Archive

Tag Archives: empire

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.

Advertisements

The following post is a review of Kester Brewin’s book, Mutiny! Why We Love Pirates, and How They Can Save Us, available in paperback and e-book format.

In the 7th grade I carefully crafted a handful of pirate’s licenses for myself and some friends. Crudely designed in Microsoft Paint, these licenses permitted us to speak like pirates and to do all things pirate related. They featured a prominent skull and crossbones, the permissions granted us as pirates, as well as our pirate names. I was Peg Leg Pete. Very official. I’m not entirely sure what sparked our interest in pirates (full disclosure: it could very well have been a song by The Aquabats). For us, this was a way to be weird and have our own club. We joked about rum and parrots and booty and pillaging. That is what pirates were to us. They were mean and nasty men with a penchant for robbery, violence, treasure and growing ratty beards. This idea of pirates as fearsome dregs of society is reinforced through the stories told about them.

In Mutiny! Why We Love Pirates, And How They Can Save Us, Kester Brewin examines our cultural fascination with pirates alongside their counter-cultural history, while peering into both the psychological and the theological. Brewin offers a divergent image of the pirate, and traces the legacy of piracy into the 21st century. The pirate and the skulls and crossbones have become a tame, cute, and often ironic cultural symbol that has been neutered of its radical and anti-imperialist sentiments. Brewin aims to recast these symbols and what they stand for in light of the injustice, social and economic inequality, oppression and corporate greed that inhabit our realities and beg for ‘unblocking’ and a cleared path for all. Brewin juxtaposes the spirit of piracy alongside ways in which our world is increasingly becoming privatized, manipulated and ‘blocked’ by systems of power. Everything from media to the government, the earth and its resources, and even religion falls victim to such blocking. The work of ‘unblocking’––creating a space for free movement, unhindered by systems of power––is the work of pirate activity, and Brewin shows that this is also the work of Jesus. Within this paradigm, the term mutiny serves as a new metaphor for rebellion, counter-culture, anti-consumerism, non-conformity, and the challenge of the status quo as functions of Jesus followers.

Pirates date back to long before the Atlantic pirates and ol’ Jack Sparrow. Brewin shows that since as early as second century CE pirates have stood up against the powerful, citing opposition to the Roman Empire’s attempts at extending their sovereignty to include the prior unowned and un-ownable oceans.

Rome went to war against pirates because pirates were threatening their claim to ownership, not just of the natural resources in the lands that they had dominated, but of the routes by which these resources could be moved, and thus transferred into riches. Pirates thus stood for the Romans not as simply a nuisance, committing petty theft on the seas, but as a threat to the values and principles that underpinned their empire. It was they who wrote into their laws that pirates were hostis humanis generis – the ‘enemies of all mankind.’

“Pirates were the antithesis of everything that Rome worked for: respect for authority, hard work, ordered trade and deference to a divinely appointed elite. From early history we see the designation ‘pirate’ going beyond robbery to suggest a wider menace that could undermine the values of empire.”

This wider understanding of piracy––interference contextualized inside of unjust systems of power and ownership––is the paradigm by which mutiny can save us. But who is the us in this equation? Here is where Brewin’s redemption of the pirate mystique differs from our cultural hand-me-down understanding of pirates: pirate interference is to unblock power are for the common good rather than interference for the sake of robbery and greed. The latter understanding reinforces the imperial designation of the pirate as a threat to order, civility, and peace; it is demonizing of those who hurl a challenge to power. “It wasn’t their thievery that was so heinous, so unutterably villainous, but their self-determination and refusal to be governed.” It was their refusal to play by the rules of empire. The us invites us to reflect on our power and act for the common good, partnering with and transferring power to the marginalized, voiceless, and powerless. The pirate manipulates and exposes the tools of the powerful for the sake of those without power. This is an act that is truly threatening, and one we see employed by Jesus throughout Gospels.

“This, then, is what we can take ‘pirate’ to mean: one who emerges to defend the commons wherever homes, cultures or economies become ‘blocked’ by the rich. Be it land that is being enclosed, or monopolies that are excluding and censoring, or wealth that has been hoarded, blockages to what should be shared freely and equitably create the conditions in which pirates will be found.”

It is through this lens that Jesus can be cast in the same vein as the pirate.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Brewin comments that this scene from Luke 4, in which Jesus quotes from Isaiah, is a “classic pirate text, full of unblocking and the breaking of oppressive practices.” The message of Jesus, he goes on to say, “is not centered around time spent in dedicated worship and contemplation in the temple, but about social justice and release from captivity.” How does this transform the way we understand and interpret Jesus vis-a-vis social structures and empire? How does this change the way we imitate Jesus, or the way we inhabit the Christian faith?

