Writer’s Block

writersblock
#mood
It’s time to face a reality I’ve only been partly grappling with: I am in the midst of a months-long case of writer’s block. Every couple of days, I sit down to write something, either on here, or just in a blank document, but I can’t do it. The prospect of starting a piece, of formulating ideas and thoughts and arguments, seems completely overwhelming. I don’t even know where to start.

I think this is the product of three things. First, seminary really is a drain on one’s intellectual capacities. This isn’t a criticism or complaint; I am loving seminary life. But after hours of reading and writing every week, I don’t have much left over for writing that isn’t related to class in some way.

Second, the last six months have been a period of really intense and serious personal upheaval. I don’t want to get into too many details; those who need to know, know what’s happening. But emotionally, I am quite spent. Again, this makes it difficult to find the energy to sit down and right something.

Finally, and I admit this is rather gratuitous, but the election has a profound effect on my approach to writing. It’s a strange confluence of a wealth of topics to write about in the Trump era, and a feeling of not even knowing where to start or how to approach these happenings in a way that is respectful of the topics and those effected. Things that are happening every day feel overwhelming, and my attempts to write about them seems rather futile.

So there it is. That hopefully explains to relative lack of silence here. It’s disappointing to me most of all that I can’t find the passion and energy to share more here, because intellectually, I have been experiencing and grappling with some exciting ideas, alongside some changes in my education and career path that I want to share more of. I am hoping to work some daily personal writing practice into life, and if we are lucky, that will translate into a move past the block and the ability to get back to work here. If anybody has any good tips for tackling writer’s block, I wouldn’t mind the advice. In the meantime, I’ll write here if I am feeling it, and I appreciate the good thoughts and prayers.

Grace and peace,

Justin

‘A God Who Cannot Suffer Is Poorer Than Any Man’

‘I rebel therefore we exist,’ says Camus. As those who suffer and are revolted at injustice, ‘we are,’ and we are even more than the gods and the God of theism. For these gods ‘walk above in light’ as ‘blessed spirits’ (Holderin). They are immortal and omnipotent. What kind of a poor being is a God who cannot suffer and cannot even die? He is certainly superior to mortal man so long as this man allows suffering and death  to come together as a doom over his head. But he is inferior to man if man grasps this suffering and death as his own possibilities and chooses them himself. Where a man accepts and chooses his own death, he raises himself to a freedom which no animal and no god can have. This was already said by Greek tragedy. For to accept death and to choose it for oneself is a human possibility and only a human possibility. ‘The experience of death is the extra and the advantage that he has over all divine wisdom.’ The peak of metaphysical rebellion against the God who cannot die is therefore freely-chosen death, which is called suicide. It is the extreme possibility of protest atheism, because it is only this that makes man his own god, so that the gods become dispensable. But even apaart from this extreme position, which Dostoevsky worked through again and again in The Demons,a God who cannot suffer is poorer than any man. For a God who is incapable of suffering is a being who cannot be involved. Suffering and injustice do no affect him. And because he is so completely insensitive, he cannot be affected or shaken by anything. He cannot weep, for he has no tears. But the one who cannot suffer cannot love either. So he is also a loveless being. Aristotle’s God cannot love; he can only be loved by all non-divine beings by virtue of his perfection and beauty, and in this way draw them to him. The ‘unmoved Mover’ is a ‘loveless Beloved’. If he is the ground of the love (eros) of all things for him (causa prima), and at the same time his own cause (causa sui), he is the beloved who is in love with himself; a Narcissus in a metaphysical degree: Deus incurvatus in se. But a man can suffer because he can love, even as a Narcissus, and he always suffers only to the degree that he loves. If he kills all love in himself, he no longer suffers. He becomes apathic. But in that case is he a God? Is he not rather a stone?

