Sunday, January 26, 2020

To Walk A Mile in Her Shoes...

Let's try an imaginative exercise. Imagine Iran occupies US territory, controls the production and distribution of US resources, has threatening military bases around the US, and imposes crippling economic sanctions that make life much more unbearable than it would otherwise be without said sanctions. On top of all that, Iran recently assassinated one of our top heads of State and exhibited multiple signs of what appeared to us as attempts to overthrow our government in favor of Sharia Law?

Now, also imagine that Iran is the most powerful and richest nation in the world and has been for quite some time. 70 years ago, you had a popular government in place that made moves to empower your own country and people and to thus assert the right to US sovereignty over your own territory and resources. Iran responded by overthrowing that government that was, for obvious reasons, quite popular in our country.

Iran also claimed at the time to do so out of concern for your own power and riches. Some 25 years after that, an angry group of Americans, in opposition to the Iranian puppeteers, fought to establish their own Anti-Iranian government. They aren't fair to or representative of all Americans, but you also know that they are damn sure tired of dealing with what many Americans describe as Iranian duplicity, coercion, and control.

Out of Iran's position of riches and power, she has similar bases in and control over many other countries around the world. From their position of power and prosperity, Iran repeatedly voices the previously heard story that the reason for what they do is for your good here in the USA, to improve your lot and help you to also be more rich and powerful.

But, then sometimes, you hear stories of regular Iranians arrogantly burning copies of the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. You remember that happening one day a while back, and, on your way home from work, you saw a group of angry Americans burning an Iranian flag in the street while holding up a crumpled photo of the Iranian Supreme Leader.

The most powerful and popular entertainment industry in the world is located in the heart of Tehran, too. So, much of the leisure time you do manage carve out is occupied by images of the glamorously rich and powerful life of Iranian aristocrats, a life which is so foreign to your own vain attempts to scrap together the bare necessities here in the USA.

Meanwhile, your American government continues to hate Iran and resents them for the way they not only further cripple your country with their economic sanctions but take active steps to, even with that economic depression as the context, prevent you from taking steps to strengthen and enrich your country. Many Iranians also either don't like the American government or have mixed feelings about it, because it is known for doing all it can to remain in power. It's not super common, but proxy militant officials have been known to violently quell unrest where Americans have shown their displeasure at the poor conditions in which they live and what they perceive as the American government's holding them back from the kind of prosperity and power Iran enjoys.

Also, because of the steps your government has taken to resist Iranian power and control over your country and region, as well as the iron fist she uses to squelch resistance within, Iran considers your government to be a terrorist organization. You know that many Americans have taken extreme stances against Iran that you wouldn't take, to the point of senseless violence, but you are a bit struck that normal Iranian citizens regularly refer to your government as a group of terrorists.

In that context, your Anti-Iranian government also frequently and habitually echoes the refrains of the evils of Middle Eastern culture and Sharia Law. As an antagonistic response to Sharia Law and Iranian tradition, it is ingrained in your mind before you're 8 years old that Iran pollutes the purity of our American liberty and freedom. You remain unsure quite what that means, however, because you've never experienced how "unliberated" social bonds in Iran shape their own emotions and imaginations.

You're a poor, measly little American. How would you view Iran? Would your self image be shaped in relationship to Iran? Would you feel shame? Guilt for not doing enough for your family to live up to the image of aristocratic life presented to you by Iran, her power, riches, and fun? Would you feel angry when you find it between difficult and impossible to fulfill that image? How would you respond to what they're doing and saying? Would you wonder just how much they're actually responsible for how difficult it is for you to accomplish what you're trying to do for those you love? Even if you're not religious, would you be struck by their burning of bibles? Would you protest against Iran in anger? Seek a way out of your hell hole? Possibly seek to escape to Iran, or elsewhere?

Are your feelings and posture towards Iran suddenly not necessarily so simply entirely or absolutely either negative or positive?

* just for reference, photo taken from here: https://www.nbcnews.com/…/protests-erupt-over-quran-burning…

Saturday, January 25, 2020

When Being Outside the Kingdom is Essential To Being Inside the Kingdom?

FREEDOM

Do you take Free Will or the freedom of choice to be essential to relationships with God, a spouse, a local community, or a nation where said relationship would otherwise be dominated by manipulation, coercion, violence, or tyranny? Do you "believe in every American's right to have their own way of life, so long as it doesn't infringe upon the rights of others"? That sounds reasonable to me. If you're Christian, do you thus associate the coming of the kingdom with freedom, strength, and prosperity as compared to pressure, manipulation, and necessity? Do you most essentially imagine the establishing of the kingdom of God as a people destined to to be free to choose God and to love Him? Do you also then associate the repression or limiting of that freedom with the work of the Evil One and the facilitation of freedom with the coming of the Kingdom? I could see that.

After all, we don't know exactly what the Kingdom will look like in the end, right? But, we do know, if anything, that God isn't a tyrant! So, if you identify as Christian, do you get irritated, frustrated, angry, or even enraged if you imagine laws being passed by "liberals" that place limits around gun rights, increase taxes, or appear to police free speech in order to protect special interests? If God made us free, then He empowers us to forge our own destiny! I tend to get get pretty deeply irritated when people dictate to me how I'm going to live my life, particularly in ways that violate my values.

I was having a conversation recently with a Christian friend of mine who thinks, imagines, and feels exactly this way. He does not consider himself to be specifically anti- or pro- American. But, because of the above noted way of thinking, feeling, and imagining, he takes the U.S. Constitution - because it protects freedom - to be of vital importance to the Kingdom. He said this:
"I think Kingdom government is from within to without with Jesus Christ enthroned in our hearts and as that seed (Christ the Word) breaks through the husk into the soil (thoughts, emotions and imagination) and with the right nutrients, water and sunlight it grows into outward manifestation and bears fruit. This happens individually and collectively throughout the body. So it's initially an inward Kingdom but eventually grows into outward manifestation(abundant, overflowing life, the building of a new society). Government can't make this happen but can repress or facilitate it's growth."
I think he shares a common sentiment. He's not alone. He's articulating the way we commonly tend to imagine the initiation and spread of the kingdom in the world. The common problem, however, is that kingdom doesn't start "within our hears." So, it's not an initially "inward" kingdom that grows to "outward manifestation." Not only do you not find this idea in the scriptures, but it's not what actually happens.

PERSONHOOD

The kingdom starts, and started, with the person of Jesus. And, Jesus isn't an generalized, metaphysical abstraction that enters, unsensed, into the heart. Jesus is Jesus INCARNATE. And, speaking of "seeds," Jesus "planted" the church in the form of his band of disciples. All of this seeding and growth of the church is interwoven physical and spiritual all the way through. Spiritual and physical are not one separate from the other at any point in the coming or growth of the Kingdom.

