Beliefs, Christainity, Liberation Theology, Scripture

god as stranger/kin

During my teen years, it was drilled into me that we need to believe that Jesus is both Lord and Savior. One is not a true believer if they only accept Jesus as one of those titles. I later found out that my pastor learned this doctrinal idea from the popular Reformed fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur. The sovereignty that MacArthur and my pastor were attributing to God was huge! God is a perfect Being, erring never, and everything that happens in the world is according to God’s perfect will. God’s purpose is present everywhere working in all created beings. God’s world is an orchestra playing together for God’s own purposes. Although we may feel that the violin in our own lives is out of tune on earth, God can only hear beautiful music.

The doctrine of God’s sovereignty frightens and haunts me. It has the capability to mean that humans do not have agency, but are puppets. Yet, we are oblivious to being a puppet. Thank God, the Christian tradition has several strains of resistance. Although, most of the early Christians who had a weaker version of sovereignty were deemed heretical that seems to be beside the point. Since even Tertullian and Origen were considered heretical, yet we read and praise their works today.

The alternative approach to a hierarchical sovereignty is to view God as Stranger/kin. These terms are opposite in meaning, but lead to the same engagement of God. First, God/She as stranger presents us with the divine as event*. God moves in the world, shaking it up, and on an individual level transforming us. Bringing together Moltmann and Derrida, God/She is the event that can only demonstrate love. In relation to human strangers, they are always the Other, not having any known relationship to the self. The stranger’s only commonality is their humanness. They have unlimited options in how they can approach us: ignore, high-five, scream, steal, etc. This can cause anxiety when we exit our comforting homes to unknown experiences. God as stranger acts in similar ways. We are shaken when we surrender our self ambitions to the ways of God/Her, which are justice and peace. Flannery O’Connor had it right, when she wrote “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.  They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

The stranger represents God/Her well in the Christian Scriptures. God always walks among the people. For example, in Luke’s narrative on the walk to Emmaus, Jesus the stranger walks with the two disciples and is revealed in a transformative moment at the breaking of the bread. This event changed the way these early disciples saw the world, that it was through the breaking of bread among other followers of the Way can we find Jesus among us. God/She also gave visions and dreams to people that effected them deeply. One does not expect such things, but they come mysteriously without warning. God/She penetrates the world and everything therein, transforming it through unexpected measures. The most prominent example with dreams happend to Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, when God changed Peter’s view of the ontological position of Gentiles. The only sovereignty that God/She as stranger has comes not with how we as people are transformed, but how God surprises as event.

While God as stranger seems disconnected to anything personal, God/She as kin presents divinity as personal. As I like different theologies, I have read several positions on God as personal. Of course, I am not speaking of Jesus or God as our personal Savior, but the way that liberation and feminist thealogions speak of the divine, as God as sufferer, lover, and kin. Or as one of my favorite feminist metaphorical thealogions Sallie McFague wrote “God as mother, lover, and friend.” God/She as personal practically does not look like God/She speaking with us or demonstrating miracles (though it is hard for me to deny either of those). Personal should sound more like personality. God has particular movements, and moments that She is present. During times of tragedy  God/She comforts and suffers with those who are involved. God is present with those who are fighting for a better world. We may not feel God, but God/She is present. Kin denies the hierarchical/above position for an equal/with one.

Elizabeth Johnson Cross Quote

In conclusion, as the death of God theologians taught us that God is no longer in heaven, but on the Earth, I agree, but take it one step further. God is present and personal, suffering, and loving us as we move toward liberation, justice and peace. It is with our God that justice to come becomes the justice that is. In the name of God/She that stands in solidarity with the oppressed, guides the rejected to love, and the feeds the poor by the works of Her children. Amen!

*a moment that transforms the way we see the world. For Derrida, “Deconstruction takes place, it is an event.” Speaking theologically, God as the event shows that those weak moments in our lives pulsate the divine. If you want to read about this further read The Weakness of God by John Caputo.

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Christainity, Liberation Theology, Spiritual

the compassion of the christ: taking christian theology seriously for the sake of society

In God of the Oppressed, Dr. James H. Cone shares a story about a white preacher in the South who encouraged his black congregants in his sermon to follow the new Jim Crow laws through an eschatological narrative. The white preacher declared that in the middle of Heaven there will be a partition separating blacks from whites, just like the water fountains, movie theaters, etc. The response from the congregants to the preacher came from the usher who prayed over the offering plate before the collection. This brave man prayed how thankful he is that his black sisters and brothers are a shoutin’ people and if there is a partition in Heaven that they will shout it down until it falls. And further he prayed if the white people in Heaven do not like it, they can go somewhere else (19,20).

