Sunday, October 09, 2011

Adele Gonzales, Life is Hard but God is Good (Orbis, 2011)

Here’s a brilliant, ‘progressive Catholic’ attempt to ‘present the best theodicy possible.’ Adele Gonzales knows about suffering – via losing her beloved father unexpectedly when she was 14; soon afterwards she was shipped to Florida from Cuba without any English language skills; and she’s suffered emotionally, spiritually, physically (rheumatoid arthritis) - and ecclesiastically in a conservative Catholic church -  in many ways…

Her vocation includes leading seminars and doing personal spiritual direction with other sufferers. Early in her career, when confronted in a meeting at which she was speaking on all this with a question about God, evil and suffering, her instinctive response was ‘Shit happens!’. Fortunately a wise bishop who was present mollified the shock-and-awe in the place by agreeing with her!

Back to losing her father: because he was a Mason she was told he went to hell: fortunately a wise and caring priest convinced her otherwise, via the story of the Prodigal’s father…

Why 9/11? Well, don’t forget ‘we Americans experienced on our own soil the terror, despair, and powerlessness other nations live with every day’. And Hurricane Katrina? ‘The entire world saw firsthand the poverty and misery of the black community… [and witnessed] city leaders blaming state leaders who in turn blamed the federal government’.  How does one make sense of the Haitian earthquake? God’s vindictiveness over their voodoo superstitions? No. Haitians – 80% of whom are Catholic – believe God is good, even though life is hard: La vie est dure, mais Dieu est bon.

Who is this God?
I am in the air you breathe;
I am in the wind you ride;
I am in the song you sing;
I am in the tears you cry.
I am living water;
I am dance and song;
I am pain and sorrow;
I am fire and love.
I am the one living God:
I am the fountain of life;
I have come to bring you peace;
You are unique and you are mine…

How does God best do that? By becoming incarnate in Jesus and suffering with us and for us. (Versus the traditional nonsense about God being ‘impassible’ – not able to experience suffering).

But yes, evil is always the greatest obstacle to believing and trusting in God. As theologian Hans Kung wrote: suffering or evil is the ‘acid test’ for every religion.

Christians have tried to theologize it all via the Augustinian notion of original sin. But Sister Gonzales would prefer to say that though evil and suffering are real, as Anne Frank writes in her diary while hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam: ‘Everyone has inside of them a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love!’

·       Structures and institutions? ‘Sometimes I sense darkness in the room, and have to leave immediately…’ Their crimes against the common good go beyond the accumulation of the sins of their members… (Example: those who manage the institutions of the church and its finances are mostly removed from the Church’s pastoral life).

·       Hell? It’s not so much about fire and heat as about the absence of God.

·       A great contemporary evil? ‘Noise’: ‘I don’t blame Apple, or Sony, or any other corporation for the noise, but I think the evil of greed lurking in the background has a lot to do with it.’

·       War? As Pope John Paul II said: ‘War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity’. But we didn’t listen, and invaded Iraq anyway…

·       Unforgiveness (to an angry divorced woman):  ‘This jerk made your life miserable for ten years and now you’re giving him fifteen more free of charge so that he can continue to ruin your life?’ Result: an instant ‘aha’ experience and the woman decided to get counseling. Forgiveness takes place in 5 different contexts – Accepting God’s forgiveness, forgiving ourselves, asking to be forgiven, forgiving God, forgiving others (people, communities, institutions)…

Gonzales’ conclusions:

·       ‘It may sound crazy, but I believe that without the energies of love, pain, anger, and many others, creation would be less than it was meant to be. Growth and development involve change, and change is always painful and frustrating. [So let us] put our energies… into positive actions that could lead to healing, rather than in wasting them in hatred, anger, and revenge.’

