hang up your capes: a poem

(Preface: I read a ton of comics and lately I have been thinking about the concept of superheroes. Hopefully, this will seem less like a tirade against superheroes and more of a call to work together for a better world. We don’t need superheroes that bring easy solutions, it won’t last. We need to struggle with our own issues of racism, sexism, the prison-industrial-complex, ableism, heterosexism and much more, that together justice may reign and last.)

Hang Up Your Capes

Superheroes annoy me.
I don’t need them coming into my city and tell me what’s wrong,
I have lived with these villains much longer than they have.

I don’t need the CEOs who have the power to create
better technologies to save the day1.
They’re the ones who pay off politicians and Supreme Court rulings2.

I don’t need superheroes.
Their capes hide the need for social reform.
They are missionaries spreading themselves as Gospel.

I don’t need aliens from other planets3,
Scientists who messed up experiments4,
Or heroes with animal-like abilities5.

I have my own bad guys and public transportation problems.
So leave you strong arms! You Batmans, Supermans, and Iron Mans.
Hang up your capes and bury your masks.

But I don’t want to be the super hero either.
I want to be myself and want others to be themselves.
And together, I want to build a better city.

It’s not going to happen overnight like those with superpowers.
It’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime.
But as long as I am part of it now, I’ll be okay.

Depressed Batman

 

(1) Iron Man
(2) The Koch brothers, the Supreme Court, and a new kind of liberty
(3) Superman (also, great video on Superman as undocumented)
(4) Bruce Banner (the Hulk)
(5) Wolverine, Spiderman, etc.

 

my favorite version of the lord’s prayer

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

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

You can learn more about it here.

Rumi

love as resistance: the call for enemy-love in the 21st century

Washing dishes is a menial task and if you never cook at home someone else is paid (poorly, I might add) to wash them for you. Recently I moved into [another] community house where we share the responsibility of dish-washing. Although, some people take up the charge more than others, of course. I am reminded of a Crimethinc poster, that breaks down different ideological and political approaches to washing dishes. Because Crimethinc is one of the greatest contributors to anarchist propaganda, the anarchist version stands as the utopian ideal, while Marxism and Communism are fuddy-duddies. They propose that in Anarchism: “We all share in the dishwashing.” This description sounds similar to the neighbor/enemy love that Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount.

This summer, we started a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. (I partially still long for the lectionary because there are so many different scriptures that you can choose from.) Last week I preached on enemy-love through the framework of the honor/shame system. I claimed that Jesus wants his hearers to reject the cycle of honor/shame for something I believe more radical. Christ/a’s* call, in contemporary terms, is for radical democracy.

Let me explain.

Jesus assumes that enemies exist. These are the slappers, the people who force you to walk the extra mile, and taking everything from you. Yet, Jesus teaches against retaliation. “Don’t play into their system, my hearers. No one ever wins with social, political, and judicial inequality present.” Instead, Jesus reverses the common responses of the injured/hurt and in turn disrupts the reactions of the enemies. Questions then are raised: Without the social and political system of honor/shame, who’s in charge? Who gets to be slapped around?

Usually, we answer these questions by pacifying the verses. The Sermon on the Mount has become so part of our culture that its radicalness has been suppressed. I am not suggesting that we will not have some enemies or that an enemy is someone whose story you haven’t yet heard. Of course, there are some who do not want the best for others and actively try to hurt others and the Earth. Yet, without a vision of something better, a different kind of society to strive for, we will get lost in despair. Christ/a’s call is that love will assume the position of resistance. 

Today our enemies include the powerful, the politicians, the rich, the polluters, those promoting fracking, capitalist colonizers, and CEOs.

Spread love for equality.

Practice resistance like Christ/a’s.

Pray for enemies for the sake of justice.

Do something. Anything.

 Kazuya Akimoto's Jesus Christ:a

*Christ/a is used by some feminist and body thealogians to describe Christ. Christ is the masculine version of “Anointed One” and if we believe that divinity cannot be held to the categories of gender and sex, it becomes possible to include a feminine Christ/a. There has also been a history of medieval Christian mystics calling Jesus, Mother.

flags, dreams, and theology

Zinn quote

 

“The dream of freedom, equality, and happiness for all human beings –”we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — is a human dream. It can only be fulfilled by humanity as a whole. As long as human beings are alienated from each other by class, caste, race, and nation; as long as they live against each other and not for each other, this dream cannot be fulfilled.

