Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Some Christmas Musings

An Uncommon Restoration

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people;

And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us, in the house of his servant David;

As he spake by the mouth of his holy Prophets, which have been since the world began;

That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us.

To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers, and to remember his holy covenant;

To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham, that he would give us;

That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear;

In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” (Luke 1: 68-75)

These words of Zechariah, and also Mary's song, the Magnificat, have got me questioning, looking deeper this Advent and Christmas season. The burning question in my mind is how? How did Jesus' birth accomplish the raising up of the humble and meek, the filling of the hungry with good things, the deliverance of his people from their enemies, the fulfillment of God's oath to Abraham?

All to often, I fear, we, living centuries later, have lost touch with the scene upon which Jesus arrived: the desolation of Israel, and their longed for deliverance. We make Jesus out to be this white-looking guy who could have been born anywhere, at any time, and accomplish the same thing- a universally applicable atonement for the personal sin of all of mankind (or at least the chosen). While this might satisfy the dogmatic, systematic brains of 15th century theologians and their modern counterparts, it would hardly have been comforting to a Jew living in the first century under Roman oppression and longing for the consolation of Israel. Imagine telling Mary, or one of the shepherds, or Simeon, or any one of the people who experienced such joy at the news of Jesus' birth, that the salvation they were promised amounted to nothing more than having each of their personal sins paid for, like the time they stole a fish or lusted after their neighbor's spouse. That would be like telling them to forget about Israel's problems. Why not just be glad that they were allowed go to heaven when they died? It sounds preposterous. They knew the Law, the Psalms and Prophets, that God freely forgave the sins of the contrite. And the hope of bodily resurrection had given strength to many Jewish martyrs before them. But what they longed for was a forgiveness on a national level, to see Israel once again restored to God's right hand as chief among the nations. Because they knew that Israel's God was King of all the nations, and that Israel was his special people. And they knew that Israel had fallen from God's favor.

But now they knew that God was doing exactly what they were hoping for! We are told that Zechariah was full of the Holy Spirit when he spoke these words, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people.” A new Exodus was underway! God was once again baring his arm and preparing to unleash his might. And this time it would be nothing less than a new creation. A new covenant order under a new Adam for a newly defined Israel.

But it still is odd the way he did it. He sent a messenger to a peasant girl, telling her that she was the highly favored one to bear his Son. He chose a common carpenter to provide a home and vocation for him. He announced his young prince's arrival to a band of simple shepherds. And for royal companions he provided fishermen, thieves and outcasts. When the time drew near for the kingly heir to take on the powers of the nations, his steed of choice was a little donkey's colt, hardly tall enough to lift his feet off the dust. Last of all, our ruler elect was given over to the fate of all the failed Messiahs before him, a Roman crucifixion.

Where was the promised deliverance? Was it the resurrection? Yes, but this meant more to his followers than a promised afterlife. It meant that God had once again mocked all the strength of man, the rulers of the nations who exercise dominion over people. Like Egypt and Babylon before, Caesar was mocked, Pilate was mocked, Herod was mocked, the chief priests and the chief theologians were all mocked. God defeated them all and all their ideologies. They could not keep this nobody from Nazareth down. The one who promised that the meek would be the ones to inherit the earth. The one who taught his followers to look to God alone for protection and sustenance. The one who offered the ultimate freedom from their enemies- by teaching them to love them. This one, this son of Abraham, was raised from the dead, was exalted as king over all the nations and ascended to God's right hand.

But why were his followers so persecuted? And why are they still, at least those who have chosen not to align themselves with those in power who promise protection and freedom in exchange for patriotic faith? It is because, like Jesus, we must be made perfect through suffering. When we let go our grasping for property, for food and clothing, for comfort, for life, then we allow ourselves to be wholly possessed by love. A love so perfect that it is willing to die for those who are enemies. And that is what we were when Jesus Christ died for us.

