radical theology and the lgbtqi+ community (part two): jesus, st. paul, and difference

On Sunday mornings before going to church, I browse the internet, reading friend’s statuses on Facebook, and cruise through Reddit. One particular morning, I stumbled onto John MacArthur, who is a pastor on the West Coast and an astute Calvinist. During the month of May, he preached a series on homosexuality and the Scriptures. Under my own discretion, I watched the video concerning St. Paul in First Corinthians 6:9-10. His translation the English Standard Version read as follows,

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived:neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

These verses cause me great uneasiness.They give the hard and fast formula for whose in and whose out. In contrast, when I read the Gospels, I read of a Jesus who believes that “those who are sick,” and the “least of these,” will be in the kin-dom of God. Yet, I wonder if we are misreading these verses, and that they are standing before us naked without a context.  What if practicing adultery, thievery, greed, drunkenness, homosexuality,  and being a swindler posit that you are part of the wealthy and the ruling class? What if St. Paul is saying that these statuses and attributes are an ongoing problem with the rich and it is causing much distress for other people, especially the poor among them?

As noted, St. Paul wrote that it is men who practice the act of homosexuality and not women. (Although, chapter one of Romans speaks of woman with woman in idolatrous worship ceremonies.) To put this in context, around the first century, a graphic mural depicting a man sitting down and a young boy bending over could be found in the middle of ancient villages. The boy was probably one of the man’s slaves and he of course was having sex with him. Thus, men having sex with little boys demonstrates a power dynamic, and was considered homosexuality. If then, this was a norm for the ancient world, grown men raping boys, then I too would be against this type of homosexuality! Thus, when priests who do the same thing, we stand angrily against such acts.

Maybe we could then change a bit of First Corinthians 6:9-10 to contextualize it.

Or do you not know that the those ignoring way of God will not inherit the kin-dom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually limitless ones who hurt others , nor those placing a nation, money, or work above God, nor those who are dishonest with their partners and find other ones while still in the relationship, nor men or wo/men who abuse children and find it pleasurable, nor those who steal, not for the sake of need, but out of luxury for themselves, nor those who have too much and are not willing to let it go, nor those who find substances more important than relationships, nor people who want to change the system to only benefit themselves, nor people who trick the poor into giving them money or goods will inherit the kin-dom of God.

For John Dominic Corssan, Marcus Borg, and John Caputo, God’s kin-dom should be more like the reign of God rather than a futurist place. The common notion that when Jesus states that the “kin-dom of God is like,” he is referring to the future time and place. A problem arises though, the parables that Jesus was sharing was not for the sake of the future, but of the present. This kind of thinking can be found everywhere in the U.S. One finds that the way that they are suppose to live from St. Paul rather than how the kin-dom looks to Jesus.

Of course, it is harder to follow a bunch of parables rather than St. Paul’s direct ethical statements. Yet, the Christian faith is not, and I repeat is not about ethical charges for how to live one’s life. The church seems to be all about that though. We like to judge others and create policies that harm people that we do not like or think that they are doing wrong. The kin-dom of God is like a party thrown for people who are born August, and everyone is invited, some will say that they are busy, many poor, homeless, crippled, depressed people can’t get out of bed, anarchists living down by the railroad tracks, some people with jobs will come on their lunch breaks, and others will ignore the invite altogether. Yes, the party will be uncomfortable, you will have to talk with people who are in different classes, political stances, emotional states! Yet, that is the kin-dom! The kin-dom is difference, lots of difference! We celebrate God by celebrating difference! In the U.S., we want to be a united, hegemonic people. The eleventh chapter of Genesis shows us what the ancients believed about God and hegemony.

This relates to the LGBTQI+ community by once again (from part one of this series) showing that context with the Scriptural text is a must! Second, that a Christian community survives not through hegemony, but through anxiety, un-comfortableness, and difference. The kin-dom of God is one that is vibrant and full of lives. Unless the Christian community starts to embrace the otherness of different people accepting them as apart of the kin-dom, we will not be able to thrive now or in the future.

radical theology and the lgbtqi+ commmunity (part one): the multivocal scripture

This will be one in a series of posts on LGBTQI+, theology, and Scripture. The rest of the series will be posted this week.

