#StayWokeAdvent, Advent, Justice

what shall we cry out?: a #staywokeadvent lectionary reflection

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah 40:6-8

God bless the grass that breaks through cement,
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent,
But after a while it lifts up it’s head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead.
And God bless the grass.
“God Bless the Grass” by Malvina Reynolds

For the season of Advent, the Hebrew Bible texts arise from the later chapters of Isaiah. During this time period of Isaiah’s writings, the Judeans had been exiled for over 50 years in the land of Babylon. Their land was destroyed, their Temple flattened, and their faith was shaken. They had lost all hope (just read Lamentations), and believed that God might never vindicate them.

At the time of this passage in Isaiah, the prophet was calling them back to the Promised Land. He was calling for comfort, for valleys to be made level with the mountains, and saying that their sins have been forgiven. Then, in the middle of all the celebrating, a voice says, “Cry out!” But the prophet doesn’t know what to cry. And the question is never answered.

This sounds like our own contemporary conundrum.

What are we supposed to cry out with so many injustices? What should we call out first without starting an Oppression Olympics?

On August 9th, Michael Brown was murdered in the middle of the day by a police officer.

What shall we cry out?

Nearly 70 years ago on that date, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan killing over 80,000.

What shall we cry out?

Since Michael Brown’s murder, several more young black Americans have been killed by police officers.

What shall we cry out?

After the prophet asks the question, the response given is that people are like grass. People’s constancy is like that of a weak, little flower. We fade, wither, and die. And the breath of God, which in other passages brings life, here, brings death. Surely, people are grass. Then maybe that’s it. As I’m told often enough, justice will never come about until God reigns. And so we wait. We wait for other seedling to grow and hopefully they’ll fix some of our racist and sexist attitudes, laws, and perspectives.

But that’s not the end of story. There are other prophets who have rose up and spoke about the grass’ strength. One prophet, Malvina Reynolds, disrupts the prophet’s words saying that grass doesn’t just fade and wither. Grass can also pushes through the cracks in concrete. Unwatched it can take over whole areas. In short, grass is dangerous.

seasons greetings

As we watch reports from Ferguson and around the US, we hear ever loudly the rustle of grass. The spirit of justice blows through the land demanding the end of police brutality against all people, but especially for black and brown persons. This wind knocks over systematic oppressions that haunt many black and brown communities. This wind pushes toward a new world, one just waiting to arrive.

I used to think Advent meant that we wait patiently for Jesus to be born. The kind of waiting we perform at doctor’s offices. I was wrong. Waiting in Advent means to be active in creating God’s Realm, which is always full of justice. Those protesting for the end of police brutality, for Darren Wilson to be charged a just punishment, and for the end of killing black and brown peoples are all practicing a form of Advent waiting. #StayWokeAdvent

Advent, Christainity, Christmas, Subversive Carols

Subversive Carols: Joy to the World

This series will interpret our beloved Christmas and Advent carols not as sentimental songs, but as a challenge to the status quo. Many of these subversive themes are already found in the lyrics, yet are often not pointed out. Enjoy the 12 days of Subversive Carols! Thank you for reading and you can see the complete list of subversive carols here.

“Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Advent is a time for us to prepare our hearts that God may enter. To assist with that, “Joy to the World” begins with a beautiful theological metaphor of God’s love for the world. Acknowledging that the Christmas-event occurred 2,000 years ago, we sing that the “Lord is come,” not “has come,” but “is.” In other words, Christ has never left! And with that, everything in the world and above the world celebrates. This is the subversiveness of Immanuel, God-with-us, the God-who-never-leaves.

In theological terms, this is called kenosis meaning self-emptying. God gave up God’s power that God might have a body. This body changed theology forever. When we speak of the having God enter the room in our heart, we are asking God/Her that we too may practice our own kenosis. This is why the Earth is rejoicing because no longer are we spilling toxic waste into her veins or mining her skin because we are self-empting and humbling ourselves to become nothing.

Kenosis runs through the whole song. People are singing, and the Earth is sounding with joy. Together we are practicing a form of mutual aid by caring for one another and the Earth. In the third verse, the ancient curse of sin is destroyed when God becomes a body. The curses that societies have found in us, of low self-worth, of being a “lesser sex,” of having the “wrong skin color” is changed and transformed. We can live judgment free and love one another with respect and dignity!