As far as the question of "government" goes, this person Jesus who "planted" the church is King. And, he crowns us with his glory by, in his grace, giving us a share in his inheritance. That's "government." We're "a kingdom of priests." So, there is no EXTERIOR "government" that "can repress or facilitate...growth" of the kingdom that starts from within. The church IS the "government." And she has been all along, ever since Pentecost. Scripture is pretty explicit about this, too. John 1:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
Of course, "the Word" referenced there IS (primarily, at least) THE PERSON OF JESUS. Not some internal seed in our hearts (at least not primarily). Also, notably, more to the direct point being addressed, some translations articulate verse 5 as:

"The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness CAN NEVER extinguish it."
(NLT)

Or, I have also seen it translated as, "cannot overcome it."

David Bentley Hart's transliteration reads: "And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not conquer it," so that kind of speaks both to the difference between the translations and the point directly being addressed in our conversation (that "there is no EXTERIOR 'government' that 'can repress or facilitate...growth' of the kingdom").

STORIES

The scriptures tell a story of the church in the midst of / "versus" the world rather than a story of government vs. humanity. Paul constantly speaks of the way of the kingdom in comparison to the way of the world. Jesus often tells his disciples, "You know that the Gentiles...but it shall not be so among you..." So, we have two different stories being told here:

1. Humanity vs. Government. We are citizens of a nation with a government, with or against which we have a relationship characterized by either freedom or tyranny. The kingdom of God is planted with invisible seeds in our hearts and grows outwardly to physical manifestation in the world. As such, it is coming in the future, and maintaining of freedom is essential to it. The limiting or tending to that freedom by the government is thus the repression or facilitation of the Kingdom of God.

2. Church vs. "the world." We, as Christians, ALREADY embody the Kingdom of God. We already know that "the world" and its powers are going to have problems with another authority that claims to rest on divinity. The Kingdom is the reign of the living person of Christ in and through his church. As such, embodying and enacting the Way of Christ in the midst of the way of the world is essential to making Christ and His kingdom known to those who don't know Christ and submit to His reign.

Here, it becomes important to note that the primacy of the narrative of government vs. humanity was EXPLICITLY "planted" by -and NOT UNTIL - the Enlightenment. There were lots of stories told prior to the Enlightenment, but they weren't of "government vs. humanity." And, that's because, prior to our modernity's "freedom" or "liberation" from their oppressive social bonds, people identified themselves in relation to their social bodies, the figureheads of whom served as their representatives, leaders, and guides. People may have had problems with particular unjust Kings, but that wasn't a question of government vs. humanity in the abstract.

OUTSIDE

In our minds and hearts, we may see ourselves as attached to the principle of freedom rather than to the particularity of the American social body and her Constitution, but this leaves a number of elements of the Enlightenment worldview embedded into our Christian kingdom, perhaps unawares.

For one, we tend to identify with principles that are unique to our (kind of) social body but, at the same time, imagine ourselves attached not to any said particular social body. Prior to the Enlightenment, this would have been not only unimaginable but undesirable:
"There is...the sharpest contrast between the emotivist self of modernity and the self of the heroic age. The self of the heroic age lacks precisely that characteristic which we have already seen that some modern moral philosophers take to be an essential characteristic of human self-hood: the capacity to detach oneself from any particular standpoint or point of view, to step backwards, as it were, and view and judge that standpoint or point of view from the outside. In heroic society there is no 'outside' except that of the stranger. A man who tried to withdraw himself from his given position in heroic society would be engaged in the enterprise of trying to make himself disappear...

The exercise of the heroic virtues thus requires both a particular kind of human being and a particular kind of social structure. Just because this is so, an inspection of the heroic virtues may at first sight appear irrelevant to any general enquiry into moral theory and practice. If the heroic virtues require for their exercise the presence of a kind of social structure which is irrevocably lost - as they do - what relevance can they possess for us? Nobody now can be a Hector or a Gisli. The answer is that perhaps what we have to learn from heroic societies is twofold: first that all morality is always to some degree socially local and particular and that the aspirations of the morality of modernity to a universality freed from all particularity is an illusion; and secondly that there is no way to possess the virtues except as part of a tradition in which we inherit them and our understanding of them from our predecessors...If this is so, the contrast between the freedom of choice of values of which modernity prides itself and the absence of such choice in heroic cultures would look very different. For freedom of choice of values would from the standpoint of a tradition ultimately rooted in heroic societies appear more like the freedom of ghosts - of those whose human substance approached vanishing point - than of men."

- Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (pp. 126-127)

"It is in this capacity of the self to evade any necessary identification with any particular contingent state of affairs that some modern philosophers, both analytical and existentialist, have seen the essence of moral agency. To be a moral agent is, on this view, precisely to be able to stand back from any and every situation in which one is involved, from any and every characteristic that one may possess, and to pass judgment on it from a purely universal and abstract point of view that is totally detached from all social particularity....This democratized self which has no necessary social content and no necessary social identity can then be anything, can assume any role or take any point of view, because it IS, in an for itself nothing....The self thus conceived, utterly distinct on the one hand from its social embodiments and lacking on the other any rational history of its own, may seem to have a certain abstract and ghostly character."

-Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue
I don't think we really do stand outside ourselves the way our American, Enlightenment habits would have us imagine. As I see it, what instead functionally ends up happening is that that individual choice that is presumably made from outside the system ACTUALLY becomes the SOCIAL BINDING of our individual selves to figures and systems of thought of a particular social faction that exists within our larger system (democrat vs. republican, etc). Individual citizens believe they are freely and autonomously choosing a set of policies or beliefs, but then you have Trump conservatives aligning themselves with things and statement that are contradictory to that which they aligned themselves with 20 or 30 years ago - because they aren't actually freely choosing a system from outside of it but binding themselves to a particular social body. The most obvious example of this is the deep concern Christian conservatives had for the character of their political leaders then as compared to now. I suspect that "liberal" / democrat Christians wouldn't have tended to be on the Bernie train 20 years ago, either.

So, when we imagine that we are attached to the principles of a social body (principles such a freedom and economic growth) without attachment to the particular social body itself, the story we are telling ourselves about "humanity vs. the government" is embedded with an element of "outsidedness" or generality that is itself foreign to any elements of stories people told about themselves prior to the time when people started telling the PARTICULAR story of "humanity vs. government." That's a "modern" story.

As moderns who see things systematically from outside of them, our being is bifurcated between, on the one hand, the speculative eye doing the seeing and, on the other, the objects or systems being seen (whether objects of the human self and identity or objects in and of the world). When human history built this problem upon the well cultivated soil of humanity’s urge to grasp knowledge for ourselves rather than entrusting ourselves to our Master who knows and fashions us, God came to be imagined more readily, easily, and primarily as an external object of our speculative knowledge rather than as the One “in whom we live and move and have our being.” As G.K. Chesterton says: "For the moment we have a view of the universe, we possess it."

Modern modes of studying and teaching such as inductive bible studies and expository preaching can and should clearly be helpful. They have their place. But, they also tend to perpetuate this second modern element of the story of "humanity vs. government," which is that of dualism. From outside the text, we possess it. From outside our homes, the government threatens to take our guns.