·       ‘I know I am a better person because of… evil. My father’s sudden death, our exile from our country of birth, my mother’s blindness, my little cousin’s leukemia, the struggles to finish graduate school, my many illnesses since I was young… are experiences which have made me the person I am today. I believe that the greatest good that has come out of these “evils” is the ability to empathize with someone else’s pain and to walk in their shoes, to be a woman of hope, to enjoy and share a great sense of humor, and to believe without any doubt in the goodness of God and of the universe…’

·       Yes there’s mystery here: and by definition a mystery is unknowable. But as an eastern spiritual master put it, wisely: ‘Pain is part of living, but suffering is optional’. Francis of Assisi endured a lot of physical, emotional and spiritual pain, but he was joyful. William O’Malley: ‘The sufferings of Christ did not cease when Jesus died. Christ still suffers when we suffer, and – we trust – our suffering is redemptive just as his sufferings were redemptive’

·       Finally, Richard Rohr: ‘If you do not transform your pain, you will surely transmit it to those around you and even to the next generation’.

Rowland Croucher
September 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Gist of Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward, Jossey-Bass, 2011

Falling Upward is, in my view, his ‘best yet’ – with more quotable quotes than any of his previous writings.

Here I’ll simply list a pot-pourri of his most memorable sayings, in three sections:

  • The first half of life
  • The second half of life, and
  • The age-old principles for moving from one mode of doing life to the other...


Cultures before the postmodern era valued law, tradition, custom, authority, boundaries and a clear morality... (a lever, with a place to stand – Archimedes).  These gave us the necessary security, continuity, predictability, impulse control and ego structure we need before the chaos of real life shows up. Healthily conservative people tend to grow up more naturally and more happily than those who receive only free-form, ‘build it yourself’ worldviews. Law and tradition are necessary in any spiritual system both to reveal and to limit our basic egocentricity, and to make at least some community, family, and marriage possible.

Cesar Milan, the ‘dog whisperer’ says dogs are happier when they live within very clear limits and boundaries.

The Iroquois Nation asked ‘What would be good for the next seven generations?’

... Climbing the ladder of ‘success’: building a tower of self-importance – a personal ‘salvation project’ (Thomas Merton).

In one sense, as Jesus said, unless we become like a little child, we will not enter the Kingdom of God (Mt 18:3). He says this in response to the egotistic and ambitious question of the apostles, who were asking him ‘Who is the greatest?’

There’s the danger of staying on the same path – even if it’s going nowhere. This is the tragic path of many elderly people who have not become actual elders, probably because they were never eldered or mentored themselves.

Those who whine about parents and authority for too long invariably remain or become narcissists... And unfortunately some stay narcissistic until old age – they never grow up... and it saddens me when old folks are still full of themselves and their absolute opinions about everything... [So] do not waste a moment of time lamenting poor parenting.

The first journey is always about externals, formulas, superficial emotions, flags and badges, correct rituals, Bible quotes, and special clothing, all of which largely substitute for actual spirituality (Mt 23:13-32). But being preoccupied with titles, perks, and religious externals... law, ritual and priestcraft... becomes a compulsive substitute of actual divine encounter or honest relationship. This does not bode well for the future of any church or society.

Unfortunately, most Christians are not well trained at holding opposites for very long, or living with what could be very creative tension. First naivete is the earnest and dangerous innocence we sometimes admire in young zealots, but it is also the reason we should not elect them or follow them as leaders

Notice how no American president can fully admit that his war or his policies were wrong – ever. Popes and clergy have not been known for apologizing.

Almost all groups and institutions are first-half-of-life structures. Don’t expect or demand from groups what they usually cannot give. Doing so will make you needlessly angry and reactionary. They must and will be concerned with identity, boundaries, self-maintenance, self-perpetuation and self-congratulation. That is their nature and purpose. And the religious groups formed in the name of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed mostly define themselves by exclusion and ‘againstness’ because throughout history they have been asking first-half-of-life questions. (Remember that the first half of life defines itself by ‘no’ and the second half of life by ‘yes’). Nothing is going to change in history as long as most people are merely dualistic, either-or thinkers. 


We discover the ladder of success is leaning against the wrong wall.

