Monday, November 20, 2017

The Ark & the Covenant

Anthropologist Christa Tooley and I write wrote this together at the Washington Post today after visiting the Museum of the Bible. The upshot:
Current analyses of American culture still tend to lump the distinct fundamentalist and evangelical streams of American Christianity into the obfuscating category of “Evangelical.” But conveniently enough, these two spirits have now manifested themselves in separate museums hundreds of miles apart in every sense, sparing any further excuse for this easy conflation.
Surely all such sloppy generalizations will now come to a screeching halt.

On another note entirely, happy Fat Thursday to all!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Art Hi$tory

Thanks to this wonderful new data I know the money's just around the bend. Of course, as I've argued elsewhere, that's not why we study the subject, but it's a nice perk.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Reformation 500 (& other notable anniversaries)

Many have written to say they find it hard to believe we're coming upon the 14th anniversary of (actually no one has so written, but it's not too late). And then there's the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that some are talking about as well. You need not endure without my commentary on the subject. There's this talk on John 17 in 2017, this talk on the neglected Italian Reformation among other matters (e.g. the "Lutheran" Michelangelo), and then some brief engagement last week (among other fine talks) with Luther, the New Perspective, Anglicanism, Brad Gregory, Jansenism, etc. at All Souls Wheaton. And if you like to read things instead, there's this Pascalian meditation at Mockingbird. The upshot is that grace still manages to threaten, so we want little to do with it. As Gerhard Forde puts it, God batters down the door of the prison of conditional thinking, but we stay inside nonetheless.
We seem always to want to hold out for something somehow, that little bit of something, and we do it with a passion and anxiety that betrays its true source – the Old Adam that just does not want to lose control (p. 24).
That said, I hope you're busily preparing to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the completion of the north tower of Chartres Cathedral tower this year as well, or perhaps the 100th anniversary of the apparition at Fatima if you're so inclined (not my favorite Marian event, but still). And why should only the Orthodox be celebrating the centenary of the martyrdom of St. John of Chicago (first clergy martyr of the Bolshevik revolution, I'm told) which falls on Reformation Day this year as well?

If we don't at least know about those events, then divided Christians haven't learned much in 500 years at all.

Which brings us back to grace.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Scapegoat Quiz, Part 2

Goat from the Met (1st - 2nd c. AD). Very pagan, BTW.
A sharp colleague who read my post has sent me a quiz of their own:

Question 1. True or False?: If someone or an institution has committed sin, then to be held accountable for that wrongdoing while also extended opportunity for repentance and forgiveness is not scapegoating.
My answer: True.

Commentary: My original post is in no way an attempt to avoid necessary legal processes and accountability. The original post said, "yes, legal justice must of course be served." I have highlighted that in red now so that it doesn't continue to be missed. I thought that to be obvious (which is why I added, "of course"). By pointing out a scapegoating mechanism, I am simply doing what I did with our controversy years ago, that is, indicating that the rage broiling around (and within) me has much less to do with constructive policy proposals than it is fueled by a scapegoating mechanism that clouds precisely such processes. For example, irrational rage against my friend Larycia Hawkins or Muslims, or - conversely - rage directed against evangelicals and Wheaton College (disconnected in part from actual events) only made everything worse. And yet, here we are again. Does that disqualify the right kind of anger? Again, of course not (see my reply to Matt Vega here or below the original post).

Question 2. Select the correct definition of “scapegoat”:
A.       An individual or institution who is wrongly attributed with wrongdoing
B.       An individual or institution who is blamed for the wrongdoing of another
C.       An individual or institution who committed wrongdoing and is subsequently held accountable
D.       Answers A and B
My answer: D. Scapegoating is a caricature of true accountability, and actually obscures it.

