Category Archives: Excursuses

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to See “Get Out”.

la-et-hc-get-out-horror-peele-20161004-snapI have been wanting to see Get Out, Jordan Peele’s foray into horror/race relations cinema, for some time. It was my fortune that my best friend suggested we see it, on what is becoming “our day” to hang out.  I arrived at the theatre (St. Anthony Main), where I purchased the tickets, and—at the suggestion of my bestie—sauntered into the neighborhood bar to order drinks. As I waited for my friend, I picked up on an interesting conversation at 3:00 (to my right). What appeared to be a couple on a date, a white man and a black woman, immersed in conversation about the film they were about to see, which happenstancely happened to be Get Out. At the same theatre, James Baldwin’s I Am Not Your Negro was playing, and the discussion eventually centered around the subject.


James Baldwin. Have we met?

“What?! You don’t know about James Baldwin?” the young white man exclaimed. The black woman admitted her ignorance, wherein the white dude went off on a veritable lecture on the merits of James Baldwin. “You know, the film does good about James’ works on race, but it doesn’t really focus in on him as a homosexual (sic),” and so on and so forth.  As I sat there in horror over the conversation, I was rescued by my friend. Thus, we ordered our beverages and retired to the theatre, which was packed by a rainbow of diversity, yet all gathered in one mission to watch a film. Touching.

Now, the horror I felt while sitting at the bar—this I must explain. Namely, anytime I pick up a conversation between people on a date is a terrifyingly awkward encounter. Why—in fact—a couple next to me (at 9:00), where in deep discussion about the man’s new “entry level job” at a charity foundation associated with a certain fast-food joint. Horrors upon horrors. If it wasn’t the awkwardness of being a single person forced to listen in on conversations that contribute to my detestation of dating, it was the subject matter that was engrossingly trivial. But no, the conversation at 3:00 was much more intriguingly disconcerting.

As I am wont to do, I post about this circumstance to Facebook, and go on my merry way into the theater. I join in with the audience to watch the film. It’s a wonderful film, as many—especially white folk—would agree, because of the paradoxically subtle and blatant exploration into race relations. An interracial couple travel to meet the white girlfriend’s family, where at first the awkwardness of meeting the parents descends into the offensiveness of stereotypes, and finally crashes into the horror of racism and general ‘evil.’

After the film, the encounter at the bar enmeshed with my experience of the film, and to the replies I received on Facebook about my post, I felt moved to expound on the experience.

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 1.36.42 PM

A wild SJW appears

An archetype that I have long struggled against is that of the social-justice-warrior (SJWs), and particularly from the entitled perspective. What is an SJW?  An SJW is ardently vocal about social justice issues to the point of ad nauseum. Now, I suppose we all should be ardently vocal about social justice issues, but a problem I have is what I suppose to be the subconscious (or perhaps more aptly, the unconscious) motive for a SJW to identify as such.

Let’s parse this out through psychoanalysis and speech-act theory.  On a conscious level, an SJW makes it known that they are for social justice by vocally demonstrating: “I am for social justice.” This is the locution; it’s what the SJW says.

On a subconscious level, there is an intent for the SJW to make known their “for-ness” for social justice. It can also be their intent for themselves to identify as a person who is ‘for social justice.’ Or, it can be—as I am oft to witness—the need for the individual to identify as corresponding to a certain category of their desire. This is the illocution.

But my suspicion lies within the unconscious intent for the utterance of “I am for social justice.” What is the person ‘really’ trying to explain by exclaiming that they are for social justice? Or, more aptly, what is the response the SJW desires from the recipient of the locution “I am for social justice,” (the perlocution)?

It is my belief that the perlocutionary intent of the utterance is the problem. As I’ve witnessed, interpreted, and intuited—time and time again—is that the intent is the need for the utterer to have the listener view the utterer as someone who is relatable/desirable because of an affinity that they are attempting to make, however authentic or inauthentic it may be. Thus, here is what I perceive some SJW speech-acts to be:

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 1.40.33 PM

So, in the event at the bar, when the white man evoked his knowledge of James Baldwin to the black woman, here could be the speech-act he was creating:

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 1.40.43 PM
Now, let’s talk about bias. Biases become explicit through the locution, but they remain implicit through not only the illocution, but especially the perlocution. In the example above, the bias is the inconceivability that a black woman would not know about another black person. Parsed out, the bias becomes a knowledge disparity:

“I know more about black people than you do, even though you’re black.”

But the bias becomes explicitly implicit (or is it implicitly explicit) in the perlocution:

“Because of your lack of knowledge about this black figure, I need to educate you in your culture, and by doing so, I’m demonstrating value and relatability to you as a white person who likes black people. So, I’m safe. I’m cool. Sleep with me.”

This kind of speech act is the heart of the white consciousness. As the dominant white consciousness engages with the other (any other race), whitefolk may go through different stages of engagement.

On one end of the spectrum, they may engage in an outright antagonism (“White Power! White Power!). A little down the gamut, they may engage at arm’s length (“Yeah, you’re black and I’m white; let’s leave it there.”).

Even further down the gamut, they may attempt to universalize as a means towards some relationality (“You know, I don’t see color. To me, we’re all human”). This minimization of the differences between whitefolk and not does nothing to address seeing the persons of color as culturally significant; it blends POC significance into the already confirmed significance of whitefolk.