Finally, the last verse sings us out with a new version of globalization. We don’t need to trade goods to be good neighbors; we preform this new globalization through justice. Brother Cornel West once said, “Justice is what love looks like in the public.” This song is not necessarily about the US, or us but about the Earth and countries that do not have global power. The joy extends around the world and begins when we practice kenosis and neighborliness.

Joy to the World

Advent, Christainity, Christmas, Subversive Carols

Subversive Carols: I heard the drones on Christmas Day

This series will interpret our beloved Christmas and Advent carols not as sentimental songs, but as a challenge to the status quo. Many of these subversive themes are already found in the lyrics, yet are often not pointed out. Enjoy the 12 days of Subversive Carols!

For this post, I wanted to do something different. Instead of interpreting a carol, I rewrote one. Recently, the US’ use of drones for military combat has been on my mind, and even more so with the misfiring and killing of 17 persons traveling to a wedding in Yemen. That is so disgusting, inhumane, and evil. Out of my frustration, I crafted this song. I hope to have audio up soon as well.

I heard the drones on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar humming sway,
In bloody snow
the bodies lay
Of peace on earth, goodwill to All!

And we feared the coming drones,
the minions of America
Had rolled along
The skies stark black
Of peace on earth, goodwill to All!

Our crying, screaming in dismay,
The world revolts both night to day,
A chant so strong,
Our protest song,
Of peace on earth, goodwill to All!

Then shouting from the commander’s mouth
Another drone takes to the sky
The bombs a sound
Our protests drowned
Of peace on earth, goodwill to All!

They have taken our rights away,
We are but a game to them,
And made forlorn
Our songs are worn
Of peace on earth, goodwill to All!

And in despair we bowed our heads;
“There’s no peace on earth,” we said;
“The US is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to All!”

Then we cried out ever more
“We do not want this empty war
We’re tired of this
We’ve lost it all.
Of peace on earth, goodwill to All.”

drone christmas

Advent, Christainity, Christmas, Subversive Carols

Subversive Carols: We Three Kings

This series will interpret our beloved Christmas and Advent carols not as sentimental songs, but as a challenge to the status quo. Many of these subversive themes are already found in the lyrics, yet are often not pointed out. Enjoy the 12 days of Subversive Carols!

“We Three Kings” by John Henry Hopkins, Jr.

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high.

Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies

In conversation, when someone uses Orient or Oriental to describe someone/something, my senses heighten and I am ready to pounce, even if it is something nice or indifferent. This is because I took a wonderful and transforming class on Postcolonial Women’s Novels. Let’s just say we read a ton on postcolonial theory. One of these theorists was the late great Edward Said, who constructed the theory of Orientalism. In summary,

“Said calls into question the underlying assumptions that form the foundation of Orientalist thinking. A rejection of Orientalism entails a rejection of biological generalizations, cultural constructions, and racial and religious prejudices. It is a rejection of greed as a primary motivating factor in intellectual pursuit. It is an erasure of the line between ‘the West’ and ‘the Other.’”

You can catch my drift. For thousands of years, Western culture has neglected and stigmatized Eastern culture declaring it less than equal. So when the opening line of “We Three Kings,” describes the kings location as in the Orient, I cringe. I want to suggest though, that “We Three Kings” mocks all of our ideas of Orientalism and forces us to sing a carol guides away from Orientalism.

Other than knowing that they are from the East, we can acknowledge that they are rich and carry gifts. Hence, they are not the romanticized foreigners, but personalized. These kings travel far following a special star that will lead them to hope. In addition, this journey is not some simple walk in a park, but very costly. They have to travel over mountains, fields, and even fountains.

Then we come to the chorus. And I assume that it’s the travelers belting it out. They are singing to the star in all its glory. It’s these last two lines of the chorus that gets tricky. They sing that they are traveling westward to see the perfect light. Could this mean the perfect light is only in the West? Or is it possible the perfect light shines in the East as much as it does in the West, since they could see it there as well? Perhaps.

