Belhar Confession (with inclusive language)

The Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly 222 accepted the Belhar Confession into their Book of Confessions. As a Presbyterian, I am very proud of this. 

1. We believe in the triune God, Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects, and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.

2. We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe

  • that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22);
  • that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);
  • that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);
  • that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity (Phil. 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; John 13:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Eph. 4:1-6; Eph. 3:14-20; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Gal. 6:2; 2 Cor. 1:3-4);
  • that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; Eph. 4:7-13; Gal. 3:27-28; James 2:1-13);
  • that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church.

Therefore, we reject any doctrine

  • which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;
  • which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation;
  • which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin;
  • which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.

3. We believe

  • that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ, that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Matt. 5:13-16; Matt. 5:9; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22).
  • that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world (Eph. 4:17–6:23, Rom. 6; Col. 1:9-14; Col. 2:13-19; Col. 3:1–4:6);
  • that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity;
  • that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.

Therefore, we reject any doctrine

  • which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

4. We believe

  • that God has revealed Godself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
  • that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged;
  • that God calls the church to follow God in this, for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;
  • that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;
  • that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;
  • that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;
  • that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right (Deut. 32:4; Luke 2:14; John 14:27; Eph. 2:14; Isa. 1:16-17; James 1:27; James 5:1-6; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 6:20-26; Luke 7:22; Luke 16:19-31; Ps. 146; Luke 4:16-19; Rom. 6:13-18; Amos 5);
  • that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
  • that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.

Therefore, we reject any ideology

  • which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

5. We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence (Eph. 4:15-16; Acts 5:29-33; 1 Peter 2:18-25; 1 Peter 3:15-18).

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.

Epiphany (sermon)

McKenzie, Epiphany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favorite version of the Lord’s Prayer

Working on my sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, I remembered this beautiful version:

O Breathing Life, your Name shines everywhere!
Release a space to plant your Presence here.
Imagine your possibilities now.
Embody your desire in every light and form.
Grow through us this moment’s bread and wisdom.
Untie the knots of failure binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ faults.
Help us not forget our Source,
yet free us from not being in the Present.
From you arises every Vision,
Power and Song from gathering to gathering.
Amen! May our future actions grow from here!

You can learn more about it here.

Rumi
and Rumi, just because. 🙂

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.

creation of the cyborg

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

 

 

‘Let Him Go’ by Bunny Wailer: A Spiritual Reflection

There are people who come into our lives able to shape anew the way we think and act in the world. This post is by one of the shapers in my own life. His name is John and we met in seminary. This post is his reflection on ‘Let Him Go.’ I hope you enjoy.

When you choose strength in the face of suffering, you are broken open to God.

This beautiful song written by Bunny Wailer, formerly of Bob Marley and the Wailers, is an anthem for the Rude Boys (also called Rudie or Natty) in Jamaica. The Rude Boys were the ones brave enough to disrupt the oppressive, neocolonial environment.  Just like The Wailers.

The Wailers, who were raised in hardship in Trench Town, called this world, “Babylon.” It’s a place where wise, strong, and young men are thrown in Prison to be forgotten—just as they are today, all over the world.

Bunny Wailer’s “Let Him Go” is a cry for the release of one of these boys. The song’s most prophetic line is, “You know that he is wise. You know that he strong. I CALL that he is YOUNG and he will LIVE LONG.” The phrasing is transcendent. It rings with the truth of a person who himself was wrongly thrown in jail for thirteen months during the most vulnerable and formative years of his life.

By releasing this young man, he is given the chance to become the person God created him to be. Although we may not all face a jail cell, the fear that we won’t live into who we were created to become is very familiar. As the Gospel of Thomas puts it, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Babylon and its prison can ultimately silence a person, but we silence ourselves everyday.

Bunny’s prophetic wail resonates for anyone feeling imprisoned by a world controlled by a psychology of fear. In theatrical fashion, Bunny, who is known as a “wrathful prophet,” chooses a buoyantly smooth style to deliver the simple message: “Let Him Go.” Let the wise, strong, and young part of you GO and be FREE. Don’t fear humiliation. Bunny has felt plenty of that (see his recent feud with Snoop Lion).  Stare in the face of those who scorn you and do not merely demand your freedom—express it.