This story draws near to my heart nowadays. Not much has changed since this story took place during the 18th century. Instead of having overtly institutionalised racism with slavery and Jim Crow laws; we have a tolerant racism that gives way for the prison industrial complex and allows for people to murder young people of color out of fear and without any immediate repercussions.* Currently, Neo-Nazis are preparing for a race riot in Florida, so that the whites are protected.

Who says we live in a post-racial society? Not I.

The way we practice theology reflects our lives. For example, Flannery O’Connor was known for her Catholic faith, short stories, and grotesque characters. She spent her life in the South and considered herself a Thomist. Her short stories were infused with messages of faith and forgiveness. At the end of her famous short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the protagonist grandmother tells the antagonist, Misfit, that Jesus forgives:

“If you would pray,” the old lady said, “Jesus would help you.”

“That’s right,” The Misfit said.

“Well then, why don’t you pray?” she asked trembling with delight suddenly.

“I don’t want no help,” he said. “I’m doing all right by myself.”

The Misfit doesn’t and the story ends on a sour note. My point here is that O’Connor’s story portrays the Catholic life. Yet, her faith has little to do with her inherent racism. Sure, she had stories about people of color in the South, but they were not always cast in the best light i.e. “The Artificial N*****”.

The other week, I read many of O’Connor’s letters compiled in a book titled “The Habit of Being.” Flannery wrote a letter on April 14th to Richard Stern, a few months before her death. It reads, “It ain’t much, but I am able to take nourishment and participate in a few Klan rallies” (573). What?!? Flannery O’Connor was associated with the KKK, one of the most racist groups in the U.S. Yes, she was. How did this happen? How can a Christian dedicated to following Jesus fall into the trap of hating Black people who have been oppressed in our society since white people stole them from Africa? Thus, my point is: I believe theology, whether it is Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc. affects the way we “live and move and have our being.”

Dr. Cone makes the distinction in how christology is taught and preached in the Black church compared to the white church. Once again in God of the Oppressed, Dr. Cone writes

“White preachers and theologians often defined Jesus Christ as a spiritual Savior, the deliver of people from sin and guilt, black preachers were unquestionably historical. They viewed God as the Liberator in history. That was why the black Church was involved in the abolitionist movement in the nineteenth century and the civil rights movement in the twentieth” (51).

O’Connor did not have a theology “from below,” but “from above.” God has eternal Ideals and abides in an ahistorical place. Thus, one can conclude that God is not so much concerned with our contextual existence, but that we must live up to God’s expectations. It was easy for O’Connor to do, since she was born in a well-to-do white family in the South and was able to practice Catholicism to almost its full extent, according to bourgeois religion.

I reject “from above” theology, situated in a privileged position. Instead, I try to form a “from below” theology, that many oppressed groups from the centuries have developed. This could be defined that God is here with and for us. God is involved in history and seeks to redeem all of history.

In the Christian tradition, God sent Christ to teach, have compassion (to suffer with), die on a cross, and resurrect, thus beginning the redemption of the world. God still suffers with us as God’s Spirit who shows “mercy, justice, and the knowledge of God” (God the Spirit**). If God is with us declaring justice, then to actively participate and ignore systematic racism is contradictory. And until we recognise that our liberation is latticed with the liberation of others, we can not have a better theology nor a better society.

If Jesus’ death and resurrection represent anything, it is that God is on the side of the oppressed. Yet God desires to redeem both, oppressor and oppressed. If we could help this process along, it would to be intentional in how we live with others. The famous Peruvian liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez wrote, “Neighbor is not one whom I find in my path, but rather one in whose path I place myself, one whom I approach and actively seek.” May we be a people who with God’s Spirit actively seek to be neighborly to all.

*Here I am expressing that justice does not equate to law and vice versa. We have a corrupt system that at times all can see, in the case of Trayvon Martin, it is apparent. Yet the contradiction immerses with Malcolm X, and without his time in jail to reflect and accept the belief system of the Nation of Islam, he would not have made a radical stand against the racial injustices that permeate in our society.

**I just finished this text for a class and found it to be the best systematic theology for God’s Spirit. Michael Welker, the writer, uses a framework of liberation theology and shows how God’s Spirit is a “force field of change and hope.”

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