Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Love Winter When the Plant Says Nothing

O little forests, meekly
Touch the snow with low branches!
O covered stones
Hide the house of Growth!

Vegetal words,
Unlettered water,
Daily zero.

Pray undistracted
Curled tree
Carved in steel -
Buried zenith!

Fire, turn inward
To your weak fort,
To a burly infant spot,
A house of nothing.

O peace, bless this mad place:
Silence, love this growth.

O silence, golden zero
Unsetting sun

Love winter when the plant says nothing. 1963

from In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems, by Thomas Merton

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Bible Reading Log

For anyone interested, I have started a bible reading log over on posterous. You can find it here: http://rheimbrobrl.posterous.com/

I explain a little bit more here, but basically the goal is to read at least a chapter a day, and the keep track of my thoughts on the log. I have started with the Prophet Isaiah.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Bye Bye Facebook!

I have decided to delete my facebook account. It is something I have been repeatedly contemplating in the last six months but I have not ever gotten up the nerve to follow through and actually do it. There are a few reasons I have made this decision. I am not entirely pleased with the shifts facebook keeps making regarding privacy, however that is not enough on its own to make me want to bolt. Over the last few years it has simply sucked out too much time from my days to be beneficial anymore. I don’t know that it will necessarily keep me off of the computer any more than I am not, but it may at least be step in that direction.

The final impetus for making this decision has been coming across this site: http://suicidemachine.org/ While it is currently blocked from accessing facebook, and would be a much more interesting way of doing it, it won’t be so hard to go through the steps myself. At this point in time I have not decided to let go of twitter, as I find it useful for reasons outside of simply social networking; but even that may come up on the chopping block one day.

So, I have decided that this Friday will be the day I make the final delete. If you need any of my contact information, the time to write it down is now J

Here are some ways you can still reach me:

Phone: 513-201-7424 or 513-550-9992

Email: rheimbro@gmail.com (also works for pretty much anything Google related)

Blog: http://revolutionarytradition.blogspot.com

And if you are interested at all in any of the articles I ever post on here, then you can keep up with me on twitter or google reader.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/rheimbro

Google reader: http://www.google.com/reader/shared/rheimbro


Friday, January 01, 2010

Hauerwas on Healthcare: Learning How to Die

“Questionnaire” (a poem by Wendell Berry)

“Questionnaire” (a poem by Wendell Berry)

1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Evangelical Universalism- some current resources

For anyone interested, the notion that God will ultimately save all humanity from hell has been cropping up in the blogosphere lately.

There is much about this idea which I find makes sense, and yet I am still working out some of the ramifications and trying to form a full opinion of my own. The main questions that I have are how a theory of universalism deals with hell. It is pretty clear that the bible speaks of hell as a reality, and this must be accounted for. It does seem that the major proponents of an evangelical universalism do affirm a belief in the reality of hell, but that they do not consider it to be the final destiny of the ‘unsaved’ since eventually god will save everybody without coercion.

Here are some links to some of the current discussions I have been following, as well as some resources that are a little older.

Most notably, right now Scott McKnight has been blogging through George MacDonald's (AKA Robin Parry) book The Evangelical Universalist over at his blog Jesus Creed. He has merely been explaining Parry's views, without much commentary yet. Here is what he has posted so far on the subject:

Let's Get "Universalism" Straight

Theological Defenses of Hell: Calvinism

Theological Defenses of Hell: Freewill theism

The Bible and Universalism

Universal Redemption and the Cosmos

The Old Testament and Universalism

The New Testament and Universalism

Richard Beck, of Experimental Theology, has been sharing his own thoughts on universalism as well. Two posts in particular have caught my eye:



As for some older resources, I have found the actual site of Robin Parry/George MacDonald to be interesting, especially some of the earliest posts in the archives which deal with evangelical objections to universalism.

Also, at The Fire and the Rose, David Congdon has a very thorough (yet sadly unfinished) series of posts which can all be found here.

There are a few other resources I may add here when I get a chance to find them all again. I do admit here that I lean very favorably on what I have read here and elsewhere advocating for a belief in universalism. Ultimately however I have two points.

1. Whether or not it is the best way of understanding the biblical data, I do believe that we must at the very least hope in the idea that God wants to and will eventually save all of humanity.

