Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Saturday, May 28, 2005


To vacation: leaving for Bangkok tomorrow with Danah Boyd . I have no plans. But I do have a camera.

Out in the pouring rain

The soul of the fascist disturbs me. I have unpitying libertarian Republican friends and Stalinist revolutionary terrorist Goth friends. They scare the bejesus out of anyone else I know. Nobody knows, including me, whether I make such friends because I need them -- because I require the peculiarities of subculture to fan my flame of curiosity about the world -- or because I hope to convert them -- or indeed because I have some sick lack of conviction about my own values. Nobody knows if their extremism comes from a lack of love for their fellow man or an overabundance of it.

But fascists aren't the only souls we worry about. My older professor friends worry about a generation that doesn't fall in love, but flees from relationship to relationship without conviction. My friends in churches worry about a generation without attachments. My friends in cities worry about people who live in suburbs, who never see the poor, or sympathize with neighbors of different backgrounds.

Studies show that religiosity flows in families. One cites five-generation-long successions of ministers. One knows atheists raised in hippie parents, children of priests who become yoga instructors and spiritualists. The gap of experience between the spiritual and the totally secular is so wide: the facts they highlight are spoken of so systematically in evidence by some and not at all by others.

The French psychologist and philosopher Gaston Bachelard said that it pained him every time he read a great writer using a word in a derogatory sense: Bergson using “drawer” to mean dustbin made Bachelard send tears. He righted the injustice by dedicating an essay to retracing drawers, nooks, corners, closets, and other secret compartments as technological auxiliaries of the soul.

One feels something similar when one of one’s friends dismisses one of one’s other friends. Disucssions with liberal activists somehow inevitably come around to shrieking at the soulless void of ethical breaches. They’re much in evidence. Guantanamo Bay is still destroying lives. On the ground in America we don’t know why; liberals and moderates alike are so confused by the failure of justice and investigation to produce change, so confused at the absence of an effective liberal power. Conservatives perhaps are paying attention elsewhere.

Tillich thought there couldn’t be such a thing as a human who didn’t believe in God: for Tillich had classified the experience of the divine as equally the experience of art, of all creative and sustaining forces articulated through human life.

Republicans aren’t the only category up for dismissal from the human condition. Asexuals are another candidate. If not asexuals, then the hedonist who goes from relationship to relationship without committing attention. People with ADD who can’t give a steady stream of attention to anyone else. Atheists who are outside of the church might one day be reclaimed, but atheists who make war on the church are unremittant sinners who have shown their fallen nature through this great gap of belief in the system.

I put myself forward here. I am an unrepentant cynic. I’m afraid of people who aren’t like me. I distrust my teachers, and my institutions, and my ideologies. I find myself skeptical of a way to justice when the world’s flagship democracy seems to propel us to ever greater examples of social injustice and exclusion. I doubt that knowledge can right wrongs when learned people accomplish so little for the good.

But Thursday was the feast of Corpus Christi. Here in San Francisco we prayed until dusk, and in the fading twilight, promenaded around the block as a congregation lead on by the eucharist carried under a sacred canopy. We passed by Thai restaurants and homeless people. We passed by rush hour traffic, singing hymns.

In the purple light of early evening, we stood in the church garden, the roses in full bloom, a few candles with their golden stems lighting a makeshift altar. The Feast of Corpus Christi is for the one body of Christ, the one body which one joins by taking communion, which one takes into the city in one's own body as one goes forth into the world every day, the one body which one sees in the faces of friends and strangers. The procession was strange, an archaic ritual to me, where I found myself again wondering if ritual was hollow. So baroque, so Victorian, so pseudo-medieval with all its trappings. My congregation is filled with old people and crazy people. I feel self-conscious around other Christians.

It was only later the same day as I was giving a long hug to a friend in some anxiety that I reflected on having walked around the block, entered the city, and walked around as the living body of Christ. Hugging my friend I kept praying, and the words echoed in my head: you are bound in one body; that which you bind is bound in Heaven. The feast liturgy instructs us that we go back in to the world not only serving Christ, but inhabiting Christ. It's a different kind of humility: not abasement, not pretending that one's actions do nothing, not reflecting on the inconsequence of everything. But rather embracing the consequence of all one's actions: and allowing a space where that consequence can be made over not by one's own paltry gestures or emotions, but by a foreign, outside, grander, deliberate force: the force of Christ acting through our very bodies, words, actions, far beyond any intention we have for them.

Christ is in the city. Christ acts more grandly than I can act. Christ's church persists where my faith fails. Neither my lack of faith, nor my dispair over my neighbor, will ever mitigate the divine presence. It persists everywhere: at all times, in all places, in every human face, each made in the very image of God.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Sex and God II

A lot of personal correspondence has followed from my earlier posts about the Nerve moral values issue.

Two facets of the debate stick with me: 1) the church's need to speak to and value, not withdraw from/minimize/ignore, modern alienations and discords; and 2) that one part of that fight is to reach out to the healthy aspects of sexuality. S

To speak of twenty-somethings making fun of litugy as sexual: 1) Freud is right about the sexual content of our brains acting everywhere, and Christians submit to all forms of truth about the human condition; 2) laughter from outside does not mitigate the reality of the spirits' grace within; 3) the mocking is a sign of alienation among the cast-out in their 20s who feel like the church, like all forms of authority, is out to get them. Christians should comfort and encourage these people, not be shocked by them.

To speak to those taken aback by the allusions in certain blogs to the Christian textual history of sexual experiences with God: sexualizing the gospel is not an affront to God. When John Donne did it he testified to the gospel's ability to penetrate every facet of his personality. God cannot be denigrated by the human, any more than he is denigrated when the sinner or the sick turn to Him. That gospel can be read as a metaphor for intercourse is to dignify intercourse, not to delimit gospel.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Civil Society triumphant

Death by a Thousand Blogs - New York Times
I'm switching away from the Christian Left for a moment of asking questions about civil society. Identities float freely on the web, which means that journalists like Li Xinde can employ the internet for culture hacking on the grand scale.

Below: a little digression into the eighteenth century, for a case about why what people like Li Xinde do with the internet will prove so powerful in programming the future. A little, that is, about the functioning of spectacle.

