Monday, December 22, 2008

Starbucks, Apple, and AIDS

Okay, so I never got around to writing a post on the election, and my reasons for not voting. But I have wanted to lay out some thoughts bouncing around in my head for the past month.

At the beginning of the month Starbucks participated in the effort to aid World AIDS relief by contributing 5 cents for every specialty drink ordered. On December 1, you could get your coffee and help a great cause as well. At least, that was how it was marketed. Starbucks expanded their advertising for the promotion to facebook, which of course allowed for numerous comments on the event's “wall.” The comments were pretty evenly split between people saying, “greedy Starbucks, 5 cents is hardly anything!” and others saying, “Great! I can get Starbucks and help a good cause!”

My first reaction was to echo the thoughts of the former group, as 5 cents really isn’t much at all. Plus, the event was intended to increase the consumer presence in each national Starbucks, thus actually boosting profits for the day. In short, Starbucks was not sacrificing anything to give 5 cents to AIDS relief per drink, and probably made out better than a typical day.

But all that aside, I began to think about the premise behind Starbucks’ “participation” in AIDS relief. I was particularly struck by a comment a person made on the facebook event. This young man voiced his disdain for Starbucks coffee, but then said, “Besides, I’m already doing my part to help AIDS relief by buying the Apple RED iPod.”

...Did you catch that? “I’m doing my part by buying the Apple RED iPod.”

Jean Baudrillard wrote of what he called the “simulacra.” He utilizes this concept to analyze, in particular, the democratic United States. I would not pretend to understand all that he intimates with this term, but the basic idea is that the simulacra is the copy without an original. It is pure simulation that stands in the place of reality, but to which no reality corresponds. The simulation becomes our reality. Baudrillard suggests that the simulacra is basically how we Americans experience all life. For example, the way we experience a football game is the same way we experience the Civil War; through the television. Or the way we experience the Iraq war is through the media, which is of course a particular narration/simulation of reality that has become the reality of the war as we experience and know it. All of it is simulation. The entirety of our lives is formed by the simulation, the simulacra.

What Baudrillard also observed is the way that simulacra renders citizens immobile. It thwarts social action. It does so by absorbing our activity into the proliferation of images and simulations that shape our bodies. With this in mind, reflect again on Starbucks mode of participation in AIDS relief: buy our coffee. Even more direct, slowly read what Apple says on its site about the RED iPod. “Since its introduction, (PRODUCT) RED has delivered over $100 million to the Global Fund. And now you can make an impact by purchasing (PRODUCT) RED.”

I find this absolutely remarkable, and really quite genius. Participation in AIDS relief is tied to buying an iPod. You participate by consuming. Thus, both Apple and Starbucks have found a way to simulate participation in AIDS relief by reinforcing the shaping of our bodies in practices of consumption. Therefore, simulacra ensures that we will continue to find ourselves trapped between processes of consumption and production, buffeting the continued success of capitalism, and the commodification of the entirety of our lives. I can now be “involved” in AIDS relief without leaving my home, without going abroad, without touching people, without moving outside of habits of consumption. My involvement in AIDS relief is clicking a button on the computer to purchase the RED iPod. Remarkable.

Like I said, I find this ingenious. Our reality is the simulation of involvement, and it is tied to consumerism. American capitalism has in part contributed to the poverty of nations in which AIDS is running rampant. But now capitalism is employed as the way to end AIDS. It is self-reinforcing. And global capitalism has the incredible ability to absorb all of life into itself. This AIDS event is merely another manifestation of capitalism’s ability to enact this absorption. I do think a critique needs to be brought against all of this, in order for our bodies to be freed from being both commodified, and from commodifying. But that’s not my main purpose in writing this brief account. I find the complex connections here astounding, and I am merely giving voice to that. My social involvement in fighting AIDS is tied to purchasing an iPod…now that is amazing.

