Thursday Reflection, week 5

October 31, 2006

The lecture on Thursday covered numerous significant topics.  The comments made about the social costs of advocating for the outsider were most applicable to my current life context. The Christian community often has traces, and at times, glaring problems with cliquishness and exclusiveness.  I find myself annoyed when Christians are judgmental of those who are new to a Christian community and struggle to abide by the unspoken norms and practices of the group. Another direction that my thoughts ran in surrounded my experience relating with people who grew up in the church but no longer consider themselves Christians because they are most turned off by the idea that the only means to salvation is through Christ.  Often their primary hesitation to committing themselves to a relationship with Christ and the Church involves a philosophical struggle with the idea that God would favor and choose some while allowing others to remain outside the bounds of God’s grace.  The journey that I hear that they are on often includes time spent with those who are “outside” the Christian church.  In a conversation with one of my friends who would fit this description, he expressed his frustration about the way Christians often act like Pharisees and exclude in ways that he feels Jesus would not have done.  With this in mind, I found the lecture to touch on some philosophical/theological questions while increasing my desire to create Christian community that exemplifies the inclusive nature of the family of God.

Kalle Lasn awakens readers to the corporate agendas controlling mass media and to the damaging impact consumer culture is having on our world. With the urgency of this reality in mind, he asserts the need for a revolution of organized resistance and authentic living in order to go about restoring a “noncommercial heart and soul” to America (p.xvi).

Lasn begins with an investigation of the impact that consumer culture has had on the mental and physical landscape of our world.   He asserts, “Our media saturated postmodern world, where all communication flows in one direction, from the powerful to the powerless, produces a population of lumpen spectators” who are not living to their unique potential or fully participating in a democracy (p104). Further, Lasn comments on the media’s pacifying and manipulative impact on the public as it overwhelms minds with information from all directions, and allows corporate sponsors the sole voice on what is cool, beautiful, and/or signifies success.  Lasn goes on to describe in greater depth how the unchecked consumption and attainment of the American Dream fostered in media and culture has in time proven dysfunctional and damaging to the environment, communities and the human psyche.  

From this platform, Lasn defines parameters for how to start a revolution that would ignite the minds of the public who have apathetically followed the social script handed to them. He calls those who would participate in this movement, “culture jammers,” because their authentic choices to live outside of the norms of a consumer culture can shock others out of their trance-like submission to the flood of ideologies imparted through our culture (p.107).

Lasn suggests both individual and collective acts of resistance to the powers pushing for cultural conformity.  He emphasizes that everyday life provides the opportunity to make spontaneous choices that involve confronting corporate powers. One of the most interesting in my opinion was the example of those who “demarket” the consumer lifestyle by not buying into it—taking lower paying jobs and living in counter-culture ways that allow greater freedom to “obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption” (p.172).  Lasn suggests a number of other strategies to empowered living such as airing or publishing dissenting ads in order to bring awareness to the public of the false ideologies that corporations are pushing, and lobbying at a grassroots level.

Overall, I found Lasn’s thoughts quite challenging and helpful in creating an understanding of the larger framework of the dynamics and powers that are involved in social transformation.  It is startling to learn of the ease in which the sweeping influence of corporate America on our culture has run unchecked.  I am hesitant to assert, as does Lasn, “the best way to explain and define ourselves [“culture jammers”] is to be clear about who—or what—we aren’t” (p.113).  It is at this point that the life of Jesus offers insight into defining, at least for those considering themselves Christians, who we are as a people. Yet, Culture Jam, though not intended specifically for a Christian audience, has much guidance to offer to the Church.

Tuesday Reflection, week 5

October 26, 2006

“The weak have a way of confounding the strong,”—Ryan’s words during class. This was a thought provoking statement. I thought about those considered weak by the world’s standards who may have shaped my life by their ways of being and doing that are in contrast to others around them. I also found myself wondering about the process of defining strength and about the degree to which our ideals and expectations of wholeness and strength can be culturally conditioned. Where is it healthy to appreciate a person’s inner or outer strength, the gifts of God placed within a person, an influential personality, and healing that has occurred in a person’s life, etc?  Where do we overemphasize these qualities within the church in such a way that we fail to notice Christ’s Spirit working in the imperfect and frail aspects of humanity?

