Trayvon Martin and the Event of Justice

In his book The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event  John Caputo introduces the reader to the idea that words like “hospitality” and “God” contain within them an undeconstrucible event that calls into question the way we regularly use those words. In a discussion about the difference between laws and true, undeconstructible justice he says it like this:

To deconstruct the law means to “negotiate the difference” between the law and justice, where the law is thought to be something finite, and “justice” calls up an uncontainable event, an infinite or unconditional or undeconstructible demand. Deconstruction is…a negotiation undertaken between a conditioned name and an unconditional event. To deconstruct the law is to hold the constructedness of the law plainly and constantly in view so as to subject the law to relentless analysis, revision, and repeal, to rewriting and judicial review, in the light of the unconditional demand of justice (27).

What Caputo is getting at is that the laws of the land, laws that are intended to uphold and defend justice, are actually called into question by the word justice itself. Justice is an uncontainable event, something that can only be dreamed of and when we dream of it we realize that our so-called “just laws” fall short of embodying the true nature of justice. Deconstructing the law in light of the event of justice helps us to critique the status quo and dream of a more just world and as we dream of it we begin to look for ways in which we can make our dream come true.

The disparity between the event of justice and the deconstructible laws of our land is clearly illustrated by the story of Trayvon Martin. The trial of George Zimmerman allowed both sides of the story to be told.  Zimmerman was, it is said, given a “fair” trial. The final verdict of the jury to acquit George Zimmerman was given in the name of “justice.”

But the very word “justice”, as Caputo points out, stands in judgment over our entire judicial process. True justice, the event contained within the word “justice”, does not leave an unarmed black boy dead.

True justice does not lead to rioting in the streets.

The event contained within the word “justice” is not satisfied with a simple verdict that says we can all forget about Trayvon Martin now, that it’s been settled, that Zimmerman killed in self-defense and so we can all relax and go on living our lives in peace knowing that “justice” has been served.

True justice asks why opinions about the Trayvon Martin incident are sharply divided along racial lines.

The undeconstuctible event stirring within the word “justice” calls into question the notion of “Stand Your Ground” and causes us to realize that a world in which excuses are made for people to kill each other, a world in which murder is legalized, is really no just world at all.

May we not confuse our “justice” system, which is really a pseudo-justice system, with the true event of justice.

May we be haunted by the true event of justice, always aware of the fact that what we call “justice” in this nation pales in comparison with what the prophet Amos imagined when he said “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24) or when Isaiah speaks of “seeking justice, reproving the rulthless, defending the orphan and pleading for the widow” (1:17).

May we never be satisfied with the ruling of a six person jury as if that’s all that’s required by justice.

Justice calls us to go deeper, to dream bigger, to continue questioning the status quo so that our laws may begin to do justice to the event stirring within the word itself.

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The Catastrophe

http://bcove.me/jvdvl0rb

Follow the above link to a little miniseries that Al-Jazeera is doing on Al-Nakba. Al-Nakba or “The Catastrophe” is what Palestinians call the loss of their land in 1948 at the hands of Israeli Zionists. A few reflections from the first part:

  • Even the fact that Palestinians refer to the events of 1948 as “The Catastrophe” indicates that there is another side to a complex story that is only told from a pro-Israeli perspective here in the West.
  • The establishment of Israel was not the result of a gracious act of God to give the Land to his people but rather the result of Britain’s colonialist aims to establish a pro-Western state in the Middle East.
  • Zionism often couches this unjust and oppressive political agenda in spiritual language. The name of God is invoked in order to legitimate an unjust cause.
  • The presence of Eastern Orthodox Christians in Palestine is usually ignored because a Christian presence there does not fit into a framework that desires to paint all Palestinians as backwards “Muhammadans.”
  • Western Christians who are under the assumption that being a Christ follower comes with an unquestioned support of the modern state of Israel have been duped into supporting a cause that is about corrupt political power-grabbing and Western colonialism. We take the name of God in vain when we claim that God is behind the illegal occupation of Palestine.

The Lorax, Evolution and the American Corporate Machine

The Lorax is an awesome movie. You should watch it.

Most notable among the themes in this film was its take on the ideology behind the corporate machine that is the cause of all the Truffula Trees being cut down.

