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Yesterday I found a forgotten essay that I wrote for a class I took over the summer. The class, Poverty and Restorative Earthkeeping, explored the intersectionality of race, class and gender in relation to poverty and the environment. This short piece was written as a reflection on a theme found in Larry Rasmussen’s Earth Community, Earth Ethics.

Are there other metaphors or avenues for engagement that you have found to be particularly helpful for dialogue between Christian practice/ethics and care for the Earth? How does our being embedded in and embodied on the earth influence or shape our theology?

The essay is embedded below, but if you’d rather read it as a pdf, you can do so here: Earth as Oikos

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Final Reflection 1

Final Reflection 2Final Reflection 3
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I’ll be the first to admit that I am not very familiar with Islam. I do my best to resist and counter stereotypes against the Muslim faith that reduce it to the actions and beliefs that occur at its fringe. That said, I was fascinated to read about the meeting between Aaron Taylor, a Christian missionary with a fundamentalist-Pentecostal background, and Khalid Kelly, a self-professed Jihadist.

Taylor recounts the tale of how his cooperation with a documentary producer Stephen Marshall (Holy Wars) led him to a meeting with the young and radical Muslim, an Other whom most Americans––especially Christians––is taught to view with great fear and even contempt. This was an enemy of both Taylor’s country and his faith.

Oddly enough, Alone With a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War (Foghorn Publishers, 2009), is not all that much about the conversation between the Christian missionary and the vehemently anti-Western, Irish-Catholic convert to Islam. Rather, it is about a major shift in Taylor’s faith and the practice of his Christianity. This is a book about Jesus and empire. Alone narrates Taylor’s crumbling American-Christian worldview in the wake of his meeting with Khalid. I very much appreciate that Taylor was moved by Khalid’s challenges to his American-Christianity and allowed himself to remain open, which created room for change within himself. Taylor writes:

“We tend not to listen to people who support terrorists, but I think that may be our most profound weakness. Because if you actually sit down and listen to them, like I chose to do with Khalid, you will hear an anger and frustration with America and the Western world that isn’t emerging from a vacuum.” (169).

Anyone who has disagreed sharply with friends, let alone strangers, knows how rare and difficult it is to concede our certanties and reconsider what we believe. When those disagreements are over the sacred American treasures of democracy, Capitalism, Christianity, and Westernism as a whole, such disagreements have a lot more at stake. When I speak of Taylor’s crumbling American-Christian worldview, I mean the kind of American-exceptionalist-Jesus-is-gonna-whoop-some-non-Republican-ass-hoorah-Capitalist-Zionism kind of worldview that prevails in much of dominant Christianity in the United States.

Taylor’s debate with Khalid about democracy and freedom and how Christianity and Islam
interact with such notions––as well as what it means for Christians to want a “godly government”––left Taylor at a loss. He recalls:

“Khalid had presented an authentic challenge to my faith and I knew that if there was to be any victory at all, like the victory that was prophesied, then I would have to get to the bottom of the issue. Khalid’s charge was simple. Jesus didn’t leave the world with a comprehensive social system, economic system, political system, or any other kind of system to regulate society. At least Muhammad attempted to solve the world’s problems…” (18)

Alone With a Jihadist is Taylor’s impassioned journey toward rediscovering Jesus and what it means to follow Jesus as a citizen of the world. I resonate a lot with Taylor’s journey, as it was only six years ago that I underwent my own transformation as a result of seeking Jesus apart from the religious context I received him in. Our formerly fundamentalist Pentecostal emerges in the echoes of folks like Wink, Yoder, Ellul and Claiborne. Taylor meets a radical Jesus who chooses non-violence, who teaches love for enemies, who challenges and frustrates the powers, and who undermines our very notions of power itself.

As Taylor unfolded his newly discovered understanding of Jesus and how it radically reoriented his theological and political imagination, I couldn’t help but think how anarchic his theology was sounding. Because of the stigma that “anarchism” drags behind it, I wondered if it was even on Taylor’s radar. I can honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised to see him affirm anarchism’s basic
critiques of “power over” and the idea of “self-legitimizing power.” I never thought I’d see the day when a Pentecostal missionary would quote both Chomsky and Thoreau and draw connections between following Jesus and anarchism.

Taylor’s book has a lot to offer when it comes to who Jesus is and what following Jesus looks like apart from empire. However, it curiously lacks the intelligent and engaging Muslim-Christian dialogue I hoped to find and learn from. While I enjoyed what Taylor had to offer, if you are at all familiar with the above list of anti-imperialist Christian thinkers, Taylor’s content will not be new to you. However, as election season closes in the U.S., his vision for how one follows Jesus in North America is a refreshing alternative from the “biblical values” that I’m definitely sick of hearing about.

