leaving our nets behind (sermon)

[I preached this sermon last Sunday at Broadway Presbyterian Church in NYC. I’ve included the passage, prayer, and sermon. It was written between overnights at the shelter, a Student Senate Retreat, and supporting another friend who preached earlier that morning.]

Mark 1:14-20 NRSV
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,
and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fisherfolk.
And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John,
who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them;
and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

brick testament Jesus

Prayer: Oh God, we can be a stubborn people. We like things the way they are. We depend on being comfortable. But you, O God, search for us, and push us in directions that some of us would never have imagined. This morning, open us to hear a tender and vital word from you. We ask this in the name of the one who calls us to follow. Amen.

This past week has been exhausting, exciting, anxious-ridden, and surreal all at the same time. With Martin Luther King Jr. day, the start of classes, and the Emergency Shelter Network Annual meeting, it couldn’t be anything, but less. What I want to highlight is the Annual Meeting of the Emergency Shelter Network (ESN). It was held on the third floor of the Fifth Ave Presbyterian Church. 30 people were present, representing about 40 churches in the 5 boroughs. The deputy commissioner of Homeless Services shared some of the ways the city was helping house people, along with some overwhelming statistics, including that NYC in 1983 14,000 people were in shelters or on the street. In 2008, when ESN became a non-profit, 35,000 people were homeless, and the count in December 2014, our city has over 60,000 people without homes. After hearing these statistics, a hush swept through the room. A shelter coordinator piped up and asked, “Is anything we are doing actually alleviating poverty?” No answer was given that night. We moved onto other subjects and eventually spent the rest of time discussing ways to recruit volunteers. Because unless your church or synagogue that has over 1,000 members and hosts a shelter once or twice a week, you are probably scrambling to find people. Needless to say it wasn’t the most uplifting meeting I’ve ever been to. As I made the trek back to 1 train, I just couldn’t get out of my mind, the purpose of a volunteer.

Before I became the volunteer coordinator at Broadway Community, for years I volunteered at food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. I volunteered because it made me feel good, which is how some of the other coordinators at the meeting told us to pitch it to those wanting to volunteer. “It will warm your heart to help those in need” and “build your resume.” Or even “just doing a little can go a long way.”

And with the backdrop of American Christianity, I can hear some of these same reasons for why one would want to call themselves Christian. “Follow Jesus, my friend. It’s easy; just say a prayer and you’ll be right with God.” Or “read your devotions in the morning, I do, and it’s like they last the whole day.” And often, this is how we read the discipleship stories. Jesus comes walking along this beautiful beach, happens to run into some fisher folk, calls out to them, “Hey, follow me.” It doesn’t take them a second to think about it and they’re following Jesus.

But reading our passage today, it seems more complicated than just Jesus moseying by the Sea of Galilee calling for disciples. Our passage begins with, “Now after John was arrested.” Let’s just have that sink in. In the ancient world, prisons were full of rabble-rousers, people who struggled economically, political prisoners, and those who didn’t abide by the Roman Empire. John the Baptizer fits all of those descriptions, as well, according to Mark, baptized Jesus forty days earlier. These are the kinds of people Jesus hung out with and even was baptized by.

Mark’s Gospel seems to point out that it was because of John’s arrest that Jesus’ ministry began. That there was sense of urgency.

And thinking about world history, there always seems to be something catastrophic that happens, that builds momentum for a movement. For us last year, it was the non-indictments of the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner that lead to the movement Black Lives Matter. It happened in El Salvador in the 1970’s when Archbishop Oscar Romero’s dear friend was killed that he started to side with the oppressed. And it was the drought in the Caesarea in the 4th century, that St. Basil the Great emptied his barns, giving to those in need.

Jesus’ ministry starts in turmoil. During a time when everything wasn’t okay with the world. It wasn’t Bible Play Land, where the mountains are lush, the fishermen are always smiling, and Jesus’ hair is blowing in the wind.

John had been arrested and Jesus starts to proclaim the good news of God. Now we need to stop right here because in ancient Rome, this phrase good news was usually paired with Caesar, not God. The good news of Caesar included the Pax Romana, that if you didn’t assimilate to Rome’s ways you would be killed or enslaved. Additionally, it was written in several places in the Empire, “the birthday of the god Augustus has been for the whole world the beginning of good news concerning him; therefore let a new era begin from his birth.” These were the kinds of proclamations Jesus had to compete with. When we proclaim the good news of God, we are proclaiming that no person, nor political or economic system can hold a candle to God’s Realm. This is what Jesus is declaring.