We Romantically imagine the freedom and leisure of our inner spiritual or intellectual life, hopefully liberated from any particular social bonds. But, the freedom of our inner, spiritual seed is hopelessly constrained by suffocating, exterior, physical, and social forces of tyrannical coercion. Our very image of the growth of the kingdom is modeled not simply after the person of Jesus and the history of his church but, rather, after deeply symbolic, modern, psychological, theoretical models for individual human sexual repression of inward freedom by external constraints, out of which we seek and desire a liberated flourishing.

“In the ancient world, one read to be persuaded to live in a particular way, in contrast to modern practices of reading where one typically reads to be informed.” – K. Jo-Ann Badley and Ken Badley, Slow Reading, Reading Along Lectio Lines. In our dualism, the Word, our freedom, and "government" are all abstracted, conceptual principles about which we are informed in our mind or spirit. Once informed speculatively, we then, separately, apply them out into the physical world.

So, this reading “to be informed”, by which we commonly and habitually practice and are thus trained into our dualism, implies precisely the speculative distance discussed by Alisdair MacIntyre in After Virtue. Our modus operandi is predominantly from a kind of disenchanted and dispassionate disengagement, a place of fundamental dis-interest. Our detached outsidedness is thus inherently interwoven with our imagined dualistic structure of the universe that separates object viewed from viewer of object, inside from outside, spiritual from physical, heaven from earth, Word from heart, and Jesus from the globe.

Our particular American image of freedom thus depends on and necessitates our exile, our outsidedness. Imagining ourselves outside our particular kingdom here becomes essential to imagining ourselves inside the Kingdom of God. Keep in mind that, by contrast, I told another story where the Christians don't stand against the government but, instead, the church IS the government, where we actually embody the kingdom of God.

INSIDE

I find it a strange coincidence that we could possibly ever be inhabiting a story of the coming of the Kingdom while also, at the same time, inhabiting a story whose most essential elements - so essential that, without them, we would have an entirely different story - wasn't told until the very century in which the American Revolution just so happened to occur. The American Revolution has become a story of an interiority of angry colonists, against the odds, winning their freedom from a exterior, tyrannical empire. My deep irritation at people who don't live like me dictating to me how I'm going to do so typically comes with glorious imaginings of righteous victory against them. I might have been known in the past to have enacted this fantasy with something as simple as a "strongly worded email" at work. :P "How dare those external, physical, socially bound tyrants infringe on my righteous, internal, spiritual freedom!"

The story of Jesus, on the other hand, is that of a falsely accused criminal, who, in the entirety of his embodied person, had every right to fight, instead submitting to a tyrannical empire in order to hold a mirror up to it. Can you imagine King Jesus here demanding the freedom of his right to carry a gun? There is no interior Jesus and exterior empire. There is only God's flesh revealing how the empire's ways are not those of God in the same shared territory where the two crash together. The physical murder of God is the empire's claim on their territory, which, being an empire, is that of the whole world. The physical resurrection of God - the tomb was empty, after all - is God's flesh claiming that same territory with a victory that the imminently rational Second Amendment can't even begin to fathom.

The kingdom starts with the person of Jesus. And, Jesus isn't an interior, metaphysical abstraction that enters, unsensed, into the heart of man liberated from the social bonds of the exterior empire. Jesus is Jesus INCARNATE, establishing social bonds of his own. In fact, the love that constitutes those bonds is precisely how he said he would be known through us. In his love, by which we embody his person and enact his Way, he told us a parable of a small seed, known initially by a rogue band of young disciples who were passed over by other rabbis, victoriously growing into a glorious mustard tree. He didn't mention anything in that parable about the repression of that free growth by external forces. The whole point of the parable is that the tree grows to the size it does because that's the nature of the tree in the first place.

There is another parable of seeds that fall on different kinds of ground that can come across as though external socio-political forces can facilitate or repress the growth of internal, spiritual seed. The seed there, however, is the very person of Jesus speaking to his audience rather than a disembodied concept in their minds. Physical and spiritual are actually interwoven all the way through. There are other warning of "wolves" who will come among them and devour them, or of weeds that will choke out the growth of healthy crops, or of birds that come along the hard soil and pluck up the seeds, but these are questions of our competing allegiances, of our temptations to bond to the world's socio-poltical bodies in order to gain their particular version of freedom, power, prosperity, or opportunity. Those parables are not of a "spiritual" seed in planted in the free interiority of the heart; our dualism does not compute in the imagined world of Jesus' parables. Physical and spiritual are interwoven all the way through. The real threat to the kingdom of God we embody and enact isn't outside our homes but inside it.

God's particular image of freedom depends on and necessitates our belonging, our acceptance, not only of God's love and of one another, but of our whole personhood together, as an inextricably interwoven unity. Immersion inside the kingdom is essential to being inside kingdom.

Why Only The Deplorables Can Be Saved!

“I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. 54 But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day..." - John 6: 53



A Christian friend of mine posted this video on Facebook. No commentary or caption or anything. If you don't have the 15 minutes, let me try to sum it up for you, if I can. Powerful people in secret societies are actively making an effort to keep the world in their pockets, to get into and remain in power. Many of the features of how our world works and everyday events that we remember or that pass by unnoticed are actually the evidence of these powerful people at work. The ending of the video is a montage including Trump smiling, followed by contemporary "revolutionaries" raising an American flag in the image of the infamous Iwo Jima Memorial, followed by a still shot of Trump's name appearing across the American flag as it blows in the breeze. So, in light of the title of the video - "The Plan To Save The World" - the message becomes pretty clear. Trump is savior; he will lead us to the promised land of exodus from the purposeful world crafting to maintain power by other evil men.

This strikes me as obvious and blatant idolatry. Because other Christians obviously don't tend to view it the same way, I have to ask why. Why does this video of a "plan to save the world" hit us so differently? I submit that the reasons run deeper and wider than simply our political preferences. In other words, I submit that I'm not disturbed, angered, shocked, and saddened by that video that brings hope and joy to others because I would prefer Democratic or "liberal" leadership where they would prefer Trump. I'm actually thankful that Trump is our president. My hope is that that he blatantly reveals precisely the kind of idolatry I see in this video. It's been around long before Trump, isn't exclusive to one political party, and needs to be ground to dust.

I am speaking from a place that requires or depends on a totally different paradigm from the one by which most every American Christian perceives, interprets, and makes sense of both the scriptures and the world. And, I think that difference accounts for why we would watch this video so differently. So, in order to answer the question of why other Christians see salvation of the Republic where I see idolatry, I think we have to address our different paradigms.

