Lent, Liberation Theology, Philosophy

on the cross hung jesus, the historical materialist

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

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

It matters that he is seen as such.

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

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

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

Let us remember them that we might change the present. 

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Christainity, Ecology, Justice, Scripture

“remember you are compost, and to compost you shall return”: ecotheology and ash wednesday

My theology professor asked the class, “Will composting be necessary in the new heavens and new earth?” My hand shot up immediately and I answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!” Of course, I knew that compost was made of rotting, decomposing earthy matter. Yet, at the same time, I believed composting to be an integral part of God’s realm because it brings forth life out of rotting matter. The professor seemed to agree with me, but my peers were not impressed. For them, life eternal required no work, rather full praise toward God and God’s goodness.

We first find compost in Genesis 2, when God plants a garden on the east side of Eden and creates humanity. As well, God causes animals, trees, and shrubs to be birthed from this same ground. In this second creation narrative, humans work with the ground and care for the garden. Composting was involved in their very practice of creation-care. They didn’t have the means to develop landfills, or even the desire for non-recyclable plastic products. Instead, they gave back to Earth what they couldn’t use and the Earth reused it for something new.

Compost occupies an in-between stage. Sort of how plasma is not necessarily a solid or a liquid; or even Derrida’s late obsession with ghosts, understanding them as not quite human and not quite rotting flesh. Without compost, life would not subsist. In a sense, everything is compost. Our very ontology is in-betweenness. Though this is not the same as when preachers talk about the “dash on your gravestone.” Our in-betweenness is rather much more. Our bodies, along with the world, are constantly changing, either through the shedding of our skin, or dying cells, or having organs taken out. We are never static creatures, just like compost.

In Revelation, we read of the new earth, where one can see signs of composting. The River of Life flows through the middle of the New Jerusalem and on one side is the Tree of Life, which “provides healing for the nations” (22:2). “Healing” in this passage is in the present and continuous sense. In other words, even with everything renewed, everything is not yet fully healed or whole. Thus, could we not imagine that at the bottom of the Tree of Life, us partaking of food and composting it for new life, healing, and wholeness? With this reasoning, the New Jerusalem will not have landfills. What a beautiful vision of God’s realm!

On Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, we recognize our faults, our sins, and those regretful acts we commit. We walk to the front of the church and receive a sign of our sinfulness with an ashed compost cross on our foreheads. Our bodies will become compost again after our death, at least until the resurrection. Yet, we should recognize our in-betweenness as hopeful. As Paul writes in Romans about Abraham on the resurrection, that he was and we are “hoping against hope” (4:18). Within us is the power of transformation. We have the capability to bring forth goodness, love, and hope.

Living into our compostable lives, let us make the most use of our in-betweenness for positive change in our relationships, neighborhoods, and world.

Composting

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Beliefs, Christainity, Lent, Liberation Theology, Philosophy, Politics

hunger, lent, and stewardship

On Sunday morning at church, the layspeaker opened the service saying that everything is relative. We may think that it is cold outside, but those living in Minnesota have it worse with temperatures in the negative Fahrenheit. Then on a side note hunger also was relative. This was a strange way to talk about relativism, why couldn’t he have said something different like sports averages comparing them from the conditions in the 60’s to today. That made me so upset at the beginning of the service that I could barely focus on the words that I recited in my prayers and hymns. How could someone think that hunger is relative? Is hunger just a state of mind to be overcome?

Relativism is such a misunderstood issue. Although, it may be colder in Minnesota that does not negate the temperature outside in Philadelphia. I should know, I walk a mile to get to the church and it was a frigid morning.  More importantly than the weather,  hunger is not relative! There are too many persons in the U.S. and the world who suffer from food insecurity to rationalize hunger to a relative state. This is the reason why we collect food for pantries each week and help at soup kitchens.

For the rest of the day, I asked myself the question, “How can we understand hunger in light of the church season?” ( since I am so liturgical)

The church celebrates the season of Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday, which was last week. For the Catholics, Ash Wednesday is also a day to fast. I had a few friends who gave the money that they would pay for their three meals to charities combating food insecurity. I applaud them for their compassion. Lent has also been considered the season of self-reflection, of giving up our creature comforts so that we may draw closer to God/She.

In Sunday School, we are slowly going though Luke’s temptation narrative (4:1-13). On Sunday we discussed what it meant that Jesus said to the Devil, “One does not live on bread alone.” I told them how we simplify ideas in our society (especially in terms of economics and politics) and I asked them to write down what makes them feel alive or feel human. They wrote down like friends, family, the color purple, artwork and music. To my surprise none of them wrote money. We talked about how God/She wants us to live into a righteous life (righteous in the sense of justice), and to stay from temptation and from sin (personal and structured). Afterward, we played a game of never have I ever, and related it to the differences of our group, and how Jesus needed to fast because God’s Spirit was persuading him to go to the desert. Yet, each of us have different ways that we come close to the divine, although sacraments are in place, there is an infinite amount of ways to come close to the divine according to each one’s context.

sow seeds not greed

In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus fasted for forty days. Jesus removed himself from the local community and shunned the comforts of civilization that he may come closer with the divine. In our society, we are facing a dilemma concerning the way we eat, how we get our food, and grow it. We are too busy with jobs that we neglect our energy for life, food. We scarf down food and no longer need eating utensils because fast food restaurants only make finger foods. The saddest truth is that 40% of the food prepared in the US is thrown away.

We are going about food production and consumption in the wrong way. People eat because they have too, not because it makes us feel human. God/She from the opening poem in the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 1) declares that we are co-creators with Her making new life. The Earth reproduces by herself, we have become the bad stewards, the ones who care more about the symbolic (money, politics) rather than the needs of human beings, citizens of the Earth. If we are going to move forward as a society and as a people of God/She, we have to find better ways to produce and consume food.

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