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Jesus didn’t just hang there on the cross,
he melted in the sun.
our fondue savior
who flows down
for us
to reach out and dip
whatever we damn well please
into his substance.
and we take
and eat.

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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.

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.

As increasing amounts of white male followers of Jesus awaken to the reality of our privilege––and thus power––within both the church and society at large, we are confronted with the questions of how we faithfully dislodge ourselves from power for the sake of others and what it means to live in such a space. This awakening, to the extent that it challenges patriarchal structures and well-established systems of power, will alienate you. That is, when you begin challenging traditionally held beliefs about equality, gender and sexual orientation within an Evangelical realm, you find yourself hard pressed to find a church community that is willing to entertain your questions and walk that journey with you. But I am not the victim. What is solidarity for me is another’s alienation and exclusion for simply being who they are.

Following this path through the Christian narrative has opened my eyes to the ways that fears of the unknown threaten control and power, and instigate a recoil effect that justifies and perpetuates inequality. My experiences within Evangelical circles has revealed an immense fear of being wrong. I admit that I too used to fear being wrong about particular beliefs or nuances in my theology. I thought that to get something wrong would throw my entire faith out of balance. It would pop the chain on my bicycle. It’s my assumption that this fear of getting things wrong dictates how Christians treat women and people who identify as queer with regards to acceptance, value and participation within church communities. It is far easier to operate within the bounds of safety and comfort at the risk of excluding others than it is to risk our power and certitude by and affirming the voices and experiences of those who challenge our beliefs. This fear lures us into believing that God will be displeased with us if we get this part wrong, do this thing incorrectly, or allow this other thing. This fear creates structures in which any deviation is tantamount to capsizing.

Jesus changes the story for me. And for you. I’m constantly disarmed by the Apostle Paul’s words about Jesus in Philippians 2.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death––even death on a cross.

The more I absorb these words into my being, I cannot help but to understand that having the same mind in me that was in Jesus means that I work to recognize my privilege and make attempts to dislodge myself from the ways that it silences others. My whiteness is not something to be exploited. My sex and gender are not things to be exploited. It means that I humble myself to the point of willingness to diminish my power and my voice so that others are lifted up. But this isn’t about straight white men throwing up our hands and saying, “Here! You take the reins!” This is about shared power, which is far more difficult, but far more beautiful. And necessary. Shared power demands that we play well with others. It demands that we not privilege particular voices and experiences over others. It demands that we relinquish our control over how things should be for us to remain comfortable, and instead ask, “What makes you comfortable?” and then honor that. In order to experience shared power there needs to be an environment in which all people are regarded as valuable, important and equal. But furthermore, it requires an environment where we value, trust, and allow ourselves and our theology to be shaped by the varied experiences and stories of others.

Sallie McFague talks about the Christian gospel as a “destabilizing, inclusive, nonhierarchical vision of fulfillment for all of creation.” That is the gospel of mutuality. Me fulfilling you and you fulfilling me.

I have by no means arrived anywhere beyond the privilege I benefit from as a straight, Christian, white male. I find myself at the intersection of no longer willing to tolerate Christianity’s devaluation of women and persons identifying as queer, and my own complicity in the systems and cycles that perpetuate this inequality in the name of Christianity. I recognize the irony of me arguing for these values out of my privilege and the increased weight that my words hold over the words of another saying the same things. Maybe Christianity can play a role in changing that reality.

Until then, I will do my best to honor you and your stories.

_____________________________________________

READ: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

Station 12 – Jesus dies on the cross

From the planks of the cross Jesus quotes the psalmist’s lament, echoing the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In the moment of his deepest pain and sorrow Jesus utters a lament of abandonment and disorientation. We cannot allow this cry to affirm that Jesus was ever forsaken, out of touch with the Holy, and left alone. When we do so we remove the presence of God from pain and claim that God is absent in the hurting of others and in the hurt that we experience ourselves. Nor can we leap to the opposite extreme and affirm that the death of Jesus was divinely demanded by God. The act of Incarnation planted the Divine deep within the soil of creation so that God experiences life with us in all seasons. Denis Edwards writes:

The Holy Spirit is with Jesus in his suffering and death, transforming suffering into redemptive love and bringing life out of misery and death. This line of thought can be taken further. I believe it is important to insist that the cross itself cannot be thought of as directly willed by God. God does not plan or want the evil act of crucifixion. This was an arbitrary, ugly, and sinful act performed by a number of human beings against one who was innocent. In this way it was like many other murders and executions then and now. God does not will any such horrors. This is why Edward Schillebeeckx can say that “first of all, we have to say that we are not redeemed thanks to the death of Jesus but despite it.” He insists that it is only in the overcoming of the evil, in its transformation by God that we can think of being saved through the execution of the innocent one. The Spirit of God transforms the brutal and wicked act of crucifixion into an event that brings healing and liberation. God brings new life, freedom, and healing through the cross, because the destructive act of crucifying Jesus is transformed by the power of the life-giving Spirit into the vehicle of resurrection life.[1] 

Prayer: May I never assume You have forsaken me. May I see you in the darkness and hear you in the silence. May my life be transformed by the act of suffering You endured on the cross. 

