on one hand, i love the mystics. on the other, i really enjoy the serious academics. and then in my spare time, i can’t get enough critical theory. this book — the most well researched, theological text not-intended for an academic audience i’ve ever read — brings these things all together. it is brilliant and really well written, and it’s caused me to stay up way past my-bed time. on top of all that, the guy’s a high school teacher. my kinda armchair theologian. below is an excerpt about the otherness of god. enjoy.

The stranger is a character who stands at the boundary of our knowledge. They are known to us because we have dominated them — even by giving them the name ‘stranger’ we have seen them and admitted their existence. But they are also unknown to us, or they would be called friend, or at least given a proper name. Our relationship to this God who is both separate and bound, transcendent and immanent can be seen as a relationship with a stranger.

The sociologist Georg Simmel has reflected a great deal on what these un/known strangers might mean to us, and concluded that they play an important role in the development of societies. When they enter our world it is strangers who have to go through the painful process of adapting to our ways of life. In this way the stranger ‘holds up a mirror to the society in which he or she enters, since [they] cannot take for granted ways of life that seem to natives just natural.’ The incarnation is God coming as stranger and holding up a mirror to our society. But, more than this, reading Zizek and SImmel together, Jesus’ growth as a man who is finally forsaken — called ‘stranger’ — by God shows us Jesus holding up a mirror to Godself too. To God, Jesus became a strange man, but it was through this stranger that God learned about God.

The fact of Jesus’ status as fully human and fully divine has traditionally been interpreted as a bridge between divinity and humanity: Jesus’ divine side holds onto God, and human side holds on to us. But the idea of Jesus as the divine stranger suggests that the empathetic relationship may be equally powerful the other way round. The important thig for God was that Jesus was fully human — and thus gave God a strange mirror in which God could be revealed to Godself; the important thing for us was that Jesus was fully divine – for in this stranger, trying to adapt to the ways of our world, we see a truer picture of what we have become.

The stranger — the person who stands on the boundary of our community — is un/known. Because of the paradox of their nearness and otherness, the stranger is thus the one who teaches, the one from whom we learn best. Jesus was this perfect stranger. His temptations in the desert drew him towards performing stunts that would emphasise his otherness and miracles of abundant provision that would emphasise his binding. But, walking out of the desert to live among ust, this stranger refused to collapse the paradox of separation and binding — to and from both us and God. In his death he experienced the agony of total separation; in his resurrection, the joy of full communion. In his temptations and pain he felt total empathetic binding with our humanity; in prayer and transfiguration, total separation; in his resurrection, the joy of full communion. In his temptations and pain he felt total empathetic binding with our humanity; in prayer and transfiguration, total separation from us. Now we, as CHristians, need to seek to live by this same divine pattern: we are those who are both bound to and separated from God, and bound to and separated from humanity. Christianity then is not a religion of exclusivity, of a predestined group who are chosen for salvation. Instead it is the set of those who know/embrace this paradox of being strangers. We are the boundary, not the centre; we are the other, not the included, and it is out of this realisation that our empathy for the oppressed and marginalised springs.


take a stand

tonight, i was really excited to watch geoffrey canada lecture at the uw with carrie. canada has been running the harlem children’s zone for the past twenty years, which has as its motto, “whatever it takes.” his approach to “saving” inner city youth (his words) is comprehensive — he runs a set of integrated community programs designed to walk with kids from the cradle to college, promote physical and mental healthcare, and change how parents are raising their kids. president obama wants to try canada’s model in twenty other high poverty areas around the country.

canada said that much of what they’re doing isn’t particularly “new.” everyone knows that healthy habits will have a positive impact on academic performance, and that certain parenting practices are better for a child’s development than others. and equally important, research has long demonstrated the importance of early childhood education toward leveling the playing field, because poor students start school well behind their middle class peers.

what is revolutionary about canada and his work is the fact that he’s actually doing what we’ve known all along would work. as an aside, if nothing else, this is probably the most important point i can take from his talk. he shared a story from his professional life when the secretary of education asked him for some advice about how to fix education in america. at this point, he realized that superman was not going to swoop in and save the day, there was no grand plan somewhere that would wipe out all the educational inequity problems; that, if he wanted to see change, he would have to make it happen himself. Continue reading

re:thinking violence

The tragedy is that much violence comes from a demand for love. When loneliness drives our search for love, kissing easily leads to biting, caressing to hitting, looking tenderly to looking suspiciously, listening to overhearing, and surrender to rape. The human heart yearns for love: love without conditions, limitations, or restrictions. But no human being is capable of offering such love, and each time we demand it we set ourselves on the road to violence.

How then can we live nonviolent lives?

