean that our longing for a messiah, for THE ONE, is completely misplaced? Jesus the First Super HeroNo. The problem, as Caputo says, is that we long for the MESSIANIC, but what we end up with is MESSIANISM. “It is in the end a mystification to treat these figures and images literally - even a dangerous mystification - if the result is to get us in the habit of depending upon a bail out by this divine superbeing at critical moments when things threaten to go wrong. The name of God is the name of an unconditional claim, a call and an address, but it is not the name of a superhero… coming over the hill in the nick of time to bail us out.” (Caputo, After the Death of God, 187-188n)

Superman Comic Book Cover

Furthermore, “Hope is not hope in an afterlife.” (Caputo, The Weakness of God, 251) The messianic doesn’t rescue us from this life and whisk us off to some other world or plane of existence, or to a reality outside of the Matrix. It addresses us in the here and now, in our flesh and blood reality.

John CaputoNeo is THE ONE, but not because of his ability to dodge bullets or outmaneuver the agents, as impressive as that might be. As Caputo warns, “it would be magic, supernaturalism, …idolatry to confine this event within… the confines of some sort of of superentity that can outthink, outwill, outpower, and generally outdo anything we mortals here below can come up with.” (After the Death of God, 65) When Neo went to visit the Oracle, there were plenty of potential candidates able to perform miracles, but not one was qualified to be THE ONE. For the MESSIANIC “takes the form of a call, an address, or solicitation, of a force that lays claim to us, addressing us unconditionally, but without the benefit of a terrestrial army or arsenal of weapons or of some celestial metaphysical power in the heavens.” (Caputo, After the Death of God, 65)

Neo becomes THE ONE when he responds to just such a call, when he allows the unconditional to lay it’s claim on him. At the crucial moment in The Matrix when the crew is forced to decide between Morpheus, someone they care neo-lifted-through-gate.jpgabout, or protecting Zion, the last human city. They decide to sacrifice Morpheus to save the FLOCK. Neo interjects: “NO!” He says he BELIEVES, not in a person, but in a possibility, that he can save Morpheus, just as Morpheus once sacrificed himself to save him. Neo decides to re-enter the Matrix, and risk almost certain death, to pass by way of impossibility. In the face of these overwhelming obstacles, with no hope of survival, and unable to foresee the outcome, he refuses to condemn Morpheus, and thus opens up the POSSIBILITY for the MESSIANIC.

It is then that Neo frees his mind, that he finally walks through the door, by intentionally passing through the Morpheus breaking freeSHEEP GATE through which the SUBSTITUTES, the sacrificial animals, have been made to pass against their wills. But this time, Neo, like Jesus passes through it by his own choice. Bearing responsibility himself, he refuses to passively allow another to be sacrificed in his stead. As Jacques Derrida has taught us: “in this messianic time we are required to make every moment of the present a ’strait gait’ through which the Messiah might enter.” (Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 352n1)

open gateWhen each person recognizes thier responsibility for all the others, then the fantasy, the Matrix, and all that superstitious MESSIANISM begins to lose its power to bind the community - to coral the FLOCK, so to speak. When we refuse to blindly conform, when we take risks, when we make strait the gate, and if it so happens, we pass through it - when we give up passively “waiting” for the THE ONE - we may realize we no longer require a messiah with superhuman powers to save us in the eleventh hour. If we, like Jesus, or like Neo, are able to decide, in the moment, to respond to the call which places its unconditional claim on us; if we, in the face of overwhelming obstacles, can place our faith in the impossible possibility, in the MESSIANIC - then I hope and pray that WE, YOU and I, become THE ONE. For WE are THE ONE, we are THE only ONES able to respond to the cries of those, who like so many nameless SHEEP led to sacrifice, are still denied their full reality. In that moment when and if we pass through the gate, which means like Neo to “pass by way of impossibility,” we can only hope that we will somehow, in some way open it. - Sue Wright

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September 13, 2010

what is forgiveness?