Now, just a step down the gamut is a reversal. Once encountered with the other, the dread of the whitefolk’s racist legacy against people of color is realized, and so the weeping and gnashing of teeth ensues (“I love your culture so much! I wish I were part of it. I’m not like other white people. White people are so cray! Yaaaaaass!”).[1] The appropriation of the other’s culture is enacted while—at the same time— one’s own culture is repressed for the sake of the appropriation.


Don’t Tread on Me! I’m just celebrating cultures!

My contention is that this kind of reversal is exactly what is occurring in the speech act outlined above. In fact, we see reversal at its most extreme in Get Out. The white family’s fascination with the black man progresses from desiring to relate to him to (and without making any explicit spoilers) desiring to becoming like him.

The investment into the culture-other, as a means of reconciling the conflict of the white consciousness, wherein encounter with the other results in perlocutionary bombastic boasting against the perceived ignorance of the other, is the kind of sick shit I was upset about. There, I said it.

Now, was this exactly what was going on in the consciousness of the white man with the black woman? Fuck, I don’t know. I can’t know. But I can interpret. I can intuit. That’s about all I can do.


Talking about these things is so hard!

Now now, why do I bother writing about this anyway? Could it be my own white consciousness working out its own conflicts? Is my perlocutionary intent for you, dear reader, to see me as a valuable and relatable voice, wherein I can teach you something you don’t know? Or is it to demonstrate that I, as a white person, have given serious thought to the issue of race, and I want you to see me as someone who thinks seriously about race, and as someone who would never, and I say NEVER, speak that way to a black woman? Even moreso, is my critique of SJWs simply coming from my place of privilege?Perhaps.

If it is any of these (or other unconscious biases) at play, then I guess I will leave you, dear reader, with one final thought. Regarding my perchance for disenchantment with SJWs, my sentiment is asking whether we can be and do social justice without invoking the words of social justice. Let the speech acts speak for themselves, and be left open for interpretation.

[1] Now, I’m not going to get into the topic of “Yas” as cultural appropriation, even though I would love to dive right into it. An illuminating yet aggressive conversation about this took place on the Queer Exchange of Minneapolis/St. Paul group on Facebook. At this time, I’m not sure to what degree the moderators have censored the conversation, so I won’t bother to link it here.

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Jfou’s A-Z Movie Guide for Valentine’s Day!

I was inspired by several lists of “A-Z Movies for Valentine’s Day that I decided to make my own. However, these are not your top Rom-Coms. These movies are the ones that make you lose all hope in romance…and maybe in humanity itself.

So come stare into the abyss as it stares back at you and enjoy your A-Z Movies for Valentine’s Day!!!

atonementA         Atonement      What happens when you find your crush having sex with your sister and then you frame him for sexually assaulting your best friend resulting in him being sent to prison and then to war? You get vascular dementia and try and justify your actions by rewriting the narrative.

bartonfinkB         Barton Fink   Waking up next to a disemboweled woman only got better with John Goodman interrupting every waking moment of you trying to write a screenplay. Is it getting warm in here, or is that just the erotic tension of the wrestling scene? And what does that dripping wallpaper glue mean?

clockworkC         A Clockwork Orange   My mom actually walked out on this movie when it was first in theaters, and I wouldn’t blame her! Ultraviolence, the old “in-out, in-out,” Ludwig Van, and tits for days! This movie is not for any eunuch jelly thou’s.

deerhunterD         The Deer Hunter       It is amazing how the evil and suffering of the Vietnam War captured the imagination of screenwriters and directors for years to come. The Russian Roulette sequence marks the climax of the film, a scene hauntingly burned into the cinematic psyche of Vietnam era productions.

elephantmanE         The Elephant Man    “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I … am … a … man!”  This is a perfect movie to cuddle up with your honey, lie back in bed, and suffocate to death from the weight of your head asphyxiating you.


femaletroubleF          Female Trouble         If one were to pick a John Waters film for this list, one would assume it would be Pink Flamingos.  To do so, however, would be real melvin. Eating dog shit aside, I think Female Trouble may be the most debauched of Waters’ films. In this movie, “crime and beauty are the same,” and the depravity reaches a level of divinity through the apotheosis of Divine as Dawn Davenport on the electric chair.

graduateG         The Graduate    You may say the movie ends well with Dustin Hoffman and his girl getting together, but there are two things wrong with this. First, this only happened because of statutory rape. Second, does the movie really end well? What’s that whole “Sound of Silence” on the bus about then? They’re doomed.

hoursH         The Hours      Your feel-good lesbian romance with all of the hopelessness of Virginia Woolf’s depressing spectre permeating throughout all of women’s history. Perhaps my favorite soundtrack of all time (by the eternal Phillip Glass), I listen to it ad nauseum on my best days and my worst days.

invasionofthebodysnatchersI          Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)         Movies in the 70s and 80s followed an Altmannian formula where minutia dialogue drove much of the film. In concert with this mundanity, no one wins in this remake. Best part of the film is this screenshot of Donald Sutherland shrieking.