Falling upward is a secret of the soul not known by talking or proving but by risking.

Finding home and returning there...

We must let our ego-structure go and move beyond it.

Jesus the Jew criticizes his own religion the most, but never leaves it.

Pope John XXIII’s motto: ‘In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things, charity’.

Psychological wholeness and spiritual holiness never exclude the problem from the solution. If it is wholeness, then it is always paradoxical, and holds both the dark and light side of things.

The death of the false self is often the birth of the soul.

Jesus and the Jewish prophets were fully at home with the tragic sense of life. Life, as the biblical tradition makes clear, is both loss and renewal, death and resurrection, chaos and healing at the same time; life seems to be a collision of opposites... Where you stumble and fall, there you find pure gold (Jung). First there is the fall, and then there is the recovery from the fall – and both are the mercy of God (Lady Julian).

You will and must ‘lose’ at something. This is the only way Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey. I wish I could say this was not true, but it is darn near absolute in the spiritual literature of the world. Three of the parables of Jesus are about losing something, searching for it anew with some effort, finding it, and in each case throwing a big party afterwards.

There will always be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change, or even understand... Many depressed people are [those] who have never taken any risks, never moved outside their comfort zone, never faced necessary suffering, and so their unconscious knows they have never lived – or loved!

Your True Self is who you objectively are from the beginning, in the mind and heart of God, ‘the face you had before you were born,’ as the Zen masters say.

Beyond rational and critical thinking, we need to be called again. This can lead to the discovery of a ‘second naivete,’ which is a return to the joy of our first naivete, but now totally new. Inclusive, and mature thinking (Paul Ricoeur)

Our mature years are characterized by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness, if that makes any sense.

By the second half of life, you have learned... that most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image...  Think of the cold Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, or the monk who tries to eliminate all humor in The Name of the Rose, or the frowning Koran burners of Florida. Holier-than-thou people usually end up holier than nobody... The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. 

First we fall, and then we recover from the fall, and both reveal the mercy of God (Dame Julian).

Great people come to serve, not to be served. It is the twelfth and final and necessary step of the inspired Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Until and unless you give your life away to others, you do not seem to have it yourself at any deep level. By the second half of life you learn to tell the difference between who you really are and how others can mirror that or not. This will keep you from taking either insults or praise too seriously. In the second half of life people have less power to infatuate you, to control you or hurt you.

Mature spirituality has invariably insisted on soul friends, gurus, confessors, mentors, masters, and spiritual directors for individuals, and prophets and truth-tellers for groups and institutions. 


The second law of thermodynamics: everything winds down unless some outside force winds it back up.

God hides holiness where only the humble and earnest will find it.

The human ego prefers just about anything to falling or changing or dying.

It is not love but death that makes the world go round (Ernest Becker).

Never forget ‘the way of the wound’ (‘when I am weak then I am strong’ –Paul) is the first step to spiritual growth (Francis, Therese of Lisieux, AA). There is always a wounding, and the great epiphany is that the wound becomes the secret key, even ‘sacred’, a wound that changes one dramatically, which, by the way, is the precise meaning of the wounds of Jesus! [In classical mythology] the hero or heroine finds eros or life energy, and it is more than enough to undo thanatos, the energy of death.

The opposite of rational is not irrational but trans-rational – bigger than the human mind can process (eg. love, death, suffering, God, infinity). ‘People are so afraid of being considered pre-rational that they avoid and deny the very possibility of the trans-rational. Others substitute mere pre-rational emotions for authentic religious experience, which is always trans-rational’ (Ken Wilber)

It’s often when the ego is most deconstructed that we can hear things anew and begin some honest reconstruction.

One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning (Jung).

We need to construct strong wineskins for new wine.

Your shadow is what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see. The more you have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work you will need to do... Neither our persona nor our shadow is evil in itself; they just allow us to do evil and not know it. I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then I must watch my reaction to it.

The saint is precisely one who has no ‘I’ to protect or project. His or her ‘I’ is in conscious union with the ‘I AM’ of God.

