Christainity, Philosophy

middle class economics and the industrial reserve army

During his State of the Union address, President Obama coined the term “middle class economics.” Days later a blog post appeared on the Huffington Post further explaining what he meant. He opened by asking

“Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and rising chances for everyone who makes the effort?”

These two generalized questions demonstrate our economic and political discourse. He softly recognizes that the wealthiest 20% people in the country own 85% of the wealth and resources. If the economy does not change, they will continue to increase their wealth. Additionally, he insinuates that if one works hard that our government and capitalist economy will assure that one is rewarded with by her or his efforts. Yet, those President Obama missed in his address are ‘the industrial reserve army’ and those who work hard at several part-time jobs making minimum wage only to scrape by. Karl Marx describes this underclass as a symptom of capitalism.

The economy in capitalism must grow and multiple or it cannot survive. Marx in the Communist Manifesto described that capitalists continually must revolutionize their technology, labor, and other modes of production to make a higher profit. As well, competition among businesses is often a zero-sum game with larger companies absorbing smaller ones. In this way, “the big capitalists grow bigger and fewer.”* For example, in the US, two cable companies, Time Warner Cable and Comcast, dominate one’s ability to access the Internet. Like wayward lovers, they’ve created territories with what city each one can occupy. As a result, the underclass suffers as these companies gain more business.

Marx wrote that the finished is not the only commodity, but also the labor of the worker. He would go on to theorize this as the fetishization of commodities. And as capitalism forcibly travelled around the world, it exponentially created more commodities. Call centers were set up in India providing customer service and paying workers small wages. Sweatshops landed in Malaysia, Indonesia, China, and Bangladesh providing slave wages for the underclass and children (in those countries who turn an eye away from this horror). Answering phone calls half way round the world, sowing fashionable clothes by people who cannot afford to wear them, and child labor became commodities within the last fifty years. And these all affect the lower classes.

Karl Marx wrote on, systematized, and enlightened the world when he described the destructive nature of capitalism, yet few listened. Today’s discourse of middle class economics blatantly ignores the industrial reserve army. It tries to inspire people to work even harder to achieve the mythical American Dream. Until the monster of capitalism is slain, we will continue to have unemployment, people without homes, peopleless homes, people without healthcare and refugees.

poor of the world

*Wielenga, Bastiaan, Introduction to Marxism, Centre fro Social Action (Bangalore, India) 1984, p. 62

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Beliefs, Christainity, Scripture, Sermon

the baptism of jesus and a tree tornado: a sermon

Baptism of Jesus

Mark 1:4-11 (NRSV)
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Psalms 29:1-11 (NRSV)
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of God’s name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
God makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in God’s temple all say, “Glory!”
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to God’s people!
May the Lord bless God’s people with peace.

Everyday we hear many voices. We hear intercom announcements from the MTA telling us that we need to hold onto our personal belongings because there is always someone willing to take them. Or that we need to be on the lookout for suspicious looking people and packages and if we see something that we need to say something. We hear weather reports that inform us in what to wear that day. And we hear and see advertisements telling us that we are inadequate in our dress and that we should buy this piece of clothing to be with the in crowd. And on top of that, we have our own internal voices that compete. Arguing with ourselves with where we should go, what we should watch, what we should order to eat, or if we should call this person because the last time we talked with them they had me so upset, but right now we know that they are struggling with some big.

Needless to say we are bombarded with voices.

In our text today, we hear three voices. The first is the narrator, the Gospel writer. The other two voices are John the Baptizer and God.

The narrator sets the scene. We are in the wilderness, near the Jordan River. We hear this man making proclamations, but he’s clothed, not like us. He’s wearing camel’s hair with a leather belt. This man is John the baptizer. He’s performing a baptism of repentance.

The Greek word for repentance is metanoia. It should be understood as the changing of one’s heart and mind. Or as one commentator puts it, “to be transformed and turned around; to have your heart made over; to now be playing a new tune, returned.”

And with the rest of the people from the Judean countryside and all of the people of Jerusalem, we confess our sins and are baptized in that Jordan River.

