St. Paul armed with a black bandana and a chant

 

img_3593-1

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

The first major protest I attended 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 battlesquare 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.

Christmas on the margins

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. Christ’s place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, who are tortured, bombed, and exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world. Christ is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst … With these Christ conceals himself, in these he hides himself, for whom there is no room.

– Thomas Merton

 
The manger scene was never meant to only be lifted up as a story of humble beginnings. The Christmas story is about survival under an Empire. Mary and Joseph could not find a room because they did not fit anywhere else but in a barn. And I wonder how many other people, not including the animals, were present for Jesus’ birth. How many others were displaced on that holy night? And how many people continue to be displaced today through climate change, governments abusing their citizens, and the long arms of global capitalism forcing whole societies to be reconfigured under its gaze?

This Chrsitmas I am praying for Syrian and all refugees that they may find a safe place to reside.

I am praying for those caught up in the prison industrial complex that we can begin to abolish prisons in 2016.

I am praying for immigrants everywhere that they might start again wherever their destination.

I am praying for those struggling for another world, where black lives matter, where direct democracy reigns, and the Earth is treated with dignity that I too may be part of the struggle.

I pray for the poor and the poor in spirit that they may find communities of love and resitance.

May you encounter the manger scenes that surround you everyday and be transformed by them.

Jean 3:!6 an exitjesus

I had Jean 3:!6* memorized before I entered second grade. 20 years later, I still hold it dear, but in a much different way. Early in my faith, I thought praying Jean 3:!6 was the first and most important step in salvation. I would pray this verse nearly every Sunday. It was paradoxically comforting and stirred up fear within me (like was this right verse? or was I saying it in the correct word order?).

For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Child/Son, so that everyone who has faith in the Child/Son may not perish but may have life eternal.

/Of course, this translation is my more inclusive translation. Until I was a teen, I only read the King James Version./

I’ve been annoyed lately by the blatant eisegesis done to this verse. Last week, a pastor said Jean 3:!6 is the whole Gospel: God loved the world and sent his son to be sacrificed for it. Also, I heard another pastor say that Jean 3:!6 is the most important verse for the cross. Yet, JEAN 3:!6 NEVER MENTIONS THE CROSS AS A WAY TO SALVATION! But because Christians have read it as such for many years, the cross has become the stick in our own eye (Matt. 7:1-5).

Jean 3:!6, when applying exitjesus**, seems to render the incarnation as the most important scene in salvation herstory. It’s not the Christ hanging on the cross in agony, saying few words, and bleeding profusely. It’s God who incarnated in the world to teach, heal, exorcise, pray, and set the captives free. Let’s not shove Jesus on the cross, just because his message is difficult. And churches need to stop placing cross where it is not. It’s a disservice to the Bible and to congregations!

love one another
“Love One Another” by Laura James

*Writing and thinking Jean 3:!6 instead of John 3:16 helped me to set aside some of my own theological baggage and see it anew.

** I’ve heard more than one pastor say exegesis (the process of digging into a text) is exitjesus (destroying anything christological or theological about a text). I’m not trying to do that here though. 🙂 It’s also just ridiculous to think learning more about the Bible strips it of theology.

“No one chooses refugee camps or strip searches”

An accidental forte I’ve developed over the years is not staying in one place for too long. In the last six years I’ve moved over ten times and this doesn’t count the in-between months of staying on friends’ couches. When I visited my parents’ house at the beginning of the summer my dad counted how many times my brother and me have moved. It was a feat. My parents had moved twice since they married in 1983. Although, we went on many road trips across the US to see outstanding landmarks, we were always tourists.

Last year Penguin book released a series titled “Philosophy In Transit.”The concept of the series is to be a good commuter book, as well emphasize movement(s) in philosophy. The first book in the series, Truth, was written by postmodern philosopher and theologian John Caputo. He reveals that the history of the philosophical tradition was very localized yet spoken universally. For example, Immanuel Kant, lived in Königsberg, Prussia his entire life. The problem isn’t that he never moved. The problem is that he taught at least one Geography course a year at the university where he described that those who lived in African countries could not develop intellectually as Europeans because of the warm environment. Disgusting!

I am not trying to suggest that those who live in the same area for their entire lives that somehow are intolerant. With the presence and shared platforms of the internet, social media, and global news, socially and politically aware people show up from everywhere. What I am suggesting though is that one may be limited in experiences with otherness, especially in homogenous areas, which can be a struggle.