Nor can it be fulfilled as an American dream; for as a nation, a world power, and a culture, America must take part in the alienation, separation, and oppression of human beings. The human dream cannot be Americanized without being falsified through the ideological self-justification of the American empire and the free enterprise of the multinational corporations. As a human dream, the American dream is a true and necessary one. As an American dream, however, it makes the human dream impossible.” –  Jürgen Moltmann, On Human Dignity, (148-149).

The illusion of the American Dream must be forfeited that we may dream bigger for all of humanity and the Earth! Cheers to toppling Empires, the ending of wars, and alternative economies!

the necessity of inclusive religious language and new metaphors

Seminaries, unless on the conservative end of the theological spectrum, require students to use gender neutral language concerning God in papers and sermons. Although, not having a pronoun for God makes for extremely awkward sentences in English. For example, “God in God’s self,” or “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten child,” etc. Most churches, of course, do not follow inclusive language guidelines. Doxologies are riddled with masculine language and you cross yourself “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Working at a church this summer, I am slowing de-gendering the language in the service. You see, for me, inclusive language is a must. I believe the use of inclusive language for divinity challenges religious institutions, theology, and our concept of justice.

Using masculine language binds God in a theological box.
When the pronoun “He” or “His” is used to describe God we are bound to certain metaphors and analogies. God can only be the “Father” and we are “His” children. The “Father” takes care of us, knows what’s good for us, and unconditionally loves “His” children. Yet, these metaphors start to dissolve with one’s experience of fathers or other male parental figures.* People usually shoot back that God’s a different kind of father, but this still holds up patriarchal values. If “Father” always knows what is good for us, this makes for bad theology and allows for continuing cycles of sexual and physical abuse. There must be other imaginative ways to think of God!

Before the Christian Testament was canonized (4th century) or even finished (early 2nd century) other writers were forming theological ideas.
The apocryphal* texts and other early Christian writings, including 1st Clement, the Acts of Thecla and Paul, and the Secret Apocalypse of John, demonstrate that there were many theological ideas present in the first four centuries. Some of these texts inspired the theologies of Augustine and Origen. For example, Justin Martyr believed that the followers of Christ were fulfilling prophecy by resisting to join the Roman military. Theology was open to the imagination and it still can be.

God was experienced before anything was ever written and will be after.
Through the evolution of Scripture, we understand that the divine has been experienced through various venues. In the early texts of the Hebrew Bible, God was experienced through nature, victory in (non)violent battles, and communal myths. Today, the divine is experienced through different technologies including yoga mats, music, reading Scripture(s) or nature. Experiencing the divine ever changes, so should the way we preach, the way we conduct our services, and the metaphors we use! 

God does not write theology.
Dr. James Cone taught us that God is not a theologian; rather, it is humans, who are the meaning-makers and theology-creators. It is lazy to proof-text and decide that there is only one theology! God is not only creator because we read it in Scripture. God creates continually. 

Scripture is inspired, interpretation is not. 
Clearly Scripture believes itself to be God-breathed, inspired (2 Timothy 3:16). This does not grant authority to interpretations though! Until the Enlightenment and afterward, the concept of a plain-reading of Scripture has been the norm. Up until the Enlightenment, there was a range of interpretations and one was not always over another. Until churches, ministers, and laypersons read the history of Christian theology, they will be caught in a modernist trap of plain-reading!

“Mankind,” “kingdom,” and “Lord” neglects entire social groups
Linguistically and historically, many social groups have been left out of the conversation in regards to theology. With the use of draconian language, we continue to disregard others. Language shapes who we are. It shapes how we think about the world. A great resource for how this works is Lera Boroditsky’s “How Language Shapes Thought.” Using gender-neutral language will not be easy at first, but it will be better in the long run for our churches and society. It will set up avenues for other voices and constantly remind us of others.

I am not interested in inclusive language because the liberal agenda has caught hold of me. It should be used because white men are not the only ones in the world (1/4 of the world’s population is made up of Asian women!). White men may have most of the power in the world, but they are not the end all be all. God is certainly not a white man or, I believe, even wants white men to have the power! Instead, God is the disrupter. Inclusive language is necessary for the global church and for all religions in that matter. Thankfully, many theologians have taken up the call for more inclusive theologies.

The list includes Jea Sophia Oh, Marcella Althaus-ReidWonhee Ann JohEmilie Townes, Laurel Schneider, Namsoon Kang, Andrea C. White, J Kameron Carter and Catherine Keller.

To a more inclusive language and theology!

