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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Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity

radical summa: christianity and anarchism

Question: Can a Christian associate herself/himself with anarchism?*

Objection 1.“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1,2 NRSV) Thus, God, sovereign over all, should be trusted with whom God grants power over particular nations and peoples. To resist authority means to resist God.

Objection 2. Further, in the Hebrew Scriptures, Israel and Judah celebrated and respected their kings when they followed God. Anarchism rejects leadership of any kind for the will of local groups and individuals. The People of God have trusted God for their leadership. To reject leadership is to reject God’s will.

Objection 3. Further, Christianity cannot assume other ideologies. The Christian Scriptures present the only ideology that a Christian can bear. To allow other ideologies to corrupt a Christian’s conscience and way of life forfeits one’s religion and relationship with Jesus.

On the contrary, Studying the history of Christianity, one can gather that there are as many Christianities as ideologies. In the genesis of the Christian church, many of the members were platonists or neo-platonists ( Augustine, Tertullian, Justin Martyr). As history pursued, Thomas Aquinas adhered to Aristotelianism.Then, scholars in the Renaissance critiqued medieval scholarship, which  John Calvin and Martin Luther included in their theological works.

Fast-forward to today, we are products of our culture and environment. This is inescapable. There is no such thing as a pure Christianity. We choose what ideas, actions, and people to pursue and trust.

I answer that, There is no contradiction between anarchism and Christianity. Christianity is moldable and changeable as much as anarchism. It is possible for them to fit well together. With an extremely joyous and resounding Yes! I commend Christians to be open to other possibilities of political, economic, and social allegiances. The Gospel of Christ is formable, shakeable, and able to participate in most ideologies. Anarchism is an important ideology because it subverts the status quo, battles Empires, and casts down leadership for the sake of consensus. In association with Christianity, which for its early history, did all of these same things as well as practiced non-violence. Thus, Christianity and anarchism is not a contradiction, but a beautiful partnership.

Reply to Objection 1. Paul’s theological and ethical advice in Romans 13 may have been a standard for the church in Rome; although, we do not know this for certain. Yet, Paul did not follow his own teaching! Paul and his friends called Jesus king (Acts 17:7), which mocks political and religious authorities. As well, Paul faced much adversity for preaching the Gospel, which is anti-Roman Empire and was tortured for it (2nd Corinthians 11:23-29). Hence, Paul believe it was far more important to stand for one’s beliefs in another world than to blindly obey the Roman Empire.

Reply to Objection 2. Before kings ruled Israel and Judah, there were judges. From 1200-1000 BCE, judges fought for justice in the land. They were the ones who killed or stopped other tribe’s military and political leaders. When confronted with the idea of a king to rule over all the tribes in Israel a theopoetic exclamation emerged with the “Parable of the Trees” (Judges 9:8-15).* The “Parable of the Trees” demonstrates the multi-vocal nature of Scripture. The Hebrews did not always have kings. They were sometimes not happy when they did have a king. Before Israel’s first king Saul, God proclaimed that God did not want them to have one (1 Samuel 8). Thus, social and political hierarchy cannot be placed on God or Scripture as tradition.

My Kin-dom Is Not of This World

*Those unfamiliar with Thomas Aquinas’ style in the Summa Theologica, this post may seem odd. New Advent has the full Summa for those wanting to further investigate.

** It is one of two parables in Hebrew Bible, the other told to David by the prophet Nathan (2nd Samuel 12:1-6) concerning the rape of Bathsheba. Resistance in Scripture always finds creative means.

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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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Justice, Liberation Theology, Politics, Theodicy

a reflection on the boston tragedy

I mourn over the horrific violent act in Boston and all those effected. This was a senseless act of aggression and terror. As they still have not found anyone to blame this act on, let us pray for the perpetrators that they repent, and change their ways toward justice and compassion.

