#StayWokeAdvent, Scripture

riot gear will collect dust: a proclamation from the prophet isaiah of america

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Ferguson, to Brooklyn, to Staten Island,
and cry to them that they have not been forgotten,
they are loved deeply and from the Lord’s hand hope shall be given.

A megaphone cries out:
“In the streets prepare the way of justice,
make straight in city parks a highway for our God.
Every empty lot shall be a home,
and every Trump Tower–rent controlled apartments;
unfair minimum wages shall be living wages,
and riot gear will collect dust.
Then the presence of God shall be unveiled,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of God has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry out?
Is it for the unjust deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley or Tamir Rice?
Or the giant gap in economic inequality?
Or that America’s democracy is owned by the Koch Brothers and other corporate elites?”
All people are fragile; their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of God blows upon it: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”
The grass withers, the flower fades; but hope for the end of police brutality and the rise of caring communities transcends life.

Get us up to the main streets, O Ferguson, bearers of another world;
Shout with strength, O New York City, heralds of justice, shout louder, do not fear;
say to the police departments across America,
“BLACK LIVES MATTER! BLACK LIVES MATTER!”
See, the God of justice comes with might, and her hands serve the lowly;
her comforting presence brings about change.
She will bring water for those too tired to shout anymore;
she will rub the feet of those too tired to march anymore,
and she will carry all in her bosom,
and gently lead us to a new heaven and new earth,
one without murders by choking or trigger happy cops.

i cant' breathe

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anti-war, Prayer, Prison Industrial Complex, Scripture

my prayer for ferguson, brooklyn, and the school of the americas watch

This weekend, a group of students from Union Theological Seminary and myself travelled to Columbus, GA. We gathered with over 1,000 others to protest for the closing of the School of the Americas (SOA). For nearly 70 years, the SOA has trained soldiers in South and Central America in starting coups, mass murdering los campesinos (poor folk and farmers), and killing political and religious leaders (Allende, Che, Oscar Romero). All of this filters through the ideology of anticommunist propaganda. Thousands of people, named and unnamed, have been killed in the name of freedom and democracy. They have been killed because the powerful want to stay powerful and poor lives do not matter.

As the US military teaches oppressive tactics to the South Hemisphere, we enact it on our own soil by killing black women and men. Law enforcement use their power to rule over communities and, more often than not, get away with it. They get away with tearing lives apart with a modern day lynching. For the killings of Michael Brown, Akai Kareem Gurley, and Shantel Davis, we must continue to cry out for justice. Because unless there is justice for Brown, Davis, and Gurley, there won’t be justice for us all.

justice for mike

My prayer is simply that we use our legs to protest to show our government and police officers that they are unjust in how they treat people of color in the US and around the world. Black lives matter! Brown lives matter!

My prayer is that we use our words to encourage one another. Movements die quickly when their members fight over petty differences.

My prayer is that we use our hands. With one hand, we care about the immediate needs of our neighborhoods and communities. You can’t end global poverty without first knowing and lending a hand at local shelters, soup kitchens, and Catholic Workers. With the other hand, to learn, lead discussions, and think globally about racism, sexism, ableism, etc.

Lastly, my prayer is that we use our hearts to connect with one another. In many movements, the key to being in the in-crowd is to know as much as you can about the area of interest. What if we not only focused on knowledge (How does memorizing statistics on NYC poverty help the person sleeping on the street?), but found empathetic ways to connect with one another.

Let us continue to fight against police brutality.

Fight against racism in the US.

Fight against groups that hinder our causes: the KKK, fascist and racist policies.

Fight for all people to have a decent chance at life.

ferguson

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Justice, Liberation Theology, Scripture

jesus the riddler and the parable of the talents: a sermon

Jesus loved to work with parables. And in Matthew’s Gospel, from the 13th chapter onward, you can find them everywhere. I like to think of parables like I think of riddles. They make your mind think one way, but really the answer is flying in the opposite direction. Growing up, my mom would prepare the children’s sermon every Sunday. She’d gather all the little ones to the front, just like we do here, and usually it was the same format. She would read a short story from a book. Then, we would pray and then sing a song. These stories were part of a tradition that her mother passed on to her. So there was always an intimate sacredness present. I can even still remember some of the illustrations in those books. These stories would always push a certain moral, like obey your parents or trust God in all things. And we can get caught up in doing the same things to Jesus’ parables, making them in moral message.

What’s even worse is that we tend to allegorize the characters.
We place God as the main character and humans perform the smaller roles. And somehow we figure out something to say about God through these parables.