Staging the modern

pollard the coach arriving
Originally uploaded by joguldi.
A chaise became a stagecoach when it stopped to set down passengers at a resting place like a familiar inn. The place was called a stage because it allowed the passengers to promenade while they took the air, to see each other, and to be watched by the local villagers. A stagecoach went from watching point to watching point. That use of the word in English originates in the early seventeenth century with the very earliest appearances of coach stops and inns.

By the nineteenth century, the golden era of the stagecoach, the middle class became familiarized with the experience of travel for the first time. As stagecoaches ran more reliably and frequently, the vehicle and not the place became characterized as the stage, the place of excitement and exhibition. On a gentler stagecoach running a smoother road, one could sit atop and gaze upon the landscape while being seen by others.

Traveling by stage was so familiar that the word was borrowed to describe any kind of general process or progress that obeyed an orderly sequence. A disease passed through stages. Geological time flowed in stages. Now, each man could talk about himself as passing through rites of passage characterized by experiences and subjective processes common to all: he could talk about going through stages.

Other authors have characterized the way this shift in self happened, the way identity came to be defined as a subjective, private source of self as positioned between solid categories of experience common to great numbers of individuals.

My aims are neither so grand nor so psychological. But I do want to know what happened to the experience of landscape, of the public, of interacting with strangers, as a nation began circulating together and exchanging its ideas. As this anecdote suggests, circulation created a common experience, the sense of “going through stages” that anyone else might know about.

Traveling individuals knew that they passed through worlds that other members of the nation had experienced. But as the etymological investigation makes clear, a world characterized by “stages” was not necessarily a world with a central place where people read their identity together. The English stopped referring to inns as theaters or stages, indicating that no single inn need be familiar to everyone. The relative inconsequence of the promenade and people-watching at any given inn was only too obvious to anyone who had come to think about all the other villages and cities to which a modern stagecoach was going.

Britain is not Germany

Cultural critics trained in Frankfurt School political criticism are accustomed to borrowing theatrical metaphors of spectacle to talk about the uses to which visual media have been put for the ends of politics in the modern world. Metaphors of theater appropriately characterize the exploitation of aesthetics for the use of politics so contrary to the hopes of political Enlightenment, the dominant relationship of political players to quiet masses, and the silencing of dissent. But I believe that we are seriously in error when we hold the model of Weimar Germany, in the midst of which the Frankfurt School critique was formed, as the only way in which political power or injustice exerts itself. I have carefully plied apart the notion of spectacle from the conceit of the common experience in order to make room for other kinds of power dynamics, other kinds of exclusions than those beaming down from a single, glaring force.

Pictures of cities and the everyday landscape, like the films of life in Weimar Berlin used by Kracauer to discuss spectacle in Germany, tell individuals how to look at themselves in their surroundings. They comment on the fabric of every-day life: on what appropriate interactions with strangers look like, on how to interpret the face one meets in the crowd. In mid-eighteenth century Britain the technology for creating this kind of commentary was held by a small elite. By the 1780s it was coming into the hands of a burgeoning middle class, and by the 1830s it was reaching a broader audience still. The spread of technology from the elite down did not mean that the politics of the elite were able to impact the mind of the proletariat a century later. But it did mean that certain conventions about showing the landscape persisted with remarkable tenacity. In particular, the elite’s sense of social cohesion, their ideal of an ancient England knit together by feudal dependence, this stayed: it fed the myth of civil society that the middle class wove about itself; its conventions were easily read; it ultimately fed the political agendas of politicians who made sure that it was disseminated.

Like the Frankfurt School theorists, I too have a story about the exclusion of particular social groups, the building of a nation, and visual technology. But in nineteenth-century Britain, no power cabal suddenly swooped into power. In my story, the creation of a common experience happened separately several generations before the creation of a national identity for which common experiences were later exploited. As transportation technology propelled certain groups into control, these groups excluded others from power. Visual technology encouraged a sense of belonging to such a group, and encouraged indulgence in paranoid fantasies about those who lived differently.

Only much later did high politics intervene, in the form of propaganda and urban renewal deliberately constructed to undermine the divisions between social groups. In the end, political manipulation would exploit a period of war, famine, riot, and fear, to the end of a unified social body. It would capitalize on thirty years of habituation to looking at oneself enjoying a common experience. All this happened only in the wake of the creation of an idea that such mutual accountability could exist, and already after major groups had already been excluded from that idea.

(the above posts from an essay in progress)

Palimpsest of dreams

Editing a paper until late, downing cup after cup of coffee, all combined to the effect of strangely lucid dreams, in one of which I had been adopted by a kindly woman professor who was talking to me about dreams and writing. I explained to her that I've been having a series of vivid dreams in which I'd been chased by a witch with a terrible political agenda.
The kindly woman professor took me to a special study in her bookstore, where she commanded me to try writing about my dreams and my own program of aesthetic politics. When I did so, she sat down to edit: and progressed by underlining words, rather than by crossing them out.

I asked her to explain the meaning of her system. In real life (and I explained this in the dream) I saw a decline in my prose as I went into my second PhD program, where I was scared of not grasping the new subject-matter of an area I had no experience with before. The prose would become tied in knots as I tried to load concept after concept into a sentence, desperately hoping to have sufficiently noted everything I was learning, with no regard for readability. The professor in my dream nodded as if she understood. She explained that she had a different system, a system useful for those trying to tease whole ideas out of paragraphs: that by underlining the key words in my short essay, and asking me about them the way a psychologist examines a patient, she could force me to apply the skills of close reading to myself. If I would take the time to consider all the things I wanted to say, to find new words and string the key stages together, the prose would nest about the paragraphs without tangles.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Disappearing the girl

I'm having a 24-hour-long moment with a 2000 movie, "Waking the Dead," which tells the story of a romance between Sarah Williams, Catholic girl involved in liberation theology politics in Chile, and Fielding Pierce, her boyfriend, the Harvard-trained politician from a working class family in Pennsylvania. It might be a ghost-story in which the virtuous heroine comes back from paradise to warn her former lover about the corruption he faces in Washington. But it's unclear after a certain point whether Sarah is actually a ghost or has just been "disappeared" in the course of South American politics.

So the movie plays tentatively with a major theological point. It isn't clear that theological progressives have to believe in "eternal life" as an actual material state, or if "eternal life" is merely the transformation of a state of being here on earth. Mirabile dictu, that a sexy mainstream movie should be exploring the intricacies of how such theological perspectives play out. Fielding's life is really transformed; Fielding really does see Sarah, and it makes not a bit of difference whether Sarah is dead, communicating through God, communicating through Fielding's subconscious, alive and communicating from South America through esoteric psychic methods, or actually alive and momentarily appearing in the dead of night because she's actually in danger of being followed.