Then Jesus exclaims, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” God’s Realm is so close we can taste it. We saw a glimpse of it at Jesus’ baptism. God is ready to take reign of the world bringing true justice and equality. I get so excited by these words, “the kingdom of God has come near.” It fills me with hope, but Mark wastes no time. He immediately has us walking beside Jesus along the Sea of Galilee.

There we meet two sets of brothers who also happen to be fisher folk, Simon and Andrew, and James and John. But here’s the weird thing. Rabbis, in the ancient world, would not go after potential students. Rather, students would follow the Rabbis around, trying to gather as much wisdom and hopefully they would be included in the group too. As well, the disciples who usually followed Rabbis were fairly educated themselves. Jesus goes against the business as usual Rabbi and disciple relationship. He goes out of his way to find those who were as John Calvin called, “rough mechanics.” Jesus could’ve called anyone, but he chose those who were not the elite.

As Paul would later write in 1 Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”

And in the case of fisher folk, they were nearly in the lowest class of society, the artisan class. The Roman Empire also made sure that they stayed there through heavy taxation to the tune of 80% of fish they caught. Those fish would then be dried and salted at a factory, which was owned by the Caesar at the time. Then the fish sold would contribute to the benefit of the Empire, never the fishermen.

I wonder some of the thoughts going through the brothers’ minds when Jesus asked them to the follow him. Were they happy to give up the family business to follow this stranger? Had they seen Jesus hang around John the Baptizer and assumed that he was one of the good ones? Or were they frightened, not knowing what would happen next. Scripture doesn’t say, but I can’t imagine it being an easy decision. Simon and Andrew left behind their nets. James and John left behind their father. Following Jesus changed the course of their lives.

In 2009, I read many stories of saints of old who after hearing the Gospel message gave everything away and dedicated their life to helping those in need. I felt that this was what it meant to be a disciple (and still do). So during winter break, I donated most of my clothes to the shelter, and kept two pairs of pants, five shirts, and one coat. Mostly because after reading the words of St. Basil the Great,

“The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes.”

I wanted to make sure that I wasted nothing. And there was something freeing about that experience. I felt closer to God and worried less about what to wear. A few months later though, I got a job at a Thrift Store and started to swap out clothes and things went downhill from there.

To follow Jesus, in a way, means to me to be less distracted. To not let petty concerns eat up your time.

We are not called to be volunteers for God’s Realm.
We are not called to add an hour or two a week to our lives, so that we can feel good.
Jesus disrupts our lives from the ordinary ebb and flow to an alternative way of life.
We are called to be disciples and to follow Christ wherever he may lead.
To leave behind those nets in our lives that hold us back from doing so. Whether that be our self-doubt, or anxiety about what others may think,
or that we do not feel worthy enough to do something like that.
Christ still calls over and over, yet never away from world, but into it.
May we listen to that call and leave our nets behind. Amen.

Re-radicalizing Scripture

Holy Scriptures endure, partially, to disrupt the lives of its adherents. This seems to be true for all religions. Of course, in each of their texts, there are a few voices that advocate for rich and powerful*, yet overall religious texts point toward justice and caring for the neighbor. In this way, Scriptures are dangerous. They demand the impossible and it’s impossible to get people to actually read them. Or maybe they have, but don’t fully understand its implications.

Here’s a few examples: Mary, Jesus’ mother, sang that the powerful should be removed from their thrones, so the poor can be lifted up (Luke 1:52). The Prophet Isaiah declared that even if you are penniless, you should still eat and drink for free (55:1). And lastly, in the earliest times of the Hebrews, womyn were leaders without question (Judges 4-5).

These examples fly in the face of current economic and political systems. 

Here’s some secondary texts that have led me to a radical understanding of Scripture:

Deryn Guest, Robert Goss, Mona West, and Thomas Bohache (Editors) The Queer Bible Commentary

Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s The Power of the Word: Scripture and the Rhetoric of Empire

Musa Dube’s Post-Colonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible

Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives

Richard Horsley’s Jesus and Empire

Robert E. Goss and Mona West (Editors) Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible

Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination

Wes Howard-Brook’s Come Out, My People!”