Two minutes before I boarded the train the other morning to come back to Philadelphia, I was posed the question, “Do you think that the Bible is against homosexuality?” The question seemed not only inquisitive, but also had a hint of innocence. When one lives in an area for their entire life, and some notions are always answered the same way, and the national dialogue (Chick-fil-a’s stance becoming publicized) on a particular issue is brought up, how can one not, but to answer the same way? Yet, the questioner was looking for a different answer, maybe not a answer of hope, but from a different perspective. I started to answer in the way I usually answer, by starting with Leviticus and explaining it historical-critical fashion. I did not get to finish the conversation, so I wanted to write the rest of it down since I have not done anything on LGBTQI+ community.

Growing up I was taught the importance of reading Scripture. I memorized many bible verses through Awana and youth groups. Wholeheartedly, I agree that Christians, and others who are interested, should read the Bible as a personal spiritual practice. Yet as I have become older and hopefully more wiser, I believe that context should be included with text. (As my Critical Theory professor taught, “contexts accompany texts at all times.”) For example, in eighth grade I memorized a section of Isaiah 53, commonly known as the suffering servant, and for the longest time, I thought that this was speaking of Jesus as prophecy. Now, might I add that many of the early followers of Jesus as well, using their Christian imagination, thought the same thing. Yet, since I have had the chance to contextually analyze Isaiah, which is one of my favorite books from the Hebrew Bible, I have come to appreciate it more with having a knowledge of its historical context, socio-economics, and political situation. For scholars like Walter Breuggeman, who insist that Scripture can have double meanings, which is also an early development in the Christian tradition. This too was adopted, of course, from its own context, and it was called sensus plenar. This suggests that even if there is a plain meaning to a text, since it was written by God, there must be more to it. There seems to be nothing wrong with this kind of interpreting and if rightly used can have great theological benefits. Anyway, back to Isaiah 53 and the Suffering Servant.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:4-9)

These verses read as a good theo-narrative for the Gospels. It gives meaning to the Gospel narratives, since most of it is mostly narrative does not necessarily bring about a meaning for the atonement. For example. when Mark’s Jesus died on a cross, he cried out, and gave up his spirit. Barely anyone was there to comfort him. Jesus dies a sad prophet, without hope; therefore, the only kind of atonement theory that one could come up with is the one that Jesus earlier in Mark says “That I will be a ransom for many.” This, of course, was the earliest atonement theories, and that many of the early church mothers and fathers adopted this idea about Jesus’ death.

Yet, in the original context of Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55), the suffering servant is a metaphor for Judah who suffered through the Exile. They were the ones who were tortured and as it seems in these verses, idolized for doing so. These verses also speak to a kind of hope, although they were in the belly of the beast, Babylon. Isaiah declares God’s imagination to them, in the chapters previous and after, of a new society in which God’s Law is followed and all are called back into the land of Judah. With the help of context, Isaiah 53, proclaims more and is not as literalistic as it may seem, and gives me hope that with the use of Christian imagination, Scripture can come alive and have more than just a plain sense of the word.

Leviticus, the third book in the Torah, is a book that Christians do not usually read or follow for that matter, unless it concerns an issue that they feel should be followed. When I hear anyone quote the book of Leviticus, I wonder how much of it that they had actually read and second how important they find this book to be in the context of their lives. It may be the Word of God, but it seems more like a pack of bullets ready to be aimed at whatever “unethical” group Christians are against at the time.

Most biblical scholars affirm that the book of Leviticus should be the books of Leviticus. It has a few different authors, although they all would have been priests in one way . The section in which “man shall not lie with man” comes from a section called the Holiness Code. This section was written during the Babylonian Exile, between 597 (first deportation) and 538 (mostly all the Exiles returned to Judah). Scholars believe this is so because many of laws written here are new concerns that the Judeans were not concerned with until the Exile. The Exiles must have seen an overabundance of men having sex with men and women with women and certainly orgies. To defend against these types of behaviors the priests thought that if one was going to follow the Law without a Temple, the place where God reigned, then even sexual behavior must be conducted in a particular way. Yet, some of the Jews were cast as Eunuchs, and this was done for the purpose for the male to be pimped out to other people. This was a humiliating position, and probably callused many of them to God. The Holiness Code’s purpose was originally to keep people pure unlike the Babylonians. Thus, God did not seem too concerned with who is having sex with who until then.

