February 22nd, 2004


Theological Notebook: Von Balthasar on Beauty and Method; John on the Temple; Gibson's "Passion"

The main things I'm getting from reading Hans Urs von Balthasar right now:

1) Beauty Beauty Beauty. The aesthetic approach to theology and its importance: that if we don't do our theology in the mode of all three of the transcendentals (truth, goodness, and beauty: metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics) then our vision will inevitably be distorted.

2) The importance of staying on top of the balance and interaction of the subjective and the objective in theology or in any inquiry into reality. Pursue the subjective without the objective and everything turns relativized, "psychologized" and ultimately meaningless. Pursue the objective without the subjective and everything turns formalized, depersonalized and likewise ultimately meaningless.

3) The combination of these two points: I loved the bit from the last reading where he pointed that out, how "without a knowledge of beauty, our knowledge of truth and goodness remains distorted. Truth becomes pragmatism and formalism; goodness becomes utilitarianism and hedonism." Fascinating vision when you hold that rubric up against our society and its problems.

4) A fascination with the idea that the objective proof for Christianity--where God becomes concrete in history and where God's beauty is made manifest--is in the lives of the saints. Not the plastic, dull saints of schlock art: the real saints of real life--with the light in their eyes and the healing in their hands that makes you gasp when you realize that Someone more than them is looking through those eyes and touching you in those hands. All sorts of ecclesiological possibilities in this.

The main thing I'm getting from studying the Gospel of John right now:

1) An appreciation for how complex the text is, even though it really may be a mess in its own way. There's such brilliance in the parallels (one of my classmates did a bit on Nathaniel in John 2 and Isaac that was brilliant) that he sets up, and such sloppy, sloppy organization at times....

2) I'm focusing on Jesus' relationship to the Temple. I think that for all the stuff that is said about John's "Anti-Judaism"--his having it in for his fellow Jews who are not acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah--Jesus nevertheless seems to have a positive relationship to the Temple. The riot he starts, after all, is in defense of the Temple. And yet Jesus also seems to be straightforward (as in John 4 in talking with the woman at Jacob's Well) that the time of the Temple cult is passing into a new era. A lot more for me to think and write about here.

Huh. A former student is IMing me right now. Works in a movie theatre and he and a few of the other workers stayed after tonight and gave themselves a private showing of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which had just arrived today. He seems absolutely blown away, and is telling me how it's provoking him to re-think so much about his life. In fact, it strikes me that his language is similar to the kind of thinking you see in the mystics who had a vision of the crucifixion, and how that vision was what provoked them into a new level of reflection and of living. If Gibson pulls off something so artistically compelling as to provoke something similar in a mass audience, then that would be one of the great cinematic achievements.

Personal: Interviewing for the Chair; Theatre and Theatre Party with Meg; Ren Men News

Interesting weekend so far. Interviewed the second of the two outside Chair candidates for the Department of Theology and I am continuing to be initiated into departmental politics. Not in a negative way, but in hearing all that goes into having a vision for a department and what it takes to execute it. I tend to look at things so optimistically that the sheer work that it takes to make something like a great academic department happen can easily slip right past me.

Saw the premiere of The Memorandum at the theatre on campus the other night and then I ended up last night going with my theatre friend Meg to a party at the house of the senior who was the lead for it. Meg promised me "drunken college students, nuns and a four-star general" as well as the gem of the evening: a full-out session of Irish trad musicians in the living room. As a result is was a glorious evening of music. Although I don't know which, if any, of the women were nuns. None of the girls who jumped up to do Irish dancing in the already-overcrowded living room, but that's just a suspicion on my part. And there was a four-star general there. As well as the director of the Memorandum. I got to ask him if he really believed the play: that in the face of all the demonic impulse to stifle life through over-organization or control--whether by communism, as the play was really about, or by the western corporate impulse--resistance could really be offered by the theatre. He looked at me sadly and shook his head. Although, he amended that to say that amateur theatre--amateur art as a whole--had that kind of freedom in it, before it becomes a business. I didn't think the theatre, or any art, had it in it by itself, although I can see the playwright--Vaclav Havel, no less--having that kind of optimism in the sixties. To dive into some of my Von Balthasar language, the subjective and objective conditions of freedom are dependent on a greater subjectivity and objectivity. Christian faith in the God who is really there and Who is Love, of course, allows us such a freedom, and the wherewithal to try to give social and ethical conditions for the flourishing of such a freedom. So. Other good conversations at the party, including with an actor who is going for an Olympic sailing slot. Fun, fabulous variety of people.

Possibilities for a a song or two from Life and Other Impossibilities to end up in an indie film project. Got to find out about copyright stuff with that.

And a Renaissance Man got engaged. Good news!!