No one chooses to be a refugee

The news for these last few weeks has focused on the millions of refugees who have no choice in the matter of leaving their homes. They leave out of desperation, never out of privilege. They are forced out because of violence, war, and drought.

Poet Warsan Shire sums up the conditions of refugees as,

You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land. No one chooses refugee camps or strip searches where your body is left aching or prison, because prison is safer than a city of fire and one prison guard in the night is better than a truckload of men who look like your father.

This is so heartbreaking. Refugees exist because their homelands are unsafe, inhabitable. They seek safety and refuge. Their journeys are full of tears, stress, and the smallest hint of hope for another world. A world where violence no longer exists; where womyn are treated with dignity and respect; where they can practice their faith freely; where children can grow up without fearing their neighbors and government. I pray for this world as well and try to enact it too.

Migration and refugee status is as old as Abram. Genesis 12:10 explains the beginning of his family’s refugee journey: “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an (refugee), for the famine was severe in the land.” God promised Abram another world, a land full of life, but first he had to become a refugee. I pray for the safety of refugees around the world. I pray for the countries accepting refugees that they may be hospitable and have plentiful resources for all who enter. May perspectives be transformed. May love abound. May we care for another without judgment.

Thomas Merton on Love

On the Cross Hung Jesus, the Historical Materialist

Holy Week opens the space for us to be sad, mad, and lonely. We can look to the blooded Christ, abandoned by his closest friends, and recognize that hope’s flame has been extinguished. Unfortunately, too many churches over-spiritualize the cross showing how Jesus knew the events surrounding his death. Even the letter to the Hebrews seems to say something similar: Jesus, “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). Through all the pain and anguish, Jesus knew, hanging there, that this was not going to last forever. Was the writer to the Hebrews saying that Jesus transcended pain altogether? I don’t know, but certainly the Gospels do not try to hide the flogging, crown of thorns, carrying a heavy cross up a hill at the weakness point of his life, then being hung and nailed to it. That’s just gruesome.

Jesus, according to the Gospels, was a victim of history. 

It matters that he is seen as such.

Between the two world wars, Walter Benjamin lived as a Jew in Europe. He was interested in art, culture, history, politics, literature, philosophy, and theology. And they were never separate categories for him, but would mixed together into beautiful essays and theses. In his famous “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” he wrote that each generation has a “weak Messianic force” (Thesis II). We have the power to remember the victims of history. He commanded Historical Materialists to “brush history against the grain” of the elite and victors (Thesis VII). As well, we cannot understand time linearly as the “beads of a rosary,” but that we must “establish a conception of the present as the “time of the now” which is shot through with chips of Messianic time” (Thesis XVIII A). In other words, when we remember, recall, re-historicize the victims of history, we are giving them another chance in the present. In this way, we are weak Messiahs because its only the Messiah(s) who can re-member these victims, to restore their bodies and lives.

When the criminal hanging next to Jesus on the cross asks him to remember him, he’s asking Jesus to become a Historical Materialist. He’s asking him to not let the victors dominate the story. He’s asking Jesus to not forget him, to not forget those who have been killed by the Empire, to re-vive his life through stories although it may be nothing compared to world history.

It matters how we remember the victims of history, whether it’s Jesus, Michael Brown, the Trail of Tears, Laura and L.D. Nelson, Andy Lopez, Aiyana Jones, and the millions more oppressed through slavery, colonization, and killed by the powers-that-be.

Let us remember them that we might change the present. 

Christ with thieves

St. Marx and St. Basil: distributing according to the needs of others

From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs!1

St. Marx

You begrudge your fellow human beings what you yourself enjoy; taking wicked counsel in your soul, you consider not how you might distribute to others according to their needs, but rather how, after having received so many good things, you might rob others their benefit.2

St. Basil the Great

The famous Marx quote above positions his social and economic platform. He was critiquing the Gotha Program, which was the political and social program created by German socialists, who wanted Marx’s opinion (although they never took heed of his words). The program emphasized one’s ability to work and the importance of work itself. Marx opens his critique with “Labor is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use values…” In other words, labor should not be emphasized over the Earth and her resources; rather, labor and the Earth should balance one other. We should only use what is necessary and not exploit the land.

