Lent, LGBTQI+, Philosophy, Queer Theology, Queering the Stations of the Cross(es), Scripture

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): Jesus is stripped of his garments

Now the boys and the maidens brought wood and hay to burn Thecla: and when she was brought in naked, the governor wept and marvelled at the power that was in her. And they laid the wood, and the executioner bade her mount upon the pyre: and she, making the sign of the cross, went up upon the wood. And they lit it, and though a great fire blazed forth, the fire took no hold on her; for God had compassion on her, and caused a sound under the earth, and a cloud overshadowed her above, full of rain and hail, and all the vessel of it was poured out so that many were in peril of death, and the fire was quenched, and Thecla was preserved. – Acts of Thecla and Paul 2:22

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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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Justice, LGBTQI+, Philosophy, Politics

anxious for revolution

Like any new relationship, we set high expectations for the New Year. Of ourselves we determine that this year we will be fit, love more, find a new job, get out of debt, and the list goes on. These demands give way to disappointment and if we weren’t already anxious about the resolutions, we certainly are now for disappointing ourselves. I understand these moments of high anxiety as a symptom of capitalism. Economic theorist and philosopher Karl Marx explained, “Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”*

Chilean Protest

Marx knew that capitalism was out of control. That it was far too big and there was an “economic and political sway of the bourgeois class.” In capitalism, it is the overlords, the CEOs, the bourgeois that control the means of production as well as politics, ideology, foreign relations, and culture. Back to my main argument: how does capitalism create anxiety? Simply, persons without the power: the workers, the proletariat, “the least of these” acknowledge, at least subconsciously, that they are under the control of bosses, cops (who use force to sustain the capitalist system), and patriarchy.

Hence we demand high expectations of ourselves because this is the only way we can relate to the world. This is all that we know. We live in an America of bosses beyond bosses, cops beyond cops, and a stock market as our conscience! Possibly, to relieve this symptom, we need a high dose of an egalitarian community. Jon Grinspan wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times titled, “Anxious Youth: Then and Now.” To summarize, the anxiety in Millennials is nothing new or creative. Even in 1859, young persons were concerned about their love lives, when to get married, and if they were ever going to find a job. Here’s a gem from the article:

“Another solution (from the anxiety) was to find like-minded young adults, to share, as one later put it in his memoir, their “baffling discouragements and buoyant hopes.” Nineteenth-century young people were compulsive joiners. Political movements, literary societies, religious organizations, dancing clubs and even gangs proliferated. The men and women who joined cared about the stated cause, but also craved the community these groups created. They realized that while instability was inevitable, isolation was voluntary.”

In the 21st century, we realize instability is inevitable, but we are too busy hiding behind screens. Of course, I believe social and political change and agitation can happen through the use of social media. Just look at what was accomplished two years ago with SOPA. Yet, this protest was particular to the internet.

Yet, we still need bodies!

We need them protesting, present at hearings, in Congressperson’s offices, and gardening. Our future depends on it.

If we direct our anxious energies toward housing reform, ending poverty, fighting for LGBTQQII+  and women’s right, environmental concerns and changing economic policy; something might change for the better!

A portrait of Jenny and Karl Marx.

A portrait of Jenny and Karl Marx.

*All the Marx quotes come from The Communist Manifesto, which was published in 1848. If you have never read anything by him, the Manifesto is a good place to start.

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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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Christainity, Philosophy, Politics

poets against the status quo

Perhaps––who knows––He tires of looking down.
Those eyes are never lifted. Never straight.
Perhaps sometimes He tires of being great
In solitude. Without a hand to hold.

– the last stanza of “The Preacher: Ruminates Behind the Sermon” by Gwendolyn Brooks

In Plato’s Republic, poets were only welcome if they wrote praises to the gods. No verses of a new world with creatures found in children’s dreams. Or of new thoughts on ordinary objects. Poems had one purpose: to keep the citizens on the straight and narrow. Many other totalitarian governments have used similar tactics, including North Korea with their songs and poems directed toward their dictator. Restraining creativity has been one of the biggest jobs of the Empire or State. Other than holding citizens in debt, or demanding that they conform to Empire ideology, they keep us under constraints of the mundane.