Peace Is Every StepAt the last Pub(lic) Spirituality we decided to focus on FORGIVENESS as a topic for this fall’s MOVIE NIGHTs. Forgiveness is a word we use often enough, but what is it really? What does it look like? What should or should not be forgiven? We have two excellent films to discuss and compare. We hope you join us!


Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step

[movie info]

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

@ 5:00PM

Potluck Dinner at John and Sue’s

Bring a dish or beverage to pass. We’ll make a big pot of soup.


[movie info]

[watch Bill Moyers Description of Book] Amish Grace

Date and location TBA


Stalker [movie info]

A Serious Man [movie info]

The Fisher King [more]


Beyond Borders

Children of Men


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May 29, 2010

did anyone else feel sorry for the MIB?

Locke Alias Man In BlackI can’t help but feel sorry for the Man In Black (MIB) the character in the TV series LOST who’s worst crime was his desire to leave The Island. Yes, he killed a slew of characters, but he certainly wasn’t the only one to do so. In the series finale Jack Shepherd kills the Man In Black, who’s been posing as John Locke, by kicking him over a cliff [watch scene]. From the perspective of the storyline, the MIB’s death was necessary for Jack to save the Island, which was in danger of breaking apart. In the series commentary, the producers explain that the Man In Black was the epitome of evil, but was he really?LOST Kate shoots MIB There is absolutely no reflection upon this statement, whether it is truly justified or not. No one seems to be questioning it. Just take a look at Jack and Kate - Kate actually shoots Locke (the MIB) before Jack kicks him over the cliff - obviously they don’t feel an ounce of remorse.

I’m sure the producers even expected all those watching to cheer during the scene… to be participants in his sacrifice so to speak - what contemporary thinker Rene Girard calls a MECHANISM of UNANIMITY.

LOST the Boy in BlackLOSTAll I can say is, poor MIB, stranded on the Island his entire life. Even as a boy all he ever wanted was to leave and see the world beyond the sea. What’s so wrong with that?

A bit of Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory laced with ample amounts of post-modern thought provides one way to read this: in any ENCLOSURE, take the SYMBOLIC ORDER for instance, or an ISLAND, anyone who wants to escape, to get free, is automatically a problem. Maybe the Man in Black, and his growing discontent with life on the Island, represents a threat to that order, one which has to be removed to re-stabilize things. Indeed “closure spells exclusion, exclusiveness; closure spills blood, doctrinal, confessional, theological, political, institutional blood, and eventually, it never fails, real blood.” (John Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 6) And for Rene Girard such bloodshed requires UNANIMITY.

LOST Map of the IslandThink about it - there’s nothing more enclosed than a remote island in the Pacific… wouldn’t we all want to get free? To be rescued by somebody? You tell me. Postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida identifies islands as “aporetical places: with no way out or any assured path, without itinerary or point of arrival, without an exterior map…“ Indeed, for Derrida the absence of any recognizable horizon, of any calculable way forward conditions the future itself. (Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge,” Religion, 7). Thus we encounter what he describes as an abyss at the center of such experiences, how do we respond to this? These are risky places where the contradictions of our lives may be laid bare, where we’re given the opportunity to see our selves more honestly, to remember the traumatic events that have led us thus far. But for many this is a source of fear, of unbearable uncertainty and chaos. Rather than open themselves to the unknown, to uncertainty, to the future, and the anxiety this provokes they choose to fill it with something, to cover it over.

In the Season Six episode “Across The Sea” [watch episode] we finally learn the history of the ISLAND, and the reason for the MIB’s antagonism. The Man In Black has lived on the ISLAND his entire life, he was boJaccob casts MIB into the Heart of the Islandlost-the-heart-of-the-island.jpgrn there and has never been anywhere else. His twin brother was born first and was named Jacob, but the MIB’s birth was unexpected. As far as we can tell he was never given a name. Growing up to be curious and highly intelligent, he longs to know what lies beyond the sea. His twin brother Jacob is not nearly as gifted, in fact he’s quite content with life on the ISLAND, and never questions what lies beyond the horizon, but he IS jealous of his brother. When crisis erupts, Jacob, throws the MIB into the abyss, “the Source” at “the Heart of the Island.” He does this to protect the light emanating from it, which we’re told is the source of stability, not just for the ISLAND, but for the entire world. Thus the MIB is a victim of the ISLAND’s ENCLOSURE.

