Anarchism, Anti-Capitalism, Christainity, Lent

practicing anti-idolatry for lent

Great-Martyr Theodore Stratelates destroying idols

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the anticapitalist season of Lent. A season where one focuses on consuming less and become more inwardly focused on spiritual health. A time when one’s worth is not caught up in buying things. One is reminded today of their death as ashes are rubbed into one’s forehead and the recitation of the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” To be reminded of one’s death can be humbling but also, if you’re like me, it causes existential questioning.

I was raised in a Pentecostal church, that often would sing the Happy Goodman’s song, “I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.”

I still can remember the chorus:

“Well, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now
Gotta make it to Heaven somehow
Though the devil tempt me and he tried to turn me around

He’s offered everything that’s got a name
All the wealth I want and worldly fame
If I could still I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.”

In a way, with this song and songs like it, I was brought up with an anti-prosperity gospel: to want/desire money and fame is to side with devil. It seems to fit with the theme of the day: one cannot take their fortunes with them to the grave. When one hoards earthly riches, one is taking resources from others. Death is universal, but life is not.

If a theology of Christian anarchism has to begin anywhere, it’s with anti-idolatry. This means no gods, no masters, no bosses, and no cops. This theology disrupts a comfortable Christian theology that supports a business-as-usual way of being in the world to a questioning of power structures. Lately for me it’s been why should students go into debt for education in the US, why do people still freeze to death in cities when there are so many empty apartments, and why do billionaires even exist. Anti-idolatry struggles against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, fascism, and all other forms of oppression.

If Lent has its biblical roots in Jesus’ forty days in the desert, then it has always been anti-idolatrous. Jesus took nothing with him. He resisted idolatrous temptations from the devil. He did not consume anything during those many days. He rejected being worshiped. One does not need to go into the desert to be spiritually fulfilled, but perhaps it does mean one needs to stop interacting with things in one’s life that are distracting. Or maybe that one should re-think through their own idols and stop worshipping them.

May this Lenten season crack open for you new possibilities of anti-idolatry struggle.

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Christainity, Ecology, Justice, Scripture

“remember you are compost, and to compost you shall return”: ecotheology and ash wednesday

My theology professor asked the class, “Will composting be necessary in the new heavens and new earth?” My hand shot up immediately and I answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!” Of course, I knew that compost was made of rotting, decomposing earthy matter. Yet, at the same time, I believed composting to be an integral part of God’s realm because it brings forth life out of rotting matter. The professor seemed to agree with me, but my peers were not impressed. For them, life eternal required no work, rather full praise toward God and God’s goodness.

We first find compost in Genesis 2, when God plants a garden on the east side of Eden and creates humanity. As well, God causes animals, trees, and shrubs to be birthed from this same ground. In this second creation narrative, humans work with the ground and care for the garden. Composting was involved in their very practice of creation-care. They didn’t have the means to develop landfills, or even the desire for non-recyclable plastic products. Instead, they gave back to Earth what they couldn’t use and the Earth reused it for something new.

Compost occupies an in-between stage. Sort of how plasma is not necessarily a solid or a liquid; or even Derrida’s late obsession with ghosts, understanding them as not quite human and not quite rotting flesh. Without compost, life would not subsist. In a sense, everything is compost. Our very ontology is in-betweenness. Though this is not the same as when preachers talk about the “dash on your gravestone.” Our in-betweenness is rather much more. Our bodies, along with the world, are constantly changing, either through the shedding of our skin, or dying cells, or having organs taken out. We are never static creatures, just like compost.

In Revelation, we read of the new earth, where one can see signs of composting. The River of Life flows through the middle of the New Jerusalem and on one side is the Tree of Life, which “provides healing for the nations” (22:2). “Healing” in this passage is in the present and continuous sense. In other words, even with everything renewed, everything is not yet fully healed or whole. Thus, could we not imagine that at the bottom of the Tree of Life, us partaking of food and composting it for new life, healing, and wholeness? With this reasoning, the New Jerusalem will not have landfills. What a beautiful vision of God’s realm!

On Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, we recognize our faults, our sins, and those regretful acts we commit. We walk to the front of the church and receive a sign of our sinfulness with an ashed compost cross on our foreheads. Our bodies will become compost again after our death, at least until the resurrection. Yet, we should recognize our in-betweenness as hopeful. As Paul writes in Romans about Abraham on the resurrection, that he was and we are “hoping against hope” (4:18). Within us is the power of transformation. We have the capability to bring forth goodness, love, and hope.

Living into our compostable lives, let us make the most use of our in-betweenness for positive change in our relationships, neighborhoods, and world.

Composting

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Beliefs, Christainity, Lent, Liberation Theology, Philosophy, Politics

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.

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Anarchism, Anti-Capitalism, Patriachy, Spiritual

the revolutionary act of ash wednesday and lent

I have been reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed for the past week now. It was not intended to be my Lenten book, but it has become such. The first few chapters relate to this Christian season in several ways. I would call it a Liberation Theology text for the non-theological, since it speaks in non-bibical langauge in the same ways that the South American liberation theologians were using the Exodus story and the narrative of Jesus.

The first chapter speaks of a revolution, where the oppressed and the oppressors both are liberated. Paulo Freire writes “As oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights, they themselves also become dehumanized” (42). Freire sets out to have both oppressed and oppressor humanized. This means that a revolution must have the oppressed not be over the oppressors, but everyone come out as equals. Slavoj Zizek has spoken some on Haiti, using a post-colonial context, writing, “it was perhaps even more of an event than the French Revolution itself. It was the first time that an enslaved population rebelled not as a way of returning to their pre-colonial “roots”, but on behalf of universal principles of freedom and equality.” While the French revolution promoted equality for all people who were not slaves, it was the Haitian Revolution who made both slaves and free all under the banner of equality and freedom. It’s as if they took the words of Freire to heart 170 years earlier.

This brings me to a theo-political understanding of the imparting of ashes. 40 days before Easter Sunday, catholic Christians attend a service in which to re-member, both in embodying the church, but also a time for self-reflection, remembering our short comings. As an Episcopalian, we like to kneel for Eucharist and for ashes, and this time I knelt recognizing my faults, but also kneeling in solitary with the rest of the persons in church. We were at that moment all on an equal plain. We are all part of familia dei, Family of God. In other words, the politics of Ash Wednesday show us that if any political system should be prescribed that it should be one of anarchism. That we need no human leaders since we are all on this equal plain. Yet, the problem is that as U.S. citizens we live in a psycho-spiritual context where to feel secure that we must have an authority figure, e.g. President, patriarch, etc. in our lives to give us structure. In Zizekian/Lacian lingo, we are searching for the “subject-suppose-to-know.” We are looking for the one who knows all the answers so that we can elect them to office or believe that they know best and follow whatever they may say. Speaking of the 2008 financial crisis, Jacques Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller says in an interview

“The financial universe is an architecture made of fictions and its keystone is what Lacan called a “subject supposed to know”, to know why and how. Who plays this part? The concert of authorities, from where sometimes a voice is detached, Alan Greenspan, for example, in his time. The financial players base their behavior on this. The fictional and hyper-reflexive unit holds by the “belief” in the authorities, i.e. through the transference to the subject supposed to know. If this subject falters, there is a crisis, a falling apart of the foundations, which of course involves effects of panic. “

The presidential candidates want to be this kind of subject, knowing what is best for the financial and political realm. Yet if we are Christians who wear our “faith on our foreheads” recognizing our failings, how can we not help to see that there is no one who is “suppose to know” that it takes us a community of self-reflecting people who now more than ever need the dialectic and each other to create a more just world.

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