Democracy is not the best form of government, just the safest (Plato, Jefferson). But a truly wise monarch might be better at getting things done (‘no hate letters please’).

You can’t step more than one level beyond your own consciousness. So those ideas/people much higher/deeper will invariably appear wrong.

Religious people tend to love the past rather than the future or the present.

Prophets don’t care whether you’re ready to hear their message. They say it because it has to be said and is true.

In the ‘muddled middle’ “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” (W B Yeats).

Both God’s conditional love and also God’s unconditional love are found in the same Scriptures, like Deuteronomy and John’s Gospel. The only real biblical promise is thatunconditional love will have the last word. Jesus is never upset with sinners (check it out!); he is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners! Organized religion has not been known for its inclusiveness or for being very comfortable with diversity.

The only consistent pattern I can find is that all the books of the Bible seem to agree that somehow God is with us and we are not alone.

‘Infantile grandiosity’ (Dr Robert Moore)... recurring Greek hubris. Some even appear to make it to the ‘top’, but there is usually little recognition of the many shoulders they stood on to move there, the many gratuitous circumstances that made it possible for them to arrive there, and sometimes the necks they have stood on to stay there. They ‘gained the whole but lost their soul’ as Jesus put it.

There are finally only two subjects in all of literature and poetry: love and death.

If you accept a punitive notion of God, who punishes or even eternally tortures those who do not love him, then you have an absurd universe where most people on this earth end up being more loving than God.... Jesus touched and healed anybody who asked for it; there were no prerequisites for his healings. Check it out yourself. Why would Jesus’ love be so unconditional while he was in this world, and suddenly become so conditional after death?

The classic spiritual journey always begins elitist and ends egalitarian (Ken Wilber). The ego clearly prefers an economy of merit, where we can divide the world into winners and losers, to any economy of grace, where merit or worthiness loses all meaning.

Either God is for everybody and the divine DNA is somehow in all of creation, or this God is not God by any common definition, or even much of a god at all.

Disclosure: I’ve read 8-10 of Richard Rohr’s books, been listening to him on cassette tapes then CDs and at conferences for nearly 30 years, attended his week-long retreat for men in Arizona, lunched with him on the day John Paul II was buried, and entertained him as a friend in our home.

Rowland Croucher

August 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bishop Gene Robinson: In the Eye of the Storm (2008)

Bishop Gene Robinson is perhaps the third best-known Episcopal/Anglican bishop around the world (after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Desmond Tutu): all because he’s been – reluctantly – the ‘Martin Luther’ of a new reformation in the church, advocating equality for glbt people.  

Wikipedia tells us that ‘the existence of homosexual bishops in the Roman CatholicAnglican, and other traditions is a matter of historical record, though never, until recently, considered licit by any of the main Christian denominations. Homosexual activity was engaged in secretly. When it was made public, official response ranged from inaction to expulsion from Holy Orders. As far back as the eleventh century, Ralph, Archbishop of Tours had his lover installed as Bishop of Orléans, yet neither Pope Urban II, nor his successor Paschal II took action to depose either man.
The article continues: 

It is in contemporary Anglicanism that the issue of homosexuality and its relationship to people in the episcopate has been confronted openly. Indeed, the only large mainstream church to ever consecrate an openly gay bishop who was not celibate has been the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, a member of the Anglican Communion, which consecrated Gene Robinson diocesan bishop of Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003. [1]

More from Wikipedia, on Vicki Gene Robinson (born May 29, 1947):  ‘[He] went public with his sexual identity and divorced in the 1980s. Robinson was elected bishop by the New Hampshire diocese on June 7, 2003, at St. Paul's Church in Concord. Wearing a bullet-proof vest he was consecrated on November 2, 2003 ([and] Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated that he did not see what "all the fuss" was about’) [2]
In the Eye of the Storm Gene Robinson’s passionate (but graciously expressed) thesis is that ‘the planets seem to be aligned today’ for the full civil rights of glbt people - a struggle similar to those of the civil rights and feminist movements. He asserts that the way we think about sexual orientation today was unknown in biblical times. He supports sexual abstinence outside of committed relationships, and theologically would be regarded as a ‘moderate conservative’. His God is a God of radical inclusion, who wants to lift up all the oppressed, including women, minorities and the poor.

