Anarchism

Uncrowning the Bramble

I wrote this reflection for Presbyterians for Earth Care.

The trees once went out
to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree,
‘Reign over us.’
The olive tree answered them,
‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil
by which gods and mortals are honored,
and go to sway over the trees?’

Then the trees said to the fig tree,
‘You come and reign over us.’
But the fig tree answered them,
‘Shall I stop producing my sweetness
and my delicious fruit,
and go to sway over the trees?’

Then the trees said to the vine,
‘You come and reign over us.’
But the vine said to them,
‘Shall I stop producing my wine
that cheers gods and mortals,
and go to sway over the trees?’

So all the trees said to the bramble,
‘You come and reign over us.’
And the bramble said to the trees,
‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you,
then come and take refuge in my shade;
but if not, let fire come out of the bramble
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.'”

Judges 9:8-15 (NRSV)

One of the unluckiest lectionary-forgotten texts is the Parable of the Trees, found in Judges. This was the first parable in all of the Hebrew Bible. It has a strange and ecological edge to it. The trees are looking to be reigned over. The text does not share why the trees are looking for a ruler, but it is assumed that they are foolish in their pursuit. The trees speak to an olive tree, fig tree, and vine. They each respond that they are too busy providing vital nourishment and support for ‘gods and mortals.’ When the trees eventually speak with the bramble, it seems to mock their aspirations, saying: “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade.” Trees, as we know, offer more shade than any bramble bush could. The next line though is even starker: “but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” The parable ends abruptly. I can imagine that after the bramble bush said that, the trees anxiously gulped.

What might this parable mean for us? First, God is enough. The Book of Judges and the first chapters of First Samuel spell out to the Hebrew people that God is their king and they do not need human overlords. God speaks out of love and justice, not out of domination. Second, there’s a beautiful ecological meaning to it. The Earth is enough. It provides what we need when we need it. When we push the Earth to its limits, all suffer. Lastly, we are enough. We do not need to look for controlling and strong leaders. God has given us the abilities and the Scriptures to discern how to act justly and live out compassion. May we do so. 

Prayer: O Loving God, through this Lent help us to trust you, knowing that you are enough. Direct us in treating the Earth as our sibling and not as something to be controlled. And guide us as we follow you, reading your Scriptures, and loving our neighbors. In Christ’s name, Amen.

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Anarchism

“Go to the Limits of Your Longing” by Rainer Maria Rilke

God speaks to each of us as we are made,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you:
beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.


This is my prayer. May it bless you too. 

flare up like a flame
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Anarchism, Anti-Capitalism, Christainity, Lent

practicing anti-idolatry for lent

Great-Martyr Theodore Stratelates destroying idols

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the anticapitalist season of Lent. A season where one focuses on consuming less and become inwardly focused on spiritual health. A time when one’s worth is not caught up in buying things. One is reminded today of their death as ashes are rubbed into one’s forehead and the recitation of the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” To be reminded of one’s death can be humbling but also, if you’re like me, it causes existential questioning.

I was raised in a Pentecostal church, that often would sing the Happy Goodman’s song, “I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.”

I still can remember the chorus:

“Well, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now
Gotta make it to Heaven somehow
Though the devil tempt me and he tried to turn me around

He’s offered everything that’s got a name
All the wealth I want and worldly fame
If I could still I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.”

In a way, with this song and songs like it, I was brought up with an anti-prosperity gospel: to want/desire money and fame is to side with devil. It seems to fit with the theme of Ash Wednesday: one cannot take their fortunes with them to the grave. When one hoards earthly riches, one is taking resources from others. Death is universal, but life is not.

If a theology of Christian anarchism has to begin anywhere, it’s with anti-idolatry. This means no gods, no masters, no bosses, and no cops. This theology disrupts a comfortable Christian theology that supports a business-as-usual way of being in the world to a questioning and struggling against the power structures. Lately for me, I’ve been wondering why should students go into debt for education in the US? Why do people still freeze to death in cities when there are so many empty apartments? And why do billionaires exist? Anti-idolatry fights against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, fascism, and all other forms of oppression.

If Lent has its biblical roots in Jesus’ forty days in the desert, then it has always been anti-idolatrous. Jesus took nothing with him. He resisted idolatrous temptations from the devil. He did not consume anything during those many days. He rejected being worshiped. One does not need to go into the desert to be spiritually satisfied, but perhaps it does mean that one needs to stop interacting with things that are distracting. Or maybe that one should re-think through their own idols and stop worshipping them.

May this Lenten season crack open for you new possibilities of anti-idolatry struggle.