Bunny Wailer

“Let Him Go”

I’d like to say!
 Natty come from jail ’cause Natty get bail 
Natty, Natty come from jail ’cause Natty get bail

You frame him and said he’s done, the things he didn’t do 
You rebuke him, you scorn him, and you make him feel blue

But you got to let him go, got to let him go
 Let him go, I beg you let him go
Let him go, let him, let him go, why oh?
 I said to let him go – why oh? 
Let him go, I beg you let him, let him go 
Let him go, let him go 
I said to let him go, let him, let him go, why oh?
 I said to let him go and mi say, why oh?


Natty come from jail ’cause Natty get bail 
Natty come from jail ’cause Natty get bail

Remember he is wise, remember he is strong 
I call that he is young and he will live long

 So you got to let him go, got to let him go
 Let him go
Let him go, let him, let him go, why oh?
 I said to let him go, I’d say, why oh? 
Let him go, got to let him go 
I beg you let him, let him go 
Let him go, let him, let him go, why oh? 
I said to let him go, 
I’d say, why oh, why oh, why oh, why oh, why?

You nuh know how you make the dread feel ya,
I know that time will tell
 Though you lock him in a rottin’ old cell

 You got to let him go, got to let him go 
Let him go
I beg you let him go, let him go
Let him, let him go, why oh?

Snowden, leaks, and the US Empire

Thank goodness for the recent discussions of surveillance in the US. I find them simultaneously encouraging and missing the point. The Powers-that-be are currently struggling to give answers for these recent leaks. The internet has become so dangerous that one Pentagon official said

“We have developed a full range of capabilities to operate in the cyber-domain, but we are not going to talk about it.” He emphasized the “same rules of engagement” apply in cyberattacks as with other targets the U.S. military might strike.

What was once held in secret is now free for all to see, which is exactly what Edward Snowden wanted to happen. In an interview, Snowden said “You see things that may be disturbing. When you see everything you realise that some of these things are abusive. The awareness of wrong-doing builds up. There was not one morning when I woke up [and decided this is it]. It was a natural process.” His conscience was getting to him, unlike the US, which like all empires is numbed to the abuse, violence, and heartbreak across the land and the world.

Let us pray for Edward Snowden:

God of the Earth,

Thank you for prophets amongst us willing to challenge the status quo because of their compassionate hearts. Guide and Comfort Snowden as he is in Exile in China. He was led by your spirit to release these documents; help us to follow you in this truth.  Protect his family from government officials and the police,  and may they live productive lives. Help us as citizens of your kin-dom to follow you in all that we do, that we may further your kin-dom of love, truth, and justice. Let us not be numb to the world around us or to focus too much on ourselves, but on others.

In the name of our brother-prophet Jesus, Amen.

Lastly, Slavoj Zizek wrote an article Why Obama is more than Bush with a human face and it seems most appropriate this week.

banksy cctv

dangerous memory, spiritual practices, and the media

If America’s soul was not already wounded by the violence we impart around the world, it is certainly broken now. Last week we suffered conflict after conflict: the Boston Marathon bombing, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, and the shooting at MIT, etc.  It would be most appropriate to practice “Dangerous Memory” as Johann Baptist Metz taught. It calls us to remember those who are suffering and have suffered. (Consumer-capitalist culture thrives on amnesia, not giving us any chance to remember those who suffered and have died because we are too busy consuming.) As we remember those who are currently suffering, we relate their struggle to the life, suffering, and death of Christ. Yet, Jesus’ life does not end with death, but God/She raised Jesus and we keep this hope for those who suffer. Alongside our remembering and hope in new life, we lament. We cry out to God/She, asking that justice may come. The road of healing and restoration is hard but necessary, and if we are following Jesus, then restoration is the only way.