OUR PREDOMINANT LENS

The common paradigm is much more extensive than what I'm about to say but could be summarized like this:

The gospel is that we are sinners saved by grace and set free from sin to eternal life. This salvation is generally taken to be a spiritual transaction that happens in the spiritual or metaphysical realm, where we go from damned to justified. Quite appropriate to the "spiritual" nature and location of this salvation, "justified" most centrally means knowing we're "going to heaven when we die." And, more to my point of the "spiritual" location or nature of it, this destiny of ours is imagined as a disembodied heaven, a spiritual place.

Also relevant here is that the common way we are taught all that, the common way we imagine it happening, is at the level of the individual. It's individual selves or spirits who are saved and going to heaven. Not the church, not a community. So, a central thing salvation means to us, besides going to heaven when we die, is that we get to "have a personal relationship with Jesus." And, we most primarily and centrally mean that individually, that we as individuals relate to and get guidance from Jesus, directly and without bodily (or communal) mediation, via the Spirit.

So, with all of that as our basic paradigm, the gospel is seen as apolitical, having nothing to do with politics or the political realm. Christians, then, are left to reconcile what they know about Jesus and the scriptures with some separate American political worldview on offer to us that is not itself fundamentally "spiritual" or Christian, doesn't originally or inherently have anything to do with their religion or spiritually. Those political worldviews we're left to choose from are generally the ones slapping us across the face on the major cable news networks 24-7 - left vs right. And, in practice, Christians can and do find scriptural justification for allegiance to both / each. The "religious right" and the "silent majority" on the one side (Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, James Dobson), and "progressive Christians" and Sojourner Magazine on the other (Jim Wallis). Some, especially most who align with the "right", would think of or imagine liberation theology to be part of or aligned with "the left," as well.

So, in any case, an obviously political video evoking images of Trump saving America and whose title is about "saving the world" wouldn't generally or necessarily strike us as running counter or contrary to our gospel, because our gospel doesn't essentially have anything to do with politics in the first place (per what I said above). Stated in another way, our predominant gospel isn't inherently political, so this image wouldn't strike us as inherently theological. This image, by the way, is part of the above noted montage at the end and culmination of the video's "plan to save the world."

There's much more to our predominant paradigm than that. But, particularly in relation to this video my friend posted, that's my basic summary of said paradigm. In any case, I believe none of that.

MY LENS

The gospel itself is political. And not in a left vs. right, ideological way. I don't mean to say that the political nature of the gospel corresponds to an effort to get votes. I instead mean to say that the church is the embodiment of Christ in the world. And, this Christ who we embody is King. Further, a spiritual transaction of salvation from hell to heaven is not the central message of the gospel. Christ's reign is the central and primary message of the gospel. The most important and central message we as the church carry is that Christ is King and Caesar is not. American power and leadership is a vain parody of Christ's true authority. The power of secret societies, and that of Trump, is "like chaff in the wind."

So, as an extension or enactment of the reign of Christ, the church is the kingdom of God on earth, a foretaste of the fulfillment at the general resurrection and full indwelling of God, when God fully is "all in all." I mean to say that Jesus was purposefully founding an alternative politic in "the world" as an embodiment of his person and his reign.

Of course, this is also to say that "our" Republic belongs to, is of, and even is a huge and central part of what constitutes, in Paul's terms, "the world" (in contrast to "the kingdom"). So, unless the deep state infiltrates my local church, then I have a hard time worrying too much about the worries of this video. I doubt they would bother with that, though, because the church isn't supposed to have that kind of power.

For me, then "our" Republic is on the path of destruction rather than of eternal life, anyway. And it has been from the beginning. I have relatively little attachment to it, its functioning, or its policies, whether Democrat or Republican. My attachment is to my "inheritance" of "eternal life" in the kingdom, which I share with the community Christ instituted and who he holds together in, with, and by his Spirit. So, I feel no great urge to "save America" or the Republic, outside of what I am called to in my local, concrete, specific discipleship. And, I put "our" in quotes in reference to "our" Republic, because, in scriptural language, we are exiles from America. For Peter and Paul, we, as Christians, are not Americans.

All that said, I'm not one to dismiss the power of secret societies. I just don't think they're super relevant to my discipleship (unless, as once in the past, I became good friends with a member of secret societies and had any sort of discipling relationship with them). I don't think that the way secret societies function is essentially any different from the essential nature and purpose of America is in the first place, anyway. Groping and grasping to maintain power is the name of the American political game, whereas Jesus said, "It shall not be so among you." A lot of "our" founding fathers were members of secret societies, too, which, then, is quite appropriate. The power and members of secret societies don't hold any special claim to or allegiance with either particular side of the political aisle, either. The power of secret societies is found and at work on both sides of the aisle. As far as I'm concerned, in comparison to the church / kingdom, secret societies and America make good bed fellows.

THIS IS A HARD SAYING

I do realize this is a hard thing to hear. If we turn what I'm saying into an analogy of John 6, then this video fashions Trump into the image of a Moses who impossibly won an election by the miraculous act of God. That would also imply that we God validated our hopes in Trump to take us to the Promised Land of freedom!

But, I'm suggesting that, 32 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven...43 But Jesus replied, “Stop complaining about what I said. 44 For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up... “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you.

In other words, what I'm saying is that, unless we share in the actual, physical fellowship of God's specific, set apart people, then we can have no part in the inheritance of God. To eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ is to detach from both Trump and America. Moses wasn't the true Messiah. Trump does not bring us freedom. To attach to him - more, to attach to America in the first place - is to attach vainly to death. Trump is Moses, but America isn't the bread of life. To be saved, we have to become one of "the deplorables"! And, I don't mean to say we have to become Trump supporters!

Attachment to the ends, hopes, ways, and purposes of "The Republic" is a wandering death in the wilderness. If you're Christian, perhaps this will include a glimpse of the promised land. 54 But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day.

60 Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”

61 Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? 63 The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) 65 Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.”

66 At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. 67 Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”

68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A Meditative Rupturing: “Tropikos,” by John Akomfrah

I saw this beautifully discomforting film last Saturday afternoon at The Chrysler Museum in Norfolk. “Tropikos,” by John Akomfrah. I don't know if Akomfrah is Christian, but he presents an image that, besides also being similarly unsettling, has a lot in common with the Cross.

We find ourselves set in the midst of two interwoven scenes strikingly juxtaposed against one another:

One is pervaded by African wilderness, in the midst of which we are confronted with images of fragments representing two different worlds. The clashing together on the screen is appropriate both to the nature of what we see and their historical background: a medieval-looking, aristocratic warrior helmet sitting perched above its spoils of war that include painted wooden masks, exotic fruits, and primitive weapons easily overcome by the swords we also see before us, swords bought by riches like fine beads of pearls lying next to the alloyed, aristocratic breastplates with frilly engravings.

These signs of clashing times and places lie crowded together next to one another as though embodied in a living still life captured in the movement of cinema. And, they are clearly representations. No one helmet on a screen conquers multiple tribes of an entire jungle.

Primitive masks are signs that perhaps our sense of unsettling is because an ancient, unheralded spirit that we’ve banished from our consciousness is, in spite of us, presently appearing in our midst. Whether it’s a primitive mystery that we’ve sacrificed to our secularism or the “spirit of the age” of our racist tribalism, I can't say. The film is a wondering of the difference.