jackiebrownJ          Jackie Brown     This may actually be my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie. The romance between Pam Grier and Robert Forster might be one of the most human romances ever in that it is unresolved. Still, in the end Jackie is a free woman; but free from what? Free from Ordell, yes. But is free from the stereotypical life of the blaxsploitated woman she represents? Perhaps not.

kissofthespiderwomanK         Kiss of the Spider Woman    Your feel-good homosexual romance with all of the hopelessness of the corrupt Brazilian military prison system. Stellar performances by Raul Julia and William Hurt make you wish you were either a leftist revolutionary or a sex offender just to share a cell with these two.  Woof!

landbeforetimeL         The Land Before Time         Watching this movie at such a young age messed me up for the rest of my life. Like so many, I had to wrestle through the complex of knowing that my mother could die at any moment and I would be left alone to wander the post-Cambrian wilderness. Hug your moms extra tight today.

madmenM        Mad Men Seasons 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7   Ok, I’m breaking the rule here, but the problem with movies like Mulholland Drive or Memento or Melancholia or Magnolia is that they can only cram so much hopelessness into 120+ minutes. Mad Men did it innumerably, capturing the misogyny and heteronormative insecurity our grandparents lived with and our parents inevitably inherited.

nocountryN         No Country for Old Men      A Western turned inside out and upside down. The failure of the ‘Old Man’ (represented by Tommy Lee Jones playing Sheriff Ed Tom Bell) to enact justice in the American wilderness stabs deeply into the manifest heart of destiny like a captive bolt pistol.

oneflewO         One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest   The work that may very well have birthed the psychiatric survivor’s moment; one is constantly reminded of the psychic slavery in this institution. The subversive sexuality of Jack Nicholson is pitted against the sadistic sexuality of Nurse Ratched. As though this is a fight between lovers much akin to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (runner up for ‘W’), the psychosexual tension of this psychiatric ward erupts with the mental castration of its protagonist.

preciousP          Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire            Ugh, can I take a pass on writing a synopsis? Physical, mental, sexual abuse, incest, rape…ugh. The worst part about this is that unlike other films on this list, Precious’ story is but another day in the life of many who suffer the iniquities of inequity within our system of white supremacy.

queenQ         The Queen     After watching this biopic of Queen Elizabeth (played brilliantly by bombshell Helen Mirren) and her reactions to the death of Princess Diana, you’ll ask yourself “why do we care about this again?” The answer is simple: we the pestilent peons are forever fascinated by the aristocracy we have been conditionally tempted into believing we deserve.

requiemR         Requiem for a Dream    Everyone loses in this hopeless portrait of drug addiction. Vignettes of each character’s path towards destruction culminate in a brilliant finale that will leave you wishing you never saw the film. Still, you’ll keep coming back to it because, like drugs, you can’t shake it.

sophieschoiceS          Sophie’s Choice         I’m going to get this right out of the way: I hate this movie, and it’s not because of the eponymous choice that our protagonist is forced to make. It’s the bullshit romancing. And darling of the 80s Peter MacNicol stars. Who gives a hoot about Peter MacNicol? Also, why does Meryl Streep have to get Best Actress for all of her crappy movies? Ugh, if you want to get upset, watch this movie.

terrenceT         Any Terrance Malick Film   Badlands? Days of Heaven? The Thin Red Line? The New World? The Tree of Life? Need I say anymore? Ugh, I’m feeling insignificant just thinking about it…


unterU         Der Untergang          Ooh! A foreign language film? Hitler’s last 10 days in his bunker? Tale as old as time.



vieenroseV         La vie en rose             Another foreign language film! The tragic and the pathetic are pitted against each other in this biopic of French singer Edith Piaf. This may be too Valentines’y of a movie for this list, but if you do watch it, try to deconstruct the figure of La Môme from her apogee of romantic idealism to her utter insignificance as a mundane existent. Trust me, it is fun.

weneedtotalkaboutkevinW        We Need to Talk About Kevin         Valentine’s Day is for all relationships, and which is more important than that of mother and son? Especially so in this movie, with the painfully emotionally unavailable Tilda Swinton attempting to connect with evil-incarnate Ezra Miller, all while John C Reilly obliviously attempts to parent around them. A wrecking ball sort of a movie. Hug your moms extra tight today.

xX         American History X              Just because there are so few movies beginning with X and so few movies with a curb-stomping scene. That’s all.


yearlingY         The Yearling              It’s like We Need to Talk About Kevin, but with a baby deer.



zeroZ         Zero Dark Thirty       Your Valentine’s Day will be a “Mission Accomplished” with this flick.

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Wisdom and Minnesota Nice

Hey’all, I’m reblogging these from the Bethel blog.  Besides, this buys me time to write other stuff.  K’cool!

Since I would imagine that most Bethel students, faculty, and staff are born-and-raised Minnesotans, the idea of “Minnesota Nice” comes as a given. We Minnesotans appreciate politeness, not making a fuss about things, slowing down to let another driver merge into our lane, and our self-deprecating humor. For those outside of the North Star State, this behavior comes off as annoying, obnoxious, or—at worst— passive-aggressive.

The crowning achievement of Minnesota Nice

Still, it takes no small amount of intercultural competence to understand how Minnesotans and non-Minnesotans can come to understand and appreciate each other while we’re here. In fact, it takes no small amount of wisdom for us to learn how to live with and love one another. These talents, intercultural competence and wisdom, are skills the Bethel community deeply values.