Yet, since Scripture was written by several different authors, there are always different ways to . When the prophet Isaiah declared who should come back into the land, he called out in Isaiah 58 to the Eunuchs and Foreigners to join with Judah. The other side of this conversation must have been, “Those Eunuchs who are having sex with tons of people should not come back into the land! They are not holy like us heterosexuals, who have pure Jewish blood children.” As Derrida has taught, the Law does not equal Justice and the prophet Isaiah was allowing all to come back into Judah. Anyone who wanted to follow God would be allowed to come back. This is a reversal of the Leviticus’ law. God desires all to come back. This was also the literary purpose of Jonah and Ruth. People were probably questioning whether its good to have these foreigners in the land, and Jonah and Ruth respond in their own particular way. Jonah shows that foreigners can repent and turn to God, while even Jonah doesn’t. Ruth shows how a foreigner can give up everything and follow God.

Sexuality in Scripture is fluid as well. It matters which book you are reading depends on the kind of answer that you will receive. Personally, I am a big fan of the prophets rather than anything else in Scripture. The prophets call out in political and social situations, demanding justice. For the sake of homosexuality, it is justice that God wants them as well as everyone to be apart of the kin-dom, and for the sake of the law comes the “hierarchy of being.” For God there is no order, we are all called good. For human structures, hierarchy abounds and concerns itself with the particulars of some people over others.

Stayed tuned more posts are coming!

sirach 4:1-10

My child, do not cheat the poor of their living,
and do not keep needy eyes waiting.
Do not grieve the hungry,
or anger one in need.
Do not add to the troubles of the desperate,
or delay giving to the needy.
Do not reject a suppliant in distress,
or turn your face away from the poor.
Do not avert your eye from the needy,
and give no one reason to curse you;
for if in bitterness of soul some should curse you,
their Creator will hear their prayer.

Endear yourself to the congregation;
bow your head low to the great.
Give a hearing to the poor,
and return their greeting politely.
Rescue the oppressed from the oppressor;
and do not be hesitant in giving a verdict.
Be a parent to orphans,
and be like a partner to their mother;
you will then be like a child of the Most High,
and the child will love you more than does your own parent.

moving mountains in the kin-dom

The summer staff eats dinner together every night. We talk about the evening program and our days with the groups. There comes a breaking point where laughter erupts and the conversation devolves into mindless rumble. Last week, this laughter evolved into playful criticism towards me. I lead the music for the evening program and I am not ashamed to say I pick songs that are indie. You know, songs from bands that no one has ever heard of or songs originally sung in different languages? The staff complained of hearing the same songs each week, although the youth love the songs that I play and every week sing with a different group. They called me a pseudo-hipster, which infuriated me and I proceeded in pretending to throw things and destroy the office.
One song that I adore is a Spanish worship song titled Montaña by Salvador. The lyrics are thus:
If you have faith like a seed of a mustard
That’s what the Lord has said
If you have faith like a seed of a mustard
That’s what the Lord has said
You can say to the mountain move away move away
You can say to the mountain move away move away
And the mountain will move away move away move away
And the mountain will move away move away move away

It takes the group at least two go arounds to really get into this song. Once this happens, the energy in the sanctuary is incomparable to other songs throughout the week. Youth, as well as adults, love it. I have come up with a few theories about this passionate energy. The youth are first filled with vigor, as they sing a song different from in their own churches. Second, the melody is catchy and resonates; they cannot help but jump around during the chorus. There are other responses, but I am going to focus on the fact that the youth are expecting/experiencing the kin-dom of God, where the world will be turned upside down. This is why they  jump in joyous presumption that God is participating with them in creating something new.