“It’s been well over a year now since my debate with Khalid and I’ve finally reached the conclusion of the matter. No Jesus didn’t leave the world with a socio-political system to solve its problems. What He gave us instead was the cross. At the cross, Jesus taught humanity that it’s better to suffer injustice than to be the cause of it, it’s better to relinquish power than to pursue power, and perhaps most importantly, it’s better to die than to kill. By rejecting earthly power, Jesus introduced to the world a model for a new kind of human being––the model of the powerless prophet.” (193)

Amen.

What do you think? Have you read Alone With a Jihadist? What are your thoughts on its vision for Christianity? Do you think it fairly represents the Muslim faith?

 

I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Over the past five years as I have begun critically facing the history, beliefs, traditions, and consequences of my Christian tradition, the convictions I once held regarding many aspects of Christian theology have shifted, melted and evolved, and become something completely different than they had once been.

From my late teenage years into my early twenties, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to consume Christian doctrine in an effort to “get my theology straight.” My Christianity became a bare white wall in an old house, and “getting my theology straight” meant carefully and neatly hanging framed portraits of God, salvation, sin, humanity, Jesus, the atonement, the Spirit, and other smaller pictures surrounding those things. However, I lacked any kind of theological level which I could hold up to my wall and have a little bubble assure me that my theology was indeed “straight.” I was never a fan of systematic theologies and I didn’t quite yet grasp the ways that early creedal statements influenced and shaped Christianity. Before you say, “Well the Bible is your level,” think for a second about how many people come to differing beliefs based upon their readings of the same words. While the Bible certainly is a valuable guide, it is not the final arbiter in how we relate to God or how God reveals Godself to us.

My wife and I recently mounted some artwork on the walls of our apartment and I am keenly familiar with how difficult it is to determine if something is lined up properly and hanging straightly when your face is 10 inches away from it and you’re focusing on keeping your arms steady while pressing the frame to the dry wall. This is where it is helpful to have someone behind you. Thankfully my wife was able to take a few steps back and determine whether each piece was lined up how we wanted and hanging level on the wall. Having someone to stand behind you and measure whether or not your picture is hanging straight and looks good on the wall is really helpful. When it comes to carving out our beliefs and the ways that we attempt to make sense of Christianity, having others standing behind you to shape, critique, and challenge those beliefs is crucial because what we believe about God and the ways in which those beliefs manifest themselves outwardly through our lives are deeply connected.

Where this gets tricky is in determining who we allow to stand behind us and influence us, and also our willingness to be influenced. Our beliefs about almost anything, no matter how personal, never remain personal. They crawl out of the frames we put them in and invade other areas of our lives. They will bring us either to love others and seek their best or lead us to judge others and seek what we think is their best. Jesus calls us to the former. This operates in our relationships with the poor, those who find spiritual truth elsewhere than Christianity, the earth and the natural world, people who identify as queer and hosts of others who are not benefitted by their identity, race, class, or anatomy. Thus, when our theology is not shaped by relationships and by the real lives and experiences of real people standing behind us (or in books, newspapers, on blogs, or wherever we connect with the embodied experience), what one ends up with is . . . a wall that is really pleasing to our eyes, but that’s about it. It satisfies our compulsion to sustain certainty and to have things figured out so that we can produce answers and be comforted by them.

Jesus speaks often about how difficult life will be for people who choose to follow him. This does not simply mean that things will be difficult for us or that people who choose to follow Jesus will be ridiculed our considered irrational and idiotic. It means that attempting to imitate Jesus will threaten our sensibilities, disrupt our comfort levels and challenge us to put others before ourselves in love for our neighbors. That seriously interferes with our egos and our theology is not immune from this.

Here are some conclusions that I have come to: I’m not interested in a nice looking wall, nor is Christianity about having everything in order. In fact, I’m becoming more and more acutely aware that following Jesus makes things really complicated, difficult and disordered. I’m also acutely aware that there are no boundaries between our theological beliefs and our lives. Participating in God through Christianity is participating in an amorphous love that includes and draws all things into itself. That is a really disorienting and upside down way to live.

It’s been a while since I have been concerned about my theology getting ironed out and figuring out exactly what I believe about any particular area of doctrine. I’m more interested in how my search for God pushes me outside of myself and makes me kinder, more gracious, more inclusive, less certain about things I cannot know for sure, more willing to entertain different perspectives, and increasingly able to see God in the places and people I touch every day. I feel like I have had to unlearn more than I have learned; I’ve had to tear out and crumple up pieces of paper to throw them away and start again. What this has left me with is an increased sense of uncertainty, a tangled mess of beliefs, and a deep desire to meet God over again for the first time every day.