Christainity, Philosophy, Politics

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

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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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