But it is more than a willingness to suffer wrong. Throughout history, one nation after another has risen, and fallen. Yet God continues to bless the earth with rain, with seed time and harvest. He blesses the way of the simple. He gives strength for work, and sleep at the sun's going down. He gives us children and laughter, bread and wine, communion with himself and community with his people. Massey Shepherd, Jr., recalls Mary's song and its fulfillment in this context. He writes, “In the outpouring of his Spirit upon his church the disciples knew themselves partakers of the age to come, and to “have tasted the heavenly gift” (Heb 6:4-5). And in the loving fellowship of service one to another, now centered in the holy banquet Table, he had truly “exalted the humble and meek” and had “filled the hungry with good things”. “ And he continues, “It was characteristic of the simplicity as also of the depth of our Lord's discernment that in leaving us a memorial of himself, he should choose, not some strange and exotic ceremony, but an action universal in human experience- the family meal. He took the most obvious symbol of common life and made it the supreme sacrament of his life.” (Massey Shepherd, Jr, “The Worship of the Church”, pg 146, the Seabury Press, 1952)

Here, then, in the most ordinary of places, is the perfected order for the divine social life. To discover this people have fought and slain, argued and died, and written constitutions and all manner of laws- all for vanity! Because it is only when we change and become like little children that we will hear Jesus calling and beckoning us to freely sit down with him and eat and drink as kings at his table. It is only when we are joined to him as family that we will learn to work together in love and peace, reaping the good of the earth for the good of all with thanksgiving, and offering ourselves to him who gives us himself for food and drink and life.

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

To give knowledge of salvation unto his people for the remission of their sins,

Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;

To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)

May we all let our feet be guided into this Way. Amen.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

National Treasure

A is my slice of this American Pie

Bodies bled for it

Cops clubbed for it

Dogs drooled

Everyone envies for a bite of it

Felons forfeited it

Gold was gambled away to finance it

Hats were heaved in the air to cheer for it

I inherited it.

Jailers had jobs because of it

Kneelers knelt in thanksgiving for it

Laborers languished under it

Masses were murdered for it

No one really needed it

Orators orated

Politicians paid their way into it

Quotes of old were quoted about it

Reporters reinforced it

Soldiers slaughtered and were slaughtered for it

Teachers taught it

Universities undergirded it

Voters vouched for it

Writers wrote

Xerox machines xeroxed the forms that you had to fill out if you were willing to take part in it

You get yelled at if you don't want it any more

Zealots are zealous for it

Now that I know my ABC's, I long for a different alphabet. How can I sell out without being a rotten sellout? But this pearl of great price has turned out to be a counterfeit. Can I just put it in the recycling bin and hope they make something better next time? Or can I confound it all by striving for the lowest servitude?

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Man Without a Country

I remember having to read a short story by this title in 7th grade. I don't remember who it was by, but it was about an ex-soldier who was sentenced to remain at sea for the rest of his life because he denied his country. But he kept with him some cloth upon which he sewed a star for every state that joined the Union thereafter, following the growth of the nation by looking at the flags of the other ships that he met. At his death, he bequeaths the finished flag to a young person whom he charges never to take for granted his national identity.

I remember being moved by that story at such a young age. I was proud of my national heritage. I thought it would be a great thing to die for my country...

But what is my country? What gives me the right to claim a piece of soil as my own that once belonged to someone else? That was taken by violence and continues to be defended by violence? What person or group of people has the authority to draw arbitrary lines on God's earth and decide who can live within them and who can't, and what those within can and cannot do?

I've read another story, too. About a man who had no country, not even a place to lay his head. Yet he was the rightful heir of the whole world. He did not come conquering with military might, though he had hordes of angels at his command. He accepted no place of power, though everyone wanted to crown him king after they saw how he could heal the sick and make bread multiply. He did not overthrow the Hasmonian priest/king elite that had taken over the temple cult, nor the Herodians who kissed up to the empire. He led no rebellion against the Roman occupation as the zealots wished, nor enforced the rituals of Moses' law that defined the Jewish nation as the Pharisees would have liked. He did not retreat into the wilderness to await God's judgment upon the unfaithful while living an exaggerated purity as the Essenes would have commended either. Instead he disappointed everyone and died the utterly disgraceful death of a failed messiah, a national criminal, a traitor both to Judaism and Rome, cut off from the holy city like some stinking, unclean thing. And he said, "If any would come after me......."