This action is duplicated thousands of years later when Jack, acting as a kind of savior figure, kills his rival Locke who desperately wants to leave the ISLAND. Jack has agreed to replace Jacob who’s been acting as the ISLAND’s protector all this time. Locke, on the other hand, has been possessed by the ghost of the Man in Black. As the rivalry between Jack and Locke intensifies, “the Source” at “the Heart of the Island” explodes in a volcanic eruption which threatens to destroy the ISLAND and everyone on it. We’re told that if the eruption is not contained, if the MIB is allowed to leave the ISLAND, uncontrolled violence will be unleashed upon the world… at least that’s what they’re afraid will happen. As long the survivors refuse to open themselves to the unforeseeable possibilities that life on the ISLAND, and the SELF-DISCLOSURE it provokes, offers them, the tensions that arise in such aporetical places will escalate, multiplying into all sorts of interpersonal conflict. Once the characters deny personal responsibility for their individual sources of aggression, resentment and anger, they will consciously or not, find another way to contain the violence before it explodes into uncontrolled chaos: in this case the MECHANISM of UNANIMITY, and the safety of ENCLOSURE. Indeed, the genius of LOST was the way the ISLAND exposed each survivor to the impossibility, to the personal deadlocks, which had gripped their individual lives. Crashing on the ISLAND offered each survivor a chance to face whatever life circumstances, the traumas that had brought them to that place - but that would require considerable courage and humility…

LOST MIB thrown over cliffUnfortunately after three years on the ISLAND, and Six Seasons later, LOST’s writers opt for the easy way out. Obviously they have no idea how to carry the plot forward… how could they unless they exposed themselves to the uncertainty, to the loss of horizons, to the abyss at the center of ISLAND. So just like Jacob, they use Locke’s death to resolve the crisis, dissolving all the tensions that have accumulated amongst the survivors since they first crashed on the ISLAND. Like a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, everyone is reunited in the final scene (in a church no less) - not one person bothers to shed a tear for the MIB. Of course not, they are completely at peace, literally basking in the light which has been restored, once the “the Source” of the eruption is plugged, and its fury quelled. LOST Finale ReunionThey no longer have to deal with the anxiety, the loss of horizons, the abyss at the center of the ISLAND, the “aporetical place,” that gave rise to all the tensions in the first place. They no longer have to face their inner demons. But they have sacrificed whatever unexpected possibilities, the new ways of learning to live together, which the future may have offered. Instead they have projected all their tensions and anxiety onto the one person who wanted to leave - the MIB - and this UNANIMITY secures the ISLAND’s CLOSURE once again, at least for the time being.

I’m sure the writers expect us to view this as a miraculous event - salvific so to speak… but is it really? LOST fans are conflicted on this, and maybe they ought to be…

More on this in my upcoming post: the role of THE ONE in LOST and The Matrix. - Sue Wright

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March 5, 2010

what’s LOVE got to do with it?

romance.jpgWhat is it about that first kiss? Ever notice how in the movies the moment people kiss, they seem to fall in love immediately, sometimes against their wills? Is falling in love really that easy?The Proposal Don’t we have a choice in the matter?

