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, 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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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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Anti-Capitalism, anti-war, Beliefs, Justice

the people’s climate march and hermeneutics

I’ll admit it: I’m a hermeneutics fanatic. Whenever I enter a bookstore, I head straight for the literary criticism section. There is something enthralling thumbing through Roland Barthes’ Mythologies, Edward Said’s postcolonial criticism of Jane Eyre‘s madwoman in the attic, and the overweight, almost 3,000 page, Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. I am fascinated about the different ways one can read a text and the world.

And it’s not like this is a new phenomena. Writers and critics alike have been reading and re-reading texts for centuries coming to different conclusions. For instance, in my Sunday School class, ages 6-13, I wanted to give them a hermeneutical key to read Scripture. I offered what I called a good news model, i.e. looking for good news in every passage. After explaining it, the first question posed was why we think Jesus’ death on the cross is good news? This third grader said that it sounds like bad news. I couldn’t help but agree. A man dying/dead on a cross plastered all over our churches is not good news. The good news, I explained, is God raising Jesus from the dead. God redeemed what was made deplorable. God transformed the pitiful and made right what Roman Empire deemed wrong. That’s Good News. And in a different context, I would have explained something more nuanced.

This weekend I participated in the People’s Climate March in NYC. It was hermeneutical heaven. Everyone with a sign, unless it was massively reproduced, had a varying lens in which to approach Climate Change.

fracking: little economic gain counts for nothing if you’re destroying the Earth and you can’t drink the water.

veganism: against factory farming, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest for grazing land for cows

anti-capitalism: Global Capitalism casts a deadly shadow across the whole world. it will take, borrow, and steal anything, and re-directs climate justice discussion to neo-liberal laws

personal reasons: guilt for voting and registering as Republican (saw a sign reading, “Ashamed Republican”), concern for one’s grandchildren

Climate change

It’s these various anthems that make marches great. And even if we don’t have the same platform, we can still chant, sing, and march together. And this happens everyday and is concentrated in religious worship services. Not all United Methodists congregants interpret Scripture or even the hymns the same way. The same can be said for Muslims reciting the Qur’an, Jews singing Torah, or Hindus interpreting their sacred texts.

So what can we take away with different hermeneutical perspectives? First, that we shouldn’t make sweeping assumptions about groups of people or even individuals about the way they view the world or read. Second, humanity and the cosmos are full of contradictions, blind spots, and missteps. No one approach will be perfect, it may be complete, but never perfect. Lastly, that one should explore other traditions, while at the same time going deeper in their own. In this way, one can show respect toward others and are able to articulate their own hermeneutical lens.

Interpreting texts and the cosmos should life-giving and not a burden.

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Anti-Capitalism, Beliefs, Christainity, Ecology

hoping against hope: god, weak-bodies, and Pentecost

“Hoping against hope … [Abraham] did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.” (Romans 4:18a, 19 NRSV)

Few body theologians consider Paul’s contribution to a theology of the body. When surveying the Pauline corpus, several texts prominently construct a theological anthropology focused on the body. In Paul’s letter to Galatia, he informs believers of three gospels, “the circumcised,” “the foreskin,”(2:7) and a “contrarian gospel” (1:8). In this way, Paul associates the Gospel message with the body–whether one is a circumcised Jew who still practices the Law or a Gentile believer following Christ–these Gospels cannot be separated from one’s body. From bodies, communities develop, and with it, a new ethics of eating and relating to neighbors. Bodies must be the genesis of any theology.

Controlling bodies is fundamental to all Empires. These dominant forces enslave bodies, transplant bodies, and control weak-bodies through the use of militarized strong-bodies. While the Romans were Empire-building, propagandists wrote the Priene Inscription concerning Caesar Augustus. The inscription transcends body-talk and depicts a hope that the Emperor has brought to all people of the Empire. It commends Augustus for putting an end to war and bringing order to chaos. Moreover, it explains that all people shall find hope in Caesar Augustus, even after his death. Roman imperial theology supported Caesar in making himself a god through stealing bodies to conquer the world.

In this context, Paul, a missionary to the Gentiles, wrote to the early followers of Christ in Rome. In a particular re-working of the Abrahamic narrative in Genesis 18, Paul discusses a hope beyond hope found in Abraham’s faith. In the Hebrew text, when the mysterious men told Abraham that Sarah would conceive a child (Gen. 18:10), Sarah laughs at the prospects of bearing a child at her old age (18:12). When Paul describes the scenario, Abraham’s body is first introduced. Although, his body was “as good as dead,” his body was not yet rotting, life was ready to spring forth, and his faith was strong.

In this way, Paul points against and beyond Augustus’ “hope.” God works with/in/through the weak-bodied and marginalized. Paul used the example of Abraham for his readers to embrace a theology of weak-bodies. If even the founder of their faith trusted in God’s promise, why can’t the communities who find themselves on the margins of the Empire, find the same kind of hope? This is in complete contrast to the hope perpetuated by the Roman Empire, which was founded on the false pretenses that Caesar Augustus created peace and order. With this false narrative in mind, readers and hearers of the epistle were encouraged to hope against the very hope they were told to believe in and to dismantle the Roman Empire’s theology, for a theology in which God is on the side of the downtrodden.

Transplanting the letter to the Romans into our context, followers of Christ ‘hope against hope’ in the face of global capitalism and amidst ecological crisis. Recently, new studies report on the dire health of the Earth. The future looks worrisome for the creatures of Earth because of humanity’s overconsumption of natural resources and pollution. Over the past twenty years, the effects of global warming have landed on the shores of the Third World with more famines, tsunamis, and hurricanes. These “acts of God” were caused by the Rich’s idolatrous god, Almighty Capitalism. But how can the Christ community keep “hoping against hope” when the future’s only horizon consists of the globalization metanarrative? Since we are entrenched in the wiles of capitalist ideology, where could there be new breakthroughs of alternative economics, politics, and social structures?