I hope to write a post soon in which I detail how voting can be/is often simulacra. In fact, voting in the democratic United States is one of the principal ways this state ensures its own survival, and the pacification of its citizens. I also would love to unfold how the office of President is a kind of simulacra, in a way that is not so for most other nation-states. But Christmas break is only so long…. :)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Forthcoming Post

It's true, I've largely given up on blogging. With 70 pages of papers to write between now and the end of the semester, it's difficult to imagine that I'd find any time to post snippets here. Furthermore, I suspect my readership is quite sparse, and my failure to blog regularly has not helped this. Nonetheless, I'm not ready to shut this thing down yet. Indeed, that may come, in time. But I would like to keep this space available for those who find it difficult to keep up with what I'm thinking and writing to have a brief snapshot.

Therefore, I thought it might be prudent to let ya'll know that I will hopefully be composing a short reflection on the recent national election. As all of you know, this was one of the most vicious and divisive elections of my lifetime. I found my stomach being turned all too often. I was especially ashamed and disappointed in many of my Christian brothers and sisters. Things were said (and are still being said) from Christians of a variety of political persuasions that are absolutely unacceptable as Christian discourse. So, with all that said, I intend to focus my post on why I did not vote. I'll admit, I'm glad with the outcome and think Obama will be a fine president. But I am even more confident in my conviction and decision not to vote in this past election. Those of you who know me well know that I consider voting to be the exception, not the norm, of Christian engagement in US politics. And I was far from convinced that this was one of those exceptions. Therefore, if time permits, I hope to set forth some of the reasons why I did not vote, the preeminent one being that I was firmly convicted theologically not to do so. The rest unfold under this.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Are Women Voters Sexist?

I'm interested. Ostensibly any and every critique of VP-candidate Sarah Palin is construed as sexist by the McCain campaign. This is as ridiculous as saying calling Obama "uppity" is racist (although it's always confused me as to how Obama is the elitist when McCain is the one with over 7 houses and a wife worth $100 million...). Of course this is merely a manifestation of the reality that in elections like this truth is the first casualty. Christians should be particularly careful with the words we use in this season as well as with the extent and type of our participation in these coming elections. For the moment, though, I'd like to briefly pause on this claim that the Obama campaign is sexist for criticizing Palin. Various news-outlets report that a significant number of white women voters have (for the time being at least) put their support behind McCain, because of the selection of Palin for VP. How is that not sexist? How is it that Palin may potentially poach disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters when she is Clinton's ideological opposite? I suspect McCain's campaign may be right when it says this election is "not about the issues." At the very least, McCain seems to have bought into that quite thoroughly. Obama, of course, has his own problems with this as his entire campaign has been tainted with questions of racism. Is it racist to vote for Obama because he is black?

I suspect most will not actually reduce their voting rationale to whether a candidate is a woman or is black. Nonetheless, it is curious how the platforms of these candidates for the present time seems to have receded into the background and their distinctive novelty is what powers the polls.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sweet Stewart

This is not intended as a partisan ploy on my part. Do I think McCain's recent antics/ads are ridiculous? Yes. But his running mate proves McCain does not have the monopoly on ridiculous. This presidential race has already about run its course for me...But mainly I just love Jon Stewart. :) Enjoy, and laugh a little for Pete's sake. This election season is at least good for that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Time for Some Campaignin'

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

New Biblical Controversy?

What exactly is the controversy with this? The CNN headline read "New Biblical Controversy." I can't tell what is allegedly new and what is allegedly controversial...

