Liberation Theology, theology

how wide is your theological imagination?

One of the most theological imaginative ideas in the last 50 years: Capitalism isn’t working. Another World is Possible!

Another World is Possible

A week before Christmas, Pastor Tim Keller tweeted:

Tim Keller 2

This comes as no surprise. For Keller, evangelicals, and other Christian conservatives, Jesus’ main objective was to forgive sins. For this reason, accordingly, Jesus was put on a cross to suffer and die. Jesus’ teachings, which concerned bringing God’s Realm to Earth, are often ignored, so that these evangelicals may put words into Jesus’ last dying breaths. 

Honestly, this tweet was easy for me to ignore. It neither brings a new perspective to evangelical theology, nor does it deny their anti-world, spiritualized theology. It confirms, once again, that for evangelicals, God is not on the side of the poor and oppressed. 

What I can’t ignore though is what Keller tweeted this week: 

Tim Keller

This is an “It’s okay to be white” tweet. A tweet that commends historical and current oppression, heteropatriarchy, and white supremacy. Keller, in this tweet, believes that God has chosen those to be blessed by surveying the genocide of Native peoples, the lynchings and slavery of black people, and second class citizenship of Latinx people, etc. For him, everything happens for a reason whether good or bad. In short, everything is ordained by God.

And yet,

a “gift of God” for one is

the stolen land of another

enslavement of another

the death of thousands for another 

and extreme poverty and despair of another

This same kind of unholy logic Keller purports could be used in the case of Erica and Eric Garner. Eric Garner, in the summer of 2014, was unjustly put in a chokehold and killed by a police officer on Staten Island for selling untaxed cigarettes. His daughter, Erica Garner, spoke out for her father’s life, against police brutality, and for a freer world. Unfortunately, her body could no longer handle the weight of systematic racism, the sorrow of her father’s death, and the despair that things will only get worse in the US under this administration. Neither of these Garners should be dead. Neither should the other countless individuals killed by police officers or the military, for that matter. These deaths are not happening because God desires them to happen, but because humanity continues to perpetuate unjust systems. 

One of the problems I find with Christian theology is a lack of imagination. For Keller and ilk, things are the way they are because God wouldn’t want them any other way. Really? This is the best God could do? If this is true, I think we should expect an apology from God. The idea that everything happens for a reason is dangerous and unimaginative,

With a lack of theological imagination:

  • systems of oppression go unchecked
  • pastors can continue with spiritual abuse (women should be subservient to men; God blesses the USA; abusers strengthen your faith; the end is coming soon, so donate your monies to the church, etc. )
  • the Earth is only temporary, God can make a new one
  • God is a caring Father, who cares about *His* children 

Maybe the question is not “How wide is your theological imagination?” but “What does your theological imagination smell like?” Mine somedays smells like the stinky compost I put on the rooftop garden at the church, or the smell my hand absorbs after shaking the hand of the volunteer who enjoys taking out the trash from the soup kitchen, or the smell of sajjige that my friend gives me after it being in her purse all day. These smells represent growth, kindness, and friendship. Things that seem to be lacking in some of our theological imaginations. 

The world is not as it should be. With the help of bolder theological imaginations, we might create, with God, a more just-filled world. 

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Scripture, Sermon

it is not about whether or not you love your neighbor, but how you do so: a sermon

I preached this sermon at Broadway Presbyterian Church in NYC on Sunday, August 20th.

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”
And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself,
The lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,
and fell into the hands of robbers,
who stripped him,
beat him,
and went away,
leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him,
he passed by on the other side.
So likewise, (by chance), a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him,
passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him;
and when he saw him,
he was moved with compassion.
The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds,
having poured oil and wine on them.
Then he put him on his own animal,
brought him to an inn,
and took care of him.
Then the next day he took out two denarii,
gave them to the innkeeper, and said,
‘Take care of him; and when I come back,
I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him (and to us), “Go and do likewise.”

He Qi, The Good Samaritan

He Qi’s The Good Samaritan

It can be difficult trying to hear with fresh senses this well tread passage. Hearing the phrase “The Good Samaritan” brings up childhood Sunday school lessons for some of us or our favorite television episodes where the main character acts with Good Samaritan compassion. And these starting points color how we hear this parable.

For me, it was when I was called a Good Samaritan after I picked up three hitchhikers at a gas station in my hometown, provided them with a meal, and a shower. Then drove them to their friend’s house two hours away. And really I was only called a “Good Samaritan” the next day after a night of being remed out by my parents. But honestly, I did it, because I was bored and wanted a disruption in my own life. In the parable there’s no sense of boredom, only honest to God compassion.

