Liberation Theology, theology

how wide is your theological imagination?

One of the most theological imaginative ideas in the last 50 years: Capitalism isn’t working. Another World is Possible!

Another World is Possible

A week before Christmas, Pastor Tim Keller tweeted:

Tim Keller 2

This comes as no surprise. For Keller, evangelicals, and other Christian conservatives, Jesus’ main objective was to forgive sins. For this reason, accordingly, Jesus was put on a cross to suffer and die. Jesus’ teachings, which concerned bringing God’s Realm to Earth, are often ignored, so that these evangelicals may put words into Jesus’ last dying breaths. 

Honestly, this tweet was easy for me to ignore. It neither brings a new perspective to evangelical theology, nor does it deny their anti-world, spiritualized theology. It confirms, once again, that for evangelicals, God is not on the side of the poor and oppressed. 

What I can’t ignore though is what Keller tweeted this week: 

Tim Keller

This is an “It’s okay to be white” tweet. A tweet that commends historical and current oppression, heteropatriarchy, and white supremacy. Keller, in this tweet, believes that God has chosen those to be blessed by surveying the genocide of Native peoples, the lynchings and slavery of black people, and second class citizenship of Latinx people, etc. For him, everything happens for a reason whether good or bad. In short, everything is ordained by God.

And yet,

a “gift of God” for one is

the stolen land of another

enslavement of another

the death of thousands for another 

and extreme poverty and despair of another

This same kind of unholy logic Keller purports could be used in the case of Erica and Eric Garner. Eric Garner, in the summer of 2014, was unjustly put in a chokehold and killed by a police officer on Staten Island for selling untaxed cigarettes. His daughter, Erica Garner, spoke out for her father’s life, against police brutality, and for a freer world. Unfortunately, her body could no longer handle the weight of systematic racism, the sorrow of her father’s death, and the despair that things will only get worse in the US under this administration. Neither of these Garners should be dead. Neither should the other countless individuals killed by police officers or the military, for that matter. These deaths are not happening because God desires them to happen, but because humanity continues to perpetuate unjust systems. 

One of the problems I find with Christian theology is a lack of imagination. For Keller and ilk, things are the way they are because God wouldn’t want them any other way. Really? This is the best God could do? If this is true, I think we should expect an apology from God. The idea that everything happens for a reason is dangerous and unimaginative,

With a lack of theological imagination:

  • systems of oppression go unchecked
  • pastors can continue with spiritual abuse (women should be subservient to men; God blesses the USA; abusers strengthen your faith; the end is coming soon, so donate your monies to the church, etc. )
  • the Earth is only temporary, God can make a new one
  • God is a caring Father, who cares about *His* children 

Maybe the question is not “How wide is your theological imagination?” but “What does your theological imagination smell like?” Mine somedays smells like the stinky compost I put on the rooftop garden at the church, or the smell my hand absorbs after shaking the hand of the volunteer who enjoys taking out the trash from the soup kitchen, or the smell of sajjige that my friend gives me after it being in her purse all day. These smells represent growth, kindness, and friendship. Things that seem to be lacking in some of our theological imaginations. 

The world is not as it should be. With the help of bolder theological imaginations, we might create, with God, a more just-filled world. 

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anti-war, Liberation Theology

our politics are still boring

At the turn of the millennium, Crimethinc produced a great and still relevant piece,Your Politics Are Boring As F*ck.” They describe how practitioners of radical political ideologies are going about things the wrong way. One delightful example posited spending the afternoon collecting food from businesses, who were going to throw it away anyway, to share it with the hungry comparing that with writing an editorial to a leftist paper about their improper use of “anarcho-syndicalism.” The article ends with a delightful list of how not to make politics boring:

  • Make politics relevant to our everyday experience of life again. The farther away the object of our political concern, the less it will mean to us, the less real and pressing it will seem to us, and the more wearisome politics will be.
  • All political activity must be joyous and exciting in itself. You cannot escape from dreariness with more dreariness.
  • To accomplish those first two steps, entirely new political approaches and methods must be created. The old ones are outdated, outmoded. Perhaps they were NEVER any good, and that’s why our world is the way it is now.
  • Enjoy yourselves! There is never any excuse for being bored… or boring!

Yet, while I thoroughly enjoy and agree with the article I think it needs to emphasize even more so: EVERY ACT WE COMMIT IS POLITICAL, whether or not we see it as such. Who one hangs out with, the city one lives in, what you buy or not buy for groceries, what you’re watching on TV, etc. etc. IT’S ALL POLITICAL! And so it seems to think that political action happens every four years is an utter and complete farce.

For me though, political discourse can be oh so boring because US politics is extremely circular. The US must always have an enemy, who appears evil and hurts their citizens. The US must threaten and at least appear to defeat such enemy for the sake of democracy. The problem though is that the US oligarchy controls our political discourse. Even in my circles, questions do not arise as to whether or not the enemy of the US government is actually the enemy of the US people. I, for sure, do not have qualms with Afghanis, Yemenis, Iraqis, North Korean citizens, and so on. Rather, those whom I disagree with and challenge are already in my community: police and local politicians.

We must move away from imperial discourse and move towards local discourse! 

Of course, this is not going to end the Tr*mp drama, but it will grant us the energy to move towards what is important: the marginalized, poor, and sick among us. In a few weeks, I’m preaching on the “Good Samaritan.”* I gather from this ancient story that your neighbor is the person spatially closest to you. In other words, it can be good to have an interest in the Middle East or Latin America, but what are you doing for your neighbors within reach. I find Jesus’ parable compelling in the fact that the Samaritan touched and bandaged the beat up, bloodied man. I often do not have the courage to act in such a way.

Our politics are boring because we’d rather spend our time and energy with those who share similar ideologies. I too am guilty of this. And it’s difficult to share with my moderate/liberal friends an anarcho-communist vision of the world. Don’t get me started on reactions to Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism! Because honestly, who cares? Who cares if I can quote Marx, EZLN, and obscure theologians in the same sentence? I do, certainly! But how am I going to show compassion to those who sleep on the church steps or foster relationships with people I encounter every day because if I am not doing that then my politics should be boring.

The Good Samaritan by Christopher Ruane

The Good Samaritan by Christopher Ruane

*Luke 10:25-37
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him,
“You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself,
he asked Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied,
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,
and fell into the hands of robbers,
who stripped him, beat him, and went away,
leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road;
and when he saw him,
he passed by on the other side.
So likewise a Levite,
when he came to the place and saw him,
passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him;
and when he saw him,
he was moved with pity.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds,
having poured oil and wine on them.
Then he put him on his own animal,
brought him to an inn,
and took care of him.
The next day he took out two denarii,
gave them to the innkeeper, and said,
‘Take care of him; and when I come back,
I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
Which of these three,
do you think,
was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.””

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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, 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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Christmas, Liberation Theology, Radical Commentary

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 Christmas 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 resistance.

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

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Bible, Faith, Liberation Theology

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, so that everyone who has faith in the Child 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 was 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 the history of salvation. It is not Christ hanging on the cross in agony, saying few words, and bleeding profusely. It is a 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 too 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.

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anti-war, Bible, Liberation Theology, Philosophy

“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 a 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

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