Anarchism, Anti-Capitalism, Beliefs, Christainity, Liberation Theology, Philosophy

desert ascetics in the land of plenty

God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse released last year and was co-written by Slavoj Zizek and Boris Gunjevic. Re-reading it again for a third time, I am enjoying the chapters written by Gunjevic even more. Gunjevic uses St. Augustine’s City of God as an ethical playbook to destroy capitalism. In the quote below, Gunjevic writes that to subvert capitalism one must follow the way of an ascetic. Walter Benjamin points us that capitalism is a religion; Gunjevic believes that the way to dismantle this religious system is though religious asceticism.

“This is why a measured dose of voluntary, disciplined asceticism is necessary, from which rough fragments of efficacious truths may surface and heal our desire, as Augustine says, since we will guide our desire not to something beautiful, desirable, and transitory, but to Beauty itself, immutable Truth itself, and Bliss itself. This is why we need asceticism, as only asceticism can redirect desire towards eternal plenitude. For ascetic exercise is not the destruction of desire as is suggested by various forms of Buddhism. Augustine’s understanding of ascetic practice begins with a voluntary renunciation of submission to pleasure the renunciation of a weakening of the soul and body, and renunciation of the avaricious aspiration to greater wealth. The lust for glory is a nasty vice and an enemy of true devotion, says Augustine, calling on the words of the carpenter from Nazareth and the Apostles whose practice was to place the love of God above.” “Babylonian Virtues–Minority Report” (100-101)

God in Pain

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Christainity, Philosophy, Politics

the messiah came; we were just too busy looking at our cell phones

Jesus’ second coming filled my thoughts as a young child. In my apocalyptic vision, Jesus descended from heaven, trumpets sounded, and saved persons were raptured into heaven. On Earth there would be years of torment for those who weren’t Christians, and after seven years, Jesus would come back again (third coming?) to see if anyone would believe in him now. God would then separate and send those destined for heaven or hell. Eternity began then. My eschatological version represented a dispensationalism worldview. I held onto this view for too long.

As a youngster, some mornings I would wake up, open my eyes, stay in bed and think that the rapture had taken my family, leaving me to fend for myself. Moreover, I believed that Jesus was going to come back when everyone least expected it. So I would constantly think about the Second Coming in hopes that Jesus wouldn’t have the chance to come back. This paradox comforted me.

second coming

Nowadays, I rarely think about the second coming or any kind of end of the world type scenario. Franz Kafka, in Paradoxes and Parables, defines my current paradox quite well: The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last day.

Jacques Derrida focused some of his later writings to the idea of the messianic. Derrida speaking, in the beginning of the documentary Derridasays

“In general, I try to distinguish between what one calls the future and the “l’avenir”. The future is that which –tomorrow, later, next century — will be. There’s a future which is predictable, programmed, scheduled, foreseeable. But there is a future, l’avenir (to come) which refers to someone who comes, whose arrival is totally unexpected. For me, that is the real future. That which is totally unpredictable. The Other who comes without my being able to anticipate their arrival. So if there is a real future beyond this other known future, it’s l’avenir in that it’s the coming of the Other when I am completely unable to foresee their arrival.

The unpredictable future, that which changes and transforms everything, begins with coming of the Other. Governments, afraid of the Other, want to domesticate the Other making our future predictable. Hence, we have created a society of little children who don’t grow up. We don’t have to cook, our music comes in an instant, we can work at home, and we can order anything and receive it the next day. No sense of struggle or appreciation is necessary.

Struggle gives life meaning; consuming demeans and desensitizes us from existence. On this point of struggle, Hegel thought that it was important that nations go to war. He wrote, “War is not to be regarded as an absolute evil…by its agency as I have remarked elsewhere the ethical health of the peoples is preserved in their indifference to the stabilization of finite institutions; just as the blowing of the winds preserves the sea from the foulness which would be the result of a long calm, so also corruption in nations would be the result of prolonged, let alone ‘perpetual’ peace.”  The perpetual peace is a reference to a pamphlet Kant wrote, saying that peace is the highest political good. At this point, I agree with Hegel, not that war is necessary, but that some rumblings need to happen in a nation.

Our contemporary wars are not the same as Hegel would have understood it. Our weapons have advanced so they no longer need someone to operate them. If war in the past confronted the Real in humanity, then today war has dehumanized us to the point of extinction. Our checks and balances in the US have not been effective in years. The NSA, JSOC, or the military or prison-industrial complex won’t allow the Other to exist. Watch Dirty Wars to find out more disturbing information.

If Jesus were to come from the heavens, the US government would know about it a week in advance and murder him midair.

We must otherize the Other to open us up to new possibilities. It’s a call to vulnerability, not stupidity; struggling for a meaningful existence rather than idly letting life pass by, etc.

The Derridian prayer seems most appropriate here: Come, Oh Divine Other, come.

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Philosophy

subverting the norm II!