For instance, in the Sandra Bullock movie The Proposal [link] high powered editor-in-chief, Margaret Tate, and her executive assistant, Andrew Paxton, are forced to kiss and unexpectedly discover they have feelings for each other. My reaction was, “Huh? How did that happen?” Especially when they’ve demonstrated nothing but mutual contempt. How do people go from hating each other, to head over heels in love? Only in the movies!

the kissMaybe I missed something and should take a closer look. In the movie, Andrew, played by Ryan Reynolds, agrees to marry Margaret, his boss, played by Sandra Bullock, so that she can stay in the country [view clip]. To convince the immigration office they have to fool everyone, including his friends and family, that they really love each other - no easy task since they’re barely able to contain their total disregard for each other. They go to visit Andrew’s family, who, during a large family gathering, insist that Andrew and Margaret kiss. After a half-hearted and awkward attempt they finally lock in embrace and give it their all… and “voila!” - you can actually see the change come over them. Later on, Andrew explains to Margaret: “three days ago I loathed you…but that changed when we kissed.” There’s our clue: Andrew and Margaret were ALREADY ATTRACTED to each other, but it wasn’t LOVE, it was FASCINATION.

Gone With the WindWe see it time and again in the movies… the moment the barriers come down, former antagonists are irresistibly drawn to each other. For instance, remember Gone with the Wind and that greatest movie kiss of all time [view clip]. You get the sense that Scarlett has Fatal Attractionsome sort of feelings for Rhett, but is it LOVE or FASCINATION? It’s important to know the difference, but too few of us do. The fact is, Scarlett and Rhett’s relationship is pretty tense throughout, caught as they are in a continuous game of back and forth, a perfect example of MUTUAL FASCINATION [view clip], what Rene Girard (one my favorite thinkers) describes as MIMETIC RIVALRY [link]. It’s caused by MIMESIS [link], the unconscious imitation of others’ desires, which leads us to want whatever it is we believe the other possesses. Left unchecked, FASCINATION can develop into a sort of FATAL ATTRACTION, what Girard terms the MODEL-OBSTACLE relationship [link].

The problem with FASCINATION is that it’s so darn irresistible. We can’t control it. We’re all vulnerable to its manipulations. In The Proposal, Margaret and Andrew describe themselves as “two people that weren’t meant to fall in love,” but they did; all those late nights working together… “something happened, we couldn’t fight it.” Once they realize this and give into their feelings, they can get married and live happily ever after, at least that’s the romantic myth portrayed in the movies, but it’s not reality. In the real world fascination rarely, if ever, ends that way. Office RomanceWhen the barriers are removed and we find ourselves in close proximity with the other person, the object of our fascination, it’s true each may be irresistibly drawn to embrace the other. But that fascination can get ugly, especially when one or both sides becomes obsessive.

When fascination crosses that threshold it does not respect the other as other. In it’s more developed stages, we not only want to be together all the time, attached at the hip, so to speak, we desire to be like the object of our fascination, to be in their skin so to speak, even to become them. margaret-tate.jpgAndrew wants to be Margaret Tate, he wants to be editor-in-chief, that’s what drives him to keep up with her every step, to be always at her beck and call. Role ReversalAt times he even imitates her, drinking the same coffee beverage as Margaret: “unsweetened cinnamon lite soy latte.” But in reality the closer they get, the more they imitate each other, the more conflicted their relationship will become. In today’s competitive workplace, where everyone’s convinced they have a right to be the boss, or receive the next promotion, anger, rivalry and resentment tends to run rampant behind the scenes. Just watching one episode of NBC’s The Office is proof enough of that [link].

Rene Girard explains: the social barriers which once prevented the editor-in-chief and her executive assistance from crossing the old thresholds, are quickly disappearing. As Margaret says, its not the first time someone married their secretary, Fatal Attractionbut in the old days, people still knew their place. The secretary would never dream of becoming their boss, and bosses never felt so threatened. Now, free of constraints, there is nothing to prevent our fascination with each other. Margaret, though she wouldn’t dare show it, is equally fascinated with them. She knows that her employees are vying to take her place. Her ability to keep her job actually depends on her maintaining her hold over them, on her ability to manipulate them. LOVE has nothing to do with it, these are really fatal attractions.