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Anarchism, Liberation Theology, Prayer

antifa, an ass, and a prayer

On this Palm Sunday morning, I have a few non-related thoughts:

I listened to an insightful interview with Mark Bray on WYNC titled, “For Antifa, Not All Speech Should Be Free.” Basically the anti-fascist approach is to shut down, hinder, and disrupt racist, sexist, Islamophobic, transphobic, and other oppressive and hate-filled speech before it leads to more holocausts and genocides. What I find attractive about the antifa movement is the large net it casts in leftist ideologies, from marxists to anarchists to Democratic Socialists. Educating the ignorant, interrupting hate speech, and unsettling the status quo is not easy work, but necessary.

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Artist He Qi

Today in the Christian liturgical calendar, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a never-ridden-before ass, that practically the disciples steal for the Lord’s sake. Plenty of other commentators have added their voices noting the subversiveness of this political parade. That simultaneously as Jesus was riding into one area of Jerusalem, Pilate would’ve have been riding in on a war horse in another section of the city. In The Last WeekJohn Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg (RIP) do a fine job explaining this idea. What’s struck at me this year is the crowd yelling “Hosanna,” which literally means “Save now!” The peasants of Jerusalem were calling for a political revolution, to be rescued from their constant mode of being in crisis. In my experience, all protests have a similar mode: the current political structure needs to be rearranged, burnt to the ground, etc. for a fuller political imagination, one where everyone is fed, housed, can work (if desired), and loved. And perhaps Jesus started the new order since the first thing he did was to turn over the tables of capitalists in the Temple (Matt. 21:12). Let’s continue in the way of Jesus, towards revolution and hope.

A prayer for the three Coptic Churches bombed during their Palm Sunday Service.
Oh God of this world
We pray for the Coptic families
of those killed and injured today
We pray that those who commit
such acts to repent of their ways
We pray too for the Syrian people
for all the bombings they have suffered
We pray that the US may repent of its
continued use of violence here and around the world
May we live in peace
Hosanna, Oh God!
Save now, Oh Christ!
Liberate us, Oh Spirit!
Amen

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Anarchism, Anti-Capitalism

fellowshipping with socialists

red_anarcho_pacifism_by_christiansocialism

I first heard of the event, “Socialism from moment to movement,” when some Facebook friends clicked “interested” and it appeared on my timeline. I paid it no mind, but took a screenshot of it so I would be reminded of it every time I went through my photos. It was the day before the event that I decided to attend.

I arrived 10 minutes early. For some reason I did not notice that it was an International Socialist Organization event. When I entered the room, a mid-50’s white woman cornered me and bombarded me with questions:

“What are you thinking about this election?”

“Do you consider yourself a leftist?”

“Would you like to join one of our book groups?”

I answered them as quickly as she asked them. Although, I felt like I was trying to impress her as if I had to show her that I was a card carrying Leftist. Around 7, I took my seat in an empty row. Shortly after, the room started to fill up. As I watched those who entered the room, my eye caught the moment when another white woman in her mid-50’s entered and spoke with the one I just talked to and I saw her point to me. The newly arrived woman then came and sat next to me. She too asked me several questions. These were more personal though. Like what I did for work and where I live. She seemed more interested in what I thought than the first woman. It wasn’t until 7:20 when the speaker finally gave her presentation. She offered an incredible historical overview of socialism in the US starting with the 1919 Strike in Seattle up through Occupy Wall Street and Bernie. I was hoping the talk was going to address how to harness the energy from the Bernie campaign and use it to empower the Left; instead, they called Bernie a totalitarian socialist. It felt like they were trying to split the already fractured and unorganized Left. We need to protect and watch each other’s backs, not to stab each other.

After the talk, there was an hour and a half for questions and responses. They were both done by audience members, which I liked that it wasn’t the speaker who had all the answers. The questions included “Who will pay for free healthcare?” “How can there be free tuition?” and “Do we really need Democracy; will it not always be tied to capitalism?” By the end of the hour, I heard so much proselytizing for socialism that I felt very uncomfortable. As well, as the event went on, the room kept getting warmer and I was ready to leave. The question session ended at 9:10pm. I tried to burst out of there, but before I could, I was handed a Socialist newspaper and a flier by one of the women I spoke with earlier.

I found the whole event overwhelming. There was not much room for political discourse, other than what they called ‘socialism from below.’ I came in not quite knowing what the event was about and left exhausted and sad for the state of Leftist discourse. I’ve never thought of myself as a socialist. For me, the language is too strong and I’d rather not have the State be our only overlord of Almighty Capital.