One of the main characters in the film, the Once-ler,  started off as a genuine entrepreneur with a novel idea about how to make a product, the Thneed, which ends up being a massive hit among those whom he is marketing to. The catch is that in order to produce the Thneed, the Once-ler needs to cut down the beautiful Truffula Trees, home to a number of little creatures. As demand for his product increases, the destruction of the Truffula Trees becomes a growing issue until the entire forest has been cut down and used for the profit of the Once-ler. Throughout this process the viewer can pick up on the mentality shift of the Once-ler as greed and corruption slowly get a hold of him. The lyrics of the song “How Bad Can I Be”, sung by the Once-ler, showcase this brilliantly:

Well there’s a principle of nature (principle of nature)

That almost every creature knows.

Called survival of the fittest (survival of the fittest)

And check it this is how it goes.

The animal that eats gotta scratch and fight and claw and bite and punch.

And the animal that doesn’t, well the animal that doesn’t winds up someone else’s lu-lu-lu-lu-lunch (munch, munch, munch, munch, munch)

I’m just sayin’.

This leads into the chorus which says:

How bad can I be? I’m just doing what comes naturally.

How bad can I be? I’m just following my destiny.

What stuck out to me was how a particular view of human history was appealed to in order to justify the corporate machine that the Once-ler was creating to make money at the expense of the story-world’s natural resources.

Human’s, according to this account of human history, are a part of an inherently violent system called evolution which is governed by the “survival of the fittest” principle. Basically, the stronger person lives on and the weaker person becomes lunch. This principle is then universalized and applied to social and economic contexts and thus begins to serve as the legitimization of corporate greed and oppression. Businesses, within this narrative, must expand at all costs lest they become “lunch” to another more innovative business.

Eat or be eaten. Sounds like a pretty violent story.

But must evolution be told with a violent slant? Are we really stuck in a system of nature that encourages violence and competition?

The answer is no and Philip Clayton is going to tell you why:

This view of evolution which sees the emergence of complex life forms like humans as the result of cooperation and symbiosis as opposed to violence and competition has huge implications.

For one, it makes the theory of evolution easier to swallow for theists. A grand narrative that has cooperation as it’s central theme is absolutely compatible with belief in a loving God who desires the flourishing of the earth’s creatures.

Moreover, to appeal to the story of evolution as if it legitimated the American corporate machine is no longer acceptable. When corporations expand to the point of causing harm to the poor as well as the earth and its resources–such expansion cannot be said to be the inevitable result of the evolutionary process. This is not “natural” behavior nor is it anyone’s “destiny.”

Violence, rather than being a necessary byproduct of the story we find ourselves in, is an intrusion into God’s good creation.

Amazingly Alive

The following is a poem form Vancouver street poet and activist Bud Osborn.

 

so here I am

here we are

amazingly alive

against long odds

left for dead

north america tellin lies

in our head

make you feel like shit

better off dead

 

so most days now

I say shout

shout for joy

shout for love

shout for you

shout for us

shout down this system

puts our souls in prison

 

say shout for life

shout with our last breath

shout fuck this north american culture of death

 

shout here we are

amazingly alive

against long odds

left for dead

shoutin this death culture

dancin this death culture

out of our heads

A Call to Prayer

The votes are in and it’s official: Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States. Whether you voted for President-elect Obama or not, one thing is clear as a member of Christ’s body, the church. We need to be praying for him as our leader, asking for God’s wisdom, discernment, and especially protection to rest upon him for the coming years. Pray that President-elect Obama will be diligently seeking the Lord’s guidance throughout his presidency and that his decisions will be honoring to the Father.

May we remember that our allegiance to Christ comes well before our allegiance to our politcal party and that our call is to pray for those in authority over us regardless of our political views.

And let us guard against division. The temptation is to be angry if things did not go your way on November 4th but things like anger, bitterness, and slander only cause more problems. We need to be a people who speak only uplifting words and not curses over our future president. Don’t complain but instead pray. There are going to be plenty of people groups giving the president flak and the church shouldn’t be one of them. We are, however, called to hold him accountable as a member of Christ’s body himself. I pray that we would be a voice of truth, calling President-elect Obama to make decisions in accordance to the will of God. May we remember the difference between honestly holding someone accountable and just straight up slander.

Endorse no one but advise everyone.

Enough with the letters from 2012 and references to the anti-christ.