Why such a suspension of belief works so well has been studied by a literary critic, Victoria Nelson, in her book, The Secret Life of Puppets, which argues that by reserving a space for fantasy, science fiction and horror films are actually the last preserve where respectable, educated, rational individuals can allow themselves to momentarily reflect on man's relationship to the sacred and the possibility of an afterlife.

See it for the politics, relish it for the contemplation. This is a movie for our times. And I'm not just saying so because the heroine is a painfully seductive liberation theologian who reminds the audience of another theological fact too seldom in expression in this political climate, that the homeless bum in the gutter to whom no one speaks may well be the apparition of Jesus Christ.

Where am I?

Reading: Dror Wahrman on the idea of the self. In the eighteenth century, he thinks, the self is leaning outward rather than inward. There's an concept of an individual "you" determined by the experiences and expectations of the society in which one lives. But by the 1790s something's changing. The "you" is supposedly traceable to an inside self, a concatenation of successive experiences separate from what people expect. The modern experience of subjective alienation has begun. Drorman believes that the reason is locateable in the kinds of science and psychology that are ever more exactly locating the kinds of certain history that have a definite (seemingly definite?) impact on the self.

In the middle of the eighteenth century one A. Betson, an idiosyncratic writer with a scholarly bent, published a treatise on masquerades, setting the scene with a seemingly innocuous definition: 'Masquerades, or Masqueraders, are _Persons in Disguise_, representing or acting other Personages, than what they are commonly known to be.' Now read this definition again, paying particular attention to how its ending betrays an archaic way of thinking. We might say, 'masqueraders are acting personages different than what they _are_', but we are less likely to say that they act personages different than what they _are commonly known to be_. It is not much of a stretch to hear in this formulation an admission that real life was itself not unlike a masquerade: both, it seems, involved assumed identities. The difference appears more one of degree than of kind: whereas in real life one is known to be a particular character most of the time, in a masquerade one sports a character only for an evening.

So where are we? Tragically torn between the objective and the subjective? Located, perhaps, between objective understanding of the cerebral cortex, between objectively Freudian understandings of what all humans do -- masturbate, fantasize, desire, fetishize -- and what we ourselves do.

And I wonder. This film that's been haunting me, Waking the Dead, contrasts the subjective, temporary idea of the self, as determined by friends, mentors, lovers, associations -- with a longer-term version of the self -- as determined by history, family, the politics of the longue durée, language, God. And there's a tragic association between the two. One's friends don't understand that the place one is from casts one in the tragic position of fighting for a long-term struggle. The teachers of this year don't understand one's duty to the place and class and family one came from. One's family doesn't understand that one exists in the moment. The self is dual, torn between the present and history: between the lyric poem and the epic saga of the nation, between the self and the collective. Neither is more authentic or more real. But existing in one at the expense of the other appears as a kind of treason.

Right on Left


Saturday, May 21, 2005
Practicing What You Preach

Here's James Watt , telling people not to make sweeping generalizations about the religious right, falsely attribute radical beliefs to people associated with the religious right, and not to divide people of faith. But in his editorial, Lies of the Religious Left, he seems to adopt the very tack he pretends to condemn.

Comments (0)
// posted by Aaron @ 6:37 PM

Decade-old antagonisms come back to so that Moyers and Watts, a Reagan cabinet member, can enjoy slinging the mud at each other. Or rather so that Moyers, representing liberals, can call Watts a fool who believes in the rapture over science on the issue of the environment, and then can apologize for wrongly calling Watts a believer in the rapture, and Watts can accept the apology, only to use it against Moyers in a national paper. How very graceful, compassionate, Christ-like, and constructive of you, James Watts.

Be alert. I learned this lesson two decades ago -- the hard way. Never underestimate the political impact of the twisted charges by extreme environmentalists now advanced by the religious left to divide the people of faith.

Watts now calls himself an environmentalist, but doesn't want to be associated with *them*, the environmental fringe. What is it that gets to you, James? Is it the hair, the funny dress, the patchouli oil? How very beyond the superficial you are in looking at your brother. How Christ would love you.

Evangelicals invade the Ivy League

Previously a working-class demographic associated with the poorest backwoods of rural Appalachia and Arkansas, Evangelicals and Pentacostalists are profiting from their rising fortunes by going to Ivy League universities. Now they want to evangelize them. They see the educational power block as a major front in their battle to transform America's political dialogue.

From the article, it's clear that evangelicals are learning a lot from their class voyage from the depths to the peaks. They've learned to talk about the theology of God using rich people. They've learned about grand strategies in national politics. What's spooky to some of us mainline Protestants is how little their travels have made them think critically about pluralism, diversity, and the way the Christian message applies.

In account after account here, Christianity is set aside from other competing ideals not by what it tells the Christian about how to care for the poor, not by how it forces the Christian to reach out and listen to the downcast, not by the Christian's experience of outreach to the homeless, the diseased, and the immigrant, from the midst of the Ivy Tower's privilege. Instead, the dividing experience is how the Christian handles sex.

"I was just like, 'Oh, I can get this girl to like me,' " he recalled. " 'Oh, she likes me; she's cute.' And so it was a lot of fairly short and meaningless relationships. It was pretty destructive."
In his sophomore year, though, his evangelical a cappella singing group, a Christian twist on an old Ivy League tradition, interceded. With its support, he rededicated himself to serving God, and by his senior year he was running his own Bible-study group, hoping to inoculate first-year students against the temptations he had faced. They challenged one another, Mr. Havens said, "committing to remain sexually pure, both in a physical sense and in avoiding pornography and ogling women and like that."

I admit to being confused. "Ogling" or not makes the Christian? The Christian remains pure by keeping his eyes to the ground? I submit otherwise. My string of undergraduate relationships at Harvard began when I fell in love with a bright astrophysicist who didn't agree with me about anything except the aesthetic value of Ezra Pound. We argued up and down every walk about God, ethics, politics, and the American novel. After a year my view of politics had been broken down and reassembled into something much more valuable, much more filled out by the shape of compassion. After a year his views on faith had become much more open. God was at work there, opening both of us, refashioning our prejudices. I had a dozen brief relationships as an undergraduate, a lot of them painful: most of them in the long run made me think deeply about compassion, pluralism, the value of other ways of thought. I was caught up by looking at boys in much the way Saint Augustine had been caught up looking at the svelte bodies of women on the bright shore of North Africa. He swore his off in the end. I learned a lot about flavors of politics that didn't grow in Texas. It made me really smart. It made me a load more compassionate.

