End of the quarter breeds a high level of malaise – that feeling of wandering in a cloud and being damp with sadness. Is this merely due to reading too much Sarte, Camus and Heidegger ? Aucun je ne pense pas ainsi… that is, no, I don’t think so.

That said, the mood of ending the term, the drama of grades and the fear of seniors not knowing what comes next certainly adds to this mood. I was listening to Cat Steven’s Teaser and the Firecat on my way to work today – long before The Shins and Kings of Convenience there was Cat Stevens (nee Yusaf Islam). Teaser and the Firecat has one of the most malaise ridden songs I have ever heard – How Can I Tell You? It is a love song so filled with longing and loss that is pours out of your speakers. In some ways the song is so intimate that it can’t be listened to with earbuds – too closed and intimate – and has to breathe a bit. The song begins in silence and you sit for 4 painful seconds waiting for something, anything to fill the silence. Then the first strum of the guitar and the fingerpicking that is seeking for form of the narrative. Steven’s voice only stumbles into the song after 21 seconds – which for a 3 minute, 18 second song can feel like an eternity. He hums and tries to awaken his language around his longing and then begins with his question – “how can I tell you that I love you?” From there the song falls in and out of metaphors – seeing the face of his beloved in every face he tries to love, the liminality of the sea moving in and out of the shoreline, each one trying to give some grounding to this longing that is slowing drawing him into the distance. After 3 minutes a quiet wailing fills the background of the song and his voice falls off into the silence once again. It is jarring to listen to the song all the way into the next track – Tuesday’s Dead – which, while a great track, is abruptly upbeat in tone. I wonder why the many “greatest hits” collections never include this song (“Tuesday’s Dead” makes in on the A & M collection) but perhaps the reason is obvious – how can this level of raw transparency be something that folks want to return to?

On days like today… it is the only song…

I was reflecting on the nature of “choice” last night during the Gathering. Sometimes the nature of choice has some pretty dire consequences as seen in the student video of Acts 5 – well worth the 3 minutes to see what you can do at 3am with a Sharpie and some gansta rap! Choice is key to our understanding of what is being asked of us in this life. As consumers, we are told that are ability to choose is the definition of power. French cultural theorist (also philosophical brains behind the Matrix trilogy) Jean Baudrillard put is well in his La Société de consommation: ses mythes, ses structures when he stated that “The whole discourse on consumption, whether learned or lay, is articulated on the mythological sequence of the fable: a man, ‘endowed’ with needs which ‘direct’ him towards objects that ‘give’ him satisfaction,” (CS 35). This mythos ignores the nature of consumer society in which “the manufacturers control behavior, as well as direct and model social attitudes and needs … this is a total dictatorship by the sector of production,” (CS 38). For many Americans and western Europeans, Christianity’s form is a consumptive one – the more choices I have, the more power I have, the more I draw into myself, the closer I am to God. Counter this with the Pauline call to relinquish everything in Galatians 2:20 and the kenotic outpouring of self denoted by Christ in Phillipians 2: 5-11. Phillipians 2:5 calls the faithful to be of the same “mind and attitude” as that of Christ and then proceeds to describe what this attitude is. The sad thing is that most people then read the Carmen Christi of Phillipians 2 as Christ merely emptying himself of the divine attributes but forgets that we are called to be “of the same mind and attitude” which begs the question – what can we kenotic empty or relinquish that is “of the same mind and attitude”? One word: choice. The kenotic outpouring of Christ is a relinquishment of choice – no longer to be swayed by the whims of consumer drives, no longer to weigh other alternatives for possible futures akin to The Last Temptation of Christ (here I am thinking of the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis – title in the Greek The Last Temptation : Ο Τελευταίος Πειρασμός, O Teleftaíos Peirasmós – not the 1988 film directed by Martin Scorsese) where Jesus fully considers an alternative life than the one he is called to. The relinquishment of choice is an abhorrent to many – considered almost “anti-american” and somehow totalitarian in nature. But the call of christological kenosis is even deeper that mere choice – it is living unto death where we exhaust all options and engraph ourselves to the one and only Vine (John 15) come hell or high water. Is this preachy? Perhaps.