Post-modern philosopher and theologian, John Caputo, crafted the book “The Weakness of God,” which I have been devouring this week. Caputo
summarizes the dichotomy between the world’s kingdoms and God’s kin-dom, writing,
“The kingdom that Jesus called for was a kingdom ironically, one that was itself mocking the business-as-usual of the powers that be, one in which a divine madness reigned, even as it was, from the point of view of the Roman Empire, of the Brutality of the world, simple foolishness, outright stupidity” (15).
The kin-dom that we are expecting is one of reversals. The youth groups observe reversals of cultural normalcy through urban gardens, Narcotics Anonymous Meetings, in small neighborhood churches reaching out into their communities through play. Explosions of reality occur at every location, most of it concrete and tangible with the senses. For example, when the youth uproot weeds that choke vegetables and herbs, they smell soil, manure, and hay; soil slips in their fingernails, and sweat drips from their forehead. This contradicts the common pattern they are used to, such as going to fast food restaurants, standing on hard tile, receiving food wrapped in paper, and drinking sodas with unknown ingredients.Eruptions of the kin-dom gives hope to the hopeless. They force one to reconsider the way they have been living. One can see the mountains move before their very eyes, if not now, soon with the coming kin-dom. The role of imagination appears in the middle of kin-dom and reality. Imagination lends one to think of a different reality where the impossible is possible, where the food deserts in north Philadelphia become places of lush gardens of vegetables and orchards of fruit, where people are treated with respect rather than contempt.

Yet, it is much too simple to be cynical about reality, to allow the kingdom of the world to dictate our actions. For this reason, communities of believers must be the imaginative voices in their towns. A group of people where their imagination is intricate in their prayer life is those who practice the Ignatian Spirituality. One is asked to imagine scenes in their minds when praying, e.g. biblical scene of Mary and Elizabeth meeting while both are pregnant and John the Baptizer kicking in the womb while being near Jesus. These kind of imaginative practices must bleed into the very life in how we perform everyday. The imagination and the kin-dom to come should be intertwined and seek this new world, while trying our best to create something in the present.

Gustave Dore, known for paintings of biblical stories, painted this beautiful picture titled “Voyage to the Moon.” It speaks to imagination and going to a realm of impossibilities.

safety does not equal freedom

Music moves, propels, and speaks to the emotions of the listener. The sounds of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros has grasped my heart as of late. They are a ragamuffin group, full of old heads, hippies, and crust punks and their musical genre could be labeled as 70’s folk rock with lyrics speaking of a spiritual and existential journey. A song that has particularly resonated with me is “Man on Fire.” Sitting aside the androcentrism within the lyrics, this song speaks in a way that relates to common ideas held in light of Independence Day. Edward Sharpe sings,

“Everybody want safety
Everybody want comfort
Everybody want certain
Everybody but me”

The first three lines speak of the shared narrative in the US: safety, comfort and certainty. We want safety from people who do not like us. We want to be comforted in the life that we lead. In addition, we desire certainty with our motives, ideologies and lifestyles, knowing that we are not doing anything wrong. And these three things remain: safety, comfort and certainty. The greatest of these is safety.

Since we live in a post 9/11 world, safety has become a major concern for all Americans. We fear the Other like never before. A recent story shows our overeagerness/worrisomeness to keep safety a top priority. JFK airport evacuated everyone and canceled two flights because a metal detector was not plugged in. Safety concerns us more than anything. This has been a theme since the existence of our country.

The national anthem’s lyrics involve a battle in which the primitive US military conquered the Other through violence. Thus our anthem is not about unifying the people of the US because of our humanity or our beautiful landscape (Although there is some debate between the Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful for a national anthem. One more war-like and the other lending fire to our civic religion’s burn pile.) It is the anxiety of the Other, our selfish concerns with safety, and the common narrative that we tell ourselves that has created a festishized culture of people looking for safety through other venues, such as an obsession with entertainment and celebrities.

Comfort also invaded and dominates US culture. This is accomplished through the comfort that we find in technology. We have an excess of technological gadgets that have overcome our culture. There are devices that have entirely no meaning, or that we as a culture created a meaning once these objects were commodified A good example of this are computer tablets, they function as a large touch screen phone without the ability to call people. Originally, they seemed meaningless, yet since then they have grown in popularity and function as a “green” magazine reader, a video camera, etc.