2. There is no issue that I feel is so concrete in my thinking that I am not willing to be proven wrong when the truth if fully revealed to us in Christ. When talking about what happens after we die, this is even more true because we just don’t know until it happens. We can make educated guesses, and have some faith that they are pointing in the right direction, but we must accept that we don't have the full picture yet.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My New Years Resolution: Giving Up Fear & Worry -or- Why Terrorists Don't Scare Me Anymore

I have been thinking a lot lately on fear and how I feel we as a country thrive on it. Since the unsuccessful attempt to blow up a plane in Detroit this week, we have all been reminded of how many of our elected officials love using fear as a weapon, or the phrase 9/11 as if it were the ultimate motivational tool. I have also been thinking a lot on the relationship between Christianity and anarchy.

Christian anarchy as I understand it, is a liberation and freedom from the world’s power structures, while submitting to the authority of God. These power structures include many things, such as the societal structures of government and economy that have been set up throughout history.

Once we recognize that government is no more than a tool (a highly unreliable one at that!), then we are free to be the church - the body of Christ. We are free to live in ways that reflect the Kingdom of God. Chief among these ways is the freedom from worry and fear (Luke 12 or Matthew 6 are good places to start). Jesus points us in the direction of the worry-free life, in fact when he began his ministry, the portions of Isaiah that Jesus recited were all liberating in nature:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

In contrast, the world would have us believe that its full weight is on our shoulders, stressing us as we consider our finances, physical safety, relationships, and more. Because we so easily buy into this sentiment, we foolishly strive to feel safe in a world of chaos and mayhem. We simply have to fess up and confess that the chaos and mayhem are not going to disappear until Christ returns and the Lord brings the fullness of the new heavens and new earth into reality. This is not cause to lose hope, thinking that our actions are fruitless, but rather it is a cause for celebration because not only is the Kingdom going to be a complete reality one day, we are able to join in and experience it now. Christ teaches us both that the kingdom has come near (Luke 10:1-12) and that it is coming (Luke 19:11-27).

But that free response to God’s grace is not how most of us (especially American Christians) go about living our lives. Indeed, we tend to focus more on results than anything else. In work it is our productivity that matters to employers, or we measure our status by our net worth (or conversely our debt). We love putting numbers on everything. As this decade is closing, the number of top ten lists (including recent posts on this blog) are overwhelming. We love figuring out who sold the most movie tickets, concert tickets, albums, or books this year and declaring those ‘the best’. Churches have taken the numbers to new heights with the expansion of the mega-church movement. We have decided that churches with thousands of congregants is something to aspire to, and that pulling people from all over a city from their local neighborhoods is a great way to build a city-wide community, because numbers are the easiest way to quantify success. This is not to say that mega-churches are evil, just that many are misguided in that regard.

I say all that to not that the same results driven approach is carried over to how we view violence, on both a local and global scale. Once again, statistics drive so much about how we view our cities and communities. So, when the number of homicides goes up, we feel more afraid, and when they go down, we are able to pretend that we are safer. Stats like these are used in differentiating the good parts of town from the bad. “Oh I worry so much about you living downtown, it is just not safe!” someone might say. I am not arguing that there are not greater chances of violence in certain areas than in others, but that it simply doesn’t matter.

We believe in a Lord who has conquered death, swallowing it up in victory. This same Lord then gives us commands not to return evil with evil, and to refrain from worry or fear, yet in this country we have gone so far as to set up a color coded system to tell us just how afraid we should be at any given time. We then set up smoke and mirrors by way of buffing up our defense budget and sending our neighbors overseas to kill and be killed. All this is done so that we may feel safe.

We are witnessing it once again in the wake of last week’s attempted attack. Security was too loose before, so now they are beefing it up. We rely on new technologies to outsmart the enemy’s new technologies. When something bad does happen, we need to look for those responsible for letting something like this happen. One could get windburn from all the finger pointing that is going on this week. At the end of the day, we are not really any safer, but at least we can sleep better at night.

Again, I just find this strange. Safety is not something we were promised. Following Christ, and becoming like him means an acceptance that death exists, that violence is real. It is the path he took to the cross and beyond. It is the path that his disciples Stephen, Paul and Peter took as well. While Paul declares death an enemy, something to take seriously, he also proclaims Christ’s victory over death. When we take this seriously we can start shedding the fear away.