Some suggest that Minnesota Nice is influenced by an implicit code of conduct for Scandinavian culture as being summarized in these tenets:

“Don’t think that you are special.”

“Don’t think that you are good at anything.”

“Don’t think that you can teach us anything.”

For the Minnesotan, we are shaped by society to think that we are not more special than anyone else, not better than anyone else, and not to stir up the status quo. Thus, Minnesota Nice “doesn’t have all that much to do with being nice. It’s more about keeping up appearances, about keeping the social order, about keeping people in their place.” At best this is meant to foster harmony in community; at worst it truly is a passive-aggressive judgment of persons and their worth in a community. Ouch!

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m really proud of my Minnesota Nice, especially the whole avoiding-conflict-at-all-costs part. But, I wonder if we actually stir up conflict in the way we avoid it.  Consider Proverbs 15:1 (please-thank-you):

“A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” – NET Bible

Nice wisdom, absolutely; but I wonder if at times we Minnesotans think we’re giving a ‘gentle response’ when really it’s a passive-aggressive response. This proverb is about meeting conflict head on, not aboutavoiding conflict, and certainly not about frustrating conflict through passive-aggressive behavior. In this sense, a ‘gentle’ a.k.a. passive-aggressive response can indeed stir up wrath.

Dearly beloved, allow me to suggest a few pieces of wisdom for moving forward in living with and loving one another in the land of Minnesota nice.  First, to the Minnesotans: recognize the strengths and setbacks of our culture. Accept and acknowledge our cultural penchant towards passive-aggressiveness, but don’t be ashamed of it.  For the non-Minnesotans: think about how you can integrate culturally while you are here. Learn the culture and share your own. And remember, a harsh word will certainly stir up the wrath of a Minnesotan (but they probably won’t let you know it).

And finally, some words to both: learn to accept each other’s culture, especially the differences.  Meet each other halfway as a means of understanding and relating to one another.  In conflict be aware of culture, because a harsh word (whether aggressive or passive-aggressive) will stir up wrath, but a gentle, sincere, and honest response will turn anger away.

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A Funny Thing Happened at Spyhouse

Second worst book cover ever.  If you want to see the most worst cover, look at Volume 2.

Second worst book cover ever. If you want to see the most worst cover, look at Volume 2.

Whenever I am out for coffee and working on homework, I make an effort to not show the titles of books that I’m reading.  In this case, I was reading “Readings in Christian Ethics,” as well as “The Moral Quest.”  I don’t like to show what I’m reading for two reasons, one reason being selfish and the other less selfish.  First, I don’t show because I don’t want to strike up conversations.  I’m here to study primarily, and have conversation secondly. Sure, this may defeat the original intent of the coffeehouse, a place of social gathering, but hey, I can’t get work done unless I’m in a public place.  The other reason is that, because I am generally reading Christian material, I want to respect others who are here and not broadcast my literature.  I don’t want people to think I am here to evangelize them. I like what I study, and of course I want people to know about what I’m studying, but I don’t want to shove it in their faces. I see plenty of people do that, people who bring their Bibles and leave them wide open, with highlighter marks plaguing the pages, inviting others into a conversation about the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

So, here I am, headphones in, listening to the Smiths, book covers down, and an interesting thing happens. I notice someone in my periphery. I turn and see someone is beckoning me to listen.  I take out my headphones, and a brief conversation begins.

Woman: Excuse me, can you give me two dollars for a cup of coffee?

Me: No, sorry, I can’t.

Woman: Can you buy something for me?

Me: No, sorry, I can’t.

Woman: Huh, interesting…

She walks away, and I’m left bitterly confused. What was so interesting about that?  Do you think she saw that I was reading a book about Christianity, and thought that I’d give her money, as my Christian ethical duty?  But how could she, since she couldn’t see my book?

On average, $5.00.

On average, $5.00.

This bugged me for a while.  I started thinking through all of the scenarios about what could have happened. I could have explained to her the irony of her situation. Why would you be in a coffeeshop if you had no money to spend? I’ve had homeless people come up to me here and do this, but she didn’t seem homeless. And besides, she just wanted coffee right?

And then I start imagining about all the people around me listening in on me explaining to her why I can’t give her money.  They start to notice my books on Christian ethics, and are as curious as she as to why I won’t give freely to those who ask.  I envision myself stumbling over my words, stumbling over my theology, stumbling over my ethics, as I try to explain the reason for my decision.

I think back to all my education, to all my reading and theorizing and theologizing.  I think about each of our moral responsibilities to each other, our obligations to ourselves, and our pursuit of “righteousness.” I think of the irony of a Christian spending money daily on not just coffee, but the availability to study, to use internet, to be in a warm building, while others have no access to such fortunes.

empty coffee cupWell, I notice that the woman solicited someone else to get her coffee. But not only coffee, she started ordering other things, like croissants and donuts.  She takes her bag of goodies and her small coffee and leaves the shop.  The woman who paid for her is left dumbfounded, awkward, and confused. I am left dumbfounded, awkward, and confused. And yet, here I return to my reading about Christian ethics, as I finish my cup of coffee and publish this post.  Maybe I’ll spend another $1.25 for a refill.


