Liberation and Telos

Great post by a great friend.

Indecent Theology

IT-Democracy

“[Liberation] is just a word, when the people are starving.”

What is the point of theology? We in theological education are tested in nearly every way about the history of the Christian Church, where our hands should be when we preach, what Tillich said about courage, and on and on. Much of this is useful for the contextualizing of ourselves, the people we will be working with, the history of our churches, and institutions. However, what do we hope to do with this? Much of what I experienced in my undergraduate education did not have an eye for what theology might mean for people who are ‘outside’ the fold of Christianity, and thus many of the questions that we raised were about how exactly to square the idea that Jesus is both human and divine, that there are three Persons of the Trinity, yet only one nature, and on.

Liberation…

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Theologically Imagining via Comic Books

Typically comic books and theology sound odd together in conversation. They represent two separate camps; one’s stationed beyond the trees in the land of pop-culture and superheroes. While the other is found amongst the cloud-covered mountains. And never the twain shall meet. This summer I sunk my teeth deep into the comic book cosmos. And after some exploration, I understand comic writers, artists, and producers as theologians. Comic books construct theology with intricate eschatologies, varying cosmologies, and present us with new paradigms to fathom the divine.

But before I dive into some detail about comics, I must confess I am not a fan of the comic philistines, Marvel and DC Comics*. Their ontological and eschatological perception is shallow, to say the least. Rather, I hone in on comic publishers, which allow for creator ownership, i.e. Image, Dark Horse, and Boom!. These publishers allow for artists and writers to go their own creative direction. This also allows for variance in styles, characters, and universes, unlike Marvel and DC.

SagaMy absolute favorite series is Image Comics’ Saga. It takes place during a galactic war and recounts the story of a little mixed-breed girl (a horned head and a wingéd back) named Hazel and her family. Her parents, Alana, who is part of the wingéd colonizer planet, fell in love with Marko,  a colonized magical horned moonie.** The first issue, Alana, beautifully, bearing all, gives birth to Hazel. And thus begins the journey of this sci-fi Romeo and Juliet hiding from their respective planetpeoples. Along the way, we meet bounty hunters, a planet of sex-workers, and creatures with computer monitor as heads. This is certainly not your parent’s comic book.

At the 2014 San Diego Comic Con, Saga not only won 3 Eisner awards, which is the highest achievement in the comic book world, but they hosted a stellar panel. The writer Brian Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples discussed how Saga began. During Brian’s first discussion with Fiona about the characters, he objected to another redhead in space claiming there are just too many in science fiction. Fiona replied by asking why do the characters need to be white? The outcome of that conversation is the current series with the majority of the cast with darker skin and an array of hair and body types. For Fiona, the future is not made up of only white people like such recent sci-fi films as Lucy or Her portray. Rather, the future, like the present, is full of many diverse populations, creatures, and hopes.

MoltmannSimilarly, Jürgen Moltmann claimed in his magnum opus, Theology of Hope, “Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present” (pg. 16). Or simply put, “Who controls the past now, controls the future. Who controls the present now, controls the past,” as sung by Rage Against the Machine. The ways in which we construct our eschatology determines how we treat others and the Earth now.

For instance, premillennial dispensationalists believe God will one day rapture those who declare Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and for the next seven years God will torture those left behind and torch the Earth. For them, if God is already going to destroy the Earth, then they should not be concerned about her fate today. Sadly, many congresspersons and businesses have jumped on board secularizing and Americanizing this idea allowing them to destroy our Earth. But we cannot give up hope!

Because science fiction, normally, orients future-forward, they have the opportunity to breathe new life and vision. The question for religious institutions, then, is how can we understand a beautiful future and participate in that future now? And this is where comics can lend a hand. Comic artists and writers can guide us in broadening our theological imagination.

Here are a few tips for theologically imagining:

There are no theological crossing guards!

In the Christian Scriptures we read “with God all things are possible.” And this phrase is found in different contexts throughout the Gospels (Matt 19:26, Luke 1:37, Mark 10:27) that it can be a broad framework for how it was being used. Could this mean that all things are possible with God including disrupting the laws of physics? Possibly. Or it could also mean a world where no one is hungry or has to live on the streets? I sure do hope so. Unfortunately, our religious institutions have not stretched their theological imagination. Many of the same cataphatic dogmas have not changed for centuries. Yet, no one is stopping us from crossing into new theological territory.