This coming weekend I am presenting my paper “Approaching Youth Ministry through a Post-Structural Lens” at Subverting the Norm II in Springfield, MO. Here is my abstract:

A postmodern mood fills the halls of youth ministries everywhere. We re-work tradition with liturgies, candles, and video clips. Youth play games one moment and the next learn the importance of sacraments. Youth ministry performs well, but in practice only. It lacks in respect to theology and philosophically. Most Christian youth leaders still land in conservative camps: leading suburban youth down the path of righteousness through conversion experiences, subcultured Christian music, and emotional highs with the divine.

If youth ministry wants to help youth and children, post-structuralism must be an intimate partner. It fights against binaries, lifts up difference, and listens to the margins of society. To bring post-structuralism to youth ministry, it will first be pastoral in its approach: teaching hope in times of tragedy and the hard questions of discipleship during day-to-day life. Second, experiences and Christian doctrines will be held loosely in the hands of the youth, allowing for critical thinking. Third, we will teach differences in discipleship and allow youth to follow a path that fits them. Last, by building webs of belief from experience to understand the divine and our relationship to each other. This approach encourages youth to dissect and understand their faith rather than scoop handfuls of beliefs, packaged and ready by the church.

I am very excited to present, listen, and interact with other religious postmodernists.

postmodern

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Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology, Philosophy, Politics, Scripture, Spiritual

theologically imagining a new atonement theory

Easter arrives in a few weeks. The Church will celebrate the crucifixion, death, burial and eventual rising of Jesus the Christ. So much meaning is packed into one weekend. Altars are torn down, darkness floods the tenebrae service, and on Easter Sunday some church members have the opportunity to wake as the sun rises to worship the God of resurrection. A weekend full of beautiful symbolism, yet it is the sermons that fall short of creative theological imagination.

One reason there has been less and less theological imagination from Easter sermons is because many ministers only know one way to think about the atonement. For those who don’t know, the act of the atonement happened when Jesus was on the cross. In American meta-theology penal substitution sweeps our theological landscape. In other words, Jesus took the place of the individual for the sins that she or he has committed. In terms of salvation, if the individual believes the Jesus did that for him or her, then a pleasant afterlife will be attained. Since it is the most common theory, all those who recommend other theories are often sent to the margins of the church.

Let’s look at a couple of the theories:

In general, all atonement theories focus on one component in the narrative or interpretation  For the penal substitutionist, they look to Paul’s interpretation found in the letter to the Romans and his other letters. We need Jesus to die for us so that we may be redeemed from our sins. Black liberation theologians start subjectively, and especially with James Cone, who looked to African Americans who were lynched by the hands of the white Southerners. Jesus, according to Cone, was black since he sided with the oppressed in history who were wrongfully killed. Other theologians, such as feminists observe the violent behavior of the cross and dismiss it, never to welcome any kind of theory in their theology, but focus on Jesus’ life as a whole. Those who adore Renee Girard believe that Jesus showed the way out of redemptive violence by dying on a cross, simliar thought to many of my Catholic Worker friends. Therefore, there are many ways to look at the atonement: Paul’s interpretation, subjective eisegesis (which I believe is just as credible as exegesis), dismiss it totally, nonviolently, historical, Christus Victor, Moral Influence Theory, etc.

Jesus Christ

Whichever theory we attribute to ourselves means that we ignore the other elements found in the narrative or letter. Since I grew up in an area  of many penal substitutionists, I know that they mostly read St. Paul, and less of the acts and words of Jesus. Moral Influence proponents do the opposite and read the Gospels primarily. I want to propose a theory that tries to combine some of the elements that I believe to be essential to make a broader and more encompassing theory.

First, some qualifications:

  • We must read both Testaments, knowing that all of the writers had different perspectives on God and life.
  • Since we have four canonical Gospels, there are at least four Christologies. If we consider St. Paul’s views as well and the other letters there are far more. Thus it depends on what Gospel or letter we read will tells us how they approach Jesus.
  • Anytime we read we bring our views, traditions, and experiences with us.
  • Theology and interpretation of Scripture do not have to be exclusive, Historical texts must always be interpreted and theological measures can and should always be taken.

Jesus, historically, was a Jewish artisan living in a poor area of Galilee, Nazareth. He was known for his radical table etiquete, healing those in society who were outcasts, teaching new ways to practice the Hebrew Bible, and was considered a prophet. The political and religious authorities noticed the large following and wanted to have Jesus killed, so that the followers may scatter and the Jesus movement die. When Jesus flipped over the money tables in the Temple at Jerusalem, it was the last straw for those in charge and had him tried and crucified on a cross as a criminal. Jesus would die as thousands of people did each year for rebelling against the Roman Empire. Jesus did not just die because of rebellion, but for teaching a new kin-dom that was so upside-down that it did not fit with the normalcy of civilization.

According to the ancient Roman context, Jesus’ death was part of the Imperial scenery and normal.  Yet the followers of Christ saw something new happening. They understood that God raised Jesus from being another executed rebel of the State to have the honor of sitting at God’s right hand. Jesus’ followers found Jesus’ presence in their agape meals, and through praying, healing, and loving others. Jesus’ death made it possible that Jesus could be with the followers forever.