We have slept in our comfort as a nation and cannot imagine what it means not to be privileged. (This is not to say that there are not people in the US who have not felt the weight of oppression, since there are many groups have, especially those native to the land.) German poet Rainer Maria Rilke longed for people of privilege to feel uneasy about the ways in which they were living. Early in his writing career, he poetically wrote, “All of you undisturbed cities, haven’t you ever longed for the Enemy?” Rilke stressed that sometimes being uncomfortable helps one to value life more and its fleeting. This is similar to the Hegelian notion that countries should go to war with one another because “the ethical health of the peoples is preserved in their indifference to the stabilization of finite institutions,” and that “corruption in nations would be the result of prolonged, let alone ‘perpetual’ peace”(Philosophy of the Right para. 324).

Eruptions of existential crises are necessary to change the historical course and redirect culture, country, and people. The event of 9/11 created this for the US. It made the US seem venerable and we made the rest of the world know that we will not be so. Hence, the problem is that we in the US live in “perpetual peace” having safety and security. The US must change. Another tragedy does not need to happen for us to change our course away from safety and security. Instead, something should be able to occur from the bottom-up and help to change our narrative into something more compassionate and communal, rather than individualized and certain. Independence Day must take on a new tone, not of conquering, but of kinship.

prisons, cultural lag, and the church

Early definitions of cultural lag focused specifically on industry and society. In Marxian terms it refers to how the substructure (production, relations to production,etc) advances in its use of technology, while the superstructure (philosophy, art, religion, family) falls behind this advancement. A simple example in today’s world would be who can purchase certain products, such as an iPad, which costs $500. Much of the general public cannot purchase such a commodity, but if in 15 years our society finds it to be necessary, then it will be affordable.

Hence cultural lag.

New definitions have been constructed, one of the famous theorist who worked on this theory was William Ogburn. He wrote,

“A cultural lag occurs when one of two parts of culture which are correlated changes before or in greater degree than the other part does, thereby causing less adjustment between the two parts that existed previously” (1957).

Ogburn broadened the original Marxian definition which only was concerned with economics and broaden it to any two parts of culture. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann hit the nail on the head, with concern to culture in the US, when he wrote,”Our consumer culture is organized against history. There is a depreciation of memory and a ridicule of hope, which means everything must be held in the now, either an urgent now or an eternal now”(1).* We create ourselves through purchasing, it is what gives us hope and gives us a short attention span. These consequences include one to not be concerned with community, long-term friendships, investing in the future of the Earth, cooking food, etc. Even more so, one no longer needs to be concerned with social issues: racism, sexism, mistreatment of the LGBTQI+ community, colonialism, and other injustices in our world. This drags us down a road of Tolerance, which accepts everyone, but still allows hate without confrontation. Thus, many of the institutions focus on this tolerance and have no concern for anything else other than money. Unfortunately, these kinds of ideas have bled into the church.

One churched person, who happens to also be a theologian, has kept the social injustices that penetrate US at the forefront of their theology. This person is none other than black liberation theologian James Cone.

God of the Oppressed, which James Cone wrote, hit the bookshelves in the late 1960’s. It sought to systemically summarize and demonstrate Black Liberation theology. This was a tough experiment during that era. Blatant racism occurred openly in our institutions, not that it still does not happen today, but that it was more in your face about it. One section of his book I found particularly interesting was how he placed certain white prominent theologians during slavery times in the US into different categories with their approach to the social ill of slavery.

First, there are those who ignored slavery all together. These theologians constructed theologies separate from anything social or political. For Cone, these are the worst kind of theologians since they do not understand that knowledge is historically situated in a particular place and time.

Second, there were white theologians who taught that slavery was a good and godly act. Several theologians like George Whitfield used Scriptural passages to keep slaves in their “rightful place,” as an owner person.

Lastly, there were theologians who were part of the abolitionist movements. They actively promoted that those who were enslaved to be released. (One problem that Cone has with these theologians is that they were still constructing theology from a prestigious point of view, e.g. slaves should be be free because it would be better for society, instead of from the point of view of those who are enslaved are people and deserve the right to be free. I certainly agree with Cone on this position.)