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What If Jesus Wanted This? Reflections on the Holiday Season

C3680_cutoutSo, I’m in a car, riding up to a cabin, when we pass by a wonderful yard display concerning the holiday season. Sure, I have seen better, but this one did a valiant effort.  They had everything: Santa with reindeer pulling his sleigh, lights, cameras, actions, and a Nativity scene.  It was the Nativity scene, all is its plasticized placidity, that particularly caught my attention.  Here, I thought to myself: “What would Jesus think of all of this? What would Jesus think of all of this pomp and circumstance dedicated to him on a day that, in all likelihood, isn’t even his birthday?”

But, then I thought, what if Jesus wanted all of this?

What if Jesus was like any other person; who wanted to be recognized, who wanted to be special, who wanted to be big? What if, as a child, he had those dreams that I’m sure we all have, those dreams of reaching for the stars to pluck one out so we can take its place (or something along those lines…)?  What if he, like everyone else, just wants to be better than what they are now?

And what if he actually set out to accomplish that?  What if he, coming upon his dreaded 30th birthday, finally left his father’s carpentry business to make a man of himself?  Sure, his mother must be just sobbing at this point, to finally lose her baby that she had been holding onto decade after decade, but I’m sure his dad is thankful to finally be rid of him. Perhaps he’s a little jealous that he never got the same chance he did. Maybe he’s too cynical to think his son will amount to anything, and he’ll surely come crawling back after he’s had his heyday in the big city.

But Jesus goes on, and he starts hanging out with some pretty radical (and mostly crazy) people, who start teaching him about all the evil that Rome is doing to the Jewish community, as well as all the evil that the Jewish community is doing to itself.  He learns about all of the terrible social injustices done in the name of empire, and he learns about the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He’s getting worked up, oh boy is he getting worked up, and now he is pissed, so pissed that he wants to go and do something.

Holy_FamilyHe starts to rise up the ranks of his posse, and is becoming a pretty smart and influential figure.  They do some small time revolutionary stuff, like vandalizing forts and firing spitballs at the Sanhedrin, but then one day, this guy Jesus gets an idea: “What if there’s more to this? What if I could be greater?  What if I could be the best? What if I could defeat Rome and bring a new awakening to all of Israel? To all of the world?  What if it’s me?”

So, he starts to nurse this thought, and it doesn’t help that his brother-and-law thinks he’s the savior of the world, or that other people think he is either.  He likes this, he’s rolling with it, and more and more people start gathering around him.  He starts to teach some cool stuff, and then he starts to do some amazing stuff, like healing people and…stuff. This catches him by surprise as much as everyone else, but he does his best to keep it cool, and show that he is in charge.  “Maybe I am the Messiah” slowly turns into “I am the Messiah,” and Jesus turns his gaze towards Jerusalem, the heart of the beast, for a grand showdown against Judaism and Rome, all in one fell swoop.

He gets there, and the shit just hits the fan at full force.  The people are going nuts. The authorities are pissed as hell.  The religious leaders are foaming at the mouth. And Jesus is going around town doing his thing. He climbs to a high place among the throngs of the people, and declares that he will destroy the Temple, the Jewish religious system, Rome, and the whole damn world itself!

Later that night he throws a party with his friends where he gloats about the future glories of his new world order. But later that night, while out for a cigarette, he gets arrested.  He is put before the very authorities he was lambasting earlier, and while he’s nervous, he remains defiant.  But it gets worse, he’s found guilty of “hooliganism,” and he’s beat the ‘eph’ up, and sentenced to death.


He shuts down completely. He withdraws into his quiet place, and looks over his whole life.  He thinks back to growing up, to all the good things he had. As he’s walking to the place of his execution, he thinks about his mom, his dad, his friends.  He misses them bad. As he’s being lifted up upon his cross, he thinks about the last few years, and where he could have done better.  He thinks about all the time he wasted, he thinks about all the missed opportunities for work, play, and love.

He looks down from his cross to find few familiar faces.  All those who loved him are gone; all those who believed in him have fled.  He is alone, he has failed.

He looks up to heaven and curses God. “Why did you let this happen?!” “Why did you let me reach too far?!” “Why didn’t you let me be your servant?!”  “MY GOD! MY GOD! WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?!”

Drawing his eyes down from heaven, he looks out upon the horizon.  In this moment of death, he has a vision. He sees that all that he has done has not been for naught.  He will be remembered for what he did.  He sees his fame being brought to all corners of the earth.  He sees the rise and fall of nations in his name.  He sees the wealth of his disciples, his priests, his kings.  He sees castles and palaces, cathedrals and basilicas, statues and monuments. He sees markets filled with memorabilia of himself: postcards, balloons, trinkets, treasures, and countless other shit.  He sees tacky portraits and light-up plastic figurines, and in his final breath, his mouth draws a smile.

So, we come back to my question: “What if Jesus wanted this?”  I suppose it raises a lot of other questions, some which immediately come to mind are “what difference does Jesus make, then, in the world?” “For what purpose did Jesus die?” “Why do we remember him?”  “What’s the point?” “Why bother?”

And I suppose theology enters the game here to provide answers to these questions, but for now, let us reflect on this.  What would Jesus think of this holiday season?  What if Jesus wanted it this way?  What difference does it make if he did?…

Please feel free to reply back with your thoughts and questions.  I’ll respond later this week with some more of my thoughts as well as with yours.

