Christainity, Ecology, Justice, Scripture

“remember you are compost, and to compost you shall return”: ecotheology and ash wednesday

My theology professor asked the class, “Will composting be necessary in the new heavens and new earth?” My hand shot up immediately and I answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!” Of course, I knew that compost was made of rotting, decomposing earthy matter. Yet, at the same time, I believed composting to be an integral part of God’s realm because it brings forth life out of rotting matter. The professor seemed to agree with me, but my peers were not impressed. For them, life eternal required no work, rather full praise toward God and God’s goodness.

We first find compost in Genesis 2, when God plants a garden on the east side of Eden and creates humanity. As well, God causes animals, trees, and shrubs to be birthed from this same ground. In this second creation narrative, humans work with the ground and care for the garden. Composting was involved in their very practice of creation-care. They didn’t have the means to develop landfills, or even the desire for non-recyclable plastic products. Instead, they gave back to Earth what they couldn’t use and the Earth reused it for something new.

Compost occupies an in-between stage. Sort of how plasma is not necessarily a solid or a liquid; or even Derrida’s late obsession with ghosts, understanding them as not quite human and not quite rotting flesh. Without compost, life would not subsist. In a sense, everything is compost. Our very ontology is in-betweenness. Though this is not the same as when preachers talk about the “dash on your gravestone.” Our in-betweenness is rather much more. Our bodies, along with the world, are constantly changing, either through the shedding of our skin, or dying cells, or having organs taken out. We are never static creatures, just like compost.

In Revelation, we read of the new earth, where one can see signs of composting. The River of Life flows through the middle of the New Jerusalem and on one side is the Tree of Life, which “provides healing for the nations” (22:2). “Healing” in this passage is in the present and continuous sense. In other words, even with everything renewed, everything is not yet fully healed or whole. Thus, could we not imagine that at the bottom of the Tree of Life, us partaking of food and composting it for new life, healing, and wholeness? With this reasoning, the New Jerusalem will not have landfills. What a beautiful vision of God’s realm!

On Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, we recognize our faults, our sins, and those regretful acts we commit. We walk to the front of the church and receive a sign of our sinfulness with an ashed compost cross on our foreheads. Our bodies will become compost again after our death, at least until the resurrection. Yet, we should recognize our in-betweenness as hopeful. As Paul writes in Romans about Abraham on the resurrection, that he was and we are “hoping against hope” (4:18). Within us is the power of transformation. We have the capability to bring forth goodness, love, and hope.

Living into our compostable lives, let us make the most use of our in-betweenness for positive change in our relationships, neighborhoods, and world.

Composting

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Scripture

driscoll’s misreading of revelation

“I am suspending the name (of) “God” in scare quotes. That sends the (strong) theologians heading for the exits, because they are looking for something to save them, to keep them safe.” – John Caputo in The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps (pg. 10)

In his sermon series on the Decalogue, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle wrote a blog post on the sixth commandment titled “Is God a pacifist?” The commandment, of course, is “do not murder” and is present in both Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20. To defend his personal position that Christians can kill, make war, and enact in, Driscoll’s favorite hobby, UFC wrestling, he goes straight for jugular and quotes an extremely violent passage in Revelation.

“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia” (Rev. 14:14–20).

Mark Driscoll preaching

Disturbing, to say the least. Yet, Driscoll’s Reformed/Neo-Calvinist hermeneutic, which sets all Scripture on an equal playing field, has royally mixed up these passages.* First, Driscoll writes, Jesus “is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom.” Nowhere in the passage, he cites, is Jesus riding a white horse. The only white horse references are found in chapters five and nineteen. According to the fifth chapter, Jesus is not even riding the white horse because he is located in heaven represented by the slaughtered lamb. In the nineteenth chapter, the rider on the white horse could be assumed to be Jesus. The rider slaughters those in the Empire, the ones who have power beyond power and the martyrs feast on them. Not trying to shy away from the violent imagery, it is the martyrs in the sixth chapter who demand justice for their spilled blood, which was done by the Empire. This fleshy feast fulfills this justice, according to Revelation.

