Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Anti-imperialist Sport that is Soccer

To complete a trio of posts on Latin American soccer...

By an accident of history, the game of baseball, the favourite sport of these two presidents (Chavez and Castro) and the national sport of both their countries, is also the preferred game of the United Sates, the chief imperial power in the region and the champion of the neo-liberal philosophy against which both these radical leaders have directed their rhetoric. Che Guevara, an Argentinian-turned-Cuban, once argued that the Cuban revolution would never make much headway in Latin America unless the Cubans learnt to play soccer, while Henry Kissinger, a US secretary of state of German origin, believed that the future of US hegemony in the continent would depend on the capacity of the United States to adapt to the same game. In practice, the Cubans and the Venezuelans (and the Nicaraguans) have remained content to engage in the demonstrably imperialist sport of baseball -- and are very good at it.
- Richard Gott

On a related note, it is a curiosity that for all of America's influence on culture around the globe -- films, music, television, religion etc. -- it has had little influence in the realm of sport. Football (as, for example, Texans would understand the term), basketball and baseball remain distinctly American pastimes. Explanations?

Cuidar La Pelota

I've learned through bitter experience that Wikipedia is not a credible source in academia (nor is the Urban Dictionary a more suitable alternative, it turns out), but since we're not in academia any more here is a wonderful paragraph from an article on Creole football:

There is a common footballing expression in the Spanish speaking world: Cuidar la pelota (which literally means "take care of the ball"). Today the expression refers to the act of maintaining possession of the ball in order to protect a lead, but in the infant years of creole football it literally meant "treat the ball gently". The creoles had grown accustomed to playing the ball in short consecutive "touches", simply because the ball was too expensive to be kicked around and treated like a toy.

Money may do most of the talking in world football today, but at the core of the beautiful game's history is a poverty that made its beauty possible.

My Question

Following the lead of John Piper, Scot McKnight and Tim Gombis, here is the question I would ask if I met the Dalai Lama Pope:

Maradona or Messi?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Statistic of the Week:

All three of Barcelona's games during a papal conclave have ended 4-0: 1958 vs Madrid, 1978 vs Las Palmas and 2013 vs Milan.

From a Eurosport blog which waxes lyrical over my new favourite player in world football, Sergio Busquets.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Rant

When I'm not crying over my dissertation I'm slowly working my way through John Stackhouse's horribly titled book Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World. It is a book advocating a "third way" and so I am, I have to admit, predisposed to hate it, just like I hate Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional despite having not read a single word of it. Third way? More like Turd  way. Besides, it doesn't seem right to compare a "way" that has spanned two thousand years with a way that lasted about two years until the founders decided that church isn't cool any more and left their orphan to conservative evangelicals in emergent clothes. What's more, there is no "beyond" the Christian tradition. The tradition is always already a beyond.

Speaking of annoying book titles, how about Brian McLaren's The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix. Postmodernity doesn't really exist, so we really need to stop thinking of ways to respond to it! I opened the book and came across a passage that seems vintage Brian McLaren. It went something like this:

I was asked to do a talk about something. Instead of doing the talk the usual, conservative way, I did something different. I told stories and asked question. The people there responded with such enthusiasm. They told me tales of the evils of conservatism and how this talk has opened their minds to a fresh way of thinking. We asked questions of each other and had some of the most enriching conversation of their lives. See, this postmodern crap really does work!

Anyway, back to Stackhouse. Here is a snapshot of the notes I'm taking:

“The political dimensions of human life embodied in the Old Testament people of God are not directly manifest in the voluntary, spiritual community of the New. Indeed, the church carries on those dimensions in the quite different mode of encouraging the state under which it lives and the broader society in which it lives to realize as many of the values of the Kingdom as they will.” 

This is the non-political church, which has handed over all political responsibility to the state so that the church becomes a handmaiden of the state; or, perhaps, so that the state becomes a handmaiden of the church, doing what the church is too “voluntary and spiritual” to do for itself.

