For the past couple of years, I’ve set, for myself, about the closest things to “New Year’s Resolutions” I would ever make for myself. More like “Themes” for each year. They’re mindsets and modes of being, I suppose. Last year, at the start of 2013, it was “Vive le Revolution!”- essentially all about radical Christianity, politics, and really just aligning myself even further with the burdens of the oppressed in the world. Of course this will always be a major focal point of mine, but I think it’s good each year to explore news modes of being that may help or further the former. For 2014, I promised myself to dream more! “Life is but a dream in 2014!”
Already, it seems as though I’ve been pushed in that direction – especially in one particular class I am taking this semester. At UNC Asheville, with it being a Liberal Arts university, there are required core classes spanning various fields and one program that everyone must go through is the Humanities program. Being a senior, I am enrolled in the final humanities course ( one of the options for the final one, at least) entitled “Cultivating Global Citizenship”! I won’t waste too much time singing the praises of my professor , but he really is incredible. He’s in the poli. sci. faculty and is a political theorist – perfect for this course!
We’re currently reading , for instance, a book entitled “Radical Hope:Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation”- the book is essentially a scholastic account of an interview with the chief of the Crow indians – Plenty Coup, and cultivating a new sense of courage in the age of cultural genocide- where does a family, culture, or tribe go from there? How do they face the future?
Prior to this humanities class, is Humanities 324: the Modern World! I had the distinct pleasure/honor of having the token existential Marxist of the philosophy department as my professor for his course. We learned about the proliferation of science/math and many other fields, not the least of which (neoliberal) economics; we learned about how all of this development and ascension out of the “dark ages” all colluded to bring us what would become the “gospel of modernity”- the glorious good news that the human condition might be ameliorated through the ideals of certainty, exacting numbers, mastering and possessing of nature ( and ultimately black bodies!!) , technology/industry, etc.. Now,being a Marxist, of course, the professor was ( I believe rightly so) putting a truthful, yet dissenting slant on this period of history – his solution? – POST-modernity. Calling into question the ideals of progress that came into being and ultimately led to the European gangstering of land from indigenous peoples and other atrocious crimes against humanity along the way. Existential philosophy that tackled with the idea that life has at all an essence, the ideas of absurdity that ultimately helped to be a critique of modernity. I was inspired by it at the time- which is what led me to liking a lot of “Emergent Church fathers” and existential theologian Peter Rollins. It went hand -in-hand with my resolution to pursue radical revolution! Any of my friends will tell you how into existential philosophy I was ( and I suppose I still am but to a much lesser extent now)
Jumping back to Cultivating Global Citizenship (or LS479), my professor said some things that have “knocked the post-modern” out of me, so to speak.We start each class off with 3 minute contemplation- lights off, eyes shut. He has stated that it teaches us just to run through our thoughts and allow us to think them, without making judgements- very important for becoming more self-aware and a better global citizen! But, he always says such profound things immediately after we all open our eyes. One day, he opened the class up by saying “What do we end up throwing away and what do we keep?” At first I was puzzled, underwhelmed, and even a bit annoyed…but little do I know, this is one of the most profound questions humanity must ask itself. He then repeated himself “What do we end up throwing away and what do we keep, and how do we make that distinction/decision?” He used an example of how he had seashells at once, but being a political SCIENTIST, he felt they were no longer of use in an art exercise he’d have one of this classes perform using those seashells he once had. He lamented over wishing he hadn’t thrown them away because of the value of art even in political science ( or any science, for that matter) Pretty pedestrian example, right? But then, he gets far deeper… “What ideas, philosophies, or people do we throw away? And which do we keep?” There was something so convicting about this question, immediately. “What has the modern man thrown away from humanity before him- which lessons, technology, ideas about community, ecology, care, God, etc., has he thrown away, and what has he kept? I believe the modern man in contemporary society is becoming increasingly sorry that he threw away that which the pre-modern man had to give – those pre-modern notions of community , the technology of contemplation( silence was sacred to Natives because it means being whole!), of prayer to God/gods, etc…. once you throw something away, it’s tough to get back…”
One of the last indigenous pre-modern tribes left on the planet- a Mongolian family; courtesy of Pinterest
My mind was racing and I couldn’t help but have a massive smile on my face. Maybe, my professor’s intent was to simply get our gears turning, but for me it was tremendously uplifting. It made me discover that perhaps the whole appeal of post-modern existential thought, is the point us to pre-modern ideas and practices. Another brilliant thing he said ( which is tremendously post-modern as well) was “What if, with all our modern advances in math, science, and technology, we end up coming to conclusions that pre-modern indigenous people already knew, but we would have had no way of knowing because we (namely, white colonialist aggressors) wiped them out before they would record their knowledge? (Perhaps because we threw them away…)” = MIND BLOWN!!!! This is the stuff that makes you wanna just delve deep into the folktales and stories( which were important for community cohesion to many!) of the many of indigenous civilizations of Africa, Asia, North & South America, etc. What lessons could we learn? The Crow Indians ( and many pre-modren civ.) saw animals as imbued with ethical characters/ lessons. Many saw ecology as a teacher- something to be learned from, but the modern man has decided that nature is no longer our teacher, but our slave- to be raped and pillaged. Western notions of philosophy and civics essentially illustrate the idea that the experiences/thought of pre-modern civilizations before us don’t matter. (…kinda like some white male theologians of today….? hrmmmm…) Of course this all has quite a few implications for religion. For me, this makes liberation theology all the more exciting and germane because it speaks to the particularity of a culture/ civilization.
Besides this whole class being a dream itself, we’ve been taught the role of dreaming in many indigenous societies – specifically Natives. Dreams meant something and are important for projecting in the future. Often the emotions/dreams of children illustrate that they can pick up on tension far beyond most adults can- and how many pre-modern civilizations knew this already? The ability to imagine and interpret dreams is significant. Dreams in the sleepy-sense but also dreaming in the MLK Jr. sense. Dreams allow us to come out of cultural devastation and dream about a possibility different from the stark reality a people may be facing. What is the role of dreaming in cultivating a thicker sense of community in a world/society where it’s sadly paper thin.
Returning to the implication for faith, I love how he acknowledge prayer as a “technology”… what “technology” /cultural pieces did Christ seek to keep of the Hebrew tradition, which did he throw away? ( perhaps supercessionists think a tad too much…) It’s as if the call of Christ, in part, was a call to pre-modernity, a call to not forsake the necessities of community, love, harmony, and the value of that which can’t be quantified- the value of those things that pre-modern society understood. No I’m not summing up his ministry to that, but just a spin on it… if I’ve learned anything so far, it’s the true value and blessing that could come when we’re one church but many tribes.
Image courtesy of diocoeseoflansing.org