This is what I love about the parable of the Good Samaritan, it’s straightforward.

Clearly there are those who are morally corrupt: the robbers.
The morally ambiguous: the Levite and the priest.
And the moral hero: the Samaritan.
Unlike other parables too, it’s not about God’s Realm, but about the flesh and blood of this life.

When I was rereading our passage this week, I was struck by all the times the Samaritan touched this bloodied man.

And a quick but important side note: the robbers were not just stealing this man’s wallet, but attempting to take his life.

Now back to the compassionate Samaritan:
First, upon seeing the half dead man, he bends down, wraps up his bloodied body, pouring oil and wine on the wounds.
Next he puts the now bandaged man onto his animal or donkey and ride to the Inn.
At the inn, they stay the night, probably in the same room.
I can’t imagine that the Samaritan slept much that night, since he was probably checking in constantly on the man. Like a parent spending the first few nights with their newborn.
The next morning, the Samaritan gives the inn keeper money to take care of the man and that he would repay him any extra expenses.

In a way, this doesn’t sound like the parable I grew up with. I was taught a bloodless parable on felt board with characters who wore oversized Middle Eastern like clothing. And maybe this parable isn’t meant for kids. Because after spending the last two weeks with 8-11 year olds at Vacation Bible School, I can tell you that they don’t need this lesson. They’re just fine caring for those around them. It’s really for us adults.

So who is my neighbor according to Jesus?
It’s those who are within reach, who are within arm’s length.

Before I get too ahead of myself. Make no mistake about this: Jesus is calling us to be neighbors to those who are along our paths in life. It’s who you are sitting beside now. It’s who you will run into on the sidewalk after church. THEY ARE THE ONES WE ARE CALLED TO BE NEIGHBORS TO!

I stress this because often I get caught up in my own social media world. A world, that’s still real, but is not within arms reach. I can show compassion by texting emojis, but there are still men who sleep on the front steps of our church. I can send direct messages on Twitter to those in difficult life situations, but I often keep in my earbuds when I see an acquaintance who I don’t want to speak to on the sidewalk. I’m Timothy, I have other big important things to do, not just getting to know the name of the person ringing me up at Westside Market for my meatball parm sub. Because I am more often than not the priest and the Levite in this parable.

Is it because I consider myself a New Yorker now, fast walking, head down, and becoming more egocentric. I’m not sure, but Jesus is clear on this point: Know and love your neighbor.

But there’s more to this story that I’ll only touch on. You see the Levite and the priest, in a way, do nothing wrong. They’re bad neighbors, yes. Apathetic, very. But were they actively harming the man? No, of course.

The stark problem though that confronts me every time I read this passage is with our dismissal of the robbers. Why doesn’t anyone talk about why the man was in the ditch, half-dead in the first place?!

It’s complicated because you have to go back to the system.
There are robbers because they have a need.
They have a need because there’s inequality.
There’s inequality because the system was created like this.

Martin Luther King Jr. was onto this holy logic in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech when he said: “On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Amen, but woah. Timothy are you trying to tell us that it’s not just about acting kind to those we pass by each day or that it’s not good enough to care only for my family, but that I need to challenge the system? In short, yes. But in long form: no, but also.

No, keep in touch with those around you, but also make sure if they are feeling hopeless that you comfort them.

No, don’t stop reposting articles about Heather Heyer, who was killed by a white supremacist but also live in such a way that celebrates our diverse world and keep naming white supremacy as a sin and enemy of humanity.

No, continue giving money to good organizations that fight for human rights, dignity, and a more just world, but also show deep, deep love to those struggling financially, emotionally, and physically.

This tension of living like the Good Samaritan and changing the Jericho Road is not easy. Nor is following Jesus supposed to be easy. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t be the same person as you were, but transformed by a God who loves and comforts us and expects the same from us.

I’ll end my sermon just as Jesus did:
Go and do likewise.
Go, as in leave your place of comfort and enter places where people have lost all hope.
Do it, not to be called good, since the phrase “Good Samaritan” is not found in the text itself, but do it to further bring God’s Realm on Earth.
So Go and do likewise, Amen.

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Beliefs, Bible, Spiritual

charlottesville and revelation

My church’s Pub Theology crew wanted to discuss the doctrine of Revelation. As is my custom, I created a worksheet to help start our conversation:

Working Definition: Revelation unveils the Unknown. 