Merry Christmas, and I mean that in the most sincere way I can. You are all beloved.


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Preliminary Notes on a Vom-Bag

Best stock image ever!

Best stock image ever!

Hey’all!  I’ve been wanting to post this for a while, and I just found it.   On my flight back from Chicago, I wanted to do some writing/brainstorming for my thesis, and so I asked the flight attendant for a pen, and got out the barf-bag, and got writing.  This post is the first of many that will be notes concerning my thesis.  I want to have an outlet to express my ideas as I’m working on them, but don’t worry, I’ll try and make them interesting for your reading leisure.  I just thought this would be fun to share.  This is a direct transcription from the vom-bag.  And so, without further ado…

Preliminary Notes on a Vom-bag

Explain thesis as you have to others, exhibiting the passion you demonstrated amidst the fear + anxiety of “it all!”[1]

I am looking at soteriology, the study of salvation, and integrating/synthesizing/correlating existentialism and/with liberation theology.  My primary sources will be Paul Tillich for existentialist theology and Gustavo Gutiérrez for liberation theology.

What is a/the problem in soteriology?

A problem is the overemphasis of the individualistic aspects of salvation with the communalistic aspects (social)

What are my observations of the problem?

1. Individualistic salvation (so many to list) are those that can be or all of the following tenets:

a. Salvation as admittance to heaven.

b. Salvation as “moral” progress.

c. Salvation as…[2]

2. Communalistic/social salvation (social) are those that can be one or all of the following:

a. Salvation as economic/social revolution

b. Salvation as “social” progress

c. Salvation as…

What are some preliminary notes that make this a problem?

Here we see a separation between the individual and the communal.  Why is this bad? It is dualistic. It is disembodied. It forces a “surreptitious” dichotomy (I want to try and make the distinction b/c I’m setting up a dichotomy, and while the dichotomy is a successful dualism, we cannot ignore the similarities between the individualistic emphases and the communal emphases.  So, I am arguing that we have to hold these two in (paradoxical) tension (turbulence, *ineligible*) ha![3]


This is the Auryn. Another name for it, which I couldn’t think of at the time, is an “ouroboros.”

In soteriology, the balance and tension between ind + comm, and yet yet I want to subvert this idea of balance b/c I want to argue even if we talk about the two, we cannot choose one and only one.  We surely start from one, and may even emphasize one over the other, but, we must not risk the emphasis becoming a primacy of one over the other. If there is I may use an anatheologism,[4] I would say that these loci mutually inclusive loci of salvation work as a perichoretic progression, as an Auryn,[5] each snake head devouring each other. But perhaps that is a poor metaphor. The best metaphors I can come up w/ to describe this phenomenon, and a necessary phenomenon at that, are two.

A)   It is the self that finds itself and comes to knowledge, acceptance, and love of self, that goes out from oneself and into the other,[6]

[1] The fear and anxiety referring to the depressing times during my time in Chicago.

[2] I like how I say there are so many to list, and yet I only list two.  Hey, I was running out of time on my flight!

[3] We entered into turbulence, and so my handwriting got illegible, which apparently I thought was funny enough to write “ha!”

[4] Think of an “anachronism,” but in this case, using a theological term out of its context.

[5] As per usual, I have to throw in a The Neverending Story reference…

[6] Right when I get to the good part, it’s time to land…  Oh well, I will finish these thoughts.  Why?  Well, because I have to.


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What I Learned on my Mid-November Vacation – Part 2

Oh hey!  Here’s some more stuff I reflected/ing on!

4. “Why do people talk, when they have nothing to say?!”

Does anyone really care what this guy thinks?

At theological conferences, I unfortunately feel this way often.  There are papers that people write, that are well written and well argued, thoroughly researched, but they just don’t say anything! You may say: “well, of course they say something; there are words and stuff!” But does what they say really mean anything?  Again, you may also say: “well, of course it means something! Everything has meaning!” But let me posit this to you: what is the point of writing something, something meaningful, if it doesn’t do anything.  By “do,” I mean at the very least impact readers of all sorts, and at the most, changes the world.

Academics and scholars run the risk of isolating themselves in their own towers, and tragically all that they produce tends to speak to only themselves or to their inner theological circle. I am convinced that any work in theology should only be done if it can speak to everyone.  Sure, translation is needed from the heavy academic and theological language to the vernacular, but I think it’s tragic that the academy is discovering and learning all this amazing stuff and keeping it to itself, intentionally or unintentionally.  As an academic and scholar, I want my work to matter, and so I work hard to be able to translate it and have it make sense to all people.  If I fail at this, let me know, because I care deeply about this. Don’t let me stay in the ivory tower with the Queen of Sciences: true theology is done on the ground (see this blog post for more on ivory towers).

