Sunday, February 4, 2018

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Beyond Us and Them: The Practice of Faith in a Post-Election America

Where do we find ourselves now? How do the insights of René Girard concerning desire, violence, and scapegoating help us to make sense of a moment where our illusions are being laid bare and how we are to be is suddenly put into question? Are we stuck in rivalry with easily identifiable “others” whose faults we see, while blind to our own?
All are invited. 
James Alison is a Catholic priest, theologian, and author, known for his application of the thought of René Girard to contemporary theological questions.
Duncan Morrow has worked for many years in conflict resolution and peace-making in Northern Ireland and beyond. He is currently the Director of Community Engagement at the University of Ulster.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Non Violent by Jerry Naba Sonji Nkwe

Music influenced by Rene Girard, Introducing the Non Retributive,the non-violent God and the gospel of peace and grace.
Non Violent
lyrics-by Jerry Naba Sonji Nkwe ·

the gospel of peace
introcucing the non-violent God
introducing the non-retributive God


allow me let me get in
no Armageddon
gospel of peace, see we going in
wars exist
we say let fire cease
i mean ceasefire
your god of fire
violent God no more
Jesus ain't lord of war
he is prince of peace
he is waters still
greener pastures
the love of our sons and daughters
the hope of the whole world
why are you telling our boys and girls
God will take most to the abyss
down to the grave down to Hades
burn most and fail to save most
that spells no peace
and it’s not my king

sample speech by rene girard

verse 2
religion says we cursed dudes
lemme say this on verse two
if it be that true
God is just like Zeus
and that God makes me puke
created for fire and destruction
perpetual suffering i call that ISIS
my lord is totally different
loving us all all about us
when religion doubt us
God believes in us
and he lives in us
we exist through him
all we do in him
works for all us mankind
he loved us proven by the cross
inclusive love, the treasure he sought for
humanity his heart beat
what kind of love is this
so great and strong taking all of us in
no outcasts nor orphans of God
the god of peace he is not god of war
he is non violent

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fr Chase Hilgenbrinck - For what are you willing to give all of yourself?

Link HERE to hear Fr Chase Hilgenbrinck's homily for the opening Mass at Alleman High School, 8-16-15

Gospel       JN 6:51-58

Jesus said to the crowds:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

After You Believe - NT Wright

Listen to NT Wright talk of virtue and Christian character development.

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by NT Wright

In an interview NT Wright talks of character as a result of habit-forming training:
... we modern westerners – and even more postmodern westerners – are trained by the media and public discourse to think that “letting it all out” and “doing what comes naturally” are the criteria for how to behave. There is a sense in which they are – but only when the character has been trained so that “what comes naturally” is the result of that habit-forming training.
The book’s main target is not the other major moral theories of deontology and consequentialism, but the ideas of “spontaneity” and “authenticity” which have a grain of truth (Christians really should act “from the heart”), but which screen out the reality of moral formation, of chosen and worked-at habit-forming prayer and moral reflection and action, which gradually over time form the Christian character in which “authentic” behavior is also truly Christian behavior, not simply “me living out my prejudices and random desires”.
The point about “virtue”, then, is that it flags up something which is central in the New Testament but marginal in much western Christian reflection, namely the fact that
  1. Behaviour is habit-forming,
  1. Christian behavior is supposed to be habit-forming and hence character-forming,...

... like learning a new language 
When you learn a language, your brain literally changes: new connections are made, new possibilities emerge, new habits of mind, tongue, and even sometimes body language emerge and are formed. The result is not, though, that you can speak it for the fun of it, but that you can communicate with people in that language, and perhaps even be able to go and live in the country where that language is spoken, and feel at home there.
This illustration helps to explain one part at least of the well known problem about how “what we do here and now” is umbilically connected to “who we will be in God’s new world”.
The point is that in the new heavens and new earth there is an entire way of life awaiting us, and we have the chance to learn, here and now, the character-skills we shall need for that new way of life – particularly the great three which Paul says will “abide” into God’s future, namely faith, hope and especially love. (All this depends of course on the Spirit, and on the transformative renewal of the mind which Paul speaks about in Romans 12:1-2.)
NT Wright expounds on the merits of virtue and becoming fully human:
... two other things to be said.
First, the point about “vice”, the opposite of “virtue”, is that, whereas virtue requires moral effort, all that has to happen for vice to take hold is for people to coast along in neutral: moral laziness leads directly to moral deformation (hence the insidious power of TV which constantly encourages effortless going-with-the-flow). The thing about virtue is that it requires Thought and Effort . . .
Second, the point about Christian virtue is that it claims, all the way back to the Adam-and-Abraham nexus in Genesis 12 and elsewhere and on to 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21-22, that to become part of God’s people is to become a genuinely human being. So many Christians suppose that “normal humanness” is one thing and that “Christian living” is a rather odd and perhaps distorted form of being human, whereas part of the point of being Christian is to be genuinely human.