These kinds of theologians still haunt us today. We have those who are oblivious to social structures to the point of distrust and have a theology that they believe to apply to all, thus a kind of white-orthodoxy. Then there are those who lift up institutions like the State, believing that they are absolutely God-given, this probably could only be applied to those who live in the US. Then there are those who want more out of social institutions, pushing them to move beyond themselves. Yet, at the same time believe that justice does not equate to Law.

Modernizing Conian thoughts about the cultural lag in the church, I have been thinking what the modern church ignored in relation with social issues. The first thing that came to my mind was the the prison-industrial complex. First, I have never heard these words in church. The only prison ministries that they do in church in the areas that I know of are ones that they are concerned with the spiritual lives of the prisoners. I never hear people ask why so many people are in prison or that it is so hard for people to get a job once they come out of prison. This aspect is totally ignored by the church, or at least many of the churches that I have attended.

Paul Krugman, a classic liberal commentator, wrote an opinion piece in the NY Times that concerned the prison-industrial complex. It was well written attempt to simplify the complexity of economics that concern this issue. The problem with this article is that there is nothing written against those who are unjustly placed in prison, as are many of our African-American sisters and brothers. This certainly falls under the Conian critique.

The church has been in a cultural lag for most of modernity. It was not always this way. From the beginning, it was a source of the prophetic. In many respects, we have lost that prophetic voice and thus are not inventors and critics of important aspects of culture, but allow culture to be and condemn only immoral individualistic ethical decisions. We need voices from the church who are concerned about  people who are being treated unjustly, especially those in prison.

The church must educate, organize, and act for justice for all people!

Here are some statistics from ProPublica about For-Profit Prisons in the US.

* Prophetic Imagination published for the second time in 2001.

fragile faithfulness

About a month ago, one of my favorite bloggers wrote a post outlining his beliefs. He titled it Why I am a Christian. Recently, I had a chance to spell out some of beliefs and read it in front of the people that I will be working with this summer. This summer, I will be working at Broad Street Ministries, which is Presbyterian and located in Philadelphia. I will be working with five other persons teaching youth groups the importance of being a prophetic voice in their own communities. With that in mind, here is my statement of faith:

“God, rid me of God” – Meister Eckhart

“And your skin taste much better with aging not sweet like it was back in our Sunday school.” – Manchester Orchestra

I can not understand faith without performance. Rooted in the Pentecostal tradition, I was taught that it was through spiritual gifts that God’s Spirit used us for the work of the kin-dom. Yet, this tradition lost its fruitfulness for me, since I did not desire these Pentecostal spiritual gifts. These gifts scared/scarred me as a child and made it very unlikely that I would ever want to perform them. Thus I moved onto the Baptist church which taught me that today God only speaks through Scripture. I stayed faithful to them for over 6 years, learning much about Scripture, and memorized many important verses. Yet, there came a point when  I was no longer happy with only delighting in Scripture and started to ask some critical questions that made my church uneasy. I left eventually left the Baptist church, and sought out a new community of believers.I found one that asked critical questions about Scripture, itself, and the Christian life. This, for me, was the Episcopal Church.

They gathered around the Eucharist each Sunday recognizing that each one comes to the table with different convictions and faith, yet realize that they are part of one body. This was transformational for me and liberated my past church experiences.

Since then I have been in school and majored in theology. My interests have varied from the Anabaptist ethics of John Howard Yoder, Catholic social teaching, postmodern theology, liberation theology, ancient Christianity, especially Origen, and most currently, different contextual theologies. Residue still sticks from my past ideas of theologies and must always keep them in check, since absolute certainty is always knocking at my door.

Faith then does not come easy for me. I find it hard to believe after learning  of the historical underpinnings that are part of the Church, the Judeans, and other religions. I stay true to Christianity partly because it was the tradition that I was brought up in. It has always been a home for me, although there have been times of great contention. Another reason is because of the book by Huston Smith called “The World’s Religions.” Marcus Borg paraphrasing from this book writes,

“If what you’re looking for is water, better to dig one well sixty feet deep than to dig six wells ten feet deep. By living more deeply into our own tradition as a sacrament of the sacred, we become more centered in the one to whom the tradition points and in whom we live and move and have our being.”