Heads up. When a group with a mission in the Ivy League starts preaching about sex, it's not clear to me that the exact levels of abstinence are their greatest concern. As expressed, their major problem is creating a free space where evangelicals can find others who agree with them, where they won't be overwhelmed by the desire -- visual, philosophical, intellectual, emotional -- to speak with and understand the people on the street around them. I suspect the language of chastity because of the thousand instances over hundreds of years in which it has been used for political motives. I only beg that we consider to what use it is put here. The policing of the gaze -- telling undergraduates that their ethical and spiritual purity depends upon where they let their eyes fall -- is a wonderful way of telling the curious not to be too curious about people who do not live like they do.

So this is an issue about free dialogue and interchange between the Christian and the world: evangelicals have positioned themselves at one extreme against the embrace of diverse political views. Ideally liberal education aims at just that: and over hundreds of years of church history, many of the best writers in the Christian tradition pointed to the way in which an open dialogue and free use of their critical faculties were equally an expression of worship of God. Openness to passionate exchanges need not only happen through dating, but they often do: especially among twenty-year olds away at school. It isn't the contamination of the kiss that the true Christian needs to fear; it's the contamination by mammon, by the hardening of the soul, to the evil that defiles the image of God whenever it turns away from the face of another human being. The kiss with the unbeliever no more leads to that hardening against others than a first date leads to becoming an unreformed sex felon. But the undergraduate kiss might be, and often is, the pathway to a curiosity about people from other parts of the country, other economic conditions; the trials they've suffered, the hopes they strive for, the way politics and history have intertwined to produce this one remarkable individual in one's face. I submit: those whose primary political actions are characterized by wanting to tame something like the undergraduate kiss may have a different agenda than the spiritually-rich life, the compassion-driven life, or the life of acts of love in Christ's imitation.

The rest of the New York Times goes on to detail a marriages between rich evangelicals who never kissed until marriage had been proposed. They talk about how God uses money for good. Good luck to them, and I sincerely hope that God will do as they say. But from an outsider's view, their marriage looks nastily like the fierce, hierarchical, closed-minded relationships between Boston brahmins that used to characterize Harvard before World War Two: elites who married elites, who were happy to run the country as they saw fit, who would never conceive of opening up the gates of splendor to the poor or the black or the Jew. When Harvard opened its doors wide in the 1950s, its president, James Bryant Conant, spoke with religious conviction about the good work that such diversity could accomplish.

I'm sure to evangelicals' minds, Conant also opened Harvard's doors to uncontrolled atheism. Be that as it may: the Christian believes that in free dialogue, the Truth will always when. So does the scientist. But I mean to argue here that undergraduate kissing is often a means by which diversity and truth-telling act. And that as such it can be an instrument of Christ. I mean only to register my suspicion, as a Christian, of a sectarian force whose tendencies illustrate their antagonism towards the very forces of pluralism and diversity that have accomplished so much towards the mission of civil rights according to a program very much like Christ's own.

Remaining pure from dating, remaining pure from meaningful relationships with non-Christians, remaining pure from engagement: if this is the tenor of the specimens sent to Harvard and Brown by the evangelicals, woe to the Ivy League. If evangelicals have a different agenda than that I have illustrated, then we'll know by their fruits. If they really do mean not merely to consolidate power, to police their ranks with Pharisee-like zeal, but instead, to follow the teachings of Christ in their charity and compassion and eradication of social boundaries yea unto the very kissing of lepers and prostitutes, then may the example of their lives show otherwise.

President gets lecture from the Christian left

The scene: the president whose victory has been repeatedly attributed to the evangelical vote arrives at a small, Midwestern, evangelical college.
The following day, Bush was greeted by another letter in the same newspaper signed by about 100 of 300 faculty members that objected to "an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq" and policies "that favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor."

Covered by the NY Times here .

The new Catholic theology

The focus of this book is on the teaching of morals within the Catholic Church. ... I focus on what appears to be true of slaveholding in every context: the right of the owner to determine the identity; education, and vocation of the slave and to possess the fruit of the slave's body. Acts exercising these kinds of domination were once accepted by the teaching Church as without sin. They are no longer.

-- John Noonan, A Church That Can and Cannot Change

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Warrior city

Marsellais rap is really cool.

British MP demolishes Republican inquisition panel

Chloe posts about the recent food-for-bombs inquiry circus.

Galloway was splendid. Check it out if you haven't seen him live: the BBC video (see "blistering attack")

I found myself wondering why such shows of rhetoric are so rare: only a Galloway could effectively tell off the new McCarthyism for what it is.

Is it because we're so unused to the study? Or because most listeners would find it flamboyant and suspicious? The speech was damned by the disgruntled committee as a bit of theatrical fluff, as they scampered away with their tails between their legs. Will red-state Americans equally shrug off the Scots accent? Or ignore the news as usual? Time will tell if Galloway's performance was dismissed or received as a rare spark of personal genius.

But the question leads me to wonder about the vanishing of rhetorical flamboyance from politics after 1950 with an atmosphere of enforced earnesty, and the relative weight advanced rhetoric pulls now in an age when we're so unused to it. After all, Bush won largely based on his mastery of a certain rhetoric of pathos tapping exactly the idiom of the Texas preacher. I can't imagine rhetorical exercises mustering such dynamic responses as Bush and Galloway do for us in the 1890s, say, when flourish was so common.

Next question: where would the Dems find someone as good as Galloway? How many lit majors are there on the Hill?

The body breaks

I am instructed to view that skinless web of veins and tendons not merely as a human face, nor even as that dead man's face, but rather as my face.

But it is not my face. In life, the organs of this man's face were his primary point of interaction with the rest of the world, that from which he evaluated his surroundings and went beyond the now desiccated body to make his thoughts and desires known to others. His mouth has been reduced to a static bit of muscle and bone, but we can imagine it moving through space, chewing the food that he enjoyed, whispering to a lover.

