hunger, lent, and stewardship

On Sunday morning at church, the layspeaker opened the service saying that everything is relative. We may think that it is cold outside, but those living in Minnesota have it worse with temperatures in the negative Fahrenheit. Then on a side note hunger also was relative. This was a strange way to talk about relativism, why couldn’t he have said something different like sports averages comparing them from the conditions in the 60’s to today. That made me so upset at the beginning of the service that I could barely focus on the words that I recited in my prayers and hymns. How could someone think that hunger is relative? Is hunger just a state of mind to be overcome?

Relativism is such a misunderstood issue. Although, it may be colder in Minnesota that does not negate the temperature outside in Philadelphia. I should know, I walk a mile to get to the church and it was a frigid morning.  More importantly than the weather,  hunger is not relative! There are too many persons in the U.S. and the world who suffer from food insecurity to rationalize hunger to a relative state. This is the reason why we collect food for pantries each week and help at soup kitchens.

For the rest of the day, I asked myself the question, “How can we understand hunger in light of the church season?” ( since I am so liturgical)

The church celebrates the season of Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday, which was last week. For the Catholics, Ash Wednesday is also a day to fast. I had a few friends who gave the money that they would pay for their three meals to charities combating food insecurity. I applaud them for their compassion. Lent has also been considered the season of self-reflection, of giving up our creature comforts so that we may draw closer to God/She.

In Sunday School, we are slowly going though Luke’s temptation narrative (4:1-13). On Sunday we discussed what it meant that Jesus said to the Devil, “One does not live on bread alone.” I told them how we simplify ideas in our society (especially in terms of economics and politics) and I asked them to write down what makes them feel alive or feel human. They wrote down like friends, family, the color purple, artwork and music. To my surprise none of them wrote money. We talked about how God/She wants us to live into a righteous life (righteous in the sense of justice), and to stay from temptation and from sin (personal and structured). Afterward, we played a game of never have I ever, and related it to the differences of our group, and how Jesus needed to fast because God’s Spirit was persuading him to go to the desert. Yet, each of us have different ways that we come close to the divine, although sacraments are in place, there is an infinite amount of ways to come close to the divine according to each one’s context.

sow seeds not greed

In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus fasted for forty days. Jesus removed himself from the local community and shunned the comforts of civilization that he may come closer with the divine. In our society, we are facing a dilemma concerning the way we eat, how we get our food, and grow it. We are too busy with jobs that we neglect our energy for life, food. We scarf down food and no longer need eating utensils because fast food restaurants only make finger foods. The saddest truth is that 40% of the food prepared in the US is thrown away.

We are going about food production and consumption in the wrong way. People eat because they have too, not because it makes us feel human. God/She from the opening poem in the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 1) declares that we are co-creators with Her making new life. The Earth reproduces by herself, we have become the bad stewards, the ones who care more about the symbolic (money, politics) rather than the needs of human beings, citizens of the Earth. If we are going to move forward as a society and as a people of God/She, we have to find better ways to produce and consume food.

god as stranger/kin

During my teen years, it was drilled into me that we need to believe that Jesus is both Lord and Savior. One is not a true believer if they only accept Jesus as one of those titles. I later found out that my pastor learned this doctrinal idea from the popular Reformed fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur. The sovereignty that MacArthur and my pastor were attributing to God was huge! God is a perfect Being, erring never, and everything that happens in the world is according to God’s perfect will. God’s purpose is present everywhere working in all created beings. God’s world is an orchestra playing together for God’s own purposes. Although we may feel that the violin in our own lives is out of tune on earth, God can only hear beautiful music.

The doctrine of God’s sovereignty frightens and haunts me. It has the capability to mean that humans do not have agency, but are puppets. Yet, we are oblivious to being a puppet. Thank God, the Christian tradition has several strains of resistance. Although, most of the early Christians who had a weaker version of sovereignty were deemed heretical that seems to be beside the point. Since even Tertullian and Origen were considered heretical, yet we read and praise their works today.