“Yet is [the Christ-against culture] option so unthinkable in Nazi Germany? Stalinist Russia? Maoist China? What about in cultures such as some we know of from ancient times that were built around human sacrifice, whether the Canaanites who burned their children before their god Moloch or Mesoamerican civilizations drenched in multiple adult sacrifices? And consider contemporary North Korea, Iran, or Sudan. Are we sure that Christ is not standing against these cultures as interlocking institutions, values, and practices of ungodly and inhuman oppression?”

In the introduction to the book Stackhouse tells us that he is writing from a Western perspective, but after such a paragraph that disclosure is rendered redundant. Stackhouse may not be sure that Christ is not standing against North Korea, Iran, and Sudan, but he seems quite certain that Christ is not standing against the U.S., or Canada, or Great Britain, or Ireland. For Stackhouse, to take the Christ-against-culture standpoint in the West makes no sense. It is unthinkable.

And therein lays the problem that the church in the West faces. It can’t imagine that there is anything to think about.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Die Grosse Stille

Into Great Silence -- a near-three-hour film on life inside a Carthusian monastery -- has lay dormant on my hard drive for the last year, waiting patiently to be watched. It is not often that one is in the mood to spend over 160 minutes gazing at, as one reviewer puts it, "the supposedly pure existence of a bunch of men playing house on a hill, oblivious (and useless) to the world of need and suffering beneath them." Today caught me in one of those moods, however, and so I sat wrapped in a blanket on our couch and watched the whole film from start to finish.

It would take far too long to fully address the question of whether deeply ascetic monks are oblivious and useless to the world of need. It would, however, take very little time to address the question of whether most citizens of the West are not only useless to the world of need but also its progenitors.

What I want to focus on is two quotes (one scriptural, the other liturgical) that appeared throughout the film:

Anyone who does not give up all he has cannot be my disciple.

O Lord, you have seduced me, and I was seduced.

The first quote, spoken by Jesus,  brings our attention to the fact that asceticism is not the special prerogative of the few Christians; it is, rather, the special prerogative of all under the name of "Christianity" - a religion likely to have few adherents as a result (which is why Yoder calls the minority status of Christians a theological fact before it is a statistical fact). Entire renunciation is the call of every person who would be disciples of Jesus. This is why Bonhoeffer calls it costly grace.

But as Bonhoeffer also reminds us, it is grace because of who is calling us. The ascetic life, as the monks live it, is profoundly erotic. At the heart of it is a seduction, a whispered invitation to come closer and closer to God, which, as one of the monks says, "is the end of our lives."

Before feeding "the world of need" with some miraculous bread, Jesus spent forty days in the desert with no food. By the end, he needed bread. He refused to satisfy his need, however, remembering that human beings do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God. God, not bread, is our end. God, not bread, is the one we have been created to desire.

Perhaps the greatest service that Christians with an abundance of possessions could do for the world of need is to give them up as the monks did and pursue our true telos. We have tried fixing with our left hands what we are destroying with our right. It is time to let go of our tools of mass growth and mass destruction and to heed the call that ends mass, "Ite, missa est", responding "Deo gratias". The monks may well be playing house on a hill as their response to that dismissal, but that is precisely what the church is called to do. We are to be, Jesus' words, "a city on a hill".

Far from being an irrelevant and impotent anachronism, these Carthusian monks may the be the vanguards of a new order, for as Alisdair MacIntyre said, the only hope for our world is the emergence of a new St Benedict.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Semantics is Everything

[He] is alive, as long as justice, love and freedom are living. He is alive, as long as piety, brightness, and humanity are living. He is alive, as long as nations are alive and struggle for consolidating independence, justice and kindness. I have no doubt that he will come back, and along with Christ the Saviour, the heir to all saintly and perfect men, and will bring peace, justice and perfection for all.

These could be the words of a Christian leader in the wake of Abraham Lincoln's death. In reality, they are the words of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, concerning the recent death of Hugo Chavez.