Humans are part of creation, not the end of all creation.

Genesis 1 beautifully describes that when God had finished creating, God saw that all of creation was very good. This does not mean that it was humanity that made creation especially good, rather its fullness made it very good. This breaks a crack in our normalized anthropocentric theology and helps us to imagine and include non-humans. We can start to imagine new theologies of tigers, otters, and iguanas. We can theologize with clouds, volcanos, and bumblebees. Or even soaring in the Milky Way and beyond with planetary theologies of galaxies, black holes, and quarks. No-thing is the limit!

We are shaped by our surroundings, and shape our surroundings.

Our mere presence changes group dynamics, neighborhoods, churches, and the room. This gives us the chance to inspire new thoughts, to sing new songs, and change ourselves and the world for the better. Although, we need be conscious in our participation in creating these spaces within ourselves for transformation.

Better futures could arise with dialogue between comic books artists/writers and theologians.

I’m ready!

space

*There are exceptions including Ms. Marvel (2014) and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
**He lives on a moon colony adjacent to the colonizing planet.

People’s Climate March and Hermeneutics

I’ll admit it: I’m a hermeneutics fanatic. Whenever I enter a bookstore, I head straight for the literary criticism section. There is something enthralling thumbing through Roland Barthes’ Mythologies, Edward Said’s postcolonial criticism of Jane Eyre‘s madwoman in the attic, and the overweight, almost 3,000 page, Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. I am fascinated about the different ways one can read a text and the world.

And it’s not like this is a new phenomena. Writers and critics alike have been reading and re-reading texts for centuries coming to different conclusions. For instance, in my Sunday School class, ages 6-13, I wanted to give them a hermeneutical key to read Scripture. I offered what I called a good news model, i.e. looking for good news in every passage. After explaining it, the first question posed was why we think Jesus’ death on the cross is good news? This third grader said that it sounds like bad news. I couldn’t help but agree. A man dying/dead on a cross plastered all over our churches is not good news. The good news, I explained, is God raising Jesus from the dead. God redeemed what was made deplorable. God transformed the pitiful and made right what Roman Empire deemed wrong. That’s Good News. And in a different context, I would have explained something more nuanced.

This weekend I participated in the People’s Climate March in NYC. It was hermeneutical heaven. Everyone with a sign, unless it was massively reproduced, had a varying lens in which to approach Climate Change.

fracking: little economic gain counts for nothing if you’re destroying the Earth and you can’t drink the water.

veganism: against factory farming, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest for grazing land for cows

anti-capitalism: Global Capitalism casts a deadly shadow across the whole world. it will take, borrow, and steal anything, and re-directs climate justice discussion to neo-liberal laws

personal reasons: guilt for voting and registering as Republican (saw a sign reading, “Ashamed Republican”), concern for one’s grandchildren

Climate change

It’s these various anthems that make marches great. And even if we don’t have the same platform, we can still chant, sing, and march together. And this happens everyday and is concentrated in religious worship services. Not all United Methodists congregants interpret Scripture or even the hymns the same way. The same can be said for Muslims reciting the Qur’an, Jews singing Torah, or Hindus interpreting their sacred texts.

So what can we take away with different hermeneutical perspectives? First, that we shouldn’t make sweeping assumptions about groups of people or even individuals about the way they view the world or read. Second, humanity and the cosmos are full of contradictions, blind spots, and missteps. No one approach will be perfect, it may be complete, but never perfect. Lastly, that one should explore other traditions, while at the same time going deeper in their own. In this way, one can show respect toward others and are able to articulate their own hermeneutical lens.

Interpreting texts and the cosmos should life-giving and not a burden.

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?

Hoping against hope: God, weak-bodies, and Pentecost

“Hoping against hope … [Abraham] did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.” (Romans 4:18a, 19 NRSV)

Few body theologians consider Paul’s contribution to a theology of the body. When surveying the Pauline corpus, several texts prominently construct a theological anthropology focused on the body. In Paul’s letter to Galatia, he informs believers of three gospels, “the circumcised,” “the foreskin,”(2:7) and a “contrarian gospel” (1:8). In this way, Paul associates the Gospel message with the body–whether one is a circumcised Jew who still practices the Law or a Gentile believer following Christ–these Gospels cannot be separated from one’s body. From bodies, communities develop, and with it, a new ethics of eating and relating to neighbors. Bodies must be the genesis of any theology.

