Monday, July 09, 2007

Calvin SCS —Summer 2007—Day 4
June 26, 2007
Reading: Charles R. Pinches, A Gathering of Memories: Family, Nation, and Church in a Forgetful World (Brazos, 2006).
Main points in Pinches' (CRP) presentation from his handout:

1. "The moral life is not fundamentally about choice or achievement, but rather about response to gifts received. We receive who we are from those who have gone before us, and those near to us who have offered us love and care, especially our families and local communities. Remembering is the first essential step in discovering the gifts of the identities we have received."

2. "Remembering the past means more than to gawk at it, like a tourist (at Reading). The power of memory lies rather in participation (like at Gettysburg). I remember as one who shares in a story sustained by the sacrifice of others. Yet the power of participatory memory is never benign, and can quickly turn violent. Especially in the modern climate where identity is unstable, nations are prone to sudden, self-deceptive lunges to identify and remember as a WE over against a THEM."

3. "The church must resist nationalism, especially as it competes for faith and hope. Yet radical critiques of patriotism (e.g., Hauerwas’) risk detachment from the body and the earth, to which we are held by family and country. Christian witness, rather, can mingle in national stories, as illustrated by Lincoln, King, or Romero."

4. "Without obliterating ‘natural’ memories, Christian memory is tied securely to a different bodily presence: Christ’s, shared at table, broken on the cross, resurrected in the body of the church. ‘Doing this in rememberance of me’ sustains Christians in a hope that endures every betrayal. Whiile in one sense ‘spiritual,’ the hope reorients bodily life (e.g. in Christian marriage) and is made flesh in witnesses like Romero, a national hero but more importantly a Christian saint and martyr."

KS: This sounds like a nature-grace split, wherein grace transfigures nature. Is this correct? CRP: It’s a danger in the book… but the point is that nature (and body) matters. There may be a parallel to Aquinas’ idea that charity transforms prudence. I’m trying to resist gnosticism. Christ’s body gathers us up into embodied communities. But there are always two stories. Romero is a martyr but also a national hero. Christians can name who Romero is in a way not possible outside the church. KS: I want to see how Romero makes El Salvador possible. CRP: El Salvador will bear Romero’s memory in another way, with another telos. We can speak of both earthly and heavenly peace. CD: Hauerwas’ problem is that the model of the church in exile makes Christians zombie-like. This risks the possibility of KS’ critique. We have to be both with and against the story of the world.

KM: Does CAP entrust the church to bear memory or does it only train our memory? CAP: It’s a mistake to try to make church memory compete with other memories. The megachurch tries to "make church memorable." This is wrong. KM: does church have a history in judaism? is our history borrowed? [MG: sentimentality. does CRP turn all "sex appeal" over to the nation? no attempt to narrate church stuff with any beauty. CRP: if God forgets we don’t think of ourselves as known in terms of the sins. readiness to forget can also open up a way of remembering the darkness.]

SW: I worry about blood sacrifice and nationalism, especially in the Gettysburg account. Does this make blood necessary? The language of atonement belongs to the church. Can it be legitimately used by the nation? CRP: surely the kind of atoning Lincoln wanted is not the kind the church speaks of. KB: Actually, Lincoln (incidently a Deist, not a Christian) wanted bloodshed (and it’s dangerous to Christianize this). The question is: how do we name Lincoln truthfully?

MG: There seems to be an ijmplication that the nation is better able than the church to narrate the beauty of the world. Do we give this over to the nation because we are not as good at narrating? After the time of martyrs, have we turned the body over to the nation? KM: The church reclaims the body in baptism.

PH: The experience of 9/11 raises the question of how to remember suffering in American history. It opens the hidden wound (of slavery). What about King as martyr rather than Romero? Mark Noll argues that since Christians couldn’t resolve slavery (through the use of proof texts), it was left to the generals to resolve it through bloodshed. CRP: 3,000 Americans were killed in 9/11. Our first repsonse is, let’s not forget the other people who died. But does 9/11 have the same significance in remembering the Americans who died? Is it good or bad that we feel more for the Americans who died? Are we democratic about death? Rightly accounting for the nation is rightly accounting for family (our natural community). We [Christians? Americans?] shouldn’t think of everyone’s death the same way. JR: Is our inability to democratically remember death descriptive or normative? SL: Thomism asks, do I not have an obligation to love those nearer me? CRP: At the same time, we have to name danger of the nation-state having its own god that will do whatever it wants. Nations can’t live without gods. The church’s challenge is to name the idolatry of the nation’s god.

