[a brief, critiquish-review of Insurrection out of mad respect for Pete and his project]
Peter Rollins' book Insurrection is a radical, post-structuralist, Zizek-ian reading of Christianity. The central claim of this book is that the psychoanalytical realities (anxieties) of everyday life give rise to religious structures that provide a “solution” to the uncertainties of human existence: God. Rollins highlights the radical position of Jesus on the cross, experiencing the traumatic loss of God-as-certainty. He claims that only this profound experience of loss can bring us to the place of acceptance of reality as it is in the hope we might become better people. That is, only the traumatic experience of the loss of certainty (“crucifixion”) can help us get over our pathological reliance on false security (God) in order to become more authentic people and create a better world (“resurrection”).
In the strength of this work, Rollins takes us through treatment for the condition of classical theism.* As such, this work is intriguing and important, considering most prominent postmodern thinkers attack classical theism by way of critiquing (Greek) metaphysics. Throughout the text Rollins creatively weaves insights from, among others, Lacan, Zizek, and Caputo into a provocative and timely argument.
For all the post-structural-arity (?) Rollins embodies, he shares with classical theism a central concern: personal salvation (of courses he wouldn't use that term). After all, he does in fact also offer a personal path to wholeness and life with God, albeit first through this total loss of the certainty of the omni-God. That is, Rollins offers “new meaning, joy, and fulfillment” (118). He situates himself firmly within the religious question and gives, ultimately, a very religious answer. In the end, as we see in part two of the book, he still wants to make room for love, meaning, hope, and the divine.
This simply means Rollins' project is indeed religious. However, for me, it sits in awkward tension with the severity of his early argument. There is an abrupt turn, halfway through the book, because his eventual landing on God language, love, and Christ feels at odds with the extremity of his first-half analysis. After all, his argument isn't as baldly existential as someone like Sartre – he stops short of saying we completely construct our own meaning from “nowhere.”
I think it's unfortunate that Rollins finds no way to appropriate or include the life of Jesus. In no small way, as the anti-classical theist/evangelical, he remains dialectically positioned, narrowly fixated on the same thing evangelicals are: the cross. In so doing he implies Jesus' life isn't all that important and that all we really need from him is his death (or, to include Jesus' life we would have to read it as that of a typical classical theist until his faith was shattered on the cross – which just doesn't work for me). It is accurate to say, then, that Rollins is centrally concerned with atonement. Sure it's a different, radical view of atonement, but it's still atonement. What's unfortunate about this, to me, isn't that he wants to talk atonement, but that he misses so much of what the best of progressive Christianity roots itself in: radically re-reading the life and teachings of Jesus. Such fecund material – the vast majority of the gospel accounts – goes untapped. Rollins and the historical creeds share something in common: a neglect of Matthew 1-25. Interestingly, Rollins also doesn't discuss the socio-political powers that executed Jesus, missing a chance to offer more than just a psychoanalytical exploration of the cross.
All that said, Rollins occupies an important role in the future of progressive postmodern Christianity. While I would prefer more subtlety and nuance than Rollins offers, along with more reflection on the life of Jesus, that isn't a critique of the heart of his work – which I think is brilliant and important. His insights are penetrating, his style intriguing, and his method – skillfully diagnosing ontotheology as a pathology – is compelling. He must be commended for his ability to write so accessibly, for non-specialist audiences, which is unfortunately all too rare in progressive postmodern Christianity.
There's something about Rollins' writing that's engaging, magnetic. More thoughts on Pete to come…
* I'm using “classical theism” here to refer to the God-as-certainty idea because it most often presents as the omni-God of classical (Greek) metaphysical thinking (omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc.). This, of course, takes shape most prominently in the many forms of evangelicalism, especially of the Calvinist flavor.
To many non-Christians, and many Christians really, Easter is nothing more than a zombie story that does not include the literal eating of brains.
But that is if you read the story literally: that Jesus literally only physically rose from the dead, which is something that I have always struggled with.
But as someone who does not see the point in looking and searching for biblical fact, rather than biblical truth, I always look for what is the truth in the biblical narrative.
Last night, the Saturday before Easter, my fiancée and I were out on a date and we saw the movie “Oz The Great and Powerful,” the prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.” I could not, and nor could Kelley, stop thinking about all of the Christological images in the film. (What this means, is how does the image of Jesus or how does the story of Jesus paralleled or easy metaphors are drawn from another story)
Careful spoiler alerts ahead
One of the greatest images was Oz, the Wizard (played by James Franco), when he had drawn up this huge plan to rid the kingdom of Oz of the wicked witches.