Maybe it is just this time of the quarter, but students (and some staff I suppose) have become concerned that there is a state of apathy on campus in regard to spirituality. Granted, the use of ‘apathy’ as an phenomenological descriptor is etymologically derived from the Greek απάθεια (apatheia), a term used originally in Stoic philosophy to signify ‘indifference’ for what one is not responsible for namely things objective to the self (according to Stoic philosophy, given the divide between the material and immaterial world – a person is only responsible for their representations and judgments, not the material realm). This ‘indifference’ is rooted in ‘pathos’ (Greek: πάθος) which is tied to emotions or feelings – in short, apathy is a lack of feeling or emotional tie to an issue, person or event. In Aristotle’s understanding of rhetoric, pathos is one of the three modes of persuasion in rhetoric (along with ethos and logos) and often considered the most powerful since appealing to the audience’s emotions. Granted, there is a place for feeling and emotion in the human condition – especially in line with what Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley termed ‘affections.’ As noted in an article by Gregory Clapper, the notion of ‘affections’ for Edwards and Wesley were to be firmly grounded and framed by a mindfulness and attentiveness born out of reasonable reflection, not merely impluse. The “affections of the mind” according to Edwards are “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the will.” In drawing this out, Edwards goes on to say that God has imbued the soul with two faculties: the understanding which is capable of perception and speculation, and the inclination or will which either is pleased or displeased, approving or rejecting the things perceived. The mind with regard to the exercises of the will is called the heart. The crucial point here is that the affections are not exercised apart from the understanding. While pathos attempts to circumvent the mind and will in order to ‘cut to the heart’ (one can think of the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent Vega (John Travolta) gives Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) an adrenaline shot to the heart in the midst of panic and confusion) regardless of the means or the enduring ramifications), true affections are framed and deepened by the mind and will and discerned in community.

My question then: is apathy really such a bad thing after all? Perhaps getting whipped up into a frenzy under the guise of passions that circumvent the mind and will need to be discussed. Perhaps a little more apathy would be a good thing from time to time… just a thought, dear reader… just a thought.

During the summer of 1985, I was working at Mercer Island Presbyterian with High School and College students. It was a pretty formative season – I turned 21, had my first car (a ’73 Dodge Dart that I had to hit the starter motor each morning with a hammer to loosen the brushes – but it had a sweet Radio Shack cassette deck), and all my college friends were off doing other things – so basically I was 24/7 ministry and making sure my car didn’t break down on the 520 floating bridge. The summer was spent with a lot of introspection and soul searching: this was my ‘attempt’ at full-time ministry and was never really sure whether this was a calling for me. The students I was working with were…well… rich. I went to Garfield High School in Seattle’s Central District and and growing up in a family of school teachers didn’t really prep me for the fact that there were kids for whom the big question wasn’t if they could go water skiing on the weekend, it was which friend had the better boat. I clearly wasn’t from this tribe so to speak.

At any rate, the summer ended with a big retreat (yes… a water ski camp) east of the mountains with a number of other churches on Mercer Island. One of the churches we partnered with was a Catholic parish called St. Monica’s. The youth pastor at St. Monica’s was named Dan and he was what you would typically call a product of post-Vatican II libertarianism – loved to play guitar, was culturally savvy, and a real joy to be with. In short, he was pretty cool. One morning I was tuning my guitar to help lead in the morning worship service and he was listening to a cassette tape on his boom box (yes – the 80’s – think Lloyd Dobbler in his trench coat hoisting Peter Gabriel over his head to win back Diane Court in Say Anything… THAT boom box). It was strange, but in the early morning heat and looking out on the browned sage bushes while listening to that tape, I felt what Wordsworth seemed to describe in “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798”:

And I have felt
A Presence that disturbs me with the Joy
Of Elevated Thoughts; A sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit that impels
All thinking, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

“Dan” I said, “what is that we are listening to?” “The Quiet” he replied. “What?” “John Michael Talbot – have you heard of him? It is an album he recorded called “The Quiet” The music draws you into the quiet places God wishes to speak, not cover them up.”