The alternative approach to a hierarchical sovereignty is to view God as Stranger/kin. These terms are opposite in meaning, but lead to the same engagement of God. First, God/She as stranger presents us with the divine as event*. God moves in the world, shaking it up, and on an individual level transforming us. Bringing together Moltmann and Derrida, God/She is the event that can only demonstrate love. In relation to human strangers, they are always the Other, not having any known relationship to the self. The stranger’s only commonality is their humanness. They have unlimited options in how they can approach us: ignore, high-five, scream, steal, etc. This can cause anxiety when we exit our comforting homes to unknown experiences. God as stranger acts in similar ways. We are shaken when we surrender our self ambitions to the ways of God/Her, which are justice and peace. Flannery O’Connor had it right, when she wrote “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.  They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

The stranger represents God/Her well in the Christian Scriptures. God always walks among the people. For example, in Luke’s narrative on the walk to Emmaus, Jesus the stranger walks with the two disciples and is revealed in a transformative moment at the breaking of the bread. This event changed the way these early disciples saw the world, that it was through the breaking of bread among other followers of the Way can we find Jesus among us. God/She also gave visions and dreams to people that effected them deeply. One does not expect such things, but they come mysteriously without warning. God/She penetrates the world and everything therein, transforming it through unexpected measures. The most prominent example with dreams happend to Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, when God changed Peter’s view of the ontological position of Gentiles. The only sovereignty that God/She as stranger has comes not with how we as people are transformed, but how God surprises as event.

While God as stranger seems disconnected to anything personal, God/She as kin presents divinity as personal. As I like different theologies, I have read several positions on God as personal. Of course, I am not speaking of Jesus or God as our personal Savior, but the way that liberation and feminist thealogions speak of the divine, as God as sufferer, lover, and kin. Or as one of my favorite feminist metaphorical thealogions Sallie McFague wrote “God as mother, lover, and friend.” God/She as personal practically does not look like God/She speaking with us or demonstrating miracles (though it is hard for me to deny either of those). Personal should sound more like personality. God has particular movements, and moments that She is present. During times of tragedy  God/She comforts and suffers with those who are involved. God is present with those who are fighting for a better world. We may not feel God, but God/She is present. Kin denies the hierarchical/above position for an equal/with one.

Elizabeth Johnson Cross Quote

In conclusion, as the death of God theologians taught us that God is no longer in heaven, but on the Earth, I agree, but take it one step further. God is present and personal, suffering, and loving us as we move toward liberation, justice and peace. It is with our God that justice to come becomes the justice that is. In the name of God/She that stands in solidarity with the oppressed, guides the rejected to love, and the feeds the poor by the works of Her children. Amen!

*a moment that transforms the way we see the world. For Derrida, “Deconstruction takes place, it is an event.” Speaking theologically, God as the event shows that those weak moments in our lives pulsate the divine. If you want to read about this further read The Weakness of God by John Caputo.

the good news of post-structuralism

On my good days I have some certainty to what good news looks like. Today is not one of those days, so I am depending on the prophetic tradition to aid me. According to Second Isaiah (61), good news is for the marginalized, those who have no luck, or certainty for tomorrow. The good news presented is liberation in the materialistic* sense. Justice will come to those who need it most. Their voices will be heard and they become active members in their community just as the rich and powerful have always been. This is in contrast to their position currently in society, which they are either demonized or pitied.

Good news, at least, in the monoculture of US society recognizes technological advance. This progress is waited upon by many in the US, as their desire for entertainment overwhelms their paycheck. Relating this to church, technology and ideas rarely have anything to do with materiality. Churches want the best new Christian book study or video series. Or listening to a testimony about how Jesus changed one’s mind about what they think of people with tattoos. I know these are extreme examples, but all too often are true. We live too much out of our minds. If philosophical concepts recycle every century or so; then we as a country, listen far too much to Hegelian philosophy, than to post-structuralist philosophies of the prophets.

