Hauerwas Goes to the Movies (Week 3)

This post is part of a series on teaching religion in film using the work of Stanley Hauerwas. For helpful background, please see the posts from Week 1 and Week 2!

This week students read Chapter 2 in Hauerwas’s A Community of Character. This chapter–Jesus: The Story of the Kingdom–is arguably one of the most difficult in the book. Its vocabulary is complex and technical, and certain portions of the chapter presume a fairly sophisticated knowledge of ancient and modern christological controversies. That being said, the chapter’s thesis is relatively clear throughout: the story of Jesus is itself a social ethic that forms the community of those who would claim to follow him. Or as Hauerwas puts it:

There can be no separation of christology from ecclesiology, that is, Jesus from the church. The truthfulness of Jesus creates and is known by the kind of community his story should form.

I was impressed with how well the class handled this difficult chapter of an already difficult book. There were certainly some questions, but they were the right kinds of questions. The word cloud below was compiled from their essays. When I shared it on Facebook last week, one of my colleagues commented: “That’s a great Hauerwasian word cloud. You’re teaching a class full of resident aliens.” I agree, and I am proud of the progress they are making!

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 1.00.20 PM

As a means of exploring some of Hauerwas’s claims in this chapter, we watched Jesus of Montreal (1989), a classic Canadian film about a group of actors who write and perform a controversial passion play. If you can get past the bad perms, mullets, and seemingly-endless guitar solo montages, Jesus of Montreal is a remarkable take on the life and person of Jesus. Throughout this film the actor who plays Jesus in the passion play mirrors many of the stories of Jesus in his life. The actors he recruits, for example, are all found to be working at undesirable jobs – one is employed as a voiceover actor for pornographic films. His calling them from these jobs is supposed to resemble Jesus’ calling of the disciples. At one point, the actor who plays Jesus becomes agitated at the way an actress is being treated at an audition, and he begins flipping over tables and lighting stands and drives everyone out of the auditorium. This is a not-so-sutle reference to the so-called Temple Tantrum that features so prominently in the canonical gospels. At the end of the film the actor dies, and his friends allow the doctors to harvest his organs. His body becomes a source of life for others.

This is the most overtly religious film we have watched up to this point, and student reactions to it were mixed. Discussion after the film touched on a number of issues, one of those being the film’s extremely negative portrayal of the church or anything that would resemble organized religion. The Catholic priest who sponsors the passion play is a hypocrite who for years has been breaking his vow of celibacy, and at the end of the play when the actors are encouraged to start an acting company to honor their deceased leader, they are encouraged to do so by a lawyer who clearly is meant to represent a sort of Satan figure. The implication is clear: “Jesus = good; church = evil.”

This undercurrent provided interesting fodder for discussion, especially in light of the weight that Hauerwas puts on the church as the community formed by the story of Jesus. Hauerwas would argue that the church as it exists today does not look as it should, of course, but this is quite different than claiming it to be evil, inspired by some sort of demonic force.

Even in light of these tensions, I think students found the film to be a helpful (if slightly literalistic) illustration of what Hauerwas means when he speaks of a community that is formed by the story of Jesus.

Search Strings in 2012

As this year draws to a close, I thought it might be fun to see how and why people make their way to this blog. Below are the top ten search strings from the past year, followed by what are arguably some of the more unusual.

  1. “ron swanson pyramid of greatness” — without a doubt, the single most popular post on this blog is (almost) entirely non-theological. Nearly a quarter of all visitors arrive seeking the path that will lead them “from boys to men, from men to gladiators, and from gladiators in Swansons.” Namaste.
  2. “easter cartoons” — A collection of delightful images.
  3. “roller coaster” — I once compared dissertation-writing to the riding of roller coasters…not sure if this is what you were seeking.
  4. “shadow of the galilean summary” — This search string seems to be popular right around mid-term time. I can’t help but think that desperate undergraduates are in search of Cliff’s Notes for this fantastic book.
  5. “how to write a paper proposal” — I’m glad to see that this post is still getting some mileage.
  6. “petaus” — A post that (surprisingly!) became a small section in the dissertation! Win!
  7. “enchiridion biblicum” — A fantastic collection of works related to study of the Bible from a Catholic perspective.
  8. “the shadow of the galilean” — Yep, on here twice.
  9. “harold camping” — A throwback to a meme that has thankfully died out.
  10. “noah’s ark” — Apparently the Dutch recreation of the Ark has in fact sailed?