My practice of  Metz’s “Dangerous Memory” fell short last week, being was consumed by the news, my twitter feed, and NPR. On Thursday morning I stayed in bed all morning until I went to work at 1:30pm listening to NPR.

In our society we retrieve information and news through screens: computer, tablets, television, phone, etc. 24 hour news cycles and up-to-second coverage on Twitter and other news-feeds bombard our minds and hearts. Brother Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk in Kentucky, wrote widely on subjects as war, violence, peace, monasticism, and silence. He is still revered for his writings. Concerning the news, Merton wrote:

I have watched TV twice in my life. I am frankly not terribly interested in TV anyway. Certainly I do not pretend that by simply refusing to keep up with the latest news I am therefore unaffected by what goes on, or free of it all. Certainly events happen and they affect me as they do other people. It is important for me to know about them too: but I refrain from trying to know them in their fresh condition as “news.” When they reach me they have become slightly stale. I eat the same tragedies as others, but in the form of tasteless crusts. The news reaches me in the long run through books and magazines, and no longer as a stimulant. Living without news is like living without cigarettes (another peculiarity of the monastic life). The need for this habitual indulgence quickly disappears. So, when you hear news without the “need” to hear it, it treats you differently. And you treat it differently too.

Merton viewed our obsession with the news cycle the same as an addiction to cigarettes.  We desire to stay on top of everything as it happens and it makes us anxious when we don’t know what is going on. This is a problem. Last week CNN demonstrated that “Breaking News is Broken.” Farhad Manjoo, began his article:

“Inspired by the events of the past week, here’s a handy guide for anyone looking to figure out what exactly is going on during a breaking news event. When you first hear about a big story in progress, run to your television. Make sure it’s securely turned off.

Next, pull out your phone, delete your Twitter app, shut off your email, and perhaps cancel your service plan. Unplug your PC.

Now go outside and take a walk for an hour or two. Maybe find a park and sit on a bench, reading an old novel. Winter is just half a year away—have you started cleaning out your rain gutters? This might be a good time to start. Whatever you do, remember to stay hydrated. Have a sensible dinner. Get a good night’s rest. In the morning, don’t rush out of bed. Take in the birdsong. Brew a pot of coffee.

Finally, load up your favorite newspaper’s home page. Spend about 10 minutes reading a couple of in-depth news stories about the events of the day. And that’s it: You’ve now caught up with all your friends who spent the past day and a half going out of their minds following cable and Twitter.”

Majoo described the same kind of spiritual practice as Brother Merton, only 60 years later. Any intentional engagement in the world that wants to positively affect the whole person: spirit, mind, and body is a spiritual practice. People are beginning to recognize this again as an important factor of life, which explains why yoga, meditation, walking in nature, etc. are making a comeback. Comedian Amy Poelher on her “Ask Amy” Youtube channel explained how her “eyes need a break” from all the tragic images in the news.

I am not saying that we never read or watch the news or not concern ourselves with the global community; it is far too late for that. I am suggesting that the world needs us to be full of love and compassion and we cannot do that if we are busy watching television. If we turn off the television, twitter-feeds, etc. we need to replace them with spiritual practices. These are the most counter-cultural act we can do since  they do not consume anything, hence counter-cultural. You can take your time walking the labyrinth or read a psalm as slow as you want during lectio-divina or meditate by emptying yourself of thoughts and desires. 24 hour news-cycles attempt accuracy, yet they harm viewers with unwanted anxiety. To turn off these fear-intensifiers and to direct our emotions and energies toward prayer, self-care, meditation, and compassion in the community changes the way in which we engage in the world.

labyrinth

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.

Questioning theodicy and the Sandy Hook Tragedy

The past two Sunday’s lectionary readings have dealt the John the Baptizer narrative in the Gospel of Luke. John the Baptizer is recognized as the caller/preparer for Jesus. Last week’s reading painted John the Baptizer as an Elijah type who called out in the wilderness for people to repent of their ways. Politically and socially minded people should first think of repentance as changing one’s ideology or converting from one belief system to another. Yet, John the Baptizer was pushing (as Jesus did) for a different way of life, a change of mind, body, and spirit, and for people to change the direction of their society to be shaped by God’s kin-dom.