In making Scripture dangerous again, I wanted to practice re-radicalizing it by contemporizing Psalm 146. This Psalm, in particular, spells out a distrust of princes and royalty. For the psalmist, the point was to follow God who cares for the stranger, oppressed, widows, and orphans, since the status quo have never been concerned with such matters.

A wonderful homiletician taught me that when reading a text, verbs bring us closer to our reality, while nouns keep us at a distance. In other words, Jericho or Judges do not incorporate much meaning in our everyday lives, but “testing,” “lived among,” “they took,” and “they gave” can render endless possibilities.** With the Psalm, I updated a few verbs, but mostly focused on nouns.

Anyway, I hope you like it!

Praise God, our Agitator!
Praise God, from everything that is within us!

We will praise God as long as we live;
we will sing praises to God for the rest of our lives.

Do not put your trust in capitalists, CEOs
or in politicians, in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs, they will return to the Earth;
on that very day their wealth becomes rot.

Blessed are they whose help is the God of the marginalized,
whose hope is in the God who suffers with them,

who is the creator of the universe, Earth,
oceans, and all the creatures in them;
who is faithful forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
God sets the prisoners free;
God transforms the parts in our lives that we are afraid to speak of.

God lifts up the humbled;
God loves justice-seekers.

God watches over strange ones;
God upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the powerful, God brings to ruin.

God will reign forever,
our God, O Earth, for all generations.
Praise God!

jesus of maryknoll

* I’m thinking here of passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that promote the authority of priests, especially Nehemiah and Ezra, who command post-Exiled Hebrew men who married non-Jews to divorce them. In the Christian Scriptures, patriarchy is upheld through Household codes and Paul seems to call for a respect of the State (Romans 13). As well, slavery is rarely questioned, in pseudo-Pauline letters womyn are told to keep silent, etc. Other religious texts such as Confucian texts continue hierarchy and patriarchy.

** These verbs were gathered from the first few verses in Judges 3.

Epiphany (sermon)

McKenzie, Epiphany

A few summers ago, I lived at St. Joseph’s Catholic Worker in Rochester, NY. For those who do not know about it, the Catholic Worker was founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the 1930’s. They wanted to build a new society in the shell of the old. So they created houses of hospitality. Essentially, it consisted of a soup kitchen, shelter, community center–sometimes with a farm–all built into one. In Rochester, I was in charge of the clothing closet, meal tickets, and  laundry sign up sheet. When I wasn’t busy gathering toiletries or pants, I would sit, talk, and play card games with the guests. The work was exhausting, but inspiring and made me who I am today. Toward the end of that summer, I wanted to do something meaningful and very spiritual. So a few of us got together and planned to take a pilgrimage to a monastery 30 miles south of Rochester, called the Abbey of the Genesee. We knew about this place because they would donate bread to us every week. So on a Tuesday, after we were all done our shifts at 2pm, we began our pilgrimage walk to the Abbey. We took with us water bottles, flashlights, one cell phone, and a prayer book. Every other half hour we would walk in silence. By the time it hit 4:45am, we were all tired, worn out, and extremely cranky. We found some large boulders and rested there for a quick 10 minutes. When we got back up, I started to hum the lyrics Precious Lord Take my Hand, Lead me on, help me stand. I am tired. I am weak. I am lone. The others joined in. As we sang, it turned 5 o’clock, and we could hear the bells of the Abbey chime. We made it! Although, most of us had blisters on our feet, we started running. It was a joy to finally arrive to our destination on our pilgrim journey.

When I think of other pilgrims in Scripture, the Magi quickly come to mind. They travelled for months and not just for 15 hours as we did. When they arrived to Jerusalem, they assumed that they had made it, but later found out that they still had 6 more miles to go until Bethlehem, where the Messiah was born. Scripture doesn’t tell us the kinds of conversations the Magi had, but I’m sure there were some stressful ones. Some of them probably questioned if they really saw a star in the sky or if they were just delusional. I can imagine, since after 12 hours of being with the same people on the journey, you can start to wonder if you’re doing the right thing.

Last week, our Gospel reading from Luke was about the circumcision and celebration of Jesus as salvation enfleshed.
This week, we hear not of older men and widows, but of Magi.