And now, for the humorous and the downright strange:

  1. “nuhun gemisi” — “Noah’s Ark” in Turkish. See 10, above.
  2. “my family has left me” — I’m terribly sorry. Let me know if I can help.
  3. “bogojavljenje” — “Epiphany” in Serbian, in search of this (I think?).
  4. “creepy moustache meme” — No idea.
  5. “naked gardening” — Probably a reference to this post, although I’m not entirely sure they were searching for this.
  6. “cosmic jewish zombie” — Looking for Jesus? Aren’t we all.

Thanks to everyone who reads, and have a blessed 2013.

Urban Dictionary Defines Christianity

I love Urban Dictionary for so many reasons. How could you not love an online dictionary that allows anyone with a computer to determine the meaning of language?

I sometimes find myself looking up random words for a good laugh. Today, I looked up “Christianity.” Here is what I found:

The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

If you think about it, the definition is certainly snarky, but not completely off.

Benedict XVI on Faith and Politics

In his Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Pope Benedict XVI offers the following interpretation of the third temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (as recounted in Matt 4:8-10):

The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use the faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was now expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendor. The powerlessness of faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. This temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria (39-40).

A bit later, Benedict concludes:

Jesus…repeats to us what he said in reply to Satan, what he said to Peter, and what he explained further to the disciples of Emmaus: No kingdom of this world is the Kingdom of God, the total condition of mankind’s salvation. Earthly kingdoms remain earthly human kingdoms, and anyone who claims to be able to establish the perfect world is the willing dupe of Satan and plays the world right into his hands (43-44).

Epiphany, 2011

Today the Magi find crying in a manger the one they have followed as he shone in the sky. Today the Magi see clearly, in swaddling clothes, the one they have long awaited as he lay hidden among the stars.

Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body. As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die.

— Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 160, PL 52:620-62.

* image – The Epiphany, Giotto Di Bondone

Lumen Gentium 57

In the public life of Jesus, Mary makes significant appearances. This is so even at the very beginning, when at the marriage feast of Cana, moved with pity, she brought about by her intercession the beginning of miracles of Jesus the Messiah. In the course of her Son’s preaching she received the words whereby in extolling a kingdom beyond the calculations and bonds of flesh and blood, He declared blessed those who heard and kept the word of God, as she was faithfully doing. After this manner the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth. Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross as a mother to His disciple with these words: “Woman, behold thy son”.

The Shadow of the Galilean (review)

I just finished reading Gerd Theissen’s The Shadow of the Galilean. Truth be told, it is one of the finest books on Jesus that I’ve read.

Just a note, the following post is intentionally vague at points, to avoid spoiling the book.

The subtitle of the book (The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form) may lead one to believe that it is yet another fictitious account about what Jesus might have done as he roamed around Galilee. To be sure, such narratives do in fact have value, when they’re attentive to questions of historicity and when they don’t completely ignore what was probable (or even possible) in first century Palestine.

Theissen’s book, however, is of a different breed; the book itself has much to do with Jesus, but Jesus himself never appears directly on any pages of the narrative. The main character, Andreas, sees Jesus once (he tells the reader in retrospect), but throughout the book he cannot avoid constantly running into Jesus’ “shadow.” While traveling around Galilee and the surrounding areas, Andreas meets people who have been influenced by Jesus, people who are supporters of Jesus, and people who think that Jesus is a troublemaker. Through these encounters, Andreas learns of those things that Jesus did and said.

In this regard, Andreas’ task is not unlike that of the modern historian whose focus is the historical Jesus. A quote from the beginning of chapter 14 sums the matter up nicely: “I never met Jesus on my travels through Galilee. I just found traces of him everywhere: anecdotes and stories, traditions and rumours. He himself remained intangible. But everything that I heard of him [fit] together. Even quite exaggerated stories about him had a characteristic stamp. They would not have been told about anyone else in this way.”

Throughout the narrative, Theissen also introduces characters that will be immediately recognizable to those who have done work in 1st century history; Philo, Pilate, Bannus (from Josephus, Life 2, 11), Barabbas, etc. all make at least cameo appearances. Generally, when Theissen is introducing a new character who actually (or probably) existed, he will footnote them; the same is true regarding his citation of extra-canonical texts.

The book is also accented by Theissen’s side of a correspondence with a certain “Dr. Kratzinger,” who throughout the book aims to keep Theissen’s narrative grounded in some sort of historical reality.