The other scene against which that one is juxtaposed is suffocated by images of death embodied in castle ruins. The sweat, dispassion, and opium on white faces take center stage of our consciousness despite the loud, lush screams of the Victorian attire and armor that adorn noble postures overlooking a tamed, silenced countryside of England.

What both juxtaposed scenes have in common is the total and absolute lack of social order or community that might otherwise give meaning to the characters, their identities, or their lack of interactive relationship. The actual act of capture is conspicuously and disquietingly absent from the filming.

The limited social interactions – almost eye contact here, being in the presence of unacknowledged company there - bear no mark of the violence at the heart of their relationship. But neither do they bear any mark of human warmth, friendship, tenderness, compassion, unity, loyalty, or partnership. The capturing among captors and captured by the frame of the film does the speaking for itself. The invisible silence of it almost screams, leaving the skeptical among us with a void of wonder. Why is no one actually speaking to one another, like human beings do?

The utterly suffocating silence of England is startlingly broken by the juxtaposed rain crashing against armor that appears foreign to the African wilderness in which we are immersed. Dislocation of sound. We are dislocated with it; sentence fragments are appropriate.

All of this can be very disorienting. The artifacts fragmented from their social fabric that doesn’t exist, the speech that no one – especially myself – dares utter, the complete lack of a history to give meaning to the story that is never told, being dropped in two different kinds of Wastelands like alien observers, it can all be very confusing at first. Is the film meant to be a contemplative meditation or a rupturing from the prevailing social order? Do they perhaps become one and the same? Perhaps the fabric of the social order, rather than dead and lifeless, is tearing and opening?

At first, the known rules are followed that we use to demark identities. Captured is draped in vibrantly colorful cloths that flow freely with the wind and have no care or worry of being immersed in water. Captor is ennobled in tailored outfits or armor that both take their own shape and themselves give posture and form to the body that wears them as they stand separate from and overlooking a large body of water that they’ve conquered. He drinks a bottle of opium or wine in sympathy with the sea by drowning either his guilt or his boredom. Which it is, I can't say?

Captor makes his clothes, and they in term make him. This is why it’s so strikingly and powerfully disorienting when Captured suddenly and without warning appears before us in ennobled, Victorian attire. There is no back story, no explaining, no change in facial expression. Whatever primitive spirit appears in this mask speaks through the multiplicity of silently neutral vessels that hold themselves open to us. We are only left with the question of our own identity mirrored before us in relation to Captor and Captured. How we clothe ourselves has always identified us. Our hopes and aspirations are wrapped up in how we wrap ourselves. The film is a tear in our clothing. Where were the chains? They appear invisible. Captured and Captor, you begin to wonder which is which.

Towards the beginning of the film, the white man stands over a distant image of the chaos of a body of water, while his slave is immersed in it. The white man is dressed as a conquering noble, while the black man is appears as a primitive tribesman. A key moment is when the tribesman appears in the frame with us as the aristocrats sit for a portrait that signifies nobility bordering around class. By the end of the film, the slave appears to have taken on the image of the nobleman, and the aristocrat is standing down by the water, gazing over the opaque mystery of the sea.

The moving poetry of the film eventually presents us, 36 minutes of montaged memories later, with irreconciled unities of poetic story telling and standard modern history, present and past, waking and dreaming, home and exile. If we’re set in 1557, where did the modern steel pipes come from, which are tied down onto the concrete dock with steel screws? The craftsman of the film doesn’t bother to artificially construe our reality for us by imagineering what a dock in 1557 might have looked like on a modern screen. He’s up to something else.

As Captured in 1557 stands, clothed in flowing vibrance, not overlooking the water but gazing towards the horizon, not from above it but on a particular location of time and weather-worn concrete dock and with water lapping over his bare feet, where did the post WWII battle ship lying horizontally on the body of water in the distance come from? A still life is always the capturing of a dead body, of disenchanted objects known only in the eye of the mind. But, if the dead body is moving, then are we in a dream?

It all seems so strange and foreign. Jesus was lifted up in the air on a cross on the outside of the city. Was John living closer to heaven when exiled to the island of Patmos? I come to wonder if perhaps the wooden masks from the jungles of Africa and the ennobled tailoring of Victorian stiffness both representationally serve simultaneously as the embodiment and fear of an ancient spirit at the heart of our primal history. Captured and Captor, I begin to wonder which is which.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Images of Gunshots Echoing In My Memory

Today, I was sitting in my car on the side of the road preparing to see a patient...

I won't soon forget the image in my passenger side view mirror of a person lying face down and motionless, one shoulder in the grass and another on the sidewalk. The image of his head turned to one side so that his nose was face down into the dirt impresses me with that choice that comes to us in the awful daring of a moment's surrender, when I am confronted with the fantastical nature of imagining myself to be in control. He clearly didn't choose to have his bleeding eye socket laying up against the concrete while his mouth lay open, kissing the dirt.

Though the one or two popping sounds that came out of nowhere just prior that didn't register as anything readily recognizable will probably fade into my memory like their echoes among the government project buildings around me...

We have this falsely reified, stereotyped image of "hard" black, violent males. I remember Harry Grammer telling me about traumatized kids who, when they get out from South Central and into nature, let their guard down after about the third day and start to play in the wonder and grace of openness and vulnerability to what and who is around them.

I likely also won't soon forget, in my side view mirror, the image of this young, black male, in his weakness, blood dripping from his face, putting all of his life into trying to get up on one knee, holding his arms out, palms up, as though not only asking for help from his friend but pleading, from a much deeper place in his very existing, quest-ioning whether he is seen and known. His friend stooped down to at once not know whether to hug or help him. I imagine he didn't mind getting blood on his jacket. Some things fade into unimportance when we're confronted with what really matters.

There's an uncertain openness to the moment when you see the clash of death with life on one knee, vulnerably looking up into the eyes of an equally helpless friend, and your brain hasn't had time to put the pieces together into an ordered scene in which you can make sense of a narratable event.

That moment is like the essence of contemplative prayer. This traumatized kid, his friend and I locking eyes through my passenger side window, both not knowing not only if we're about to get shot too but if that's what's even happening, this is the moment that captures the essence of contemplative prayer. We could not see and didn't know what was, what is, or what is to come.

We were together at the mercy of the event that occurs in that moment of creation when death and life clap together like the sound of an echoing gunshot that will fade out of memory while what will remain will be the image of one with whom the traumatized Son of man identifies moves up on one knee from dead to living, to receive his inheritance.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Pentecostal Trauma: Alienation and the Inheritance of The Kingdom

Pentacostal emotional excesses remind me of the catharsis of ancient Greek theater. Or perhaps an ancient Jewish funeral lament. It's actually the same thing happening. All the mourning and weeping...the excessive bodily expression...“Woman, why are you weeping?," says the already resurrected Jesus.