[henri nouwen]

a million miles in a thousand years

i was fed up with this book through the first hundred pages or so, and then it got really good. then, i came upon a really great chapter, which had this really great passage:

growing up in church, we were taught that jesus was the answer to all our problems. we were taught that there was a circle-shaped hole in our heart and that we had tried to fill it with the square pegs of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; but only the circle peg of jesus could fill our hole. i became a christian based in part, on this promise, but the hole never really went away.

and i realized that i’ve been a christian since i was 12 years old, and any sense of wholeness or fulfillment i’ve ever felt has not lasted. miller is right when he says we (read: i) believe we’ll be made whole by our accomplishments, possessions, or social status. i naively thought i’d at least be approaching “wholeness” once i finished grad school and started my career. that is, until i realized that teaching is not a highly esteemed profession (something i’ve known since middle school, and evidenced by the fact that there’s debate about whether it is indeed a profession at all), and the work is quite hard. but despite this lesson learned, i catch myself plotting my next career move in my down time, secretly thirsting for the fulfillment i hope it will bring me.

but i already know that those things won’t make me whole. as i’ve heard ad nauseum growing up, jesus is what will make me feel whole. he’s what will make life worth living, he will make the sun rise and fall everyday. he’ll satisfy the deepest aches and longings of my heart.

that is, unless he doesn’t. Continue reading

the original of laura

n58395when I was in tenth grade, my english teacher told us to read a book of our choosing and write a paper on it. i went to the bookstore and found the friggin’ weirdest book i could find: vladimir nabokov‘s invitation to a beheading. it blew my mind. it was the first time i ever thought a book was beautiful, and i was convinced that at its best, the story might be the world’s most advanced form of communication.

my fascination with nabokov really took off when i started reading some criticism of his work (other people’s readings of a book can be as interesting as the book itself). there, i discovered that there was a whole ‘nother world of sly tricks, turn-of-phrase, and winks to the reader scattered throughout his books that only the closest of readers could ever uncover. and who knows what else is buried just below the surface of his texts? when i returned to his actual stuff, i was frequently left to wonder: “how did he just do that?”

today i was REALLY excited to hear that his final, unfinished book — the one he asked to be destroyed just before he died in ’77 — is going to be released in november. the original of laura. this is the literary event of the decade.

the end of memory


one of my favorite books in recent memory is miroslav volf’s the end of memory. the question he poses in that book is: how ought one remember injustice and violence? most (including myself) would say that you should always hold on tightly to the memory of wrongdoings – to honor the victim(s) and to hold the perpetrator accountable for their act. but volf says something remarkably different: he says that the proper goal of the memory of wrongs suffered is the formation of the communion of love between all people — including victims and perpetrator. love is the goal of memory; when the goal is reached, the memory of wrongs itself can also end; it can be forgotten. in other words, love is the end of memory.

many of my own memories came flooding back today as i flipped through old photo albums at my parents’ house, and the picture above captured my attention. there’s my brother, tough and valiant, looking forward with jaw clenched and rifle in hand. and there’s me. looking up toward him, wearing my potato suit + socks, holding onto my absolute favorite kinda toy growing up: my parents’ kitchenware. Continue reading

i’ve been thinking a lot about the ending of this story

Salvador Late or Early | by Sandra Cisneros

Salvador with eyes the color of caterpillar, Salvador of the crooked hair and crooked teeth, Salvador whose name the teacher cannot remember, is a boy who is no one’s friend, runs along somewhere in that vague direction where homes are the color of bad weather, lives behind a raw wood doorway, shakes the sleepy brothers awake, ties their shoes, combs their hair with water, feeds them milk and cornflakes from a tin cup in the dim dark of the morning. 

Salvador, late or early, sooner or later arrives with the string of younger brothers ready. Helps his mama, who is busy with the business of the baby. Tugs the arms of Cecilio, Arturito, makes them hurry, because today, like yesterday, Arturito has dropped the cigar box of crayons, has let go the hundred little fingers of red, green, yellow, blue, and nub of black sticks that tumble and spill over and beyond the asphalt puddles until the crossing-guard lady holds back the blur of traffic for Salvador to collect them again. 

Salvador inside that wrinkled shirt, inside the throat that must clear itself and apologize each time it speaks, inside that forty-pound body of boy with its geography of scars, its history of hurt, limbs stuffed with feathers and rags, in what part of the eyes, in what part of the heart, in that cage of the chest where something throbs with both fists and knows only what Salvador knows, inside that body too small to contain the hundred balloons of happiness, the single guitar of grief, is a boy like any other disappearing out the door, beside the schoolyard gate, where he has told his brothers they must wait. Collects the hands of Cecilio and Arturito, scuttles off dodging the many schoolyard colors, the elbows and wrists crisscrossing, the several shoes running. Grows small and smaller to the eye, dissolves into the bright horizon, flutters in the air before disappearing like a memory of kites.