The root of the word Magi means magic. In Acts, we read of Simon the Magician or Simon Magus in chapter 8, then another magician in the 13th chapter named Elymas. Translators in both cases either use the word magician or sorcerer. But when it comes to the birth story of Jesus, more often than not they’re called wise men. Or as we began our service, we sang “We Three Kings,” which is also just located in our Christmas imagination and not in Scripture itself. Because we don’t know how many Magi there were. But we can know by other translations that these were some kind of magicians or sorcerers, not kings or wisemen.

When they arrive in Jerusalem, they go straight to King Herod. And this makes total sense. Jerusalem is the seat of power. It has the Temple, the priests, the money, and this is where King Herod reigns. When the Magi show up, they were expecting to see the newly born King of the Jews.
But did the star take them to Jerusalem or were they just assuming this because this is where all the power comes from?
Did the star lead them there or were they questioning the star’s guidance?
Did the star guide them there or did they need to stop for directions because clearly the star is lost?
We’ll never know for sure, but there is something curious about them stopping in Jerusalem.

When the Magi shared with King Herod that they travelled so far to pay homage to the new born King of the Jews, Scripture says “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” Why was everyone frightened? Because this is not how thing are suppose to go. Kingship is about being born into the family line. When these foreign sorcerers came into Herod’s court and told him that someone other than his child was going to rule, he would’ve had the overwhelming feeling that he is no longer in control.

Immediately, King Herod gathers his court of the scribes and chief priests and asks, “Where is the Messiah to be born?” They answer by quoting the fifth chapter of Micah to Herod, saying that he was to be born in Bethlehem.
After Herod knows the location, he calls a secret meeting with the Magi to learn when they exactly saw the star appear in the sky. He then tells them that they should send word back to him so that he too could pay homage.

Once the Magi left Jerusalem, they could see the star before them again, guiding them to Bethlehem. Then like that, the star stops above the house, not manger, to where Jesus and his family were. The Magi were overwhelmed with joy.
After this extremely long journey, they finally get to see the Christ-child.
When they entered the house, little baby Jesus was with Mary. They bowed before him and offered him those traditional (baby shower) gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense.
A few verses later, we hear of Herod’s horrible act of the killing of the innocents, all males two years and younger. So I wonder with the information given to Herod by the Magi, if Jesus was a little over 1 year of age.
Maybe Jesus was already walking by the time the Magi arrived.

And if it was over a year since they saw the star and started to follow it, the Magi must’ve given up a lot.
They would’ve forfeited relationships with significant others.
They probably didn’t always have a roof over their heads to stay some nights.
They probably thought about using their gifts for the Christ-child to get their necessities, but didn’t.
In a sense, the Magi were one of Jesus’ first disciples.
As the bearded adult Jesus will say later in Matthew, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

This is exactly what the Magi did. And at the end of their journey, they received an Epiphany. Their journey was not in vain.

So what kind of journey are we willing to take this New Year?
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “In the Bleak Midwinter.”
In the last verse, we sing,
“What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man (or Magi), I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.”
Knowing that not everyone is called to take a pilgrimage, or bear gifts.
We are, although, all called to discipleship: to follow Christ
sometimes in the most uncomfortable situations
sometimes in bearing a friend’s burden although it might keep us up at night,
and sometimes in loving our enemies, even if we have never met them.
Let us make our New Year’s resolutions, alongside the Magi, to go deeper into discipleship wherever Christ may lead.

(This sermon was preached on January 4th, 2015 at The First Reformed Church of South River, NJ)

Jesus the Riddler and the Parable of the Talents (Sermon)

Jesus loved to work with parables. And in Matthew’s Gospel, from the 13th chapter onward, you can find them everywhere. I like to think of parables like I think of riddles. They make your mind think one way, but really the answer is flying in the opposite direction. Growing up, my mom would prepare the children’s sermon every Sunday. She’d gather all the little ones to the front, just like we do here, and usually it was the same format. She would read a short story from a book. Then, we would pray and then sing a song. These stories were part of a tradition that her mother passed on to her. So there was always an intimate sacredness present. I can even still remember some of the illustrations in those books. These stories would always push a certain moral, like obey your parents or trust God in all things. And we can get caught up in doing the same things to Jesus’ parables, making them in moral message.

