Archive for September, 2008

Deconstruction

Posted in Deconstruction on September 19, 2008 by justinmcroberts

I was recently told a fascinating story about a conversation between the Pope and Michelangelo. This is not that conversation:

The actual conversation I am referencing was one in which the Pope, after seeing Michelangelo’s David, asked Michelangelo “How do you know what to cut away?” The artist replied, “I cut away everything that is not David.” This is the heart of the song “Deconstruction.”

Deconstruction is not a function of a lack of faith. Nor is deconstruction a function of a mind with a disregard for (or even mistrust of) truth. It is, in fact a necessary and responsible activity of a vibrant and living faith; faith that if I shake it all down, and tear away what is superfluous, I will be left with what is essential, true and beautiful. Faith that I cannot evade the truth and that, should I sincerely seek Truth, I will either find it or be found by It.

Tearing away the superfluous can be, and often is, extremely nerve-racking. I would imagine that Michelangelo’s work near the ankles of the David, which is nearly 14 feet of solid marble, was somewhat daunting as well. Without belittling the skill and magic of one of history’s greatest artists, one might imagine that he was extremely cautious when determining what of the marble to remove in order to shape ankles that would support David’s body while remaining proportionate in relation to the rest of the piece. He cared about the piece first and foremost; believed that there was an image to be discovered.

When it comes to American culture and it’s relationship to Jesus, I believe that, similarly, there is much that is superfluous: Allegiance to a particular political platform; an extremely limited notion of the role of art; an unhealthy suspicion of science overall; assumptions about the nature of human sexuality; an assumed agreement on the preferred method of dealing with abortion; an assumed agreement with market principles or even an assumed agreement regarding the superiority of a particular economic theory; a narrowing understanding of the goal of education; the assumption that our nation is inherently “good” or at least on the side of “good”… Etc..

(As a kind of side note, the intimate relationship Christianity has with America and her ways is particularly disturbing. A christian’s questioning US foreign or domestic policy ought not be met with questions and suspicions about his allegiance to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. The fact that this happens is evidence to me that, for too many of us, they Way of Jesus and the way of America are either one and the same or so closely related that we cannot separate the two. Love for my country should not look the same as love for my God.. but that’s another blog.)

Yet just as with Michelangelo’s great piece, deconstruction of the superfluous in American culture and religious life means removing at least some that is difficult to remove in fear that the whole structure of what we have determined as Truth may collapse. But if we believe in truth as Truth there need be no fear. This is the major difference between the philosophical reality of the christian journey and the creation of Michelangelo’s David; there was a legitimate cause to be concerned that the artist’s beautiful creation could be toppled by either a mistake of his own hand or the violence of others. If I ‘believe’ in God as God and not as an Idea, I should suffer no such fear. My fear shouldn’t be that I may topple the image of Christ but instead that, in an effort to support that Image, I might bury it beneath those very ‘supports.’

Deconstruction is a necessary element in the effort to discover, from beneath the ruined and rotten corpse of cultural consumer religion, a political energy that is rooted in a desire for redemptive justice rather than party affiliation and the defeat of ‘the opposition’; to discover or rediscover the power of the teachings of Jesus; to rediscover what it in fact means to ‘be saved’, to be a ‘christian”, to even have or be a ‘soul’ at all.

The song Deconstruction is the heart of an album that I hope inspires its listeners towards a healthy re-examination of established religious, consumer and scientific world-views.

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Bullhorn Theory

Posted in Deconstruction on September 19, 2008 by justinmcroberts

When I was in High School, I ran for Student Body President against a student who was a prominent member of the “popular crowd.” I, on the other hand, had settled nicely into the drama-geek crowd after a floundering performance as a popularite athlete-type my freshman year. It was a political battle worthy of space on Politico.com. My opponent’s campaign slogan was “Go With The Fro” making reference to his afro (which was of interest because he was Caucasian). I went for broke with my slogan, “It’s Time” despite having naught but the slightest idea what that meant. I really didn’t figure that I had a chance running against the same guy who had been Junior Prom King the year before… I won.

I won because the term “popular” on high-school campuses means roughly the same thing as the term “mainstream” in the American religious or political arena. The popular crowd on a HS campus is made up of a very small percentage of kids who maintain a higher profile generally due to flashiness and volume. Those who live on the outside of “mainstream culture” are often those who do not have the financial means to purchase their way I “in.” But the pop crowd, by no means, reflects the social, economic, political or religious makeup of a given school accurately. They don’t represent the rest of the populace. This is the same principle I find with “mainstream christianity.”

