Sunday, June 07, 2015

Tanizaki's Praise of Shadows

'The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty's ends.'

'I wonder if my readers know the color of that "darkness seen by candlelight". It was different in quality from darkness on the road at night. It was a repletion, a pregnancy of tiny particles like fine ashes, each particle luminous as a rainbow. I blinked in spite of myself, as though to keep it out of my eyes.'

Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, p. 29, 52

(a lovely, illuminating, at times I daresay wise, little book)

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (and a word about our response)

Seven years ago I posted an excerpt from a paper written to give a theological response to the legacy of residential schools in Canada and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that had recently been initiated. Click through if you want to read that post, entitled The Prince of Peace Smokes a Peace Pipe.

Today after several years the TRC produced its report, including a document called What we have learned: Principles of truth and reconciliation. This document is well worth reading. It includes a brief review of the history and an assessment of the legacy still felt by Aboriginals. It also includes a number of very insightful and challenging statements such as these:

"Reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism that have had destructive impacts on Aboriginal peoples’ education, cultures and languages, health, child welfare, the administration of justice, and economic opportunities and prosperity" (p. 3).
"To some people, 'reconciliation' is the re-establishment of a conciliatory state. However, this is a state that many Aboriginal people assert never has existed between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. To others, 'reconciliation,' in the context of Indian residential schools, is similar to dealing with a situation of family violence. It is about coming to terms with events of the past in a manner that overcomes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship among people, going forward. It is in the latter context that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has approached the question of reconciliation" (p. 113).

The report also includes 94 recommendations for everything from justice to education to sports and recreation in a document called Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls for Action. This is worth reading as well. I have skimmed it this evening myself, and highlight just a few items here:


"18. We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognize and implement the health-care rights of Aboriginal people as identified in international law, constitutional law, and under the Treaties."


"41. We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Aboriginal organizations, to appoint a public inquiry into the causes of, and remedies for, the disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls. The inquiry’s mandate would include:
i. Investigation into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls."


"45. We call upon the Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, to jointly develop with Aboriginal peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown. The proclamation would build on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764, and reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown. The proclamation would include, but not be limited to, the following commitments:
i. Repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius [nobody's land]."


"48. We call upon the church parties to the Settlement Agreement, and all other faith groups and interfaith social justice groups in Canada who have not already done so, to formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation. This would include, but not be limited to, the following commitments: ...
iv. Issuing a statement no later than March 31, 2016, from all religious denominations and faith groups, as to how they will implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."


"59. We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary."


"62. We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:
i. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students."

It is interesting that when the second commandment says not to "make for yourself an idol" -- i.e., european civilization -- or to "serve" it, the commandment then gives us that rather famous line that the "iniquity of the fathers" will be visited "on the third and the fourth generation".

Whatever this means (and I acknowledge this requires further exegetical and theological reflection), we should at the very least recognize in this story a pretty compelling example of how Christians might bear responsibility for that which we've inherited, and give humble testimony to the hope that "love will be shown to a thousand generations".

Click here to read and/or watch "Residential school
survivor and Anglican couple forge 'unlikely' friendship"

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Readings in Disability Theology

From Nancy L. Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability, pages 20, 27, 13, and 28:

On church experience:  
'For many disabled persons the church has been a “city on a hill”--physically inaccessible and socially inhospitable.'

On using the phrase 'persons with disabilities': 
'This usage underscores the conviction that an individual's disability is just one of many personal characteristics, rather than being synonymous or coextensive with that person's self.'

On 'dealing with' disability:  
'Ignoring disability means ignoring life... Another option … is to focus on the pain.... But [in either case] the telescoping of our lives into simplistic categories of good and bad, pain and pleasure, denies that the lives of people with disabilities, like all ordinary lives, are shot through with unexpected grace, overwhelming joy, and love returned.'

On 'accessibility':  
'Accessibility then means the availability of the same choices accorded to able-bodied people. It also means opening the meaning “normal” to the ordinary lives of people with disabilities.'

