Friday, August 2, 2013

Vivi Ornitier and the Meaning of Life

I just watched the finale of the video game Final Fantasy IX. I remember fondly playing the game back during my undergrad days; however, I was never able to complete the quest. Nevertheless one character really stood out to me – the little black mage Vivi.
     I found Vivi's story really compelling. Throughout the game, we discover that Vivi is a product of the villainous Kuja, who creates black mages for the Alexandrian Empire. Moreover, Vivi discovers that the mages expire after one year. Naturally, this sends Vivi on an existential quest in the midst of stopping the Kuja from destroying the planet they inhabit. In fact, Kuja's quest stems from his own disillusionment with mortality.
     For Christians who hold to the promise of the resurrection, questions of mortality seem misplaced. Yet, the older I get the more I understand the course of my own life running its course. Just as there was life before me there will be life without me. The idea of death (or “stopping” as the black mages understand it) unravels anyone who thinks about it long enough. I must admit my own night terrors thinking about the prospect of non-existence. Reviewing a game like this causes me to further reflect on this issue as well as the validity of video games. Granted, not every game is this dense (FF IX is surprisingly lighthearted despite this theme). The game then presents the player with facing their own purpose in light of death.
While death is a frightening thing, it can enable us to view life with greater gravity. Speaking from personal experience, I often took life for granted and assumed that things would simply fall into place due to some master plan. As an adult, I realize that life is a struggle. Now, I know that my struggles pale in comparison to many in the world, but these are still personal struggles. Anyway, death allows me to remember the short existence that we have on this planet. As Paul directs us, we should “[make] the most of our time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5.15). While Paul may have other things in mind, I think there is a principle that we shouldn't overlook. We should make the most of the lives we have been given. If we believe in God, then we understand life to be a gift. Thus we should not waste the gift given to us. 
    How, then, should we spend this gift? Well, for Vivi life existed on touching the lives around us. The little mage found friends, adventure and a home. He was grateful for what little life he had and his life touches any gamer well after the credits roll. I do believe that the game makes a great point. Life is too short for grudges and strife. We should enjoy the company of our friends and family knowing that it won't last forever. I know I have greatly neglected many of my friends. I should rectify that. Moreover, as I get older so do my folks. I must admit that I had a recent altercation with my father. I guess we both feel very strongly about things, but I can't help realizing that I still want a sense of approval from him. Funny thing is that I already have that approval. So, why fight? Why not enjoy the rest of my time with him.
     I know I sound like I'm pushing my folks into the grave, but I really think that death ought to make us celebrate life. So, as I re-watch the end of this game I notice Vivi's thoughts appear before various scenes of all the other characters in the game. As they all reconnect with friends and love ones, we see the point of life – relationships. God created a man and a woman to grow together in love. Unfortunately, pride and will defeated such devotion and plunged humanity into a cycle of covetousness and violence. As Christians we believe that Jesus' death and resurrection frees us from this catastrophe and reconciles us back to God and each other. He has torn down the hostility. May we then enjoy life in spite of death and live in peace with each other (Eph. 2.11-22).

Matthew Jimenez received his BA in English Literature at Biola University. He received his MAT in Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. He currently teaches Sunday School at Calvary Community Church in Torrance, CA.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Howard Thurman meets Gandhi

I started this morning to watch and listen to Youtube videos of Howard Thurman.  I have often seen his books on my suggested Amazon reading list but with the structure of PhD studies I have tried to basically focus on what will actually go in my dissertation for the time being.  At this point, I just have to finish writing the dissertation so I have been free to read and write generally what I want.  

Listening to Thurman speak has been a real treat.  I have also started rereading James Cone so for the last week my love of theology has been renewed somewhat.  There are a number of Youtube videos featuring Thurman but an interview where he reflects on his life is amazing and grabbed my attention.

I was simply glued to my computer screen when Thurman talked about his meeting with Gandhi.  There is just so much important history here (of course it is the kind typically missing in History class).  The way Gandhi requested to hear the hymn below "Were You There" from Thurman's group illustrates the way Christianity as generally practiced among the British could never be an option for him.  

When I have students read Gandhi's biography and see his discussion on religion they have a hard time identifying with him.  How can he like Jesus but see Christians as hypocrites they often ask?  The dynamic of colonialism is something I and my students can never truly understand and no manner of apologetics can convince someone of Gandhi's experience that official Christianity has too many problems to be profitable for his cause.  However, like Bonhoeffer, Gandhi recognized the authenticity of Black theology.  

I thought it interesting that Gandhi would have thought that they would turn out to be attracted to Islam instead (good point for those out there that paint a negative picture of Muslims).  However, as the conversation developed the theme of human suffering and misery found in the crucified Christ is what linked Gandhi and Thurman (and Bonhoeffer, King).