Then John, with excess honey dripping from his beard, shouts out for all to hear, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The wild man has spoken.

Out of the crowd comes Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee and he too is baptized by the locust-eater. But he doesn’t say a word. He could have declared then and there that he was the one who John was just talking about. He could’ve pointed to himself or raised his hand showing to the crowd that it was him who John was not worthy enough to untie his sandal. But he doesn’t.

When Jesus was coming up from the water, the heavens tore apart and like a dove the Spirit descends on him. And a voice came from heaven declares, “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

When this baptism narrative sits next to our Psalm reading, they seem to have a similar landscape. Both reference the wilderness. In the Psalm, God’s voice is powerful, strong, and can break the cedars of Lebanon. God shakes the wilderness, even the wilderness of Kadesh. God causes the oaks to whirl and leaves the forest bare.

With some biblical imagination, I wonder if this is what God’s voice sounded like. As the heavens were being torn open, the cedars were being uprooted creating a tree tornado around the crowd. God’s proclamation about Jesus would’ve been impossible to miss.

tree tornado

But with the many voices that we hear on a regular basis, sometimes it’s easy to be distracted from God’s voice. It’s not an everyday occurrence that the heavens tear open or God’s voice becomes audible for all to hear. Thankfully, we have services like this one to quiet the voices inside ourselves and to listen deeply for God’s voice. But quieting those internal voices takes practice and discipline.

Let me finish with this, God tells Jesus that he is beloved and that God is pleased with him. There’s not much context for it. It comes out of blue, since in Mark’s Gospel, this is Jesus’ first scene. He hasn’t done much. In this way, God is proclaiming, unlike the advertisers, that Jesus is adequate. I believe God comforts us those same words too:
we are God’s children,
we are beloved,
and God is well pleased with us, just as we are.

(This was originally preached at Riverside Church, NYC at the Morning Light Service)

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Christainity, Homelessness, Liberation Theology, Prayer

a prayer for justice

Clarissa Explains White Supremacy

 Oh God of this world and universe,
You constantly surprise us.
You bring about life where there is only death.
You sing to us sweet melodies that comfort those despairing.
And you guide us with hope.

The horrific acts these past few days have made our hearts heavy.
There was a bombing of a Colorado Springs NAACP office.
A group of armed men killed a whole staff of magazine writers in Paris.
And a kosher supermarket hostage situation ended in four deaths.

We are overwhelmed and frustrated.
These terrorists attacks distract us from dealing internally.
As in the US, we need to call out and end racism, white supremacy,
police brutality, economic inequality, homophobia, trans*phobia,
and so much more.

We are overwhelmed and angry
that national news cycles barely covered the NAACP bombing,
that our own President sent condolences the same night the two NYPD officers were killed,
but took days to say a word on Michael Brown.

We know, O God, that our world is unjust.
We are not asking to be rescued,
we are asking for the courage to speak out and act against injustice.
We are not asking to be more “heavenly-minded, that we are no earthly good,”
but that we are a people who show others the alternative life of your Reign.

We pray this in the name of Jesus, who stands in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, Amen.

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Christainity, Poem, Prayer

somewhere between prayer and revolution

The Flobots penned this lyric, in my title, in the opening line of “Same Thing.” The lyrics continue with “between Jesus and Huey P. Newton.” And on this particular Sunday in the month of October, we find ourselves holding these same tensions. This weekend is #fergusonoctober and I am grateful that many of my peers from Union Theological Seminary are there participating in these actions. As well, yesterday was National Coming Out Day, when those who identify as queer come out as their true selves to family members, friends, and their communities. Last and certainly least, tomorrow is columbus day. Thankfully, a few cities are renaming this day to Indigenous People’s Day.

This weekend raises our awareness that we are not close to having a just society.

Hands Up, Don't Shoot

So I wanted to write a prayer:

God of our world,
We look around us and see injustice everywhere
Our society is overripe with white supremacy,
racism, sexism, ableism, and hatred of the poor.
We ask for your forgiveness because we recognize through scripture
that Jesus cared for all and repented when he did not (Mark 7:25-30)

We pray for those in Ferguson this weekend with #fergusonoctober
our hearts are on fire for Michael Brown and his loved ones.
our hearts are on fire that Darren Wilson will feel convicted and turn himself in.
our hearts are on fire for a movement that rejects colorblindness for real talk about racism.