And on that note, from Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, page 314:

'Any therapy is directed towards health. But health is a norm which changes with history and is conditioned by society. If in today's society health means "the capability to work and the capability for enjoyment" … the Christian interpretation of the human situation must nevertheless also question the compulsive idolatry which the concepts of production and consumption introduce into this definition, and develop another form of humanity. Suffering in a superficial, activist, apathetic and therefore dehumanized society can be a sign of spiritual health.'

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Bonhoeffer on the 'sinless-guilt' of Jesus

What follows is one of many thought-provoking passages in Bonhoeffer's Ethics. For a bit more biblical backdrop to this one might look at 2 Cor. 5:21. One should also note that when Bonhoeffer says 'becomes guilty' the word is Schuldübernahme, which can mean both 'becoming guilty oneself' and 'taking on the guilt of others'. Obviously Bonhoeffer thinks the latter has real significance:

"Jesus' concern is not the proclamation and realization of new ethical ideals, and thus also not his own goodness (Matt. 19:17!), but solely love for real human beings. This is why he is able to enter into the community of human beings' guilt, willing to be burdened with their guilt. 

Jesus does not want to be considered the only perfect one at the expense of human beings, nor, as the only guiltless one, to look down on a humanity perishing under its guilt. He does not want some idea of a new human being to triumph over the wreckage of a humanity defeated by its guilt. He does not want to acquit himself of the guilt by which human beings die. A love that would abandon human beings to their guilt would not be a love for real human beings. 

As one who acts responsibly within the historical existence of human beings, Jesus becomes guilty. It is his love alone, mind you, that leads him to become guilty. Out of his selfless love, out of his sinlessness, Jesus enters into human guilt, taking it upon himself. In him, sinlessness and bearing guilt are inextricably linked. As the sinless one, Jesus takes the guilt of his brothers and sisters upon himself, and in carrying the burden of this guilt he proves himself the sinless one....

Those who, in acting responsibly, seek to avoid becoming guilty divorce themselves from the ultimate reality of human existence; but in so doing they also divorce themselves from the redeeming mystery of the sinless bearing of guilt by Jesus Christ, and have no part in the divine justification that attends this event. They place their personal innocence above their responsibility for other human beings and are blind to the fact that precisely in so doing they become even more egregiously guilty. They are also blind to the fact that genuine guiltlessness is demonstrated precisely by entering into community with the guilt of other human beings for their sake. Because of Jesus Christ, the essence of responsible action intrinsically involves the sinless, those who act out of selfless love, becoming guilty."

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 'History and Good 2,' DBWorks 6: Ethics, p 275-6
(paragraph breaks and bold added)

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Introduction to Piketty's 'Capital'

'In a way, we are in the same position at the beginning of the twenty-first century as our forebears were in the early nineteenth century: we are witnessing impressive changes in economies around the world, and it is very difficult to know how extensive they will turn out to be or what the global distribution of wealth, both within and between countries, will look like several decades from now.... There is no fundamental reason why we should believe that growth is automatically balanced. It is long since past the time when we should have put the questions of inequality back at the centre of economic analysis and begun asking questions first raised in the nineteenth century' (16).

I don't know how long it'll take me to read this 600+ page tome,
but when I do I'll probably share some choice excerpts here.
'Social scientific research is and always will be tentative and imperfect. It does not claim to transform economics, sociology, and history into exact sciences. But by patiently searching for facts and patterns and calmly analyzing the economic, social, and political mechanisms that might explain them, it can inform democratic debate and focus attention on the right questions. It can help to redefine the terms of debate, unmask certain preconceived or fraudulent notions, and subject all positions to constant critical scrutiny. In my view, this is the role that intellectuals, including social scientists, should play, as citizens like any other but with the good fortune to have more time than others to devote themselves to study (and even to be paid for it--a signal privilege)' (3).

'What are the major conclusions to which these novel historical sources have led me? The first is that one should be wary of any economic determinism in regard to inequalities of wealth and income. The history of the distribution of wealth has always been deeply political, and it cannot be reduced to purely economic mechanisms... The second conclusion, which is at the heart of this book, is that the dynamics of wealth distribution reveal powerful mechanisms pushing alternately toward convergence [that is, the reduction of inequalities] and divergence [that is, the exacerbation of them]. Furthermore, there is no natural, spontaneous process to prevent destabilizing, inegalitarian forces from prevailing permanently' (20-21).