Concerning theodicy (a good God in an evil world), theologian Jurgen Moltmann responds in this way found in his book The Trinity and the Kingdom:

“God and suffering belong together, just as in this life the cry for God and the suffering experienced in pain belong together. The question about God and the question about suffering are a joint, a common question. And they only find a common answer. Either that, or neither of them finds a satisfactory answer at all. No one can answer the theodicy question in this world, and no one can get rid of it. Life in this world mean living with this open question, and seeking the future in which the desire for God will be fulfilled, suffering will be overcome, and what has been lost will be restored.” (49)

Let us keep our questions and hearts open to God as we process this tragedy.  Let us also remember those who suffer this kind of reality on a daily basis.

 

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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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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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Liberation Theology, Philosophy, Politics, Scripture

the good news of post-structuralism

On my good days I have some certainty to what good news looks like. Today is not one of those days, so I am depending on the prophetic tradition to aid me. According to Second Isaiah (61), good news is for the marginalized, those who have no luck, or certainty for tomorrow. The good news presented is liberation in the materialistic* sense. Justice will come to those who need it most. Their voices will be heard and they become active members in their community just as the rich and powerful have always been. This is in contrast to their position currently in society, which they are either demonized or pitied.

Good news, at least, in the monoculture of US society recognizes technological advance. This progress is waited upon by many in the US, as their desire for entertainment overwhelms their paycheck. Relating this to church, technology and ideas rarely have anything to do with materiality. Churches want the best new Christian book study or video series. Or listening to a testimony about how Jesus changed one’s mind about what they think of people with tattoos. I know these are extreme examples, but all too often are true. We live too much out of our minds. If philosophical concepts recycle every century or so; then we as a country, listen far too much to Hegelian philosophy, than to post-structuralist philosophies of the prophets.

Post-structualism can be of Good News to the Church as well as the world. First, it allows us to not focus only on ideas or your mind. During the 60’s and 70’s, Deleuze and Guattari wrote texts against the psychoanalysis movement, Anti-Opedius. They described how capitalism causes schizophrenia in society, individuals are sucked into what they become in consuming and in consuming they become machines. Deleuze and Guattari believed that this made one’s mind and body fascist. Meaning that we do not have control over our desires, which is for them freedom. Second, post-structuralism deconstructs power. Out of this movement came critical theories including critical race theory, queer theory, deconstruction, etc. They question and they question often. For example:

-Who has power in the text?
-Who agree the ones without a voice in this text?
-Since language is flimsy, words/sentences have potentiality to have various meanings, then how do we know what we are reading into a text and what the writer intended?
-We are still waiting for justice (Derrida), what are we expecting and is this good news for all?

Questioning helps us to read text carefully, and allows our circumstances to persuade us toward different directions according to context. Lastly, post-structuralism gives us hope that metanarratives do not have the last say (certainly there is much more I could say, but I think this is the most important). Narratives shape the way we view the world, universe, divinity, the other, etc. If we allow oppressive narratives to fester in our bodily activities, we may lose hope. Recently, this happened to me after watching all those Youtube videos about the truth behind the Sandy Hook “Tragedy.” These videos made me upset, in two senses. First, these videos present harmful ideas to the general public. Here I am much more pastoral in when people should be told information that is contrary to what everyone believes. These ideas cause confusion as to who to trust and dismisses theodicy. Second, the creators of these videos are not perusing any kind of legal action or seem to have many other things to do with their time, than to scare Youtube watchers. The Good News of post-structuralism is that there are thousands of micronarratives that make the world go round. These micronarratives are in our community. Some of them are based on misinformation, others on myths, but all based in community. It’s communities that can comfort and care for us. Micronarratives should be questioned as long as we are open with others etc. Thus allows me to reject the truthers movements of Sandy Hook and talk with my youth about theodicy, and what God’s kin-dom looks like.

Post-structuralism gives theology another chance in society and we must not lose our chance. As long as we are not taking an exclusivist approach, theology will survive. On a practical level, participating fully in these narratives means speaking with and knowing our neighbors, caring for the ignored, and being open to others.

*Think Marx, not shopaholics.

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