____________________________
1. Denis Edwards, Breath of LifeA Theology of the Creator Spirit (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2004) pages 82-83

Station 11 – Jesus is crucified

We’ve followed Jesus on the Via Dolorosa and have made it to the top of the Golgotha–the place of the skull–where Jesus will find himself being executed between two criminals. The Gospel of Luke recalls the harrowing scene:

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine and vinegar and said, “if you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The mob mentality has carried the momentum of the violent procession from its inception at the sentencing of Jesus to its climax as soldiers hammer nails into his hands and feet, fixing him to the cross. Jesus became the scapegoat for the crowd. Richard Beck writes:

A Scapegoat for the collective misfortune was identified. And in that moment of identification, group solidarity miraculously reappears. Once-fractured individuals now stand together against the scapegoat. The violence of the group is brought to bear upon the One to save the Many, and the sacrifice occurs. And in the wake of the sacrifice the blood lust of the now-unified group is sated. Peace returns.[1]

It is against this backdrop which Jesus utters the words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The Gospel accounts draw to a tense close with the delusional inversion of justice: the man who healed, empowered and gave life to many is broken, disempowered, and robbed of life.

On Good Friday we cannot afford to look away from the cross, but must stare into its brutality and recognize the depths to which God’s love will descend. We recognize our faces in the crowd surrounding Jesus. The mob takes the form of a culture addicted to consumption, to comfort, luxury, and entirely self-oriented. We idly stand by and watch the horrors before us, paralyzed in the face of power, collectively negating the pain because it is not our own. The cross as the center of the Christian faith demands that the darkness of our world be looked upon and brought into light. I don’t know how to do that, nor do I claim to be a light in such darkness. However, as we push back the darkness in our lives we reveal the light which we carry into dark places. We follow Jesus into the dark. This is terrifying and disorienting and difficult beyond belief. This is taking up our cross and following Jesus. There are many days that I do not have the strength or the will to do so.

Prayer: Jesus, may I see you in the darkness and approach you. 

___________________________

1. Richard Beck, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), page 96.

Station 10 – Jesus is stripped of his clothes

When the procession finally reached its destination, Golgotha, Jesus’ humiliation continued as he was stripped of his clothes. The dehumanization embedded in this act reaches beyond Jesus and grasps at the hands and ankles of everyone surrounding the scene. It is often difficult to imagine the brutality and cruelty involved in the torture and execution of Jesus. Beyond that, our aversion to stare into the face of pain causes us to jump over the suffering of God, or justify the suffering by elevating it to become the will of God and a necessary component of the carbon, human Jesus; we tell ourselves that he had to suffer in this way to mend the chasm and rift between humanity and the Divine.

As crowds amassed around the hill where Jesus would be put to death, the onlookers were stunned and struck with fear at the power of the authorities. This was the price for acting out, for speaking up, for protesting, for siding with the under privileged and unprivileged. In the face of injustice, I am constantly stunned and numbed and unsure of what I can do to make a difference. Often times I resign to ignorance and pretend that I am unaware so that I can continue in habits of consumption that are damaging to people and the earth. This is the way in which we cope. I am an onlooker and a participator in oppression to the extent that I prefer to consume and satiate myself rather than serve others and risk my status and reputation and comfort and luxury for the sake of others and for the earth. 

The mob mentality struck Jerusalem on the day that Jesus was murdered. The thirst for violence and the quest for a scapegoat took over. Upon the ones whom it did not completely take over, a paralyzing silence and numbness fell over them. We remember Veronica who bravely stepped out into the procession and wiped Jesus’ face. This simple act was one of desperation that signified her resentment of reality and was a small action of protest demanding great courage.

As we reflect on Jesus encircled by crowds who do nothing to stop the violence unfolding, I am torn by the memories of the news story from Richmond, California that made national headlines. On October 24, 2009, a fifteen-year-old girl was brutally beaten and raped by a group of men outside of the homecoming dance at her school. This act of inhumanity, cruelty and depravity lasted more than two hours. Police and news reports state that there were as many as 10 men involved in the attack and another two dozen people stood on the sidelines and watched. One of the young people who witnessed the event made this statement:

“They were kicking her in her head and they were beating her up, robbing her and ripping her clothes off; it’s something you can’t get out your mind. I saw people, like, dehumanizing her; I saw some pretty crazy stuff. She was pretty quiet; I thought she was like dead for a minute but then I saw her moving around. I feel like I could have done something but I don’t feel like I have any responsibility for anything that happened.” [1]

The eyewitness account is heartbreaking and disturbing. The indelible imprint of violence shakes, stuns, and disrupts us. The events that took place that night completely disrupt our senses and elicit outrage. In light of Jesus entering into humanity and suffering alongside us, we must say that Christ suffered tremendously on October 24, 2009, and we must also say that Christ suffers tremendously with all victims of violence (as well as with the perpetrators of violence). What is our reaction to violence? Does it disrupt and disturb us? Does it do so more if the victim’s skin looks like ours? If they were one of us? How does the cross influence the way we look at violence?

The suffering of Christ on the cross demands our attention, as does the suffering all around us. It can often be difficult to relate to and be moved by the idea of Jesus dying on the cross. It is not real to us. It has been spiritualized and has lost the capacity to disgust and disrupt us. But when we look into the depth of humanity’s oppression and violence and ability to remove any shred of humanity from another, we look into Christ crucified.

Prayer: May I not be numbed and ignorant of the injustice and suffering of my neighbors, but see, weep, and wage peace with my life.

______________________________
1. http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/east_bay&id=7111732