The widespread acceptance of Body Worlds is either violently a-religious -- at once a stark humanist proclamation of our own wonders and a rejection of extra-individual considerations in the treatment of our selves in death -- or oddly indicative of a religious sensibility: an acceptance that whatever, whomever, it was that possessed that jaw, has given it up, leaving us free to use it. This is something that Gunther von Hagens, the doctor behind the exhibit, gestures toward in his writings, suggesting that locating dignity within the soul rather than the body "is certainly an alternative for those who believe in the existence of the soul." Since a vast majority of Americans say they do believe in the soul, the perception of the body as an empty husk would seem to be at work in the public acceptance of Body Worlds.

-- Sean Perry, writing about the von Hagens exhibit of preserved corpses now in Chicago for Sightings

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Returning from war

...But if in your boyhood you had read Jusserand with D'Arcy Thompson's book also in mind, you derived a lasting feeling that the preexistence and physical condition of the road-ways of the fourteenth century had a great deal to do with causing and shaping the life of that period.

You derived the feeling that roads had played an active part in the great formations, language, law, and order and so forth, which arise in an energetic society.

You saw that the great roads of the world should be studied, not merely for the ways in which they exhibited various heydays of various civilizations, but for the ways in which heydays of civilizations came into being.

You saw, in short, that in the great academic department of morphology there had to be a special room devoted to the study of roads

Frank Morley, soldier returning from war in search of deep England, in The Great North Road (1961).

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The New York Times > Travel > A 'Lost' Cornwall Garden Regains Its Glory

Gardens come back from their sleep.

Vote Wrong and Go to Hell?

Amy Sullivan: No political party should get to claim God

The lovely Amy Sullivan replies to the great debate. %u2013 N.C. Church %u2013 Democrats Need Not Apply - Ford %u2013 N.C. Church %u2013 Democrats Need Not Apply - Ford

The last couple of posts have been about how church-goers engage with the rest of the world. I thought I should just post a straightforward statement of the hostile view: believes that the church in North Carolina has a right and a duty to kick Democrats out of its ranks.

Paul has plenty to say about expelling the immoral. It's one reason he thinks that Christians have no business judging non-Christians.

Political Split Leaves a Church Sadder and Grayer - New York Times

Political Split Leaves a Church Sadder and Grayer - New York Times

On the defense

Hi there - Joe, thanks for your comments; Abby, thanks for your statements.

Progressive Christians tend to spark a lot of sensitivity both to the right and the left. On the Right we tend to scare a lot of people (including my mother) who aren't yet convinced that there's a lot of coherence to our positions. See the recent responses to the Nerve article discussion below. They're not sure that one can be open to change while still keeping values, that one can understand coastal culture for its egalitarianism while still complaining about some of its excesses, like the occasional reaction against all forms of institutionalized religion -- which is one reason I wanted to start this blog.

On the secular Left there are a lot of individuals who have been scarred by coming up against the worst of hierarchy, the worst of corruption and power in the guise of benevolence. Those scars are real and we have to acknowledge them. I find a gap of compassion in reactions like that of Anonymous (further below, reacting to Nerve) who can in no way understand why the church has come under attack in the last fifty years, or why Christians in Oklahoma should feel compelled to apologize to the armies of college professors, secular activists, Jews, Muslims, and hipsters who resent church political privilege in America. The critiques of coastal society, postmodernism, radical leftism, and feminism have their limits, but at their heart they represent a utopian impulse to reform a society that has failed them -- failed to stop the abuses of power they've seen, failed to stop certain of its ministers from actively encouraging actions of hate, categorically failed over centuries, over an array of problems. See above about the Democrats voted out of the church in North Carolina.

The church is a human institution composed of an extremely diverse body of grass-roots activists united by symbols that remind them that they're supposed to work together. Among Catholics, the pope functions primarily as such a symbol: his edicts are overtunred by successive popes; pope after pope has sponsored whores and wars and torture. But the pope stands in to insure some possible unity of discourse between elitist Jesuits and leper-washing Franciscans. The church is a human institution about making people with different ways of loving the world come talk to each other. This is a foolish, terrible, pointless exercise. It's a lyrical gambit. It's a utopian mission. It may be doomed to fail. It certainly, like Democracy, creates as much secrecy and warfare as it hopes to destroy. But maybe some of us, as individuals, have less hope for other institutions. And some of us need the lyric voice of its hope: that we can and should talk to the redneck and the elitist about each of their utopian vision, that some common ground is possible, especially if they are called back to talk about Jesus the washer-of-lepers and healer-of-the-sick.

The church is a human institution. God isn't human. I have hope for the church in the long run: in eternity, where God reigns, the argument that we should be talking and caring and giving and celebrating and arguing together ought to produce something good. In its founding texts, the church stands for this kind of openness within its walls. The same utopian argument underrides all hopes that civil society will build a better world, that Enlightenment makes for a better world, that democracy improves lives, that the free market could save mankind: systems of openness closed to everything on the outside, staking everything on the hope that they can set the world right. For the Christian there was already a revolution, already an event and a sacrifice: the irreversibility and severity of that event makes it the one path, the one gateway through which the Christian goes forward. There is no other way but this. If I don't grasp that revolution, I grasp nothing.

I didn't plan to write a defense of the church here. Abby's right: in the church we take the liberty of assuming that we have offered a place for free exchange. We want to talk to other people who have the same assumptions about the worth of other human beings and the significance of one revolution, in much the same way as secular humanists all accept the French Revolution as the starting point of something called "modernity" which is always better than the world that came before it. The Secular humanist has a hard time having the conversation about how relative modern democracy is to the world that came before. If he accepts the relativism of tradition and modernity, he can no longer judge his actions and communities based on how far they enable individual liberty. The Christian has a hard time engaging other systems of belief. If she acknowledges the relativism of Christianity against the Other Spiritual Regime, she has a hard time judging her actions and communities relative to how hard they conform themselves to the commandments to compassionate love.

There's much more there to be discussed: about how evangelical the Christian should be, how much she has a duty to cure all the souls in the world or to make them conform. This is a long discussion. Suffice it to go into shorthand. Augustine said that Christians are citizens of two cities: both the church and the state claim their participation. The Christian can't leave the City of Man until her death. And she has the duty and responsibility to behave appropriately while a citizen of that regime.