Post-structualism can be of Good News to the Church as well as the world. First, it allows us to not focus only on ideas or your mind. During the 60’s and 70’s, Deleuze and Guattari wrote texts against the psychoanalysis movement, Anti-Opedius. They described how capitalism causes schizophrenia in society, individuals are sucked into what they become in consuming and in consuming they become machines. Deleuze and Guattari believed that this made one’s mind and body fascist. Meaning that we do not have control over our desires, which is for them freedom. Second, post-structuralism deconstructs power. Out of this movement came critical theories including critical race theory, queer theory, deconstruction, etc. They question and they question often. For example:

-Who has power in the text?
-Who agree the ones without a voice in this text?
-Since language is flimsy, words/sentences have potentiality to have various meanings, then how do we know what we are reading into a text and what the writer intended?
-We are still waiting for justice (Derrida), what are we expecting and is this good news for all?

Questioning helps us to read text carefully, and allows our circumstances to persuade us toward different directions according to context. Lastly, post-structuralism gives us hope that metanarratives do not have the last say (certainly there is much more I could say, but I think this is the most important). Narratives shape the way we view the world, universe, divinity, the other, etc. If we allow oppressive narratives to fester in our bodily activities, we may lose hope. Recently, this happened to me after watching all those Youtube videos about the truth behind the Sandy Hook “Tragedy.” These videos made me upset, in two senses. First, these videos present harmful ideas to the general public. Here I am much more pastoral in when people should be told information that is contrary to what everyone believes. These ideas cause confusion as to who to trust and dismisses theodicy. Second, the creators of these videos are not perusing any kind of legal action or seem to have many other things to do with their time, than to scare Youtube watchers. The Good News of post-structuralism is that there are thousands of micronarratives that make the world go round. These micronarratives are in our community. Some of them are based on misinformation, others on myths, but all based in community. It’s communities that can comfort and care for us. Micronarratives should be questioned as long as we are open with others etc. Thus allows me to reject the truthers movements of Sandy Hook and talk with my youth about theodicy, and what God’s kin-dom looks like.

Post-structuralism gives theology another chance in society and we must not lose our chance. As long as we are not taking an exclusivist approach, theology will survive. On a practical level, participating fully in these narratives means speaking with and knowing our neighbors, caring for the ignored, and being open to others.

*Think Marx, not shopaholics.

birth narratives overview: theological, political, historical (part two)

Matthew and Luke author the texts which are read every Advent and Christmas. A few things about these texts in general. First, they were written in the 80s-90s CE shortly  after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70CE). These writers have some major differences in their narratives, showing how each of them wanted to present Jesus to their community in a particular light. Lastly, it is generally recognized that Matthew composed his Gospel first and Luke copied and created afterward. Let us begin with St. Matthew’s version. 

St. Matthew

Matthew presented Jesus as the new Moses. Jesus’ birth and life reflects the Mosaic narrative : birth during time of crisis, political undertones, escape from Egypt, and people speak of them as one who saves/liberates.

The birth narrative begins directly after the genealogy. Joseph is the lead player in the Matthean narrative. He is the one who is told to marry Mary and name her baby Jesus. Angels communicate with Joseph in dreams. Two years after Jesus’ birth, Joseph takes his new family into Egypt to escape the massacre of the innocents and later goes to Nazareth when it became safe.