Later in the Critique, Marx writes of the different phases of communism. In the higher phase of communism, he writes, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” This quote summarizes the preceding paragraph, showing that not every person has the same physical or mental ability. Every one has different gifts and talents, so we cannot be the same kind of worker. Additionally, at some point in our lives we will be unable to work. For example, children and the elderly in our society should not work, but they still have needs. As well, people who have the ability to work some days/weeks cannot function because of depression, injuries, or grieving the loss of a loved one. For this reason, Marx makes it clear that it’s not labor that gives one value: a person has familial ties, talents and abilities that lack ‘market value’, but we are breathing, living creatures (it that not enough?).

Sharing is Caring

I write of Marx’s position first because he has been more influential (and the most misunderstood) in social and economic movements than Basil. Although, I believe Basil represents a far more radical camp than Marx.

Basil was the Bishop of Caesarea living in the fourth century. He was raised in a very wealthy family and later abandoned the upper class to become a monk. He even wrote a Monastic Rule. After many years as a monk, he was called to serve the Caesarea community as their bishop. Basil used the tools that he learned as a monk and applied them to his ministry creating a community center/church/doctor’s office. This center was called Basiliada.3 In this way, Basil brought the most important aspects of monasticism to urban life. The top-of-the-post Basil quote is from his sermon titled, “I Will Tear Down My Barns.” Some pretext: Caesarea had been hit with a drought, killing off crops and animals, and the wealthy were hoarding resources while others were dying in the street. Basil has already taken initiative, emptying the barns that he inherited and distributed food to those in need. In his sermon, which there were several on this topic, he condemns those hoarding their God-given resources. And here’s why this is radical: BASIL NEVER DEMANDS LABOR! I believe this to be at the heart of Christian anarchism. Unlike Marx who included both statements, “from each according to their ability and/or need.” Basil writes elsewhere,

“If we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, and no one would be in need.”

Basil transcends class and labor, theologically constructing utopia. And as I am reminded over and over again, that if we are not thinking, creating, and building utopia, what are we doing? What do we have to hope for?4 Basil states in another sermon, “To The Rich,” that if you are waiting to give to the needy after you have died, why would you not do it while you’re were alive? Why squander and live in luxury while others die in the streets?! And Basil, like a good anarchist, implies that giving of one’s self is voluntary, never forced.

St. Basil’s subversive theology is rarely, if ever, mentioned in churches across America. Our theology is shaped by political ideologies and discourse in terms of voting, legislation, and representative democracy. Imagine what it would look like if Basiliadas popped up across the world with free services for all. Imagine if one didn’t have to worry about the necessities of everyday existence: a place to stay, food to eat, merry friendships, and free utilities; instead, one could focus on caring for the community. We already have an abundance of resources (!): more than enough houses for those without, more than enough food to feed the world, more than enough medicine to cure the sick, and certainly more than enough love to go around. It’s time to leave behind worn-out political discourse and try on St. Basil.

Wealth in the US
1. Located in the ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’ written in 1875, but it’s conceptually based on Étienne-Gabriel Morelly’s 1755 text Code of Nature.
2. This selection is from Basil’s sermon “I Will Tear Down My Barns” found in On Social Justice (p. 62), translated by C. Paul Schroeder.
3. Sadly, not much is written about it. I first read about it in On Social Justice (pps. 33-38).
4. When others describe heaven, does it not sound like a utopia?

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.

A Prayer

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 newscycles 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.

Epiphany (sermon)

McKenzie, Epiphany

A few summers ago, I lived at St. Joseph’s Catholic Worker in Rochester, NY. For those who do not know about it, the Catholic Worker was founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the 1930’s. They wanted to build a new society in the shell of the old. So they created houses of hospitality. Essentially, it consisted of a soup kitchen, shelter, community center–sometimes with a farm–all built into one. In Rochester, I was in charge of the clothing closet, meal tickets, and  laundry sign up sheet. When I wasn’t busy gathering toiletries or pants, I would sit, talk, and play card games with the guests. The work was exhausting, but inspiring and made me who I am today. Toward the end of that summer, I wanted to do something meaningful and very spiritual. So a few of us got together and planned to take a pilgrimage to a monastery 30 miles south of Rochester, called the Abbey of the Genesee. We knew about this place because they would donate bread to us every week. So on a Tuesday, after we were all done our shifts at 2pm, we began our pilgrimage walk to the Abbey. We took with us water bottles, flashlights, one cell phone, and a prayer book. Every other half hour we would walk in silence. By the time it hit 4:45am, we were all tired, worn out, and extremely cranky. We found some large boulders and rested there for a quick 10 minutes. When we got back up, I started to hum the lyrics Precious Lord Take my Hand, Lead me on, help me stand. I am tired. I am weak. I am lone. The others joined in. As we sang, it turned 5 o’clock, and we could hear the bells of the Abbey chime. We made it! Although, most of us had blisters on our feet, we started running. It was a joy to finally arrive to our destination on our pilgrim journey.