Today’s lectionary reading, Luke 3:7-18, read as follows

“John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”

John the Baptizer

John the Baptizer called for a fair society. His good news was triple fold. First, all people will have the necessities to live, e.g. a coat for all, a place to call home. Second, there is one coming who will give a more monumental baptism of fire and God’s Spirit. Lastly, the good news for the one coming will be even more topsy turvy than what the Baptizer was claiming. John the Baptizer called for fairness, but

Jesus preached beyond fairness,

and charity,

all the way to the radical notion of justice.

Jesus was calling for the kin-dom of God. Where love will be as common as this world’s violence. Where people go beyond tolerating their neighbors and love them. Where as the ancient prophets who preached that cities will not be built on injustice, but built on peace with architects, labours, and bosses treated with dignity in pay. Injustice will not find its home in the kin-dom. Praying for enemies and reconciliation will abound in conversations, and people. The people will co-create  society focusing on justice rather than profit and gain. God will be the Light, which keeps darkness away. And yet, the kin-dom of God is still coming and not fully realized yet.

The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School makes us recognize even more so that the kin-dom of God has not come. During this Advent Season, we are told to wait, to have patience for Christ’s birth and the Eschatological End. What happens when it feels that God is not coming fast enough? How are we to react?

One answer comes from the minor prophet Habakkuk. First some background. Habakkuk’s oracles were concentrated at the the end of the 7th century, 620-600BCE. Judah was caught in the middle of two Empire-builders: the Babylonians who were gaining strength in numbers, and the Egyptians who were friendly with Judah, but did not side with Judah in their most desperate times. Habakkuk’s cried out:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
 Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
 So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

Habakkuk complained to God that God is not listening to him. He poetically proclaimed for justice, for the end of violence, and that God’s Law* may be respected and followed. The Kings of Judah after the great revivalist Josiah, who coincidentally during his time found Deuteronomy, were his children who were political puppets of Egypt and eventually Babylon. Josiah was brutally killed in 609 BCE. Jehoahaz, Josiah’s eldest son,reigned for three months then was disposed. Jehoiakim, Josiah’s second son, followed and lasted for 11 years. Josiah’s two other sons, Jehoiacin and Zedekiah, were the last Kings of Judah until the Exile in 586 BCE.

In the midst of tragedy, Habakkuk did not hold back from calling God out. Essentially, Habakkuk called God an old blind person, who did not see the injustice happening. Habakkuk’s response resonates with the emotions that I felt on Friday. Since I work with youth, I kept thinking to myself “Why would anyone want to hurt the little ones?” I know that many children around the world are killed, especially by the hands of the U.S. Empire.  Yet, my context has me bound to the U.S.. If I were to see all of the horrible tragedies that happen each day, I could not handle it. So I must take the Sandy Hook massacre at upmost importance and fight for this to never happen again in the U.S. and around the world.

Today in Sunday School, I lead the youth in a prayer walk for those involved in Sandy Hook massacre. We walked to stations titled Healing, Wholeness, and Redemption. We prayed to be the change in our society so these tragedies never happen again. We prayed for people with mental illnesses that are beyond anyone’s control. After the prayer exercise, I quoted Frederick Douglass who said “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” Let us wait for God, not by sitting in the pews, but by being co-creators for the kin-dom of God. Let us also not be afraid to question, challenge and pray frantically.

These are the names and ages of those lost in this brutal tragedy.
These are the names and ages of those lost in this brutal tragedy.

I feel sorry for those who come up with answers to tragedies in a flash. Those who claim Christ, and have an answer to theodicy are only fooling themselves. To read through the book of Job and come out with a satisfying answer is fanciful. The students and teachers of Sandy Hook were brave to see that terror and still be a sane human. We must be empathetic and know that theologies fall short when it comes to theodicy and it’s okay to accept that. Remember this: God always sides with the oppressed.

*Most of the Law/Torah was not written until after the Exile, 538 BCE. Habakkuk is certainly referring to the book of Deuteronomy.