Joseph and Mary live in Bethlehem. They travel no where to have Jesus, instead they have him in their house. Matthew makes it clear that they are married when they have Jesus. They only make their new home in Nazareth, according to Matthew,

so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’ (2:23)

The scripture quoted is found no where in the Hebrew Bible. In the first two chapters of Matthew, you will find five Hebrew Bible prooftexts. This last one tops it off. These prooftexts lay the foundation for Jesus as the new Moses. Matthew is not trying to be professional, as we try to be in our Western culture, instead he is pointing to something new, something better. The Temple was laid to waste by the time he was writing his Gospel. Matthew was giving his community something to hope in, since probably many of them were Jew themselves. Matthew helped his readers to remember the one who brought the Law down from Mount Herob/Sinai, the one who was laid in the reeds, the one who liberated the people from Egypt (with God’s help, of course). Although, I think that these narratives speak theologically than historically these make them all the more important. If following Jesus was to only believe in historical events then I think we are not believing in God, but rather our  literal interpretation.

St. Luke

Luke’s Gospel understood Jesus as one who stands in solidarity with the poor, not just “the poor in spirit” as written in Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. This explains why the birth narratives are different. Instead of Joseph having the main lead, Luke tells the story from Mary’s advantage. She is the one who is visited by an angel. She is the one who sings the Magnificat. She is the one who travels, and mainly takes care of herself.

Joseph could not find room in the inn for Mary to bear the child. Jesus, in the opposite manner as Matthew, was born in a stable with animals. This is place is not fit for a birth of a human, but of a calf or a goat. Mary and Joseph are so poor that they can only offer doves at the Temple as a sacrifice. For goodness sake, Mary and Joseph are not even married when Mary has Jesus. Matthew made sure that they were married for Jesus’ birth, Luke says that they were still betrothed. Probably Luke is suggesting that Joseph did not have efficient funds to get married!

The first people who visit Jesus in the stable were the Shepherds who were keeping watch their sheep at night. These were the ones on the fringe of society, the crazy ones, the outcasts. It was the heavenly messengers who came to them to say that the Savior of the World has been born. This Savior demonstrates power by giving up all power. This Savior was born in the worst of conditions yet we repeat it every year without giving anymore thought to its implications.

Birth of the Messiah

I could write about all the fallacies found in the texts and with their many differences, but I am not going to. There are books written already that can show you that. I think it is most important instead to say that Jesus was born, Immanuel has come among us. One phrase Jesus said that hits me time and again:

Be compassionate as God is compassionate. (Luke 6:36)

This is the reason why we read and reread these narratives. They remind us that God is compassionate, meaning “to suffer with”. God was in Jesus, born in Bethlehem, so that we may know that God is found in the margins, especially with those who suffer. This suffering does not lead to more suffering, but ends in Love. Victor Hugo was absolutely right when he wrote “Love is the only future God offers.”  May it be so.

birth narratives overview: theological, political, historical (part one)

This will be a two part series. The first post will concern the New Testament writers who are not Luke or Matthew because they actually have birth narratives. Paul, Mark, and John are the other writers who even mention that Jesus was born or at least has a particular town that he was from. Since the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are sandwiched in the Christian Testament timeline then these writers will give us insight to what communities of believers thought before and after 80-90CE. 

7th century Sinai Nativity Icon

During the Advent season, I read the birth narratives at least twenty times. I read them in preparation for Sunday School and re-read them to be clued into something new. This is me attempting to read with fresh eyes, which is a struggle for me. Instead,  I come back time and again to these glorious texts using a political and historical approach. In other words, I read them as historical theological documents influenced by the community of the writer. In the next post, much more of the political and theological interpretation will spill forth, but for now here are the other writers of the New Testament on Jesus’ birth.

St. Paul

The earliest writer in the Christian Testament was St. Paul. His canonical writings date from the late 40s to early 60s CE. Paul’s letters were believed to be holy script by the early 100s. In his letters, he was not correcting the early church’s assumption about the historical Jesus, but theologically explained Jesus’ relation with God. In addition, Paul demonstrated that it doesn’t matter whether you are Gentile or Jew, God’s redeeming all through Jesus. In Paul’s earliest letter to the Galatians, he had to confront some confusion as to whether Jesus was a historical figure or a god who floated down from the heavens. St. Paul responds Jesus was “born of a woman”(4:4). In other words, St. Paul believed that Jesus was born a historical person, lived in a particular time, and had a body.

