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 is exposed as a fraud, 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!” 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).

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.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

9.5 Theses for 2017: Simul tragicus et salutaris

To mark the quincentenary of the Reformation (and the tenth anniversary or our original 9.5 theses), millinerd editors have culled the following from Ron Rittgers' brilliant conclusion to Protestantism After 500 Years (2016), Thomas Oden's The Rebirth of Orthodoxy (2003), and above all, Peter Leithart's bracing manifesto, The End of Protestantism (2016).

1. "The first Protestants split from the Latin church that had, of course, already been in schism with the Orthodox church for almost five hundred years. In light of this reality, all Christian must be considered schismatics; no Christian church is immune from this accusation, including Catholics and the Orthodox" (Ronald Rittgers' epilogue to Protestantism After 500 Years, 336).

1.2 "Unlike both Catholic and the Orthodox, most Protestant churches do not claim to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church; they are simply imperfect expressions of this church. They content themselves with a rather minimalistic (perhaps too minimalistic) ecclesiology - the preaching of the Word and proper administration of the sacraments, or, simply, the presence of the resurrected Christ. Therefore they do not confront one another with the impossible choice between two mothers, both of whom have important, compelling, and yet contradictory claims of being the church. Protestantism protects from this double bind even as it protests this double bind, and this protest should not cease until the original schismatics are reconciled. Then it might be time to declare the Reformation over" (ibid.).

1.4 "Perhaps [instead of tragic and necessary] it would be better to speak of the Reformation as tragic but salutary, or as simultaneously tragic and salutary (simul tragicus et salutaris), for it was certainly both" (ibid., 337).

1.6 "2017 should not be about Protestants only, or Protestant and Catholics only.... Perhaps the larger goal of 2017 should be to prepare the way for 2054 when Christians will observe the millennial anniversary of the tragic, unnecessary schism between Catholics and the Orthodox" (ibid., 338).

1.8  "How is [a Protestant conversion to Catholicism] different from Peter's withdrawal from table fellowship with gentiles?...  To become Catholic I would have to contract my ecclesial world" (Peter Leithart, The End of Protestantism, 169-170).

2. "In our desire to recover what the seventeenth-century Puritan divine John Owen called 'the glorious beautiful face of primitive Christianity,' we must go through Wittenberg, Strasbourg, Geneva, and Canterbury, not to mention Louvain, Avila, and Rome" (Timothy George, Protestantism After 500 Years, 324).

3. "The achievement of unity will involve nothing less than a death and rebirth of many forms of church life as we have known them... Nothing less costly can finally suffice" (New Delhli report, 1961).

3.2  "Disunity of the church is a disease in Christ's body, a shattering of the Spirit's temple" (Peter Leithart, The End of Protestantism, 22).

3.3 "We are not only bowling alone; we also have the technology to worship alone" (ibid., 157). 

3.4 "We are all Laodiceans, boasting of our health and wealth when we are poor, blind, wounded, and naked. No tradition has bee spared the desolation of division. Every Christian tradition is distorted insofar as it lacks, or refuses, the gifts that other traditions have" (ibid., 167).

3.6 "We can live with ourselves because we have created a system to salve our conscience and to deflect the Spirit's grief. We have found a way of being church that lets us be at peace with division" (ibid., 3).

 3.8 "If the reunion of humanity has not taken place, Jesus's death and resurrection had no effect" (ibid., 17).

4. "Denominationalism is not union. It is the opposite. It is the institutionalization of division" (ibid., 4).

4.2 "The marketplace analogy [for denominationalism] is itself an accommodation to worldly patterns of sociality" (ibid., 79).

4.3 "[Denominations] are not bodies but collections of eyes, hands, brains, and other disembodied parts" (ibid., 73).

4.4 "Denominationalism [in its endorsement of racial division] makes cowards of us all" (ibid., 86).

4.5 "American has not been secularized because it started out pre-secularized [i.e. its original denominational pluralism]" (ibid., 82). 

4.6 "Denominationalism cannot overcome Babel because the denominational church is a Christianized Babel" (ibid., 89).

4.7 "Denominationalism is not disestablishment but rather the form that Protestant establishment has taken in the United States" (ibid., 146).

4.8 "The dissolution of denominationalism in the solvent of consumer choice may be the flood that sweeps the world clean and makes way for a renewed church" (ibid., 158).

4.9 "It is denominationalsim, not ecumenism, that minimizes the importance of doctrine" (ibid., 77).

5. "The old ecumenism was largely a liberal Protestant artifact... the new ecumenism is above all committed to ancient classical ecumenical teaching...." (Thomas Oden, The New Ecumenism).

5.1 "Protestants have as much right to the councils and church fathers as do the Antiochenes. Augustine and Athanasius are not owned by the Africans; they belong to all. The Turks do not possess Polycarp or Gregory of Nyssa. The Syrians do not possess Ephraim. Rome does not own Leo or Gregory the Great. As the common heritage of all Christians, they may be equally receved and celebrated and enjoyed by all. Believers everywhere my lay equal claim to this vast patrimony - and they are doing so in ever greater numbers. People of vastly different cultures are recognize in in these witnesses their own unity as the people of God, despite different cultural memories, foods, garments, and habits of piety." (Thomas Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, 64-65).

5.2  "The modern idea of diversity is less diverse than the ancient ecumenical idea of ecumenē.... The modern idea of inclusion is less inclusive than the classic Christian understanding of inclusion" (ibid. 115).

