Lent, Liberation Theology, Philosophy

on the cross hung jesus, the historical materialist

Holy Week opens the space for us to be sad, mad, and lonely. We can look to the blooded Christ, abandoned by his closest friends, and recognize that hope’s flame has been extinguished. Unfortunately, too many churches over-spiritualize the cross showing how Jesus knew the events surrounding his death. Even the letter to the Hebrews seems to say something similar: Jesus, “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). Through all the pain and anguish, Jesus knew, hanging there, that this was not going to last forever. Was the writer to the Hebrews saying that Jesus transcended pain altogether? I don’t know, but certainly the Gospels do not try to hide the flogging, crown of thorns, carrying a heavy cross up a hill at the weakness point of his life, then being hung and nailed to it. That’s just gruesome.

Jesus, according to the Gospels, was a victim of history. 

It matters that he is seen as such.

Between the two world wars, Walter Benjamin lived as a Jew in Europe. He was interested in art, culture, history, politics, literature, philosophy, and theology. And they were never separate categories for him, but would mixed together into beautiful essays and theses. In his famous “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” he wrote that each generation has a “weak Messianic force” (Thesis II). We have the power to remember the victims of history. He commanded Historical Materialists to “brush history against the grain” of the elite and victors (Thesis VII). As well, we cannot understand time linearly as the “beads of a rosary,” but that we must “establish a conception of the present as the “time of the now” which is shot through with chips of Messianic time” (Thesis XVIII A). In other words, when we remember, recall, re-historicize the victims of history, we are giving them another chance in the present. In this way, we are weak Messiahs because its only the Messiah(s) who can re-member these victims, to restore their bodies and lives.

When the criminal hanging next to Jesus on the cross asks him to remember him, he’s asking Jesus to become a Historical Materialist. He’s asking him to not let the victors dominate the story. He’s asking Jesus to not forget him, to not forget those who have been killed by the Empire, to re-vive his life through stories although it may be nothing compared to world history.

It matters how we remember the victims of history, whether it’s Jesus, Michael Brown, the Trail of Tears, Laura and L.D. Nelson, Andy Lopez, Aiyana Jones, and the millions more oppressed through slavery, colonization, and killed by the powers-that-be.

Let us remember them that we might change the present. 

Standard
#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

Standard
#StayWokeAdvent, Christmas

the politics of christmas zine

Recently, I helped host an event with the Poverty Initiative titled The Politics of Christmas and the Roman Empire. We sang Christmas songs, snacked on Christmas cookies, sipped hot chocolate, and learned how the birth narratives of Jesus are counter to the Roman Empire’s ideology. Once we finish the curriculum for the program, I will post it on black flag theology.

The one exception is that I am finished with the zine I made for the event. Here it is:

Christmas zine (reading)

Christmas zine (printing)

Enjoy!

cat in a manger secene

Standard
Christainity, Liberation Theology, Politics, Prison Industrial Complex

politicizing neighbor-love

When Christians separate the notion of neighbor-love from politics and they lay claim to universal Christian love, the neighbor-love becomes impotent in the world. When the rhetoric of neighbor-love becomes an apoliticized affirmation of love and life, the neighbor-love can be meaningless and even dangerous because it romanticizes love while ignoring thanatopolitics (politics of death) that turns the undesired, the undocumented, the unwelcome into bare life–a being without any kind of protection.

– Cosmopolitan Theology: Reconstituting Planetary Hospitality, Neighbor-Love- and Solidarity in an Uneven World by Namsoon Kang, pp. 118

neighbor

This depoliticized picture is not loving one’s neighbor.

Standard
Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity

radical summa: christianity and anarchism

Question: Can a Christian associate herself/himself with anarchism?*

Objection 1.“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1,2 NRSV) Thus, God, sovereign over all, should be trusted with whom God grants power over particular nations and peoples. To resist authority means to resist God.

Objection 2. Further, in the Hebrew Scriptures, Israel and Judah celebrated and respected their kings when they followed God. Anarchism rejects leadership of any kind for the will of local groups and individuals. The People of God have trusted God for their leadership. To reject leadership is to reject God’s will.

Objection 3. Further, Christianity cannot assume other ideologies. The Christian Scriptures present the only ideology that a Christian can bear. To allow other ideologies to corrupt a Christian’s conscience and way of life forfeits one’s religion and relationship with Jesus.

On the contrary, Studying the history of Christianity, one can gather that there are as many Christianities as ideologies. In the genesis of the Christian church, many of the members were platonists or neo-platonists ( Augustine, Tertullian, Justin Martyr). As history pursued, Thomas Aquinas adhered to Aristotelianism.Then, scholars in the Renaissance critiqued medieval scholarship, which  John Calvin and Martin Luther included in their theological works.

Fast-forward to today, we are products of our culture and environment. This is inescapable. There is no such thing as a pure Christianity. We choose what ideas, actions, and people to pursue and trust.