Commentary: Jesus is the last scapegoat. Christ's death exposed the fact that the people to whom we direct our rage can sometimes be the place where God secretly resides (and yes, that's pure Girard). Accordingly, when the football team turns from goats back into human beings, then they may hear me when I say baptism is the only acceptable hazing in a community that claims to be Christian. When the administration turns from goats back into human beings, they will be more prone to hear any constructive suggestions as to how to proceed, even if that means saying we bungled this severely. Above all, when the victim turns from a goat back into a human, the ugliness of the event becomes clearer, and whatever happened less acceptable. No one repents for sacrificing a scapegoat, because we think it's justified. You can do what you want with goats - not so with humans. Which is to say, only when the mists of scapegoating dissipate can we see with enough clarity to proceed. Which, now that the helicopters have moved on, IS WHAT WE ARE TRYING TO DO. Do you wonder what it's like on campus? You don't have to. It has been agonizing.

You'll notice, however, I did not mention journalists or bloggers. That's because we get off easy. All we have to do is listen to Malcolm Guite.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Choose Your Scapegoat: A Wheaton Pop Quiz

Another year, another devastating, agonizing situation at Wheaton College (where I teach). As news unfolds (or actually, as it most acutely does not unfold), a choice of scapegoats presents itself, to which varieties of people will be irresistibly attracted. Heck, there was even a mention of goats in the original Trib story. Make no mistake, we are sickened (the word chosen by our highest Faculty representative), and we are waiting. Some have asked what we tell our students in the meantime. Well, I’m giving them a pop quiz. The hardest one I've given yet. Cruel, I know.

Please note: If you do not share my Christian faith, I don’t expect you to try this, but it may give you a perspective on a possible Christian approach. If you do share my Christian faith but quibble with my method, I’m open to that, but I'm not trying to be cute. Finally, I can guarantee that no one, Christians or not, will pass.
William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat (1854-6)

STEP ONE: Choose your scapegoat:
Goat A: The victim of hazing. To the extent that he suffered, there is the temptation now to cause him to suffer again, suggesting this is all a fabrication.  
Goat B: The victim’s parents and/or lawyer. Speculation runs to suggest that the victim is a stooge in their attempts for a lawsuit.
Goat C: Journalists. In the desire to generate a story they took one side, ran with it, hit the click bait jackpot, and made the lives of students, staff and faculty miserable.
Goat D: The Football Team or Coach. The culture it generates and the students therein are the real culprits, and they must pay.
Goat E: The Administration at Wheaton College. Surely to protect the football players or some other misguided but unseen purpose, they permitted this to occur, exacting meaningless "discipline." It's their fault.  
Goat F: American Evangelicalism. The machismo, the political triumphalism, the muscular Christianity, the catastrophic naiveté – that’s what made this happen.
STEP TWO: Having chosen a victim, imagine him, them or it undergoing a scenario of total incrimination. If you chose the victim of hazing or his parents or journalists (A, B or C), imagine a New York Times headline showing that he made this all up to get back at the Football team, and a Good Morning America apology to Wheaton College for spreading Fake News. If you chose the Football team (D), imagine the whole program being shut down forever and the funds redirected to toward a new addition to the library. If you chose the Administration (E), fantasize a total leadership change, and a crack team of brilliant and diverse professionals to clean house once and for all. Or if you chose American Evangelicalism (F), imagine its expiration after being exposed as fraudulent to the core. Imagine emptied churches, an army of young, vibrant, intelligent defectors simply moving on. 

STEP THREE: And now the big reveal. Christianity teaches that none of these fantasies, delicious as they may seem, would really satisfy you. If the victim's allegations are exposed as fraudulent, even in part, real damage would still be done and he would still be the beloved of God. If the Football team was shut down and the library renovated Wheaton could hold its head up to a certain constituency for a season, but new problems – new, unforeseen and perhaps equally challenging problems – would persist. A changed Administration would also work for a season, and then would have their own unforeseen failings. (And the biggest problem with any new Administration is that they would not be the ones you need to forgive!) And finally, American Evangelicalism, corrupt as large swaths of it may be, would be replaced by a different, less kind version of the right that we are already seeing.

YOUR GRADESorry, but you failed.  No one can really make it through STEP THREE honestly. I certainly can’t. The fantasies are too irresistible. We must have our sacrifices, even if we conceal the transaction from ourselves. But Christianity suggests that behind them is the lie that sacrifice will satisfy.