What’s even worse is that we tend to allegorize the characters.
We place God as the main character and humans perform the smaller roles. And somehow we figure out something to say about God through these parables.

Traditionally, today’s scripture passage has been read as such. Jesus is the master who gives the talents to those who follow him. He then goes away; up to heaven, and during that time Jesus’ followers are making use of their talents. When Jesus returns the followers have to present what they have done with their talents. Rewards are given to those who doubled their talents and for the one follower who buried the talent; he will be cast off into eternal damnation and his one talent will be given to the one with the most. The moral of the parable is: “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Does this sound like Jesus? The one who told the rich young man chapters earlier, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.”  (Matthew 19:21 CEB)

Does this sound like the Jesus who said, “When you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret”? (Matthew 6:3-4 CEB)

Does this sound like the Jesus who made it clear that ” You cannot serve God and wealth”? (Matthew 6:24 CEB)

Jesus teaches against the notion that the rich should get richer while the poor get poorer. To follow Jesus means to give up your wealth and give everything to those in need. Then, why does this parable sound like it’s telling us to do the very opposite?

As some of us heard last week, this is Jesus’ Second Sermon on the Mount. Although, this time it’s less about how we should live and more about how we should get ready for God’s Realm to crash on Earth.

Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel would often start his parables by saying
“The kingdom of heaven is like this…” Strangely, our parable doesn’t start off this way; instead it reads, “it is as if.” Maybe Jesus is not speaking of the kingdom of heaven, maybe it’s about another kingdom that one should use caution living in.

We hear of the Master giving his most trustworthy and inner circle of slaves his money. It should be noted here that it’s “to each according to his ability.” Already, we know that the last slave couldn’t be trusted with more than just one talent. Which is still a ton of money in the ancient world. If one denarius was the daily wage of a laborer, then one talent was worth 600 denarii. That’s almost two years of work.

The parable continues that immediately the master leaves the slaves with the money.

The first and second slaves go off and double their talents. But how? Did they double it through opening new businesses or were they flipping houses or investing it in the stock market? When I was researching this I found that much of it was through giving small loans to farmers. Now this doesn’t sound so bad, except that the contracts were written up so that the farmers had to use their land as collateral. The idea was that eventually the farmer’s crops would fail, the farmer could not pay the loan off anymore, and the loan granter would then own that land. With 2010’s mortgage crisis, still fresh in our memory, we know that these types of situations still happen. It’s quite possible then that the first and second slaves exploited their friends and others who lived nearby with these loans.

The third slave did something very curious though he buried the talent. He did not participate in exploiting those around him. The burial of the talent looks like a bad deal, but it was his resistance.

This practice of a master giving his money to his slaves was a peculiar Roman law called peculium. The idea was that although the master was giving money to the slaves, it was never the slave’s money, but always the master’s. Because remember: slaves owned nothing. And to make sure that this was upheld, there were stacks of Roman law books that insured that the slaves gave back their master’s money.

And in my mind this is related to the phenomena of Halloween.
Every year, parents purchase or make their kids Halloween costumes. The parents decorate the house and buy candy for other costumed kids. The night of Trick-or-Treating parents chaperon the kiddos going door-to-door gathering up candy. Jimmy Kimmel, late night talk show host, started a tradition where parents take a video of their children’s reaction when they tell the kids that they ate their Halloween candy. My favorite response this year was a little boy who opens all of the kitchen cabinets angrily and then looks to camera and says, “Get out!” There are other videos of little ones saying, “That’s okay mommy. You must have been hungry. There’s always next year.” Under the system of peculium, it is perfectly right for the parents to eat the kid’s candy, it’s not like the kids did anything to deserve the candy, it was all the parent’s doing, the costume, the evening of trick or treating. But as the children in these videos remind us it may not be perfectly right.

Continuing with the parable, when the Master finally returns, the slaves present their talents. In the case of the first two slaves who doubled their talents the Master exalted them saying, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” In the sight of the Master, they did well in getting him more money through a means that harmed others.

The third slave talked back to the Master saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” He gave back to the master was he received. This friends, was a slap in the face. The Master responds with name calling with words like wicked, lazy, unworthy. And this should make our ears perk up. The slaves who doubled their talents were trustworthy, while the last slave’s worth was denied.