Thursday reflection, week 4

October 24, 2006

It was helpful to hear Ryan talk about transforming powers and practices in terms of how Jesus went about doing so. I was struck by the comment, “Jesus showed that he could resist the powers—he showed that the powers were malleable.” I often do not expect to see long-standing powers and entrenched practices change. I am challenged by Jesus’s model that revealed that the powers were “malleable.”  

I also appreciated Ryan’s response to the question someone asked in class about Ryan’s experience with attending a traditional mainline church at this time.  

Naomi Klein, in Fences and Windows, chronicles the development of an international movement of activists fighting against global corporatism. Klein compiles essays, articles, and speeches she wrote from 1999 to 2001 and provides startling insight into how globalization, though claiming to offer economic support and create intersections within the broader world community, has in fact given rise to fences that marginalize and limit those on the outside from experiencing true and liberating democracy.

 

Klein divides the book into a number of sections, beginning with “Windows of Dissent,” which covers how the activist movement developed and some of the concerns that those within this diverse people network agree on together.  Klein clarifies that these activists erroneously have been labeled as “anti-globalization,” when they are “not calling for a return to narrow nationalism but for the borders of globalization to be expanded, for trade to be linked to labor rights, environmental protection and democracy” (p.5).  However, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund’s practice of globalization often works from a trickle-down economic model offering loans to impoverished nations in exchange for the right to cut social spending, privatize resources, and to be unrestricted by labor, trade and environmental regulations. Klein emphasizes that this leads to profound economic, ecological, and social decline and the centralization of power, or fencing of it, in the hands of multinational companies and superpowers that have privatized the nation’s resources (p.36).

 

Klein highlights further in the segment of the book titled, “Fencing in Democracy” the negative impacts of neo-liberalism and restriction-free trade. With startling statistics, Klein suggests that NAFTA can be blamed for the increase in poverty in developing nations, particularly Mexico. She further suggests that the loss of jobs and land from trade agreements is fueling migratory movements to the U.S. as people are left with no other choice for finding work. 

 

In the book’s remaining sections, Klein hits on a variety of topics.  She discusses the relationship between protestors and government officials, and then makes an important point by stating that “demonstrations themselves aren’t the movement,” but that the movement is lived out on a daily basis in our communities (p. 157). She also makes a connection between terrorism and consumerism common to American culture.  She ends by openly evaluating some of the strengths and weaknesses of this movement that is seeking to show that “another world is possible” (p.193). I was most interested in her comments about the difficulty of knowing how to create a democratic movement that allows the many people coming under its umbrella to have a voice in the direction of where it is going while seeking to maintain some level of common ground and unified understanding amongst those involved.  

 

This book was quite appropriate in terms of how it builds on other topics that we have been covering in class. Klein’s suggestions regarding how networks of people can make a difference in the world when they act together were hopeful.  Klein also exposed false ideologies that propagate oppressive systems of global corporatism in such a way that I developed a deeper level of concern for just political and economic practices to be established. On another note, it was interesting to compare this movement’s structure, values, and struggles with those common to the Emerging Church as there are a number of similarities they share it seems.

Tuesday Reflection, week 4

October 19, 2006

Very interesting class.  I have continued to think about the lecture since Tuesday and spent some time looking on Tribe LA’s website. The story of Dieter Zander’s pilgrimage connects in many ways with my own journey. I was happy to hear Ryan say that the emerging church is not about trendy, relevant worship services. The emerging church has a different ecclesiology, different understanding of kingdom, new emphasis on the poor, and a different theology than the church-within-a-church young adult service.  I find the picture that Ryan painted of this movement that is happening spontaneously in many places to be beautiful and hopeful.  I was most interested in the comments about how people are choosing to move to urban neighborhoods, sharing life together and being accountable throughout the week in how they are engaging their neighbors. The lecture encouraged and helped me develop some of my ideas about life direction for the future. There is much more I could say, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Thursday Reflection, week 3

October 17, 2006

“How can we create alternatives to domination in our specific realms?” was a question Ryan offered to the class today.  We spent time today getting an overview of some the concepts associated  with the relationship between practices and powers. From my perspective, the Christian community and seminaries do not give a lot of time to this conversation, and it seems quite relevant. It seems like people are drawn to reality TV because of the fact that it does address some of the issues related to power, influence and domination. I am looking forward exploring further the question of how we can create alternatives to domination and learning more about the connection between practices and powers.

