“Rubbish” for Paul

I’ve been pondering on Paul’s usage of FORGETTING and LOSS, trying to understand it through the lens of ‘beholding’. What was it that Paul desired to relegate into the bin of forgetfulness? And was this ‘thing’ somehow connected to the things he considered as “rubbish” or “losses” or “damaging”? Again, biblical interpretation can employ different models. Maggie Ross”s “beholding model” to my view is a far more fertile parameter for an “honest interrogation,” “holding more open the space of questioning between the human and the divine” (MacKendrick) than other models spawned by the linearity and dialectics of the “religion of rationalism” (of which “epistemology” is a subset) of the West.

Back to the couple of questions I raised. James Dunn, paraphrasing W.D. Davies argues that Paul can only be best understood with Judaism as the main backdrop. This is a new perspective on Paul according to Dunn because Christianity has been so busy in its prejudices, consciously or subconsciously, against Judaism. The “loss” mentioned by Paul for example could be used for denigrating Judaism being a “second-rate” religion. But the beholding model could render a different take: what seems “forgetful” for Paul, being a rabid implementor of the strictures of the Law, were the statics of the same Law. What Paul may have considered as “rubbish” or “damaging” was how the observance of the Law was turned into an idolatry, becoming the basis of exclusion rather than pointing to the infinite space of the Holy or potential icons for beholding the way the book of Deuteronomy was during the time of exile from the beholding in the First Temple.

This tendency for religious statics is not exclusive of course to Judaism. They are multiplying in Christianity and a few consider them as “rubbish” worth our forgetting. It is not Martian to think of Christianity being in exile and it takes a few priests only to remind us of the exiled vision and what’s damaging within our institutional self-referentiality,’priests’ writing stories, scribbling visions resembling the “creation stories and its vision” written during the period of Babylonian exile, writers of faith classified by Walter Brueggemann as capable not only of preserving the integrity of texts but also midwife for “new meaning to explode.”

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Karmen MacKendrick, Immemorial Silence (State University of New York Press, 2001).

Maggie Ross, Behold Not The Cloud of Experience, in E.A. Jones, ed., The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England: Exeter Symposium VIII (D.S. Brewer, Cambridge, 2013).

‘Beholding’ is incarnational. For an in-depth treatment of St. Paul’s incarnational theology, see Ward Blanton, A Materialism for the Masses: Saint Paul and the Philosophy of Undying Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014). In this book, Blanton critically dialogues with ‘revered philosophers’ of the West, and the theologians who subscribed to the thought of Saint Paul as a metaphysical icon, caught between the hierarchy of master and slave, a paragon of pop Platonism that Freud and Nietszche, Derrida and Foucault are so linear about, the Paul who is labelled as the ‘imperial founder of Christendom. Blanton on the other hand argues on the ‘immanent’ life of Saint Paul, driven from below just like any ordinary human being by the aspiration to a singular life, the road to singularity – long and winding and tortuous.

Excellent sources of institutional self-referentiality include Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity of the West (Princeton University Press, 2012); Michele Renee Salzman, The Making of a Christian Aristocracy: Social and Religious Change in the Western Roman Empire (Harvard University Press, 2002); Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight Over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1999); and Jeanne Halgren Kilde, Sacred Power, Sacred Space: An Introduction to Christian Architecture and Worship (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Arguably, the most meaningful journal article on theology in intersection with other disciplines  I have read is Maggie Ross, Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model: Seeking Coordinates in the Ineffable, Notes for a Quantum Theology, Journal of Literature and Theology, Vol. 7, No. 4, December 1993.

Walter Brueggemann, Texts that Linger, Words that Explode: Listening to Prophetic Voices (MN: Augsburg Press, 2000).

 

 

 

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