In the Eye of the Storm is a book of Robinson’s favorite homilies, spiced here and there with a few autobiographical details - like his childhood in a poor, uneducated, and deeply Christian family in rural Kentucky where his parents were tenant farmers; his first marriage by which he had two children; his treatment for alcohol dependence (there’s only one sentence about that); and his twenty-year commitment to partner Mark Andrews – about whom we learn almost nothing.

He comes across as a sensitive, warm and forgiving man – traits not always practised by many of his critics – who is utterly committed to the prophetic call to ‘do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God’ (not – as the Prayer Book wrongly states – to ‘love justice [and] to do mercy…’) [3]   
Gay issues are essentially about social justice, and he views acceptance of lgbt people as inevitable.

Here are some bits I marked:

·      ‘Some estimate that between 40 and 60 percent of Roman Catholic priests are gay’ (18) [4]

·      ‘We’ve seen more promiscuity among gay men, not because both men are gay, but because both men are men. Studies of lesbian women show little or no interest in promiscuity’ (41)

·      ‘Literally hundreds of rights and protections afforded heterosexual couples at the utterance of “I do” are not available to us. The kinds of protections that became instantly available to Britney Spears – who, on a lark, decided one night in Las Vegas to get married – are not available to Mark and me despite twenty years of love and fidelity’ (48)

·      ‘[A Canadian bishop is] being lambasted around the world for blessing the union of two same-gender loving people. He and his people may be wondering why, if we can bless fox hunts and fishing fleets, we cannot bless two people who pledge to love one another in a faithful, monogamous, life-long-intentioned union and who seek the church’s blessing on that holy endeavor’ (98)

·      ‘To many, asking gay folk to return to church is like asking an abused wife to return to her abusive husband’ (99)

Gene Robinson knows that he will ‘never again be in a “small room.” Because of the high level of media attention, followed by the close scrutiny of those who oppose me, I'm never in a trusting, safe environment where I can let my guard down. Someone is always watching and will use anything I say against me’ (46).

I want to echo the heartfelt words from Desmond Tutu’s Foreword: ‘May I wholly inadequately apologize to my sisters and brothers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered for the cruelty and injustice that you have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of us, your fellow Anglicans; I am sorry. Forgive us for all the pain we have caused you and which we continue to inflict on you. Gene Robinson is a wonderful human being, and I am proud to belong to the same church as he.’

[1] Wikipedia article ‘Gay Bishops’
[2] Wikipedia ‘Vicki Gene Robinson’
[3] p. 125
[4] Elizabeth Stuart, Chosen: Gay Catholic Priests Tell Their Stories, 1993


Rowland Croucher
July 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith (2009)

I have an unusual hobby: I collect generalizations. The scholars who supply them have a magisterial grasp of their subject, and can offer outrageously simple ‘global statements’ without fear of contradiction. This book is full of them.

Harvey Cox retired from the Hollis Chair of Divinity at Harvard University in October 2009 (he was the ninth person to hold this prestigious post which, established in 1727, is the oldest endowed professorship in American higher education.)

I remember as a theological student reading his The Secular City when it was first published in 1965: and I’m not surprised it’s sold one million copies.

An ordained Baptist minister, Cox’s main area of interest has been trends in global Christianity (its history, geography, theology and spirituality) with a special focus on Latin American liberation theology. In 1900 90% of Christians lived either in Europe or in the US but today 60 percent live in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. Dr Cox writes: ‘Since the vast majority of people in this “new Christendom” are neither white nor well-off, their theological questions center less on the existence or nonexistence of God or the metaphysical nature of Christ than on why poverty and hunger still stalk God’s world. It is little wonder that liberation theology, the most creative theological movement of the twentieth century, did not originate in Marburg or Yale, but in the tar-paper shacks of Brazil and the slums of South Korea.’