Monday, July 07, 2008

July 6 Sermon

Yesterday I preached my first sermon in a year and a half. It seemed to go relatively well, and I've received a lot of affirmative feedback. The audio and the written transcript are available on Myers Park UMC's website. You can find the audio here, and the written transcript here for now.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Quotables

I'll be preaching on Matthew a week from Sunday, and in preparation I've been reading some commentaries. One of the commentaries I've been reading is Stanley Hauerwas' commentary on Matthew, which has been a treat. As expected, Hauerwas has a way of telling the story "with" Matthew (as he puts is) that brings greater clarity to what Matthew writes. Particularly poignant was a quotation from Warren Carter, in which Carter says, "[The] divine presence is manifested in Jesus (Mt. 1:23; 28:20) and in the community committed to him (18:20). The revelation of God's presence in Jesus' conception and birth (Mt. 1:18-25) brings a violent response from one of the empire's vassal kings (Mt. 2). The scene's theme and vocabulary are reminiscent both of Pharaoh's opposition to Moses' freeing God's people from slavery in Egypt and of Jesus' crucifixion by the religion and political elite...The gospel tells a story of a prophetic figure who suffers the worst that the empire can do to him, execution by crucifixion. But his resurrection and subsequent coming in power expose the limits of Roman power. The gospel constructs an alternative world. It resists imperial claims. It refuses to recognize that the world has been ordered on these lines. It offers an alternative understanding of the world and human existence centered on God manifested in Jesus. It creates an alternative community and shapes an anti-imperial praxis." (38)

And additionally, one of my favorite quotations from Yoder, and one of the most radical things I have every read: "'Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?' 'Glory' here cannot mean the ascension, which has not been recounted yet, and in fact is not clearly described in Luke's Gospel at all, although we know from Acts that Luke knew the tradition. Might it not then mean (as with the concept of 'exaltation' in John's Gospel) that the cross itself is seen as fulfilling the kingdom promise? Here at the cross is the man who loves enemies, the man whose righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, who being rich became poor, who gives his robe to those who took his cloak, who prays for those who despitefully use him. The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come." (51)

O' what unfathomable mystery has been made manifest...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Dobson's Diatribe


I know a number of people have written at length on the Dr. James Dobson and Tom Minnery broadcast discussing Barack Obama's speech in 2006 on religion and politics (see Scot McKnight's blog on Jesus Creed). But for some reason I felt it necessary to put myself through listening to the majority of the broadcast to hear what had really been said. I was, unfortunately, not that surprised that the broadcast was one of the most pejorative, divisive, and absolutely insane things I've heard in quite some time. It was an exercise in distortion and misrepresentation. Ironically, that is exactly what the two commentators accused Senator Obama of doing. Regardless of whether Christians should or should not vote for Obama, this broadcast was embarrassing.

I won't go into too many specifics, but there were a few comments that struck a chord. In an effort to accuse Obama of something he did not do, that is equate the Levitical laws with the Sermon on the Mount, Tom Minnery said, "Laws that applied to them then, the Levitical code [...] no longer apply. Many of the principles of the OT apply, but not those laws." I'll refrain from commenting on the merit of the statement (although I think it incredibly problematic to write off certain portions of Scripture), but I would like to point out his claim that the principles of the OT apply. Whenever I hear the word "principle" used in this fashion I have to wonder if Reinhold Niebuhr does not stand behind it in some way. The reason I wonder this is because other positions I've head from these two commentators seem to be consonant in many ways with Niebuhr's "Christian realism." My concern is that this hermeneutic is not only one Mr. Minnery would use on the OT, but the NT as well, such that there are "principles" in the NT that can be abstracted from the Gospel story and then approximated as best we can to make America into a Christian nation. This abstraction often ends up being somewhat arbitrary and capricious. Senator Obama called the Sermon on the Mount, "a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application." I suspect Mr. Minnery has a "principle" from the Bible that reduces this radicality.

Since I said I would only comment briefly, I will comment on one more item. As best I can tell, from reading Obama's speech, he seems to have a Rawlsian view of the role of religion in public discourse. Obama said, "Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all." This sounds to me like Obama has been shaped by Rawls, specifically his "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited." And I think this is embedded in political liberalism more intrinsically than other might want to concede. But to put it another way, Obama is merely giving voice to the political and philosophical commitments required for American democracy.