On another level, this discussion also reminded me of my general dislike of Christian music.  I actually enjoy older hymns and spirituals because of the identification with the suffering Christ (granted, a lot of hymns are also NOT very good).  I have seen Black, Hispanic communities that can identify with the gospel in these songs (the same goes for people at the Mission I go to every now and then).  It is to take the narrative of the Bible and apply it to the experiences of the people.  There is no detached attainment of truth here.

Were You There
Were you there when they crucified my Lord
Oh were you there when they crucified my Lord
(Oooh sometimes it causes me to tremble) tremble
Were you there when they crucified my Lord

Were you there when they nailed him to the cross
Were you there when they nailed him to the cross
(Oooh sometimes it causes me to tremble) tremble
Were you there when they nailed him to the cross

(Were you there when they laid him in the tomb
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb
Oooh sometimes it causes me to tremble) tremble
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb

Well were you there when the stone was rolled away
Were you there when the stone was rolled away
(Oooh sometimes it causes me to tremble) tremble
Were you there when the stone was rolled away

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Shadow Knows: Jungian Psychology and Final Fantasy IV

I've been doing a bit of reading in Jungian psychology. Jung, of course, is well known for his relationship with Freud and his unique perspective into the human psyche. If I'm reading Jung correctly, the Swiss psychologist asserts that various personalities make up the fabric of the human psyche. In order to define these “personalities” Jung used archetypal language. One of these personalities is the Shadow.

This personality represents the darker aspects of the unconscious and presents itself in divers guises like a demon or foreigner. However, the Shadow represents those aspects of our personality that creates guilt, denial or projection – or so says the Short Introduction to Jung. Jung believed that the Western obsession with morality created a large Shadow that would ultimately threaten society. Once more, on a personal level, projection often leads to hostility towards other undesirable persons despite the fact that the Shadow belongs to the accusers. In order to create wholeness, the Shadow needs to be brought to consciousness. The Shadow is not necessarily “bad”, but it needs to be acknowledged and controlled. I found a good example of this in Square-Enix's game Final Fantasy IV and its sequel The After Years.

In Final Fantasy IV and the After Years, 2 major characters confront their own Shadow in a mirror chamber. One character is the protagonist Cecil Harvey. The other character is Kain Highwind. Nevertheless, both characters resolve their issues in drastically different ways.

In the original game, Cecil leads Baron's Red Wings, an air fleet comprised of specially designed airships. The game opens with Cecil leading his fleet in order to steal a crystal from a town. This is done to bolster the power of the Kingdom of Baron. Cecil, however, becomes riddled with guilt over obeying this command. To make a long story short, he eventually begins a quest to find redemption. Furthermore, he needs to face his Shadow, which he defeats passively (just defend and heal and you'll be all right). Nonetheless, in the After Years Cecil becomes controlled by dark forces and must defeat his Shadow once again. The objectives appears to be obliteration of the Shadow ( see here:; nevertheless, the first attempt apparently failed. Even Kain observes that the return of the Shadow isn't really unprecedented, and Cecil along with his family need to defeat the Shadow again (see here: With that, we can turn to Kain.

Kain is probably the coolest character in the game and the most flawed. In the first game he spends most of his time under the influence of dark forces. However, we learn that the dark forces utilize existing angst and jealousies in order to manipulate him. Eventually, he is freed from that control, but he is left with the need to expunge himself of his Shadow. Unfortunately, things don't go over so well for Kain. His Shadow breaks loose and tries to abduct Cecil's wife Rosa, whom Kain also loves, and murder Cecil. Then, the other Kain (we'll call him Persona Kain) catches up with Shadow Kain. The 2 face off and Persona Kain defeats the Shadow; nevertheless, Persona Kain does not destroy the Shadow. Rather, he acknowledges his Shadow's existence and owns him. At this point Kain becomes whole (represented by becoming a Holy Dragoon). Then, a voice proclaims that justice has been done (see here:

I think a lot can be gained from these insights. Many Christians have grown up in very conservative homes, which tend to be highly moralistic. Moreover, morality can often lead to both condemning attitudes and hypocrisy. For Jung, the emphasis on Persona masks and hides the Shadow. This gives the Shadow power over out unconscious. I believe that if we are more honest about our own personal demons we might be better equipped to handle some of the issues facing American Christianity and politics today.

 Matthew Jimenez received his BA in English Literature at Biola University. He received his MAT in Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. He currently teaches Sunday School at Calvary Community Church in Torrance, CA.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What Makes Barth's thought Dialectical?

Since Bruce McCormack's work on Barth, one should read Barth less as a representative of neo-orthodoxy and more of a modern/orthodox thinker.  Kenneth Oakes recently even sees no problem in calling him orthodox/liberal because of Barth's continual use of the theoretical format he learned from the Neo-Kantians and Wilhelm Herrmann specifically.