So why don’t we realize it until its too late? Because LOVE often looks and feels like FASCINATION, but there’s a crucial difference. In fact it’s so difficult to tell the difference that many seek the advice of experts. For instance, when asked the difference between “love” and “infatuation,” Dear Abby defined love as “giving, not taking. It wants the best for the one you love.” [link] When asked how to deal with a case of fatal attraction in the workplace, dear-abby.jpgDear Abby recommended contacting a lawyer [link]. This advice barely scratches the surface of the problem. If what Rene Girard says is true, that fascination is both unconscious and infectious in nature, that it’s a widespread condition that influences each and every one one us, how are we to overcome it? In the case of the fatal attraction, the women writing to Dear Abby insists that she has “a rock-hard Christian marriage” that can resist such temptations…. all I can say is, “good luck there.” I wonder, is there even such a thing as a “Christian” response to this dilemma?margaret tate

In Philippians 3:17-4:1 [link] Paul actually says:

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us…

Sounds like he’s trying to provoke his reader’s fascination… In the past, scholars actually assumed that Paul’s command to imitate him was an assertion of his authority, a demand for total obedience like that Margaret Tate exacts from her employees. But what if their own confusion between LOVE and FASCINATION has led to a one sided interpretation of Paul’s action? According to biblical scholar, Willard Swartley, Paul invites us to break free of our fascination with each other by focusing our attention on those who have already broken free, by imitating their examples [See Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary].

But be warned, as examples, they are far from fascinating figures, and in fact imitating them may be the most difficult thing of all, the IMPOSSIBLE. Christ died a humiliating death, in total isolation. Out of love, he refused to play games, to manipulate those close to him, to do anything which might draw us irresistibly to him, to bind us in any way. He refused to cross that threshold. As a result, there is nothing attractive about him, except for the space that opens up between us when we do the same.

Space in RelationshipDear AbbySo instead of Dear Abby, we may choose the advice of postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida: to love is “to surrender to the other, and this is the impossible, would amount to giving oneself over in going toward the other, to coming toward the other but without crossing the threshold, and to respecting, to loving even the invisibility that keeps the otherDear Derrida inaccessible.” (Jacques Derrida, On the Name, 74)

Philosopher-theologian John Caputo explains: the loved other …must remain other, must be kept safe as other,” rather than seize it in the grip of passion, “we must lay down our arms and surrender.” (John D. Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct, 80) Rather than pursue its every step, LOVE let’s the other slip away. [read more: Derrida on Love] So contrary to the movies, LOVE, unlike FASCINATION, does not happen to us against our will, it actually puts space between us and the other. As Girard says, reintroducing this distance may be the only way to gain some freedom in a world caught in the inexorable grip of fascination (see Rene Girard, Battling to the End, 106). LOVE may actually allow us to live in close proximity with others without crossing each others’ threshold. - Sue Wright

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February 17, 2010

ever feel like an ORTHODOX HERETIC? join me in giving up your certainty for Lent

Peter Rollins' Orthodox HereticThis Lent I’d like to extend to you a friendly challenge, one I will undertake myself: if you consider yourself a Christian I’d like you to suspend any and all confidence you have in your “Christian” identity and join me in this Lenten experiment…

I’ve decided to forgo giving up sweets, coffee, or certain foods. Instead, I’m going to give up my confidence, I’m going to question my certainty, in the hope that I’ll recognize what I’ve been blind to: for starts, the pain and suffering I’ve denied in myself and in others.

I’m convinced that CERTAINTY is all too often grounded in DENIAL, which leads me to exclude others, to ignore the palpable reality of their existence. For instance, if we want to prevent another tragedy in Haiti, maybe we need to question why and how we so effectively ignored them until now. Haiti, for instance, is the largest diocese of the Episcopal Church in the Western Hemisphere, with 83,698 members in 2008. But for many Christians in this country, they might as well be “devil worshipers,” as Pat Robertson recently labeled them. Our certainty in our Christian identity and our relationship with God, leaves little space for us to recognize or consider the Haitian reality, much less respond to the actual pain of their suffering. Maybe “CERTAINTY” needs to be defined as a sin, one from which “Christians” in particular need to repent.