We pray for the strength for those who come out to their family and friends
we pray that queer persons find supportive communities
we pray an end to queer youth being kicked out on the street
we pray that queer person know that they are beloved by God

We pray for Indigenous communities living in the US and around the world
may their cultures stand firm in the face of colonization
may they continually decolonize from white supremacy
may they find hope in their communities

God, we pray for the end to all war
an end to poverty,
and an end to apathy.
May we follow you in the ways of justice and peace. Amen.

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Beliefs, Christainity, Ecology, Liberation Theology

theologically imagining via comic books

Typically comic books and theology sound odd together in conversation. They represent two separate camps; one’s stationed beyond the trees in the land of pop-culture and superheroes. While the other is found amongst the cloud-covered mountains. And never the twain shall meet. This summer I sunk my teeth deep into the comic book cosmos. And after some exploration, I understand comic writers, artists, and producers as theologians. Comic books construct theology with intricate eschatologies, varying cosmologies, and present us with new paradigms to fathom the divine.

But before I dive into some detail about comics, I must confess I am not a fan of the comic philistines, Marvel and DC Comics*. Their ontological and eschatological perception is shallow, to say the least. Rather, I hone in on comic publishers, which allow for creator ownership, i.e. Image, Dark Horse, and Boom!. These publishers allow for artists and writers to go their own creative direction. This also allows for variance in styles, characters, and universes, unlike Marvel and DC.

SagaMy absolute favorite series is Image Comics’ Saga. It takes place during a galactic war and recounts the story of a little mixed-breed girl (a horned head and a wingéd back) named Hazel and her family. Her parents, Alana, who is part of the wingéd colonizer planet, fell in love with Marko,  a colonized magical horned moonie.** The first issue, Alana, beautifully, bearing all, gives birth to Hazel. And thus begins the journey of this sci-fi Romeo and Juliet hiding from their respective planetpeoples. Along the way, we meet bounty hunters, a planet of sex-workers, and creatures with computer monitor as heads. This is certainly not your parent’s comic book.

At the 2014 San Diego Comic Con, Saga not only won 3 Eisner awards, which is the highest achievement in the comic book world, but they hosted a stellar panel. The writer Brian Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples discussed how Saga began. During Brian’s first discussion with Fiona about the characters, he objected to another redhead in space claiming there are just too many in science fiction. Fiona replied by asking why do the characters need to be white? The outcome of that conversation is the current series with the majority of the cast with darker skin and an array of hair and body types. For Fiona, the future is not made up of only white people like such recent sci-fi films as Lucy or Her portray. Rather, the future, like the present, is full of many diverse populations, creatures, and hopes.

MoltmannSimilarly, Jürgen Moltmann claimed in his magnum opus, Theology of Hope, “Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present” (pg. 16). Or simply put, “Who controls the past now, controls the future. Who controls the present now, controls the past,” as sung by Rage Against the Machine. The ways in which we construct our eschatology determines how we treat others and the Earth now.

For instance, premillennial dispensationalists believe God will one day rapture those who declare Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and for the next seven years God will torture those left behind and torch the Earth. For them, if God is already going to destroy the Earth, then they should not be concerned about her fate today. Sadly, many congresspersons and businesses have jumped on board secularizing and Americanizing this idea allowing them to destroy our Earth. But we cannot give up hope!

Because science fiction, normally, orients future-forward, they have the opportunity to breathe new life and vision. The question for religious institutions, then, is how can we understand a beautiful future and participate in that future now? And this is where comics can lend a hand. Comic artists and writers can guide us in broadening our theological imagination.

Here are a few tips for theologically imagining:

There are no theological crossing guards!