Crazy. Who would want to follow that guy?

Yet he said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." He had no fear, nothing to prove, no reason to stake a claim for himself, no desire to build wealth, no land or family to defend with sword and bow, but surrendered himself, body and soul, to his Father's will. "Therefore he was exalted and given the name that is above every name....."

My country, my land, my people- my Father's world. Irish folk musician, Luka Bloom, has a song called "Tribe" that celebrates the kinship he shares with all living things, gently offering an alternative to the proud nationalism of those around him.

Where is your tribe?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Living Room Matrix

Here is a little piece of fiction I wrote inspired by "The Politics of Jesus" and a rough week I had with my little son, who was teething. If it sounds a little insane, that is why. :)
I've added an introduction to the original version, because my husband thought it was too enigmatic. Or something.

A Living Room Matrix

This is the story of your everyday monarch. He has a kingdom, real estate, two royal automobiles and a credit card. At almost every election, he faithfully takes his monarchial self to the voting polls and votes. He also affixes his signature to numerous petitions presented by his underlings. And on days when he feels especially generous, he has been known to purchase a box of Girl Scout cookies...

Old King Cole shifted uncomfortably on his throne and heaved his round belly in a long, loud sigh. He was usually a merry old soul, but today neither pipe, nor bowl, nor fiddlers three could lift the smog of boredom that had lowered itself upon him.

Mechanically, he lifted his scepter and began toying with it lazily. It glinted in the sunlight that flowed profusely through the tall windows of the Great Hall. Studded with gems, multicolored, laid in perfect rows, compact, efficient...

The fiddlers droned on. Old King Cole changed the channel. The news was on, bad news of course. More turmoil throughout the kingdom. He began to mutter his opinions of the individuals he had chosen to run the world for him. A wailing was heard in the distance. He tried to ignore it, and switched back to the fiddlers. His eye wandered distractedly from the large screen, roved about the room, along the tiled floor, over the fake tropical plant in the gilded urn, then to the bearded man by the doorway in monk's habit, with empty hands, and sandals on his feet.

The king gave a start. “How did you get past the security system?” he demanded fiercely. Then he bit his lip in sudden shame as recognition seeped into his pudgy brain. He lowered his face, but realized the man was smiling at him. The man spoke.

“Follow me.”

At the sound of these words, the fat old king leaped to his feet, feeling as if a great weight had fallen off his shoulders. The smog vanished, he laughed aloud and, throwing back his arm, he sent the scepter hurtling through the air and into the royal pond where it landed with a satisfying kersplash! Then, as fast as his merry little legs could carry him, he ran after the bearded man with the empty hands and sandals on his feet.

The man led him into a small room, where a baby sat, ejecting a loud, dismal sound from out of his round, down curled mouth. From the look of things, and the air about the place, sound was not the only thing being ejected that day, and it appeared that this was the source of the sorrowful wail. The king, still laughing, assessed the situation in an instant, and, bending down, lifted the the child in his arms.

Which left the fiddlers to play to an empty recliner, a half drunk can of Coke, a bag of chips, and a goldfish to goggle at the strange rectangular device that had landed in her tank. Studded with buttons, multicolored, laid in perfect rows...

And where now is the bearded man in monk's habit, with the empty hands and sandals on his feet? And who is that clean diapered baby, who grins and shrieks, and the fat old king, who tickles his toes?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Politics of Jesus

I finished the above titled book by John Howard Yoder over a week ago and it has been one of the best reads in a long time. I would have to rate it up there with "The New Testament and the People of God" by N. T. Wright as one of the few great books in my life. "The Politics of Jesus" did not challenge as much paradigm restructuring as with Wright's book, since I was already familiar with most of Yoder's arguments, but it certainly helped clarify and unify a lot of the ideas that have been forming in my mind the past several years.