Now, I think Rawls is wrong, but not in the way Dobson does. Dobson said that what Obama means (he and Mr. Minnery seem to have some authoritative insight into what Obama "really means") is that unless everybody agrees we have no right to fight for what we believe...c'mon Dobson, I'm not sure even you really buy into that misinterpretation. If Dobson could mount a critique of Rawls then perhaps he would have something substantive to say, but it wouldn't look anything like what he actually did and does say. I know Dobson is attempting to be a Christian in American as best he knows how, but someone has to call him on crap like this. Perhaps if fewer churches were planning patriotic worship services for the weekend of the 4th people like Dobson could see in the witness of the church the inbreaking of God's kingdom.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Reimagining Memorial Day


Memorial Day is a day that captures well the central narrative that constitutes the American identity. It is not only a day to remember those fallen in combat, but a ritual that sacralizes the American narrative and creates a people named American. In this way the day is deeply religious, and serves to both celebrate national loyalty as well as imbue the American conscience. So it is no surprise that today millions of Americans will gather on parade routes, waving flags, applauding military personnel, and wearing shades of red and blue. This ritual is a sacrificial ritual, as the death of those in battle is cast as such, in the name of freedom, patriotism, protecting one’s nation, and so on. And this is precisely why the day is problematic for Christians.

Nonetheless, many Christians will don the red, white, and blue and join their fellow Americans in telling the story of American war casualties as we have been taught to tell it. That we have been taught to tell this story this way ought to remind us that remembering and storytelling are moral activities. Alasdair MacIntyre, and Hauerwas under his influence, have been incise in pointing to the connection between narrative and identity. Our identity is constituted by the narrative(s) that inform our life. We are who we are because we have been born into traditions that make us into the people we are and are becoming. The problem, thus, with Christians telling the American story the way Memorial Day asks us to tell it, is that it is a story that should not be ours, and is a story that seeks to undermine the narrative proclamation of the fourfold witness of the Gospel.

That Christians insist on participating in national rituals like Memorial Day suggests that in the hopes of transforming America we have instead found ourselves transformed by it (Stanley Hauerwas has insightfully shown how and why this is the case particularly in his book “After Christendom?”). But I would suggest that Memorial Day also affords Christians with the opportunity to resist the American myth precisely within the practice of remembering. The practice of the Eucharist is the central ritual that forms the worship life and identity of Christians. It is in the Eucharist that we learn how to remember, and that remembering is embodied in the concrete practices of partaking of the body and blood of Christ. It is the Eucharist that reminds us that Christ is the end of sacrifice, and all alleged sacrifices must be cast in relation to his. Therefore, when Christians call the death of American soldiers sacrificial, we are using language that undermines our belief that Christ’s sacrifice is the normative sacrifice.

Of course, Christians have not bought into this idea senselessly. I suspect we really do believe that American soldiers have sacrificed themselves in order to defend our freedom, or to ensure that we are enabled to live the lives we have been taught to live. I also suspect most Christians would wholeheartedly applaud President Bush’s speech at Arlington National Cemetery, wherein he said, “I am humbled by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice that allow a free civilization to endure and flourish.” American society, founded as it was on philosophical and political liberalism, has and always will be dependent on its war-making character. A civilization like American does need people willing to make “the ultimate sacrifice” in order for it to exist. That this is so should make Christians pause before we herald the freedom such deaths allegedly ensure. After all, Christians believe that we have been made free by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, not the death of soldiers.

Bush concluded the above quotation with the following: “It only remains for us, the heirs of their legacy, to have the courage and the character to follow their lead and to preserve America as the greatest nation on Earth and the last, best hope for mankind.” Such a statement should appear odd for a Christian to utter, as there is nothing in it that is not idolatrous. It is not the role of Christians to preserve the American nation. But even more explicitly idolatrous is Bush’s claim that American is the last and best hope for mankind…what, might I ask, does that make Jesus? If Bush is a sincere Christian, which I suspect he is, then how can we interpret this statement? Has Bush so intertwined America with Jesus that to speak of one is to implicitly speak of the other? Has Bush positioned America over and above Jesus or does he really believe that the American project is indistinguishable from Jesus as the hope of mankind? By what standards is Bush able to say American is the “greatest nation on Earth,” and how then does he understand the inevitable rearranging of international power relations with the “rise” of China?