 

PAIC

 

*I am not ridiculing fathers as much as showing that it is not necessary for God to be a parent.

**This antiquated term has become as meaningless as gnostic and no longer helpful in common biblical discourse. How can something be hidden anymore, when we know that ancient communities were using these texts as Scripture? Or how can we label texts as gnostic when many of them are as different from one another just like the Christian Testament texts?

happy birthday, john wesley!

John Wesley Quote

John Wesley also said “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless (and motherless); and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all humankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”

Wesley was an advocate for social justice, emphasized grace, cared for others, and preached a radical gospel for his time.

Happy 311th birthday, John!

hoping against hope: god, weak-bodies, and Pentecost

“Hoping against hope … [Abraham] did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.” (Romans 4:18a, 19 NRSV)

Few body theologians consider Paul’s contribution to a theology of the body. When surveying the Pauline corpus, several texts prominently construct a theological anthropology focused on the body. In Paul’s letter to Galatia, he informs believers of three gospels, “the circumcised,” “the foreskin,”(2:7) and a “contrarian gospel” (1:8). In this way, Paul associates the Gospel message with the body–whether one is a circumcised Jew who still practices the Law or a Gentile believer following Christ–these Gospels cannot be separated from one’s body. From bodies, communities develop, and with it, a new ethics of eating and relating to neighbors. Bodies must be the genesis of any theology.

Controlling bodies is fundamental to all Empires. These dominant forces enslave bodies, transplant bodies, and control weak-bodies through the use of militarized strong-bodies. While the Romans were Empire-building, propagandists wrote the Priene Inscription concerning Caesar Augustus. The inscription transcends body-talk and depicts a hope that the Emperor has brought to all people of the Empire. It commends Augustus for putting an end to war and bringing order to chaos. Moreover, it explains that all people shall find hope in Caesar Augustus, even after his death. Roman imperial theology supported Caesar in making himself a god through stealing bodies to conquer the world.

In this context, Paul, a missionary to the Gentiles, wrote to the early followers of Christ in Rome. In a particular re-working of the Abrahamic narrative in Genesis 18, Paul discusses a hope beyond hope found in Abraham’s faith. In the Hebrew text, when the mysterious men told Abraham that Sarah would conceive a child (Gen. 18:10), Sarah laughs at the prospects of bearing a child at her old age (18:12). When Paul describes the scenario, Abraham’s body is first introduced. Although, his body was “as good as dead,” his body was not yet rotting, life was ready to spring forth, and his faith was strong.

In this way, Paul points against and beyond Augustus’ “hope.” God works with/in/through the weak-bodied and marginalized. Paul used the example of Abraham for his readers to embrace a theology of weak-bodies. If even the founder of their faith trusted in God’s promise, why can’t the communities who find themselves on the margins of the Empire, find the same kind of hope? This is in complete contrast to the hope perpetuated by the Roman Empire, which was founded on the false pretenses that Caesar Augustus created peace and order. With this false narrative in mind, readers and hearers of the epistle were encouraged to hope against the very hope they were told to believe in and to dismantle the Roman Empire’s theology, for a theology in which God is on the side of the downtrodden.

Transplanting the letter to the Romans into our context, followers of Christ ‘hope against hope’ in the face of global capitalism and amidst ecological crisis. Recently, new studies report on the dire health of the Earth. The future looks worrisome for the creatures of Earth because of humanity’s overconsumption of natural resources and pollution. Over the past twenty years, the effects of global warming have landed on the shores of the Third World with more famines, tsunamis, and hurricanes. These “acts of God” were caused by the Rich’s idolatrous god, Almighty Capitalism. But how can the Christ community keep “hoping against hope” when the future’s only horizon consists of the globalization metanarrative? Since we are entrenched in the wiles of capitalist ideology, where could there be new breakthroughs of alternative economics, politics, and social structures?

The answer to these questions, I believe, is found within this verse. When faced with overwhelming devastation, we must hold onto a hope that shatters beyond all hope. We must belong to communities that strive for alternatives to the metanarratives that cast a long shadow across the world. Since God sides and works through weak-bodies, we too must side with the abused, the neglected, those without a voice, and the downtrodden. God’s power  pulsates hope through weakness throughout the world.

Lastly, and most important for celebrating Pentecost, it was the weak-bodies who uttered the radical grace found in the Gospel. It was not the most powerful! The listeners in the narrative even made fun of the social location of the tongue-speakers and believed they were drunk. After all, isn’t the bible full of rejects, losers, and weak-bodies? Even when characters gain power, they use it for the wrong reasons, e.g. David and Solomon. It’s not in the wealthy-plump-bodies that we find salvation, for one day they will be hungry (Luke 6:25).