What is it:
An experience, an event, an inspiration that moves one beyond the vision of the ordinary. 
Transcendent 
Transformative 

What is it not
Revelation does not provide us with all that there is to know about God. 
It does not speak against Biblical theology, i.e. it will never tell you to hate your neighbor.
It is not new information.

Sources and Sites of Revelation:
Scripture
Jesus Christ
Preaching
People
Music
Animals
Campfires
Creation
Protests
Soup Kitchens

Thomas Merton Plaque

A plaque of Thomas Merton’s famous Revelation

The Intersection of Revelation and Charlottesville 

“Flannery O’Connor depicts an event of “revelation” in a way that points to the deeper theological meaning of the term. She tells of the story of Mrs. Turpin, a hard-working, upright, church-going farmer’s wife, who is unexpectedly accosted by a mentally disturbed teenage girl in a doctor’s office. After bearing Mrs. Turpin’s superior attitude and demanding remarks about white trash and black people as long as she can, the girl suddenly throws a heavy book at Mrs. Turpin, begins to strangle her, and calls her a “warthog from hell.” When Mrs. Turpin returns to her farm, she cannot get the girl’s words out of her mind. Standing beside her pigpen, she is outraged by being called a warthog. She knows she is a good person, certainly far superior to white trash and black people. She reminds God of that, as well as of all the work she does for the church, “What did you send me a message like that for?” She angrily asks God. But as she stared into the pigpen, she has a glimpse of “the very heart of mystery,” and begins to absorb some “abysmal life-giving knowledge.” She has a vision of a parade of souls marching to heaven, with white trash, black people, lunatics, and other social outcasts up front, and respectable people like herself at the rear of the procession, the shocked expressions on their faces showing that all their virtues are being burned away. Mrs. Turpin returns to her house with shouts of hallelujah from the heaven-bound saints in her ears.”

“Revelation is an event that shakes us to the core.”

“Revelation compels momentous decisions about who God is and how we are to understand the world and ourselves.”

The previous quotes are from the tremendous book Faith Seeking Understanding by Daniel Migliore (p. 22)


Our conversation was complicated by the group constantly arguing for what I deemed as little “r” revelation. They described events that shaped new ways of visioning the world, but not necessarily with the consequences of material change. For example, someone mentioned walking in the park, feeling awestruck, and not being able to see a leaf again without thinking of God’s handiwork. This is lovely, for sure, but is not capital “R” Revelation. 

When Biblical Revelations occur, which seem to only happen to men, the recipient’s  lives are transformed. After Moses encounters God in a burning bush, he changes his path, goes back to Egypt, and joins in the liberation of the Hebrew People. Paul’s revelation of God knocks his life out of control, no longer does he kill Christians, but now he preaches a Gospel for both Jews and Gentiles. According to these Biblical Revelations, they happen when they’re least expected and one is persuaded towards a way of life-giving love. 

And oh how I pray for Revelations for politicians, CEOs, & white supremacists that they may change their ways. Often I think that people could help foster acts of Revelation. Like the teenage girl in the Flannery O’Connor tale and help others to see that their vision of the world is destructive.

I ended the conversation at Pub Theology saying that if a Revelation does not create a material change, not just a spiritual one, then you should’ve been paying closer attention.

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Christainity, Homelessness, Liberation Theology, Prayer

a prayer for justice

Clarissa Explains White Supremacy

 Oh God of this world and universe,
You constantly surprise us.
You bring about life where there is only death.
You sing to us sweet melodies that comfort those despairing.
And you guide us with hope.

The horrific acts these past few days have made our hearts heavy.
There was a bombing of a Colorado Springs NAACP office.
A group of armed men killed a whole staff of magazine writers in Paris.
And a kosher supermarket hostage situation ended in four deaths.

We are overwhelmed and frustrated.
These terrorists attacks distract us from dealing internally.
As in the US, we need to call out and end racism, white supremacy,
police brutality, economic inequality, homophobia, trans*phobia,
and so much more.

We are overwhelmed and angry
that national news cycles barely covered the NAACP bombing,
that our own President sent condolences the same night the two NYPD officers were killed,
but took days to say a word on Michael Brown.

We know, O God, that our world is unjust.
We are not asking to be rescued,
we are asking for the courage to speak out and act against injustice.
We are not asking to be more “heavenly-minded, that we are no earthly good,”
but that we are a people who show others the alternative life of your Reign.

We pray this in the name of Jesus, who stands in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, Amen.

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