Any honest look at the complexity of structural evil besieging our communities leaves the average Christian or congregation overwhelmed and unable to imagine how to initiate action that would make a difference. Linthicum, relying on biblical evidence and his own experience with effective community organizing efforts, suggests that social transformation is possible when Christians, congregations and community members unite and utilize power in a biblically sound manner. 

           

Linthicum’s first section of the book seeks to establish an understanding of God’s intentions for how communities should function ideally and examines the biblical theology of power.  The book of Deuteronomy, according to Linthicum provides insight into God’s hope for people to work together to ensure society’s welfare through the right functioning of political, economic, religious systems. He refers to this optimal level of societal well-being as a “shalom community” and suggests that it arises when people are faithful to evidence their love for God by loving others, seeking justice for all, and practicing the redistribution of wealth in order to end poverty.  Linthicum goes as far as saying that the story of the rich young ruler in Luke communicates that “Jesus links the gaining of eternal life with the handling of money,” which is a bit of theological stretch in light of the limited amount of time he gives to developing this idea (p.65). However, Linthicum’s writing provides an unquestionable amount of biblical evidence conveying God’s desire for humanity to experience redemption on not just a personal level, but in all spheres of community life.  The book of Nehemiah in particular, is an example of how engaging those in positions of authority as well as the ordinary community member can bring about social transformation when people unite and utilize relational power.   

In the second part of the book, titled “The Practice of Power,” Linthicum provides the reader with the practical application of the biblical foundation for harnessing of relational power. He emphasizes that “all truly transforming change must be built upon the creation and maintenance of strong relationships” (p134). Linthicum encourages the use of one-on-one meetings with others to discover the perceived needs and problems of a community and to organize people together around these concerns in order that they can bring about change without depending on the programs of others.  Once this occurs, Linthicum suggest that it is time for united action of this relational network to sway community systems. He outlines a number of biblically-based tactics to go about doing this while sharing a number of compelling stories from his own personal experience of successful community organization initiatives.

Overall, Linthicum’s writing provided hope for the possibility of a “shalom community” during my lifetime and exposed false ideologies and cynicism that so easily undermine attempts to change structural systems of oppression.  I was most impressed with Linthicum’s emphasis on conducting ministry with the community versus to it. This line of thought resembled some of Shane Claiborne’s emphasis in Irresistible Revolution on building mutual relationships with others when envisioning God’s plan for redemption in a community.  The concept that Linthicum developed regarding the importance of treating people with dignity and not doing “for others what they can do for themselves” was one of the most valuable in the book (p110).  Some of Linthicum’s ways of linking biblical theology with community organization principles were somewhat questionable or unclear at times, but overall I found the book quite inspiring.

Convicting and inspiring lecture. The talk about practice theory and how our “practices”—what we do and what we say—is a domain for God’s redemption was stimulating. The concept seems fairly simple to grasp, and not altogether new, but the emphasis on looking at how our practices do have the power to impact the culture of a family, office, or other system makes a lot of sense and I find myself wanting to get more people on board with this. It seems that a primary role of a congregation involves learning and supporting others in the process of bringing about transformation to homes, workplaces, and other structures within society through choosing to honor God in all of life.  I found myself thinking about the various spheres that I inhabit and how easy it is to mindlessly adopt the practices of a given system, just because things have always been done a certain way and it seems that there is no possibility of change.  I felt convicted of ways I need to be more discerning and to continue to listen to the voice of the Spirit in order that I can make choices and develop practices that will honor God in every sphere of my life and may potentially bring about transformation as well.

Thursday Reflection, week 2

October 10, 2006

I continue to enjoy the class. On Thursday we took a further look at how people have viewed mass media, specifically during the 20th century.  I was interested in the work of Adorno and Horkheimer. It was interesting that they were some of the first to initiate, at least into terms of the study of culture, questions about the objectivity of research that was being done. They noticed that a person’s upbringing affects the how they do research and what findings they arrive at.  It was surprising in some ways that it was not long ago (the 1940s) that they were introducing this idea.  I realize that I have grown to assume that the objectivity of research is normally held in question in today’s postmodern age.  Also, I was intrigued with their thought about the “culture industry’s” power to make the working class into drones who are pacified and impassioned from confronting capitalism and the powers that continue to create disparities of wealth.