The creative spirit does at times spring up like a flower in the concrete. I have seen this happen at protests, on yarnbombed trees in cities, and at an occasional potluck. Sadly, creativity in churches overall has dwindled to nil, if it was ever there. The words of Scripture too have been domesticated. Forcing it to be read as a devotional book. Scripture has potential for liberation, love, creativity, and transformation. Yet, for the last 200 years the interpretive keys unlock only the literal or extremely basic historical understanding.

Let me present another possible view of Deuteronomy:

During the reign of Josiah, the priests find one of Moses’ book stored away (wink wink). They bring it before the king, and he tells the people that they are going to live by it. That’s not even the interesting part. (The majority of the Torah was not written until the Exile and after.) Fast forward to the high point of the historical critical era, early 1800’s. Scholars, specifically W.M.L de Wette, discover that Deuteronomy resembles  an Assyrian vassal treaty. These treaties were placed in sacred sites of tribute paying countries.

In ancient Judah, after 722 BCE and before 600 BCE, when one would walk into the Temple in Jerusalem, one would see the Assyrian treaty describing in theo-political terms what Assyria and its king wanted from your country. This would include taxes, tributes, and other Empire building measures. Directly beside it, in rebel-like fashion was the book of Deuteronomy, telling Judah what God wanted from them! The decision was easy for the people entering the Temple whose law they were going to abide. Thus, one can come to the conclusion, as I have, that Deuteronomy is a theo-politcal book, written in honor of Moses and against the Assyrian Empire. God is the one who freed them from slavery under the hand of the Egyptians. The very opposite of the Assyrian king who enslaves them with taxes and tributes. For this reason, its Ten Commandments describe God as Liberator.

When I first found this information out in my historiography class of Ancient Judah and Israel, I raised my hand to ask how long after was this view forgotten. In other words, when did this book become something other than resistance literature and into something sacred and revered? After one generation, my professor responded! Wow! This resistance text was domesticated in a matter of forty years.

It’s the poets and the prophets who have the greatest memory. They remember the history of suffering and dream of liberation. They hope when all hope is lost. They are on the front lines fighting for a new world, where justice will reign, and people will be treated dignity. Where schools will have enough funding, and homelessness no longer exists. We need them more than ever and they are us! We must be the dreamers, schemers, poets, and prophets. King, X, Romero, Daly, Williams left us with gigantic shoes to fill.

Resistance literature doesn’t write itself, nor depending on others to march in Washington for us. Embodying love is not an easy task, but if we slow down, it could end in one generation.

MLK first step

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Anarchism, Anti-Capitalism, Beliefs, Christainity, Liberation Theology, Philosophy

desert ascetics in the land of plenty

God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse released last year and was co-written by Slavoj Zizek and Boris Gunjevic. Re-reading it again for a third time, I am enjoying the chapters written by Gunjevic even more. Gunjevic uses St. Augustine’s City of God as an ethical playbook to destroy capitalism. In the quote below, Gunjevic writes that to subvert capitalism one must follow the way of an ascetic. Walter Benjamin points us that capitalism is a religion; Gunjevic believes that the way to dismantle this religious system is though religious asceticism.

“This is why a measured dose of voluntary, disciplined asceticism is necessary, from which rough fragments of efficacious truths may surface and heal our desire, as Augustine says, since we will guide our desire not to something beautiful, desirable, and transitory, but to Beauty itself, immutable Truth itself, and Bliss itself. This is why we need asceticism, as only asceticism can redirect desire towards eternal plenitude. For ascetic exercise is not the destruction of desire as is suggested by various forms of Buddhism. Augustine’s understanding of ascetic practice begins with a voluntary renunciation of submission to pleasure the renunciation of a weakening of the soul and body, and renunciation of the avaricious aspiration to greater wealth. The lust for glory is a nasty vice and an enemy of true devotion, says Augustine, calling on the words of the carpenter from Nazareth and the Apostles whose practice was to place the love of God above.” “Babylonian Virtues–Minority Report” (100-101)

