Queering Holy Week: A Primer

For Holy Week, I will take up a new project titled, “Queering the Stations of the Cross(es).” In the last few months, beautiful artwork on LGBTQ Stations have emerged; as well as a specifically Trans-queering the Stations of the Cross. These are wonderful additions to the Christian imagination surrounding Holy Week and the Stations. For my project, I want to broadly define queer and find more ruptures in the text and tradition that include, but are not limited to LGBTQQIAAP+ theory/theology. For this reason, I am using David Halerpin’s definition of queer,

“by definition, whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers… ‘Queer’…demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative—a positionality that is not restricted to lesbians and gay men” (p. 62).

In other words, queer destabilizes all sense of norms. It does this not for its own sake; rather, for a clearer (queerer) sense of the world we live in. Presently, essences categorize and suffocate the Earth (nature, animals, who gets to rule) and humanity (heteronormativity, racist perceptions). Just as one’s eye color differs from another, so do our tastes, sexualities, epistemologies, and much more. Queering disrupts the status quo and brings discomforts us. Isn’t this what religion attempts to do or at least certain movements of it?

The season of Lent, especially the Stations of the Cross, needs queering. Sacrificing meals or praying once a day comforts one’s spiritual life. Problematizing and queering the stations of the cross invites us to see our tradition with fresh eyes.

So won’t you please join me in “Queering the Stations of the Cross(es)”? 

god’s not (not) dead

American Christians are flocking to the movie theaters to watch the latest in Christian pop culture. This year, three overtly Christian films flashed across our movie screens: Son of God, God is not dead, and the upcoming film Heaven is for real. They exhaust contemporary American Christian metanarratives, i.e. penal substitution, God is our friend, the desire for an afterlife over the present one. Moreover, these films are apologetic tools for Christians to witness to their family and friends. But some questions come to mind: Are the producers of these films, knowing that Christian subculture is plentiful in the US, motivated by money (manna) or the gospel? Are they using capitalism to subvert it for God’s kin-dom or merely perpetuating capitalism to keep the subculture afloat to eventually make more money later?

I assume the producers, directors, and all those in the films really just want the money. Sure, if it has a positive message, that’s good too; but it is really about the bottom line. Here we could use Nietzsche’s parable of the madman to help us understand how American Christianity is more of a marketplace, than a religion. Nietzsche famously pens, “God is dead.” Sadly, too often, this line is taken out of context and quoted on church signs saying things like “”God is dead” – Nietzsche” then underneath reading “Nietzsche is dead” – God.” Kinda funny, but not entirely true.

In Nietzsche’s parable, the madman runs into the market-place in the early morning. He carries only a lantern to light his path. He cries out that he is looking for God. The people, who have no regard for God, ask him mockingly, whether God is taking a vacation or maybe in the bathroom. The madman eventually declares in a long speech that God is dead and that we are God’s murderers. Once the speech ended, the madman throws his lantern on the ground, and declares,

“I have come too early, my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.”

The madman’s words resound truer today than ever: what should shock us is not the phrase “God is dead,” but that we are the ones responsible.

We drag out God at gunpoint to the middle of the woods with our Christian subculture that speaks to fashion more than any kind of reflective theology.

We murder God when communities are built on trigger points rather than grace.

We put a nail in God’s coffin every time we financially support a subculture than actually caring for those in our community.

We are God’s coffin bearers and spit on God’s grave when we forsake our call to love without distinction to only find strength in our ideology.

Thankfully, we have a chance to abandon the giant sinking ship of subculture and ideology for something more authentic–where we can get our hands dirty, understand the world as chaotic, yet beautiful, and ride in small boats, really toughing out the waves. Christianity, or for that matter any religion, should not be simple. Faith should not be only one prayer, or a ten-step program, or a sermon series that solves it all; it’s about the journey with the Divine and one another. We need to take responsibility for who we are in our neighborhoods and our family. Let’s not bury God with our pitiful ideologies, but participate in a life imagined by God through our rituals, Sacred Texts and experiences together.

politicizing neighbor-love

When Christians separate the notion of neighbor-love from politics and they lay claim to universal Christian love, the neighbor-love becomes impotent in the world. When the rhetoric of neighbor-love becomes an apoliticized affirmation of love and life, the neighbor-love can be meaningless and even dangerous because it romanticizes love while ignoring thanatopolitics (politics of death) that turns the undesired, the undocumented, the unwelcome into bare life–a being without any kind of protection.

