Anti-Capitalism, Christainity, Justice, Scripture

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

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Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology, Philosophy, Politics, Scripture, Spiritual

theologically imagining a new atonement theory

Easter arrives in a few weeks. The Church will celebrate the crucifixion, death, burial and eventual rising of Jesus the Christ. So much meaning is packed into one weekend. Altars are torn down, darkness floods the tenebrae service, and on Easter Sunday some church members have the opportunity to wake as the sun rises to worship the God of resurrection. A weekend full of beautiful symbolism, yet it is the sermons that fall short of creative theological imagination.

One reason there has been less and less theological imagination from Easter sermons is because many ministers only know one way to think about the atonement. For those who don’t know, the act of the atonement happened when Jesus was on the cross. In American meta-theology penal substitution sweeps our theological landscape. In other words, Jesus took the place of the individual for the sins that she or he has committed. In terms of salvation, if the individual believes the Jesus did that for him or her, then a pleasant afterlife will be attained. Since it is the most common theory, all those who recommend other theories are often sent to the margins of the church.

Let’s look at a couple of the theories:

In general, all atonement theories focus on one component in the narrative or interpretation  For the penal substitutionist, they look to Paul’s interpretation found in the letter to the Romans and his other letters. We need Jesus to die for us so that we may be redeemed from our sins. Black liberation theologians start subjectively, and especially with James Cone, who looked to African Americans who were lynched by the hands of the white Southerners. Jesus, according to Cone, was black since he sided with the oppressed in history who were wrongfully killed. Other theologians, such as feminists observe the violent behavior of the cross and dismiss it, never to welcome any kind of theory in their theology, but focus on Jesus’ life as a whole. Those who adore Renee Girard believe that Jesus showed the way out of redemptive violence by dying on a cross, simliar thought to many of my Catholic Worker friends. Therefore, there are many ways to look at the atonement: Paul’s interpretation, subjective eisegesis (which I believe is just as credible as exegesis), dismiss it totally, nonviolently, historical, Christus Victor, Moral Influence Theory, etc.

Jesus Christ

Whichever theory we attribute to ourselves means that we ignore the other elements found in the narrative or letter. Since I grew up in an area  of many penal substitutionists, I know that they mostly read St. Paul, and less of the acts and words of Jesus. Moral Influence proponents do the opposite and read the Gospels primarily. I want to propose a theory that tries to combine some of the elements that I believe to be essential to make a broader and more encompassing theory.

First, some qualifications:

  • We must read both Testaments, knowing that all of the writers had different perspectives on God and life.
  • Since we have four canonical Gospels, there are at least four Christologies. If we consider St. Paul’s views as well and the other letters there are far more. Thus it depends on what Gospel or letter we read will tells us how they approach Jesus.
  • Anytime we read we bring our views, traditions, and experiences with us.
  • Theology and interpretation of Scripture do not have to be exclusive, Historical texts must always be interpreted and theological measures can and should always be taken.

Jesus, historically, was a Jewish artisan living in a poor area of Galilee, Nazareth. He was known for his radical table etiquete, healing those in society who were outcasts, teaching new ways to practice the Hebrew Bible, and was considered a prophet. The political and religious authorities noticed the large following and wanted to have Jesus killed, so that the followers may scatter and the Jesus movement die. When Jesus flipped over the money tables in the Temple at Jerusalem, it was the last straw for those in charge and had him tried and crucified on a cross as a criminal. Jesus would die as thousands of people did each year for rebelling against the Roman Empire. Jesus did not just die because of rebellion, but for teaching a new kin-dom that was so upside-down that it did not fit with the normalcy of civilization.

According to the ancient Roman context, Jesus’ death was part of the Imperial scenery and normal.  Yet the followers of Christ saw something new happening. They understood that God raised Jesus from being another executed rebel of the State to have the honor of sitting at God’s right hand. Jesus’ followers found Jesus’ presence in their agape meals, and through praying, healing, and loving others. Jesus’ death made it possible that Jesus could be with the followers forever.

Early followers, in addition, understood that Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated the powers of evil, or known as Christus Victor. The power of evil had no hold on the world anymore. St. Augustine’s definition of evil summarizes it perfectly, “Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name evil.” When one is present in the community of believers she or he have access to God and God’s goodness. In the Christian/Hebrew Scriptures, healing begins with the transformation of the individual and ends with the community’s embrace. For example, the demonic man in the graveyard who was healed and sent into the community or Peter and John healing the man in Acts 3 who was unable to walk and he entered into the community of believers upon being healed.

Jesus’ death accomplies two main things*: we are welcomed into the Triune Community of Love, and demonstrates that divine always stands with the marginalized. The cross is not the end, but the beginning of a new community, one of hope of a better world which we help to create with pursuing justice.