God in Pain

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Beliefs, Philosophy, Politics, Prison Industrial Complex

stitching together a new us narrative

All ancient and contemporary nations form myths of their genesis. Specifically in the ancient world, myths were written as creation narratives. The ancient Babylonians wrote the Enuma Elish in which the god Marduk killed Tiamat, another god, and created the world out of her disassembled body. Later in the story, humans were created out of the murdered blood of Kingu, the top general of Tiamat. Violence began their nation and guided their society and culture. This rings true in the US.

In our national anthem, we sing of bombs exploding and a battle won. Every year we reenact battle scenes from Revolutionary and Civil Wars. We remember the greatness of our founders, not because they were upright and moral people, but precisely because they were fierce leaders and battled well. We uphold the Constitution and Declaration of Independence as documents of freedom and liberty. Yet, it is in these documents that slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a person and freedoms are suspended for prisoners (13th amendment).

American Poverty

What we remember in our past, we inevitably pursue with our future. In the book, Vilnius Poker, one Lithuanian post-concentration camp survivor speaks to another in a library owned by the Soviet Union in the 1970’s saying:

“Listen, Vytautas, hasn’t it ever occurred to you that we have no past?”

“It depends on what we call the past. On who those ‘we’ are.”

“Me, you, that bowlegged babe outside the window. And that laborer on the scaffolding…We have no past, we never were. We just ARE, you know? We’ve lost our past and now we’ll never find it. We’re like carrots in a vegetable garden. After all, you wouldn’t say a carrot has a past?”

“So what of it?” I growled. “If we don’t have it, we don’t have it.”

“Whoever doesn’t have a past, doesn’t’ have a future, either. We never were and we will never will be, you know? We’re a faceless porridge, we’re nothing but a void. We don’t exist, you know? We don’t exist at all. Absolutely! Someone has stolen our past.”

This conversation could happen anywhere in the world. If we don’t have a past, or do not remember our past, then we are at a loss for a future. Biblical theologian, Walter Brueggemann, writes in the Prophetic Imagination that we live in the eternal now. We are blocked from any sense of time, and in its place is consumption. The eternal now has no past or future.

It is in the corners of the eternal now that we find the counter-narratives to violence and consumption planted. They have been planted by hopeful guerilla gardeners, who believe that the future is just as important as the present and past. These seeds sprout in the concrete cities overrun with violence. They grow in the homes where tragedy strikes, in the farms owned by Big-Ag, in the hearts of the abused-abuser, and in the outfield of PNC Park where players make more money than whole sections of fans.

In the heart of the Babylonian Empire, radical Jews wrote the poem of Genesis 1. The Babylonian Empire conquered most of the known world through violence and deportation. Refugee camps like neighborhoods were set up in Babylon to hold the thousands of Jews deported from their homeland. Psalm 137 rhetorically asks “How am I suppose to sing the song of YHWH in a foreign land?” They answer it by composing the theopoetic song in Genesis. Their story starts with the Divine calling, moving, breathing, and loving. God/She orchestrates everything and calls it good. At the end of the poem, God/She stands back and names the whole as very good.

The ancient exiled Jews pursed hope and justice in the face of oppression. Today we have the same predicament. America was built on the backs of slaves and graveyards of Native Americans. We should always remember our past and never let this happen again. Yet, we need to encourage new narratives to shape our future as the US. Our current posture as a surveillance, war-mongering, poor oppressing nation must change. Guerilla gardens are everywhere with seeds of hope and love planted. Let us water these plants and change our culture to sharing, transparency, and making sure people get what they need.

Some people and groups who are reshaping the American Narrative:

Howard Zinn Education Project

The Peaceful Uprising

Cornel West’s Democracy Matters

Bread and Puppet

Democracy Now!

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