In this plan, Oz decides to make his “death” a great trick.
But what made this story very Christological for me, was in his resurrection.
In his resurrection you see the first time that the Wizard does his trick of hiding behind a curtain and with that face in the smoke.
But in his resurrection the people become excited; they were afraid that they had lost their wizard, they were afraid that they were going to have fight evil on their own.
So that is enough of a summary… if you haven’t, go see it. It’s not the best movie, but it’s okay. Worth seeing, just because it’s fun.
But Oz had to die, so that the kingdom of Oz could be all it could be.
Oz had to resurrect so that the kingdom of Oz would realize that their wizard and king would be with them always.
Oz had to die because the people had to fight evil on their own.
Oz had to resurrect to give people the courage and strength to fight evil on their own.
Oz had to die and resurrect in order to become the wizard that the people of Oz believed him to be.
Just as Jesus had to so that the realm of God could be all that it could be.
Jesus has to resurrect sot that the realm of God would realize that their Christ would be with them always.
Jesus had to die because people have to fight evil on their own (whatever that evil may be).
Jesus had to resurrect to give people the courage and strength to fight evil on their own.
Jesus had to die and resurrect in order to become the messiah, the Christ, that we believed him to be.
But in Jesus’ death and resurrection, just like Oz’s death and resurrection, we and the people of Oz have to fight evil on our own.
The people of Oz had to fight the oppression of living under the wicked witches. We have to fight the oppression that we cause. We have to fight the evil that is poverty, that is hunger, that is war and violence, that is abuse, that is human trafficking, that is sexism, that is racism, that is homophobia, the list goes on and on.
But it is us, the church that have to fight it.
We might have something greater than us to look to, but we have to do it. As the community of the church. As the living body of Christ.
In the death and resurrection it makes it possible for people like Paul to say things like “I can do all things through Christ,” and makes it possible for the Wizard to say “With your faith in each other, anything is possible.”
We can, as a community of faith, do anything. But we have to realize that Jesus is physically dead, but resurrected in the body of the church.
We the church make Jesus the messiah that we say he is.
We the church make it possible to fight evil in our world, even when we can only see Jesus off in the clouds in some way.
We the church make it possible for the realm of God to be realized here on earth.
This Easter, my hope is that we look to the resurrection not as proof of something about Jesus, but rather as a symbol that Jesus is with us and we can fight evil.
Good Friday is the day in which Christians around the world reflect on the death of Jesus Christ.
Christians will weep, Christians will rejoice, Christians will sit and be confused: “How is this what we focus on?”
I am one of those who will be in church on Good Friday, and wonder: “How is the death of a man what we focus on?”
There are some things that I understand about the day that Jesus was killed to be true and factual.
1.) Jesus’ death was not unique from any other capital punishment of the Roman Empire of his time. If you do not know this, just ask the question: Well, what were those other two guys doing?
2.) Jesus was not killed by the Jews. Jesus was killed by the Roman Empire. Some Jews might have opted for Barrabas, as ALL JEWS WERE NOT PRESENT.
I think this accurately describes what happened that day:
3.) Jesus continued to minister to his context even into his last moments.
My understanding of the cross is a reminder to the world of the injustice that we cause on a daily basis.
In the death of Jesus we are reminded of those who have been killed unjustly.
In the death of Jesus we are reminded that humanity continues to fail each other.
That’s it. To me, the cross is that.
I do not believe we are saved by the actions of the unjust Roman Empire and their decision to kill a local celebrity.
I do not believe that Jesus was called by God to die, although Jesus’ humanity would require him to die at some point.
But as a person who says that if you say you don’t believe in something, you have to counteract that with a what you do believe statement:
I DO BELIEVE that in the act of the death of Jesus we learn a little bit more of what the realm of God looks like. What exactly is God’s ultimate dream for creation.
In what is called the “Seven Sayings of Jesus on the Cross” we see these things:
1.) Matthew 27:46: “My God why have you forsaken me?” I start with this, because it is the first in the canonical order; but also because it is a question that Jesus poses to God. No matter how much we think we have accomplished, no matter how well our life may be lived, at the end of it all, we do not think we have accomplished enough. Jesus is no different. Jesus feels forsaken maybe because he does not feel like he accomplished enough in his lifetime. And so Jesus cries out God, “Why have you forsaken me? This death is proof that I have not accomplished enough.”
2.) Luke 23: 34: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus is giving us the image of God’s dream that we are to forgive people… even when they kill us in the most violent way they can possibly imagine.