Second, throughout Revelation, there is a kaleidoscopic representation of symbols assumed to be Jesus. Yet, in chapter fourteen, the son of man in the cloud wearing one crown probably isn’t him! Strictly thinking about crowns: when represented as a slaughtered lamb, he doesn’t wear any crowns. Then, the rider in nineteen wears many diadems. In addition, in a mocking fashion, the red dragon wears seven diadems and the beast from the sea sports a total of ten. A figure wearing one crown does not fit the normal representation of Jesus in Revelation.

Thirdly, the symbols of Jesus work autonomously compared to other characters in Revelation. In complete opposition to Jesus’ character, it reads,  “another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.”” Thus, it should be understood that Jesus is not the son of man in the cloud. Jesus, thankfully, is not carrying a sickle reaping the world.

Of course, it begs the question, what are we to do with the violence in Revelation, even if it is not Jesus who is doing all the reaping or killing? Certainly, this is no easy task, and will take more than a blog post to handle all of the nuances and challenges found in the text. So I will point toward a few ways of reading Revelation. To begin, this text was written during the triumph of the Roman Empire by John of Patmos who was in prison. Violence was the imperial norm for his society, very similar to ours, and their artwork and mantras upheld this tradition. The violent imagery was seared into the minds of all. Therefore, how could John of Patmos not be expected to use it in his text?

Many of our biblical texts are counter-narratives. They turn the norm of their current society on its head. The same is true for Revelation. Although, it is hard for us to see because much of our culture is infused with biblical imagery, we cannot fully comprehend its topsy-turvyness. For example, in Revelation five, an angel cries out with a loud voice “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals?” John openly weeps, but an elder comforts him saying ““Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Isn’t this what we expect: a lion, strong, courageous, with a beautiful bold mane.

Yet, the lion does not respond to the elder or open any of the scrolls; instead, John writes, “Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” A bloody lamb opens the scrolls. In my mind, I picture this lamb to be constantly bleeding from the neck which never scars, its wool blood red, and taking shallow breaths, just to stay alive. This is counter-narrative at its finest. Among other things, this is what Driscoll doesn’t understand about the Bible: it is a multivocal, mostly anti-Empire, hope-filled text that challenges our very assumptions! One should not go lightly into reading the Bible, it takes courage!

Revelation 4

*Reformed/Neo Calvinist theology teaches that the entire Bible is inspired and inerrant. Everything from the genealogies in Chronicles to the parables of Jesus should be taken at the same dedication and seriousness. Consequently, they often create doctrines and dogmas by looking through the Bible as a whole for certain words or phrases that will give them the results they have assumed. Driscoll certainly does this in his post by barely touching on the historical context of the verse in the Exodus and interprets it through Revelation.

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Anti-Capitalism, Christainity, Justice, Scripture

god as trinity or why we should care for the Earth and others

All theology is constructed–whether the theologian realizes it or not–s/he is writing a constructed theology. In other words, the context of the theologian echoes in her or his theological constructs. For example, James Cone’s theology of black liberation focuses on the liberation of oppressed black persons in the US. In A Theology of Black Liberation, Cone writes that “the Holy Spirit is the spirit of the Creator and the Redeemer at work in the forces of human liberation in our society today. In America, the Holy Spirit is the black persons making decisions about their togetherness, which means making preparation for an encounter with whites” (64). Cone grounds his theology in the black experience in the US, which has an atrocious history of slavery, rape of black women, lynching, and incarceration. Yet, Cone finds eschatological hope in the God of Liberation in the Scriptures and in the Spirituals.