The book is composed of several essays, some of which could almost stand alone, but if I could sum up the essence of this work in one sentence, I would have to say that the underlying theme was that we must read the New Testament, and particularly the Gospels, with the recognition that Jesus ministry was very political in nature, and the ethic that he preached was not intended to be followed in a pious, individual sense, but as the written constitution of a brand new human social institution-the new humanity of the new creation order, the kingdom of God. The utter impracticality of this Way is precisely why the cross is such a stumbling block. And the church has historically under-emphasized the radical bits of Jesus' social ethic in favor of a system of law and order based upon "nature".

By "nature" I mean an approach to social ethics that may or may not be heavily founded upon biblical "principles" or even direct commandments (The Decalogue is a prime example.) The contrast with the politics of Jesus lies in the choice of whether to exercise one's sway in the various echelons of society, for good or for ill, or to deliberately pursue subordination, humiliation, and social imbecility.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wow, it has been a long time since I've written. Lent is drawing to a close with Holy Week beginning this Sunday. I have been reading and reflecting on a lot of things, and been busy with my family and garden. I have continued to think about our consumption of goods and what implications those may have, but this thought process always leaves me with more irking questions than I started out with.

Here are the two biggies:
1. Where does the buck stop? Am I, the consumer, morally responsible for the working conditions and wage of the producer, or is that something solely between the employer and employee?

2. Am I, the consumer, responsible for the pollution and waste caused by the manufacturing process? Global warming aside, there still seems to be a lot of unhealthy air to breathe, water to drink and land to live on because of toxic industrial practices.

Now that I've got them written down, I think I'll have a shot at answering them. First of all, no, I don't think we bear any guilt as consumers. It is not a sin to buy or not to buy. I am not responsible for the actions of miserly corporate policy makers. However, I can make a positive difference, perhaps, in not buying from those whose practices are less than desirable. It is a choice, then, not between good and evil, but between what is acceptable and what is better. In fact, it's a whole lot more fun to see how much less I can consume when the guilt part is taken out of the equation. We live in a culture where it is common to make accusations, point fingers and blame. But this does little to improve our situation. It either causes people to get on the defensive and spend more, or gives people a false sense of righteousness when they "go green" and buy "fair trade". I suggest a third way- lay off the guilt tripping and let's see how far we can go fueled simply on our love for humanity and the rest of creation.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Competing Imaginations

One of the blogs I regularly "hit" is by a guy named Jason Barr. At An Absolution Revolution, Jason issued a challenge in his post titled, “[I] had been living inside their imagination.”

Here is my response to his very thought provoking questions.

1. In what ways are your community, whether it’s a faith community or simply the community of your neighborhood/apartment complex/residence hall, being dreamed by the corporations, by the government(s), or by other oppressive forces that seek to exploit or control you?

We are told we live in a free country and that lives were sacrificed to make it so. But this freedom has strings attached. We are all numbered so the government can keep track of us. We are statistics for market research. We are told by both government and corporations what we should and should not eat, drink, what substances are good and what are bad. We must pay taxes on our property and obtain licenses to build upon it. Our teens are not allowed to join the workforce and help with the family's income, but are held back from economic maturity. We cannot choose alternative fuel without being rich and filling out mountains of paperwork. We are being watched and filmed at every turn. We are not free to make economic decisions on a personal level, but must go through countless middlemen, insurance agencies, etc. We must submit to every whim of control freak policemen or risk being tased. We are blocked from every side when we try to make a living from a family farm, or other small scale venture, by the competition and lobbying power of the mega-businesses. We cannot feed or house the poor, visit prisoners, or adopt orphans, without shelling out lots of money, going through agencies, wading through red tape, or risk treading on zoning laws and other city stipulations. We are hemmed in on every side by rules designed for our "protection" but in reality stifle the good we might do. And we are constantly bombarded by stories of heroism and Americanized virtue to keep us sending our dollars to Wal-mart, and our children to the public school machines, and the military brainwash establishments.

2. In what ways are you as an individual being dreamed in the same way?

Some of the above are my own concerns, some are my friends' and some of other people I've read. And yes, I am a consumer. I use electricity to heat and cool my house and pump water from my well, run my washing machine, oven and water heater, vacuum my floors and power my cfl's. I use gasoline to fuel my car to go to the grocery store, the library, or to a friend's house. I use the phone lines for local calls and internet, and have a cell phone. It's not that I think these are wrong or anything, but I wish these services could be controlled on a more local, personal level. They would be managed better, and make earth friendly options more readily available.