In this blog I expect to talk not only to Christians but to the great swarm of progressive secularists who compose most of my friends, colleagues, and peers, out here on the coastal city. Without doubt, aside from religion, I owe you the respect due you in civil society. I can share with you what I know about the world, what works, what fails; but I'm compelled to share with you nothing. I have to acknowledge the evil that's been done against gays and women, the losses to the world, the evil suffered by any man or woman personally at the hands of an individual or group that believed themselves inspired by my God.

According to the bounds of my religion my duties are separate and different. I must listen attentively and lovingly to other Christians -- even if they seem to be filled with hate, I have to keep listening and engaging them and arguing them, acknowledging the common ground wherever it lies, challenging them on our differences. It's one of the earliest commandments of our church that I do so, in order that if I'm right, I eventually change them. But outside the church, my religion gives me duties. I have to acknowledge your worth: I have to respect you, defend you, and if you brush close to my experience: suffer with you, love you, work for your benefit, pray for you, encourage you. I must share with you the joys of my life and offer you my sympathy and wisdom if they're appropriate, withold them if they're useless. I must practice good works. I must listen. I have no business judging you: only judging my actions as they relate to you.

For the Christian, there was one historical event. Do I judge your grasp on our history? I have a duty to offer you what I know about. I have no right to judge you against it. The teacher judges the student who has enrolled, and talks to the woman on the subway, to whom he owes a different, and no less important, kind of love and humility.

We've talked about "excuses" made by secularists who don't want to have a serious conversation about progressive Christianity. I have lots of excuses for not moving back to Texas, some of them good ones. But yes, I want secularists to challenge Christians. I want Christians to challenge Christians. And Christians secularists.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sex and Death

People claim that there are a lot of reasons for turning away from the church as a liberal. But I don't buy most of the excuses. I don't buy the irreconciliable philosophical problems, the "I read Dostoevsky" and then God was impossible, the "I learned about the crusades" and then joining a church was impossible. Modern thinking Christians read Nietzche and Wittgenstein. They know about the crusades. They know that all organizations have problems, and all power corrupts. They also are over the 1960s critique of all organizations and all power. But this isn't about the church, this is about the people who bristle.

When I ask them why they bristle, there are two statements that come up again and again without sounding like they were ripped off of some high school teacher encouraging sixteen-year-olds to think for themselves for the first time.

One: I wanted to have sex before marriage, and the priest told me it was wrong. Variations include: abstinence campaigns not working in the face of AIDS, etc., do Christians want people who behave slightly differently but still with love to suffer and die?

Two: I found damnation hard to handle. Resurrection? Afterlife? Does God really want you to burn amidst devils for all of eternity for that one traffic violation? a) it is absurd, how very like a cartoon. b) this is blatant manipulation of dumb people to make them Christians. c) this is mean! (see below for brief commentary on death, esp Abby's comments to my post)

So you see, Sex and Death are a great problem for the Church, liberal or conservative, if it's going to convince thinking, compassionate people that Christianity has anything to offer.

Let me go way out on a limb and say that some part of these issues is weird. I don't care what my friends believe about sex and death. I have reasonably moral friends who care deeply about each other, and the views of the Christians aren't necessarily much different from those of the non-Christians. There are the fundamentalists way back home who express a strangely punitive attitude (God damns x group, let the brown people multiply and get sick) which I find totally unreconciliable with Christ's teaching. Because of my religion and upbringing, I have a different view of sex and death, and I've never found them in conflict with Jesus's two commandments to love God and serve your neighbor. I believe that loving sexual relationships outside of marriage -can- be the expression of a love that promotes an attitude humility and kindness in the world, and I believe in Eternal Life as a profound metaphor for the state of the soul when it's with God (see below).

But forget me. There are theological arguments for and against premarital sex. I'm not a theologian, and I'm not holding myself as a model Christian, statements that seem to be repeated about every three blog entries here.

Fortunately for everyone else, there's Anonymous Preaching Stud , a friend of mine on the web, who's a little better than I am at explaining a bit about why modern views on sex and death are condoned, practiced, and even embraced by a lot of modern Christians. Check it out. Anonymous Preaching Stud is just getting started, but he has a lot to say. There's been a lot of theology about what sex means to the Christian, there's been a lot of learning from gay people who have thought about open, loving relationships more carefully than straight people ever have; Anonymous Preaching Stud knows his stuff. The point isn't, or shouldn't be, that the church damns secular sex and death, but that it has a good way of thinking through them.

Which is a lot about what my blog is about. I don't see Jesus keeping us away from the world, Jesus who kissed lepers and hung out with prostitutes. I see Christ calling us to change our attitude towards the world and towards what we're supposed to do in it.

About my own experience and what this has done for me. I was dating a really sweet photographer who freaked out right before I came home from New Haven and broke up with me. I wanted to blog about it because I was trying to clear up in my head all the lessons of Lent about how loneliness is a human condition, how a Christian isn't necessarily less lonely but copes with loneliness by talking to God and expressing love whenever possible. I wanted to blog because I was figuring out how Christianity was actually relevant to my modern love-life: it told me, among other things, to handle the end of relationships by continuing to express gratitude and love, what it means to be single and Christian: I think it means being grateful for others' company. I think it means acknowledging their freedom to find their calling wherever. I think it means leaving open the possibility of God acting between two people to make a promise and act to make great plans to serve the world together. But in reverence to the importance of that relationship, it's just as important to love and let go.

The fruit of acting with responsibility and love is pretty serious. The photographer and I are pretty good friends still, and you can find heartfelt posts below about how deeply grateful I am still for his presence in my life, and how much I want him to thrive. I'm over it, and I give thanks to that seasons of meditation for allowing me the most graceful breakup I've ever had. I guess I’ve always had a history of falling with determination and taking rejection pretty hard, and it’s made me pretty crabby in a state of rejection in the past. I wanted to get past handling rejection with bitterness.

Preachers and historians and the media think the church is being ignored by educated people for various reasons: the success of Enlightenment, total irrelevance of mystery to modern life, "removing the mystery" from the universe by answering too many questions with God, not being able to deal with evil and war. Personally I've found the church to in fact reconcile all of these problems: reason with tradition, individual interactions with the community, evil with good. I'll go further than that. I think the church doesn't have more or fewer answers to the major questions of existence than psychology, astrophysics, and philosophy put together. The church has interesting way so fhandling peculiar problems like how to express gratitude and love, problems which aren't handled so well by the others.