– Cosmopolitan Theology: Reconstituting Planetary Hospitality, Neighbor-Love- and Solidarity in an Uneven World by Namsoon Kang, pp. 118

neighbor
This depoliticized picture is not loving one’s neighbor.

“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

god’s promiscuous, indiscriminatory Love

Her broadened my view of incarnation. I was so fascinated with Samantha (the operating system) and the ways she fleshed her voice while interacting with Theodore. This is not your normal romcom. It pushes the limit for what it means to be in a relationship, how one can love non-bodies, and the power of love. Theodore and Samantha shared all the benefits of a relationship even fighting. When their relationship started to hit the rocks, Theodore asked Samantha how many other people she loved. Her compelling response,

“The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love even more.”

This quote quite wonderfully sums up process theology’s doctrine of God. To get a little technical, in God’s Consequent Nature (Whitehead term, classically it’s called the Economic Trinity), God grows in love as time paces on. In a sense, God evolves with the world. Samantha, too, has intuition to react, love, and grow with Theodore and everyone else who has her as an operating system. This does not mean that God cannot be personal or that God has faults. Rather, God’s love pursues all, and by all, I do indeed mean other animals, plants, rivers, rocks, etc. as well as humanity. Laurel Schneider wrote a piece a few years ago titled “Promiscuous Incarnations.” This strongly connects with Her and, of course, V-Day with a beautiful re-interpretation of John 3:16.

“Promiscuous incarnation suggests excess and indiscrimination in divine love. It puts power and the inexorable pull of gravitational attraction in “God so loved the world.” It restores sexual bounty and openness to God, which means that it welcomes the end of racialized hierarchies that depend upon sexualized regimes of control. It dismisses purity as a divine attribute and replaces it with the cacophonous mixture of differences that constitute divine time-being” (245).

Schneider, I believe, rightly describes God’s love for the world as promiscuous. In her article, she defines promiscuity in three ways. Only two of them though define what she means when she attributes it to God, namely a third gender, and to indiscriminately love all. Schneider’s goal is to change the discourse about divinity and flesh from the commonly held idea that divinity imparts itself on flesh, i.e. it is God who works through the body that’s totally depraved. Rather the flesh/body show us the divine (233).

Body/flesh in Western culture and society is seen as a burden that we must bear. Arcade Fire sings “My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love, but my mind holds the key.” We need to shed the body to set the spirit free, which is ultimate freedom. What then if God works through the flesh, the body, that which is not spirit? Possibly then we could argue that spirit and flesh is not so different. That God is in all and beyond all. God is the More and with that is indiscriminate.

Let me end with the last paragraph from “Promiscuous Incarnations.”

“Promiscuous incarnation implies a God outside of human control and even outside of religious rules but not outside of human life and experience, not outside of human hungers and desires, not ever far away from ecstasy or grief. Somehow, if indeed the stories of Jesus are to be the way to divine incarnation, Christians can claim that God always becomes flesh for a purpose and so can be found whenever that is pursued. That purpose is radical, compassionate, promiscuous love of the world to such an extent that suffering in any person, any body, is a wound in God’s flesh, a diminishment of God’s own beloved, a gravitational pull on God to come, again. And again” (245).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

AnarchoLove

*This post was inspired by the work of Laurel Schneider at Vanderbilt University. She wrote an article, available for download, on her website titled “Promiscuous Incarnation,” which portrays God’s love for everyone and everything.  It’s a must read.

prayer for a people in the throes of martyrdom

This prayer is from Fernando Bermúdez’ Death and Resurrection in Guatemala (1986, pgs 74-75). Its words resonate with my holy longing for social justice in America. I updated some of the language and emphasized where I thought was appropriate.

Lord, may your Gospel be for me not a book,
but Good News, lived and shared.
May I not be embittered by oppression.
May I speak more of hope than of calamities.

