Saturday, February 25, 2012

theology of New York City

Google is almost omniscient.
If it exists, it exists on Google.
But I was still slightly surprised to see these search results:

iInformation No results found for "theology of new york city"
 Of course, that will change forever in a few minutes when I publish this post.

All this doesn't mean  no one has  yet theologized on New York City.
But I hope someone spells out a full-blown theology of that unique, and inevitably theological place.

What elements would you include?  Anyone done  some work on the city's ecclesiological theological history/"spiritual mapping"?  What would a letter to the Church of New York City" look like, Revelation 2-3 style?

Of course the theologian formerly known as Paul Hewson has theologized  on/in New York, in the context of a U2 song by that name...in which the Big Apple functions as a metaphor for the



land of too many voices and.choices; the turf of testation:


In New York freedom feels like too many choices
In New York I found a friend to drown out the other voices
Voices on the cell phone, voices from home
Voices of the hard sell, down the stairwell
..
In New York you can forget, forget how to sit still
Tell yourself you will stay in but it's down to Alphaville


Delbert Weins:

Ethical thinkers enter the city when they finally realize that no form of deontological or teleological ethics can stand by itself. Here the study of ethics becomes meta-ethical speculation. The questions today are not how we can recognize the right and produce the good. Philosophers of morality now debate the meaning of words like “good” and “right,” and they question how any sort of value judgment can be proved valid.
On the practical level men in the city sense that they are surrounded by many ways of life, each of which appears to be as justified as any other. And once again contextualism emerges. But now it is called “situation ethics” or “new morality.” No longer is the community under God the context for decision. Rather, the anomie individual moves through a variety of situations, each of which demands a response in its own terms.
                   -Delbert Wiens, "From the Village to the City; A Language fir the Grammars We Are"  link

 City can be  place  it can he hard to tune into the still small voice..

that's where i lost you (You)..

...In the stillness of the evening when the sun has had its day
I thought I heard you whispering 'come away child'

Is the "you" here referring to  God  (almost always  in U2) and/or also the city itself?
I think that's a yes.
God through the city..

Ironically, in spite of its fallenness, there seems to be something  inherently creational  and "still good" about city:


At first glance, the city seems to be the well-nigh universal solvent, destroying community, dissolving ethics, denying greatness, undercutting the Scriptures and theology, and eradicating the sense of God. In all these things it completes the inner logic of the town. But the city is not only Babel and Babylon. The city is also Jerusalem. Even in the Scriptures the future promise is a city. What the city takes away will be restored again, though in a different way. This is a statement of faith, a hope that rests more in God than upon what can presently be seen. And yet, the city is no new thing upon the earth. What I describe as hope has often happened. The pattern of the gospel is not new, though it has always been true that the gate is strait and the way is narrow and few there be that find it.
            -Delbert Wiens "From the Village to the City; A Language fir the Grammars We Are"- link

Every city would seem to be both  Babylon and Jersualem, a "Lost and Fund Town"

Cities in Scripture (see Ellul) are both satanic and Spirited, harshly human and hugely holy..

Even though the "city is organized to abandon" (Brueggemann), sometimes that organization can be called back to its original mission and missio.

All this is true...and even magnified macrocosmically in New York.


One way a large city like New York can be redemptive is that precisely in the middle of the chaos and craziness,  serendiptous  and redemptive gifts of order  appear,

In this video below, Bono calls Central Park the "lung of the city," offering breath.


"it's an extraordinary thing about New York.  Just becaue there's so many people living on top of each other ,staring at each other...there is  anonymity... I like the din of argument"


(video llnk here)
video






My very first paper in college (Intro to Psych) was "Noise as Conducive to Stress in Urban Environments."  Research suggests that it is the unexpected, uninvited noises (jackhammer, etc)
that is the stressor; while predictable city noises (traffic, etc) that can be a  "white noise" and comfort.