Equally disturbing is the observation that many Christians would not blink an eye at Bush’s claim. I am not confident that Christians will recognize the idolatry of such a statement as long as we continue to think that freedom of religion, in the way it currently operates, is a good thing. Freedom of religion has functioned to create a space called “private,” to be distinguished from the “public” in order that democracy can work. Many of the founding fathers assumed that in order for a peaceful society to exist religion had to be relegated as private. Considering the centuries of religious wars in Europe, this assumption was not without basis. The great irony, of course, is that while Americans no longer kill in the name of religion they are more than ready to kill in the name of the nation.

Yet Christian salvation is political, and this politic is embodied in the existence of the church. That Christ is Lord means that Caesar is not, and thus national loyalties are always kept in check by the lordship of Christ. For Christ is not Lord over some space we call “private,” but is Lord over the entire cosmos. Therefore, Christians must imagine a way to tell the story of American deaths in war in a way that does not make those deaths relative only to their lives as soldiers. It is not the case that we seek to condemn those who have died in war, or to dishonor them for their involvement in the politics of the world that are judged by the politics of Jesus. Rather, perhaps their deaths serve to remind us of our own complicity in the war-making character of this society. Perhaps their deaths can move us to repentance, and usher us to the table of the crucified one. I am not sure the best way for us as Christians to do this, but I think it can be done. After all, the conviction that we worship a crucified God requires that we be brought into a story that strikes all as foreign. And it is, for this is not a God we can know apart from this God making himself known. Nor is God’s way or ruling the world able to be surmised by political and military tacticians.

A good place to start is to refrain from the pomp of the Memorial Day parades, and perhaps instead to bow at the Eucharistic table of the Lord who refused to accept the politics of this world as his means of establishing the Kingdom of God. What if while many Americans observed silence for the death of soldiers, Christians were at the same time found in sanctuaries, observing silence before the table of the Lamb of God, who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and who has conquered by being slain? What if we refused to accept the story of these soldiers’ deaths told by those who would seek to make both their lives and deaths meaningful in relation to their identity as soldiers?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New Blog!

To my faithful (er, nonexistent?) readers,

I've finished uploading my academic papers to a new blog where they can be accessed. The site is still somewhat "in progress" and some of the papers need some additional formatting. Nonetheless, this gives you the opportunity to take a glimpse at some of the work I'm producing here at Duke. You can access the site here.

Blessings.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Quotables

"The problem with the [American] flag in the chancel is not just that it is idolatry, but that it is too powerful a symbol of sacrifice and therefore it competes with the sacrifice of the altar[...]
I myself am absolutely convinced, it never occurs to me to be judgmental about people who have gone to war. I think that that is just shitty, it's just stupid. Those of us committed to Christian nonviolence are every bit as implicated in the war making character of this society. Language is all important, and you can't find much better than in the Book of Common Prayer, in which you will discover prayers that give thanks for these lives without specifically making their lives relative only to their military service. They know better, and you'll discover that they will appreciate that."

-Stanley Hauerwas, Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Review of "Stony the Road We Trod"

Stony the Road We Trod is a significant compendium of essays demonstrating African American biblical hermeneutics. The project seeks to offer an analysis of the way in which African Americans have interpreted and continue to interpret the biblical text. Integral to the project is the way in which the experience of blacks in America has shaped their hermeneutic. The claims made in the third chapter of the book by Weems constitute a significant conviction of the book: all biblical hermeneutics derive from the interpreter’s own experiences in such a way as to validate and reinforce those experiences. In this essay I will first describe the text’s construal of African American hermeneutics, and then conclude with a brief evaluation of the book.