McCormack has insisted that Barth was a dialectically critical-realistic (Realdialektik) theologian.  God's existence is the transcendent real that humans come in contact in a dialectically veiled/unveiled revelation with God as both the Object (Sache) and Subject of the matter.  Barth interpreter Paul La Montagne lists 7 points to illustrate what exactly this means:

1. Barth takes God's existence and God's self-revelation for granted.
2. His theology is nonfoundationalist (not anti).
3. His theology is critical and self-critical (This is a KEY point often ignored by Barth's readers).
4. We cannot speak of God, but we refer to God in our theology.
5. Our knowledge of God is mediated and indirect.
6. Our language of God is fallible; it is actualistic witness at its best.
7. Theology as a science is of a hypothetical character.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Beginning of Historicism: Chladenius & Möser

Johann Martin Chladenius and Justus Möser are two names that one does not hear in many households (especially the ones inhabited by Anglo-Americans).  However, in Beiser's new book on the German Historicist tradition, he makes the claim that these two are the grandfathers of Historicism. This is important because most  begin with Herder.

So what is so significant about both of them?  They both begin to look at history outside of simple confessional history or the history of the elite.  They also notice the importance of context and perspective in viewing the past. Because of their attention to history some may place them outside of the eighteenth century Enlightenment and see them as forerunners of nineteenth century movements.

Möser especially deserves mention here because he rejects Wolffian rationalism for its emphasis on reason and turns to the action and emotions of real historical actors. Chladenius seems to turn away from the relativism and perspectivism that may form from a historicist understanding of history because of his orthodox Lutheranism.  All in all, they are both pioneers in asking critical, modern questions about history.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Barth's Nietzschean View of History

I am half way done with Richard E. Burnett's book Karl Barth's Theological Exegesis.  The main reason I am reading this book is because he spends a fair amount of time describing what Barth's reading style (his hermeneutics) is like.  He does this by seeing Barth's Romans (I and II) as breaking from the hermeneutical tradition of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey and also the higher criticism of his contemporaries.

The Eureka moment I had is when Burnett pointed out that Barth quotes (in his unpublished preface to Romans) Nietzsche's book The Use and Abuse of History.   Here is the quote (see page 114):

"You may only interpret the past out of the highest power of the present: only in the strongest efforts of your noblest qualities will you divinize what in the past is great, worth knowing and preserving.  Like through like!    Or else you will pull the past down to yourself!  It is the mature and preeminent man who writes history.  He that has not passed through some greater and nobler experience than his contemporaries will be incapable of interpreting the greatness and nobility of the past. The voices of the past speak in oracles; and only the master of the present and the architect of the future can hope to decipher their meaning."

This helps one of my recent points (which is probably not too original) that Barth follows in the genealogy with Nietzsche's and Burckhardt's school of history.  For these three, they held a skeptical view of the progressive reading of history at the end of the nineteenth century, and they wanted a separation between science (its appeal to objective, detachment) and the other disciplines in the humanities.  Following this quote, Barth appeals to Nietzsche in the way the dynamic between the past and present is important for practicing history; thus, their is no detachment with regard to the past.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Prepping for Spring Semester 2013:On History

I have been away from the blogging game for a few months while I wrapped up Chapter 2 of the dissertation.  Here are a few things I have on my agenda for the coming year:

The relationship between what historians call micro-history and macro-history, social-cultural history and just general trends in historiography.  I am assigning some Jared Diamond and then some Robert Darnton/Natalie Zemon Davis/W. E. B. Du Bois to illustrate some of the differences.  Also, attached to this debate is the role of German historicism and its attention to historical hermeneutics.  I definitely have Burnett's book on Barth's early hermeneutics in mind.  German historicism is a subject that is ill defined especially in the English speaking world, so I plan to read what I can on exactly what was at the heart of this movement and where Barth fits in this world (or how he fights against it).  Some of the figures I want to cover are: Droysen, Rickert, Troeltsch, Dilthey, Meinecke, Cassirer, and Heidegger.

I wrote a lot on Deleuze during my early doctoral seminars, and I am looking to create something out of that research since it is not particularly relevant to my dissertation.  I'm thinking about looking at Fernand Braudel's book On History as a catalyst for comparisons (since Deleuze does refer to Braudel from time to time).  My educated hunch would be both have a view that tries not to favor the anthropocentric viewpoint.  Part of the challenge is to teach World Civilizations as less the struggle of important characters and events, but to look at long periods of time to establish why things changed over time and why some things stayed the same.  In order to do this correctly, some argue, is to downplay the human element.  My first step toward this is to lean on the interpretations of Kenneth Pomeranz and Robert Marks and the popular work of Jared Diamond.

To wrap things up, I want to correlate all this stuff on history and ask how does this translate over to my work at my local church or in theological discourse.

The good thing is that I have spaced out my doctoral work to give me more time to potentially write a journal article or two, be better prepared for lectures and enjoy the birth of my second son!!!