Finally, a God who is only omnipotent is in himself an incomplete being, for he cannot experience helplessness and powerlessness. Omnipotence can indeed be longed for and worshipped by helpless men, but omnipotence is never loved; it is only feared. What sort of being, then, would be a God who is only ‘almighty’? He would be a being without experience, a being without destiny and a being who is loved by no one. A man who experiences helplessness, a man who suffers because he loves, a man who can die, is therefore a richer being than an omnipotent God who cannot suffer, cannot love and cannot die. Therefore for a man who is aware of the riches of his own nature in his love, his suffering, his protest and his freedom, such a God is not a necessary and supreme being, but a highly dispensable and superfluous being. 

-Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God

All emphasis’ mine, all gendered language for the Divine from the original.

Democracy Is Not Always Right

My delve into Hauerwas’ Christian criticism of liberal democracy coincided very well with one of the most depressing electoral results, and everything since then, that I can imagine. What better time to contemplate the futility and utilitarianism of democracy that at the time when America is electing a woefully under-prepared proto-fascist to be the most powerful man on the planet?

elections_palestineI actually think the election of Trump reinforced the message I was getting from Trump; namely, that democracy is not inherently moral. This isn’t to say that it is immoral. Rather, democracy is a morally neutral system, a tool we humans use to order our governance of our selves. Self determination, self government: those are moral ideals. Democracy, as the tool used to achieve them, is not.

One of the ideas that so many people struggle with (and I admit I did for a long time) is that we expect democracy to produce the “right” answer. We expect, no matter our ideology or political party, that in the medium to long-term, regardless of the outcome of various immediate elections, that the democratic process will conform itself to Dr. King’s moral arc of justice. And sometimes it certainly feels that way; for me, 2008 was one of those times. It was hard for so many people to not perceive the election of Barack Obama as not just a good thing, but the morally inevitable thing that democracy promises us.

But this just simply isn’t the case. In and of itself, democracy is no more moral that any form we use to govern ourselves. Now, democracy comports itself better to the ideal of self-determination better than republicanism or oligarchy or even Plato’s rule of the elite does. But, in the end, democracy facilitates the ability of the mass of people to make a certain choice, regardless of the moral weight of that choice. Another way to say this is, we get what we vote for. And sometimes, that is a Barack Obama, or an Abraham Lincoln, or a Solon, or a Nelson Mandela. But, sometimes, it’s a Donald Trump. In democracy, the right choice isn’t always the moral choice. The right choice is just whatever we decide it is. Democracy is only as moral as we are as a people.

The equation of democracy with morality is one of the original sins of American political engagement. Because we have allowed our democratic experiment to so often be equated with the Kingdom of God – because we like to entertain the notion that American democracy is a divinely ordained institution – we accept the logical conclusion that American democracy must be a force for good in the world always. It’s not.

Democracy is another tool for ordering this world. And it is a particularly good tool, compared to so many of the others we humans have tried. Churchill’s rumination on the merits of democracy is quoted often today, but rarely taken to it’s logical conclusion. Those of us who identify ourselves as Christians have an obligation to not identify our faith with that of something as human – and thus as fallible – as democracy. Our hope is not found in such things. Democracy can be useful, and can do good things. But the redemption of our world – the coming of the Kingdom – is found in ideals beyond simply the logistics of choosing new leaders. Our hope is found in the radical love that is our God, and that was lived by the man whose example we follow.

That’s an important reminder in a world that just elected Donald Trump. His elevation to the White House is disheartening, frightening, and dangerous. We have a lot of work in front of us, in terms of standing with and for those who need our love and solidarity today. But, frankly, that would have been true, albeit on a less severe scale, even with the election of Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders. This is what we would do well to remember in the heat of the next electoral cycle: the election of a candidate we favor doesn’t mean our work is needed less. On the contrary: the election of Hillary Clinton would have made our work just as important, because rather than working to hold ground (as we are going to be doing for the next four years), we would have been compelled to move justice forward – and that is just as vital and hard of work as we are facing now.

The promise of democracy is not the same as the promise of love. We shouldn’t forget that, and we should never equate the two. The right answer will never be the one supplied by democratic promises; the right answer is the hoped-for Kingdom, the one we have the power to bring here, not at the ballot box, but in loving those we meet everyday.