Beliefs, Christainity

overthinking my iraqi kurdistan delegation in hopes for transformation

Intrinsic to fundraising is how one sells it. This certainly was true when I told others about my upcoming delegation to Kurdistan with Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Christian Peacemaker Teams. Either people have never heard of Kurdistan or understand it as being an ally for the US. I usually had to explain how Kurdistan is situated between Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. That many Kurds are non-violently resisting against several opposing forces: the Turkish and Iraqi military,  Daesh/ISIL, and the US forces on the ground. Then, I’m usually asked, “Why do you care?” With urgent fervor, I respond by saying, “I’m going as a global citizen. I’m going because the voices of the poor and those acting nonviolently around the world are forcibly silenced. I’m going to come back and testify at the Presbyterian General Assembly to what I saw. To witness to their struggle for peace.” Usually at this point, I get a smirk and nod which fades deadpan. The conversation moves on.

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Self-reflecting on the upcoming delegation, a question keeps creeping into my mind: what if I go and I’m not transformed? That I come back to the States and I continue to live as if I had never left. Maybe it’s just those blasted Derridan ethics that continually haunt me, that says over and over, if you think you’re acting responsible, you’re edging on carelessness; if you’re not anxious, then you’re comfortable being apathetic; IF YOU’RE NOT STRUGGLING FOR PEACE, THEN THE WORLD WILL PERPETUALLY BE IN WAR. Honestly, these ethics are impossible. And that’s the point. Until heaven meets Earth, global utopia is more than farfetched, but that doesn’t mean I do nothing. All this overthinking has made me cautious about what I will bring with me. I want to be in the moment and least distracted.

For this delegation, I’m praying and hoping to be hospitable in action and in listening. I am not fully sure of what to expect. I’ve never been across the Atlantic or have even thought about going to the regions near Iraq or Turkey. I covet your prayers for our delegation that we may be faithful peace witnesses, nonviolent in speech and heart. I hoping for a safe journey, but not a comfortable one.

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Liberation Theology, Philosophy

st. marx and st. basil: distributing according to the needs of others

From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs!1

St. Marx

You begrudge your fellow human beings what you yourself enjoy; taking wicked counsel in your soul, you consider not how you might distribute to others according to their needs, but rather how, after having received so many good things, you might rob others their benefit.2

St. Basil the Great

The famous Marx quote above positions his social and economic platform. He was critiquing the Gotha Program, which was the political and social program created by German socialists, who wanted Marx’s opinion (although they never took heed of his words). The program emphasized one’s ability to work and the importance of work itself. Marx opens his critique with “Labor is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use values…” In other words, labor should not be emphasized over the Earth and her resources; rather, labor and the Earth should balance one other. We should only use what is necessary and not exploit the land.

Later in the Critique, Marx writes of the different phases of communism. In the higher phase of communism, he writes, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” This quote summarizes the preceding paragraph, showing that not every person has the same physical or mental ability. Every one has different gifts and talents, so we cannot be the same kind of worker. Additionally, at some point in our lives we will be unable to work. For example, children and the elderly in our society should not work, but they still have needs. As well, people who have the ability to work some days/weeks cannot function because of depression, injuries, or grieving the loss of a loved one. For this reason, Marx makes it clear that it’s not labor that gives one value: a person has familial ties, talents and abilities that lack ‘market value’, but we are breathing, living creatures (it that not enough?).

Sharing is Caring

I write of Marx’s position first because he has been more influential (and the most misunderstood) in social and economic movements than Basil. Although, I believe Basil represents a far more radical camp than Marx.

Basil was the Bishop of Caesarea living in the fourth century. He was raised in a very wealthy family and later abandoned the upper class to become a monk. He even wrote a Monastic Rule. After many years as a monk, he was called to serve the Caesarea community as their bishop. Basil used the tools that he learned as a monk and applied them to his ministry creating a community center/church/doctor’s office. This center was called Basiliada.3 In this way, Basil brought the most important aspects of monasticism to urban life. The top-of-the-post Basil quote is from his sermon titled, “I Will Tear Down My Barns.” Some pretext: Caesarea had been hit with a drought, killing off crops and animals, and the wealthy were hoarding resources while others were dying in the street. Basil has already taken initiative, emptying the barns that he inherited and distributed food to those in need. In his sermon, which there were several on this topic, he condemns those hoarding their God-given resources. And here’s why this is radical: BASIL NEVER DEMANDS LABOR! I believe this to be at the heart of Christian anarchism. Unlike Marx who included both statements, “from each according to their ability and/or need.” Basil writes elsewhere,

“If we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, and no one would be in need.”

Basil transcends class and labor, theologically constructing utopia. And as I am reminded over and over again, that if we are not thinking, creating, and building utopia, what are we doing? What do we have to hope for?4 Basil states in another sermon, “To The Rich,” that if you are waiting to give to the needy after you have died, why would you not do it while you’re were alive? Why squander and live in luxury while others die in the streets?! And Basil, like a good anarchist, implies that giving of one’s self is voluntary, never forced.

St. Basil’s subversive theology is rarely, if ever, mentioned in churches across America. Our theology is shaped by political ideologies and discourse in terms of voting, legislation, and representative democracy. Imagine what it would look like if Basiliadas popped up across the world with free services for all. Imagine if one didn’t have to worry about the necessities of everyday existence: a place to stay, food to eat, merry friendships, and free utilities; instead, one could focus on caring for the community. We already have an abundance of resources (!): more than enough houses for those without, more than enough food to feed the world, more than enough medicine to cure the sick, and certainly more than enough love to go around. It’s time to leave behind worn-out political discourse and try on St. Basil.