Just as the Enlightenment separated the State from the Church, it also effectively made the Church think through separation of church and state as well. We no longer believe that theologians should be the sole authorities on geology and astrophysics. We acknowledge those as separate kinds of expertise that don't challenge the Church's authority to speak to the soul. But there are domains where expertise is shared: both political science and the Church have a lot to say about how communities act and what's desirable. Both the Church and Psychology have a lot to say about what the human soul needs. Since at least 1750 people inside the Church have been thinking about how best Christians can think about how to incorporate both theology and other kinds of secular knowledge in their lives. Since at least 1850 Christians have been thinking about how to incorporate modern understandings of women's freedom, the body, sexuality, and culturally diverse families, with their views of responsibility and love as received from Christ.

But we've been embarrassed to talk about it: embarrassed because the 1960s revolutions in sexuality and gender were so drastic that many moderates felt left behind, wanted a pure Christianity that simply kept the old patterns of demographics.

In 2005 we've all seen enough statistics to know that teaching abstinence doesn't work; we've read enough Freud to acknowledge sex as something human and beautiful that creates deep rifts for the soul if blocked off and crushed. Now it's time we did some talking about how a Christian who cares about the spiritual and emotional health of herself and her partner should deal with sex. Go, Anonymous Preaching Stud , go!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Living Forever

Michael Barlowe, canon at Church of the Advent, celebrated his fiftieth birthday this morning by delivering a sermon on Eternal Life. Eternal Life, he said, was what we are kept in by grace. Eternal Life is the state of oneness with God's creation, as Christ at Pentacost begs for the spirit to descend upon his apostles and "make them one" even as Christ is one with the father. Eternal Life is then about community, sustained passion, all happinesses and joys lifted up and shared with each other, all sins and bitterness put into a place where they can be reconciled.

Damnation, say the angry atheists, is what keeps them from belief. I can't remember the last time I was in a church where damnation was preached about. The church as it exists in civil society has come a long way since its medieval origins and the abuse of the metaphor of hellfire. Hellfire may rage in politics, in academia, in unkindness and disconnection, but neither hellfire nor Eternal Life are certainties for most of the Christians I know, as a physicla location to which living bodies are resurrected. They are certainties of experience: and as such, metaphors that may tell us a lot about the good life and what is worth leaving behind us. We become one with Eternal Life such that Eternal Life lives after us.

On the other hand, woe be us if this means nothing more than the "Eternal Fire of Purfication" to which the bodies of cremated penitential middle-class posers are consecrated in Graham Green novels. Give us Eternal Life. Save us from pettiness. Save us from stupid metaphors, and abusive vicars, and paranoid fantasies of demons and angles. Isn't that the prayer?


Le Fr%uFFFDmok / FRMK Editions, a Belgian publishing house, has put together an office for producing utopias. This is what it looks like.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Watching Time

Cabinet Magazine, the youngest best hope of little magazines, has apparently just come out with its issue on imaginary places. Stratego extends its warm congratulations.

For any of you not keyed in enough to have made the acquaintance of this wonderful little journal, we exhort you to remedy the situation immediately. Here, a link to the history of timelines, as curated by a delightful alumnus of the Berkeley Department of History.


Originally uploaded by Chiceaux.
I regress to nostalgia for the swamp whenever I feel overworked, harried, unreal. Swamp country holds something for me: apathetic, magical, disconnected, stark, human. Hurricanes and alcohol and crime, deteriorating land of poverty, necessity; it was a bad joke growing up in Texas, from which plastic kingdom we looked past the deteriorating roads and gateways sinking in kudzu into the fairy-tale land of poor relatives and cynical grandparents, the land where history started and reality stopped.

Last night I held the head of a friend from Baton Rouge who had cut off my joke about Louisiana with this -- "It's awful. All of my friends are coke addicts. Everyone's down. I don't ever want to go back."


Social Redemption is looking into what technology to use to get its people talking together. We're hoping to eventually provide a service -- newsfeeds, email newsletters, links to blogs and statements -- rather than a total platform to which grassroots activists have to conform. The social gospel in Florida need not look like the social gospel in California, but it's time that the non-radical-fringe stood up to be counted.

Just a note here to say that we're checking out the world of wikis, editable webpages where invited communities can share calendars, networks, photographs together. Thanks to Danah Boyd for directing us to Civic Space , responsible for networking the Dean Campaign, now turning towards grass roots of every sort. We'll see how it works.

Faith of a Culture Warrior, or why the cigarettes and booze

God is in here detail
Originally uploaded by josh lyon.

Mother, stop reading. This goes down as a public confession. Kudos to Jory, who asked a good question.

Liberal Academic Christians are rare, but deconstructionist-obsessed, alcohol-swilling lovers of dance who attend church however hungover, those are rare indeed. I get asked about it a lot. I don't know what sort of an advocate I am for the One God or the True Cross. I'm a historian, not a priest: I don't have to live a model life, and I'm not interested in holding myself up as a model of salvation and rectitude. I live a private life where the Church has always been important, and I've typically been reluctant to speak about those interior transformations for fear of being mistaken for one of the Bible-thumping convert-monkeys. But there's a time and a place for speaking about the interior life in public. Justice Sunday signalled to a lot of people that it was about time liberal Christians started talking. I can tell you what I think the Church means to me, and what the Church means to America.

I spent most of my education among East coast meritocrats for whom giving up God and other mythologies was a huge part of their initiation into the power machine. From a pragmatic level it's unwise to have an elite that disconnected with the experiences of the rest of the country. The Christian middle needs to reclaim its public face from the reactionaries who have co-opted the name of the church.

But more important by far is how one's actions, beliefs, and every-day kinds of thoughts coaelsce with one's beliefs about the world. The mathematicians and historians I've known have always been angry atheists, wanting to build everything from the ground up in each generation, willing to dismiss collective, thousand-year-old rituals to the position of performance art, in the hopes that individuals would then wake up from the moment and start thinking for themselves. A different kind of historian and a most astrophysicists I know have been theists of a certain kind, in awe of the limits of knowledge. From the standpoint of a certain kind of folklore and anthropology, I have no words to describe the power of collective languages to describe aesthetic or spiritual experience. Art for art's sake doesn't get me there. Art as individual genius doesn't make sense to me -- I spend too much time looking at how genius borrows from the collective. The collective as point of access to a reality that transcends the human -- there's where I stand happy. Maybe my reverence has a little bit of Ludwig in it too.