He concludes:
I come back to the point: for many in the West, all that matters is “doing what comes naturally”. That is an attempt to acquire instantly, without thought or effort, what Christian virtue offers as the fruit of the thought-out, Spirit-led, moral effort of putting to death one kind of behavior and painstakingly learning a different one. When the Spirit is at work, we become more human, not less – which means we have to think more, not less, have to make more moral effort, not less – and there has been a collusion between certain types of Christian teaching and certain types of post-Enlightenment moral teaching as a result of which many Christians are simply unaware of this challenge.
I hope the book will alert a new generation to the exciting and bracing prospect of a fully human and fully Christian life ‘after you believe’…
See the full interview HERE.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Knowing Jesus (excerpt by James Alison)

Excerpt from Knowing Jesus, regarding "justification by faith," by James Alison (Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1993), pages 80-84, 89-93.

There is one further dimension to the presence of the crucified and risen Jesus I would like to bring out, and that is a dimension which cannot be separated from the dimension with which we have just been dealing. At the same time as the crucified and risen Lord is the foundation of the new Israel, so it is his crucified and risen presence that is the basis of the holiness of this new people. What is traditionally called 'justification by faith,' is inseparable from the universality of the new community, or society, that the victim founds. There is no grace, no faith, that is not by that very fact immediately related to the new reconciled community. The new Israel is not tacked on to the making of humans holy, as an additional extra. Making us holy is identical with making us part of the new Israel of God.
Let me try and develop that. You will remember that what has been key throughout this book has been the intelligence of the victim [link to webpage on Alison's use of this phrase "the intelligence of the victim"]. I have emphasized repeatedly that this involves a prior self-giving out of freedom. So, the whole process of Jesus' life was not simply the story of a lynching, but the story of a man who acted in freedom in certain ways which he knew would lead to his being killed. He did not want to be executed, but he knew he would be. He didn't allow that fact to change the way he acted or taught. And in fact what he taught was the same: he taught people how to act freely, how not to have their lives run by being locked, in an unhealthy or resentful way, into the life of someone else, or the life of the group that formed them. The symbol of this freedom is the ability to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile, and so on.
The importance of all that was the recognition that behind all of Jesus' life was a free self-giving, that was in no sense masochistic, in no sense contained by the violence of human relationships. Rather it was their antidote. It was this which, you remember, John saw as being the Father's giving of the Son, and the Son's obedience to the Father. That is, the free self-giving of Jesus, prior to any of the violence he underwent, was the divine hallmark of his mission. It was this element of self-giving that was totally gratuitous, not part of any human tit-for-tat or relationship of reciprocity, that was the witness to Jesus' being God.
Now, Jesus illustrated the depths of that free self-giving in his last supper. It was in the last supper that he gave a mimed definition of himself as the self-giving victim ('This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many'). That is how Jesus was present among his disciples. It was that presence that was made alive again at the resurrection, when the crucified and risen Lord was the making alive of the self-giving victim as forgiveness for all victimizers. This means that when people talk about justification by grace through faith, the grace that is in question is the gratuity of the self-giving victim. There is no other grace. It is precisely that element of self-giving which was present in Jesus' life, up to and including his death -- that is what is present to us as grace.
Now this has consequences! It means that holiness is our dependence on the forgiveness of the victim. That is to say, our being holy is dependent on the resurrection of the forgiving victim. And this, as we have seen, is exactly the same as the foundation of the new Israel, the beginnings of the new unity of humanity. The gratuity of the justification by grace through faith, and the gratuity which is the foundation of the new Israel is exactly the same gratuity. This means that justification by grace through faith automatically implies a relationship to the new Israel.
Let me try to say the same thing in a slightly different way, since this is a difficult concept to grasp for those of us brought up in an individualist society, and accustomed to an individualist account of holiness, or justification, or faith, or all three. The new unity of humanity, begun in the new Israel, has only this as its basis: that the resurrection has turned our victim into our forgiveness. Such as receive the forgiveness begin to form a new unity without any victims.