Mark

The first Gospel written was Mark. This Gospel begins with Jesus’ adult ministry and makes no mention of Bethlehem. For Mark, Jesus was from Nazareth only (1.9;1.24; 10.47; 14.67; 16.6). Mark believed that Jesus was a historical person, since he was a child of Mary (6:3). No virgin birth, no census, no wise persons, just an adult Jesus who told parables, overran the Temple, and killed by the State.

John

John’s Gospel written around 90 CE was the last canonical Gospel to be written (many other Gospels were written after). It breaks with the Synoptic Gospels in many aspects. Bypassing the fact that all the major events in Jesus life do not occur (Baptism, Last Supper, Parables); John clearly denies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In John 7:40-44, it reads

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

This text pointedly shows that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem instead Galilee. Usually, the author of John explains theologically why s/he wrote such things, but not this time. Scholars believe that John had access to the Synoptic Gospels while writing the text, yet s/he blatantly ignores the Bethlehem birth narratives. My best guess is that Johannine community had divisions among themselves as to where Jesus was born and no one knew it for certain.

Nativity Scene Icon

These Christian Testament writers had no affiliation with the birth narratives. They either left them out or ignored them. The Christian Tradition still holds onto the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives and celebrate them every year by acting them out in churches, displaying nativity scenes and reading them aloud in church. For the next post we will closely look at those narratives and learn of their political, social, and historical situations.

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.

unexiled and the us

The Prophet Jeremiah preached before and during the Exile. During this time of turmoil, Jeremiah cast down the hierarchies in Judah, decrying them to allow Babylon to take over. In spite of Jeremiah, King Zedekiah had other plans and started to build up the army to ward off the Babylonians. Yet, an unexpected problem occurred: Egypt, Judah’s ally, no longer wanted to aid Judah by pushing back the massive Empire. Needless to say, after a while the Judean forces could no longer handle the immensity of the Babylonians. And in 587/6 BCE, the Babylonians pushed their way into the city of Jerusalem, destroyed it, and took many of its citizens.

Jeremiah sided with the Babylonian Empire. Of course, pragmatically speaking, Jeremiah was right in claiming that Judah should abandon all of its forces to Babylon so that they may live in peace, at least the kind that Empire’s grant: peace through force, and loyal obedience. Yet this is the opposite of when I think of the prophetic tradition, logic and pragmatics does not come to mind. Immediately, I think of something that God/She hopes for in the world, like Second Isaiah or Amos, etc. Yet, Jeremiah speaks the language of the Empire.

In contrast, the kind of logic that Jesus taught was the logic of the kin-dom. God/She cares about humanity and the world, rather than a type of political gain, ultimately his was topsy turvy. Jesus claimed that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Those who think that they are first in the God/She’s kin-dom will be last. Certainly not the way of the world, especially during election season.

In the centre of his book, Jeremiah created a dichotomy between bad figs/good figs. The good figs are those in the Exiled community. In Second Kings 25:12 it read “But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest people of the land to be vine-dressers and tillers of the soil.” The people who were exiled were the wealthy, those who had power, and influence in their communities. The homeless, the downtrodden, the impure were left. Jeremiah suggests that God left the bad figs to be no more (Jeremiah 24:10). This hints that the land was barren.

Thankfully, because of historical-criticism, we now know that the land was not barren during the time of the Exile. This raises many questions: Why did the author write that the land was barren? Was it because s/he was embarrassed of who was left? Did these Exiles only believe that they were the Chosen Ones of God? Those who wrote and stored the Hebrew Scriptures were those situated in the Exile. The people left in the land had to fend for themselves, they were forgotten people. The book of Lamentations probably written during the Exile in the land of Judah gives a perspective of what was happening after they were left.