God chose (and chooses) what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to no-thing things that are (1 Cor. 1:28).

The Holy Spirit Arrives

jesus was a cyborg

As custom, posthuman films, including Her, Transcendence, and Lucy, prescribe qualities on the anthropological project. Questions for viewers arise: What does it mean to be human? Are humans unique because their conscience? Is it necessary to have a body to be human? These films convey simply that to be human means to demonstrate a will and have a conscience. There is a complete lack of body-presence. For instance, in Her the male-bodied human has an emotional and sexual attraction to the artificially intelligent Operating System, Samantha. They perform all the features of a romantic human relationship, although one is without a body.

Cue cyborg-talk

With the rise of prominent electronic technologies, artificial intelligence, and cyborgs, we recognize our dependence on these technologies. As an example, I use my smartphone as an alarm, radio/music, television, clock, notebook, book, phone, and about a billion other things. Recently, new concerns about a smartphone user’s posture has an actual term: Text Neck. Yet, it has been argued that even before our use of electronic technologies that we were already cyborgs.

cy·borg (ˈsīˌbôrg) noun
a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.

First, already we see that this definition is biased. It believes that cyborgs are “fictional or hypothetical.” Second, without that qualifier at the beginning, it presents a solid definition of how we have been cyborgs! Globally, humans use technologies attached to their bodies that help them function beyond human limitation. For me, at least, I need glasses to properly see my surroundings. As well, I use an umbrella in the rain, wear snow boots in winter storms, and have sunscreen for the hot sun.

Humans make use of non-electronic technologies daily and without it the world would look much more chaotic (and blurry!). This idea about cyborgs, I believe, ruptures a belief in human nature , i.e. natural law, original sin. That we have never been purely human. We are a mix technologies that help us to survive and thrive in the world. In this sense, we should be glad to have such wonderful technologies helping us, but our theology should reflect such realities.

If you would have asked me in second grade what I would look like in heaven, the first thing that would’ve come out of my mouth would be that I wouldn’t have to wear my glasses anymore. As a child, heaven was the perfection of all things and a barrier for me was my glasses. Over time that has changed and now I feel fashionable with glasses and couldn’t live without them. In a way, the theology of my youth reflected what I thought it meant to be purely human.

What does it mean to include cyborgs into our theological anthropology?

1. Humans have a conscience, but the body must not be forgotten.
With all this cyborg-talk, we must remember that we are bodies. We are breathing, head-bobbing, blood-pumping, heart-beating, entanglement of emotions, sound-collections, and memory-capturing bodies. We are always in transition. Our bodies change everyday, every hour, every second. They shed skin, lose blood, grow hair, and earwax multiplies. Thus, BODIES ARE NOT STATIC! They cannot be pinned down to essences.

2. The fluidity of our bodies should reflect our theological anthropology.
When asked what it means to be made in the image of God, most Christians rely on the Genesis 1:27, “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God created them; male and female God created them” (NRSV). To dig deeper in what this means they answer that humans have God’s “moral, spiritual, and intellectual nature.” I propose that we should include bodies, especially if we take a process panentheistic approach. Everything is in God anyway! The body acts as God acts in the world, changing, growing, and transforming. Or a recent comment from an amazing professor, “God’s body is a woman’s body.”

3. We need be cautious with our christology.
To say that Jesus is deeply divine and human directs us in the way of ontology. Sadly, we rarely include anything about Jesus’ body in terms of theology. We are told to be human means to care for others, our neighbors, and those closest to us. The scholar activist Walter Wink even described Jesus as being the only Human Being and many others in the Christian tradition have agreed with him. Could this partially be untrue, since Jesus certainly used the technologies of his day? Must we search for a cyborg-christology?

Where does this leave us?

This leaves us between humanity and posthumanity, between human nature and fluidity, between divinity beyond and divinity always present. We must write theology that reflects our reality. Cheers to a new era of body-cyborg theology!

For Further Reading:

The Cyborg Handbook edited by Donna Haraway

Cyborg Selves: A Theological Anthropology of the Posthuman by Jeanine Thweatt-Bates (she blogs here: rude truth)

From Human to Posthuman: Christian Theology and Technology in a Postmodern World by Brent Waters

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): Jesus dies on the cross

(Guest post by asescalante)

“Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. – Friedrich Nietzsche