Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bring on the erotic power of the Gospel!

I sure love these late 20th century theologians. They mess with everything! Their serious tomes rework christology like a taffy pull. Can't help giggling. More power to them!

I'm not laughing at the content. No way. Love the content. Rather, it's the moxie of the thing - their sheer guts to take on Big, Powerful, All-correct TRADITION while delivering their doctrine-smashing ideas in disinterested "clearing the dishes after dinner" academic voice.

I've developed a serious girl crush on Rita Nakashima Brock. Catch this title of her best-known book: Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power and Casting Stones: Prostitution and Liberation in Asia and the United States.

"Erotic" and "Christology" in the same sentence?

*pant, pant*

And that's why Rita is today's virtual guest on:

"Julie Springer's Theological Talk Show"
(Aka: How to take out 20 centuries of tradition in a couple of paragraphs).

(The following interview is purely the invention of "moi" while the responses are drawn from Journeys of the Heart, Chapter 3)

Moi: So Rita, how do you understand "the Big Guy in the Sky" theology, upheld by theological hall of famers: Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and Barth?

Rita: In moving beyond a unilateral understanding of power I will be developing a christology not centered in Jesus...

Moi: Whoa! Come again? Did you just say a "Christology not centered in Jesus"? Rita, my stars, you trot that comment out like it's about as surprising as jello at a potluck!

Rita: [Well, I'm speaking of a christology centered in] relationship and community as the whole-making, healing center of Christianity.

Moi: I like that idea - community is the center. What does that say about Jesus then?

Rita: In that sense, Christ is what I am calling Christa/Community. Jesus participates centrally in this Christa/Community, but he neither brings erotic power into being nor controls it.

Moi: Good heavens, woman! Them's fightin' words. Reminds me of the first time I heard James Cone say "God is black." You've got Jesus "participating centrally" (not even "influencing predominently" ala Hartshorne or Tillich). You say Jesus doesn't "bring erotic power" (kinda depends on who is cast as Jesus in all those movies, though, doesn't it?)... nor exerts control.

In other words, Jesus is a catalyst perhaps, a presence that acts as a unifier, a central force (maybe a centrifugal force?) in creating community.

I'm listening Rita. Tell me more...

Rita: He is brought into being through [the community] and participates in the cocreation of it. Christa/Community is a lived reality expressed in relational images. Hence, Christa/Community is described in the images of events in which erotic power is made manifest. The reality of erotic power within connectedness means it cannot be located in a single individual.

Moi: Stop the bus! If salvation isn't located in a single individual, then are we off track with all of our emphasis on a singular human - Christ - saving me from my sins, Christ directly loving and redeeming me? What other way can we think about salvation?

Rita: [W]hat is truly christological, that is, truly revealing of divine incarnation and salvific power in human life, must reside in connectedness and not in single individuals. The relational nature of erotic power is as true during Jesus' life as it is after his death. He neither reveals nor embodies it, but he participates in its revelation and embodiment. And through its myriad embodiments and playful manifestations, we are led to take heart.

Moi: Crikey! *flipping booklet madly* None of this is in the Four Spiritual laws.

I'm struck by the emphasis on realitonality as the center of Christian community, salvation and incarnation.

When you say "take heart" are you referring to hope, then, of some kind?

Rita: Heart--the self in original grace--is our guide into territories of erotic power. Through that power we come to touch and be touched by, to transform and be transformed by all that is "the whole and compassionate being."

Moi: Well knock me out with a sound punch to the solar plexis. For you, our hearts indicate "self in original grace." Original Grace! Has a ring to it...

Rita summarizes how she sees community functioning in a christological way when she writes:

We are led to heal ourselves and each other. In the self-acceptance and wholeness that come with healing, we are empowered to live by heart, to reach out to each other and to the whole aching and groaning cosmos in acts of honest remembrance and heartfelt connection...

Erotic power is the only life-giving power. Our ability to live in its grace and to risk acting to stop the forces that crush it is what continually creates salvific acts. Spirit-Sophia and humanity as Christa/Community journey together into the territories of erotic power where we discover our love for the whole and compassionate being, the incarnation of divine love.


Dave said...

I enjoy your humor and playfulness with this material. Moxie... that's a great word (I first learned it from Mad Magazine.)

Rita is not using "erotic" in the sense that it normally is used in pop culture, I'm gathering. Care to flesh out what she's saying here a bit more? (pun intended.)

I'll ask the question: if Christology isn't about Jesus, what is the "Christ-ness" based on? A general sense of "the anointed" not specific to any personal identity? What part does Jesus the person or teacher play in her thought?

I wish I had time to seriously delve into substantial theology like this. It's all I can do to stay current with easy page-flipping writers like McLaren and Borg. A lot of my mental processing time is going into developing or refining trainings or doing various projects of a creative nature at work. But I am getting my post-grad ed somewhat vicariously, so keep the bold new ideas coming, Julie!

OldMom said...

What Dave said. . .seriously. Those were my questions and comments exactly.

Ok, maybe not about wanting to read substantial theology. . .as we've discussed before I'm a student of history more than theology so I'm sticking to Crossan and Pelikan for now and hoping to catch all the theological umph from you ;-)


julieunplugged said...

Eros - for Brock (according to my prof - we only read one chapter of one book) is the kind of love that requires a response whereas the agape love is the one tha tgives regardless of response.

She wants to root her theology in eros because the shift in late 20th century theology is toward relationality - the Trinity as a model of mutuality, reciprocity and individual identity.

Her idea that christology is based on community is the idea that even while Jesus lived, his incarnation was not simply complete in himself but in and through his community which is mirrored in and through the community he has with the Father and the Spirit.

Therefore, for us, our sense of Christ is community - the incarnation is rooted primarily not in Christ as an individual but in the community of erotic relations (meaning relations and mission led by/guided by the heart).

She says:

"Jesus' world and divine power in that world are incarnate in him in the distinctive complexity of his own life. And that life was as limited and culturally bound as any human life. The concreteness of our own lives comes from an interconnection in particular contexts and reveals erotic power. Hence others are essential for wholeness to occur. Wholeness as community cannot be summed up in one life."

So that is more of how she expresses all this. :) Hope that helps.

Chuck said...

I like some of the notions here - especially:

- "Heart - the self in original grace"
- "We are led to heal ourselves and each other"

And I'm very much put off by the tendency of conservativism/fundamentalism of any faith to create hoops to jump through in order to "qualify" for community membership. Truly the incarnation of Jesus would be meaningless in a vacuum or even in a non-universal sense.

I do think however that the various types of love are all necessary for authentic community. Perhaps I'm taking Brock's contrast between Eros and Agape too literally, but one thing that drew me back to Christianity was the notion of self-sacrifice and actions for the greater good. Having left notions of atonement behind, the servanthood and martyrdom aspects of Jesus' life were actually appealing to me.

Ideally a loving community should be highly interdependent, and we should dedicate ourselves to work toward that. But I don't think we can always depend on that for our own well-being.

julieunplugged said...

You know what I love about you all who comment? You practically write entirely new blogs in the comments ssection. It takes me days to think about what you write before responding. It's like writing a collective book. I love it. So thanks for reading and writing such thoughtful comments each time.

Chuck, your comment about agape and eros made me realize I may have mischaracterized Brock. My professor gave the distinction, not Brock. Brock only focused on eros in her chapter (I don't know what she feels about agape). My professor used agape as a way to contrast what Brock meant by eros.

What I liked about what you said is the power of selfless love... in community. Perhaps that is the place for it - a passionate drive to relate to each other and a selflessness to do it anyway when it gets hard and annoying. :)

Again, great comments. Thanks.