Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology, Spiritual

dangerous memory, spiritual practices, and the media

If America’s soul was not already wounded by the violence we impart around the world, it is certainly broken now. Last week we suffered conflict after conflict: the Boston Marathon bombing, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, and the shooting at MIT, etc.  It would be most appropriate to practice “Dangerous Memory” as Johann Baptist Metz taught. It calls us to remember those who are suffering and have suffered. (Consumer-capitalist culture thrives on amnesia, not giving us any chance to remember those who suffered and have died because we are too busy consuming.) As we remember those who are currently suffering, we relate their struggle to the life, suffering, and death of Christ. Yet, Jesus’ life does not end with death, but God/She raised Jesus and we keep this hope for those who suffer. Alongside our remembering and hope in new life, we lament. We cry out to God/She, asking that justice may come. The road of healing and restoration is hard but necessary, and if we are following Jesus, then restoration is the only way.

My practice of  Metz’s “Dangerous Memory” fell short last week, being was consumed by the news, my twitter feed, and NPR. On Thursday morning I stayed in bed all morning until I went to work at 1:30pm listening to NPR.

In our society we retrieve information and news through screens: computer, tablets, television, phone, etc. 24 hour news cycles and up-to-second coverage on Twitter and other news-feeds bombard our minds and hearts. Brother Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk in Kentucky, wrote widely on subjects as war, violence, peace, monasticism, and silence. He is still revered for his writings. Concerning the news, Merton wrote:

I have watched TV twice in my life. I am frankly not terribly interested in TV anyway. Certainly I do not pretend that by simply refusing to keep up with the latest news I am therefore unaffected by what goes on, or free of it all. Certainly events happen and they affect me as they do other people. It is important for me to know about them too: but I refrain from trying to know them in their fresh condition as “news.” When they reach me they have become slightly stale. I eat the same tragedies as others, but in the form of tasteless crusts. The news reaches me in the long run through books and magazines, and no longer as a stimulant. Living without news is like living without cigarettes (another peculiarity of the monastic life). The need for this habitual indulgence quickly disappears. So, when you hear news without the “need” to hear it, it treats you differently. And you treat it differently too.

Merton viewed our obsession with the news cycle the same as an addiction to cigarettes.  We desire to stay on top of everything as it happens and it makes us anxious when we don’t know what is going on. This is a problem. Last week CNN demonstrated that “Breaking News is Broken.” Farhad Manjoo, began his article:

“Inspired by the events of the past week, here’s a handy guide for anyone looking to figure out what exactly is going on during a breaking news event. When you first hear about a big story in progress, run to your television. Make sure it’s securely turned off.

Next, pull out your phone, delete your Twitter app, shut off your email, and perhaps cancel your service plan. Unplug your PC.

Now go outside and take a walk for an hour or two. Maybe find a park and sit on a bench, reading an old novel. Winter is just half a year away—have you started cleaning out your rain gutters? This might be a good time to start. Whatever you do, remember to stay hydrated. Have a sensible dinner. Get a good night’s rest. In the morning, don’t rush out of bed. Take in the birdsong. Brew a pot of coffee.

Finally, load up your favorite newspaper’s home page. Spend about 10 minutes reading a couple of in-depth news stories about the events of the day. And that’s it: You’ve now caught up with all your friends who spent the past day and a half going out of their minds following cable and Twitter.”

Majoo described the same kind of spiritual practice as Brother Merton, only 60 years later. Any intentional engagement in the world that wants to positively affect the whole person: spirit, mind, and body is a spiritual practice. People are beginning to recognize this again as an important factor of life, which explains why yoga, meditation, walking in nature, etc. are making a comeback. Comedian Amy Poelher on her “Ask Amy” Youtube channel explained how her “eyes need a break” from all the tragic images in the news.

I am not saying that we never read or watch the news or not concern ourselves with the global community; it is far too late for that. I am suggesting that the world needs us to be full of love and compassion and we cannot do that if we are busy watching television. If we turn off the television, twitter-feeds, etc. we need to replace them with spiritual practices. These are the most counter-cultural act we can do since  they do not consume anything, hence counter-cultural. You can take your time walking the labyrinth or read a psalm as slow as you want during lectio-divina or meditate by emptying yourself of thoughts and desires. 24 hour news-cycles attempt accuracy, yet they harm viewers with unwanted anxiety. To turn off these fear-intensifiers and to direct our emotions and energies toward prayer, self-care, meditation, and compassion in the community changes the way in which we engage in the world.

labyrinth

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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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