The Master eventually throws out the third slave into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth for resisting and talking back.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12 to “weep with those who weep, to associate with the lowly. Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” In short, we are to live as Christ lived.

This is our calling. To weep with those who are in the outer darkness. To take their hands and stay with them. To associate ourselves not with the Masters of this world, but with the lowly, the outcast. The third slave was courageous, but at the same time was afraid. There are many more in this world that allow fear to hold them back from calling out their abusers. May we be a people who keep our eyes peeled and hearts open to love the outcast and dive deep into the outer darkness even if we are too afraid of what we might find.

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.

My favorite version of the Lord’s Prayer

Working on my sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, I remembered this beautiful version:

O Breathing Life, your Name shines everywhere!
Release a space to plant your Presence here.
Imagine your possibilities now.
Embody your desire in every light and form.
Grow through us this moment’s bread and wisdom.
Untie the knots of failure binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ faults.
Help us not forget our Source,
yet free us from not being in the Present.
From you arises every Vision,
Power and Song from gathering to gathering.
Amen! May our future actions grow from here!

You can learn more about it here.

Rumi
and Rumi, just because. 🙂

Love as Resistance: the call for enemy-love in the 21st century

Washing dishes is a menial task and if you never cook at home someone else is paid (poorly, I might add) to wash them for you. Recently I moved into [another] community house where we share the responsibility of dish-washing. Although, some people take up the charge more than others, of course. I am reminded of a Crimethinc poster, that breaks down different ideological and political approaches to washing dishes. Because Crimethinc is one of the greatest contributors to anarchist propaganda, the anarchist version stands as the utopian ideal, while Marxism and Communism are fuddy-duddies. They propose that in Anarchism: “We all share in the dishwashing.” This description sounds similar to the neighbor/enemy love that Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount.

This summer, we started a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. (I partially still long for the lectionary because there are so many different scriptures that you can choose from.) Last week I preached on enemy-love through the framework of the honor/shame system. I claimed that Jesus wants his hearers to reject the cycle of honor/shame for something I believe more radical. Christ/a’s* call, in contemporary terms, is for radical democracy.

Let me explain.

Jesus assumes that enemies exist. These are the slappers, the people who force you to walk the extra mile, and taking everything from you. Yet, Jesus teaches against retaliation. “Don’t play into their system, my hearers. No one ever wins with social, political, and judicial inequality present.” Instead, Jesus reverses the common responses of the injured/hurt and in turn disrupts the reactions of the enemies. Questions then are raised: Without the social and political system of honor/shame, who’s in charge? Who gets to be slapped around?

Usually, we answer these questions by pacifying the verses. The Sermon on the Mount has become so part of our culture that its radicalness has been suppressed. I am not suggesting that we will not have some enemies or that an enemy is someone whose story you haven’t yet heard. Of course, there are some who do not want the best for others and actively try to hurt others and the Earth. Yet, without a vision of something better, a different kind of society to strive for, we will get lost in despair. Christ/a’s call is that love will assume the position of resistance. 

Today our enemies include the powerful, the politicians, the rich, the polluters, those promoting fracking, capitalist colonizers, and CEOs.

Spread love for equality.

Practice resistance like Christ/a’s.

Pray for enemies for the sake of justice.

Do something. Anything.

 Kazuya Akimoto's Jesus Christ:a

*Christ/a is used by some feminist and body thealogians to describe Christ. Christ is the masculine version of “Anointed One” and if we believe that divinity cannot be held to the categories of gender and sex, it becomes possible to include a feminine Christ/a. There has also been a history of medieval Christian mystics calling Jesus, Mother.

Jesus was a cyborg

As custom, posthuman films, including Her, Transcendence, and Lucy, prescribe qualities on the anthropological project. Questions for viewers arise: What does it mean to be human? Are humans unique because their conscience? Is it necessary to have a body to be human? These films convey simply that to be human means to demonstrate a will and have a conscience. There is a complete lack of body-presence. For instance, in Her the male-bodied human has an emotional and sexual attraction to the artificially intelligent Operating System, Samantha. They perform all the features of a romantic human relationship, although one is without a body.

creation of the cyborg

Cue cyborg-talk

With the rise of prominent electronic technologies, artificial intelligence, and cyborgs, we recognize our dependence on these technologies. As an example, I use my smartphone as an alarm, radio/music, television, clock, notebook, book, phone, and about a billion other things. Recently, new concerns about a smartphone user’s posture has an actual term: Text Neck. Yet, it has been argued that even before our use of electronic technologies that we were already cyborgs.

cy·borg (ˈsīˌbôrg) noun
a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.