As aforementioned, Weems' chapter is crucial for understanding much of what occurs in this text. It is her contention that meaning emerges between the interaction of the text and the reader. Thus, reading is very much a social convention that is predicated upon the interpretive community with which one identifies. The dominant class in society is therefore able to project its hermeneutic as the right one, often leading to legitimation of oppression and injustice. One of the pernicious subtleties of Eurocentric biblical hermeneutics is its self-understanding as normative. Such hermeneutics have failed to acknowledge their own cultural conditioning and biases. Following from these considerations Weems acknowledges that specifically African American women’s reading of Scripture have arisen out of the twofold marginalized experience of being black and a woman.

In light of the African American experience of white oppression in America, blacks initially retold and remembered the biblical stories relayed aurally by white slavemasters in relation to their self-interest as slaves. The chapter by Dr. Shannon on the “Ante-Bellum Sermon” demonstrates how in the context of slavery blacks developed a reading of Scripture that gravitated towards liberation, in particular the freeing of Israel from Egypt. A correlation was made between the ancient Israelites experience and the African American experience under slavery in order to inspire hope in the people and to subversively combat the ideological reading of the slavemasters. The resultant hermeneutic underscored God’s liberation and opposition to slavery, interpreting the conflict not between slave and slavemaster but between God and evil.

This hermeneutic establishes the tradition in which the contemporary African American interpreter stands. Black hermeneutics demands that its experiences be taken as seriously as those of the dominant Eurocentrism. Therefore scholars such as Cain Hope Felder, Charles Copher, and Randall Bailey, have gone to considerable lengths to expose the de-Africanization typical of Eurocentrism. In this text these scholars do so by demonstrating the presence of Africans in the scripture, not to posit Africans as a superior race, but in order to dismantle the allegation of African inferiority. The book also pays considerable attention to the so-called curse of Ham and the presence of Africans such as Moses’ Ethiopian wife, and Sarah’s servant Hagar. Felder considers the curse of Ham (or better of Canaan) to be a demonstration of sacralization, wherein an ideology was interposed on religious tenets in order to justify the conquest of the Canaanites. Similarly, Waters suggests that in the J and E traditions comprising the account of Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham, we may be able to identify an increasing focus on the superiority of Israel in the E tradition. In J Hagar is seen as an Egyptian servant (conidered more historically probable) whereas the E tradition calls her a slave. One of the points these interpreters seem to be disclosing is that even the biblical texts are written from specific contexts in order to validate certain experiences.

This book raises all sorts of issues concerning canon and authority that lie outside of the scope of this essay. At this point I will describe some of the interpretive benefits this text grants, as well as some points of caution. First, one of the most significant aspect of the book is its ability to unmask the cultural conditioning of Eurocentrism. To call Black Theology a contextual theology presupposes not only a particular methodology, but also a dominant theology that is not Black Theology. With this unmasking Stony the Road offers us a reading of the Old Testament that may be more congenial at times than the typical Eurocentric reading. In particular, the close attention given to themes of liberation and care for the marginalized are often marginalized themselves. Furthermore, the black experience of oppression and stripping of identity in American society allows greater solidarity with the defining moment of Israelites history: the exodus from Egypt. This is similar to Myers claim that much of Eurocentric hermeneutic locks the interpretation of the text in the past, which makes it difficult to speak to issues of racism, sexism, and classism. The reading offered in this book opens up these possibilities more readily. Finally, in explicitly portraying black hermeneutics this book demonstrates Weems claim that interpretation depends on association with an interpretive community.