I just sat there and listened to the Quiet some more. I thought about how hard that summer had actually been, how lonely at times and yet so full of purpose in what I was doing with those youth. I thought about my family – not always easy – and I thought about the fact that I was going to be graduating from college soon and had to make some hard decisions about my life.
I realised that I rarely listened to and with real quiet. Only in the quiet was I able to see and hear just how big the storm in my soul had become… and how little I wanted to deal with it.

Click.

I turned and saw Dan and turned off the tape and took it out of the boom box. “Here,” he said, “you need this I think.” I took the tape and then realised that I didnt know what to say. Dan probably knew this because he just stood up and walked away – leaving me in the Quiet.

While the controversy has settled down around the Jeremiah Wright sound bites that have gotten repeated play on Fox News Network, the question remains a valid one for any member of a church: when do you stay and when do you leave in the face of inflammatory statements made by the leadership? To what extent to you allow latitude and context and to what extent do you say “that’s crossed a line I can’t cross”? As Hillary Clinton was quick to point out, any inflammatory statement that would call into question the United States from a pulpit was see her exiting the church. Is this the essential question for allegiance to a congrgation and to a pastor – the issue of national pride at all cost? Recently, Tony Robinson (a local author and pastor in Seattle) wrote a great column in the Seattle PI on this question that is certainly worth reading. Additionally, Debra Mumford (a professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) wrote a nice article on http://www.thethoughtfulchristian.com/ entitled “Jeremiah Wright and Black Prophetic Preaching” that rightly draws out the tradition of African American prophetic preaching as framed around different rhetorical methods and traditions of discourse than most white churches. Worth a download to be sure.

That said, sometimes it is best to just listen again to Obama’s March 18th “A More Perfect Union” speech in Philadelphia. No matter how you slice it, one of the best speeches on race delivered by a public official bar none. This is 37 minutes well spent watching it again – and a lifetime worth of work ahead in the deep and abiding work of real racial reconcilation in America.

“Was not Paul, like Lenin, the great “institutionalizer,” and, as such, reviled by the partisans of “original” Marxism-Christianity? Does not the Pauline temporality “already, but not yet” also designate Lenin’s situation in between the two revolutions, between February and October 1917? Revolution is already behind us, the old regime is out, freedom is here–but the hard work still lies ahead”
The Puppet & the Dwarf

“We ‘feel free’ because we lack the very langauge to articulate our unfreedom.”
Welcome to the Desert of the Real!: Five Essays on September 11th, p. 2

Akin to WB Yeat’s beast, I too am slouching towards Bethlehem to be born… or better yet, I am slouching toward that Gadamarian fused horizon, that post-easter glow upon the waters that hangs out there in the distance. Yes, it is “ordinary time” once again – life after the lament of lent, the disquiet of holy week, and the apocalypse of Easter. I haven’t really adjusted to the ordinary time yet – I want to return to lent for some reason. Perhaps I miss the building expectation amidst the sorrow, perhaps it is merely the weariness of being in “ordinary time”. i just can’t put my finger on it. I can feel the disquiet soul-deep with all the usual indictators:

(1) looking for a novel in the bookstore to read but everything looks like Chuck Palahniuk – all image and no depth.
(2) Trying to get work done and finding myself wandering AWOL across campus and mysteriously uttering the words “Americano, light room” to yet another barista-cum-confessor. (3) indicator #2 once again, only this time getting a muffin… how Charlie Kaufman is that!

Things that help get my head back in the game in 60 minutes:

(1) Turn on Tom Wait’s Bone Machine and listen stem to stern
(2) Read selected sections of Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing while Tom Wait’s world clatters, sputters and cracks (“Here was a God to study… a God with a fathomless capacity to bend all to an inscrutable purpose. Not chaos itself lay outside of that matrix. And somewhere in that tapestry that was the world in its making and in its unmaking was a thread that was he and he woke weeping…”)
(3) Psalm 73 – Asaph understands things better than I do…

I got an email this week from a long-time friend and McCain supporter. We have been friends for over 20 years, but the distance between us has grown politically in the past decade but only with this election come to a proverbial head. In short, he thinks I am being swept up in the fad of Obama – ‘a victim of hype’ as it were. *Sigh*

Here is the deal – Obama is the real thing. So, here is a snap shot of legislation:

– Promote Responsible Fatherhood: Obama will sign into law his Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act to remove some of the government penalties on married families, crack down on men avoiding child support payments, and ensure that payments go to families instead of state bureaucracies.