Throughout Mutiny!, Brewin stokes the radical imagination with story and commentary, and invites us to reassess our relationships with each other, our own selves, our work, our leisure, our faith traditions, and ultimately, to the structures of empire. Brewin offers a creative and exciting new invitation into liberation theology. His “dark reading” of the prodigal son alone is worth the price of the book. To be sure, he pulls no punches while calling into question the theology and systems of power that have led to blockages in the radical movement that Jesus inspired, but he manages to balance playfulness and critique in a manner that is both accessible and challenging.

If you’ve read Mutiny!, what were your reactions? How has it influenced or changed your thinking?

Visit Kester Brewin’s website:

www.kesterbrewin.com

Listen to Kester Brewin on the upcoming Homebrewed Christianity Live Podcast on October 25.

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.

Station 9 – Jesus falls the third time

At the ninth station before the cross we again see Jesus’ knees buckle beneath him as he falls to the ground to a chorus of weeping and cheering. As he falls for the third time, we are painfully aware that Jesus could have chosen an easier path with far less resistance. We are drawn toward the path of least resistance–the path with the least levels of friction and discomfort. Jesus willingly chose the hard way. In Matthew 7, Jesus tells the crowd that has gathered to listen to him:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Jesus never invited masses of people into his orbit by promising them comfort in life and bright days ahead. Instead, he talked about difficulties, narrow roads and opposition from friends and family as what was ahead for those who were crazy enough to take him seriously and live like he lived. AJ Swoboda writes about this difficulty of deciding to live in a way that takes Jesus seriously:

If they say yes, we look at them with a sense of genuine compassion, and then with all of our strength, we should punch them square in the face. Then we should say, “Welcome to the kingdom of pain. This thing sucks. Hope you’re ready.” And we should do that because following Jesus is hard.[1]

The third temptation of Jesus in the desert contrasts this third time that he falls to the ground in exhaustion on his way to Golgotha. In the desert, Jesus has been drawn out into the wilderness and is left in deep vulnerability, humanity and weakness. The Gospel of Matthew chronicles this experience with three temptations. The third temptation of Jesus is as follows:

Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Power and weakness are in stark juxtaposition here. In the desert, Jesus reorients our understanding of power and the political realm by resisting Satan’s offer. Jacques Ellul is worth reading here at length:

Jesus does not represent a-politicism or spiritualism. His is a fundamental attack on political authority. It is not indifference concerning what politics can be or can do. It is a refusal of politics. Jesus is not a tender dreamer gliding in the sky “above politics.” He challenges every attempt to validate the political realm, and rejects its authority because it does not conform to the will of God. Indeed, this is given precise confirmation by the account of the Temptations. The third temptation in Matthew’s account is the one in which the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and tells him, “I will give you all these things if you prostrate yourself and adore me.” Jesus responds with a refusal to adore him.

He does not refute what Satan says. He does not tell him that these kingdoms and political authorities are not Satan’s. No. On the contrary, he is in implicit agreement. Satan can give political authority but the condition for exercising political authority is adoration of the power of evil. That is the consistent and unique teaching of the Gospels.[2]

Jesus’ life ends in such hands of political power and evil. How much easier Jesus’ life would have been had he simply given in while in the desert. One’s life gets increasingly difficult in correlation to the extent that one resists empire. Jesus makes it clear that his life is one of resistance to empire. His calls for non-violence, his actions in direct opposition to the religious establishment and his questioning of and non-compliance with authority would ultimately earn him an execution by the state in the ultimate denial of self. But Jesus did not do all these things as an end in themselves. His resistance was others-oriented. He resisted oppressive structures that he could have comfortably lived his life in spite of or in ignorance of.

As Jesus approaches closer and closer to the cross, we must ask ourselves what is really going on here? What, if any, are the connections between the move to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses and participation with empire and systems that hurt and dehumanize people, making them secondary to our pursuit of luxury.

Prayer: God, may I be aware of the systems of oppression or injustice which I am a part of or gain privilege from. May this awareness move me to action that is oriented toward a more just and equal earth community.

___________________________
1. A.J. Swoboda, Messy: God Likes it That Way (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012), page 39.
2. Jacque Ellul, “Anarchism and Christianity,” Katallagete 7, no.3 (Fall 1980), page 20.