I am talking about what is called “bullhorn theory”, or so I have heard it called… unless I just made it up, in which case it will soon be copyrighted. Bullhorn Theory is the idea that the loudest voice in the room seems, by evidence of sheer volume, to be speaking for everyone when, in actuality, it is only the loudest voice.

Case in point: Many times in the last few years we have heard pundits wonder aloud where the voices of the moderate Muslims are. The idea is that the only Muslim voices the American public is familiar with are voices calling for “death to America” or “Death to Israel” and even “Death to Smoochie,” (the worst of the lot). An outside observer of American Evangelical Christianity might wonder the very same thing. What with the loudest voices of the Christian populace being those who speak in war-like ultimatums about everyone from gays to liberals to Muslims to public educators.

I am learning that the vast majority of persons are more temperate and mature in their religious, social and political opinions; this does not make us weak in our faith or compromised in our principles; only complicated in our humanity.

I don’t need to defend the Person of Jesus I do, on the other hand, want to do my level best to chip away at the perception that these men and their ideas make up the “mainstream.” I sincerely believe, despite the sometimes earsplitting discourse to the contrary, that…

-The vast majority of the Church in America does not believe that supporting or funding AIDS research places one in direct opposition to God’s efforts to punish homosexuals for their sin.

-Most of us do not believe that AIDS is the punishment of God in direct response to Homosexuality to begin with.

-Many us struggle with the inconsistency of a pro-life platform that is a bit too comfortable with the death penalty, despite its failure to be an effective deterrent for murder.

-Many of us believe that dealing with the issue of poverty is a legitimate way to deal tackle abortion.

-Most of us can receive the Bible as the Word of God while recognizing the value of it’s poetry as well; rather than having to swallow the idea that bats are birds (Lev. 11:13, 19) or that the universe was created in 144 hours.

-Most of us have at least the sneaking suspicion that there is more to “salvation” than saying a magic prayer and then waiting around to die so we can go to heaven.

-Most of us are at least willing to engage in a conversation about the balance between biological orientation and choice or will regarding homosexuality; which does not make the issue of homosexuality any less about sin, only more complicated than damning people to hell.

This list could go on for a very long time. The subject, in general terms, could take up volumes. I hope I have made my point somewhat clear in what room this forum allows.

A word on encouragement to the disenfranchised masses: There are more of “us” than there are of “them” and there is something very unifying about recognizing how many of us there are that don’t feel like we fit in.

Peter and the Seven

Posted in This Is My Brain Online on September 18, 2008 by justinmcroberts

Peter and the Seven

I was recently in Kenya and Uganda with Compassion International and am still processing through much of what I saw, experienced etc… Now, I am not one of those bloggers who likes to communicate things that are still in process, but I just don’t see how I am going to avoid that this time around; there is too much to process. I have been familiar with the stories of (and many of the realities) of poverty before this trip to Africa, but something about the nature of the problem there struck me at an angle that has had me off balance since. Over the next few months or so, along with normal blogging activity, I will attempt to post some of these “in process” thoughts… Snapshots, if you will. It may be the only way I am going to get by head around what is going on inside it.

A snapshot from Masaka, Uganda. This is the area where the first cases of HIV/AIDS were diagnosed and reported.

We visited a man’s home this afternoon whose name is Peter. I would guess that he’s in his early 40’s but am quickly learning that Africans can look much older OR much younger than their age… So guessing at it is something of a futility.

Peter’s first wife passed away years ago and his second wife left sometime more recently. That said, he does not live alone. His home is built of mud-bricks gathered from the local red dirt and is roofed by plywood and tin. In this home, Peter cares for seven children. Of these seven children, none of them are biologically his. Three of them are HIV positive. Several of these children he cares for have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Others have simply been “abandoned” by their parents. Mercifully, four of the children he cares for are sponsored by Compassion Sponsors in the US. He was deeply thankful for the support of those sponsors to provide health, education, food and a knowledge of the Love of God through the Compassion program in Masaka.

Before we left his home, we asked if we could pray for him and, if so, what we could specifically pray for. Peter glanced around the room and then said something to the translator (Peter speaks only the local dialect (of which there are nearly 50 in Uganda, each according to ones tribe and geography). The translator paused for a moment before telling us that Peter had just asked if we would pray to God that he could live long enough to care for the children God had given him. Peter himself is HIV positive.

This is not a story; this is a life. I met this man and shook his hand. We met his children and prayed for him that he would live long enough to care for the little ones God had given him… children he called his children… Though, as I reflect on the story more, I can’t help but wonder if he is caring for my children… our children.

If you do not yet sponsor a child through Compassion International, please consider doing so by following this link.