– Support Parents with Young Children: Obama will expand the highly-successful Nurse-Family Partnership to all 570,000 low-income, first-time mothers each year. The Nurse-Family Partnership provides home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income expectant mothers and their families.

– Expand Paid Sick Days: Today, three-out-of-four low-wage workers have no paid sick days. Obama supports guaranteeing workers seven paid sick days per year.

– Establish 20 Promise Neighborhoods: Obama will create 20 Promise Neighborhoods in areas that have high levels of poverty and crime and low levels of student academic achievement in cities across the nation. The Promise Neighborhoods will be modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides a full network of services, including early childhood education, youth violence prevention efforts and after-school activities, to an entire neighborhood from birth to college.

– Ensure Community-Based Investment Resources in Every Urban Community: Obama will work with community and business leaders to identify and address the unique economic development barriers of every major metropolitan area. Obama will provide additional resources to the federal Community Development Financial Institution Fund, the Small Business Administration and other federal agencies, especially to their local branch offices, to address community needs.

– Invest in Rural Areas: Obama will invest in rural small businesses and fight to expand high-speed Internet access. He will improve rural schools and attract more doctors to rural areas.

These are things Sen. Obama has been committed to since his day in the Illinois senate. He created the Illinois Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income working families in 2000 and successfully sponsored a measure to make the credit permanent in 2003. The law offered about $105 million in tax relief over three years. He has also championed multiple pieces of legislation to help low-income families find adequate affordable housing.

Needless to say, from time to time over the next few months, TheologyKungFu is going to work on highlighting some of these distinctives as the Convention season starts to move into high gear.

In short, if you have an option – at least get out there and voice it – if you need to test ride your views…voice it on the blog. If you are silent – you made just regret it in the months to come. The time for silence is over – we need to act. The time is now.

Go ahead – color me Emo… I dig Lent. This year Lent begins pretty early this year – the earliest in quite a few years… which is OK by me. I have serious spiritual jetlag these days – I find myself looking up at the sky and wondering if I missed the Rapture or something. This weekend in the church calendar has Matthew 17: 1 – 9 as the appointed reading in the lectionary – the Transfiguration of Jesus. I can relate to Peter’s wish to build a mobile home park (vs. 4) and just hangout in all the holy afterglow of being in the midst of wonder. That said, we are called to leave the wonder and glory (Gk: ‘doxo’) behind for a season and now head down the mountain. This is the lenten time… the residue of glory in our hearts and minds as we walk the valley in need of healing. In order to do this we need to let go, get lean, and walk in faith. Now is the dim-lighted time. Now is the winter of our re-contentment if you will (sorry Billy Shakesphere…). I think I am ready for the wilderness thank you very much. I have too much crowding my heart that needs to be cut away…

I was just writing a student asking about where to start in the U2 catalog – what a difficult question. For me, the ‘Wesleyan Quadrilateral’ in the U2 canon in CDs (singles are another matter) comes down to (1) 1983 War – most realized album as a whole and has the raw unpolished energy of youth… they dont know how good they are yet; (2) 1987 The Joshua Tree – truly an amazing album start to finish… certainly shines under Daniel Lanois’ production soft touch – more of a commentary on America in late 80’s Reganomics than a self contained concept album; and (3) Achtung Baby – In 1991 U2 goes to Berlin and embraces electronica and darkness for the sake of light… scared U2 fans but the vision paid off; and (4) Pop – For a release in 1997, it is certainly an album dismissed in its time, but it still sounds fresh today after 10 years and is arguably one of the most spiritual albums they have made. Since Lent is coming up, bring this Quadrilateral full circle for the church calendar – listen to “40” from ‘War’ and “Wake Up Dead Man” from Pop back-to-back…

See you in the wilderness my friends…