It seems a few people have been attributed with similar quotes but here is one helpful example from Dorothy Thompson: “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict -- alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.” Or Martin Luther King Jr.: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

In terms of the biblical narrative, peace will eventually come, but peace in this world is more about our responses to violence than the violence itself.

So, finally, I have decided that my new year’s resolution is to give up fear. I am tired of being told how dangerous the world is, and then allowing that to inhibit my reaction to it. And while I have focused my thoughts here on the issue of violence, that fearlessness must be expanded to the other areas I mentioned earlier- finances, relationship, employment and more. I hope that others might consider this as well.

It is time we started asking some of the what ifs that we usually shrug off as too idealistic.

What if we took Jesus seriously and stopped worrying, trusting in him instead?

What if we got out of the boat like Peter, and let Christ hold us up in the midst of the turbulent waves that make up our own lives?

What if we took Jesus seriously, and found our peace in him, not in our own strength?

What if we trusted him so much that we kept his command to resist returning evil with evil?

What if Christians began to refrain from seeking legal and financial recompence for wrongs suffered?

What if Christians took acts 2:43-47 to heart, and made a concerted effort to live that out in a modern day setting?

What if they were able to do that without declaring it a lefty-communist plot?

What will this look like? I don’t fully know.

But, Robert Park is one example of how it might look. He crossed into North Korea this week to highlight the prison camps they have. He will probably be sentenced to hard labor in one of those very same prisons. Yet even in this case, Washington is already talking about securing his freedom. They don’t realize that his freedom is not insecure because he has been taken under custody by the North Korean government. Au contraire, he might just be one of the most free persons in the world right now.

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Favorite Movies of 2009

Here are my favorite movies of the year, starting with my most favorite by far, In The Loop.

This movie is a sort of spin off from the UK Comedy Series The Thick of It. It features many of the same actors and some of the same Characters (most notably, Malcolm Tucker, the foul-mouthed spin doctor for Downing Street). It was hands down the funniest, smartest movie I saw all year.

Trailer - In the loop from Tour de Force on Vimeo.

2. Goodbye Solo, directed by Ramin Bahrani

8. Star Trek, directed by J.J. Abrams

9. Up, directed by Pete Docter

My Favorite Music of 2009

Here is a sampling of my favorite music of 2009. There is no rhyme or reason to the order. Enjoy :)

Loudon Wainwright III : The Charlie Poole Project

God Help the Girl : God Help The Girl (a project from Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian)

Garfunkel and Oates : Music Songs

U2 : No Line on the Horizon

Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Morrissey : Years of Refusal

M. Ward : Hold Time


Passion Pit : Manners

The Swell Season : Strict Joy

Carol by Thomas Merton [poem]

Flocks feed by darkness with a noise of whispers.
In the dry grass of pastures,
And lull the solemn night with their weak bells.

The little towns upon the rocky hills
Look down as meek as children:
Because they have seen come this holy time.

God's glory, now, is kindled gentler than low candlelight
Under the rafters of a barn:
Eternal Peace is sleeping in the hay,
And Wisdom's born in secret in a straw-roofed stable.

And O! Make holy music in the stars, you happy angels.
You shepherds, gather on the hill.
Look up, you timid flocks, where the three kings
Are coming through the wintry trees;

While we unnumbered children of the wicked centuries
Come after with our penances and prayers,
And lay them down in the sweet-smelling hay
Beside the wise men's golden jars.

From In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton. ed. Lynn R. Szabo. p. 57.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Advent by Thomas Merton [poem]

Charm with your stainlessness these winter nights,

Skies, and be perfect!
Fly vivider in the fiery dark, you quiet meteors, And disappear.
You moon, be slow to go down,
This is your full!

The four white roads make off in silence
Towards the four parts of the starry universe.
Time falls like manna at the corners of the wintry earth.
We have become more humble than the rocks,
More wakeful than the patient hills.

Charm with your stainlessness these nights in Advent, holy spheres,
While minds as Meek as beasts,
Stay close at home in the sweet hay;
And intellects are quieter than the flocks that feed by starlight.