May my denunciation be first subjected to discernment,
in community,
brought before you in profound prayer,
and uttered without arrogance,
not as an instrument of aggression,
but neither with timidity and cowardice.

May I never resign myself to the exploitation of the poor,
in whatever form it may come.
   Help me to be subversive of any unjust order.
Help me to be free,
and to struggle for the freedom of the oppressed.

May I never become accustomed to the suffering of the martyrs
and the news that my brothers and sisters are enduring
persecution,
but may their lives and witness ever move me to conversion
and to a greatest loyalty to the kin-dom.

May I accept my church with an ever growing love
and with Christian realism.

May I not reject it for its faults,
but feel myself committed to renew it,
and help it be what you, Lord, want it to be.

May I fear not death, but infidelity to hope and justice.

Oh God, hear our prayer.

deconstructing sovereignty with a relational god

The thought of a sovereign God rattles my bones and not in a good way. As a child, I would listen to my Mom’s Sunday School lessons on biblical characters and try to grasp at their closeness to God. I wanted to be the young Samuel and have God wake me up in the middle of the night. I desired to be called like Jonah and have the chance to run away just to be saved by God through a big fish. I wanted to be so close to Jesus that I could touch his garment and smell his sweat. This longing has never went away; if anything, it has intensified.

God calling Samuel

Of course, these desires evolved as I matured. As a youngster, I wanted to know for certain that I could be found in heaven when I died. So I would raise my hand or walk upfront week after week during the altar call. I felt God close in those moments. You know, the moments when you are the most afraid, but hope is budding within your soul. Those were the experiences that transcended everything. I was in the arms of God, and God was cradling me, and singing to me that everything was going to be okay. I get that in different ways now, since I attend churches where the altar call is absent.  For me, my thin places are not places at all, but spontaneous events. It’s these surprises that I sense the divine. This is why I find myself in churches where they stand and clap when they feel led. Congregants dance in the aisles and preachers give messages bent toward justice. This is surely the fullness of the Spirit.

So going back to the idea of the sovereignty of God. The word ‘sovereign’ does not appear more than four times in the Christian Testament. 1 of the 4 times it only relates to a human ruler. Of course, one cannot just rule out because it has rare instances in the Bible (since most fundamentalists command similar attention when it comes to the few verses on apparent homosexuality). What I find curious though is that the first one to write in depth on sovereignty was St. Augustine, which was during the time when Christianity was the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. Thus, we could conclude that pre-fourth century Christians did not have the vocabulary or context for sovereignty because they were found on the receiving end of the violence from the Roman Empire. God was with them rather than above them, controlling them.

This could possibly be why global theologies skip or rarely speak of God’s sovereignty because how can one speak of a God totally in control when your church was just burnt down, or when your family members go missing, or even when your religion is the minority in a country? Theologian Ivone Gebara strikes at the heart of the issue writing,

“i am suspicious of this omnipotent god, this self-sufficient god, this god beyond the earth and the cosmos, this god beyond humans and at the same time very much like humans, the celestial “double” of powerful men, whether to the right or left.

the god on high, in heaven, on a throne, the father of men, the god of blind obedience, the god who punishes and saves, is no longer useful even when he presents a liberator’s face—to our world, to the humanization of the human, to women, to the future of the poor. he too is the fruit of an authoritarian religion experience by the masses, a religion that produces sentimentalism and consolation as faith’s response to the nonsense of an existence reduced to survival, the existence today of thousands of humans scrabbling for a wretched loaf to exist.” – from “The Face of Transcendence as a Challenge to the Reading of the Bible in Latin America”

The world is a beautiful, wretched place. God can be seen in the tiniest of moments and tonight children will go to sleep hungry. The old question, that should be retired, ‘how is there a good God when evil avails?’ no longer makes sense without a sovereign God. Like the early Christians constructing theology from their experiences with a relational divinity. We too need to experience and be open to the divine in all things. If God is in control of all things fine, but to live as so could block us from opening ourselves to God. For example, when thinking of vulnerableness, the comic strip  Coffee With Jesus comes to mind. Characters sit and chat with Jesus over coffee. They complain about life, grieve over loss, and sometimes even Satan makes an appearance. This one seems appropriate for taking the stance of openness:

Let things Go

In conclusion, I have drawn closer to a process relational theology because of my past and present experiences with the divine and my interpretation of the Bible. God is relational, moving, loving, listening, caring, judging, and suffering with us. We are not alone, and we are not called to be alone. This is why religious communities are extremely important for our development and transformation. Indeed, we also are not meant to leave the world as it is either. Our relational God walks with us pursuing justice, equality, and life for all.

