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 more 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 the day: 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 of power structures. Lately for me it’s been 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 even exist. Anti-idolatry struggles 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 fulfilled, but perhaps it does mean one needs to stop interacting with things in one’s life 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

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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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Anarchism, Justice, Liberation Theology

re-radicalizing scripture

Holy Scriptures endure, partially, to disrupt the lives of its adherents. This seems to be true for all religions. Of course, in each of their texts, there are a few voices that advocate for rich and powerful*, yet overall religious texts point toward justice and caring for the neighbor. In this way, Scriptures are dangerous. They demand the impossible and it’s impossible to get people to actually read them. Or maybe they have, but don’t fully understand its implications.

Here’s a few examples: Mary, Jesus’ mother, sang that the powerful should be removed from their thrones, so the poor can be lifted up (Luke 1:52). The Prophet Isaiah declared that even if you are penniless, you should still eat and drink for free (55:1). And lastly, in the earliest times of the Hebrews, womyn were leaders without question (Judges 4-5).

These examples fly in the face of current economic and political systems. 

Here’s some secondary texts that have led me to a radical understanding of Scripture:

Deryn Guest, Robert Goss, Mona West, and Thomas Bohache (Editors) The Queer Bible Commentary

Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s The Power of the Word: Scripture and the Rhetoric of Empire

Musa Dube’s Post-Colonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible

Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives

Richard Horsley’s Jesus and Empire

Robert E. Goss and Mona West (Editors) Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible

Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination

Wes Howard-Brook’s Come Out, My People!”

In making Scripture dangerous again, I wanted to practice re-radicalizing it by contemporizing Psalm 146. This Psalm, in particular, spells out a distrust of princes and royalty. For the psalmist, the point was to follow God who cares for the stranger, oppressed, widows, and orphans, since the status quo have never been concerned with such matters.

A wonderful homiletician taught me that when reading a text, verbs bring us closer to our reality, while nouns keep us at a distance. In other words, Jericho or Judges do not incorporate much meaning in our everyday lives, but “testing,” “lived among,” “they took,” and “they gave” can render endless possibilities.** With the Psalm, I updated a few verbs, but mostly focused on nouns.

Anyway, I hope you like it!

Praise God, our Agitator!
Praise God, from everything that is within us!

We will praise God as long as we live;
we will sing praises to God for the rest of our lives.

Do not put your trust in capitalists, CEOs
or in politicians, in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs, they will return to the Earth;
on that very day their wealth becomes rot.

Blessed are they whose help is the God of the marginalized,
whose hope is in the God who suffers with them,

who is the creator of the universe, Earth,
oceans, and all the creatures in them;
who is faithful forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
God sets the prisoners free;
God transforms the parts in our lives that we are afraid to speak of.

God lifts up the humbled;
God loves justice-seekers.

God watches over strange ones;
God upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the powerful, God brings to ruin.

God will reign forever,
our God, O Earth, for all generations.
Praise God!

jesus of maryknoll

* I’m thinking here of passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that promote the authority of priests, especially Nehemiah and Ezra, who command post-Exiled Hebrew men who married non-Jews to divorce them. In the Christian Scriptures, patriarchy is upheld through Household codes and Paul seems to call for a respect of the State (Romans 13). As well, slavery is rarely questioned, in pseudo-Pauline letters womyn are told to keep silent, etc. Other religious texts such as Confucian texts continue hierarchy and patriarchy.

** These verbs were gathered from the first few verses in Judges 3.

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Anarchism, Liberation Theology, Radical Commentary

“i met god, she’s black” and the death of the author

The first time I saw “I Met God, She’s Black” it was being worn by a friend at seminary. I thought they made it themselves.

It’s not like there’s a bunch of t-shirt companies who:
a) care about theology
b) even if they did, it would probably be pop-theology. So they could make some money off it
c) that Womanism will become public discourse only when it has some kind of market-value.
So the shirt stood out.

On HuffPo, over the weekend they interviewed the artist of the shirt, Dylan Chenfeld. He’s described as a Jewish Atheist who wants to poke fun of sacred cows.

“I’m taking the idea that God is a white male and doing the opposite of that, which is a black woman.”

Additionally, he says he’s not very religious because it’s sexist (I would add among other things including homophobic, transphobic, pro-capitalism, anti-creation to name a few). Chenfeld’s original intent was to poke fun of the “sacred cows” and maybe some get that point. But it is near impossible to separate the proclamation that #BlackLivesMatter from this shirt. Since August, with the murder of Michael Brown, the shirt has taken on a new meaning and I would add something more powerful. Black lives are divine lives!

In the late 1960’s, cultural and literary critic and theorist Roland Barthes published the essay “The Death of the Author”. He explains that we need to disassociate the text from the author, writing:

“We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture.

God as a black woman is political, theological, and moreover, a cultural artifact, in which the artist’s original intent is just a layer among many other meanings. I am thankful for this shirt, but more thankful of the beautiful meanings that have been encouraged. May #BlackLivesMatter be our mantra until we start living it. Maybe then it will be included in our daily and sacred liturgies.

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