3.) Luke 23: 43: “Truly I tell you, you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus tells this to a criminal. Jesus gives the image that in the realm of God there is space for us all. We do not know anything of the situation or circumstance of the criminals on the cross with Jesus, but all we know, is that Jesus does not judge, Jesus gives words of comfort and affirmation.
4.) John 19: 26-27: “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” In this, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene, the disciple that he loved, to take care of his mother. In a context where widows and childless women have no one to care for them, Jesus shows us that in the realm of God we will all take care of each other, and that in the realm of God, all have women have children, and all children have mothers.
5.) John 19:28: “I am thirsty.” Jesus tells those around him that he is thirsty. In the realm of God, thirst will be no more.
6.) Luke 23: 46: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” In the realm of God our bodies will no longer be the shells of injustice in which we are trapped. The pain that our bodies create will not be something that hinders us.
7.) John 19: 30: “It is finished.” The last words of Jesus Christ. Showing to us that in the realm of God suffering is finished. In that moment when, what I imagine him, whispering “It is finished,” Jesus says that this suffering is over. No more will Jesus feel physical pain.
What if the church remembered the 7 sayings of Jesus?
Many churches are in the dying stages of their ministry. Just like Jesus on Calvary.
What if the church remembered:
1.) That in the life span of this congregation, that enough has not been done.
2.) To forgive the people who do damaging things within the church. Forgive the treasurer who embezzled all that money. Forgive that homeless person who has on multiple occasions came and begged in the parking lot after church service. Forgive the pastor who was a bit to experimental for the comfort zone of the congregation.
3.) That in the church there is room for all people. For the people who are on crosses today. The criminals. The people who are marginalized. People who are LGBT.
4.) That the church is to take care of those who have no one else to take care of them.
5.) That the church is to be that place where thirst no longer exists. Where people’s most basic needs are met.
6.) That the church is not something that hinders us. The body of Christ (the church) should not hinder us from expressing agape, from being agents of God.
7.) The church must remember that when it is over, it is over. Sometimes things die. And just as Jesus admitted to his own mortality, so must churches.
This Good Friday, my hope is that you think about what it means to be a church in the realm of God.
Imagine this. You are sitting at a table with your friends and colleagues on a feast holiday, and then one of them stands up.
He is the leader of your crew, who constantly talks about how things are going to be better for the world.
He takes his robe off, and wraps it around his waist.
He grabs a tub of water, and then gets on his knees.
He grabs your nasty feet that are covered in dirt, mud, waste, and anything else disgusting that just happens to be on the streets.
He then washes your feet.
You try to kick him away, but he is holding pretty tight, and says to you: “I am not here to be served, but to serve you.”
He then washes all of your friends feet.
After this you all eat your meal, enjoy each other’s company and drink wine.
Laughing and carrying on. After all this is a feast of celebration.
The meal is about over and he stands up again.
As he stands after the meal he reaches over the table and grabs a loaf of bread.
And as he grabs it he looks at all of you. He waves it in front of you making some weird gestures.
Then he does something really weird, he says: “You see this bread? Anytime you eat bread remember me. Remember what I have taught you. Remember what I have done. Remember this bread as a symbol of my body.”
You are confused. Why is he telling us to remember him every time that we eat?
While you are trying to figure out what all of this means, he grabs the bottle of wine, which at this point is almost empty, because you and your friends have been celebrating.
As he holds the wine in front of you, he pours into a cup and says: “This cup will be a reminder of the blood that is going to come from me. Every time you drink wine, remember my blood.”
You sit stunned. Not knowing what in the world just happened.
You go back to your meal, awkwardly looking at your friends who are all confused.
When all of a sudden the door is kicked in, and one of your friends give a kiss to your leader, and then he is arrested.
He tells you not to worry as he is carried out of the house.
We know what happens on Friday. But Jesus’ friends and disciples did not know what would happen the next day.
Maybe they thought he was just going to be released. Maybe they knew that he would be killed in the traditional Roman way.
But they would not understand what his message at the feast was really about.
They would soon find out, that the bread would be a physical symbol of a man who would no longer be on this earth. That the wine was going to be a symbol of a man’s blood who was going to killed in an inhumane way.
They would find out the man who had washed their feet the way a slave would was showing them that the world is not their servant, but they are to serve the world.
For the disciples, the meal would be a real reminder of the friend and leader that they had.
But 2000 years later, what do the events at that meal represent?
Every time we eat bread we are called to remember Jesus. Remembering what it is that he taught his followers and the actions he took in his ministry.