In the Christian Scriptures we read “with God all things are possible.” And this phrase is found in different contexts throughout the Gospels (Matt 19:26, Luke 1:37, Mark 10:27) that it can be a broad framework for how it was being used. Could this mean that all things are possible with God including disrupting the laws of physics? Possibly. Or it could also mean a world where no one is hungry or has to live on the streets? I sure do hope so. Unfortunately, our religious institutions have not stretched their theological imagination. Many of the same cataphatic dogmas have not changed for centuries. Yet, no one is stopping us from crossing into new theological territory.

Humans are part of creation, not the end of all creation.

Genesis 1 beautifully describes that when God had finished creating, God saw that all of creation was very good. This does not mean that it was humanity that made creation especially good, rather its fullness made it very good. This breaks a crack in our normalized anthropocentric theology and helps us to imagine and include non-humans. We can start to imagine new theologies of tigers, otters, and iguanas. We can theologize with clouds, volcanoes, and bumblebees. Or even soaring in the Milky Way and beyond with planetary theologies of galaxies, black holes, and quarks. No-thing is the limit!

We are shaped by our surroundings, and shape our surroundings.

Our mere presence changes group dynamics, neighborhoods, churches, and the room. This gives us the chance to inspire new thoughts, to sing new songs, and change ourselves and the world for the better. Although, we need be conscious in our participation in creating these spaces within ourselves for transformation.

Better futures could arise with dialogue between comic books artists/writers and theologians.

I’m ready!

*There are exceptions including Ms. Marvel (2014) and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
**He lives on a moon colony adjacent to the colonizing planet.

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Anarchism, Christainity

love as resistance: the call for enemy-love in the 21st century

Washing dishes is a menial task and if you never cook at home someone else is paid (poorly, I might add) to wash them for you. Recently I moved into [another] community house where we share the responsibility of dish-washing. Although, some people take up the charge more than others, of course. I am reminded of a Crimethinc poster, that breaks down different ideological and political approaches to washing dishes. Because Crimethinc is one of the greatest contributors to anarchist propaganda, the anarchist version stands as the utopian ideal, while Marxism and Communism are fuddy-duddies. They propose that in Anarchism: “We all share in the dishwashing.” This description sounds similar to the neighbor/enemy love that Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount.

This summer, we started a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. (I partially still long for the lectionary because there are so many different scriptures that you can choose from.) Last week I preached on enemy-love through the framework of the honor/shame system. I claimed that Jesus wants his hearers to reject the cycle of honor/shame for something I believe more radical. Christ/a’s* call, in contemporary terms, is for radical democracy.

Let me explain.

Jesus assumes that enemies exist. These are the slappers, the people who force you to walk the extra mile, and taking everything from you. Yet, Jesus teaches against retaliation. “Don’t play into their system, my hearers. No one ever wins with social, political, and judicial inequality present.” Instead, Jesus reverses the common responses of the injured/hurt and in turn disrupts the reactions of the enemies. Questions then are raised: Without the social and political system of honor/shame, who’s in charge? Who gets to be slapped around?

Usually, we answer these questions by pacifying the verses. The Sermon on the Mount has become so part of our culture that its radicalness has been suppressed. I am not suggesting that we will not have some enemies or that an enemy is someone whose story you haven’t yet heard. Of course, there are some who do not want the best for others and actively try to hurt others and the Earth. Yet, without a vision of something better, a different kind of society to strive for, we will get lost in despair. Christ/a’s call is that love will assume the position of resistance. 

Today our enemies include the powerful, the politicians, the rich, the polluters, those promoting fracking, capitalist colonizers, and CEOs.

Spread love for equality.

Practice resistance like Christ/a’s.

Pray for enemies for the sake of justice.

Do something. Anything.

 Kazuya Akimoto's Jesus Christ:a

*Christ/a is used by some feminist and body thealogians to describe Christ. Christ is the masculine version of “Anointed One” and if we believe that divinity cannot be held to the categories of gender and sex, it becomes possible to include a feminine Christ/a. There has also been a history of medieval Christian mystics calling Jesus, Mother.