The last reason that I have found Christianity appealing is because I have tested God through Jesus more times than I can count and each time Jesus has been more faithful to me than I will ever be to myself. It was God who was there during my times of suffering and by my side as I dared to start a new life afterwards.

…My faith is fragile…

If I were to boil it down, my theology focuses on hope. Hope that God will take care of all when everything ends. Hope that when people suffer, God suffers alongside them. Hope that when people love, God loves alongside them. And everything in between.

Hope that God is the end all be all

anarchism and its discontents

The other week I came across my copy of Paul Tillich’s book Dynamics of Faith and decided to misread the title, thinking of it not as relating personality and faith, as Tillich did, but comparing it to expressions of faith. Dynamic represents the overarching ideology of a particular movement, denomination, political party, etc. For example, I have an anarchist dynamic, this includes my thoughts about the government, other humans, distributive justice, and so on. The expression of the dynamic is how I go about embodying my ideology. Therefore, my anarchist dynamic has influenced my expression to read about radical politics, protest unjust systems, boycott particular corporations, to garden, have vegan potlucks etc.

In the past month, I have been to two radical conferences, both in NYC. The first being the Left Forum. There was a wide variety of radical thought, including the Maoists, Marxist, Labor Organizers, and Anarchists. We gathered around a common cause: to help create a better and more sustainable world.

Then this past weekend, I attended the NYC Anarchist Book Fair. I met some great people, who were very passionate about issues of race, gender, political prisoners, and many other issues. With such a concentration of anarchists, I noticed specific patterns of dress, rhetoric, and style. Many of them wore darker clothing, mostly black, dark blue, and/or blood red. I was wearing a black t-shirt, blue dickies pants, and black Chuck Taylors. I fit right in. I, too, was able to fit in right away with my rhetoric of injustices happening in the world.

Maybe this is not a problem, since it happens in all social groups. Most charismatic Christians dress nicely to attend church, they too have a rhetoric of “Have you been saved or washed by the blood?” Many charismatics at least in the US support the political-economic structures in place and usually vote for the more conservative candidates.

Yet for Anarchists, I want it to be different. I picked up two different pamphlets from the book fair this past weekend and they described the genesis of anarchism in the Enlightenment. I am fine with this historical situatedness, since one of the early tenants was that rationality was part of human nature. Thus if all people are rational then all should want to desire freedom for all, and an end to oppression. This was an early idea of anarchist philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

All of this is very good, but we must push back. I say that we must adopt a more fluid idea of human nature, similar to Marx’s idea of human nature that differed according to our active participation in the production of labor. According to his historical materialist process of history, human nature in feudalism looks different from capitalism, one is more alienated from their “species-being” in capitalism. Marx’s theme of alienation penetrated all of this thought, even to human nature.

If we were able to see human nature more fluid then anarchism too would change. It would be more of a contextual, local, and allow for more freedom in different countries, or even in the same city! The Dynamic of Anarchism in West Philly may be expressed as free food for all, community gardens, more after school programs, chalk poetry, making other spaces open to the public for events, possibly even having anarchists who identify as Christian to write liturgy for their churches. We must push beyond the expressions that we normally act in and create with others a better world. Hopefully, this will include wearing more colorful clothing.

the compassion of the christ: taking christian theology seriously for the sake of society

In God of the Oppressed, Dr. James H. Cone shares a story about a white preacher in the South who encouraged his black congregants in his sermon to follow the new Jim Crow laws through an eschatological narrative. The white preacher declared that in the middle of Heaven there will be a partition separating blacks from whites, just like the water fountains, movie theaters, etc. The response from the congregants to the preacher came from the usher who prayed over the offering plate before the collection. This brave man prayed how thankful he is that his black sisters and brothers are a shoutin’ people and if there is a partition in Heaven that they will shout it down until it falls. And further he prayed if the white people in Heaven do not like it, they can go somewhere else (19,20).