If nothing else, this paragraph reminds us that wars are often fought over semantics, and that those of us in the West do not have a hegemony on meaning.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One More Question, Mr Edwards

I have just begun reading Jonathan Edwards' (in)famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. My question is this:

Why is the punishment of God for sin the rule with His mercy then seen as "arbitrary"? Why not the other way around?

The U.S. Military and Christian Fundamentalism

Ironically for a Christian who is disconcertingly hesitant to evangelise, one of the areas that interests me most is the public role of the church. (Aside: right now I am in favour of a Terrence Malick approach to this role: that is, just get on with what you're supposed to be doing and completely shun the public spotlight. If the church, like Malick, gets labelled a "recluse" then we may actually be found to be doing something right. Rather than the church needing to come out responding to all the various "issues" thrown at it -- gay marriage, postmodernism, world hunger -- the church should remain silent. Not because the world won't listen but because the church is, first and foremost, the listening church, and for to long it has refused to listen to itself and the gifts that have been given to it.)

In relation to the public role of Christians, this paper provides insight into the goings on of the U.S. military training bases, as they more and more become arenas for "Christian fundamentalist" propaganda. According to the author, these fundamentalist Christians are marginalising those who don't agree with their religion, and turning the U.S. military into a modern version of the crusaders. The solution proposed is to make sure that they keep their Christian convictions private, so that the wall of separation between state and church is maintained.

This phenomena is strange for several reasons. For one, I don't think its possible or desirable for Christians to have to become effectively non-Christian in public, yet I completely disagree with almost everything that these Christians have done to the point where I think it would probably be better for both Christianity and the military if these Christians were, in their public life, non-Christians.

There is a deeper strangeness to the phenomenon, however. In the earliest centuries of the church, it was Christians who found themselves persecuted and marginalised in military life. The Roman army was one of many arenas of pagan worship, and Christians who refused the pressure to conform to the cultic patterns were harassed. Indeed, pressure came on these Christians from inside the church as well, for there was no easy assumption that Christian life and military life could be lived in harmony.

If nothing else, this paper reveals that that assumption is rampant in the church today. And its not just those warmongering American fundamentalist Christians who think this way. We may cringe at a picture of a tank with the verse "Put on the whole armour of God" as its caption, but most Christians wouldn't hesitate to affirm the presence of Christians in the military, or the presence of Christians in banks, or the presence of Christians in schools. Local churches should be about the business of bringing into question these easy affirmations as they discern what the Lordship of Jesus requires of those who confess it today.

The first step of this process of discernment is silence. Well, blog posts, then silence.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Death of Theology

A couple of Christian bloggers on the Patheos payroll have announced in recent blog post titles that "I don't believe in God anymore" or "I am agnostic". Whatever about the ethics of such a ploy, it does bring to the surface a trend that John Howard Yoder noticed in Richard Niebuhr half a century ago: namely, "the avoidance of concreteness in the name of transcendence." This trend aims to "keep anyone's understanding of God from getting too concrete".

This is a kind of conviction-less Christianity that ought not to be tolerated. Its humility is of the Western variety, where so much is known that we now know that all you little people down there don't really know anything at all.

In the mid-twentieth century we got death-of-God theology. Now it seems we are getting death-of-theology theology. Where has all our joy gone?

Aesthetic Epistemology

For Christian thought, to the know the world truly is achieved not through a positivistic reconstruction of its "sufficient reason," but through an openness before glory, a willingness to orient one's will toward the light of being, and to receive the world as a gift, in response to which the most fully "adequate" discourse of truth is worship, prayer, and rejoicing. Phrased otherwise, the truth of being is "poetic" before it is "rational" -- indeed is rational precisely as a result of its supreme poetic coherence and richness of detail -- and cannot be truly known if this order is reversed. Beauty is the beginning and end of all true knowledge: really to know anything, one must first love, and having known one must finally delight; only this "corresponds" to the trinitarian love and delight that creates. The truth of being is the whole of being, its event, groundless, and so in its every detail revelatory of the light that grants it. 
David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, 132