I answer that, There is no contradiction between anarchism and Christianity. Christianity is moldable and changeable as much as anarchism. It is possible for them to fit well together. With an extremely joyous and resounding Yes! I commend Christians to be open to other possibilities of political, economic, and social allegiances. The Gospel of Christ is formable, shakeable, and able to participate in most ideologies. Anarchism is an important ideology because it subverts the status quo, battles Empires, and casts down leadership for the sake of consensus. In association with Christianity, which for its early history, did all of these same things as well as practiced non-violence. Thus, Christianity and anarchism is not a contradiction, but a beautiful partnership.

Reply to Objection 1. Paul’s theological and ethical advice in Romans 13 may have been a standard for the church in Rome; although, we do not know this for certain. Yet, Paul did not follow his own teaching! Paul and his friends called Jesus king (Acts 17:7), which mocks political and religious authorities. As well, Paul faced much adversity for preaching the Gospel, which is anti-Roman Empire and was tortured for it (2nd Corinthians 11:23-29). Hence, Paul believe it was far more important to stand for one’s beliefs in another world than to blindly obey the Roman Empire.

Reply to Objection 2. Before kings ruled Israel and Judah, there were judges. From 1200-1000 BCE, judges fought for justice in the land. They were the ones who killed or stopped other tribe’s military and political leaders. When confronted with the idea of a king to rule over all the tribes in Israel a theopoetic exclamation emerged with the “Parable of the Trees” (Judges 9:8-15).* The “Parable of the Trees” demonstrates the multi-vocal nature of Scripture. The Hebrews did not always have kings. They were sometimes not happy when they did have a king. Before Israel’s first king Saul, God proclaimed that God did not want them to have one (1 Samuel 8). Thus, social and political hierarchy cannot be placed on God or Scripture as tradition.

My Kin-dom Is Not of This World

*Those unfamiliar with Thomas Aquinas’ style in the Summa Theologica, this post may seem odd. New Advent has the full Summa for those wanting to further investigate.

** It is one of two parables in Hebrew Bible, the other told to David by the prophet Nathan (2nd Samuel 12:1-6) concerning the rape of Bathsheba. Resistance in Scripture always finds creative means.

Standard
Christainity, Philosophy, Politics

poets against the status quo

Perhaps––who knows––He tires of looking down.
Those eyes are never lifted. Never straight.
Perhaps sometimes He tires of being great
In solitude. Without a hand to hold.

– the last stanza of “The Preacher: Ruminates Behind the Sermon” by Gwendolyn Brooks

In Plato’s Republic, poets were only welcome if they wrote praises to the gods. No verses of a new world with creatures found in children’s dreams. Or of new thoughts on ordinary objects. Poems had one purpose: to keep the citizens on the straight and narrow. Many other totalitarian governments have used similar tactics, including North Korea with their songs and poems directed toward their dictator. Restraining creativity has been one of the biggest jobs of the Empire or State. Other than holding citizens in debt, or demanding that they conform to Empire ideology, they keep us under constraints of the mundane.

The creative spirit does at times spring up like a flower in the concrete. I have seen this happen at protests, on yarnbombed trees in cities, and at an occasional potluck. Sadly, creativity in churches overall has dwindled to nil, if it was ever there. The words of Scripture too have been domesticated. Forcing it to be read as a devotional book. Scripture has potential for liberation, love, creativity, and transformation. Yet, for the last 200 years the interpretive keys unlock only the literal or extremely basic historical understanding.

Let me present another possible view of Deuteronomy:

During the reign of Josiah, the priests find one of Moses’ book stored away (wink wink). They bring it before the king, and he tells the people that they are going to live by it. That’s not even the interesting part. (The majority of the Torah was not written until the Exile and after.) Fast forward to the high point of the historical critical era, early 1800’s. Scholars, specifically W.M.L de Wette, discover that Deuteronomy resembles  an Assyrian vassal treaty. These treaties were placed in sacred sites of tribute paying countries.

In ancient Judah, after 722 BCE and before 600 BCE, when one would walk into the Temple in Jerusalem, one would see the Assyrian treaty describing in theo-political terms what Assyria and its king wanted from your country. This would include taxes, tributes, and other Empire building measures. Directly beside it, in rebel-like fashion was the book of Deuteronomy, telling Judah what God wanted from them! The decision was easy for the people entering the Temple whose law they were going to abide. Thus, one can come to the conclusion, as I have, that Deuteronomy is a theo-politcal book, written in honor of Moses and against the Assyrian Empire. God is the one who freed them from slavery under the hand of the Egyptians. The very opposite of the Assyrian king who enslaves them with taxes and tributes. For this reason, its Ten Commandments describe God as Liberator.