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Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity, Queer Theology

the necessity of inclusive religious language and new metaphors

Seminaries, unless on the conservative end of the theological spectrum, require students to use gender neutral language concerning God in papers and sermons. Although, not having a pronoun for God makes for extremely awkward sentences in English. For example, “God in God’s self,” or “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten child,” etc. Most churches, of course, do not follow inclusive language guidelines. Doxologies are riddled with masculine language and you cross yourself “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Working at a church this summer, I am slowing de-gendering the language in the service. You see, for me, inclusive language is a must. I believe the use of inclusive language for divinity challenges religious institutions, theology, and our concept of justice.

Using masculine language binds God in a theological box.
When the pronoun “He” or “His” is used to describe God we are bound to certain metaphors and analogies. God can only be the “Father” and we are “His” children. The “Father” takes care of us, knows what’s good for us, and unconditionally loves “His” children. Yet, these metaphors start to dissolve with one’s experience of fathers or other male parental figures.* People usually shoot back that God’s a different kind of father, but this still holds up patriarchal values. If “Father” always knows what is good for us, this makes for bad theology and allows for continuing cycles of sexual and physical abuse. There must be other imaginative ways to think of God!

Before the Christian Testament was canonized (4th century) or even finished (early 2nd century) other writers were forming theological ideas.
The apocryphal* texts and other early Christian writings, including 1st Clement, the Acts of Thecla and Paul, and the Secret Apocalypse of John, demonstrate that there were many theological ideas present in the first four centuries. Some of these texts inspired the theologies of Augustine and Origen. For example, Justin Martyr believed that the followers of Christ were fulfilling prophecy by resisting to join the Roman military. Theology was open to the imagination and it still can be.

God was experienced before anything was ever written and will be after.
Through the evolution of Scripture, we understand that the divine has been experienced through various venues. In the early texts of the Hebrew Bible, God was experienced through nature, victory in (non)violent battles, and communal myths. Today, the divine is experienced through different technologies including yoga mats, music, reading Scripture(s) or nature. Experiencing the divine ever changes, so should the way we preach, the way we conduct our services, and the metaphors we use! 

God does not write theology.
Dr. James Cone taught us that God is not a theologian; rather, it is humans, who are the meaning-makers and theology-creators. It is lazy to proof-text and decide that there is only one theology! God is not only creator because we read it in Scripture. God creates continually. 

Scripture is inspired, interpretation is not. 
Clearly Scripture believes itself to be God-breathed, inspired (2 Timothy 3:16). This does not grant authority to interpretations though! Until the Enlightenment and afterward, the concept of a plain-reading of Scripture has been the norm. Up until the Enlightenment, there was a range of interpretations and one was not always over another. Until churches, ministers, and laypersons read the history of Christian theology, they will be caught in a modernist trap of plain-reading!

“Mankind,” “kingdom,” and “Lord” neglects entire social groups
Linguistically and historically, many social groups have been left out of the conversation in regards to theology. With the use of draconian language, we continue to disregard others. Language shapes who we are. It shapes how we think about the world. A great resource for how this works is Lera Boroditsky’s “How Language Shapes Thought.” Using gender-neutral language will not be easy at first, but it will be better in the long run for our churches and society. It will set up avenues for other voices and constantly remind us of others.

I am not interested in inclusive language because the liberal agenda has caught hold of me. It should be used because white men are not the only ones in the world (1/4 of the world’s population is made up of Asian women!). White men may have most of the power in the world, but they are not the end all be all. God is certainly not a white man or, I believe, even wants white men to have the power! Instead, God is the disrupter. Inclusive language is necessary for the global church and for all religions in that matter. Thankfully, many theologians have taken up the call for more inclusive theologies.

The list includes Jea Sophia Oh, Marcella Althaus-ReidWonhee Ann JohEmilie Townes, Laurel Schneider, Namsoon Kang, Andrea C. White, J Kameron Carter and Catherine Keller.

To a more inclusive language and theology!

 

PAIC

 

*I am not ridiculing fathers as much as showing that it is not necessary for God to be a parent.

**This antiquated term has become as meaningless as gnostic and no longer helpful in common biblical discourse. How can something be hidden anymore, when we know that ancient communities were using these texts as Scripture? Or how can we label texts as gnostic when many of them are as different from one another just like the Christian Testament texts?

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