Whether the doctrine of sovereignty points to God or not, the real question is whether we are following God through the shadows of death or sitting idly by?

the water catastrophe in west virginia and martin luther king jr.

The Poor People’s Movement started by Martin Luther King Jr. included the people of Appalachia. King preached for the dignity of all persons, especially those who have no voice or will left to fight. Almost two weeks ago a chemical spill occurred in West Virginia affecting 300,000 people. For nearly a week hundreds of thousands of people were not allowed to drink or shower in their homes with the polluted water. And even after the clean up there still might be consequences for pregnant women. One possible consequence are birth defects. Below is an interview with a Charleston nurse, who is four months pregnant with her second child, found in the Cumberland Times-News (my hometown paper):

“I cried myself to sleep Wednesday night. I was both angry and scared,” she said. “This baby that we’ve wanted for so long, I’m now questioning — have I done something that could have harmed her?”

Sarah Bergstrom said she’s fortunate that she can afford bottled water, which she intends to use for the foreseeable future.

“My biggest fear is for those mothers, those pregnant women out there who aren’t able to go get enough bottled water for their family, who don’t have the resources and don’t have the knowledge base to know that this is not safe,” she said.

This echoes the last poem in Lamentations. The poet has given up all hope on God, believing Judah had made God “angry beyond measure,” meaning  God will never return (5:22). What we discover earlier in the poem is that the Babylonian Empire had completely taken over Jerusalem and started to commodify their natural resources!

We must pay for the water we drink;
    the wood we get must be bought. (5:4)

The Promised land has become a foreign land. So the project of any Empire (Babylon, Assyria, Rome, USA) is to

control economies, politics, global structures, etc.,

sort and destroy the disrupters and agitators,

create a culture of fear of the “other” in law-abiding citizens, and

mask control through pseudo-security aka the NSA.

The Charleston Epidemic is a perfect example of Empire-building. Freedom Industries Inc cleaned coal harvested in WV and 3,7000 gallons of the cleaning toxic chemicals leaked into a main water source for 300,000 people. Horrible, indeed! Currently, people in the nine counties affected can still smell the effects of the chemicals in their tap water and pregnant women are cautioned not to drink it.

Two things: First, why has this wreckage of a situation not been played up more in the media? In other countries, this would’ve been considered chemical warfare! 300,000 COULD NOT DRINK THEIR OWN WATER! St. Augustine, in The City of God, shared the story of a pirate who was arrested and brought before Alexander the Great. The emperor asked why the pirate was terrorizing (or molesting) the world. The pirate replied, “Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor.” The US government only cares for the “little thieves” and allows the corporations to roam free.

Second, Freedom Industries Inc. responds to the travesty by declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Of course, they do not have the millions of dollars to clean this up or handle the lawsuits, like BP did after the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.* This can’t just be swept under a large carpet of money. Freedom Industries like a one-night stand which gets the woman pregnant, the man takes no responsibility and never contacts her again. Hence, this is why Corporations are the worst people ever since they do not have to take responsibility for their actions! The Wall Street Journal hypothesizes that Freedom Industries pledged bankruptcy because,

“Bankruptcy offers Freedom a break from having to answer the suits, some of which demand punitive damages. It also opens the door to court-supervised probes into what led to the disaster, and what resources are available to pay any damages.”

Freedom Industries has no intention to help West Virginians in any way. This is such a cop-out!

Today, we remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was a defender of the weak, the outcast, and the spit upon. This has me reflecting on how Dr. King might have responded to the water devastation in West Virginia.