Traditionally, today’s scripture passage has been read as such. Jesus is the master who gives the talents to those who follow him. He then goes away; up to heaven, and during that time Jesus’ followers are making use of their talents. When Jesus returns the followers have to present what they have done with their talents. Rewards are given to those who doubled their talents and for the one follower who buried the talent; he will be cast off into eternal damnation and his one talent will be given to the one with the most. The moral of the parable is: “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Does this sound like Jesus? The one who told the rich young man chapters earlier, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.”  (Matthew 19:21 CEB)

Does this sound like the Jesus who said, “When you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret”? (Matthew 6:3-4 CEB)

Does this sound like the Jesus who made it clear that ” You cannot serve God and wealth”? (Matthew 6:24 CEB)

Jesus teaches against the notion that the rich should get richer while the poor get poorer. To follow Jesus means to give up your wealth and give everything to those in need. Then, why does this parable sound like it’s telling us to do the very opposite?

As some of us heard last week, this is Jesus’ Second Sermon on the Mount. Although, this time it’s less about how we should live and more about how we should get ready for God’s Realm to crash on Earth.

Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel would often start his parables by saying
“The kingdom of heaven is like this…” Strangely, our parable doesn’t start off this way; instead it reads, “it is as if.” Maybe Jesus is not speaking of the kingdom of heaven, maybe it’s about another kingdom that one should use caution living in.

We hear of the Master giving his most trustworthy and inner circle of slaves his money. It should be noted here that it’s “to each according to his ability.” Already, we know that the last slave couldn’t be trusted with more than just one talent. Which is still a ton of money in the ancient world. If one denarius was the daily wage of a laborer, then one talent was worth 600 denarii. That’s almost two years of work.

The parable continues that immediately the master leaves the slaves with the money.

The first and second slaves go off and double their talents. But how? Did they double it through opening new businesses or were they flipping houses or investing it in the stock market? When I was researching this I found that much of it was through giving small loans to farmers. Now this doesn’t sound so bad, except that the contracts were written up so that the farmers had to use their land as collateral. The idea was that eventually the farmer’s crops would fail, the farmer could not pay the loan off anymore, and the loan granter would then own that land. With 2010’s mortgage crisis, still fresh in our memory, we know that these types of situations still happen. It’s quite possible then that the first and second slaves exploited their friends and others who lived nearby with these loans.

The third slave did something very curious though he buried the talent. He did not participate in exploiting those around him. The burial of the talent looks like a bad deal, but it was his resistance.

This practice of a master giving his money to his slaves was a peculiar Roman law called peculium. The idea was that although the master was giving money to the slaves, it was never the slave’s money, but always the master’s. Because remember: slaves owned nothing. And to make sure that this was upheld, there were stacks of Roman law books that insured that the slaves gave back their master’s money.

And in my mind this is related to the phenomena of Halloween.
Every year, parents purchase or make their kids Halloween costumes. The parents decorate the house and buy candy for other costumed kids. The night of Trick-or-Treating parents chaperon the kiddos going door-to-door gathering up candy. Jimmy Kimmel, late night talk show host, started a tradition where parents take a video of their children’s reaction when they tell the kids that they ate their Halloween candy. My favorite response this year was a little boy who opens all of the kitchen cabinets angrily and then looks to camera and says, “Get out!” There are other videos of little ones saying, “That’s okay mommy. You must have been hungry. There’s always next year.” Under the system of peculium, it is perfectly right for the parents to eat the kid’s candy, it’s not like the kids did anything to deserve the candy, it was all the parent’s doing, the costume, the evening of trick or treating. But as the children in these videos remind us it may not be perfectly right.

Continuing with the parable, when the Master finally returns, the slaves present their talents. In the case of the first two slaves who doubled their talents the Master exalted them saying, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” In the sight of the Master, they did well in getting him more money through a means that harmed others.

The third slave talked back to the Master saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” He gave back to the master was he received. This friends, was a slap in the face. The Master responds with name calling with words like wicked, lazy, unworthy. And this should make our ears perk up. The slaves who doubled their talents were trustworthy, while the last slave’s worth was denied.

The Master eventually throws out the third slave into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth for resisting and talking back.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12 to “weep with those who weep, to associate with the lowly. Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” In short, we are to live as Christ lived.

This is our calling. To weep with those who are in the outer darkness. To take their hands and stay with them. To associate ourselves not with the Masters of this world, but with the lowly, the outcast. The third slave was courageous, but at the same time was afraid. There are many more in this world that allow fear to hold them back from calling out their abusers. May we be a people who keep our eyes peeled and hearts open to love the outcast and dive deep into the outer darkness even if we are too afraid of what we might find.

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Christainity, Liberation Theology, Queer Theology, Scripture, Spiritual

jesus was a cyborg

As custom, posthuman films, including Her, Transcendence, and Lucy, prescribe qualities on the anthropological project. Questions for viewers arise: What does it mean to be human? Are humans unique because their conscience? Is it necessary to have a body to be human? These films convey simply that to be human means to demonstrate a will and have a conscience. There is a complete lack of body-presence. For instance, in Her the male-bodied human has an emotional and sexual attraction to the artificially intelligent Operating System, Samantha. They perform all the features of a romantic human relationship, although one is without a body.