In fact, when it comes to my personal life, giving up certainty for Lent becomes even more challenging. Years of placing all my faith in God’s purposes for creation, unconsciously allowed me to ignore the consequences of my own actions and their impact on others. Having written and given numerous bible studies stressing Jesus’ concern for the poor and the marginalized, it never really hit home until I realized that all this activity prevented me from taking a closer look at myself: to what extent do I really welcome the stranger, the other into my life? Not too mention, the realization that the most threatening strangers are not necessarily those who live in other countries or cultures, but those who are closest to me, whose reality I’d prefer not to recognize, beginning first and foremost with the parts of myself that have never been “Christianized.”

With that said, I’d like to begin with the first of a series of weekly exercises that I will engage in through Lent. After the exercise I will share my reflections (a day or two later) in the comment section, and invite you to do the same.


I’ve chosen to begin my “Lenten Exercise” by reflecting on Peter Rollins’ parable, “The Orthodox Heretic,” which he first published in his book The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief [link], and has recently included in a collection of his parables, also entitled, The Orthodox Heretic [link].

To watch Peter Rollins read his parable on YouTube [link here].

To read “The Orthodox Heretic” [link here].

Join us February 21st for an ongoing discussion of Peter Rollins’ parables at Empire Brewing Company [link].

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January 24, 2010

Do You Believe in BABY JESUS?

I’m sorry, no matter how cute BABY JESUS might have been, you can’t tell me that the Three Wise Men (or Magi) knew just by looking at him that he was the messiah. How could an infant be GOD IN THE FLESH? And yet that is what many Christians believe took place, the very EVENT we commemorate during the Season of Epiphany [read more].bay jesus

Traditionally Epiphany begins on January 6th, which celebrates the visit of the three Magi and concludes on February 2nd with the Feast of the Presentation, which marks BABY JESUS’ first official visit to the Temple. In many of these stories certain key individuals, like the Magi, recognize BABY JESUS’ true identity. Thus throughout this season Christians celebrate this realization that God had come to dwell among us. But if it’s true, that BABY JESUS was in fact GOD IN THE FLESH, why, 2000 years later, does God appear so absent?

One look at the news headlines makes my point: bottle necks in Haiti prevent the delivery of aid to earthquake victims, while poorly dug mass graves leave thousands of bodies exposed, displayed across our TV screens. Almost daily a suicide bomb kills civilians in Iraq or Pakistan, while rumors circulate that the Sudan is once again on the edge of civil war. In light of all this, why should we believe that BABY JESUS’ arrival changed anything?

Boy Jesus at TempleThe idea that even as a baby Jesus was immediately recognized as the fulfillment of the people’s longing and expectation sounds Jesus impresses his elders like an exaggeration born of hindsight. Not to mention all those bible stories which recount Jesus’ early childhood - they’re downright silly - sounding more like myths, than anything grounded in reality.

Recently however I encountered a news headline, which made me think that finally something had occurred which could be taken as the fulfillment of one these stories: A federal court ordered the state of California to release nearly a third of its prison inmates! [link] In Luke 4:14-21 [link to text], the gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Epiphany, Jesus, early in his ministry, stands up before the entire synagogue and read from the Prophet Isaiah:Guantanamo Bay

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After reading this, Jesus closes the scroll and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” True, the New Testament says that Jesus preached to the poor; he consorted with prostitutes and all manner of outcasts. It says he healed the blind, and raised the dead, but other than that, the bulk of the evidence appears to contradict Jesus’ statement.

Just look at the continued prevalence of prisons not only in Jesus’ own time, but in our own society. No wonder John the Baptist, held captive in a prison, doubted Jesus’ identity; he sent his disciples to question Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come? If it’s true, why am I stilled locked up in this dingy cell?” Again Jesus replies: “Go ahead and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them…” I wonder, to what extent do we witness such thingsincarceration by countryJohn the Baptist today? In Haiti? In Sub-Sahara Africa? In the inner-city ghettos? Why is it that today the United States, a so-called Christian nation, imprisons more people than any other country in the world?

