Anarchism, Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology

theologians don’t fear atheists, it’s actually bodies

“When incarnation figures in the basic theological premises of faith, the body’s complicated implication in divinity cannot be wholly spiritualized or wholly denied. Put another way, the body–bodies–always return to disrupt theological attempts at containment.” – Beyond Monotheism by Laurel Schneider

Yuta Onoda illustrated a first-person article for The Progressive by a woman married to a transgender man.

Yuta Onoda illustrated a first-person article for The Progressive by a woman married to a transgender man.

Bodies cause most theologians to tremble.* Systematic theology books ignore the subject of bodies altogether; instead, emphasize subjects such as christology, eschatology, and ecclesiology. These books demonstrate the stagnation of doctrines because bodies cannot be contained. They are ever changing, moving, losing and gaining cells, dying, breathing, crying, bleeding, and being birthed. No essence can be found here.

Nonetheless, philosophers and theologians love to discuss human nature. The idea that somehow every human in the world has the same essence behind/beyond the body, that every human can be reduced to one thing. Chiefly, Protestant theologians cast human nature into the abyss of total depravity. In other words, humanity cannot do anything good unless it is the Divine through them who does it; albeit, crickets chirp on body discourse. Now there is nothing new or interesting here, yet when it comes  to social legislation, Conservative Christians demand sovereignty over health care and birth control, essentially women’s bodies. This cannot be re-worked until we start to have a theological discourse on bodies.

Moving to the biblical, the most important events we hear about in church concerning Jesus is those moments when he is silent. During Christmastime, we call Jesus king and lord, yet he can’t affirm or deny these titles because he can’t yet speak! Jesus, as a baby, cried, pooped, and was breastfed. There is nothing miraculous about this child, but we place such high attributes on this tiny one.

The next event we find Jesus is on the cross. With Jesus’ cross, we add massive theological depth to his experience. In total, out of all the Gospels, there are only seven statements made by Jesus while on the cross. We ignore his dying and bleeding body for atonement theories. This is true whether one adores the  moral influence theory or the penal substitution theory. Jesus endured and died in extreme suffering and all we can do is essentialize the event.

During Christmas week, I came home and attended my parents’  non-denominational Pentecostal church. I was saddened that the Christmas message of Jesus in a manger was overshadowed by a theological understanding of the cross. For example, the pastor would pray “Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to be born for us. He would soon grow up and die on a cross for our sins. In Christ’s name, Amen.” These theological assumptions reduce Jesus’ life to one thing, death on a cross. Similarly, one of my favorite artists, Williams Blake, seemed to have thought the same thing when he painted Nativity.

Nativity by William Blake

Bodies are dangerous to theological discourse and often ignored. My own body has been through the effects of lyme’s disease and gallbladder removal. No longer does my body fit into any kind of theological discourse because it does not have all of its parts. In Catholic Theology, Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” is more of a moral commentary on the body in social life, rather than something that addresses bodies. Bodies rupture theological and moral essences, and all for the better.

Let’s disrupt theological discourse from its binaries, contained essences, and Platonism for a contextual, radical, non-binary, and pro-love theology.

Won’t you join me?

*Queer and LGBTQQII+ theologians have embraced bodies in their fullness. One text I recommend, if you want to learn more about this subject, is Controversies in Body Theology edited by Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood. Any book from the Controversies series is wonderful and contains succinct, well-researched material.

Advent, Beliefs, Christainity, Politics, Scripture

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.