But, I'm learning that, like everything else, I've been looking at this all wrong. That's part of why, last week, I had the sense that I needed to return here again.

Last week I thought of all the excesses of dancing, crying, clapping, waving, and screaming as a kind of inverted revelation of the truth of how our person is tied to our body when we proclaim that we are not bodies but spirits. When we proclaim that our person is not interwoven with our body but, instead, the opposite. When we imagine ourselves as disembodied spirits, then our body finds a way to make itself known somehow. There is probably some truth to this.

This week, the sermon is on 1 Corinthians 4: 18. "...because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal."

While conflictedly self-aware of my own judgmental attitude, I thought to myself, "Oh Lord, here we go. More disembodied dualism." Then, however, the preacher for me unexpectedly took that verse to be about how our affliction is temporary but God has promised blessing. He began speaking explicitly to a body of people who can't pay their bills, whose afflictions include getting their electricity shut off and actual or potential eviction. He said, "We had to cry and mourn our way through 2019, but you know what..."

No wonder all the weeping and tears!

I find this disconnect between body and spirit, this identification with disembodiment, to be disagreeable. Last week, my lesson was how my realization of my outsidedness to that disembodiment is itself precisely a needed lesson in acceptance and belonging in the midst of an exiled body of people living among a social body to which I more easily belong. I don't have those same economic struggles. (see lik here for my reflection on my lesson at that time)

Today I was struggling particularly hard during what only incidentally turned out to be the 20 minutes of loud, cathartic lament that is natural in a Pentecostal setting but was shocking to my system. While they purposefully set aside space for all that excessive emotional dancing and weeping and calling out, I was struggling with judgement and a sense of alienation. This was partially simply because I had a headache, and it was really loud. But still.

Then the pastor made a pretty explicit connection between, on the one hand, all that weeping and, on the other, serious struggles that are generally foreign to me. Suddenly it hit me:

The bodily excesses aren't a revelation of the truth of our personhood being connected to our bodies. At least not primarily. The trauma of body / spirit dualism or detachment from our bodies to which one might attach doctrinally actually becomes a practiced way of coping with or reconciling to the exile of drowning in the flooding, fundamental chaos of eviction or electrical disconnection that gets expressed in abundant tears and cries of lament and loss. It's not attachment to belief. It's reconciliation with trauma.
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. - John 20
The part of the sermon where he talked about not fighting or slapping someone out of anger in response to being hurt or to avoid being hurt in the first place at first struck me as random and disconnected to what else he was saying. He at least didn't explain the connection. I suspect I'm the only one in the room who needed an explanation.

Now I realize he's talking about coping with trauma by turning to the God of love and peace rather than by enacting the way of "the flesh." I remember a well off African American friend recently talking about how her sister got jumped in school by a group of fellow African Americans. For her, a central part of the story was that they were "a different class of people." Now I get that they were coping with alienation and loss "in the flesh."

This means that last week's lesson is the same as this week's. My judgement of and alienation from beliefs I don't agree with or even consider to be dangerous aren't really even about the doctrines or beliefs. They're actually about very human and divine questions of exile and belonging, alienation and acceptance, scarcity and provision. They're more primarily about distance and closeness, inhumanity and dignity, contempt and love.

I've been looking at everything all wrong.

The last words of the song of the service were: "May the Spirit be beside you / To remind you that you're a child of the King."

Interestingly and appropriately to my lesson today, then, the above picture is of one of the paintings in the men's bathroom. (Be sure and read the quote)

Thursday, January 02, 2020

The Surveillance of God

Wood Model of an Observation Tower designed by Thomas Jefferson for Monticello

"A man only ha[s] the right to count or number what belong[s] to him." - a simple but powerful statement (from the article, "Why was God so angry at David for taking the census?")

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. - Luke 2: 1

Does the juxtaposition between these two statements stir conflict in your soul? Ironically, I was similarly though less annoyed that the 2020 government census website showed up automatically with my Facebook post about this without my being able to do anything about it.

I recently got a (second) ticket from a representative of "Augustus" for not registering my car. The conflict was very real for me! The officers were even following or enforcing a “decree” that came down from a tower or palace of sorts. So, it’s appropriate to me that the next scene in Luke 2 is set by the image of a group of shepherds enveloped by darkness of night.

Because I was engulfed in darkness myself, it required some soul searching for me to realize that the reason I was so angry when they ticketed me was because of the violation of a natural and good desire. I think one of the officers even broke the bonds of our common humanity by lying to me. He said they couldn’t look up whether or not I had already gotten a ticket for the same violation, but, come to find out, I was sent to the very same courthouse for payment. At the very least, he didn’t CARE enough to look, which was precisely why I felt the way I did.

If I actually imagine myself in the position of one of the shepherds in the next scene, I am immediately struck by the simple fact that my immediate night time environment isn’t typically enveloped by overwhelmingly glorious light. No wonder they were terrified at first! Were they even paying attention to which direction it came from at first? They probably had no idea. They were just suddenly engulfed. We don't expect but are conditioned not to feel safe and cared for. Something quite foreign to what is normal for us was happening. We "tend" to be enveloped by a darkness that makes my compulsion to anger seem appropriate and normal, even unthinkingly habitual.
“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2)
I imagine that this glorious light was such that, when the voice of the angle said, “This shall be a sign to you,” no one had to give any detailed theological EXPLANATION to the shepherds for them to associate the “sign for them” with the light in which they were engulfed.

The light shines in the darkness, and darkness did not overcome it. - John 1

I have recently become attuned to the fact that my soul and its responses to the stimuli of the world around me are deeply shaped by trauma that drives me to vainly seek to overcome my fear of said trauma by working hard to avoid it. I had no idea that my fear was a burden of darkness until it was illuminated by the light of a beautiful and truthful light of grace, CARE, and tender mercy. I was, in prayer one night in a gathering of disciples, given the gift of a voice from the Spirit saying, “This love is greater than that burden.”

Here I was moving along as though I had the right to account for and own my own property. In this case, my car. The presumption that the Caesar of our land has the right to not only account for my car as though its an extension of his own body and, thus, as though he’s able to require me to stop whatever I would otherwise be doing (which, I confess, I think is more important) and go to his headquarters of the DMV to follow his decree commanding that I must offer him a sacrificial tribute to get “registered” under him violently brings me face to face with the question of belonging. To whom do I belong? To whom do I owe my allegiance? Who owns me?

And, whoever owns me has care over me, has a role in tending to my needs and desires, and supposedly sees to my flourishing and edification. I am dependent on them. The question of who this is raises the question of whether or not I trust them to fulfill that role with goodness, kindness, gentleness, and care. In a word, with love. Our quest for belonging is the same as the question of to whom we belong.