This means that what is given in Christ's victim death is a subversion of the old human way of belonging, and the possibility of our induction into a new human way of belonging, of being-with, without any over-against. This means that justification by faith belongs, in the first place, to the new community, the group receiving as a given its unity from the forgiving victim. It is exactly this making present of the beginnings of a new reconciled humanity which is the making present of justification by faith in the world.
There is, therefore, no such thing as individual justification by faith. Such a justification would imply a rescue of an individual from an impious world, over against which the individual is now 'good' or 'saved.' However, while the individual is still locked into some or other form of over-against, they are not yet receiving the purely gratuitous victim who has nullified all over-against. All justification by faith (that is, all faith) is a relational reality, flowing from, and tending towards the purely given unity of humanity in the victim. There is no grace that is not universal, that is not constantly creating and recreating the purely given unity of all humanity from the body of the victim.
Salvation, therefore, as it became present to the disciples at the resurrection, involved from the beginning a recasting of their way of relating to others, such that they were able to receive the purely given, without any appropriation to themselves of what was given as if it were somehow 'theirs.' We have already seen how Jesus' teaching was understood by the disciples in exactly this way. Part of the effect of the intelligence of the victim on their lives was their understanding Jesus' teaching on the importance, for instance, of forgiving so that we can be forgiven. It is the change in our relation with the other which permits and is permitted by the change in relation of God, the transcendent other, towards us. We are asked literally to loose, so that we may be loosed, to set free so that we may be set free -- that is what the Greek word aphiemi, usually translated 'to forgive,' means. Only in this way can our relationality be set free from the defensive self, which moves out ofressentiment, and enabled to become an interchange of gratuity.
I have already indicated how in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' teaching is about how freedom involves not being moved by any over-against, not being creatures of reaction. It is about our movement out of reaction, and into the receiving of the given that is simultaneously our movement into the purely given unity of humanity. The teaching is about how to relate to the social other as a gift, rather than a burden which defines and limits us. That which makes this movement possible is the forgiving victim, mediated to us in the transformation of human relationality. I ask you to think how different this sounds from the fairly standard view that lurks beneath not a few people's attitudes, an attitude which goes something like this:
In the Old Testament, religion was a collective thing, and as such, needed Law, and rites, and all that. However, Jesus came along, and preached a religion of grace, and the conversion of hearts, and this is an individual thing, not a collective one. So Christianity is essentially the religion of the free individual. If we were going to be radical, we'd have to get rid of rites, and any notion of church membership as anything other than voluntary association. However, for convenience sake we keep a lot of funny old rites, and ecclesiastical oddities, just so long as we remember that these are superfluous to what Christianity is really about.
I bring this up because it is by now, I hope, apparent that there is no change of heart that is not simultaneously a change in a way of belonging to a social other. And that of course means that there is no knowing Jesus outside the change of relationships that is the new Israel of God.
Now all this is an essential part of the package of the presence of the crucified and risen Jesus, which is what I'm trying to set out before exploring in detail ways in which we, at this distance, might genuinely know Jesus, the crucified and risen one. If it sounds complicated, it is in part because it is complicated. It is difficult for us to understand that the foundation of the new Israel is the same as the basis for all holiness, all justification, all conversion. We find it difficult to understand that justification by grace through faith is necessarily a collective phenomenon. It is collective because the only sort of salvation we have been given is the beginnings of the unity of the whole of humanity in a new society founded on the forgiveness of the risen victim. Grace is automatically collective: there is no grace that does not tend towards the construction of this new Israel of God. There is no faith in Jesus that is not intrinsically related to his founding and edifying this new humanity, and there is no making righteous that does not involve a movement away from a certain sort of social 'belonging,' kept safe by casting out victims, and a simultaneous movement towards the fraternal construction of the people of the victim present in all the world....