Wealth in the US
1. Located in the ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’ written in 1875, but it’s conceptually based on Étienne-Gabriel Morelly’s 1755 text Code of Nature.
2. This selection is from Basil’s sermon “I Will Tear Down My Barns” found in On Social Justice (p. 62), translated by C. Paul Schroeder.
3. Sadly, not much is written about it. I first read about it in On Social Justice (pps. 33-38).
4. When others describe heaven, does it not sound like a utopia?

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Christainity, Liberation Theology

prayer for a people in the throes of martyrdom

This prayer is from Fernando Bermúdez’ Death and Resurrection in Guatemala (1986, pgs 74-75). Its words resonate with my holy longing for social justice in America. I updated some of the language and emphasized where I thought was appropriate.

Lord, may your Gospel be for me not a book,
but Good News, lived and shared.
May I not be embittered by oppression.
May I speak more of hope than of calamities.

May my denunciation be first subjected to discernment,
in community,
brought before you in profound prayer,
and uttered without arrogance,
not as an instrument of aggression,
but neither with timidity and cowardice.

May I never resign myself to the exploitation of the poor,
in whatever form it may come.
   Help me to be subversive of any unjust order.
Help me to be free,
and to struggle for the freedom of the oppressed.

May I never become accustomed to the suffering of the martyrs
and the news that my brothers and sisters are enduring
persecution,
but may their lives and witness ever move me to conversion
and to a greatest loyalty to the kin-dom.

May I accept my church with an ever growing love
and with Christian realism.

May I not reject it for its faults,
but feel myself committed to renew it,
and help it be what you, Lord, want it to be.

May I fear not death, but infidelity to hope and justice.

Oh God, hear our prayer.

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Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology

deconstructing sovereignty with a relational god

The thought of a sovereign God rattles my bones and not in a good way. As a child, I would listen to my Mom’s Sunday School lessons on biblical characters and try to grasp at their closeness to God. I wanted to be the young Samuel and have God wake me up in the middle of the night. I desired to be called like Jonah and have the chance to run away just to be saved by God through a big fish. I wanted to be so close to Jesus that I could touch his garment and smell his sweat. This longing has never went away; if anything, it has intensified.

God calling Samuel

Of course, these desires evolved as I matured. As a youngster, I wanted to know for certain that I could be found in heaven when I died. So I would raise my hand or walk upfront week after week during the altar call. I felt God close in those moments. You know, the moments when you are the most afraid, but hope is budding within your soul. Those were the experiences that transcended everything. I was in the arms of God, and God was cradling me, and singing to me that everything was going to be okay. I get that in different ways now, since I attend churches where the altar call is absent.  For me, my thin places are not places at all, but spontaneous events. It’s these surprises that I sense the divine. This is why I find myself in churches where they stand and clap when they feel led. Congregants dance in the aisles and preachers give messages bent toward justice. This is surely the fullness of the Spirit.

So going back to the idea of the sovereignty of God. The word ‘sovereign’ does not appear more than four times in the Christian Testament. 1 of the 4 times it only relates to a human ruler. Of course, one cannot just rule out because it has rare instances in the Bible (since most fundamentalists command similar attention when it comes to the few verses on apparent homosexuality). What I find curious though is that the first one to write in depth on sovereignty was St. Augustine, which was during the time when Christianity was the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. Thus, we could conclude that pre-fourth century Christians did not have the vocabulary or context for sovereignty because they were found on the receiving end of the violence from the Roman Empire. God was with them rather than above them, controlling them.

This could possibly be why global theologies skip or rarely speak of God’s sovereignty because how can one speak of a God totally in control when your church was just burnt down, or when your family members go missing, or even when your religion is the minority in a country? Theologian Ivone Gebara strikes at the heart of the issue writing,

“i am suspicious of this omnipotent god, this self-sufficient god, this god beyond the earth and the cosmos, this god beyond humans and at the same time very much like humans, the celestial “double” of powerful men, whether to the right or left.

the god on high, in heaven, on a throne, the father of men, the god of blind obedience, the god who punishes and saves, is no longer useful even when he presents a liberator’s face—to our world, to the humanization of the human, to women, to the future of the poor. he too is the fruit of an authoritarian religion experience by the masses, a religion that produces sentimentalism and consolation as faith’s response to the nonsense of an existence reduced to survival, the existence today of thousands of humans scrabbling for a wretched loaf to exist.” – from “The Face of Transcendence as a Challenge to the Reading of the Bible in Latin America”

The world is a beautiful, wretched place. God can be seen in the tiniest of moments and tonight children will go to sleep hungry. The old question, that should be retired, ‘how is there a good God when evil avails?’ no longer makes sense without a sovereign God. Like the early Christians constructing theology from their experiences with a relational divinity. We too need to experience and be open to the divine in all things. If God is in control of all things fine, but to live as so could block us from opening ourselves to God. For example, when thinking of vulnerableness, the comic strip  Coffee With Jesus comes to mind. Characters sit and chat with Jesus over coffee. They complain about life, grieve over loss, and sometimes even Satan makes an appearance. This one seems appropriate for taking the stance of openness:

Let things Go

In conclusion, I have drawn closer to a process relational theology because of my past and present experiences with the divine and my interpretation of the Bible. God is relational, moving, loving, listening, caring, judging, and suffering with us. We are not alone, and we are not called to be alone. This is why religious communities are extremely important for our development and transformation. Indeed, we also are not meant to leave the world as it is either. Our relational God walks with us pursuing justice, equality, and life for all.

Whether the doctrine of sovereignty points to God or not, the real question is whether we are following God through the shadows of death or sitting idly by?

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I'm nobody

Anarchism, anti-war

taking a stand

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