Controlling bodies is fundamental to all Empires. These dominant forces enslave bodies, transplant bodies, and control weak-bodies through the use of militarized strong-bodies. While the Romans were Empire-building, propagandists wrote the Priene Inscription concerning Caesar Augustus. The inscription transcends body-talk and depicts a hope that the Emperor has brought to all people of the Empire. It commends Augustus for putting an end to war and bringing order to chaos. Moreover, it explains that all people shall find hope in Caesar Augustus, even after his death. Roman imperial theology supported Caesar in making himself a god through stealing bodies to conquer the world.

In this context, Paul, a missionary to the Gentiles, wrote to the early followers of Christ in Rome. In a particular re-working of the Abrahamic narrative in Genesis 18, Paul discusses a hope beyond hope found in Abraham’s faith. In the Hebrew text, when the mysterious men told Abraham that Sarah would conceive a child (Gen. 18:10), Sarah laughs at the prospects of bearing a child at her old age (18:12). When Paul describes the scenario, Abraham’s body is first introduced. Although, his body was “as good as dead,” his body was not yet rotting, life was ready to spring forth, and his faith was strong.

In this way, Paul points against and beyond Augustus’ “hope.” God works with/in/through the weak-bodied and marginalized. Paul used the example of Abraham for his readers to embrace a theology of weak-bodies. If even the founder of their faith trusted in God’s promise, why can’t the communities who find themselves on the margins of the Empire, find the same kind of hope? This is in complete contrast to the hope perpetuated by the Roman Empire, which was founded on the false pretenses that Caesar Augustus created peace and order. With this false narrative in mind, readers and hearers of the epistle were encouraged to hope against the very hope they were told to believe in and to dismantle the Roman Empire’s theology, for a theology in which God is on the side of the downtrodden.

Transplanting the letter to the Romans into our context, followers of Christ ‘hope against hope’ in the face of global capitalism and amidst ecological crisis. Recently, new studies report on the dire health of the Earth. The future looks worrisome for the creatures of Earth because of humanity’s overconsumption of natural resources and pollution. Over the past twenty years, the effects of global warming have landed on the shores of the Third World with more famines, tsunamis, and hurricanes. These “acts of God” were caused by the Rich’s idolatrous god, Almighty Capitalism. But how can the Christ community keep “hoping against hope” when the future’s only horizon consists of the globalization metanarrative? Since we are entrenched in the wiles of capitalist ideology, where could there be new breakthroughs of alternative economics, politics, and social structures?

The answer to these questions, I believe, is found within this verse. When faced with overwhelming devastation, we must hold onto a hope that shatters beyond all hope. We must belong to communities that strive for alternatives to the metanarratives that cast a long shadow across the world. Since God sides and works through weak-bodies, we too must side with the abused, the neglected, those without a voice, and the downtrodden. God’s power  pulsates hope through weakness throughout the world.

Lastly, and most important for celebrating Pentecost, it was the weak-bodies who uttered the radical grace found in the Gospel. It was not the most powerful! The listeners in the narrative even made fun of the social location of the tongue-speakers and believed they were drunk. After all, isn’t the bible full of rejects, losers, and weak-bodies? Even when characters gain power, they use it for the wrong reasons, e.g. David and Solomon. It’s not in the wealthy-plump-bodies that we find salvation, for one day they will be hungry (Luke 6:25).

God chose (and chooses) what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to no-thing things that are (1 Cor. 1:28).