First, already we see that this definition is biased. It believes that cyborgs are “fictional or hypothetical.” Second, without that qualifier at the beginning, it presents a solid definition of how we have been cyborgs! Globally, humans use technologies attached to their bodies that help them function beyond human limitation. For me, at least, I need glasses to properly see my surroundings. As well, I use an umbrella in the rain, wear snow boots in winter storms, and have sunscreen for the hot sun.

Humans make use of non-electronic technologies daily and without it the world would look much more chaotic (and blurry!). This idea about cyborgs, I believe, ruptures a belief in human nature , i.e. natural law, original sin. That we have never been purely human. We are a mix technologies that help us to survive and thrive in the world. In this sense, we should be glad to have such wonderful technologies helping us, but our theology should reflect such realities.

If you would have asked me in second grade what I would look like in heaven, the first thing that would’ve come out of my mouth would be that I wouldn’t have to wear my glasses anymore. As a child, heaven was the perfection of all things and a barrier for me was my glasses. Over time that has changed and now I feel fashionable with glasses and couldn’t live without them. In a way, the theology of my youth reflected what I thought it meant to be purely human.

What does it mean to include cyborgs into our theological anthropology?

1. Humans have a conscience, but the body must not be forgotten.
With all this cyborg-talk, we must remember that we are bodies. We are breathing, head-bobbing, blood-pumping, heart-beating, entanglement of emotions, sound-collections, and memory-capturing bodies. We are always in transition. Our bodies change everyday, every hour, every second. They shed skin, lose blood, grow hair, and earwax multiplies. Thus, BODIES ARE NOT STATIC! They cannot be pinned down to essences.

2. The fluidity of our bodies should reflect our theological anthropology.
When asked what it means to be made in the image of God, most Christians rely on the Genesis 1:27, “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God created them; male and female God created them” (NRSV). To dig deeper in what this means they answer that humans have God’s “moral, spiritual, and intellectual nature.” I propose that we should include bodies, especially if we take a process panentheistic approach. Everything is in God anyway! The body acts as God acts in the world, changing, growing, and transforming. Or a recent comment from an amazing professor, “God’s body is a woman’s body.”

3. We need be cautious with our christology.
To say that Jesus is deeply divine and human directs us in the way of ontology. Sadly, we rarely include anything about Jesus’ body in terms of theology. We are told to be human means to care for others, our neighbors, and those closest to us. The scholar activist Walter Wink even described Jesus as being the only Human Being and many others in the Christian tradition have agreed with him. Could this partially be untrue, since Jesus certainly used the technologies of his day? Must we search for a cyborg-christology?

Where does this leave us?

This leaves us between humanity and posthumanity, between human nature and fluidity, between divinity beyond and divinity always present. We must write theology that reflects our reality. Cheers to a new era of body-cyborg theology!

 

For Further Reading:

The Cyborg Handbook edited by Donna Haraway

Cyborg Selves: A Theological Anthropology of the Posthuman by Jeanine Thweatt-Bates (she blogs here: rude truth)

From Human to Posthuman: Christian Theology and Technology in a Postmodern World by Brent Waters

 

 

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): Jesus meets his mother

(Guest post by asescalante)Jesus meets his mother

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Mother in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:46-50

 

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): Jesus falls thrice times

(Guest post by asescalante)

Jesus falls the third time

Like the many before him who would fall, and the many after who will fall, Jesus falls. Under the weight of that which will eventually kill him he falls; this weight is not simply the physical burden of wooden beam(s), but is the weight of the Empire that would find the innocent guilty, the weight of your closest friends abandoning you in your time of need, the weight of public humiliation—the weight under which Jesus falls is the weight of physical, societal, psychological, emotional pain.

The failure of Jesus is the impossibility of his message: love your enemies; the kin-dom of God is within you; who is my mother? Paradoxical, confusing, and secretive, that which Jesus taught and lived was a message that’s whole intention was the subverting of that same weight that would later crush him.

May we fall; may we fail.