The fact is, I really don’t trust Caesar. I don’t trust Chesapeake cops. They’re known for being ass holes, actually. I told him I “wasn’t going to do anything,” because I respect his authority. But, I did ask him if he thinks it’s HUMAN to give me two tickets for the same offense like that. He looked flabbergasted, stuck, lost. He paused for a second with his mouth agape, almost as though his inner pouting 4 year old came out for a second. He seemed to be thinking, “Why would this guy put me in a corner like this by asking me this question?” For a brief moment, he seemed caught between two allegiances, between the respectful and caring demands of human decency and the controlling and mechanical voice of bureaucracy.

In the end, however, he fulfilled his role as the arm of an inhuman, bureaucratic Caesar. He handed me that second ticket. We were again aliens, strangers, foreigners visiting each others’ respective wildernesses. We could not SEE each other for who we really are. We were blind to one another, lost in darkness. While his blue lights came around the night in their regular rhythm for their reflection to blind me if I happened to be looking in the direction of my rear view mirror, I shook my head and said, “This is ridiculous.” Truth be told, I was angry. I was more than angry, actually. I was enraged.

That is, until, in a gloriously illuminated environment of grace during a sacramentally prayerful reading of Luke 2: 1-20, I came face to face with the rule of the desire that was fueling my anger. Here, in this sanctuary of steadfast mercy, “My love is greater than this burden” found an analogue: “My love is greater than this darkness.”

I had actually experienced deep fear. My soul knew that this is not the way it's supposed to be. I knew something was broken, but I didn't quite know what it was. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid for SEE…” The shepherds tending and overSEEING their flock in darkness went to see the one who tends and oversees us. The good and natural desire that fueled my anger at that cop was to be seen, cared for, and protected. Our quest for belonging is the same as the question of to whom we belong.

The above photo is of a wood model of an Observation tower designed by Thomas Jefferson. It is currently displayed until January 19th at an exhibit at Chrysler Museum here locally in Norfolk. The curator’s commentary tells us:
“In about 1771, Thomas Jefferson designed, but never built, a classically inspired observation tower for Monticello, as seen in…the adjacent reconstruction model. Towers have a long history in villa architecture….They serve both as highly visible markers of an estate and surveillance structures…Some scholars note that a tower of this sort could have been used to monitor enslaved workers.”
See, I tend not to trust my overseeing Caesar, because he has a long history of not tending to his workers very humanely. Notice how the Tower could pass for that of Babylon. But Jesus is present with us, as one of us. Emmanuel, God with us. The surveillance of God isn't surveillance at all! He is the Good Shepherd. We belong to him.

Caesar operates as a domineering god who sends out decrees from atop a Tower or Palace. But, the Light of the world whose sign was a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger “took the little children into his arms and blessed them.” “How I longed to gather you like a hen gathers her chicks…”

Caesar has us pay sacrificial tribute to him as though we are the property of his enclosed territory, extensions of himself. But Jesus enraptures us with his glory and then dignifyingly empowers us to not only “go and see” for ourselves but to go from that place of awe-struck, wondrous joy and SHARE the good news with others. It’s in his tender mercy that he “keeps watch over us.” He “sees” us.

This is why I am still slightly and appropriately annoyed but no longer enraged at Caesar, at the two cops who demanded that I offer a ridiculous repeat tribute for violating allegiance to and trust in their Master. This is how I took the time away from something else I needed to be doing and went to the DMV to get registered without resentment. This is why I followed the instructions on my ticket and paid the fee online in peace.

Caesar enforces his decree with the threat or force of violence. But Jesus comes among us “as one of the least of one of these,” submitting vulnerably before us as an utterly dependent newborn child in need of our care for him. His command, his “decree,” is love.

The surveillance of God is not like that of Caesar. He sees our plight and has come to rescues us. “Registration” before God is not like registering in the accounting books of Caesar. His inheritance is not protected by an enclosing threat of death but is life eternal.

And, the way Jesus “holds all things together” with his faithfully steadfast voice is not like the violent and coercive arm of Caesar. He is the Good Shepherd. We belong to him.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Lust Isn't Bodily

An Icon (in my home) of The Transfiguration

"Beauty evokes desire. It precedes and elicits desire, it supplicates and commands it, and it gives shape to the soul that receives it." - David Bentley Hart

Yesterday, in reference to a woman's compulsion to be with a man, a friend of mine said, "That's not love." My friend looked up and out towards heaven and then down at their arm, pinched their skin as though in reference to their body, and said, "That is is lust." As I try to work through this myself in my discipleship, this statement by my friend really got me to thinking.

The difference between lust and love is not the difference between body and spirit but between faithfulness and transience, caring and carousing, dignifying and degrading, worthiness and temptation, treasure and buried, significance and void, partnering and alienating, creating and wasting away.

Notably both love and lust not only involve but require the gift of beauty. The evoking of desire is not foreign to beauty; that's the whole point. The difference is ordering and disorienting, directing and chaos, living and dying.

Also, I've heard it said more times than I can count that (romantic) relationships are held together only by God. But what does that even mean? When I've heard this in the past, it usually only amounted to saying it, as though merely affirming the correct doctrinal creed in our heads. More concretely, the difference between love and lust is also the difference between owning someone and being on the same path together, between idolatrously identifying by our union with the other and walking upright together before the face of God in worship.

This really applies to any relationship whatsoever, but, because we're talking about lust, we're talking about relationships belonging to the ordering of sexuality in marriage. In other relationships, we could replace "lust" with compulsion and discuss "true friendship" or "fellowship."

For us to enact those in our discipleship and our lives is to love and embody Jesus and his way rather than the way of death. This, of course, means that following Jesus and enacting love rather than lust does not mean reaching for disembodied spiritual realities. For me, in my life and history, I found that such a gnostic quest turned out to itself be lustful and to thus have extremely destructive consequences (including on my sexual life).

Of course, then, all of this is meaningless if Jesus is not Jesus Incarnate, and if Jesus is not beautiful, if seeing and knowing Jesus is not seeing and knowing beauty that evokes bodily desire to know him and his love. The to this point unstated reality here is that Jesus is life, he cares and nurtures, he orders and directs all things, he empowers and grants an inheritance of dignity in himself, and that he is faithful. Jesus Incarnate, rather than an imagined disembodied spirituality, is our peace and our strength.

*Note, I originally wrote this on Dec. 15, 2019 on Facebook after the above noted conversation with said friend.
"Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; though Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen." - Lectionary prayer for the Week, beginning Sunday, Dec. 29th.

The Body Cast Out, To Be Brought In

Today, I attended a church in a part of town I wasn't very familiar with while growing up in my two story suburban house in a neighborhood of nearly all white people. I attended a church that apparently can't afford new blinds.

A murderer, thief, and adulterer gave a testimony that he's now a productive member of the community after having been given a life sentence in prison. I thanked him for his story and told him it looks like his life sentence got placed on Jesus at the cross, because he's free. He smiled and shook my hand.