 

The Holy Spirit Arrives

 

God as Trinity or why we should care for the Earth and others

All theology is constructed–whether the theologian realizes it or not–s/he is writing a constructed theology. In other words, the context of the theologian echoes in her or his theological constructs. For example, James Cone’s theology of black liberation focuses on the liberation of oppressed black persons in the US. In A Theology of Black Liberation, Cone writes that “the Holy Spirit is the spirit of the Creator and the Redeemer at work in the forces of human liberation in our society today. In America, the Holy Spirit is the black persons making decisions about their togetherness, which means making preparation for an encounter with whites” (64). Cone grounds his theology in the black experience in the US, which has an atrocious history of slavery, rape of black women, lynching, and incarceration. Yet, Cone finds eschatological hope in the God of Liberation in the Scriptures and in the Spirituals.

Since all theology is constructed this means that no theology is universal, all is particular. Thus, like Cone, I wanted to write my own theology and so I start with the Trinity:

Eternal, yet ever immanent, God dwells as Trinity– God the Source, Jesus the Word and the Sustaining Spirit. For eternity, or how our hearts hyperbolize infinitude, God in relation with God’s self was and is in community. God in community has radical implications. If God made humanity in God’s likeness, as the opening poem of Genesis declares, then we too are communal internally and externally. We have voices, intuitions, and a conscience all within our single being: we are a multitude. Externally, we need other people to be ourselves. Humans have traditions that we lean on including family, religious communities, etc. that we inherit with our birth. This same co-dependent existence revealed in the Trinity continues in human relations.

This Triune Diversity encompasses perichoresis as well, in which God is unified in God’s diverse members. Hence, the Trinity shows us that Love holds everything together even when its parts differ. For social and political praxis, perichoresis gives the ideal for polyculture farming methods, multiculturalism, and generalist studies and so on.

The multiplicity of God opens us to understand God in a fuller way. The present dilemma, as theologian Elizabeth Johnson writes “dead metaphors make strong idols.” The rich metaphor of the Trinity, in Christian history, has been reduced to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” It must be reworked for new generations to find faith and hope in the Plural and Multiplicities of the Divine.

Trinity
“The Hospitality of Abraham” by Andrei Rublev

Praying for Peace in Syria and Around the World

Pope Francis called the church and the world to pray for peaceful resolutions in Syria. Indeed, the world needs more people to focus on peace and non-violent solutions. For my class, Revelation: Economy, Ecology, and Empire, the first assignment given was to read all of Revelation and figure out who the writer believes to be the righteous heros or the villains. As I read through it tonight, I was disturbed by the role angels play. Of course, it is an angel who guides John through the vision, but angels also release the horrible seven seals. One moment, angels praise God in all the tapestry and in the next, angels are sending locust to destroy 1/3 of plant life.

For political and military interventions, the US has always played the dual role of these angels. We can send good medical aid to people around the world, and have people who would sacrifice anything for peace. Yet, concurrently, we promote victory through violence. Our military and special ops have devastated other countries and governments through means of violence and Empire building. For instance,  in the 1970’s, the US aided in the killing of Salvador Allende, Chile’s first Socialist President, because he did not fit the mold our capitalist democracy. If the US is an angel, then its wings are tattered and burnt.

Similar to the Gospel of Matthew, Revelation’s author affirms, “if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed” (13:10). This message seems clear. If we spread violence world-wide, then eventually it will come back to us. I believe this to be very true, especially with our high statistics of gun violence, allowing cities to go bankrupt, to let our public education system to go to waste. Yet, the American logic makes total sense: if we keep our troops overseas, we don’t have to worry about getting them a job in the US. Our priority is to keep the military-industrial-complex machine running at full steam: we needmore wars, more conflict, and enough public opinion for a  greater meaning of purpose for our soliders.

One more note, before we close in prayer. I scan many news sites trying to gather as much information about  the Syrian situation as possible. All of our news outlets focus on the President and Congress’ decision whether we “help” them out or not. Al Jazeera, on the other hand, reported that the Syrian Parliament does not want us to intervene. Their question is what would happen after the first strike? They are afraid that extremism would gain even more popularity and so many more people will be killed. The conflict in Syria is complex and trying to “fix” all of the world’s problems with bombs is a horrible idea.