Every time we take a bite of food we should be reminded that Jesus called us to heal the sick. Jesus called us to clothe the naked. To visit the imprisoned (Matthew 25: 34-46). When we eat we are reminded to do micro-level, kind works of charity.
Every time we drink we are reminded of Jesus’ death. No matter common it was in his time it was. We are reminded that injustice is far too common. We are reminded of the blood of all people who are killed unjustly. We are reminded of the death of children who cannot feed themselves. We are reminded of women everywhere who are abused and raped. We are reminded that over a billion people in this world do not have access to clean drinking water. We are reminded that the cost to export food leaves those who cultivate that food too impoverished to buy that food for themselves, and are left starving with plenty of food right in front of them. When we drink we are reminded to do works of greater justice, to end hunger, to end thirst, to end disease, to end violence. We are reminded to do justice in the world.
Whenever we hear the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet we are reminded that we are to be humble, and to understand that we are not to be served by the world. But rather to serve the world. That no one is below us. Rather we are below the world, always looking up and looking for the next inequity in our broken world.
On Maundy Thursday, we are reminded of Micah 6:8:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
This Maundy Thursday, my hope is that you realize that Jesus was not here for us to serve him. But for us to learn from him, through his example, through his death, through his resurrection, that we are called to do justice, do acts of kindness, and to be humble.
The church needs to remember this call. For far too long the church thought the world is to serve the church, however the church is the servant to the world.
The next time you eat, you drink, and someone serves you, remember that the one who served you is not your servant, but you are their’s. The food you are eating is a reminder to feed the world. The drink you are drinking is a reminder to end injustice in the world.
The enlightenment thinkers who provided the philosophical backdrop for the ‘founding’ of America understood the world to be made of disparate and distinct things, and therefore saw humans as essentially separate, individual beings. It seems to me that this understanding of the nature of things, this ontology, is engraved in the American spirit and is at the heart of much of our political and social strife.
[ontology: the study of or theorizing about the nature of being(s)]
The issue here is that contemporary thought – science, philosophy (esp. metaphysics), and theology, among other disciplines – and human experience point to a different understanding of reality: one of considerable interrelation. We’re discovering, around every turn, that who we are and how the universe works is much more complicated and interrelated that we could imagine. I wager we're currently most acutely experiencing this politically, as it’s chafing against the deep anarchic soul of America – that of radical independence and individual self-determination.
It seems to me that our adamant demand for guns is actually symptomatic of the communally disruptive nature of our individual and individualizing ontology. On one hand it speaks to a strong vigilante spirit, and on another it speaks to a prevention of the full potential of community. Though the first reason deserves reflection, and isn’t unrelated to the second, it’s the second reason I’m interested in here.
While perhaps true for the origins of the Second Amendment, it doesn’t seem to me that bearing arms is now actually for the purpose of self-defense against a tyrannical U.S. regime, as if the unmatched tactical prowess, technological savvy, and sheer size and strength of the American military would balk at a cabinet of Bushmaster rifles. It seems gun ownership is now less (if it ever was) about protecting yourself from the American government and more about the individual having the disproportionate power to threaten existing social or political structures with considerably more than his or her involvement.
Although this disproportionate individual power is part of the logic for gun ownership, it creates an untenable parity of power between the individual and the government. If the desire is for the individual to be as powerful as the government, in what sense would the government have any power at all? Isn’t a democracy to be precisely the empowerment of its individuals, together? Then what sort of separation need exist (not that I’m implying none does) between unified individuals and the government? There would, however, be a necessary one between the power of collective individuals and the power of an individual.
I’m sympathetic to the threat of being totalized, exploited, and oppressed, but we need to think harder about resistance – which nowadays probably ought to be more about finance than firepower – and about the consequences of how we address such fears. Along those lines, I'm not here trying to argue against violent revolt. Rather, quite simply, guns, and the notion that we need them, keep us far more separate than we might be; they are, and symbolize, the means by which we might each disproportionately violently assert our radically individual will. Alas, all of this is, of course, perched upon the belief that the individual and his or her will is better and more essential than the community. It positions the individual over and above the communal.
I’m not trying to change the subject from the immediate call for action in light of the recent tragedies. This, to me, is both about actual gun laws and the felt need for guns, the latter of which seems to be under addressed. For some, gun ownership is about sport, for others it’s about protection, but most of the public conversation right now is very interestingly about neither. I’m not sure how interdependent we can get, how deeply democratic we can get, with an anxiety that’s calmed by a filled holster.