This readable book is a cross between autobiography and polemics. Cox takes us on a journey through three phases of the evolution of Christianity: the Age of Faith (kiboshed – my word – by Constantine), the Age of Belief and the Age of the Spirit. His sympathies are categorically with the first and last of these, and his vitriol is mostly reserved for institutional and theological fundamentalisms of all kinds. The early churches were vibrant, enthusiastic communities dedicated to ‘following’ Jesus. But in ‘The Age of Belief’ from the fourth to the twentieth centuries, faith became entangled with rituals, liturgies and creeds, orthodox theology mostly replaced personal religion, and a stifling clericalism developed.

So the gist of The Future of Faith can be summarized thus: the church world-wide is in good shape when it jettisons at least three concomitants of ‘Constantinianism’ – institutionalism, hierarchicalism, and creedalism. These three destructive tendencies are not compatible with the church as a missional community; they destroy faith (as distinct from ‘beliefs’). Cox reckons the Pentecostals in Latin America (those influenced by the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, and liberation theology rather than Western notions of ‘prosperity theology’) point the way to a dynamic ‘Age of the Spirit’. One of the key secrets of these ecclesial communities’ social justice ministries? They make lists – lists of people in their neighbourhood who need help. And – importantly - they and the Catholic ‘base ecclesial communities’ are not imprisoned within a fundamentalism of ‘Jesus as personal savior whose mission [is] to rescue them from a sinful world…’

‘Faith is resurgent, while dogma is dying. The spiritual, communal and justice-seeking dimensions of Christianity are now its leading edge as the twenty-first century hurtles forward, and this change is taking place along with similar reformations in other world religions’ (p.212). So the healthiest Christianity emphasizes faith as a way of life (rather than the fundamentalists’ doctrinal boxes we must tick), respectful inter-faith dialogue, and ‘deeds not creeds’ (his quote from conservative pastor Rick Warren).

‘Christianity came to birth in the midst of cultural change — it is a movement born to travel – it takes on life with each succeeding cultural transition. But for this to happen again, some old wine-skins must be discarded, and the incubus of a self serving and discredited picture of Christian origins must be set aside’ (p.184). ‘We stand on the beautiful threshold of a new chapter in the Christian story – Christians on five continents are shaking off the residues of the second phase (the Age of Belief) and negotiating a bumpy transition into a fresh era for which a name has not yet been coined. I would like to call it the Age of the Spirit’ (p.8).

For Cox, faith starts with awe, not propositions. ‘It begins with a mixture of wonder and fear all human beings feel toward the mystery that envelops us. But awe becomes faith only as it ascribes some meaning to that mystery.’ (Interesting that. As I pondered where my Christian faith began, I have to say it wasn’t awe – though that came later – but a commitment to the person and teaching of Jesus…).

Harvey Cox would probably not categorize himself a ‘theological progressive’, but critiques that movement as he does all others. (You’ll be hard-pressed to find here any reference to Spong or Crossan: Borg, I think, is mentioned just once – or N T Wright or John Stott for that matter. And interestingly he doesn’t cite any websites in his references/ endnotes).

Here’s the best quote in the book:

‘I have often seen what damage both fundamentalist literalism and historical-critical skepticism can do to otherwise thoughtful and serious people. Take the critical specialists with a grain of salt: they are not experts in what the Bible means for today. And the fundamentalists? Their literalistic reading is a modern and questionable one.’ (p. 168)

This readable book is a real page-turner! You can get the paperback edition post-free from the Book Depository for AUD $14-78: excellent value.


