What's your "crying baby?" This week Mark talks about how being off Facebook and Twitter is having the unexpected result of making him feel the reality of loneliness and how it makes him more likely to reach out to friends directly. Then he shares very personally how his crying newborn triggers his perennial anger problem - and how his new Lenten practice of Eastern-style meditation has generated immediate and drastic results towards emotional stability and loving feelings in the middle of helpless episodes. The new priority is on loving, not fixing.
Then Mark sits down with Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. Tyler is an anti-nuclear activist and founder of the Two Futures Project. He has authored two books and co-authored a third: Brand Jesus, The World Is Not Ours To Save, and Fighting For Peace. This week in Part 1 of the conversation, Tyler talks about how things came together for him to write what he calls a "treatise on consumerism" in Jesus Brand. Expanding on the similarities between Paul's Rome and our North America, Tyler uses Paul's letter to the Romans to expose the end result of cultures at the apex of opulence and power. And his thesis - that the church of North America all-too-readily adopts the tactics and values consumerism to our peril - is an important one to helping us forward to a fulfilled, Jesus-like rhythm of life.
Join us for Part 2 next week, when Tyler walks us through Jesus Brand in deeper detail.
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Notable Quotes from Tyler Wigg-Stevenson
"I think if I could live multiple lifetimes I would happily spend one of them being a scholar. That said, I don't know that I'm in the end suited for teaching as my exclusive vocation. I love the diversity of life in a congregation. There is the thinking and the sermon preparation, but there's also dealing with people in their transitional moments, in their everyday humdrum. And the chance to be at the center of organizing the community - it satisfies all my diverse interests. It's the labor that I love."
"The book [Jesus Brand] emerged out of this theological heart is about the spiritual resonance between the contemporary West in the ancient Roman audience of Paul's letter to the church in Rome. And thinking that there are some extraordinary parallels between these two cultures. In terms of their relative centrality to the perceivable global order of power, wealth, cosmopolitanism, the whole works...."
"It's not to say they are identical, but you can draw some parallels in a way that you couldn't between, say, Rome and a place that would be neglected today - that would be at the margins of the world. That's not what Rome was.... What I wanted to explore was to read our culture through the lens of Paul's letter to the Romans. If I held the Bible between me and the world and tried to look at what I saw when I looked through the text, what would that look like? And what emerged was this treatise on consumerism."
"I think I probably am preoccupied with what it means to embrace responsibility in situations that feel futile. Which in a way is probably emerging from me out of existential concerns of what it means to live when you know you're going to die. What does it mean to do anything when none of our actions – when none of ourselves – have, except to the hope of faith, any kind of enduring consequences? I think this is the aspect of the human condition that can't be escaped. And so then for me, this concern plays out in various ways. So what Brand Jesus is about is an analysis of the grip that consumerism has on our contemporary culture and the conclusion is that it's pretty inescapable. Even if you recognize it. Even if you say, 'I don't want to be that,' consumerism is so embedded in and so foundational to the way we live that even a position of rejecting consumerism takes on consumeristic tones."
"The World Is Not Ours To Save takes up a similar set of concerns about activism. What does it mean to try to do good in a world that's irretrievably broken?"
"I was ordained before I became a full-time activist, thought I was going into pastoral ministry - that didn't happen right away - and so in many ways the world that I'm most connected to which would be the world of largely faith-based and then secular antinuclear activism, has been for me sort of a sidebar – a vocational sidebar - I think it's a holy sidebar - but it's still a sidebar. But it's certainly not exhaustive of the things that I'm interested in pursuing. And concerned about. It's really just one aspect."
"You could legitimately take a different perspective on how good things are or aren't [in the world]. But in terms of the problems that we as a species face that we as individuals face I think it's not really contestable that at least in the West most of those problems are what others do to us. Most of us don't live in a daily fight with nature. Some people do – a lot of people around the world do - for a lot of people that's their pressing problem. But even those problems are contextualized and exacerbated by the action of other human beings. So, humanity is humanity's problem. And I think that seems pretty straightforward."
"As to how bad the situation is, well, you could say history is getting better. One of my most recent theological hobbyhorses... has been trying to get Christians to take a tragic sensibility about history and what that means. So… humanism, using that as a broad category, or progressivism, which would really ground any good cheer about things in that things are getting better. And to be fair, some things do get better. It is better not to have chattel slavery than it was to have chattel slavery (even though there are still more people now enslaved around the world than there were back then - so I'm led to believe by anti-slavery activists I know). So it's not to say that good things can't happen, but when you look at history through the lens of the losers, it doesn't matter how good things get; you're just building on a pile of victims and corpses. And I think if you pay proper attention to the past, to me, it puts you in a place where you either have to regard the mountains of pain that our current world sits on – either as, 'Well, that's collateral damage' or. 'It's an unfortunate consequence but now things are getting better,' or you say, 'History has a Redeemer and a judge.' Maybe there are some other options in there, but I think it's important for Christians to take that seriously. Because otherwise, it's easy for us to get sucked in the stream of 'what matters for us is what we can make of history and a better tomorrow,' which I think does so much violence and disrespect to those who are buried under what - to those who survived it - looks like progress.
"What we call progress is actually just a single, continual unfolding catastrophe for the vast majority of people."
"In many ways, I think what's my driving passion is getting away from fix-it-ism, of making that the default posture. Because I think that's exactly what's wrong. History's injustices can't be fixed. There done. They've happened. They are forever a part of our past. All we can do is fix what's ahead of us. The problem is thinking that that's enough. And so that's why I think it's important to inhabit this sense of the tragic. and the dilemma, then. And what I'm trying to write about is what it means to take that seriously without being lost in narcissistic melancholy or paralysis."
"An abiding concern for me is, 'How do you take that seriously and still press on? And still get up in the morning - still be joyful?' Still work, and love, and smile, and laugh, and have a sense of humour, and all these things, given the context of this vale of tears we all live in."
"In Romans 1 and 2, what Paul is really up to is comprehensively describing the ways that Roman society has gone wrong and what the problem is with it. And it's a theme that, as we've talked about, is near and dear to me. He's creating a verbal prison from which they can't escape. He's preventing them from justifying themselves.... So Paul is doing this, and as I read Paul, it's this project of self-justification - in the Roman society at least as he's diagnosing Roman culture - is really about a project of this self creation that comes from idolatry. So this is his deal: it's that you did not recognize God through the abundant natural reasons that one should recognize the creator of the universe. And because of this initial turning away from God and ignorance of God, you go into idolatry and this has all sorts of ethical consequences. And fundamental to this as I read Paul is that the practice of idolatry is about self-invention. So you make a God that kind of looks like you - that validates you - and you pretend that... your sense of who you are comes from on high, but actually you've just deceived yourself. You've put a message out there and then you take it in as being, 'Well, I'm doing what my idol or my God tells me to do....' But you deny that it's a mirror; you see it as coming from outside when actually it's coming from you."
"And as I read this, what I think the analogous phenomenon is in the modern West is consumerism. And by that I do not mean that we consume too much. What I mean is that we understand who we are by what we consume."
"That's not the point – it's not that we should buy less (we probably should) – but that's not it. It's that consumption is the mechanism for how we understand who we are and where we are in the world."
Next Week's Episode 27
Guest: Part 2 of Tyler Wigg-Stevenson - activist, minister, author