MAKE UP QUIZ: If you're up for it, the hardest mental exercise (a prayer exercise really), is to take the victim to which you are most inclined (I can name mine easily) and instead of imagining them being sacrificed, imagining mercy being poured upon them. Again, it’s impossible really. No one will really try.

William Holman Hunt, a more sunlit version of The Scapegoat (1854-6)
But for those that do, when the real culprit(s) is/are revealed (and yes, legal justice must of course be served), if it turns out it was partly fabricated (perhaps), or that the Football culture is the problem (it may be), or the administration must step down (all possible scenarios, I imagine), or that it's our professorial culture that generated this situation (you never know), then there will be no “Ah ha!” Regardless of necessary legal outcomes, there can be no exulting, but only more mercy. Indeed, that is where mercy really would come into effect, when the perpetrator(s) is/are revealed. Because then mercy would actually be undeserved – and the word for favor that is completely undeserved is grace. Finally, at this point, the scapegoating mechanism is redirected to the mirror. For such are the conditions by which anyone can enter the Christian faith in the first place. And it is this first place that most of us, myself especially, pathologically forget. Which again, is why I, and you, failed this quiz.

I'm not going to sugar coat it either. We really should have studied harder. And that's not my counsel, by the way, those are the words of Christ from today's Feast of St. Matthew Gospel reading: "Go back home and study your Bible, and learn what this means, 'Mercy is what I want, and not sacrifice.'" (Matthew 9:13).

UPDATE (Sept. 22, 9:04PM): Matt Vega was kind enough to post my reply to a constructive post of his that expressed concerns about whether this exercise is flippant toward victims of abuse. You can read it here.

UPDATE: (Sept. 23, 10:05PM). That link seems to have expired. For the record, here is what I wrote to Matt. 

Dear Matt, 

Please call me Matt. Your exercise here points out the preeminent danger of blaming the victim, and I thank you (not perfunctorily, but sincerely) for it. You may have noticed that in my list of scapegoats, the victim was first. That was intentional. I’m even tempted to assimilate your post as necessary reading for those who are “irresistibly attracted” (as I put it) to victim blaming. They should, they must, read these reports. Again, they sicken me. I’m glad expulsions happened when called for. 

My quiz was, as I’m sure you realize, a prayer exercise not a policy proposal. It was not intended as taking a side in our situation, but as an examination of our hearts individually as that situation slowly, painfully unfolds. You seem to characterize this prayer exercise as a sort of self-hypnosis. Prayer sure can be that, and that’s a good warning. You suggest I have an allergy to anger. And yes, I do! And may it increase! I hope I am allergic to much of the anger that I’ve been seeing flying around me – and most importantly – the kind that is rising from my own heart. I hope I am allergic to the anger that suggests that Wheaton will always be wrong: wrong if these Football players are deemed innocent (we protected them!) and wrong if they are deemed guilty (our muscular Christianity goaded them on!). I hope I'm allergic to the anger that suggests Wheaton will always be right: right if the victim’s allegations are substantiated (the lawyer poisoned the wells!) and right if his claims are disproven (the mighty sons of Wheaton always prevail!). May we all be allergic to that kind of sickening smugness – to such “anger” falsely so called. 