Oh pour your darkness and your brightness over all our solemn valleys,
You skies: and travel like the gentle Virgin,
Toward the planets' stately setting,

Oh white full moon as quiet as Bethlehem! 1946

From In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton. ed. Lynn R. Szabo. p. 56.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merton on Advent 2.0

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power, because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present.
-- Thomas Merton

This was at the head of a posting by John Dear about a freedom march he is participating in this coming week in Gaza. You can find that article here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Merton on Advent

[Circular Letter, Advent-Christmas, 1967]

The times are difficult. They call for courage and faith. Faith is in the end a lonely virtue. Lonely especially where a deep authentic community of love is not an accomplished fact, but a job to be begun over and over... Love is not something we get from Mother Church as a child gets milk from the breast: it also has to be given. We don't get love if don't give any.

Christmas, then, is not just a sweet regression to breast-feeding and infancy. It is a serious and sometimes difficult feast. Difficult especially if, for psychological reasons, we fail to grasp the indestructible kernel of hope that is in it. If we are just looking for a little consolation-we may be disappointed.

Thomas Merton. The Road to Joy, Robert E. Daggy, editor (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989): 108.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hauerwas on Sentimentality

Sometime down the road, I have a feeling I will look back on 2009 with fondness for many reasons. One of those reasons will be that it was the year I exposed myself to two very important Christian thinkers. The first was Thomas Merton, and the second is Stanley Hauerwas. I have yet to get to his monographs, but from the articles and videos I have come across in the last month or so, I have already been affected by his teachings on peace, and will continue to be shaped as I interact with his work.

This video contains some strong language.

Sentimentality from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

Also, I strongly recommend this critique of Obama's Peace Prize speech that he wrote this week.

How Do You Know a War is a War? by Stanley Hauerwas

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Karl Barth's comments on the Isenheim Altarpiece by Grünewald

This passage from Barth's Church Dogmatics is focused on Christology. He references the above artwork by Matthais Grünewald, specifically the nativity scene. He also references the scene of the crucifixion from the same artwork, and I have included that at the bottom of the post for reference. Clicking on either of them will allow you to see the larger version of the files.

This condition under which alone Christology is possible takes visible form in the main picture on the altar at Isenheim by M. Grünewald. Its subject is the incarnation. There are three things to be seen in the picture, and it is difficult to say where the observer should begin. In the background upon the heights of heaven, beyond earth’s highest mountains, surrounded by innumerable angels, there is God the Father in His glory. In the foreground to the left there is the sanctuary of the old covenant. It also is filled with and surrounded by angels, but inexorably separated from the background by an immensely high, gloomy partition. But towards the right a curtain is drawn back, affording a view. And at this point, at the head of the whole world of Advent looking to see the Messiah, stands Mary as the recipient of grace, the representative of all the rest, in adoration before what she sees happening on the right side. Over there, but quite lonely, the child Jesus lies in His mother’s arms, surrounded with unmistakable signs reminding us that He is a child of earth like all the rest. Only the little child, not the mother, sees what is to be seen there, the Father. He alone, the Father, sees right into the eyes of this child. On the same side as the first Mary appears the Church, facing at a distance. It has open access on this side, it adores, it magnifies and praises, therefore it sees what is indeed the glory of the only-begotten of His Father, full of grace and truth. But it sees only indirectly. What it sees directly is only the little child in His humanity; it sees the Father only in the light that falls upon the Son, and the Son only in this light from the Father. This is the way, in fact, that the Church believes in and recognises God in Christ. It cannot run over to the right side, where the glory of God can be seen directly. It can only look out of the darkness in the direction in which a human being is to be seen in a light, the source of which it cannot see itself. Because of this light streaming down from above, it worships before this human being as before God Himself, although to all visual appearance He is literally nothing but a human being. John the Baptist too, in Grünewald’s Crucifixion, can only point—and here everything is bolder and more abrupt, because here all indication of the revelation of the Godhead is lacking—point to a wretched, crucified, dead man. This is the place of Christology. It faces the mystery. It does not stand within the mystery. It can and must adore with Mary and point with the Baptist. It cannot and must not do more than this. But it can and must do this.