One of the problems that this text raises is how Scripture is to be appropriated. By pointing out ideological problems in the biblical text, I wonder how these biblical texts come to be used. If a text is inextricably “sacralized” can it be used? Can it only be used with deliberate rejection of ideology behind the text deemed inappropriate? In addition, one wonders if Weems’ claim that what one gets out of the text is what one reads into the text leaves us with no hope. If all of our interpretations are inevitably socially conditioned how can we reasonable adjudicate variegated interpretations? This is where the book risks what Myers considers James Cone’s tendency: to set up another imperialistic methodology. I don’t think, however, that the book ultimately falls into this error. In the preface Felder is clear that one of the purposes of this book is to provide a preliminary bridge to celebrate all of our stories as the people of God. Ultimately, though, a contextual theology such as the one found in Stony the Road retains the abstractness of theology with the presupposition that theology can be transferred from context to context and then used to legitimate the experience of that context. I am inclined to wonder if the narrative of Scripture has the potential to create what Dr. Kameron Carter calls “theological culture”. I want to believe that there is a sense in which we are not doomed to merely get out of a text what we read into it. In this sense I do believe that Stony the Road is exactly what it claims to be: merely a step in the right direction. But a significant step it is.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Stony the Road: A Critique of Eurocentric Hermeneutics

So, I've been absent. No justifications are necessary. I've simply been spending enormous amounts of time on assigned work. This semester I have three exegesis papers, two NT and one OT, so needless to say "free" time is the time I get to spend on my assigned reading. Yet it is all time well spent, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. However, I decided I can't keep my bloggers in waiting for too much longer, so I thought I'd post some thoughts I wrote yesterday while I was reading Stony the Road We Trod. I was reading the second chapter composed by Dr. Myers. What follows is basically my attempt to summarize his thoughts:

Myers begins his chapter with an explanation of the problem for black bible students and professors as being the pernicious subtleties of Eucrocentrism. Particularly important is Myers critique of the Eurocentric approach considering itself as normative, not acknowledging its own cultural conditioning and biases. Specifically, Myers is concerned with Eurocentric hermeneutical methodology. He discusses the various solutions that have been proposed. Perhaps most notable is James Cone’s advocacy for a contextual strategy, beginning with African American sources and historical description. On the other side, there are those that suggest a more ecumenical strategy. He recognizes the danger in Cone’s approach of setting up another imperialistic methodology, while the second strategy must avoid enslavement to Eurocentric approaches.

Very generally, if I understand Myers correctly, he critiques an approach that suggests there is one “orthodox” interpretative methodology that interprets one “final form” (cf. critique of Brevard Childs, 50-52). Typically, Eurocentric approaches have associated this one primary method with historical-criticism. Thus, another concern of Myers is the way in which Eurocentrism has locked biblical interpretation in the past (e.g. concerned with authorial intent, original meaning, etc.). As a result Scripture is stripped of its ability to speak to contemporary issues (e.g. racism, sexism, classism).

Myers proposal for how black biblical scholars might find a way out of this methodological dilemma suggests a fundamental inseparability of canon and method. He expresses concern for Child’s approach claiming that focus on the final form (i.e. the final literary form) of the canon is most often used as a means of control by Eurocentric interpreters. By declaring the final form to set the boundaries for exegesis, the propensity for oppressive methodologies is heightened because one must be determine whose final form (mine!), whose stance concerning the scripture (mine!), is normative.

In contrast, Myers finds Sanders attention to the function of the canon as more helpful for the black community. The historical-critical method focused on explaining what is going on in the text, whereas Sanders approach suggests the text explains what’s going on in the world, illuminating human life. “The books retained in the canonical tradition are those that had value for explaining the world of the present believing community.” (52)

This approach also opens up the question of how other traditions within the larger tradition have functioned as authoritative. He notes that all denominations have traditions of near canonicity that are read with authority similar to the scripture. Thus, Myers asks what traditions have acted this way for the African American community (e.g. call narrative, conversion narrative, etc.). “Traditions guard those past events which give to the community its uniqueness and they aid the community in shaping its life in accordance with those originating events.” (54)

Myers concludes by saying, “We must inquire into the history of this wider canonical perspective in our community, clearly articulating how and why it developed, how it functioned, and how the intricate dynamics and relationships between these various sources helped to give shape to each other, to our hermeneutical methodology, as well as to our self-understanding as African Americans.” (55)

Any thoughts?