When I think of other pilgrims in Scripture, the Magi quickly come to mind. They travelled for months and not just for 15 hours as we did. When they arrived to Jerusalem, they assumed that they had made it, but later found out that they still had 6 more miles to go until Bethlehem, where the Messiah was born. Scripture doesn’t tell us the kinds of conversations the Magi had, but I’m sure there were some stressful ones. Some of them probably questioned if they really saw a star in the sky or if they were just delusional. I can imagine, since after 12 hours of being with the same people on the journey, you can start to wonder if you’re doing the right thing.

Last week, our Gospel reading from Luke was about the circumcision and celebration of Jesus as salvation enfleshed.
This week, we hear not of older men and widows, but of Magi.

The root of the word Magi means magic. In Acts, we read of Simon the Magician or Simon Magus in chapter 8, then another magician in the 13th chapter named Elymas. Translators in both cases either use the word magician or sorcerer. But when it comes to the birth story of Jesus, more often than not they’re called wise men. Or as we began our service, we sang “We Three Kings,” which is also just located in our Christmas imagination and not in Scripture itself. Because we don’t know how many Magi there were. But we can know by other translations that these were some kind of magicians or sorcerers, not kings or wisemen.

When they arrive in Jerusalem, they go straight to King Herod. And this makes total sense. Jerusalem is the seat of power. It has the Temple, the priests, the money, and this is where King Herod reigns. When the Magi show up, they were expecting to see the newly born King of the Jews.
But did the star take them to Jerusalem or were they just assuming this because this is where all the power comes from?
Did the star lead them there or were they questioning the star’s guidance?
Did the star guide them there or did they need to stop for directions because clearly the star is lost?
We’ll never know for sure, but there is something curious about them stopping in Jerusalem.

When the Magi shared with King Herod that they travelled so far to pay homage to the new born King of the Jews, Scripture says “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” Why was everyone frightened? Because this is not how thing are suppose to go. Kingship is about being born into the family line. When these foreign sorcerers came into Herod’s court and told him that someone other than his child was going to rule, he would’ve had the overwhelming feeling that he is no longer in control.

Immediately, King Herod gathers his court of the scribes and chief priests and asks, “Where is the Messiah to be born?” They answer by quoting the fifth chapter of Micah to Herod, saying that he was to be born in Bethlehem.
After Herod knows the location, he calls a secret meeting with the Magi to learn when they exactly saw the star appear in the sky. He then tells them that they should send word back to him so that he too could pay homage.

Once the Magi left Jerusalem, they could see the star before them again, guiding them to Bethlehem. Then like that, the star stops above the house, not manger, to where Jesus and his family were. The Magi were overwhelmed with joy.
After this extremely long journey, they finally get to see the Christ-child.
When they entered the house, little baby Jesus was with Mary. They bowed before him and offered him those traditional (baby shower) gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense.
A few verses later, we hear of Herod’s horrible act of the killing of the innocents, all males two years and younger. So I wonder with the information given to Herod by the Magi, if Jesus was a little over 1 year of age.
Maybe Jesus was already walking by the time the Magi arrived.

And if it was over a year since they saw the star and started to follow it, the Magi must’ve given up a lot.
They would’ve forfeited relationships with significant others.
They probably didn’t always have a roof over their heads to stay some nights.
They probably thought about using their gifts for the Christ-child to get their necessities, but didn’t.
In a sense, the Magi were one of Jesus’ first disciples.
As the bearded adult Jesus will say later in Matthew, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

This is exactly what the Magi did. And at the end of their journey, they received an Epiphany. Their journey was not in vain.

So what kind of journey are we willing to take this New Year?
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “In the Bleak Midwinter.”
In the last verse, we sing,
“What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man (or Magi), I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.”
Knowing that not everyone is called to take a pilgrimage, or bear gifts.
We are, although, all called to discipleship: to follow Christ
sometimes in the most uncomfortable situations
sometimes in bearing a friend’s burden although it might keep us up at night,
and sometimes in loving our enemies, even if we have never met them.
Let us make our New Year’s resolutions, alongside the Magi, to go deeper into discipleship wherever Christ may lead.

(This sermon was preached on January 4th, 2015 at The First Reformed Church of South River, NJ)

“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.