The answer to these questions, I believe, is found within this verse. When faced with overwhelming devastation, we must hold onto a hope that shatters beyond all hope. We must belong to communities that strive for alternatives to the metanarratives that cast a long shadow across the world. Since God sides and works through weak-bodies, we too must side with the abused, the neglected, those without a voice, and the downtrodden. God’s power  pulsates hope through weakness throughout the world.

Lastly, and most important for celebrating Pentecost, it was the weak-bodies who uttered the radical grace found in the Gospel. It was not the most powerful! The listeners in the narrative even made fun of the social location of the tongue-speakers and believed they were drunk. After all, isn’t the bible full of rejects, losers, and weak-bodies? Even when characters gain power, they use it for the wrong reasons, e.g. David and Solomon. It’s not in the wealthy-plump-bodies that we find salvation, for one day they will be hungry (Luke 6:25).

God chose (and chooses) what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to no-thing things that are (1 Cor. 1:28).

The Holy Spirit Arrives

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Anti-Capitalism, Beliefs, Christainity, Philosophy, Politics

god’s not (not) dead

American Christians are flocking to the movie theaters to watch the latest in Christian pop culture. This year, three overtly Christian films flashed across our movie screens: Son of God, God is not dead, and the upcoming film Heaven is for real. They exhaust contemporary American Christian metanarratives, i.e. penal substitution, God is our friend, the desire for an afterlife over the present one. Moreover, these films are apologetic tools for Christians to witness to their family and friends. But some questions come to mind: Are the producers of these films, knowing that Christian subculture is plentiful in the US, motivated by money (manna) or the gospel? Are they using capitalism to subvert it for God’s kin-dom or merely perpetuating capitalism to keep the subculture afloat to eventually make more money later?

I assume the producers, directors, and all those in the films really just want the money. Sure, if it has a positive message, that’s good too; but it is really about the bottom line. Here we could use Nietzsche’s parable of the madman to help us understand how American Christianity is more of a marketplace, than a religion. Nietzsche famously pens, “God is dead.” Sadly, too often, this line is taken out of context and quoted on church signs saying things like “”God is dead” – Nietzsche” then underneath reading “Nietzsche is dead” – God.” Kinda funny, but not entirely true.

In Nietzsche’s parable, the madman runs into the market-place in the early morning. He carries only a lantern to light his path. He cries out that he is looking for God. The people, who have no regard for God, ask him mockingly, whether God is taking a vacation or maybe in the bathroom. The madman eventually declares in a long speech that God is dead and that we are God’s murderers. Once the speech ended, the madman throws his lantern on the ground, and declares,

“I have come too early, my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.”

The madman’s words resound truer today than ever: what should shock us is not the phrase “God is dead,” but that we are the ones responsible.

We drag out God at gunpoint to the middle of the woods with our Christian subculture that speaks to fashion more than any kind of reflective theology.

We murder God when communities are built on trigger points rather than grace.

We put a nail in God’s coffin every time we financially support a subculture than actually caring for those in our community.

We are God’s coffin bearers and spit on God’s grave when we forsake our call to love without distinction to only find strength in our ideology.

Thankfully, we have a chance to abandon the giant sinking ship of subculture and ideology for something more authentic–where we can get our hands dirty, understand the world as chaotic, yet beautiful, and ride in small boats, really toughing out the waves. Christianity, or for that matter any religion, should not be simple. Faith should not be only one prayer, or a ten-step program, or a sermon series that solves it all; it’s about the journey with the Divine and one another. We need to take responsibility for who we are in our neighborhoods and our family. Let’s not bury God with our pitiful ideologies, but participate in a life imagined by God through our rituals, Sacred Texts and experiences together.

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Anti-Capitalism, Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology, Philosophy, Politics, Prison Industrial Complex

re-thinking economics, theology, and politics for a better future

The Guardian posted an article, “Mainstream economics is in denial: the world has changed“, challenging economists who teach of the greatness of our  global economic system. In Great Britain, economists in higher education dare not speak against global capitalism or even teach about the 2009 economic crisis. Clearly, this is ideology. These economists are riding on a hamster wheel of their own theories and cannot construct new theories for our present situation or the future.

I find this to be true for other disciplines in universities and in the public sphere. In seminaries, classes are taught with books by theologians living in the mid-20th century, or earlier. Few theology classes teach constructive  theologies or have students pursing their own theological voice. In the political realm, few and far between are others challenging those who have created economic and social disparities. Instead, we begrudgingly work within the political system making baby steps for the way of justice.

Radical Black Lesbian Audre Lorde in her famous speech titled “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” says,

“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.

Leaving behind the oppressive structures (the master’s house) is not an easy task. Small victories have come for some oppressed groups in the US, yet new challenges arise thus new tools are needed to dismantle it. Injustices such as the military-industrial complex, prison-industrial complex, racism with voter id laws and other structurally racist injustices, police brutality, transphobia, homophobia, anti-Islamic laws and attitudes, etc. dominate US culture and society. Thus I believe institutions in the US and Europe have fallen behind, not able to keep up with new ideas, cultures, and theories. Students are not equipped in how to think about injustices. Cultural lag infests religious communities. I don’t have any kind of answer with how to deal with our institutions. I try my best to engage contemporary questions, injustices, and trying to incorporate myself with people fighting for justice–but find it too overwhelming– trying to be on top of everything and still have a life. Possibly, the solution will come from organizations and groups of freedom fighters making demands on our institutions for justice and pushing them to think about the future. I pray I am part of it, if this is true.

Audre Lorde quote on dismantling the Master's House

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