There's a popular preacher's story (which might even be true) about a Native American  visting NYC, and to the amazement of his city friend, could hear crickets even in the midst of the insane din.
It's all a matter of what we are tuned and attuned to.

For me, there is something strangely spiritual about cities like NYC.  I can hear the still small even in(because of?)   the shadow of the motion  and madness

Perhaps city affords a place not only to fall into temptatation, but a context in which they can be surfaced and delivered:



...as we lounge on U2's waterside patio, the final mix of discursive travelogue "New York" wobbles out of a crap Sony boom box. With little Eve Hewson on his lap, Bono sings along...
"I hit an iceberg in my life/But here I am still afloat/Lose your balance, lose your wife/In the queue for the lifeboat/You've got to put the women and children first/But you've got an unquenchable thirst...for New York."
Like a few of Bono's characters on All That You Can't Leave Behind, the lyric outlines a man on a moral holiday, braving the temptations of escape and infidelity. Encouraging the theory that it's autobiographical is the fact that Bono has just bought an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

"It's important to describe your demons in order to deal with them," says Bono. "I have a side of me that wants to run really fast away from everything that you could call home and responsibilities. But I have another side, which is stronger, that draws me towards home and those very same responsibilities. When I'm at work I play out those things...but maybe if I hadn't found Ali and this community of people, then maybe I'm just lazy enough to have surrendered"

You kept in the bit about midlife crisis...

"I was seriously wondering whether to or not. Just looking at you when we played it to you in Dublin, I could see you writing the headline [laughs]. But it's just funnier, that line. From this character, it's believable."

Bono laughs, then frowns.
"It's not autobiography. It's quite the opposite in the sense that I'm coming out of a period: I have run off, I'm back now. I'm more at home...with myself"
            -Bono, Q interview, 2000

That "it's not autobiographica;" quote always gets me; it's almost as sure sign that it IS:


but anyone who's written fiction will tell you that elements of real life show up in your art.

bono maintains that this is a character, and i have no reason not to believe him, though i would venture the guess that he is fessing up to something, temption at least if not the real thing, and through the song do a sort of penance/atonement.
also, the song means more if he says "it's not autobiography" than if he were to say, "well, i was going through a rough patch and i befriended this East Village artist woman when i was staying in new york and getting away from dublin and trying to sort out my mind and thoughts after the mindfuck of Popmart and she was innocent and young and pixie-like and shrewd still in love with the world and she fascinated me and we hung out whenever i was in town on business and it went too far and it served to remind me of what matters to me most and that is my life in dublin and my family and i'd never do anything to endanger that and so i'm going to confess because i know that ali knows even if she doesn't say it and i've got to work this thing out and flush it from my system and, after all, why did i get into a rock band to begin with if it wasn't to examine myself and my own faults and shortcomings."  =poster irvine511 on U2 Interference forum

There's something about the city that brings out and brings up the best and worst of us.

If we are able to live the  deep Chrostian life amid the sin and din of the city, and are  "lazy enough to surrender," we may even fulfill our calling to cast shadows on the city
and its systems of systemic evil
( see Wink on the powers).


A new community must be built. It must exist inside the city and offer all the advantages of town as well. I do not know what shapes this community will take, but I am quite sure that it will look different from the church that we now have.
It has been done before. The earliest Christians were not rural villagers. In fact, the rural people clung so tenaciously to their old gods that the Latin word for “villager” has become our word for “heathen” (paganus—pagan). And the cities of that time were busy cosmopolitan {148} centers. Christianity succeeded in the first place because it had an answer for the needs of the city. The early evangelists did not preach only an individualistic conversion or offer instant ecstasy. They proclaimed that a heavenly kingdom was being born on earth in the midst of the decaying older kingdoms of this world. It is the Gospel of the Kingdom that must be rediscovered, a kingdom that always is, and yet is not, a kingdom in this world.  -Delbert Wiens, "From the Village to the City; A Language fir the Grammars We Are"  link



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