Since all theology is constructed this means that no theology is universal, all is particular. Thus, like Cone, I wanted to write my own theology and so I start with the Trinity:

Eternal, yet ever immanent, God dwells as Trinity– God the Source, Jesus the Word and the Sustaining Spirit. For eternity, or how our hearts hyperbolize infinitude, God in relation with God’s self was and is in community. God in community has radical implications. If God made humanity in God’s likeness, as the opening poem of Genesis declares, then we too are communal internally and externally. We have voices, intuitions, and a conscience all within our single being: we are a multitude. Externally, we need other people to be ourselves. Humans have traditions that we lean on including family, religious communities, etc. that we inherit with our birth. This same co-dependent existence revealed in the Trinity continues in human relations.

This Triune Diversity encompasses perichoresis as well, in which God is unified in God’s diverse members. Hence, the Trinity shows us that Love holds everything together even when its parts differ. For social and political praxis, perichoresis gives the ideal for polyculture farming methods, multiculturalism, and generalist studies and so on.

The multiplicity of God opens us to understand God in a fuller way. The present dilemma, as theologian Elizabeth Johnson writes “dead metaphors make strong idols.” The rich metaphor of the Trinity, in Christian history, has been reduced to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” It must be reworked for new generations to find faith and hope in the Plural and Multiplicities of the Divine.

Trinity

“The Hospitality of Abraham” by Andrei Rublev

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Christainity, Justice, Scripture

praying for peace in syria

Pope Francis called the church and the world to pray for peaceful resolutions in Syria. Indeed, the world needs more people to focus on peace and non-violent solutions. For my class, Revelation: Economy, Ecology, and Empire, the first assignment given was to read all of Revelation and figure out who the writer believes to be the righteous heros or the villains. As I read through it tonight, I was disturbed by the role angels play. Of course, it is an angel who guides John through the vision, but angels also release the horrible seven seals. One moment, angels praise God in all the tapestry and in the next, angels are sending locust to destroy 1/3 of plant life.

For political and military interventions, the US has always played the dual role of these angels. We can send good medical aid to people around the world, and have people who would sacrifice anything for peace. Yet, concurrently, we promote victory through violence. Our military and special ops have devastated other countries and governments through means of violence and Empire building. For instance,  in the 1970’s, the US aided in the killing of Salvador Allende, Chile’s first Socialist President, because he did not fit the mold our capitalist democracy. If the US is an angel, then its wings are tattered and burnt.

Similar to the Gospel of Matthew, Revelation’s author affirms, “if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed” (13:10). This message seems clear. If we spread violence world-wide, then eventually it will come back to us. I believe this to be very true, especially with our high statistics of gun violence, allowing cities to go bankrupt, to let our public education system to go to waste. Yet, the American logic makes total sense: if we keep our troops overseas, we don’t have to worry about getting them a job in the US. Our priority is to keep the military-industrial-complex machine running at full steam: we needmore wars, more conflict, and enough public opinion for a  greater meaning of purpose for our soliders.

One more note, before we close in prayer. I scan many news sites trying to gather as much information about  the Syrian situation as possible. All of our news outlets focus on the President and Congress’ decision whether we “help” them out or not. Al Jazeera, on the other hand, reported that the Syrian Parliament does not want us to intervene. Their question is what would happen after the first strike? They are afraid that extremism would gain even more popularity and so many more people will be killed. The conflict in Syria is complex and trying to “fix” all of the world’s problems with bombs is a horrible idea.

In conclusion, there is the Palestinian Liberation Christian Community called Sabeel. Every week they pray for Palestine and for those around the world. Here is their prayer from September 5th:

Lord, it is also a time of great uncertainty and tragedy for many people across the Middle East. In the wake of the latest alleged chemical attack which took the lives of nearly 1,500 people, we wish to pray especially for the people of Syria, remembering the more than 100,000 killed and the 6.2 million displaced by the horrific civil war. At this time of upheaval, many countries surrounding Syria fear for the security and the stability of their nations; Merciful God, hear our people’s cries for safety, justice, and peace. Lord, also give wisdom and restraint to world leaders that they will not respond to this recent tragedy with warfare and instead will seek the path of non-violence. We pray, God, for a political solution that will stabilize this war-torn country and the entire Middle East. Lord in your mercy. Hear Our Prayer.