One of the first points is basic: Tillich says that there can be no such thing as an atheist human, because to be human is to feel attached and aesthetic urges beyond anything that adheres in the material worth of the thing.

But Tillich's an atheist's theologian. Why the tradition? Maybe because we think more nuancedly through traditions, because all sorts of revelations come through them: the history of our language, our idea of self and society. Enlightenment said we broke free and could start all over again, but historians of the Enlightenment love proving how that revolution got bogged down in exactly the same hierarchies as before.

Inside the tradition itself there are hundreds of compensations, contradictions, disavowals, excuses, escapes for subverting hierarchy and providing alternatives. I don't have total faith in the tradition, but I have less faith in the power of Enlightenment to set us free from the self, or from the banality of a material existence not worth having. And finally, why the tradition; because in every encounter with the meritocracy, success, praise, innovation, creativity, and reward, I find myself sick with loneliness, and dizzy from not being able to share my stories. In the language of tradition that awful loneliness is relieved, if only for a couple of hours every week. I'm too human and I can't escape from it.

Part of coming to terms with that was to swear off my parents' puritan boot-strap ethics and dive into alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, nothing harder or softer, but drugs that fix me to the moment, remind me daily of my fragility. Because without them I spin into paranoid fits of imagining that this one career, person, or event is going to be the one, the only one, that can save me. As an aside, I gave them all up for Lent as a way of testing my dependence, or maybe trying to make more internal sense. I spent two months in blizzarding Connecticut without the drugs, without friends, plowing out buckets of research, coming face to face with every paranoid fear I've ever had in my life. So what: coming back to California was like diving into warm water, and having acknowledged how weak and lonesome and pointless I could feel by being nothing but a research machine, it was nice to come back, drink a whisky, light a cigarette, and talk about seizing the day. But I also find that I'm more on tea than coffee, am happier without dehydration, smoke rarely, and drink when there's company. All pretty modest these days really. But I take comfort in knowing that there's the out, when I'm too much in my own head.

Nerve Quickies, The Moral Values Issue

Jesus is Proud of You
Originally uploaded by stateofmind_77.

I'm not alone talking with my blogging obsession about sex and God. But not everyone is as nice as I am., the hipster singles joint for light porn and witty political commentary, recently released its "Moral Values Issue." Like a lot of hot young curators (including Topic Magazine ) the frisson is less in seeing the world another way than in seeing the most obscure shitholes the world has to offer. In short, offers essays on what a Moonie marriage is like, on Iranian women and sex, and here - on nuns masturbating. Great commentary on the human condition it isn't. A titillating concateny of commentary on the diversity one could encounter given endless libido and a bottomless travel budget, it is.

So it should come as no surprise that the above-linked article on nun masturbation has scraped together an altogether eclectic sampler of Christian contemplative writing over ten centuries to paint a picture of the horny nun dreaming of sucking down the Savior. The readers of Nerve are well-educated enough to be suspicious of the establishment, but adolescent enough to find this amusing. Since reading I have been daily plagued by recollecting and snarfing at the phrase "divine foreskin.'

But it still worries me. So why don't I find it amusing, you ask. Saint Theresa of Avila dreaming about sticking her fingers in the Redeemer's wounds is as erotic and cross-gender an image as they come. But look: I remember vividly when I was fifteen and a gentle old professor of theology smilingly told me that I might like Theresa, whose ecstasies everywhere mingle devotion for God with the ravings of an obsessed lover. There's a thick and strong tradition of romantic and even sexual love mirroring the relationship between God and the soul. Best known among twenty-somethings in America is the Sufi tradition embodied by Hafiz and Rumi. But in the West we have Theresa, let alone Abelard suckling on the teats of many-breasted Sapientia. And the tradition goes back far. In the Song of Songs, God says to the soul, How beautiful you are, my beloved.

It still all might be repressive and nasty, as the Nerve readers expect. It might b nuns masturbating in their cells and damning the civilians dancing on the rain-slippery pavement beyond the convent walls. Maybe in its most primeval, pagan roots there's an ackowledgement of the divine in every physical incarnation, yeah down to the prostitute, leper, and drug-dealer, all pathetic and glorious embodiments of human weakness. Judgment of the fallen comes later. Judgment comes only when good Christians try to figure out how they should act towards the girl in the bed with them (do you have to marry her if she's pregnant and broke?). Or when they have to legislate against drugs, prostitution, and disease -- cases where the legislation, historians tell us, often drives the problem underground and makes the condition worse. But primarily the Christian is not a judge, not a Caesar, not in an earthly army; the Christian slips away and back into the realm of fantasy, of open wounds and delicious sores, where all kinds of compassion are infinitely possible.

Maybe we disown the image altogether. The image of a divine lover comes with too much repression, as Nerve intuits, and perhaps with too much heated beating of the soul into a wanton fury. My colleague theologian says he dislikes the Christ-as-lover image strictly because he can't imagine God as somehow separate from the human condition.

But the wooing of God, absent presence resaught and revisited; this is true to the experience of most people I know, with their lapses of faith and grace -- coming into happiness and flow and then falling altogether out of it again. It is also typical of the lapses of presence we have with the rest of the world, both with the individuals around us and with larger social involvement. Evn as a class, progressives fall out of engagement with the nation while working at the grassroots, then similarly the latter. The neediness and lapsing and crazed seeking of the lover in heat are part of the human condition; maybe its nastiest, most debased, most passionate, least controlled, and possibly most beautiful. Even Casanovas try to quarantine it, lest one amour devour them entirely. So the idea that God is with us in bed: that most human, most fragile condition, most tempted, at once, the most potentially greedy and generous condition imagineable: that, I think, must be true of a Comforter and Redeemer who has given everything to save us from the sin of selfishness. The salvation that reaches us down there, when we're most likely totake advantage of another person, and most struck by the other's beauty, that's a salvation indeed.

Sex and the Single Blog

Alright, okay, I admit taht I went through a longer-than-normal hiatus from blogging after realizing that my mother was reading. "Have no illusions! Whatever you post is public!" says Mom. But much as I love her, the maternal public is very different than the anonymous public, whatever their presumptions and prejudices. Mother will always love me, which is a kind of responsibility in and of itself. I don't really care about the public, and sort of cleave to the challenge of changing their minds. So here we go, back to what I've been thinking about during the last week and always, somewhere near the intersection of landscape, theology, and the urban hipster scene.