One could say that prisons are a necessary evil, which play an important role in maintaining a stable society. That anyone expecting a miraculous turn around, will necessarily be disappointed. Especially since God rarely, if ever, descends to earth to Jesus in prisontear down prison walls… indeed, no one ever came to John the Baptist’s rescue, instead he was beheaded by his captors. Jesus himself was arrested, taken prisoner, and tortured. He was tried in the middle of the night and brutally executed the next day. And, as it happens, the State of California, in response to public demand, has refused to release its prisoners. It has filed an appeal to reverse the federal court order, delaying the process indefinitely. So much for the fulfillment of that prophecy…

And yet, in spite of this, the process to free the prisoners, indeed, the process to free all us from oppression, from whatever binds us, has been put into motion. As contemporary thinker Rene Girard explains, it did not come from a God on high, “the dominating God…that is incarnated in paternal, hierarchical difference.”man in prison Jesus allowed himself to be taken captive, he intentionally submitted to imprisonment, to oppression, and execution, his humanity utterly destroyed, erased, denied. But in doing so “a perfectly unknown god arises” with what Girard calls “the consenting scapegoat.” He is “the one that is most outside yet also the most inside common humanity.” (Rene Girard, Battling to the End, 50) Jesus allowed himself to be taken captive, in the crazy hope that he could unlockOen Prison Door the prison doors from within, that the way to free the prisoners was to dismantle the closed social structures from the inside. The problem is, we are so reliant on these institutions, there are so many encrusted layers which enclose us, it is difficult for us to imagine how a stable society could function without them. But this renders us blind to the plight of those held captive, to the extent that we are not even aware of their existence. Which is why 2000 years later the process of freeing the prisoners is still underway.

tree in the trashWe have this idea that Christianity was born, pure and simple, in a single event - a birth that changed everything - an assumption that postmodern philosopher Jean-luc Nancy calls the “Christmas projection” (Nancy, Dis-Enclosure, 145). When Jesus proclaimed that the prophecy had been fulfilled, he announced an opening in the closed structures which imprison people, a small crack in the prison walls that was not visible prior to this - a crack in the very foundation of Western culture - not to tear it down, but to free those trapped inside, to set free their reality, that which had always been denied.

We assume that the contemporary dissatisfaction with the Church and traditional social structures is “the effect of a modern transition toward a rationalized, secularized, and materialized society.” And in large part society has turned its back on Christianity and the Church. Certainly there’s plenty of reasons to do so. But as Nancy says, the outright rejection of Christianity itself is just not possible, since “the modern world is itself the unfolding of Christianity;” to deny it “amounts to forbidding the modern world to begin to understand itself.” (Nancy, Dis-Enclosure, 143-144) There “is perhaps something to be brought to light… something Christianity may not as yet have freed.” (Dis-Enclosure, 149)

prison breakThe decline of traditional social structures, the cracks in the facade of the institutional Church, and the criticism of its time honored doctrines, like the federal court’s demand to free the prisoners, may be unavoidable for this process of opening to occur. Christianity calls to us, not from the Church steeples, nor from the hidden recesses of its stone vaults, but from the prison cells, from the mass graves, begging us to hope for a future in which prisons and executioners play a far lesser role in maintaining the social fabric. “As long as we do not grasp the full extent of this situation… we will remain prisoners to something that has not been elaborated in such a way as to be adequate to that history and that destiny,” (Dis-Enclosure, 148) - we are all held captive to some extent.

Indeed, the crisis with the California prison system may provide the opportunity for something unpredictable, some new realization that can only be gained through the recognition of the suffering of those whose humanity we’ve denied. Afterall, the prisoners slated for release are not hardened criminals, they are drug addicts and those convicted of nonviolent crimes. As long as they remain locked behind prison walls the rest of us can go on with our lives, believing that all is right in our world… I wonder, what is it, what experiences are locked up and contained within their broken and damaged lives, from which we so desperately want to hide?

debtor’s prisonWe have made progress since Jesus’ day. He was condemned for “religious” crimes: violating the Sabbath, threatening to tear down the Temple, acting and speaking as if debtor's prisonhe were God. He directly challenged the closed religious structures of his day. Luckily, we no longer imprison people for those specific crimes, at least not in this country. And yet, only a century ago, entire families, women and children, were locked up in debtors’ prisons. Imagine how many would be jailed today, if that was still the case. So many Americans are imprisoned by indebtedness, a crushing reality, which most of us no longer consider a crime. Indeed, increased awareness of their suffering has led the Obama Administration to bring forth legislation which will begin to alleviate their plight.