In conclusion, there is the Palestinian Liberation Christian Community called Sabeel. Every week they pray for Palestine and for those around the world. Here is their prayer from September 5th:

Lord, it is also a time of great uncertainty and tragedy for many people across the Middle East. In the wake of the latest alleged chemical attack which took the lives of nearly 1,500 people, we wish to pray especially for the people of Syria, remembering the more than 100,000 killed and the 6.2 million displaced by the horrific civil war. At this time of upheaval, many countries surrounding Syria fear for the security and the stability of their nations; Merciful God, hear our people’s cries for safety, justice, and peace. Lord, also give wisdom and restraint to world leaders that they will not respond to this recent tragedy with warfare and instead will seek the path of non-violence. We pray, God, for a political solution that will stabilize this war-torn country and the entire Middle East. Lord in your mercy. Hear Our Prayer.

Gracious God, we lift the Egyptian people up to you. In the midst of turmoil and violence, we beg you to be the light that shines in the darkness and reveal your way of peace and reconciliation. Lord, we pray that you would provide a way forward which honors the dignity of all and brings a peaceable political solution and end to the conflict. Lord in your mercy. Hear Our Prayer.

Amen.Peace

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

The Messiah came; we were just too busy looking at our cell phones

Jesus’ second coming filled my thoughts as a young child. In my apocalyptic vision, Jesus descended from heaven, trumpets sounded, and saved persons were raptured into heaven. On Earth there would be years of torment for those who weren’t Christians, and after seven years, Jesus would come back again (third coming?) to see if anyone would believe in him now. God would then separate and send those destined for heaven or hell. Eternity began then. My eschatological version represented a dispensationalism worldview. I held onto this view for too long.

As a youngster, some mornings I would wake up, open my eyes, stay in bed and think that the rapture had taken my family, leaving me to fend for myself. Moreover, I believed that Jesus was going to come back when everyone least expected it. So I would constantly think about the Second Coming in hopes that Jesus wouldn’t have the chance to come back. This paradox comforted me.

second coming

Nowadays, I rarely think about the second coming or any kind of end of the world type scenario. Franz Kafka, in Paradoxes and Parables, defines my current paradox quite well: The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last day.

Jacques Derrida focused some of his later writings to the idea of the messianic. Derrida speaking, in the beginning of the documentary Derridasays

“In general, I try to distinguish between what one calls the future and the “l’avenir”. The future is that which –tomorrow, later, next century — will be. There’s a future which is predictable, programmed, scheduled, foreseeable. But there is a future, l’avenir (to come) which refers to someone who comes, whose arrival is totally unexpected. For me, that is the real future. That which is totally unpredictable. The Other who comes without my being able to anticipate their arrival. So if there is a real future beyond this other known future, it’s l’avenir in that it’s the coming of the Other when I am completely unable to foresee their arrival.

The unpredictable future, that which changes and transforms everything, begins with coming of the Other. Governments, afraid of the Other, want to domesticate the Other making our future predictable. Hence, we have created a society of little children who don’t grow up. We don’t have to cook, our music comes in an instant, we can work at home, and we can order anything and receive it the next day. No sense of struggle or appreciation is necessary.

Struggle gives life meaning; consuming demeans and desensitizes us from existence. On this point of struggle, Hegel thought that it was important that nations go to war. He wrote, “War is not to be regarded as an absolute evil…by its agency as I have remarked elsewhere the ethical health of the peoples is preserved in their indifference to the stabilization of finite institutions; just as the blowing of the winds preserves the sea from the foulness which would be the result of a long calm, so also corruption in nations would be the result of prolonged, let alone ‘perpetual’ peace.”  The perpetual peace is a reference to a pamphlet Kant wrote, saying that peace is the highest political good. At this point, I agree with Hegel, not that war is necessary, but that some rumblings need to happen in a nation.

Our contemporary wars are not the same as Hegel would have understood it. Our weapons have advanced so they no longer need someone to operate them. If war in the past confronted the Real in humanity, then today war has dehumanized us to the point of extinction. Our checks and balances in the US have not been effective in years. The NSA, JSOC, or the military or prison-industrial complex won’t allow the Other to exist. Watch Dirty Wars to find out more disturbing information.

If Jesus were to come from the heavens, the US government would know about it a week in advance and murder him midair.

We must otherize the Other to open us up to new possibilities. It’s a call to vulnerability, not stupidity; struggling for a meaningful existence rather than idly letting life pass by, etc.

The Derridian prayer seems most appropriate here: Come, Oh Divine Other, come.