We ended with the presence of the universal victim as the foundation for a new unity of humanity. I think therefore that one of the first questions we can ask ourselves about whether or not we know Jesus is: to what extent are we caught up in a sectarian frame of mind? To what extent are our responses tribal? Let me suggest ways in which we might be: whenever we behave as though some group to which we belong is self-evidently superior to, more truth-bearing than, some other group. That is to say, whenever there is a note of comparison in our reactions and behavior. The comparison can be to our favor, as when we consider ourselves superior, or to our detriment, as when we take on the role of the oppressed victim of society, or whatever. Both of these comparative forms of behavior betray that we have not found the givenness of the self-giving victim as the foundation of our unity.
So, for instance, Catholics may easily talk of Protestants, or Muslims, as though the Catholic Church were superior to these other groups. Thus, belonging to the Catholic Church makes of one a superior sort of person: after all one knows the truths of the faith, and belongs to the true Church. This attitude is not uncommon, and it gives a sort of feeling of combative brotherhood with other fellow Catholics, a strengthened sense of belonging as one faces up to a world run by a hideous army of Protestants, pagans, Masons and what-have-you. In some countries the word 'Jew' would traditionally be part of this list of others. Well, I hope that gives it away. The unity that is created in this way -- even the laughing emotional bonding that seems to have no practical consequences, is created at the expense of a victim or victims, at the expense of an exclusion. That is to say, it is a unity that is derived over-against some other. And that is to betray the very deepest truth of the Catholic faith, the universal faith, which by its very nature, has no over-against. The unity which is given by and in the risen victim is purely given. It is indicative of no superiority at all over anyone else. Anyone who genuinely knows the crucified and risen victim can never again belong wholeheartedly to any other social, or cultural, or religious group. He or she will always belong critically to all other groups, because all other groups derive their unity over-against someone or some other group.
The only unity to which he or she cannot escape belonging is the new unity of humanity that the Holy Spirit creates out of the risen victim, the unity which subverts all other unities. And this new unity, given us in the Catholic Church is not yet a realized unity, as must be apparent. The Church does not teach that it is the kingdom of heaven, which is the realization of the unity in the new Israel, but that it is the universal sacrament of that kingdom. That is to say that it is the efficacious sign of a reality that has been realized only in embryo. As such, it is radically subversive of all other forms of belonging, all other ways of constructing unity. But it is so as a gift from God.
So, knowing Jesus implies, of necessity, a gradual setting free from any tribal sense of belonging, and the difficult passage into a sense of belonging that is purely given. Its only security is the gratuity of the giver, and that means a belonging in a group that has no 'abiding city,' that unlike the fox, has no hole, and unlike the bird, has no nest. You can see, I think, why it is particularly sad when Catholics turn belonging to the Church into a sectarian belonging, into a definable cultural group with a clearly marked inside and outside, and firm ideas as to who belongs outside. Of such people it can be said that they do not go in to the kingdom of heaven, and throw away the key so that others may not enter. By their very sectarian insistence on the unique truth of Catholicism, these people cut themselves off from access to the truth which they think is theirs, but which is only true when it is received as given.
The flip side of this sign of knowing or not knowing Jesus is the adoption of the role of victim, one of the key moves in modern society if you want to establish your credentials, and make space so as to be tolerated. I imagine that almost all of us at one time or other have felt the pull of this cultural imperative: if we can cast ourselves as victims, then this makes us pure and innocent. Society is the villain. This is a tactic for any number of so-called 'minority' groups in society, and for any number of individuals in their relationships. It is a way, too, of covering up my violence, or the violence of the minority group, by blaming the (usually nebulous) other for all my ills. It can thus be a potent form of emotional blackmail, as well as making it very difficult to distinguish cases where people really are being persecuted, and something must be done about it, from cases where people are using their sacred status as victims to get away with what no other person or group would be able to. I am sure that all of you can think of examples of this mechanism in operation from your own history.
Now, again, the knowledge of Jesus, the crucified and risen victim makes a difference here. For if you know the crucified and risen victim, you know that you are not yourself the victim. The danger is much more that you are either actively, or by omission, or both, a victimizer. We have only one self-giving victim, whose self-giving was quite outside any contamination of human violence or exploitation. The rest of us are all involved with that violence. The person who thinks of himself or herself as the victim is quick to divide the world into 'we' and 'they.' In the knowledge of the risen victim there is only a 'we,' because we no longer need to define ourselves over against anyone at all.
So, knowing the universal victim involves a conversion in these very deep areas of our belonging and our way of relating. Any talk of knowing Jesus that permits the sectarian attitude, the 'we' / 'they,' might well give cause for suspicion. You can see once again how the theme of the universality of the victim, and hence of the Church, and the theme of justification by faith, are the same theme in the light of this. For the whole point of justification by faith is that it is the justification by God, not self justification. The whole problem Luther had with works was that he took the Catholic insistence on good works to be necessarily a source of self justification. Self-justification is of course when I justify myself over and against someone, or something else. I am trapped in a defensive, or self-justifying position if I constantly depend on comparison with, or approval from, others. That means that my sense of identity, my security is built over-against others, and is not simply, gratuitously given. I am dependent on various ways of showing that I am different, separate, not part of the crude mass of humanity. Self justification and the sectarian attitude are exactly the same phenomenon. The given-ness of goodness by God (implying the growing appreciation of my similarity to, and my lovability as one of, the crude mass of humanity which is loved by God) and the givenness of justification (and the givenness of the universality, the catholicity, of salvation) are one and the same phenomenon. In this way the individual and the group simultaneously learn to live without any over-against, defining themselves against no one at all. That is a sure sign of a real knowledge of Jesus.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle is one of a number of well-preserved ancient dwellings in north central Arizona.  An imposing 20 room, 5-story structure built into a recess in a white limestone cliff about 70 feet above the ground, a multi-family “prehistoric high rise apartment complex." When first discovered the ruins were thought to be Aztec in origin, hence the name bestowed on them by early explorers, but they are now known to belong to the Sinagua Indian people who farmed the surrounding land between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, before abandoning the area.  

Since 1951, visitors have not been permitted to climb up to the ruins due to their unstable condition. The Visitor Center gives the history of the site and it's people including artifacts that were discovered.   Amazingly, the interior of the castle remains almost completely intact, including many of the original ceiling support beams even though they were installed more than 800 years ago.