Rowland Croucher

July 2011


Monday, July 11, 2011

Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso (1937)

This is a study of how much pain can be communicated by a human face. It has the features of a specific person, Dora Maar, whom Picasso described as "always weeping". She was in fact his close collaborator in the time of his life when he was most involved with politics.
Let your eyes wander over the sharp surface and you are led by the jagged black lines to the picture's centre, her mouth and chin, where the flesh seems to have been peeled away by corrosive tears to reveal hard white bone. The handkerchief she stuffs in her mouth is like a shard of glass. Her eyes are black apertures. When you are inside this picture you are inside pain; it hits you like a punch in the stomach.
Picasso's insistence that we imagine ourselves into the excoriated face of this woman, into her dark eyes, was part of his response to seeing newspaper photographs of the Luftwaffe's bombing of Guernica on behalf of Franco in the Spanish civil war on April 26, 1937. This painting came at the end of the series of paintings, prints and drawings that Picasso made in protest. It has very personal, Spanish sources. In May 1937 Picasso's mother wrote to him from Barcelona that smoke from the burning city during the fighting made her eyes water. The Mater Dolorosa, the weeping Virgin, is a traditional image in Spanish art, often represented in lurid baroque sculptures with glass tears, like the very solid one that flows towards this woman's right ear. Picasso's father, an artist, made one for the family home.
This painting takes such associations and chews them to pulp. It is about the violence that we feel when we look at it, about translating the rawest human emotion into paint. Its origins lie in the tortured figures of Picasso's Guernica (1937), whose suffering is calculated to convey you beyond the photographs of the bombing to sense momentarily what it was to be there. In Guernica there is a screaming woman holding her dead baby, her tongue a dagger pointing at heaven. The baby's face is a cartoon of death. Picasso followed Guernica with his series of Weeping Woman paintings in which the woman's mourning continues, without end. She cries and cries. In different versions the Weeping Woman's face is crushed to an abject lump, twisted out of recognition. 

Extract from an article by Jonathan Jones, May 13, 2000, The Guardian

Monday, June 20, 2011

Love is an Orientation (Andrew Marin, IVP, 2009)

Here's a unique book by a unusual young man - a 'straight, white, conservative, evangelical male' with a belief in 'the Bible as the inerrant word of God' -  who addressed a large conference of not-necessarily-Christian Gays/Lesbians and received a standing ovation!

I've never heard of anyone with his general theological stance who's done that and had a reception like that. The common mantra for his kind of Christian is 'love the sinner hate the sin' - something he doesn't use (mostly because those people don't generate love as Jesus did, so Andrew suspects there's something wrong with that approach).

What's his secret? Simple, really: do what Jesus did, immerse oneself in the culture of the marginalized, and honour them as human beings also made in the image of God. Don't preach at them. Don't offer the Pharisee-talk ('Change... and you'll be acceptable around here': for Jesus it was the other way around - acceptance *preceded* repentance). Listen to their stories (and as he found, the question about whether a gay lifestyle is a freely-chosen one answers itself in the vast majority of cases). Share their pain (especially when they've prayed to be changed from a same-sex attraction, and wakened 'every morning not having that prayer answered... wondering whether there really is a God, or [being convinced] that [one] is condemned to hell because of attractions [one] can't figure out'). 

Also - and this is important - don't get bogged down arguing about the 'clobber texts' from Leviticus, Romans and 1 Corinthians. Again do what Jesus did: in the Gospels he was asked 'closed-ended' questions 25 times but only directly answered three or four of them (pp. 179 ff.). So leave the hermeneutical questions to biblical scholars, and the aetiology of gender-orientation to the scientists, and start loving/accepting the marginalized.

'They'll know we are Christians, not by our proof-texting, but by our love' writes his mate Shane Claiborne in a commendation on the first page. 

Now, Andrew's theological approach isn't quite mine. Except for Thomas Merton (quoted, I think, twice) all of his 'respected theologians and Bible scholars' are fundamentalists or conservative evangelicals (my terms - people  like John MacArthur, et. al).