Cue cyborg-talk

With the rise of prominent electronic technologies, artificial intelligence, and cyborgs, we recognize our dependence on these technologies. As an example, I use my smartphone as an alarm, radio/music, television, clock, notebook, book, phone, and about a billion other things. Recently, new concerns about a smartphone user’s posture has an actual term: Text Neck. Yet, it has been argued that even before our use of electronic technologies that we were already cyborgs.

cy·borg (ˈsīˌbôrg) noun
a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.

First, already we see that this definition is biased. It believes that cyborgs are “fictional or hypothetical.” Second, without that qualifier at the beginning, it presents a solid definition of how we have been cyborgs! Globally, humans use technologies attached to their bodies that help them function beyond human limitation. For me, at least, I need glasses to properly see my surroundings. As well, I use an umbrella in the rain, wear snow boots in winter storms, and have sunscreen for the hot sun.

Humans make use of non-electronic technologies daily and without it the world would look much more chaotic (and blurry!). This idea about cyborgs, I believe, ruptures a belief in human nature , i.e. natural law, original sin. That we have never been purely human. We are a mix technologies that help us to survive and thrive in the world. In this sense, we should be glad to have such wonderful technologies helping us, but our theology should reflect such realities.

If you would have asked me in second grade what I would look like in heaven, the first thing that would’ve come out of my mouth would be that I wouldn’t have to wear my glasses anymore. As a child, heaven was the perfection of all things and a barrier for me was my glasses. Over time that has changed and now I feel fashionable with glasses and couldn’t live without them. In a way, the theology of my youth reflected what I thought it meant to be purely human.

What does it mean to include cyborgs into our theological anthropology?

1. Humans have a conscience, but the body must not be forgotten.
With all this cyborg-talk, we must remember that we are bodies. We are breathing, head-bobbing, blood-pumping, heart-beating, entanglement of emotions, sound-collections, and memory-capturing bodies. We are always in transition. Our bodies change everyday, every hour, every second. They shed skin, lose blood, grow hair, and earwax multiplies. Thus, BODIES ARE NOT STATIC! They cannot be pinned down to essences.

2. The fluidity of our bodies should reflect our theological anthropology.
When asked what it means to be made in the image of God, most Christians rely on the Genesis 1:27, “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God created them; male and female God created them” (NRSV). To dig deeper in what this means they answer that humans have God’s “moral, spiritual, and intellectual nature.” I propose that we should include bodies, especially if we take a process panentheistic approach. Everything is in God anyway! The body acts as God acts in the world, changing, growing, and transforming. Or a recent comment from an amazing professor, “God’s body is a woman’s body.”

3. We need be cautious with our christology.
To say that Jesus is deeply divine and human directs us in the way of ontology. Sadly, we rarely include anything about Jesus’ body in terms of theology. We are told to be human means to care for others, our neighbors, and those closest to us. The scholar activist Walter Wink even described Jesus as being the only Human Being and many others in the Christian tradition have agreed with him. Could this partially be untrue, since Jesus certainly used the technologies of his day? Must we search for a cyborg-christology?

Where does this leave us?

This leaves us between humanity and posthumanity, between human nature and fluidity, between divinity beyond and divinity always present. We must write theology that reflects our reality. Cheers to a new era of body-cyborg theology!

For Further Reading:

The Cyborg Handbook edited by Donna Haraway

Cyborg Selves: A Theological Anthropology of the Posthuman by Jeanine Thweatt-Bates (she blogs here: rude truth)

From Human to Posthuman: Christian Theology and Technology in a Postmodern World by Brent Waters

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

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Jesus tells the women not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children.Weeping is a way of resistance. Empires cannot handle chaos, emotion, or uncontrollability. The powers-that-be need the world to be dry-eyed, controllable, and at an Imperial peace. These women’s tears started the revolution. Their tears were sown into the hearts of the early followers and created a movement.

“Woman, Why Are You Weeping” by Jane Kenyon

They have taken away my Lord, a person
whose life I held inside me. I saw him
heal, and teach, and eat among sinners.
I saw him break the sabbath to make a higher
sabbath. I saw him lose his temper.

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

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): A woman wipes the face of Jesus

Wiping Jesus’s face on his way to death is seen as an act of charity, hinting at justice, a justice-to-come. In the Catholic tradition, the woman’s named Veronica, which in Greek means “true image.” A true image of God touches a true image of God.

A Prayer:

Wounded God, Helpless Savior,
Our readied hands seek to help. Our palms are wide open.Help us to discern how to bring about the kin-dom of misfits and no-bodies. Guide us in empathy toward the battered, bruised, hurt, broken, and hated. Push us in the direction of justice beyond charity. Amen.

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