When I first found this information out in my historiography class of Ancient Judah and Israel, I raised my hand to ask how long after was this view forgotten. In other words, when did this book become something other than resistance literature and into something sacred and revered? After one generation, my professor responded! Wow! This resistance text was domesticated in a matter of forty years.

It’s the poets and the prophets who have the greatest memory. They remember the history of suffering and dream of liberation. They hope when all hope is lost. They are on the front lines fighting for a new world, where justice will reign, and people will be treated dignity. Where schools will have enough funding, and homelessness no longer exists. We need them more than ever and they are us! We must be the dreamers, schemers, poets, and prophets. King, X, Romero, Daly, Williams left us with gigantic shoes to fill.

Resistance literature doesn’t write itself, nor depending on others to march in Washington for us. Embodying love is not an easy task, but if we slow down, it could end in one generation.

MLK first step

Standard
Beliefs, Christainity, LGBTQI+, Philosophy

radical theology and the lgbtqi+ community (part three): theological methods

(This is the final installment for the series concerning the lgbtqi+ community and radical theology. My goal was to demonstrate a new approach and way of thinking when it comes to the Christian Scripture and the affirmation and welcoming of the lgbtqi+ community.)

U.S. mainline denominations (Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians etc.) possess broad methods for thinking theologically. Methodists come equipped with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. Episcopalians and Presbyterians have a similar method, but use different illustrations. Yet, still many denominations in the U.S. say that they only depend on Scripture or sola scriptura  as their main source of theological understanding! This, of course, does not leave room for a historical/traditional discourse about the interpretation of Scripture and the events that happened pre-Protestant reformation.  As I wrote in the first post in this series, it is impossible to listen to only one voice in the Scriptures, and not acknowledge the other voices that contradict or oppose it.

What we need are new hermeneutical methods for Scriptures or to re-discover recent, yet discarded ways of critical theory. This would be methods and ideas from deconstruction to Marxist reading and certainly feminist and queer readings of tradition and Scripture. Postmodern Philosopher and Theologian David Tracy points out:

“The great creative individuals–thinkers, artists, heroes, saints–found themselves, impelled to find new ways to interpret an experience that their culture or tradition seemed to unable to interpret well or even at all.” (Plurality and Ambiguity, pg. 7)

Today, we face our own crises in our churches and discerning how to approach the lgbtqi+ community. From the mainline traditions, the Episcopal church has affirmed that they will urge Congress members to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Episcopalians also are very public with their welcoming and affirming stances and had the first Bishop who was openly gay in 2003. In July at the Presbyterian Church of the USA General Assembly same-sex marriage affirmation was rejected, nevertheless by a narrow vote. Three years ago, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America allowed openly gay clergy members to serve. Still countless Christian denominations either do not speak about this subject, such as churches who do not have much power in the public sphere or they have stances that oppose even the idea of same-sex partners.

One of my concerns with congregations that have strict restrictions concerning same-sex relationships is that they do not know anyone in the lgbtqi+ community that practices Christianity. News outlets portray the lgbtqi+ community as ultra-radicals trying to subvert the very culture of the U.S. Yet, if the only information that we collect and experience comes from a TV/computer screen, our perception counts for not much. As humans we interpret everything at all times. Sometimes we get those things right, like when the popcorn stops popping and it is still on the stove, I am going to take it off and not leave it on there to burn.

With the lgbtqi+, we have neglected dialogue and conversation, instead we place our own perceptions on them. The greatest thing that I did intentionally was to attend a church that serves the lgbtqi+ community. I thought going into the experience was a church that would call God  father/mother and that would have song with progressive lyrics. Instead, the experience felt very close to my Pentecostal upbringing. We sang 90’s worship songs. Sure the pastor was gay and most of the congregants were in same-sex relationships, but talking with them after the service, they were much more theologically conservative than I. There was even an altar call at the end of the service.

The challenge for us now and in the future will be how we will experience faith. How can we not allow anyone who wants to follow God in the way of Jesus to come to church? Theology must go beyond, but also include Scripture, yet if the cultural context of Scripture does not fit within our own experiences, it is hard to only focus on Scripture. The Wesleyan quadrilateral could be helpful for understanding the theology. For instance, my experience with the lgbtqi+ has been delightful, I know several people part of that community who follow Jesus. The Scriptures are faithful to “loving God and loving neighbor,” therefore my harsh judgments against those who have not persecuted anyone and find themselves as the underdogs must not be forced into more oppression. Depending on one’s reading of the Christian tradition, it could go either way. For the church in the East, John Chrysostom denounces homosexuality in the 400’s. Yet, a non-issue about homosexuality was Augustine’s approach. To reiterate, the ancients thought of homosexuality was more of a sexual act more than a relationship between two persons of the same sex. It was about dominant power rather than mutual love. Lastly, a reasonable theological conclusion must submit to the fact that Christianity and same-sex relationships are certainly compatible.

Standard