5.25 "No confession or creed can settle all questions for all time" (Peter Leithart, The End of Protestantism, 28).

5.3 "There must... be a way of insisting on doctrinal truth while simultaneously striving to overcome doctrinal division" (ibid., 173).

5.4 "There will be more theological battles in the reunited church than there are today, because in a reunited church believers will be reluctant to relieve pressure by breaking from the church and because Christians of different views will have to learn to live together, dwelling in each other as the Son dwells in the Father" (ibid., 29).

5.5 "Protestant churches will have to become more catholic, and Catholic and Orthodox churches will have to become more biblical" (ibid., 36).

5.6 "If our name is 'Father, Son, and Spirit,' then our name cannot be Lutheran, Reformed, or Orthodox." (ibid., 72).

5.7 "It may be that neither side has really grasped the depth of the biblical teaching on justification" (ibid., 175).

5.75 "Pursuing receptive ecumenism, Christian fall in love with the presence of God in the people, practices, and structures of other Christian traditions" (ibid., 168).

5.8 "[Orthodox] Exiles [from Russia] have played an analogous role in the renaissance of modern theology [as the exiles from Constantinople in 1453]" (ibid.131).

5.9 "Vatican II was not entirely the universal council that the Reformed hoped for. But is is the closest thing we have, and it should be received as the gift that it is" (ibid., 130).

6. "Unity is evangelical because it is the evangel" (ibid., 115).

6.5 "Christendom is being rebuilt on a human scale in town after town across America. It is an [ecumenical] model of ministry suited to our historical moment. Christendom in dead! Long live micro-Christendom" (ibid., 187)!

7. "The triad [Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant] that modern Christian have used to map world Christianity had been completely dismantled [by global Christianity]" (ibid., 127).

7.25 "The proliferation of varieties of Christianity [in global Pentecostalism] reconfigures the church and provides an opportunity to approximate more closely the unity that Jesus prays for" (ibid., 128).

7.75 "Immigrant churches... have a built-in bias toward catholicity" (144). 

8. "When the withdrew from table fellowship with gentiles, Paul did not excuse him with the assurance that spiritual unity was more important than table fellowship. Paul expected - demanded - that the church's unity be visible in table fellowship, in loyalties and allegiances, in the names Christians adopt for themselves.... An invisible unity is not a biblical unity" (ibid., 19, 21).

8.2 The unity of the church in not an invisible reality that renders visible things irrelevant. It is a future reality that gives present actions their orientation and meanings" (ibid., 19).

8.4 "Being a Reformational Catholic Christian is a circus ride, a high-wire act with no net but the living arms of our faithful Father" (ibid., 191).

8.6 "Black-white, Protestant-Catholic: these are the boundaries that must be transgressed, the dividing walls that must be broken through" (ibid., 98).

8.8 "As we eat and drink [together], we show forth the meaning of Jesus's wall-demolishing death..." (ibid., 18).

9. "We are called to die to what we are so we may be what we will be" (ibid., 166).

9.25 "Reunion, when it comes, will be a gift of God, a work of the Spirit. Yet we must act, and our actions will either preserve current divisions, make them worse, or move toward the unity for which Jesus prays" (ibid., 165).

9.5 "Not knowing what comes next is one of the glories of being human" (ibid., 151).

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Up From Hipsterdom

David Foster Wallace was Moses on the mountain:
The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.
But David Zahl is the Joshua who enters into the land:
Identity-related biases gets in the way, not only of how we regard music or art, but how we regard other people. We begin to view them not as who they are, but who we aren't.  An inflated sense of taste prevents us from, well, loving. It leads us to turn our fellow man into a tool for our own validation. Which is worse than embarrassing; it is tragic, especially for those who look to a Lord who made no bones about bypassing tastemakers in favor of the "least of these".

I suppose, then, it is no coincidence that my abandoning the music critic path coincided with joining that most uncool of clubs, the Bible Study. It was there, after all, that I heard about the God who loves sinners in such a way as to answer the status question once and for all. No trend, no matter how sweeping, can rob us of that good standing. A bunch of shameless Celiniacs had the gumption to look me in the eye and claim that God is not put off by those things about ourselves that our endless posturing tries in vain to hid. Not put off by that weak-willed part that falls for syrupy ballads hook, line, and sinker - as well as our inner snob who truly believes that we can be justified by sophistication.

They told me about the reality of divine mercy, which removes the threat of condemnation from serious matters right on down to less serious ones. Our taste buds cannot say anything about us that God does not already know and forgive. We are free, therefore, to enjoy what we genuinely enjoy and detest what we can't help but detest, free to contradict ourselves, free to be earnest - even about our love of irony - free to trust our ears more than our prescribed identities, free to set trends and follow them well.
While most still languish in Egypt, I too am ready - thanks to a book of very astute music criticism - to leave cool behind.

(Not that I was ever there in the first place.)

Friday, September 09, 2016

Four Talks (One with Balloons)

1.  A response and discussion with Thomas Pfau and Jeffrey Barbeau from some time back.
2.  The video of my response (among others) to Volf at the Islamic Foundation of Villa Park earlier this year.
3. Among other talks, my defense of John Ruskin (without slides, I'm afraid). Ruskin: #Tradinista before it was cool.
3. And some remarks (WITH BALLOONS!!!!) to kick off this year at Wheaton entitled Stone and Spirit.