JR: Why does CRP want to rehabilitate this particular term "nation"? CRP: There are two reasons: 1. it parallels the idea of "country" (which is tied to the history of land); 2. the Bible speaks of "nations" raging against Christ. So we have to account for it. Family and nation are both good and dark, and we have to name the darkness in the nation.

CRP’s challenging question: during the celebration of Uganda martyrs day (in Uganda), the church invites international pilgrims to process at offertory with the flag of their country displayed. He was recently asked, "Can you bring an American flag?"

JR: The split of the Mennonite church between Canada and the USA was a tragic story. Christians should resist replicating the divisions that flags represent. CP: Doesn’t this illustrate the problem of "overaccepting" (see Sam Wells’ Improvisation book) nation and nationalism? How do we imagine this land? What sorts of land are problematic? Is this a problem with CRP’s attempt to mediate the Porter-Hauerwas debate? Is the pathos of A Gathering of Memories related to Canadian-American border-crossing. CRP: I had the great fortune of always being in Canada on the 4th of July. CP: What about borders? Who decides what they are? MB: How long does it take for a construct to become "natural"? All nations presumed dispossession of people from land, with levels of exclusion and power that a few generations later seem "natural". What stake does the church have in this? SL: Do we have a stake in the natural? Theological moves are now taking place abandoning nouvelle theology in favour of "pure nature". What is "natural" now in light of technology (when males can become females, etc.)?

CRP: Again wants to assert that we should be able to tell stories as Christians about particular pieces of land. There is a danger in dualistically detaching from the land that these stories can’t be told.

SM: An outsider to the Thomist natural law debates. Do we need to raise the question of the ontological status of human constructs, and the eschatological status of human acts? The nations, made as they are, have some role to play in the eschatological city (Isaiah 60 says the kings of the earth bring their treasures to the eschatological city—treasure no doubt gotten through violence). KM: This is a problem with the nature-grace discussion: it’s spatial. We need to introduce time (and eschatology) into the discussion. Land, we have to remember, is only "land" in time. SL: Ratzinger gives a caution, though. The "fall" in western culture happens with Vico’s dictum, "the true is the made". This demonstrates the dominance of the will. To correct this, the category of nature (in the sense of the given) needs to remain. CRP: The moves Christians make are toward gathering up. Treasures are not now gathered. God is the one who gathers up. SL: Jesus supernaturalizes love of the family at the cross: "Woman, behold your son" (John 19:26-27). GH: We are enabled to remember our families well because we remember Christ well (… and Judas). CRP: Church graveyards signal a reconfiguration of the family, and also its taking up into the Christian story.

PH: I like the portrayal of women in the book, and see a pattern of men being like Odysseus. SW: Reminded of how Matthew’s genealogy redeems sin through recollection of women like Bathsheba (treated in the book). LA: However, even the stories of women in the gospels are stories of women as imagined by men. Ironically, the people who do remembering the best are nuns (and remember nuns have displaced "natural" family ties). Note the way the elderly are cared for in convents.

MB: Is there a danger of being self-congratulatory about the significance of church identity in sustaining nation? Poland (like El Salvador) comes to mind, where you can’t separate church and nation. SL: How does the church function transnationally? We need to be careful of the fetishization of the particular in late modernity. The church has to be both local and translocal in order to avoid the idea that it’s the nation that makes the church possible. SM: Remember that the story the church is grafted into is a Jewish story. Therein lies its particularity. Jesus is not a generic human being but a Jewish male living in the time of the Roman empire. Maintaining the Jewishness of the story always locates the church in tension. MB: If the church is to remind the nation that it is not ultimate, how do we recognize its idolatry? What people are most attached to are the things they are ready to pay for, die for, and kill for. SL: Do I not have an obligation to protect my neighbour? Yoder talks about restraining evil and protecting the good.

CRP's last word: The unfinished business of the book is to think about the Eucharist and Christ’s body as a kind of land for us to live in.

No comments: