Just wondering.


Supply Side Jesus

August 20, 2007

God is Red

August 7, 2007

I rented Disney’s Peter Pan for my two children to watch. I chose it because it has pirates, who are high on Tom’s list of the absolute very best things. Like most of these old Disney movies, I’d seen Peter Pan, but not for many, many years. And, like others we’ve recently viewed, it is plagued with racist segments. This time it was the Indians. Do you remember the song “Why Is the Redman Red?” Well, it’s because years ago, an Indian princess kissed him, he blushed, and now he’s permanently red.

This time, the theatrics bothered me as I watched my two children, who are both at least partially Maya, soak up the white cartoon children dancing around among Indians made to look primitive, sexualized, and clownish.

I don’t know how my children see things, though. If you watch the video of the song, you’ll see that the big chief is the main narrator of the song’s tale. At about 00:45 in the video, he stands up and crosses his arms over his chest and does a little jig. Tom watched this and said to me, “Look Dad, it’s Jesus.” I said, “What?” He said, “It’s Jesus.”

It is very doubtful that Tom was making some theological point, but we do all see ourselves in Christ. That is the nature of the Messiah: salvific of all despite the man Jesus’ specific ethnicity, gender, etc.

Of course, God is red. That is why the redman is red.

The video isn’t of terrific quality, but if you would like to watch the local CBS news report on the Peruvian delegation’s visit to St. Louis, you can see it here (just click “play” on the small video screen in the report). Yes, yours truly is the voice of the archbishop of Huancayo, Peru.

La Oroya

June 11, 2007

There is a mining conglomerate here in St. Louis called Doe Run. They have lead mining operations nearby in Herculaneum, Missouri, and in the Mantaro river valley of central Peru, most specifically in a little city called La Oroya.

There is also a congregation of Dominican sisters in Springfield, Illinois–not too far up the road. They have had a house of nuns in La Oroya for over forty years. The sisters travel and communicate between these two centers and constantly share their respective missions in prayer and other support.

These international linkages have also engaged each other in recent years. Herculaneum’s lead mine is in gross violation of EPA standards, emitting four times the permitted amount of pollutants. La Oroya, in Peru where standards are weaker and corruption is worse, is one of the ten most polluted cities in the world. Over 99% of the children under six have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood. Doe Run is poisoning this town and the entire river valley, but little has been said because the employment situation in Peru is so desperate. The government desires foreign investment, and the workers need work, so Doe Run has been able to get by on threats that they will relocate if too much of a fuss is made. The company has employed similar tactics with comparable success in Missouri. In part thanks to the Dominican sisters, people from St. Louis have been in partnership with Peruvian counterparts to challenge Doe Run’s environmental devastation.

(Photo of La Oroya, taken from Inter Press Service.)

Today, at the invitation of my current presbytery (Giddings-Lovejoy), an interfaith delegation from La Oroya gave a press conference. The delegation is led by Monsignor Pablo Barreto, archbishop of Huancayo and includes Protestant and Jewish leadership as well. Several of the Dominican sisters who minister to the sick children in La Oroya were also present. I had the honor and pleasure of translating for the delegation. (This never would have happened in AZ where todo el mundo speaks Spanish!) Besides getting to be on TV and radio, I got to hear some pretty moving words.

The archbishop declared that they are not trying to blame Doe Run’s owner for the environmental degradation, but they are reminding him of his religious commitments (he is an Orthodox Jew) and inviting him to be an ethical and moral leader in the business world. Barreto countered the negative aspects of globalization by insisting that solidarity can now also be globalized; people from the whole earth can now be responsible and involved in the struggle to promote health, justice, and a dignified life. Elias Szczythnicki, secretary of Peru’s Interfaith Committee and represenative of several Latin American Jewish groups, shared the wisdom that God’s commandments can be divided into two groups: those that treat the relationship between God and humans and those that treat relationships between fellow human beings. It is a Jewish conviction that these two groups of relationships should be held in equal esteem, a conviction I share. He made it clear that, in La Oroya, all of these relationships are being tested and abused.

Much more information can be found here and here. For more about what the Presbyterian Church (USA) is doing, here.