The lady who spoke and witnessed before the offering was previously hooked on crack, in and out of prison, and an adulteress. Appropriately, she shared these verses with her testimony:
"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord 's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn..."
Isaiah 61:1‭-‬2 NRSV
My favorite part of the day, I think, was the greying, pot bellied white guy with a cane and no rhythm who clearly can't dance (in a room full of people who do and can) but was doing so anyway with great exuberation in an environment full of hugs that clearly feels like home for him. I later found out he goes by Pastor Rick.

I was quite moved when I realized that he was like an icon pointing to the exiled and outcast Jesus who identifies with precisely the kinds of people who "don't fit in society" that filled the room.

I saw all sorts of Pentecostal excesses I deemed silly or even disagreeable. Rom. 8: 6 "To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" got translated instead in terms of "having the carnal mind" vs "having the spiritual mind." The preacher says: "We deal more with anger than we do with submission. When you feel like you're going to 'do something,' then submit...The Devil is not the problem. It's our CARNAL mind. You think somebody owes you something...the flesh don't like to be told what to do. The flesh don't like to behave."

Spiritual gets twisted to mean disembodied. In the sermon, if someone compulsively expresses their anger at me, the pastor's advice is to be sure and not tell them how that makes me feel. To instead go sit in a room and pray. His point is a good one, which is not to respond to compulsive anger with more of the same. To enact the way of Jesus rather than the violent way of the world. But there's no imagination for safely and gracefully befriending our bodily desires and responses so that they may be transformed and reordered in the presence of Christ. One prayer heard was: "We're gonna learn how to close our mouths, Lord God [rather than making others angry]."

But such silliness or disagreeableness is, in a sense, precisely the point of why I enjoyed today and the lessons presented to me as gifts. While I became present to my judgement over what I disagree with or over what I vainly and faithlessly deem below me on the social ladder, they were teaching me how to be human. I was quite moved. The worship leader, with his corny bodily contortions in reference to now unpopular 70's dance moves with a giant, toothy smile on his face, clearly knows what acceptance is. He is clearly comfortable in his own skin and in the presence of other silly, weird people like him, because we're covered by the love of Christ.

Those kinds of people are me. When I say I was moved, I mean to tears. Of repentance.

"The Holy Spirit is not a sad person...you know God has a sense of humor. Look who he called. He called me." - senior pastor George Eison

What Does Judas Want?

The Suicide of Judas, ca. 1492, by John Canavesio

I tend to imagine that Judas betrayed Jesus (when he did) EITHER because of vain greed OR because of impatience in waiting for Jesus to fulfill his own (probably violent, militant) idol / image of the kingdom. I am also tempted to think that, all along, Judas was "sold out" EITHER for OR against Jesus. But, Judas' impatience is not disconnected from his greed, and - like Peter - he probably didn't really even know what he wanted. Heck, some fear of the authorities was probably mixed in there with his impatience at overcoming them, too.

If it were as simple and being moved by one desire integrated with its purpose, he wouldn't have needed Jesus to empower him to name and own his desire, to get out of his confused place of disordered paralysis (John 13: 27). This means that, like mine and yours, Judas' desires were not straight forward or of a single purpose. Humans aren't that simple. He likely felt conflicted.

Considering the confusion and disorder, I wonder how Judas would have reacted if he would have stuck around for the end of the story? In a sense, that's a bit of a nonsense and irrelevant question; it's not what happened, and we can't know. But, at the same time, my imaginative exercise of a question does function to articulate my point - which is that the revelation of truth in Jesus Christ is not only required for us to even have any bearings or orientation in relation to our confused mess of desires at all in the first place but also empowers us to own and name our desires, as well. I imagine that, if Judas had seen the resurrected Jesus, his desires leading to betrayal would likely have been drastically rearranged and reoriented.

See Matt. 27: 5 and Acts 1: 25 for context of the meaning of the above painting. I submit that it helps us understand part of why our desires are so difficult to understand or even see. It's because we're not gods. We don't create our desires and don't get to control them from above like a machinist. Instead, our hearts are gates between kingdoms. We are ever under the influence of and shaped by other forces and images of and for reality. We can't serve both God and money. Either way, however, we are servants. Just before Jesus empowers Judas to know and act on his desire, in fact, Jesus commands us to act as servants to one another (after serving us by washing our feet).

To precisely my point that the revelation of Jesus is the revelation of our disordered desires, from Matt. 27: 3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

Revelation of the king reveals where we are in relation to the kingdom. "Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." - 1 Cor. 13: 12

The Groaning of All Creation on Christmas Morning

"The impossible burden of expectations for hope, peace, joy and love in a carefully orchestrated mood will break on the craggy rocks of reality - very likely today, if not certainly tomorrow, when our commercial Christmas ends and the liturgical season is just beginning. Rather than fighting that reality I have learned to embrace the fact that my understanding of Christ’s promises of hope, peace, joy and love depend on an awakening of despair in the alternatives. Thanking God for my disillusionment this morning, and imagining a community that welcomes that poor in spirit, forgives terrible sins, restores the children to their parents, carries the suffering of the forgotten and recognizes the delicate working of omnipotence in the tenderness of the weak - because this is where the Child is truly our king." - Sharad Yadav
*image from @monetnicolebirths on Instagram
I wrote the following on Christmas night, as Sharad wrote the above on Christmas morning. It's an account of how my day went. For those who don't know, Christmas goes until January 5th according to the Church calendar. So, I'm not actually late here.

To paraphrase of Matt Tebbe and Ben Sternke, founders of Gravity Leadership: "We don't just think our ways into new ways of living. We also live our ways into new ways of thinking." I have been discipling with them for a while now. I am learning that the groaning of creation on Christmas morning isn't a reaching out to grasp something beyond but, instead, is the embracing of our weakness and vulnerability, our limits.

Today, I set boundaries for the first time in my life. I also apologized for "violently" overstepping boundaries with my own harsh words in the past in that relationship.

Suddenly, in certain circumstances, I am able to imagine more healthy verbal responses where, before, my imagination was enslaved by my compulsion to responses that would be merely either helplessly passive or self-assertively aggressive. I am Zechariah. I was mute, and am now able to speak.

Then, I also suddenly found myself apologizing to two dear friends for a pattern in the past of being super pushy in forcing them to see what I saw or, to quote Matt Tebbe again, "want what I want." I was previously bound to frustration with them, and to the circumstances around my relationship with them, rather than acting out of a desire to love them by seeing them empowered as co-creators with God. I felt controlled by colonizing and imperial forces. Today, I enacted the way of peace. "We don't just think our ways into new ways of living. We also live our ways into new ways of thinking." (see Romans 8: 19-23)

Indeed, I feel like a new child has been born today, like it's Christmas morning. That child is me. A very difficult and draining day was a great gift. The groaning of all creation as though in childbirth lives in the appearance of the person of Jesus when he is working to free us us from old patterns of enslavement. A joyous morning and the power to speak creatively, the inheritance of the Christ child.
Luke 1 and 2:

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
....
7 Then [after the birth of the child] his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Merry Christmas everyone. Shalom.

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