Interestingly, Andrew has chosen the fundamentalists' arch-enemy Brian McLaren to write the Foreword - which Brian does with what is now his famous parable (expanded in his recent book A New Kind of Christianity) about 'sincere well-intentioned religious people who believe in their religion so fervently they would die for it but also would kill for it - literally or metaphorically...' Brian McLaren urges us to hang in there until the last page, and not 'check-list' Andrew's approach or opinions against our own preconceived ideas... That's excellent wisdom for a book and a topic like this...

Here are some summary-statements; and others which 'gave me pause':

* 'Unless you have been sexually attracted to someone of the same sex you can never fully grasp, as a heterosexual Christian, what that means'... 'From my experience, the GLBT community's default system is to never take anything Christians say as genuine' (33)  

* 'The Christian community has only ever known one way to handle same-sex sexual behavior: take a stand and keep a distance' (37)

* 'In general, Christians' default belief system is that [same-sex attraction] is environmental... I know many Christians who enjoy playing psychologist - talking to GLBT people to figure out if they had an absentee dad or a domineering mom... or experienced some kind of sexual abuse in their youth... Research suggests that on average only 7 to 15 percent of the GLBT community was sexually abused in their youth' (39, 42) 

* 'Among gays and lesbians " love the sinner, hate the sin" is the most disdained phrase in the Christian vocabulary' (46)... [As Christians we have] 'an opportunity to change the culture by... offering hope and compassion to a people who have been burdened with a thick dose of stigma and shame in all aspects of their life' (53)

* 'Even as recently as 2002 there were still fourteen states [in the U.S.] that upheld the sodomy law, and in Idaho, one could land a lifetime sentence in jail for engaging in gay sexual behaviors' (55)

* 'The word homosexual is offensive to someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. So instead use words like gaylesbianGLBTgay and lesbian community' (60) 

* 'Gay Christians believe that the passages in the Bible that condemn same-sex relationships are not referencing long-term, committed monogamous relationships. Rather, [they're] talking about inhospitality, heterosexual rape, pagan ritual sex and orgies, and pederasty (men having sex with boys)' (73)

* 'Currently in many circles both gay and straight, scientific and religious, there has been a more common acceptance of homosexuality's etiology as a combination of biological, environmental and social factors that all contribute to gay orientation' (75-6)

* 'Gay Christians have started to change the mainstream's mindset that GLBT people crave random sex, are STD-laced, and have alcohol and drug problems' (76)

* 'There is no wrong way to humbly listen and learn! ... I... trust in the faithfulness of my loving Father to fill in the gaps that I can never understand'... I promise that God loves his children enough that he will always tell them what... is best for their life' (78-9, 86)

* '80% of the GLBT community want nothing to do with [ex-gay ministries]' (99); according to the ground-breaking book unChristian, [among] 16-29-year-olds the three most common perceptions of present-day Christians are that they are anti-gay (91%), judgmental (87%) and hypocritical (85%)' (100)

* 'A great open-ended question is, "What's it like to be you?"' (163). 'I don't care if gays and lesbians are or aren't born that way... Here is a good question: "How do you think your genetic make-up relates to God's desire to be called your Father?"' (182)

* 'I know some people who say that they once had same-sex sexual attraction but are now attracted exclusively to people of the opposite sex, and in fact are married and have kids and are living a happy life. Just the same I know people who have tried and tried and tried, and have not been able to "change their sexual orientation," and therefore have stopped trying and are actively involved in the GLBT community: all these people from both life experiences are telling the truth as they perceive it, and each falls somewhere different on the spectrum of change' (184)

* Marin's conclusion: 'We're not called to posit theories that support our assumptions. We're not called to speculate about genetics or development experiences or spiritual oppression in faceless groups of other people. We're called to build bridges informed by the Scriptures and empowered by the Spirit. We're called to let God be the judge of his creation. We're called to let the Holy Spirit whisper truth into each person's heart. And we're called to show 
love unconditionally, tangibly, measurably' (187)

If Andrew Marin read more mainline theologians, he would appreciate quotes like this one, from Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination:

'Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural, but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness...

'Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context.'


Rowland Croucher

June 10, 2011


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