5. Insecurity’s a bitch

Poster “child” of insecurity…

To be honest, I was really depressed during my time in Chi-town. Not only did I leave Mpls in a bad funk, but being at the conference was at times very difficult.  Here I was, surrounded by brilliant people from brilliant institutions, and immediately all of my insecurities flared up. As many of you know, as those insecurities flare up one descends dramatically into very negative self-talk. Examples may include: I’ll never be like these people…I’m a failure; I’ve failed at life…I’m stupid…I can’t do this; I should just give up.  I took a lot of time to sit by myself and write out my thoughts, just to see what I was thinking and to reason with myself. When I get down like this, my immediate instinct is to find someone to unload everything on.  However, I realized this weekend that, in the end, I ‘alone’ (not fully alone, because I trust in God through prayer, even though that can be difficult in negative times) must interact with these negative feelings to overcome them, or at least embrace them…

6. The intense surreal beauty of the other.

Now, if you thought my “mythonomy” comments were controversial, hold on to your butts!  I went to a luncheon that had a lot of GLBT scholars at it, and among them were two people, one of whom I assumed is a Male-to-Female transsexual and the other I assume to be a Female-to-Male transsexual. While they were a table away from me, the ensuing discussion at the luncheon consisted of discussing what scholarship looks like from minority perspectives. It was a very edifying discussion.

Later on, I was walking through the corridors of McCormick Place when I saw both of them, sitting very close together, tucked away in a corner of the immense convention center.  As I walked by, I couldn’t help but stare; I was struck by what I can only describe as the intense surreal beauty of the two of them together.  I don’t know if they were a couple, and I suppose that wouldn’t matter, but to see both of them sitting there together, removed from everyone else, stirred up something in me.  There was something in me that wanted to go up to them and proclaim to them “You are loved! You are beautiful! You are prized! You are the Kingdom of God!”

Is there anything more to say?

Wow, what does that mean?! Well, Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God was best seen in those that were casted out by the religious authorities, the so-called “sinners.”  I felt that these two, sitting alone, but together, in the midst of the largest theological gathering in the country, were the most prized people at the conference.  I left the convention center with an overwhelming conviction that above all things, above all theological work, I wanted to be a gentle and loving spirit to all those on the outside and at the margins.  I feel this to be a very holy and special call, and if that’s all that I did for the rest of my life, I would be satisfied.  So, as I continue in theological work (as I so far intend to do), I still want to be above all else a gentle loving spirit, a spirit that reflects the love of Jesus, the love of the Christ, the love of God, to all.

Well, those are my reflections! We’ll see you in Baltimore for the 2013 Annual Meeting!


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What I Learned on my Mid-November Vacation – Part 1

I spent his weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Religion in Chicago.  I figured that, considering I have not posted a blog post in near forever, I ought to reflect on my time there.  I have a lot of reflections, so I will split this blog in twain. So, without further ado, what I learned on my Mid-November Vacation, Part 1:

1. I’m studying something that matters and is pretty cool.

What an awesome picture of Tillich! Ha!

So, I’m writing my thesis on Paul Tillich (my man) and Gustavo Gutiérrez (once I read more of him, I’m sure he’ll be my man too). While at AAR, I went to several Tillich talks, one of which was on investigating the early and later Tillich and his idea of history.  At the end of the paper, Jean Richard of Université Laval wrote on how many will like the later Tillich who are more spiritually and mystically driven, whereas others (like Jean) will like the early Tillich who are more social justice driven.  This tension reflects exactly the issue my thesis is addressing.  So, it’s sweet to see that people are thinking and caring about similar things.  Sweeeeeet.

2. Friends matter way more than academic colleagues.

I couldn’t resist.

Instead of going to another Tillich seminar, I had a long lunch with my good friends Maria Francesca French and Thorsten Moritz, and my new friend Holly Beers. Instead of going to a scholar’s reception, I had Friendsgiving at my friend’s place where I was staying.  In both circumstances, I had some of the best interactions and conversations during the whole trip. Not only did I talk about my thesis and theological passions (which people were genuinely interested and fascinated), but we just had a good time together. Now if only friends could pay me a salary to do that…

3. I coined a new word: mythonomy.

Wow, I was lucky to find a picture of them together. Thanks Derek Ouellette!

I went to a ‘conversation’ between Scot McKnight and N.T. (Tom) Wright.  Scot presented his paper “Kingdom as Church, Church as Kingdom: An Examination of an Old Dichotomy,” where he talked about how the kingdom and church are generally interchangeable.  He also talked a lot about “King Jesus” and the kingdom life.  Now, maybe this is because I’ve been studying a lot of Tillich (well, of course it is!), but I was taken aback by the intense evangelical language he was using.  I felt he was taking the idea of the kingdom and the concept of Jesus as king so literally, it almost seemed ingenuous and strained.  And then the word came to me: mythonomy.

Tillich often talks about autonomy (self-law, or the universal law of reason within all people), heteronomy ( strange-law, or a law foreign to humanity’s nature and being. Tillich talks about how ecclesiastical rules and norms are heteronomous), and theonomy (God-law, or autonomy that “is aware of its divine ground.”[1]

Thus, a mythonomy is myth-law; it is a normative rule of law based in a myth or story (keep in mind myth does not necessarily mean fiction).  It is what we understand as an all-encompassing meta-narrative.  How this relates to Scot’s talk is this: is it legitimate to use a Christological symbol such as king, or even Kingdom of God, as a normative standard for all Christian life and conduct.  At first blush we might want to say yes, but let me rephrase the question: ought we to take Biblical symbols and concepts literally and directly apply them to our contemporary lives, or are to be inspired by the Biblical symbols and concepts, interpreting and/or reauthoring them to correspond to our contemporary lives, and more italicized words?  This is a heavy and controversial topic which will need much more thinking, but I like the direction of the discourse. I do have planned a blog series on myth, but that’s another story for another time. Eek!