But there is of course the right kind of anger to which I aspire, and perhaps I will be called upon to use it. And I would suggest it can only arise after one successfully “passes” my quiz. I learned about it, by the way, from Abraham Joshua Heschel, whom you cited. And not just from a google search to come up with a witty comeback, mind you. No, I’m talking about the beat up, heavily marked, lovingly underlined, furiously engaged 1955 Buswell library volume pored over by generations of Wheaton students. The same book you cited, in fact (The Prophets). Therein I read,
As a matter of pathos, it may be accurate to characterize the anger of the Lord as suspended love, as mercy withheld, as mercy in concealment. Anger prompted by love is an interlude. It is an if compassion were waiting to resume. …To sum up, the pathos of anger is by no means regarded as a quality inherent in the nature of God, but rather as a mood, a state of mind or soul. In both its origin and duration, anger is distinguished from mercy. It is never a spontaneous outburst, but rather a state which is occasioned and conditioned by man... The pathos of anger is further, a transient state. What is often proclaimed about love - ‘For the Lord is good, for His steadfast love endures for ever’ (Jer. 33:11; Ps. 100:5; Ezra 3:11; I Chron. 16:34; II Chron 5:13; 7:3) is not said about anger… The normal and original pathos is love or mercy. Anger is preceded as well as followed by compassion (Jer. 12:15; 33:26)… Even in the midst of indignation, His love remains alive. (297-298).
If that’s your kind of anger I am glad, and I am honestly envious. I’m afraid it is not yet mine. But I think that’s what might come out of the prayer exercise I recommended. Speaking of which, please pray for me. (I mean that.) I wish I had been able to talk with you more while you were here so that this request would have more meaning. Maybe you can pray that this right kind of anger will arise in my heart when times require it, that is, when I know enough to accurately deploy it. It may involve speaking bluntly. It may not be polite. Of course, leaving Wheaton with anger untinctured by even the distant whiff of scapegoating might be the only way forward. But there are, of course, a variety of prophetic vocations. Consider what Heschel says about Hosea.
As time went by, Hosea became aware of the fact that his personal fate was a mirror of the divine pathos, that his sorrow echoed the sorrow of God. In this fellow suffering as an act of sympathy with the divine pathos the prophet probably saw the meaning of the marriage which he had contracted as the divine behest.
Perhaps that kind of sorrow, committed to a place and seeking to confront it if necessary, sometimes in anger that arises from the depths of prayer, but without leaving – might be a way ahead as well. We’ll see. 

Thank you for your post. If you think this would be helpful to your readers you may do with it as you wish. 



UPDATE: (Sept. 25, 3:44PM). Glad to see Matt Vega's post is back up, and here's one more follow up in response to a colleague, where I claim that baptism is the only acceptable hazing in a community that claims to be Christian.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Justice & Beauty

Dear millinerd readers - if you're still out there - here's a video of a talk to kick off our school year in 2017.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Medieval Los Angeles

Whether it's Charles Manson claiming a serpentine Sunset Strip to be the devil in the first episode of Aquarius, a park guard handing a woman he will soon murder an apple from a tree in the film Too Late, or an executive claiming Ari Gold could become like God in the last minute of the series Entourage, the devil certainly dwells in Los Angeles.

But so then, of course, does the woman whose son undid him, and the countless women who saw in her an exemplar, or so I claim in Wonder Women at Education & Culture (the new Books & Culture), with a brief profile of Los Angeles Christianity to boot.

P.S. Having only watched the first episode of Aquarius, the first ten minutes of Too Late, and four episodes of Entourage, I figured I'd get a blog post out of it while trying to send you somewhere more substantial.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Cycling with Satan

You can do that now at the former Church of the Holy Communion, which is a launching point for my mid-summer reflection on grace.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Merciless Mantegna Bashing

Send an art historian in love with the Catholic and Orthodox traditions to a vibrantly Protestant school and in six years or so you might get this:
Hearing Law, Seeing Gospel: A Mockingbird history of Art ~ Matthew J. Milliner from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Visual Ecumenism, Take #5

The first takes were at Duke, George Fox, Strasbourg & Baylor. This one - in conjunction with the Wheaton theology conference - takes an evangelical turn, and unveils the Madonna of Mercy we created this summer at 44:30 minutes in.

And then there is the amazing Spirito Creatore project which is wonderfully similar:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Justification by Footnote Alone

I will never hesitate to link to my own writing about being overly concerned about one's own writing: Publish and Perish.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Dance club, billy club, Canadian club

I am always working for you, dear millinerd reader (or, dare I hope, readers). Behold:

1.  Mockingbird on a Wire
2.  Evangelicals in Exile, and...
3.  A here are two kind write ups of lectures I recently delivered, being a Canadian remix of Culture Breaking.