Friday, February 13, 2009

Called to Life

Unlike the spiritually blind disciples who failed Jesus time and again, Bartimaeus could see with his heart. He refused silence, and shouted all the more. Remarkably, Jesus took notice of this defenseless blind man and called him to courage. Without hesitation, Bartimaeus leaped to his feet and begged the Rabbi for his sight. What followed was nothing less than a miracle. For it wasn’t the superpowers of a deity that healed the blind man, but the honest and genuine faith of BarTimaeus that nourished the beggar’s life. The text never speaks of a physical cure, because the grace of God does not come in tablet form.

If we are to follow Bartimaeus and Jesus down the road to Jerusalem, we must find the courage to find God. For it is precisely such moments of paralyzing vulnerability, that God works to renew our faith in life. Helplessness comes in many shapes and sizes, and the whirlwind of disappointment and distress eventually meets us all. But that’s not the end of the story. We are always, every single one of us, called to love life.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The New Testament Canon

The New Testament is not: a deliberate or pre-conceived collection of writings that understands itself as scripture; a systematic theology unified by a common message; an archive of solely Christian texts that exist outside of or beyond the Jewish cultural and religious context; self-consciously inspired (with the exception of John's Revelation).

The New Testament could be understood as: a multiplicity of manuscripts (of which we have no original autographs) that offer a multi-vocal account of similar events in a non-monolithic way; twenty-seven books written in (often poor) Greek; a fluid collection of texts that are inscribed with revisions, commentaries on Jewish Scripture and self-critique.

For me, the New Testament represents a politically arranged and deliberately pluriform anthology of humanly-drafted texts that document mythopoetic narratives and 'ethical' declarations held as important by a particular social group. And yet, as Ricoeur suggests, their "extravagance" lies in the creative potential engendered by the relationship between content and form, such that the inter-textual interplay of genres reconfigures humanity and moves us towards a more socially just understanding of the self. They reach out and invite us into a world of divine creativity.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Listening to God’s Promise

“A promise through the ages rings.” And what a promise it is! A promise of faith to trust in the workings of the world; a promise of love that casts out doubt, fear and despair; a promise of hope that shines in the dark abyss of broken hearts and shattered minds.

The greatest promise of all, the “universal song of life,” echoes throughout God’s beloved community. Far too commonly, however, God’s reign undergoes a destructive transformation. Hope is directed away from the present and into the distant future, reserved for the select few. I resist this ghettoization of hope!

For me, the scriptural promise of justice, equity and compassion overflows into the now, embodying not a place but an attitude – a disposition, a relationship, a way of life. Hope calls forth humility in the face of arrogance, confidence in the face of uncertainty, compassion in the face of hatred and injustice.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus of Nazareth metaphorically compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest seed you plant in the ground (Mark 4:31). How can it be? The majesty of God’s presence downgraded to a single kernel? Precisely! I understand the parable as nothing less than a call to hope – a recasting of the Holy in the very promise of growth. To seek God is to locate the divine in small, daily actions. A single act of kindness moves us towards communion with the Spirit of Life. “From deep despair and perished things a green shoot always, always springs,/ And something always, always sings.” God sings hope to us in the minutia of the everyday; the question is whether we stop to listen.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Jews and Muslims

I recently received a chain e-mail that simultaneously shocked, disgusted and fascinated me. Entitled Jews and Muslims, the text compared 'Arabs' (sic! later defined as "The Global Islamic population") with "The Global Jewish population" in terms of Nobel Prize recipients. While the former group posted seven, the latter category boasted 129. Consequently, the e-mail degenerated into a tasteless tirade against 'humanity-damning' Muslims.

It took me a while to process the complex and multi-faceted nature of the e-mail. What to do with such statistical figures? Undoubtedly, the tone of the e-mail felt oversimplified, offensive and underthought. And yet, the numbers screamed at me of importance - or at least of the need for further consideration.

While reading David Roediger's collection of African American writers reflecting on whiteness, I stumbled upon a comment by pre-eminent American intellectual W.E.B. DuBois, which in turn spoke to me re: the almost forgotten e-mail mentioned above.

If we take the Genius as the savior of mankind, it is only possible for the white race to prove its own incontestable superiority by appointing both judge and jury and summoning its own witnesses...How silly!

Despite the significant differences between DuBois' early/mid 20th century context and focus on race, and the historical and identitarian factors at play in the e-mail, I recognize a similar logic in both cases. America's overwhelming financial, military and cultural support for Israel has been well documented. The question thus becomes: who controls the rules of the game?
Which judge and jury define success?
Who sits as the gate-keeper to systems of privilege?
My intent is, in no way, to dismiss the atrocities committed by 'freedom-fighters' on either side. On the contrary, the ongoing narrative of violence in the Middle East stills and scares the soul. However, the propagation of such 'Genius' comparatist literature should not work to solidify prejudice and justify self-aggrandizement, but rather provoke an honest debate on questions of systemic advantage and ethno-cultural normative supremacy.

The questions stand: whose versions of truth (and unfortunately also prejudice) dominate the institutionalized stage? How do we recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every person within this rubric of privilege?

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