This catastrophe was an act of economic violence. Violence doesn’t come only by the barrell of a gun, but includes workers not having job security, people living on the streets, corporations polluting the water system, public transportation that does not enter the “bad parts” of cities, redlining, not having access to healthcare, and the list goes on. Dr. King wrote “the choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”

Today, violence is masked behind systemic and internalized oppressions. Nonviolence has become synonymous with passivity. We must then reconnect nonviolence with resistance. We must attack with love if we are going to be able to destroy systems of injustice. It is through love and neighborliness that we are no longer going to need the rigid system of capitalism. Capitalism has lasted for far too long. We need alternatives that does not include money in politics, but for the common good of all people. Martin Luther King preached of a just and equal future and was killed for it.

This dream, this impossible proclamation is now ours. Let’s not mess it up!

Martin Luther King Jr.

*Money is never everything and BP cannot bring back the dead wildlife. They are not creating new jobs for people in the fishing industry.

radical summa: christianity and anarchism

Question: Can a Christian associate herself/himself with anarchism?*

Objection 1.“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1,2 NRSV) Thus, God, sovereign over all, should be trusted with whom God grants power over particular nations and peoples. To resist authority means to resist God.

Objection 2. Further, in the Hebrew Scriptures, Israel and Judah celebrated and respected their kings when they followed God. Anarchism rejects leadership of any kind for the will of local groups and individuals. The People of God have trusted God for their leadership. To reject leadership is to reject God’s will.

Objection 3. Further, Christianity cannot assume other ideologies. The Christian Scriptures present the only ideology that a Christian can bear. To allow other ideologies to corrupt a Christian’s conscience and way of life forfeits one’s religion and relationship with Jesus.

On the contrary, Studying the history of Christianity, one can gather that there are as many Christianities as ideologies. In the genesis of the Christian church, many of the members were platonists or neo-platonists ( Augustine, Tertullian, Justin Martyr). As history pursued, Thomas Aquinas adhered to Aristotelianism.Then, scholars in the Renaissance critiqued medieval scholarship, which  John Calvin and Martin Luther included in their theological works.

Fast-forward to today, we are products of our culture and environment. This is inescapable. There is no such thing as a pure Christianity. We choose what ideas, actions, and people to pursue and trust.

I answer that, There is no contradiction between anarchism and Christianity. Christianity is moldable and changeable as much as anarchism. It is possible for them to fit well together. With an extremely joyous and resounding Yes! I commend Christians to be open to other possibilities of political, economic, and social allegiances. The Gospel of Christ is formable, shakeable, and able to participate in most ideologies. Anarchism is an important ideology because it subverts the status quo, battles Empires, and casts down leadership for the sake of consensus. In association with Christianity, which for its early history, did all of these same things as well as practiced non-violence. Thus, Christianity and anarchism is not a contradiction, but a beautiful partnership.

Reply to Objection 1. Paul’s theological and ethical advice in Romans 13 may have been a standard for the church in Rome; although, we do not know this for certain. Yet, Paul did not follow his own teaching! Paul and his friends called Jesus king (Acts 17:7), which mocks political and religious authorities. As well, Paul faced much adversity for preaching the Gospel, which is anti-Roman Empire and was tortured for it (2nd Corinthians 11:23-29). Hence, Paul believe it was far more important to stand for one’s beliefs in another world than to blindly obey the Roman Empire.

Reply to Objection 2. Before kings ruled Israel and Judah, there were judges. From 1200-1000 BCE, judges fought for justice in the land. They were the ones who killed or stopped other tribe’s military and political leaders. When confronted with the idea of a king to rule over all the tribes in Israel a theopoetic exclamation emerged with the “Parable of the Trees” (Judges 9:8-15).* The “Parable of the Trees” demonstrates the multi-vocal nature of Scripture. The Hebrews did not always have kings. They were sometimes not happy when they did have a king. Before Israel’s first king Saul, God proclaimed that God did not want them to have one (1 Samuel 8). Thus, social and political hierarchy cannot be placed on God or Scripture as tradition.

My Kin-dom Is Not of This World

*Those unfamiliar with Thomas Aquinas’ style in the Summa Theologica, this post may seem odd. New Advent has the full Summa for those wanting to further investigate.

** It is one of two parables in Hebrew Bible, the other told to David by the prophet Nathan (2nd Samuel 12:1-6) concerning the rape of Bathsheba. Resistance in Scripture always finds creative means.