This book can be both helpful and enjoyable to anyone interested in knowing more about 1st century Palestine. I have studied much of the material covered in the book for years, and I found myself unable to stop reading it. That is to say, this book is not simply for a common audience, although I imagine that even those not terribly familiar with the political, social and religious structures of this time period will still find the book quite enjoyable and informative.

Nicene Creed — 325

After I wrote the last post, it occurred to me that I often need to reference the Greek text of the Nicene Creed, but that it takes me a while to find it online (at least a version that is decently entered without serious typos). Anyway, I figured I would make a post to that effect. The text of the Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed (381) will follow shortly.

The Greek text of the Nicene Creed, 325.

Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα, πάντων ὁρατῶν τε και ἀοράτων ποιητήν.

Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, γεννηθέντα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς μονογενῆ,τουτέστιν ἐκ τῆς ουσίας τοῦ πατρός, θεὸν ἐκ θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα, οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρί, δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο, τά τε ἐν τῷ ούρανῳ καὶ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὸν δι’ ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα καὶ σαρκωθέντα και ενανθρωπήσαντα, παθόντα, καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τριτῇ ἡμέρᾳ, καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανούς, καὶ ἐρχόμενον κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς.

Καὶ εἰς τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα.

Τοὺς δὲ λέγοντας, ὁτι ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν, καὶ πρὶν γεννηθῆναι οὐκ ἦν, καὶ ὅτι ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων ἐγένετο, ἢ ἐξ ἑτέρας ὑποστάσεως ἢ οὐσίας φάσκοντας εἶναι, [ἢ κτιστόν,] τρεπτὸν ἢ ἀλλοιωτὸν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, [τούτους] ἀναθεματίζει ἡ καθολικὴ [καὶ ἀποστολικὴ] ἐκκλησία.

Yeah, so the Holy Spirit gets short-shrifted in this one, but one must always leave room for the necessary anathemas!

Ratzinger on “Credo”

At some point in the not-so-distant future, Catholics in America will begin learning a new English translation of the Latin Missal. Some (perhaps even most) of the changes are relatively small and, for the most part, do not differ in substance from the words they replace.

So, for example, in response to “The Lord be with you,” congregations will no longer say “And also with you” but “And also with your Spirit.” The new translation is certainly closer to the Latin et cum spiritu tuo, but in terms of substance, both English translations capture the concept adequately (in my opinion).

Also, instead of “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed,” congregations will now say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the world and my soul shall be healed.” This change seems to have caused a bit of a stir among some Catholics that I know, as the newer translation seems less “personal” than the old. Regardless, both are largely expressive of the same idea.

One of the more substantive (and problematic) changes in the new translation, in my opinion, is the opening of the Creed. The new translation reads “I believe” where the old reads “We believe.” Now, to be fair, the Latin text of the Creed does in fact read Credo, or “I believe.” In fact, the same is true with the Greek liturgical text, which reads πιστεύω. The oldest versions of the Creed (Nicaea 325, Constantinople 381), however, read πιστεύομεν, or “we believe.” Some may consider the difference to be more than slightly akin to splitting hairs, but I suggest that there is a real theological difference between the first person singular and plural forms.

The more ancient “we believe,” in my view, signals to the one professing the Creed that these are words that are meant to be recited together. That is, they only make sense within the context of the believing community that proclaims them. “We believe” is an assertion, not only of faith, but of solidarity with one’s neighbor. We believe these truths as individuals (first person), but we believe them always in concert with the rest of the confessing church (plural).

Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) has a quite different view of the matter. In his Nature and Mission of Theology, he writes:

The “I believe” of the Creed refers, not to some private “I”, but rather to the corporate “I” of the Church. Faith is possible in the measure that I become one with this corporate “I”, which does not abolish my own “I” but broadens it out and, in this way, brings it to itself for the first time” (94).

In this statement, Ratzinger acknowledges the importance of belief in communion; namely, Christian faith is possible only when one finds one’s identity as integral, dare I say inseparable, from the body of Christ. One’s personal identity is always maintained, even in such integration, but one becomes unable to fully define oneself apart from the larger corpus of believers. With this point, I find no qualm. I do, however, maintain that to support the “I believe” as in harmony with what is said and believed here about the church requires far more sidestepping and fancy footwork than the “We believe” that arose from the earliest councils.

In a world that is becoming more fragmented and more individualistic, the questions and issues posed by this rendering are important.