This story draws near to my heart nowadays. Not much has changed since this story took place during the 18th century. Instead of having overtly institutionalised racism with slavery and Jim Crow laws; we have a tolerant racism that gives way for the prison industrial complex and allows for people to murder young people of color out of fear and without any immediate repercussions.* Currently, Neo-Nazis are preparing for a race riot in Florida, so that the whites are protected.

Who says we live in a post-racial society? Not I.

The way we practice theology reflects our lives. For example, Flannery O’Connor was known for her Catholic faith, short stories, and grotesque characters. She spent her life in the South and considered herself a Thomist. Her short stories were infused with messages of faith and forgiveness. At the end of her famous short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the protagonist grandmother tells the antagonist, Misfit, that Jesus forgives:

“If you would pray,” the old lady said, “Jesus would help you.”

“That’s right,” The Misfit said.

“Well then, why don’t you pray?” she asked trembling with delight suddenly.

“I don’t want no help,” he said. “I’m doing all right by myself.”

The Misfit doesn’t and the story ends on a sour note. My point here is that O’Connor’s story portrays the Catholic life. Yet, her faith has little to do with her inherent racism. Sure, she had stories about people of color in the South, but they were not always cast in the best light i.e. “The Artificial N*****”.

The other week, I read many of O’Connor’s letters compiled in a book titled “The Habit of Being.” Flannery wrote a letter on April 14th to Richard Stern, a few months before her death. It reads, “It ain’t much, but I am able to take nourishment and participate in a few Klan rallies” (573). What?!? Flannery O’Connor was associated with the KKK, one of the most racist groups in the U.S. Yes, she was. How did this happen? How can a Christian dedicated to following Jesus fall into the trap of hating Black people who have been oppressed in our society since white people stole them from Africa? Thus, my point is: I believe theology, whether it is Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc. affects the way we “live and move and have our being.”

Dr. Cone makes the distinction in how christology is taught and preached in the Black church compared to the white church. Once again in God of the Oppressed, Dr. Cone writes

“White preachers and theologians often defined Jesus Christ as a spiritual Savior, the deliver of people from sin and guilt, black preachers were unquestionably historical. They viewed God as the Liberator in history. That was why the black Church was involved in the abolitionist movement in the nineteenth century and the civil rights movement in the twentieth” (51).

O’Connor did not have a theology “from below,” but “from above.” God has eternal Ideals and abides in an ahistorical place. Thus, one can conclude that God is not so much concerned with our contextual existence, but that we must live up to God’s expectations. It was easy for O’Connor to do, since she was born in a well-to-do white family in the South and was able to practice Catholicism to almost its full extent, according to bourgeois religion.

I reject “from above” theology, situated in a privileged position. Instead, I try to form a “from below” theology, that many oppressed groups from the centuries have developed. This could be defined that God is here with and for us. God is involved in history and seeks to redeem all of history.

In the Christian tradition, God sent Christ to teach, have compassion (to suffer with), die on a cross, and resurrect, thus beginning the redemption of the world. God still suffers with us as God’s Spirit who shows “mercy, justice, and the knowledge of God” (God the Spirit**). If God is with us declaring justice, then to actively participate and ignore systematic racism is contradictory. And until we recognise that our liberation is latticed with the liberation of others, we can not have a better theology nor a better society.

If Jesus’ death and resurrection represent anything, it is that God is on the side of the oppressed. Yet God desires to redeem both, oppressor and oppressed. If we could help this process along, it would to be intentional in how we live with others. The famous Peruvian liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez wrote, “Neighbor is not one whom I find in my path, but rather one in whose path I place myself, one whom I approach and actively seek.” May we be a people who with God’s Spirit actively seek to be neighborly to all.

*Here I am expressing that justice does not equate to law and vice versa. We have a corrupt system that at times all can see, in the case of Trayvon Martin, it is apparent. Yet the contradiction immerses with Malcolm X, and without his time in jail to reflect and accept the belief system of the Nation of Islam, he would not have made a radical stand against the racial injustices that permeate in our society.

**I just finished this text for a class and found it to be the best systematic theology for God’s Spirit. Michael Welker, the writer, uses a framework of liberation theology and shows how God’s Spirit is a “force field of change and hope.”