Below is a reflection I wrote at the beginning of my Literary Theory and Faith class last semester. We had read Breakfast with Socrates and were assigned to do a miniature version of the book in which we reflected on the way Theory pervaded our everyday lives.
When I wake up in the mornings, I do so in anticipation of the classes that I will attend in a given day. When I arrive to class one of the first things I notice is that I am virtually the only male present. The second thing I notice is that virtually everyone is white. On the one hand, I consider the feminist cause to have come a long way: students in my advanced academic program are mostly women. On the other hand, white middle-class suburbia dominates my field, and yet we are a group willing to rage—at least from our classrooms—against a colonial cannon. But what can we do? Academic requirements have to be met and, unfortunately, Marx whispers that the economic systems in place permits middle and upper class white people to be the most likely to succeed academically. And while Iris Marion Young maintains that justice means more than proper distribution—given that people are actors with purpose and meaning and not just receptors for proper distribution of goods and services—Marx makes the point that to fix the issue the whole system will have to be remade.
I leave class and head to work where I sit at a desk and answer phones in the Center for Christian Service and Leadership. This organization runs chapel and coordinates the service projects of the university. The choice of the term service projects raises red flags for the rhetorician in me, but that is for another time. And so chapel happens. And while I no longer attend because I am a graduate student, I am certain that not much has changed. That, indeed, chapel is primarily a white male affair with the occasional “multi-cultural” chapel to show that the university is “diverse.”
And, like chapel, church is also one of those institutions I find myself part of and yet increasingly alienated from. Because I can get behind the Christianity of Walter Rauschenbusch or Gustavo Gutierrez or Cornell West, but have a harder time swallowing what I see in the day to day. And I once more hear Marx whispering about bourgeois institutions and the “opiate of the masses” and I hear James Cone thundering about Jesus identifying with the oppressed. And I know that I am not oppressed given that I am a person of privilege: an educated straight white middle-class male.
And then the preacher asks us to open our bibles and we read some section of the scripture or another. And my mind wanders to questions of genre, authorship, authority, and innerancy. As I mull over the flood story, I remember that Civ class where we read Gilgamesh. That’s when Lévi-Strauss starts to whisper in my ear about universal laws and common myths. We then take communion where De Saussure talks about the signifier and the signified. As we take the bread and the cup, it becomes apparent that communion functions as a symbol. The signifier and the signified are like two sides of the same sheet of paper, as that i’s how symbols work. One can’t separate them: getting close to smoke means one is getting close to fire. Calling the Bread a symbol of Christ’s body does not distance it from Christ’s body, and I wonder how it is possible that we are taking communion—participating in the Eucharist—when so many in the world are starving. We are the one loaf of God, yet we are committing the sin of Corinth.
In the end, of course, my life is made up of ordinary moments. I just hope I have the ability to read the text of the world with humility.