Cameroon's Jesus

* There are many more things that are accomplished as well. It shows the love of the divine for the Earth and her people. It grants us hope for a new future. It shows us what love looks like in community. I focus on these two because they are often ignored in churches and it focuses on the present community as well as the ancient community and not only the individual.

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Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity, Liberation Theology, Prison Industrial Complex

prisons, cultural lag, and the church

Early definitions of cultural lag focused specifically on industry and society. In Marxian terms it refers to how the substructure (production, relations to production,etc) advances in its use of technology, while the superstructure (philosophy, art, religion, family) falls behind this advancement. A simple example in today’s world would be who can purchase certain products, such as an iPad, which costs $500. Much of the general public cannot purchase such a commodity, but if in 15 years our society finds it to be necessary, then it will be affordable.

Hence cultural lag.

New definitions have been constructed, one of the famous theorist who worked on this theory was William Ogburn. He wrote,

“A cultural lag occurs when one of two parts of culture which are correlated changes before or in greater degree than the other part does, thereby causing less adjustment between the two parts that existed previously” (1957).

Ogburn broadened the original Marxian definition which only was concerned with economics and broaden it to any two parts of culture. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann hit the nail on the head, with concern to culture in the US, when he wrote,”Our consumer culture is organized against history. There is a depreciation of memory and a ridicule of hope, which means everything must be held in the now, either an urgent now or an eternal now”(1).* We create ourselves through purchasing, it is what gives us hope and gives us a short attention span. These consequences include one to not be concerned with community, long-term friendships, investing in the future of the Earth, cooking food, etc. Even more so, one no longer needs to be concerned with social issues: racism, sexism, mistreatment of the LGBTQI+ community, colonialism, and other injustices in our world. This drags us down a road of Tolerance, which accepts everyone, but still allows hate without confrontation. Thus, many of the institutions focus on this tolerance and have no concern for anything else other than money. Unfortunately, these kinds of ideas have bled into the church.

One churched person, who happens to also be a theologian, has kept the social injustices that penetrate US at the forefront of their theology. This person is none other than black liberation theologian James Cone.

God of the Oppressed, which James Cone wrote, hit the bookshelves in the late 1960’s. It sought to systemically summarize and demonstrate Black Liberation theology. This was a tough experiment during that era. Blatant racism occurred openly in our institutions, not that it still does not happen today, but that it was more in your face about it. One section of his book I found particularly interesting was how he placed certain white prominent theologians during slavery times in the US into different categories with their approach to the social ill of slavery.

First, there are those who ignored slavery all together. These theologians constructed theologies separate from anything social or political. For Cone, these are the worst kind of theologians since they do not understand that knowledge is historically situated in a particular place and time.

Second, there were white theologians who taught that slavery was a good and godly act. Several theologians like George Whitfield used Scriptural passages to keep slaves in their “rightful place,” as an owner person.

Lastly, there were theologians who were part of the abolitionist movements. They actively promoted that those who were enslaved to be released. (One problem that Cone has with these theologians is that they were still constructing theology from a prestigious point of view, e.g. slaves should be be free because it would be better for society, instead of from the point of view of those who are enslaved are people and deserve the right to be free. I certainly agree with Cone on this position.)

These kinds of theologians still haunt us today. We have those who are oblivious to social structures to the point of distrust and have a theology that they believe to apply to all, thus a kind of white-orthodoxy. Then there are those who lift up institutions like the State, believing that they are absolutely God-given, this probably could only be applied to those who live in the US. Then there are those who want more out of social institutions, pushing them to move beyond themselves. Yet, at the same time believe that justice does not equate to Law.

Modernizing Conian thoughts about the cultural lag in the church, I have been thinking what the modern church ignored in relation with social issues. The first thing that came to my mind was the the prison-industrial complex. First, I have never heard these words in church. The only prison ministries that they do in church in the areas that I know of are ones that they are concerned with the spiritual lives of the prisoners. I never hear people ask why so many people are in prison or that it is so hard for people to get a job once they come out of prison. This aspect is totally ignored by the church, or at least many of the churches that I have attended.

Paul Krugman, a classic liberal commentator, wrote an opinion piece in the NY Times that concerned the prison-industrial complex. It was well written attempt to simplify the complexity of economics that concern this issue. The problem with this article is that there is nothing written against those who are unjustly placed in prison, as are many of our African-American sisters and brothers. This certainly falls under the Conian critique.

The church has been in a cultural lag for most of modernity. It was not always this way. From the beginning, it was a source of the prophetic. In many respects, we have lost that prophetic voice and thus are not inventors and critics of important aspects of culture, but allow culture to be and condemn only immoral individualistic ethical decisions. We need voices from the church who are concerned about  people who are being treated unjustly, especially those in prison.

The church must educate, organize, and act for justice for all people!

Here are some statistics from ProPublica about For-Profit Prisons in the US.

* Prophetic Imagination published for the second time in 2001.

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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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