Early followers, in addition, understood that Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated the powers of evil, or known as Christus Victor. The power of evil had no hold on the world anymore. St. Augustine’s definition of evil summarizes it perfectly, “Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name evil.” When one is present in the community of believers she or he have access to God and God’s goodness. In the Christian/Hebrew Scriptures, healing begins with the transformation of the individual and ends with the community’s embrace. For example, the demonic man in the graveyard who was healed and sent into the community or Peter and John healing the man in Acts 3 who was unable to walk and he entered into the community of believers upon being healed.

Jesus’ death accomplies two main things*: we are welcomed into the Triune Community of Love, and demonstrates that divine always stands with the marginalized. The cross is not the end, but the beginning of a new community, one of hope of a better world which we help to create with pursuing justice.

Cameroon's Jesus

* There are many more things that are accomplished as well. It shows the love of the divine for the Earth and her people. It grants us hope for a new future. It shows us what love looks like in community. I focus on these two because they are often ignored in churches and it focuses on the present community as well as the ancient community and not only the individual.

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Justice, Liberation Theology, Politics

justice conference

This video highlights my view of justice, postmodern, of course. We must always fight for a better world, yet understanding there is always so much more that must be done. If we are going to fight for the oppressed and are not in communion with them, our fight is shallow.

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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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Beliefs, Christainity, Liberation Theology, Scripture

god as stranger/kin

During my teen years, it was drilled into me that we need to believe that Jesus is both Lord and Savior. One is not a true believer if they only accept Jesus as one of those titles. I later found out that my pastor learned this doctrinal idea from the popular Reformed fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur. The sovereignty that MacArthur and my pastor were attributing to God was huge! God is a perfect Being, erring never, and everything that happens in the world is according to God’s perfect will. God’s purpose is present everywhere working in all created beings. God’s world is an orchestra playing together for God’s own purposes. Although we may feel that the violin in our own lives is out of tune on earth, God can only hear beautiful music.

The doctrine of God’s sovereignty frightens and haunts me. It has the capability to mean that humans do not have agency, but are puppets. Yet, we are oblivious to being a puppet. Thank God, the Christian tradition has several strains of resistance. Although, most of the early Christians who had a weaker version of sovereignty were deemed heretical that seems to be beside the point. Since even Tertullian and Origen were considered heretical, yet we read and praise their works today.

The alternative approach to a hierarchical sovereignty is to view God as Stranger/kin. These terms are opposite in meaning, but lead to the same engagement of God. First, God/She as stranger presents us with the divine as event*. God moves in the world, shaking it up, and on an individual level transforming us. Bringing together Moltmann and Derrida, God/She is the event that can only demonstrate love. In relation to human strangers, they are always the Other, not having any known relationship to the self. The stranger’s only commonality is their humanness. They have unlimited options in how they can approach us: ignore, high-five, scream, steal, etc. This can cause anxiety when we exit our comforting homes to unknown experiences. God as stranger acts in similar ways. We are shaken when we surrender our self ambitions to the ways of God/Her, which are justice and peace. Flannery O’Connor had it right, when she wrote “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.  They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

The stranger represents God/Her well in the Christian Scriptures. God always walks among the people. For example, in Luke’s narrative on the walk to Emmaus, Jesus the stranger walks with the two disciples and is revealed in a transformative moment at the breaking of the bread. This event changed the way these early disciples saw the world, that it was through the breaking of bread among other followers of the Way can we find Jesus among us. God/She also gave visions and dreams to people that effected them deeply. One does not expect such things, but they come mysteriously without warning. God/She penetrates the world and everything therein, transforming it through unexpected measures. The most prominent example with dreams happend to Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, when God changed Peter’s view of the ontological position of Gentiles. The only sovereignty that God/She as stranger has comes not with how we as people are transformed, but how God surprises as event.

While God as stranger seems disconnected to anything personal, God/She as kin presents divinity as personal. As I like different theologies, I have read several positions on God as personal. Of course, I am not speaking of Jesus or God as our personal Savior, but the way that liberation and feminist thealogions speak of the divine, as God as sufferer, lover, and kin. Or as one of my favorite feminist metaphorical thealogions Sallie McFague wrote “God as mother, lover, and friend.” God/She as personal practically does not look like God/She speaking with us or demonstrating miracles (though it is hard for me to deny either of those). Personal should sound more like personality. God has particular movements, and moments that She is present. During times of tragedy  God/She comforts and suffers with those who are involved. God is present with those who are fighting for a better world. We may not feel God, but God/She is present. Kin denies the hierarchical/above position for an equal/with one.

Elizabeth Johnson Cross Quote

In conclusion, as the death of God theologians taught us that God is no longer in heaven, but on the Earth, I agree, but take it one step further. God is present and personal, suffering, and loving us as we move toward liberation, justice and peace. It is with our God that justice to come becomes the justice that is. In the name of God/She that stands in solidarity with the oppressed, guides the rejected to love, and the feeds the poor by the works of Her children. Amen!

*a moment that transforms the way we see the world. For Derrida, “Deconstruction takes place, it is an event.” Speaking theologically, God as the event shows that those weak moments in our lives pulsate the divine. If you want to read about this further read The Weakness of God by John Caputo.

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