Lamentation 5:1-10; 20-22 (NRSV)

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;

look, and see our disgrace!

Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,

our homes to aliens.

We have become orphans, fatherless;

our mothers are like widows.

We must pay for the water we drink;

the wood we get must be bought.

With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven;

we are weary, we are given no rest.

We have made a pact with Egypt and Assyria,

to get enough bread.

Our ancestors sinned; they are no more,

and we bear their iniquities.

Slaves rule over us;

there is no one to deliver us from their hand.

We get our bread at the peril of our lives,

because of the sword in the wilderness.

Our skin is black as an oven

from the scorching heat of famine.

Why have you forgotten us completely?

Why have you forsaken us these many days?

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored;

renew our days as of old—

unless you have utterly rejected us,

and are angry with us beyond measure.

The lamenter believed that God gave up on them, that God utterly rejected them. They had no hope of one to come and redeem them from their plight. Today we are faced with the same challenge. Our myth in the US is that the only people who matter are the upper and middle class. Those who are poor and marginalized are left to fend for themselves. Thus political platforms are only for those with money. In the recent political conventions, the word God was infused in their lexicon, but homeless, poor, marginalized, were not granted such a measure.

The kin-dom of God/She contradicts the ways of the world. Any section of the ancient Scriptures, God’s love for the people on the margins can be found. The good news about Jeremiah is that he never left Judah, he stayed with the marginalized. If those in power do not care about the poor and their voice is silenced because our politicians ears are stuffed with money, how can we not, but help? We must give up the myths taught to us, and practice the truth of God/She’s love. This truth is beyond charity, this is about solidarity and compassion (to suffer with). We must seek to change the system, the metanarratives, and our habits to create a better world. While doing this, we must pray, pray for the impossible, pray with our feet, and pray with our hands.

Al Jazeera wrote and recorded a wonderful piece called the US ignoring the poor.

 

Killer Mike composed a song called Reagan that speaks of the 1980’s, drugs, and how people treat others specifically African American males. (profanity used)

dead metaphors make strong idols: re-gendering the divine

Elizabeth Johnson CSJ, a feminist theologian, wrote

“As a remedy some scholars and liturgist today take the option of always addressing God as simply “God.” This has the positive result of relieving the hard androcentrism of ruling male images and pronouns for the divine. Nevertheless, this practice, if it is the only corrective engaged in, is not ultimately satisfactory…It prevents the insight into holy mystery that might occur were female symbols set free to give rise to thought. Most serious of all, it papers over the problem of the implied inadequacy of women’s reality to represent God.” (44/45, She Who Is)

Since 2007, I made the habit of writing/saying “God” without pronouns. Reading Scripture in front a congregation, I usually de-gender pronouns to either “One” or just “God.” I felt proud of myself, that in my circle of Christian friends that I am self conscious of how I express the divine.

Last week, I made a zine for a new friend, which outlined the theology for an anarcha-feminist. With this project, I too felt proud. I explained the importance of queering theology and tradition. That if one were to follow in these footsteps, one must read history/tradition through the lens of the marginalized, especially women.

After giving my friend this gift, I re-read She Who Is. Usually I read books while on public transportation, so that may a conversation may happen and an event of transformation of thought and habit take place. (This happened once for me, perhaps it will happen again.) Anyway, the opening quote struck at my heart the most. I truly thought that I was above the game with not using “He,” but just as the campaigns this year seem to be only about negativity about other candidate, it does not cause change to the system or the heart. “Structural change and linguistic change go hand-in-hand” (40 She Who Is). If we want a society that declares equality, then our language too much be more inclusive.

From now on, I will, when appropriate use God/She. This will, hopefully, help me as well as those who read this blog to re-think our ideas of the divine.

 

Dina Cormick painted this piece titled “Creator God most beautiful”

radical theology and the lgbtqi+ community (part three): theological methods

(This is the final installment for the series concerning the lgbtqi+ community and radical theology. My goal was to demonstrate a new approach and way of thinking when it comes to the Christian Scripture and the affirmation and welcoming of the lgbtqi+ community.)