I have three more points to make, which I will on Wednesday!

[1] Tillich, A Complete History of Christian Thought, II:27. In This is a great article that explains Tillich terms.


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Where Heaven Meets Earth

There once were two men who day-in and day-out argued over whether it is better to look at the sky or to look at the dirt. “Look at all of the stars,” one man said to the other, in each one a million worlds! In each one a million truths!  If only I were to ascend to the heavens, to grasp at one star and hold it in my hand!”

The other man scoffed, “You are a silly man. Why do you long for what you cannot have? I, on the other hand, am satisfied with what I have here, on the earth, and I make do with only what I am and only what I have.”

The man looking at the sky retorted: “You are mistaken. We are meant to look at the sky so that one day we will float up and be in the sky among all the stars and constellations.”

The man looking at the dirt replied, “No, we are meant to look at the dirt so that we may use all the dirt provides for our needs and nothing more, for we have nothing more.”

It came to a point where the two men could argue no more, and so each went about their own business.  The man who looked at the sky built a flying machine and flew higher and higher in hopes to live among the stars, that he might catch one and hold it in his hand.  The man who looked at the dirt dug a deep and lowered himself into it, and in this pit he only had the things he most needed, for he only made do with what he is and what he has.

A group of travelers, old and young, men and women, were passing by and saw the two men, one in the sky and one in the ground.  One of the young girls said: “What a silly man!  Why would he escape the wonders of the earth for the heavens? In gazing only at the sky, he did not realize what he already had here in the dirt.” One of the young boys said: “What a silly man! Why would he ignore the wonders of the heavens for the earth? In gazing in the dirt, he did not realize what more to life there could be if only he dreamed!”

An older man spoke up from among the travelers: “Come, we have reached our destination. Let us settle here where the dirt meets the sky.”  And so the travelers settled in the land and built a village for all the people, young and old, man and woman, to live in the place where the sky meets the dirt, where heaven meets the earth.

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Excursus: On the Love of Jesus

For the record: an excursus is a digression in a written text, wherein a digression is an intentional change in subject, wherein wherein is another way to say “in which” or “in what place.” It’s an excursus because it departs from the current miniseries “We Among Others.”

This post is inspired by a strange experience I had and how I wrote briefly about it on my Facebook, and now I wanted to explore more of it, yes. 

I don’t know why I felt it.  Maybe it was because I was writing on a response paper to Stanley Grenz’s chapter on the Holy Spirit in Theology for the Community of God.  Maybe it was because I was listening to Beach House’s new single “Myth” (, listen to it!), but I felt a powerful emotion. As I sat there, in my chair, behind my desk, my computer in front of me, my peace lily to the left, my green office lamp to the right, I felt an overwhelming urge to profess my love for Jesus Christ.

It was a sensation that began in the gut. It’s not a stomach ache, and it wasn’t anxiety, but it had a similar sensation to anxiety.  It was a tingling emanation from my umbilicus throughout and throughin its anatomical neighborhood.  It moved through and within my bones and muscles, and once it reached my head, the tingling sensation produced what I felt as being connected with my entire body in the experience of a single emotion.

Not my desk lamp, but a good example.

But what was this emotion?

It’s an emotion that centers you with the entire universe.  You are able to look at your computer, your peace lily, your office lamp, and sense a deep and profound presence of the divine in it and in all of it. Time slows down, reality morphs into tangible intangibility, that place where you know you are but that in there your being is in flux.  You are morphing and moving with reality in the stillness of change.  In this moment we can hear the still soft voice, we can feel the gentle breeze, and we can see the faint glimmer of the divine.

In these moments, we see that we have entered into a beautiful existence, or perhaps that the beautiful existence has come to us.  We are enraptured by the beauty that envelopes us , and in this all our senses and all our faculties strive to make sense of it. However, they can only make sense of it through alternative means, namely, the experience itself.

But in this deep clairvoyance is the striking emotion of commitment to the experience itself. In the experience we find ourselves muttering words of affection to the experience itself. But what makes this experience special is that the experience is personified, but not in the sense that a person is created in the experience, but rather that a person is discovered in the experience, encountered in the experience.

My peace lily, but not the one in my room.

In this, we, in faith, identify the experience as the love of God, meeting us in the still places, kindling within our hearts a gentle reminder of the love we share.  It reminds us of the works of God that we know of through the inheritance of history.  It reminds us of the present work of God in our lives and how in faith we have chosen to view our life in response to and in expectation of the divine. And so, likewise, it reminds us of the coming hope of the dramatic fulfillment of that which we have inherited and that which we experience and respond to, a consummation of love in perpetual fullness and completeness.

These reminders are all personified (or incarnated) in Jesus Christ, and we understand that the feelings we experience and the memories and hopes conjured up within the experience is the work of God making known Godself in the work of Jesus for us and in us. In this, in the enraptured experience and hope, we find we are compelled to do none other and by nothing other than to whisper into the stillness of the experience: “Jesus, I love you.”

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