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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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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Anarchism, Christainity

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.

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