Gracious God, we lift the Egyptian people up to you. In the midst of turmoil and violence, we beg you to be the light that shines in the darkness and reveal your way of peace and reconciliation. Lord, we pray that you would provide a way forward which honors the dignity of all and brings a peaceable political solution and end to the conflict. Lord in your mercy. Hear Our Prayer.

Amen.Peace

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Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity, Liberation Theology, Scripture

god of inclusion

I was raised in a religious denomination that had no concept of the lectionary or the Christian calendar. Sunday’s Scripture was based on whatever the minister was thinking about that week. Once I started to attend a church rich in liturgical fervor, I fell in love with the rituals, holidays, and lectionary. I love the lectionary because every three years, a congregation will hear the majority of Scripture and it presents good challenges to the preacher for that week. For now, I regularly attend a United Methodist that is quiet liberal with their use of the lectionary so when it is used, I get very excited. For the first lesson this past weekend it is one of my favorite texts in Acts because God talks back and to help Peter interpret the vision.

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:1-18

These verses speak highly of inclusion. John Dominic Crossan wrote in his autobiography, A Long Way from the Tipperary, that if Jesus is to the right of the God then that means that God is to the left of Jesus. Crossan clearly making a political joke, but one that seems accurate of the overall picture of God in Scripture. God is for the outcast, marginalized, forgotten, but God is also trying to push the oppressor into love. Thus making God a Leftist beyond Leftist.

Peter’s vision spoke of the inclusion of the Gentiles and just in its infancy stage for the followers of the Way. This is radical, but not rare for God since hints came as early as the prophet Micah who declared that God will be praised even by the Gentiles. These new converts do not need to be circumcised, but baptized. The text reads that Peter remembers the early words of the Jesus that all shall be baptized by God’s Spirit.

If we take this text to its radical end it means that God’s love is for all and in all. God tells Peter “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” God thus broadens who’s in and who’s out, meaning all are in! Yet, even if this is true theologically, which I believe to be very much so, our social constructions point us in other directions.

Since the Boston Bombings, the Right Wing has upped their anti-Islam rhetoric. Republicans made a statement immediately after the suspect was found that the FBI and other law enforcement should keep a closer eye on Muslims and their mosques. First, there is no need to create fear in a group where no fear is typically found. I should know, I live in an area in West Philly that is mostly made up of Muslims and we all live peacefully together. Second, have we forgotten our past of putting Japanese and Asian Americans into work camps during WWII. Are we heading back to that? I sure hope not! What we need is love for those we have silenced and fear.

The way we move forward is through relationships. These are always uncomfortable at first, but like most things we get use to them and feel comfortable. May we be like God and include all people. We should see others as sacred as we believe ourselves to be.

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Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology, Philosophy, Politics, Scripture, Spiritual

theologically imagining a new atonement theory

Easter arrives in a few weeks. The Church will celebrate the crucifixion, death, burial and eventual rising of Jesus the Christ. So much meaning is packed into one weekend. Altars are torn down, darkness floods the tenebrae service, and on Easter Sunday some church members have the opportunity to wake as the sun rises to worship the God of resurrection. A weekend full of beautiful symbolism, yet it is the sermons that fall short of creative theological imagination.

One reason there has been less and less theological imagination from Easter sermons is because many ministers only know one way to think about the atonement. For those who don’t know, the act of the atonement happened when Jesus was on the cross. In American meta-theology penal substitution sweeps our theological landscape. In other words, Jesus took the place of the individual for the sins that she or he has committed. In terms of salvation, if the individual believes the Jesus did that for him or her, then a pleasant afterlife will be attained. Since it is the most common theory, all those who recommend other theories are often sent to the margins of the church.