Whatever else might be wrong with America, I'm suggesting there’s something terribly wrong with its ‘original’ ontology, and that this gun control debate reveals more about that than the private right to own a gun. We need a renewed approach to government, economics, and society that takes into account our deep, essential interrelatedness. We need an approach that begins with our connectedness and recognizes our individuality, not the other way around; we need one that is the empowerment of it’s individuals together, not each individual separately.
This is clearly about more than just guns, yet the point isn’t simply that we’re better together. It’s that, without each other, we’re actually not much at all – and there’s something about ubiquitous gun ownership that runs counter to that.
It has been more than a week.
We were all robbed.
They came in, they stole from us, and then they had the audacity to change our clocks.
I am still tired.
Spring forward sucks.
In our busy culture we don’t have enough time as it is: work, exercise, family, meetings, church (maybe), eating, driving or transportation, shopping. The list goes on.
We think we can do it all.
We lose sleep on a daily basis because we are too busy. We think we have an infinite amount of time on our hands.
In Christianity we categorize time into two different categories.
Chronos: The time that we can understand. The time that we live in. The time that is measured by seconds, minutes, hours. In my understanding, this is the time that is finite, the time in which we have the opportunity to work in. (Luke 18:4)
Kairos: An epoch, a certain time period, waiting for an opportune time to act. In my understanding, this is the time in which God works along with the world. Kairos is God’s memory. (Luke 20: 10)
Do you remember that scene in “Hook” when Jack, the son of Peter Pan, and Captain Hook are in the clock room in Hook’s pirate town? Jack is destroying the clocks and with every swing of the hammer he shouts out times when he wishes his dad had been there. “For never doing anything with me!” “For making promises and never keeping them.”
Peter Banning (Peter Pan) grew up (well, you know what I mean) in a place where time stood still. Where there was always tomorrow, and that people stayed the same age. No one died of old age.
He brought that understanding of time back to earth. He treated his family as if he wasn’t getting older. As if his children weren’t getting older. Always thinking there was a next time.
We think we have kairos. We act like we have the time of the cosmos.
We feed ourselves things that we think can give us more time.
5-hour energy, to help us pack more things into our days.
Coffee to help us wake up because we did not rest very well.
And yet, there are still 24 hours in a day. There are still 7 days in a week.
When I lose my hour of sleep, and it takes me weeks to catch up on it, I realize that I think I am living in kairos time. I think that I can make up my rest. Instead of getting the rest every week that God calls for us to take, we constantly work. We stay up late to fit more hours into a 24 hour day.
Because we are getting older. Because we need to be fully present to ourselves. To our families. To our world. To our God.
One hour stolen from me caused a lot more than an hour’s worth of grief.
Because my clock was set to kairos.
Since my last post was a gripe about a class that I did not like, so today I am going to write about a class that I am actually enjoying.
In my Judaism class we have been getting an introduction to the beliefs, practices, and understandings of the Jewish people.
In this class I was confronted with an experience that I had never had before. And I do not know exactly how to label it.
As Rabbi Sasso was describing all of the different writings that are used in the Jewish tradition, the Tanakh, Midrash, Talmud, Mishnah, etc. I almost became overwhelmed.
I had known that there was a vast array of writings in which the Jewish people read in order to engage history and tradition. But I was always curious: Where do Jewish people start when looking for authority? Where do Jewish people go when they look for a scriptural answer? Where is Truth found?
For Christians, it is very easy: We open the Bible. We know about where to go.
And so I posed the question to Rabbi Sasso:
“Where do Jewish people start when they look for ‘biblical answers’?”
“That is a very Christian question.”
I had almost lost my breath.
I didn’t know what to say.
That is a very Christian question.
After my head returned to its neck, I began to listen again.
“In Judaism, we don’t have the answer. We don’t find comfort in the answer. But rather, we live with the questions. We struggle with the questions. There is not one correct answer.”
Christianity, we have Jesus saying: I AM THE WAY THE TRUTH AND THE LIGHT!
To many that is THE ULTIMATE ANSWER.
And so from that, we think we HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS to ALL THE QUESTIONS!
But we don’t.
We live with theodicy on a daily basis. Why do bad things happen to good people?
What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
Why would a loving God kill a woman for just turning to look?
What happens when we die?
We think we have the answers.
But, what if we decided that it was okay to just ask the questions?
What if we decided that we actually didn’t know the answers?
What would the face of Christianity be then?
Would it be Pat Robertson with his answers on the 700 club? Would it be Fred Phelps, who knows that God is hateful.
What would our churches look like?
Asking the very Christian questions without the answers. That is the image of Church I can get with.