#BlackLivesMatter, Beliefs, Ecology, Justice

salvation: theology and theopoetry

Someone gave me some insight once in how to read theology: theologians only answer the questions asked. Augustine answered certain questions that we’re not asking today. The same is true for Death of God theologians and many contemporary theologians do not incorporate #BlackLivesMatter or push against transphobia in their theologies.

So why do we hold onto an outdated salvation narrative, when clearly we are not asking these same questions?

Jesus would have not understood this way of thinking about salvation.

Jesus would have not understood this way of thinking about salvation.

As Americans, we have been trained to hear a particular salvation story. God created the universe, placed people in a Garden, and had a close relationship with them. They sin by not obeying God and are cast out of the Garden and into the world, away from God. Because of them, the cosmos became tainted with sin and humanity totally deprived. Consequently, we cannot do anything good, unless God does it through us. To rescue us from this plight, God becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ and dies on a cross for our sins. And with this action, God’s anger is appeased and God loves us once again. If we recognize that Christ died for us, then we are forgiven, and will live with God forever after we die.

This is a nice logical framework, if one can call it that.

When church folk start to question this narrative, they either give up Christianity or are kicked out of the church. This happened to many of my friends in undergrad.

There are theopoets, like Catherine Keller, who present us with a possible alternative formulation: Jesus as a Parable and Deconstructor. Jesus does not allow our logic to be the final and last word, but disrupts theo-logic with parables and stories that reset our way of thinking, again and again. The common salvation narrative that I described above is not found on the lips of Jesus. Jesus preached that the basileia (commonwealth or kin-dom) of God was crashing to Earth and we should be ready. Not that Adam and Eve were the first sinners or that he would die on a cross to appease the FATHER’s anger.

Dr. Keller also writes elsewhere in On the Mystery, that salvation is rooted in the word ‘salve’ meaning ‘an ointment to promote healing’ or to ‘soothe.’ If understood like this, salvation is not found away from the world, but in it. Salvation happens when relationships are mended, when prisoners are released, and racism eradicated.

Christ’s life was full of salvation moments, not just his death and resurrection.

Ethiopian Jesus healing

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Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity, Queer Theology

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?

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Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology

oppression and the interconnectedness of all things

A conversation aroused in my house about a week ago after my roommate watched the film, Bidder 70. She brought up that we can get comfortable marching in protests, joining in on sit-ins, and supporting boycotts. Tim DeChristopher, Bidder 70, took creative risks to slow down the process of oil and natural gas fracking that was going to take over some beautiful and untouched land in Utah. DeChristopher’s activity had him in conflict with the US government and after nearly two years in prison, he was released two months ago. Found in a similar situation are three non-violent anti-nuclear weapon protestors in Nevada. Their charges have been escalating from violations to breaking federal laws. Thus changing their prison sentences from 6 months to more than 15 years! Empires throughout the centuries have used tactics like this, cutting off the head of leaders, to put fear into others who have the same concerns for justice. Catherine Keller authored a beautiful text titled On the Mystery in which she describes uses of power in this way:

We are radically interdependent, we are unbearably vulnerable to each other. We are in each other’s power. But power does not mean dominance. Power is manifest concretely in the flow of influence, the flow of me into your experience, of you into mine, by which we consciously and unconsciously affect each other. We may define power as the energy of influence: so it can be human or inhuman, benign or destructive. Power is that process whereby causal influence has effect: whereby any being has its effect on another (80).

interconnected

If power is neither inherently good or bad as Keller points out, how can we use our “energy of influence” to encourage good social and political change while those currently with more power use it for the sake of dominance and control? This question stumps me, but I do know that it must come from the bottom up rather than from the top. Those on the bottom struggle with what sociologists name interlocking oppressions. These oppressions look slightly different depending on what culture your located, but these are the people who have no power of influence because their voices are squashed by the powerful.

In the US, WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) males still make up the majority of the rich and powerful. The breakdown of categories or traits that are dependent on oppression and power include:  race, nationality, sexuality, gender, disability, and class. Of course, there can be several more factors that influence oppression, but these are much more systemic and prevalent ones in the US. Although, sociologists, rightly focus, on human persons in society, other oppressions exist beyond the person. These include the way that we treat animals, our earth-dwelling-fellows, and the Earth herself.

If Keller is right about the interconnectedness of all things, then this must be true for how we treat the Earth and other creatures. According to those who follow the changing climate of the Earth, those who will be most affected by melting ice and expanding oceans will not be the those in the US or China, but third world countries who do not aid in global warming. The ill effects of us overusing the Earth’s resources does not directly effect us, but “the least of these.” If this interrelatedness is found in oppressive structures then its opposite should be true. Mainly that structures of justice helps to lift up society in whatever way it is performed.  Thus, if we start constructing a new path for justice where the Earth is treated with dignity and respect, then may be we can treat others in the same way. Leonardo Boff, a liberation theologian, poses an interesting connexion in Francis of Assissi: A Model for Human Liberation in the form of a story of Franciscan Spirituality.

On one occasion, Brother Bonaventure, the gardener of the friary at the Portiuncula, climbing Mount Subasio with a brother from a faraway country, was asked what Franciscan spirituality is. Brother Bonaventure, a simple and very spiritual man, in a sweet voice made more so by his Umbrian accent, responded: “Franciscan spirituality is Saint Francis. And who is Saint Francis? It is enough to utter his name and everyone knows who he is. Saint Francis was a man of God. And because he was a man of God, he always lived what is essential. And so he was simple, courteous, and gentle with everyone, just like God.”

Later in the afternoon, Brother Bonaventure and a new brother walk out in a nearby field.

The brother from the faraway country discovers some mulberries, green and ripe, and he tastes them. “Why do you take the green mulberries, Brother?” interrupts Brother Bonaventure. “Don’t you see that they suffer? Would you cut someone down in the prime of life? Only when they are older do they offer themselves gladly for our enjoyment” (3).

Our culture is not simple. We have layers upon layers of technology, myths perpetuated to keep our conscience clear. We’re over-militarized and undereducated.  We cannot undo many of the mistakes that we have made here and around the world, but we can move forward to make sure that they never happen again. We can make sure that people are treated fairly at work in terms of wages and hours. That everyone should be treated with the great kindness and love. The Earth should not be polluted for items that are unnecessary anyway! We don’t need fracked water for the sake of job creation! Everything is interconnected! Let’s start acting like it.

Interconnected

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