Paul and Silas in PrisonFor hope itself is born, not just once within a manger, but from within these very sorts of prison cells, in the very places where, historically, hope has always been extinguished. Its birth, wherever and whenever it occurs, is a wondrous event, and its proclamation continues to be good news - a light in the darkness, a process ofRene Girard opening from within hidden depths of human suffering, the revelation of the divine as opening itself. Describing THE BIRTH in these terms, makes far better sense than the “Sunday school” stories the Church continues to tell. “It is the Open as such, the Open of the proclamation, of the project, of history, of faith, that, by the living God, is revealed at the heart of Christianity.” (Nancy, 144) Reading Nancy I see that the first indication of this opening was the birth of Christianity, that the essence of Christianity is this opening, the structure of opening as an indefinite movement that does not cease opening itself (Nancy, 146).

John CaputoJohn Caputo speaks in terms of the EVENT, “a summons, a call, demand, claim or appeal, as well as a promise…” (Caputo, Weakness of God, 28-29). When Jesus entered prison, when he was taken captive, he unlocked the gates from within, he released an EVENT which broke open the closed religious and political structures, which delivered an unprecedented shock to the system, an EVENT which set off “unforeseeable and disruptive consequences.” This EVENT “need not be delivered by a thunderbolt. It gradually, quietly overtakes us, grows on us, until at some point we realize that The Wireeverything has been transformed.” (Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct, 26-27) What does this mean in 21st century terms? It must concern those we continue to criminalize:

“The people Jesus had in mind when he announced his mission, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to bring good news to the poor.’ (Luke 4:18) - is the drug scene in the inner-city ghettos”

Like those in Baltimore, “whose grim violence is unforgettably etched in our mind by the stunning cinematography of The Wire [link],” the critically acclaimed HBO series which ran from 2002-2008. “In the midst of the mindlessness of much of commercial television, there are artists willing to speak the truth.” (Caputo, 28) Like the debtors prisons, it is time to release the lives trapped inside, the women and children afflicted by poverty, the young men without hope, the drug addicts.

In a couple of weeks, on February 2nd, Christians will celebrate the Feast of the Presentation, when they retell Luke’s story of the first time Joseph and Mary formally presented the BABY JESUS in the Temple. Looking upon the infant, Simeon, a holy man who refused to die until he had seen the messiah, utters his last words:The Presentation of Jesus  at    the Temple

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory of your people Israel.”

We can chose to read this literally, or dismiss it as just another mythological account of God’s appearance on earth in the form of an INFANT. But I prefer to look, as John Caputo does, for “the event that’s transpiring in the name of God,” (see Caputo, After the Death of God, 85, 160), in the name of BABY JESUS . The stories of Jesus’ birth and early childhood are one way to describe the highly anticipated, yet completely unpredictable event that interrupts, as Captuo says, the normal course of human history. In the case of the Epiphany stories, a PROMISE and a HOPE which Jesus, as the “consenting scapegoat,” the willing captive, the executed prisoner, let loose in Luke’s own place and time.

That PROMISE, “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to let the oppressed go free,” is alive today. That PROMISE continues to call us, because, as Caputo says, “it is the very structure of hope,” an “unconditional demand” that becomes the process of opening itself, the breaking open to unforeseen possibilities in those places where hope and possibility is too often denied. To experience this, the BIRTH of this HOPE WITHIN US, could be very similar to those moments of recognition, those moments of Epiphany, what the biblical writers took to be GOD IN THE FLESH. - Sue Wright

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