I’ll keep with the label anarchist or anarcho-communist, situating myself in a politic of community, autonomy-in-togetherness, and anti-capitalism: where we’re fighting for a world where everyone has a place to live and thrive. And sure, socialists have similar ends, but their means depend far too much on power-as-it-is rather than imagining new ways of being.

In general, the title “Socialism from moment to movement” was more of a history lesson than anything one can posit for the future. At one point the speaker said that we need to be ready for revolution at any moment and their reading groups and conferences are how we get prepared. Maybe that’s how one prepares intellectually and emotionally, but also we too need to prepare by getting to know our neighbors, their needs, and start living into the revolution here and now.

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A People's History of Prayer, Anarchism, Prayer

a people’s history of prayer: an introduction

A People'sHistoryof Prayer

 

Ever since I first heard of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, I have been fascinated with the series. Most recently I read An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Her thoughtful prose and love for the subject has filled me with such intrigue and sorrow for all the ways we have and continue to displace and oppress Native Americans. I highly recommend it to raise one’s social consciousness.

This semester our chapel staff at Union Theological Seminary suggested the theme of prayer. Immediately, A People’s History of Prayer came to mind. I decided to take it on, in which I will, as Walter Benjamin famously wrote, “brush history against the grain” and mine for forgotten/neglected prayers, poems, and/or pleas of the people.

I hope for this project to be weekly, sometimes with commentary and other times just their prayers.

 

 

 

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Anarchism, Anti-Capitalism, Liberation Theology, Radical Commentary, Scripture

st. paul armed with a black bandana and a chant

 

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“There is a perfect likeness between the Christian and the anarchist: their object, their instinct, points, only toward destruction.” (The Antichrist, Nietzsche, 168)

My first major protest was against the G20, which was hosted in Pittsburgh during the fall of 2009. My friends and I borrowed my hall mate’s car and drove from Philly at 5am. We specifically went to this protest because it was not permitted by the city. It was truly an anarchist march. My group dressed in black, but had colorful bandanas just in case we separated. Standing in the park, waiting for the protest to begin, several reporters came and asked us why we opposed the G20. Our talking points were:

  • it was undemocratic for a few people to decide the fate for whole populations,
  • it was hierarchical in that only the powerful ones have a voice, and
  • the poor and the Earth are the ones who will suffer the most out of these deals.

I carried a black flag for the duration of the protest. Sound cannons and smoke bombs were used to hinder us. Eventually, my group left the protest once the riot police started shooting rubber bullets. I believe Paul would’ve been there with us, wearing all black, waving a black flag, and chanting “The people united will never be defeated!”


Perhaps a battlesquare for our situation would pin statists (those who support the State) against anarchists (anti-hierarchical, anti-oppression, anti-State), but this is hard to comprehend when their narratives run completely opposite. As well, it would be difficult to have any kind of reconciliation or compromise to bring together the statist and the anarchist. This would turn into a perverse version of socialism, where little states would own capital. Thus, it would have to be something beyond the battle square and not the two combing of the narratives.

Here Paul helps us: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another (Galatians 5:13, NRSV).

Paul uses the oppressive form of slavery to conceptualize freedom. This version of Paul’s freedom has resonance with the anarchist form of reciprocal freedom. In the States, we have a rhetoric of negative freedom, a freedom-from being told to do something. This is why talk-radio can spew such racist, sexist, and oppressive rhetoric. Colloquially, the quote “Don’t tread on me” sums up the States’ version of freedom. Then, there’s positive freedom, freedom-to do what one wants. While Paul may seem closer to this idea, it still holds in utmost regard the autonomous individual. This is reflected in “My body, choice.” Finally, and most importantly, is reciprocal freedom, freedom-with others. I am not free unless you are free. This is not about self-policing one’s language and actions, but through listening, caring, and becoming a slave to one another.

The opening quote from Nietzsche is absolutely essential: Christianity and anarchism’s end goal is destruction. This destruction though is about changing the-world-as-it-is and not its obliteration. Capitalists and corporations are the ones already destroying the Earth through their horrible business practices. Paul wants to see change in the world through reciprocal love and compassion.

One of my favorite anarcho-folk-punk bands, Wingnut Dishwasher’s Union, spells this form of freedom as slavery to one another in their song “My idea of fun.

live as you make it up cause we’re enough
you’ll never go without cause we’re enough
we’ll buy a house cause we’re enough
we’ll grow some food cause we’re enough

We’re slaves to one another in love and not because we have an ethical duty to do so. At the G20 protest, reciprocal freedom abounded. Protestors gave a hand to those who had fallen behind. Anarchist medics aided those with smoke in their eyes. I saw God’s realm on those Pittsburgh streets and I believe Paul would’ve stood hand-in-hand with us pronouncing Another World is Possible.

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