Karl Barth et al., Church Dogmatics, Volume I: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 2 (Translation of Die kirchliche Dogmatik.; Each pt. also has special t.p.; Includes indexes.;Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2004), 125.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Jurgen Moltmann & The Spirit of Life

I have just started reading Jurgen Moltmann’s The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, and if this excerpt from the introduction is a hint of what is to come, I am very excited about this book. Here is the quote:

Human life - and surely not human life alone - only becomes living, and happy in its livingness, if it affirms other life and is itself affirmed. To say this sounds like a cliche. Yet it is by no means a matter of course. In view of the destruction which men and women are inflicting on nature, and in the face of the collective suicide to which human beings are leading humanity, it is in fact difficult to believe this simple statement, and more difficult to live accordingly. Whether humanity has a future, or whether it is going to become extinct in the next few centuries, depends on our will to live - and that means our absolute will for our one, indivisible life. Whether humanity ought to live, or ought to become extinct, is a question which cannot be answered through the dictates of rational expediency, but only out of a love for life. Even now we experience personally and jointly so much blighted and ruined life that to affirm life whole-heartedly is difficult. We have got used to death, at least to the death of other creatures and other people. And to get used to death is the beginning of freezing into lifelessness oneself. So the essential thing is to affirm life - the life of other creatures - the life of other people - our own lives. If we do not, there will be no rebirth and no restoration of the life that is threatened. But anyone who really says 'yes' to life says 'no' to war. Anyone who really loves life says 'no' to poverty. So the people who truly affirm and love life take up the struggle against violence and injustice. They refuse to get used to it. They do not conform. They resist.

If my memory serves me well, this is the second book on the Spirit by Moltmann that I have read. I read Source of Life in seminary, but this is his more encompassing work on the Spirit. What permeates both books, is an emphasis on the Spirit’s role in creation. It is to be found both in the initial creative acts of God, and in sustaining creation in its fallen state while anticipating the New Creation. If the Spirit is the spirit of life, then it goes to follow that where death takes over, the spirit is not to be found. As the above excerpt points out, we have gotten used to death, and this has numbed our lives. One only has to think of issues like Rwanda, the horrific abuses of women throughout the world, or the AIDS crisis to realize that this is true. In the overwhelming weight of death and destruction throughout the world we find it easier to turn a blind eye and pretend that these things are not happening. Is this not one reason Paul viewed death as an enemy? Is this not also why he rejoiced in the good news that Christ had victory over death? We still live in this fallen world, and yet we also live in the time of the already and the not yet of the Kingdom of God, recognizing that through Jesus, heaven has broken into creation, and will ultimately encompass it fully. The Holy Spirit then, was sent by God & Jesus to connect us to the source of life while we wait in anticipation of the resurrection, the new heavens and the new earth.

We have the option to respond to that gift, by breaking out of the numbness of lifelessness, and affirming life through our own actions. This is not really that easy. It means we must re-evaluate our beliefs and preconceptions about how we interact with other human beings as well as the entire created world, including animals and plants. While I do believe that humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creation, it is supported by all life. Furthermore, we don’t simply seek out care of creation because we know that it supports us, but rather because God deemed it good, and set us with the task of caring for it. This allows us to cultivate life out of response to God’s gifts and creative acts, and not out of begrudging obligation or self-interest.

Compartmentalizing the pursuit of life is not an option. While it is true that we can only focus our energies on one or two issues before our impact gets spread too thin, we must still seek to be aware of how the affirmation of life in the Spirit can affect our approach to just about anything. In the Catholic church they speak a lot about a consistent life ethic, and this is something I wish Evangelicals and Protestants would take on as well. It means that one tries to promote life in all areas. For me this means that while I do oppose most abortions (the question of using legal means to reduce abortions is a different debate), I also oppose the death penalty, and the use of violence in any conflict be it personal, communal or international. Further, this means seeking ways to oppose the oppressive forces which perpetuate poverty in this world, seeking constructive approaches to the environmental crises of our day, and seeking out a vegetarian diet for the sake of affirming the life of animals.

None of these actions are attempts to defeat death on my own. After all, Christ did that. These are also not attempts to bring the kingdom on my own. Christ is doing that already and will do that to completion. Rather, as I already mentioned, these are responsive acts to what God has done, is doing, and will do in the future. It is my hope and prayer that whatever response we make towards affirming life, it is done in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that its fruits are borne out in their fullness.