Let’s look at a couple of the theories:

In general, all atonement theories focus on one component in the narrative or interpretation  For the penal substitutionist, they look to Paul’s interpretation found in the letter to the Romans and his other letters. We need Jesus to die for us so that we may be redeemed from our sins. Black liberation theologians start subjectively, and especially with James Cone, who looked to African Americans who were lynched by the hands of the white Southerners. Jesus, according to Cone, was black since he sided with the oppressed in history who were wrongfully killed. Other theologians, such as feminists observe the violent behavior of the cross and dismiss it, never to welcome any kind of theory in their theology, but focus on Jesus’ life as a whole. Those who adore Renee Girard believe that Jesus showed the way out of redemptive violence by dying on a cross, simliar thought to many of my Catholic Worker friends. Therefore, there are many ways to look at the atonement: Paul’s interpretation, subjective eisegesis (which I believe is just as credible as exegesis), dismiss it totally, nonviolently, historical, Christus Victor, Moral Influence Theory, etc.

Jesus Christ

Whichever theory we attribute to ourselves means that we ignore the other elements found in the narrative or letter. Since I grew up in an area  of many penal substitutionists, I know that they mostly read St. Paul, and less of the acts and words of Jesus. Moral Influence proponents do the opposite and read the Gospels primarily. I want to propose a theory that tries to combine some of the elements that I believe to be essential to make a broader and more encompassing theory.

First, some qualifications:

  • We must read both Testaments, knowing that all of the writers had different perspectives on God and life.
  • Since we have four canonical Gospels, there are at least four Christologies. If we consider St. Paul’s views as well and the other letters there are far more. Thus it depends on what Gospel or letter we read will tells us how they approach Jesus.
  • Anytime we read we bring our views, traditions, and experiences with us.
  • Theology and interpretation of Scripture do not have to be exclusive, Historical texts must always be interpreted and theological measures can and should always be taken.

Jesus, historically, was a Jewish artisan living in a poor area of Galilee, Nazareth. He was known for his radical table etiquete, healing those in society who were outcasts, teaching new ways to practice the Hebrew Bible, and was considered a prophet. The political and religious authorities noticed the large following and wanted to have Jesus killed, so that the followers may scatter and the Jesus movement die. When Jesus flipped over the money tables in the Temple at Jerusalem, it was the last straw for those in charge and had him tried and crucified on a cross as a criminal. Jesus would die as thousands of people did each year for rebelling against the Roman Empire. Jesus did not just die because of rebellion, but for teaching a new kin-dom that was so upside-down that it did not fit with the normalcy of civilization.

According to the ancient Roman context, Jesus’ death was part of the Imperial scenery and normal.  Yet the followers of Christ saw something new happening. They understood that God raised Jesus from being another executed rebel of the State to have the honor of sitting at God’s right hand. Jesus’ followers found Jesus’ presence in their agape meals, and through praying, healing, and loving others. Jesus’ death made it possible that Jesus could be with the followers forever.

Early followers, in addition, understood that Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated the powers of evil, or known as Christus Victor. The power of evil had no hold on the world anymore. St. Augustine’s definition of evil summarizes it perfectly, “Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name evil.” When one is present in the community of believers she or he have access to God and God’s goodness. In the Christian/Hebrew Scriptures, healing begins with the transformation of the individual and ends with the community’s embrace. For example, the demonic man in the graveyard who was healed and sent into the community or Peter and John healing the man in Acts 3 who was unable to walk and he entered into the community of believers upon being healed.

Jesus’ death accomplies two main things*: we are welcomed into the Triune Community of Love, and demonstrates that divine always stands with the marginalized. The cross is not the end, but the beginning of a new community, one of hope of a better world which we help to create with pursuing justice.

Cameroon's Jesus

* There are many more things that are accomplished as well. It shows the love of the divine for the Earth and her people. It grants us hope for a new future. It shows us what love looks like in community. I focus on these two because they are often ignored in churches and it focuses on the present community as well as the ancient community and not only the individual.

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