And last time I checked, God is still reigning supreme from His throne in heaven. So some of you should stop acting like it’s the end of the world because of Obama’s election. Regardless of what happens within the political sphere of our nation the church’s initial response should always be to humbly come before our Father and pray rather than complain and bicker about how you didn’t get your way.

Dear Christian, Stop Picketing for Prop. 8

I drove by yet another group of people today that were holding up the infamous “Protect Marriage: Vote YES on Prop. 8” signs in the name of Jesus. I must say that I’m a wee bit flustered. I understand that the Bible speaks of marriage being between one man and one woman and I understand that this would lead you to vote yes on Prop. 8 but please stop ruining the opportunity to have a civil conversation with someone who opposes the proposition.

And please don’t feel like the battle has been won if Prop. 8 does end up passing. The truth is, people are still living in sin and need the love of Jesus. Let’s stop focusing all of our energy on picketing Prop. 8 and funnel it toward a conversation regarding how we are going to love gay people and share Jesus with them. More will be accomplished this way than if any law is ever passed.

Laws don’t change people’s hearts.

And what about poverty? Do we not care enough about poor people to picket on their behalf?

Why does gay marriage have to be the one issue that the church feels strongly enough to picket?

I’m sick of it…

For All You Batman Lovers Out There

I recently stumbled upon this Peter Rollins blog post (I have no idea who he is, by the way) and found it quite interesting. It discusses the whole concept of actually living out what we claim to believe by using the example of Bruce Wayne’s paradoxical lifestyle involving running a multi-million dollar corporation by day and then fighting crime by night. It is the capatalistic system, Rollins would say, and the corporations that fuel it, that have created the crime Wayne is attempting to combat.  The part of the article that really hits home for me is his analysis of our beliefs (I have bolded the section of the article that summarizes what I’m referring to). Are we actually living out the values and ideals that we deem important or are we just taking part in religious activities to clear our consciences and make us feel like we are actually making a difference?

Hmmmm…interesting thought…

Here’s the article:

Brecht once famously wrote, “what is the crime of robbing a bank compared to the crime of founding one?” Is this not the very sentiment that we must bare in mind as we watch Batman at work? By day he is Bruce Wayne, a wealthy industrialist, by night he is Batman, combing the streets of Gotham City for criminals to beat up and people to save.

His obsession with street crime arises as a direct result of witnessing his Mother and Father murdered by a thief. His Father was a philanthropist who attempted to help Gotham City by funding social projects and local charity work. Bruce, however takes a different approach and uses his wealth to fund a vigilante war on terror.

One could say that Bruce Wayne is fundamentally different from his Father in so much as the later concentrated on helping victims of crime while the former seeks to punish the perpetrators of crime. However, it would be more accurate to say that Bruce is merely continuing his Fathers business by different, but equally flawed, means.

Both are obsessed with the subjective violent eruptions that take place on the streets of Gotham City and both seek to address them. However, in the midst of all their activities neither pay attention to their own (sublimated) violence. This violence is that which has been objectified in the very economic structures that allow corporations like Wayne Industries to make such vast sums of money in the first place. Batman is unable to see that the subjective crime he fights on a nightly basis is the direct manifestation of the objective crime he perpetrates on a daily basis. The street crime is the explosion of violence that results from greedy, large industries obsessed with the increase of abstract capital at the expense of all else. It is not enough to hate subjective explosions of crime, one must turn ones attention to the ground that feeds these expressions.

Indeed one could say that it is the very philanthropic work of his Father and the crime-fighting of Wayne that actually provide the valve that allows them both to continue in their objective violence. What better way to feel good about yourself than volunteering at a local charity in the evenings (like his Father) or beating up on street criminals in the evenings (like Wayne). Such acts (like a prayer meeting, worship service or bible study) can recharge the batteries and make us feel like our true identity is pure and good when in reality it simply takes away the guilt that would otherwise make it difficult for us to embrace our true (social) self who is expressed in the activities we engage in for the rest of the week. The philosophy here is exposed as “do something so that nothing really changes”.

Perhaps then the next film will not have Batman running around beating up drug dealers and pimps (an impotent project anyway as there is only one Batman for the whole city), but rather dissolving Wayne Industries, setting up free health care and campaigning for radically different socio-political structures.

Mind you, it might not be as fun to watch (and I am very much looking forward to seeing the new Joker in action).