This Holy Sadness

June 4, 2007

I’m in the process of reading books and more books to prepare for my comprehensive exams. This morning I was reviewing Friedrich Schleiermacher‘s On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (1799) and came across this sublime little passage:

What do you call the feeling of an unsatisfied longing that is directed toward a great object and of whose infinity you are conscious? What seizes you when you find the holy most intimately mixed with the profane, the sublime with the lowly and the transitory? And what do you call the mood that sometimes forces you to presuppose the universality of this mixture and to search for it everywhere? The mood does not seize Christians now and then but is, rather, the dominant tone of all their religious feelings; this holy sadness–for that is the only name language affords me–accompanies every joy and every pain; every love and every fear accompanies it.

He is probably wrong about this feeling (holy sadness) being the dominant tone of all Christian feeling, but he makes a good case for it. Perhaps the tango would be the best hymn tune; it arrives at melancholy in such a seductive way.

Paradise and Humanity

May 28, 2007

Genesis 2.16-17:

16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

And after the fall, Genesis 3.22-24:

22Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

I was reminded at church last Sunday, by an old white man, that the “main point” of the creation story is human disobedience against God. He was comfortable with this main point. In fact, his faith is probably based on the idea that our disobedience occasioned God’s gift of Christ to the world, a gift which in turn leads to his moral code: be obedient and good out of thanksgiving for that gift. He might be exactly right.

I was so reminded because, thinking outloud, I had questioned this main point of the creation story. In the garden of Eden, as it is presented to us in Genesis, Adam and Eve live in a land where there was no need for suspicion. If all the animals were good and sin had not yet entered into the world, then how could Eve or Adam possibly know what obedience or disobedience was? There were no moral decisions in the garden of Eden. I imagine that it was natural and automatic for them to keep the only command they had received, i.e. to eat not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Indeed, it seems that before eating of that tree, it would be impossible for Adam and Eve to make an informed decision on whether to eat of it or not–they had no knowledge of good or evil. They simply did not eat because God so intructed them. This was not obedience because no other option was possible. In other words, disobedience was impossible. Likewise, when the snake puts forward additional information, that the fruit of the tree will make them wise, they have no reason to doubt this. They had no way of recognizing bad, spiteful, or sinful information.

Adam and Eve then eat the fruit for two reasons. First, their sensory apparatus has shown them that the fruit was beautiful and looked nutritious. This information was always available to their animal senses. They didn’t need knowledge of good and evil to know this about the fruit. Second, they base their decision to eat on the new information about the fruit given to them by the snake. The snake tells them that the fruit is also good to make one wise and like God. There is a subtle implication in the text that the two will want to be like God, and might even be angry with God for not telling them up front that this fruit will make them like God. The only way they could have these desires in the garden of paradise, however, was if God planted these desires within them. These are not the desires of people who don’t know what jealousy, anger, deceit, and self-interest are.

Adam and Eve were singularly unprepared to make moral decisions by their previous experiences in Eden. They were little more than animals, with no ethical faculties whatsoever. The fact that they eat makes sense given that the last piece of information that they receive before eating the fruit comes from the snake. They had no way of weighing the snake’s words against the previous ones spoken by God. They had no values, no sense of scale, no ability to know right from wrong. They, in my estimation, were not humans as we know them. A possible exception to this would be if God had planted human sinfulness and judgment in them all along, thus equipping them for the confrontation with the snake. If this is the case, then the fall happened before the decision to eat; the fall happened at creation itself.

All of this is speculation, as is the original recording of the events in the garden. We don’t know what paradise looks like. The writer of Genesis didn’t know either. The problem with the scriptural depiction of paradise, as with many others, is that we have no idea of how to imagine humanity in Eden. We are sinful. That is who we are. In a place with no sin, we seem not to fit. Adam and Eve either don’t belong in Eden, or they are not human. True, sinful humans in paradise seem to be very threatening to God. God sends them out where we belong–out here in the world. How strange to be creatures that come from a place where we can no longer exist as we are.

(Sculpture is “Temptation” by Edgar Tolson, 1970)