In the verses following, the kings sing of the gifts they brought to the king-babe. This includes: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, of course. Here we are presented with the absurd. Kings, east of Bethlehem, bearing gifts to a newborn child who is still nursing. Strange indeed! They praise this baby as God. The last verse calls the babe, “King and God and Sacrifice.” This is a huge expectation for a child who just breathed his first breathe moments earlier. Thus “We Three Kings” presents Eastern culture as enriching and of its own. Yet, its theology sides on the ridiculous. They worship the babe-God, the divine child, the swaddling Messiah. Is this radical and subversive? Yes, certainly. Strange? Most definitely. Are we called to do the same? Absolutely! Let the incarnate God rupture your wisdom for foolishness!

three kings

Advent, Christainity, Christmas, Subversive Carols

Subversive Carols: Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming

This series will interpret our beloved Christmas and Advent carols not as sentimental songs, but as a challenge to the status quo. Many of these subversive themes are already found in the lyrics, yet are often not pointed out. Enjoy the 12 days of Subversive Carols!

“Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming” by Theodore Baker

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger they found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

Written in the late 16th century, “Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming” was originally a German hymn. Not entirely included in our culture of Christmas, I first heard this song in an Episcopal church I attended in 2009. Then, I heard it again sung by Sufjan Stevens, whose version is phenomenal. Anyhow, the verses in “Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming” are chalk-full of Hebrew Bible imagery and present a high view of Christ as God-babe. At the same time these lyrics overthrow systems of fascist political domination.

In current theological discourses, God is taught as being most sovereign, totally in control, and having knowledge of everything at once. It is common that for such a strong God that God’s followers should also reflect such strongness in their acts of worship.* Workout worship videos, wrestling and cage-fighting matches at all gathers, and pastors should have complete knowledge of their members’ activities. This of course is preposterous! Churches don’t run this way; instead, we project such beliefs onto our secular structures, such as the government (NSA, CIA), family (patriarchal), and violent state authorities (police/military). “Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming” deconstructs and resists such strong interpretations of a strong God and government.

Ripe with metaphor, in the first verse Jesus is “a rose…from a tender stem,” “sung by” humanity, and “a floweret bright.” These phrases do not demonstrate a sovereign divinity, but a gentle, compassionate loved one. Again in the second verse, the Rose represents Jesus. It is not God’s power shown through Jesus’ birth; instead, it is God’s tender love. And tacked on at the end of both of these verses is, “When half spent was the night.” Clearly, the middle of the night is the worst time to demonstrate any kind of authority. Power is demonstrated in broad daylight that everyone may heed its authority. Overthrowing any power for dominance and control, Jesus was born when no one expected it, in the middle of the night during winter.

The shepherds make an appearance in this song by traveling to see the sweet child. In the US context, shepherds are crusties, homeless persons, and day laborers. They are the forgotten, the nobodies. The ones no one wants to recognize, so we ignore them. It’s these people that the angels first proclaim the message of Jesus’ birth. Once again, this resists any kind of power play. Then finally, in the last verse, Jesus is called the “Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness” still “fills the air.” No remark of the cross that saves humanity, but salvation is found in the incarnation.

Our load is now lightened that we may breathe life where only death is found.

To disrupt power that goodness may abound.

Lo How an Rose Ere Blooming

* John Caputo makes the distinction between strong and weak theologians. Strong theologians teach of God’s sovereignty and the omni-s. On the other hand, weak theologians understand God not as sovereign, but as a Derridaian event. When an event takes place, it transforms everything. Everyone involved are no longer the same.

Advent, Christainity, Christmas, Subversive Carols

Subversive Carols: Wonderful Christmastime

This series will interpret our beloved Christmas and Advent carols not as sentimental songs, but as a challenge to the status quo. Many of these subversive themes are already found in the lyrics, yet are often not pointed out. Enjoy the 12 days of Subversive Carols!

“Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney

The moon is right
The spirit’s up
We’re here tonight
And that’s enough

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime

The party’s on
The feelin’s here
That only comes
This time of year

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime

The choir of children sing their song
Ding dong, ding dong
Ding dong, ding, oh, oh

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime

The word is out
About the town
To lift a glass
Ah, don’t look down

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime

In 1979, “Wonderful Christmastime” was released. Paul McCartney, then an ex-Beatle and the lead singer of Wings wrote it. On the radio, this song gets such an absurd amount of  airtime that McCartney receives $400,000-$600,000 a year in royalties. Honestly, this is a huge brick wall for me attempting to interpret this carol as subversive. If with only one song, McCartney is making more money than 80% of US workers without actually doing anything, but writing and copyrighting a song, we have a serious problem on our hands. Much more can be said about income disparity and inequality among the working class and the ruling class, but I will save that for another post. For now, I want to construct new subversive meanings behind these lyrics.

The line “Simply having a wonderful Christmastime” repeats fourteen times throughout the song. This is done for two reasons. First, it demonstrates the simplicity of Christmas. The chorus is not concerned with presents, mistletoe, candles, angels, or even the baby Jesus. Instead, it sheds light on the simplicity of the Christmas season. In addition, it denotes Christmas as a time in space. For “Wonderful Christmastime,” Christmas is more than just a holiday, it is a presence. Although, Christmastime is mostly found in winter, it could possibly be located all year round. The simplicity and the presence help us not to be distracted by the holiday and celebrate Christmastime.

Moving onto the verses, there are only three verses found in this song if they are not repeated. Two of them speak of a friendly gathering and the third takes the gathering into the streets. In the first verse, friends are gathered for a fun time with the singer. Everything about this gathering is perfect: the weather, the friends surrounding her/him, and the spirit. The spirit is no ghost of Christmas past or a haunting figure. The spirit actually is that which is situated among the peoples, and without the peoples, there is no spirit. Thus in the first verse, the spirit moves the people and keeps them joyful during their time together.

In the second verse, which mirrors the first in rhythm and lyrics, the spirit is removed. In its place are “the feelin’s.” These feelings can only be found during Christmastime. Furthermore, “the feelin’s” do not negate the spirit; instead, they grant the spirit flesh. It is the fleshy feeling that we find in this song: the touching of bodies through hugs, kisses, and handshakes. Indeed, through these acts of incarnation do we see the spirit move and transform the world!

Finally, in the last verse, the party enters the streets expressing their fellin’ spirit. They raise a glass to new possibilities, to a just world, never looking down. This is a hope for a better future. They are pushing the boundaries of love and hope. Christmastime transcends holidays and seasons. It cannot be domesticated and set on a shelf until next year. Catching the Christmas-spirit changes us and the world. Let’s celebrate!


Advent, Christainity, Christmas, Subversive Carols

Subversive Carols: Jingle Bells

This series will interpret our beloved Christmas and Advent carols not as sentimental songs, but as a challenge to the status quo. Many of these subversive themes are already found in the lyrics, yet are often not pointed out. Enjoy the 12 days of Subversive Carols!

“Jingle Bells” by James Lord Pierpont

Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O’er the fields we go
Laughing all the way
Bells on bob tails ring
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to laugh and sing
A sleighing song tonight

Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh

“Jingle Bells” was the first carol I was taught as a child. I could somewhat relate to the snow covered fields since I lived in a rural town in Western Maryland where snowfall started in November and ended sometime in April. Anyway, the melody is simple enough for anyone to learn. Upon investigating this carol to see if any subversive themes would poke their head through the crowd, I was left with nothing. Rather, I discovered that it was originally written as a Thanksgiving song and was the first song sung in space! And as hopefully you have already watched, YouTube animals love “Jingle Bells” as well.

Yet, other than its simple melody, why is this carol so beloved?

Well, because it is a song of freedom! Even more than that, it spells out the freedom found in emancipatory revolutionary politics. The opening lines “Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh,” has the rider exposed to the natural world. No longer is the rider alienated from the rest of existence; instead, snow is flying in her face, her scarf is blowing in the wind, and she is one with all that is around her.

In emancipatory revolutionary politics, we are free to be human. Free from the structures that oppress. Free from bosses, cops, and all authority figures. The rider in “Jingle Bells” experiences life to its utmost fullest. She can sing, laugh, and play in the snow because she does not need to worry about laws imposed on her from higher ups. Her laughter echoes throughout the land. She is free.

It’s joy that reverses Empires from their ways of rationalism and control and sets Capitalism on its destructive head!

Jingle Bells