U.S. mainline denominations (Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians etc.) possess broad methods for thinking theologically. Methodists come equipped with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. Episcopalians and Presbyterians have a similar method, but use different illustrations. Yet, still many denominations in the U.S. say that they only depend on Scripture or sola scriptura  as their main source of theological understanding! This, of course, does not leave room for a historical/traditional discourse about the interpretation of Scripture and the events that happened pre-Protestant reformation.  As I wrote in the first post in this series, it is impossible to listen to only one voice in the Scriptures, and not acknowledge the other voices that contradict or oppose it.

What we need are new hermeneutical methods for Scriptures or to re-discover recent, yet discarded ways of critical theory. This would be methods and ideas from deconstruction to Marxist reading and certainly feminist and queer readings of tradition and Scripture. Postmodern Philosopher and Theologian David Tracy points out:

“The great creative individuals–thinkers, artists, heroes, saints–found themselves, impelled to find new ways to interpret an experience that their culture or tradition seemed to unable to interpret well or even at all.” (Plurality and Ambiguity, pg. 7)

Today, we face our own crises in our churches and discerning how to approach the lgbtqi+ community. From the mainline traditions, the Episcopal church has affirmed that they will urge Congress members to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Episcopalians also are very public with their welcoming and affirming stances and had the first Bishop who was openly gay in 2003. In July at the Presbyterian Church of the USA General Assembly same-sex marriage affirmation was rejected, nevertheless by a narrow vote. Three years ago, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America allowed openly gay clergy members to serve. Still countless Christian denominations either do not speak about this subject, such as churches who do not have much power in the public sphere or they have stances that oppose even the idea of same-sex partners.

One of my concerns with congregations that have strict restrictions concerning same-sex relationships is that they do not know anyone in the lgbtqi+ community that practices Christianity. News outlets portray the lgbtqi+ community as ultra-radicals trying to subvert the very culture of the U.S. Yet, if the only information that we collect and experience comes from a TV/computer screen, our perception counts for not much. As humans we interpret everything at all times. Sometimes we get those things right, like when the popcorn stops popping and it is still on the stove, I am going to take it off and not leave it on there to burn.

With the lgbtqi+, we have neglected dialogue and conversation, instead we place our own perceptions on them. The greatest thing that I did intentionally was to attend a church that serves the lgbtqi+ community. I thought going into the experience was a church that would call God  father/mother and that would have song with progressive lyrics. Instead, the experience felt very close to my Pentecostal upbringing. We sang 90’s worship songs. Sure the pastor was gay and most of the congregants were in same-sex relationships, but talking with them after the service, they were much more theologically conservative than I. There was even an altar call at the end of the service.

The challenge for us now and in the future will be how we will experience faith. How can we not allow anyone who wants to follow God in the way of Jesus to come to church? Theology must go beyond, but also include Scripture, yet if the cultural context of Scripture does not fit within our own experiences, it is hard to only focus on Scripture. The Wesleyan quadrilateral could be helpful for understanding the theology. For instance, my experience with the lgbtqi+ has been delightful, I know several people part of that community who follow Jesus. The Scriptures are faithful to “loving God and loving neighbor,” therefore my harsh judgments against those who have not persecuted anyone and find themselves as the underdogs must not be forced into more oppression. Depending on one’s reading of the Christian tradition, it could go either way. For the church in the East, John Chrysostom denounces homosexuality in the 400’s. Yet, a non-issue about homosexuality was Augustine’s approach. To reiterate, the ancients thought of homosexuality was more of a sexual act more than a relationship between two persons of the same sex. It was about dominant power rather than mutual love. Lastly, a reasonable theological conclusion must submit to the fact that Christianity and same-sex relationships are certainly compatible.