3. What things you experience in your own life, whether in person or vicariously through reading or other media, give you the tools to begin living out of an alternative imagination?

My husband first got me thinking and challenging popular Constantinian Christianity. I now see Jesus and the State as competing allegiances. N T Wright, Stanley Hauerwaas and John Howard Yoder have all three helped to shape my imagination as I try to discover and recover what the Christian vocation is in the midst of the Empire. The Internet has also been an invaluable resource in the struggle to disentangle myself from the morass of state/ corporate slavery. From Christian Anarchist sites and blogs, to other sites that challenge the status quo such as Lew Rockwell, as well as those that give inspiration in more practical areas, such as Mother Earth News.

4. Does faith fuel your resistance? If so, how? If yes, why (or if no, why not)?

I have an incurably optimistic eschatology. I believe we are living in the Messianic age now, to the extent that we realize and implement the implications of Jesus being Lord and the Kingdom being here, today. It helps me to imagine a world where the nations "beat their swords into plowshares" and where every man dwells beneath his "own vine and fig tree", and thus to work towards that ideal in my own tiny way.

5. What is something you can do to begin resisting in a new way, right now?

Right now I am trying to make friends with my neighbors, and be a good mother and wife, and to nurture a spirit of gentleness in all my comings and goings. And I'm always on the lookout for ways I can reduce our family's consumption and expenses, and make use of the resources in our own locale. But it is only the practice of love that will tear the walls down.

As an aside on that last question, remember that Lent is just around the corner - what an amazing opportunity not just to “give up” something out of some misguided sense of obligation, but rather to deeply examine your life to find a social/thought practice or consumptive habit that is not in line with the values of the basilea of God, to nail it to the cross with Christ, and to celebrate the breaking of its power over you with the resurrection?

I have been thinking about this, incidentally, and am planning to cut way back on the time I spend on the internet, as worthwhile as that might be, because I need to work on putting into deeds the stuff I am always reading about. How much of a limit, I haven't yet decided on. I'll probably set a certain number of hours to allow myself per week, and stick to it. Maybe I'll blog about the "Things I Did While Not Online." So stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Just a Little Rant

For my own record. I am so confused. Why is the "free market" so tabooed amongst most emerging/anarchist Christian discussion when it is the "not-so-free-global-state-capitalist-market" that is ruling the roost and not a laissez-fair model by a long shot? According to experts, we haven't even had a free market for 150 years! This is not really a huge deal for me, I really don't know much at all about economics, but if achieving social justice was mankind's chief end, I'd say the libertarians were on the right track. Get the government out of the way so we can work out our differences on a personal level. It might be "dog eat dog" in some cases, but at least it won't be Tyrannosaurus Rex eat puppy. However, I don't think social justice is our chief end. I think justice is something God will do if we, his people, are faithful in our individual and communal callings, and are content to suffer injustice ourselves for righteousness' sake. That leaves a lot unsaid, but I'm tired and need to get some sleep.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Editing Note

I have edited my blog a little, because I have been counseled to not be so negative and critical, and I humbly apologize if any articles or comments have seemed a little too abrasive. I am not afraid to say what I believe, but I do not want to hurt anybody or turn them away from the gospel of nonviolence by being too free with my sarcasm. I want to keep digging for the truth, and sharing what I find, but I want to do it in a loving manner.

The God of Americanism

Here is an excellent arricle by Dr. James K. A. Smith, associate professor of philosophy at Calvin College.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


I have been reading "The Politics of Jesus" by John Howard Yoder (yay! my husband got me the perfect Christmas gift.) and am in the middle of the third chapter, which is about the implications of the Jubilee in Jesus' ministry. Here is a concept that really excites me, although I probably should wait until I finish the chapter to comment on it, but I wanted to get down some thoughts and questions while they are still fresh in my mind.

I thought it most interesting that in Matthew's account of the Lord's Prayer, the word used for "debts" in the petition for forgiveness specifically meant those of the material, monetary kind, while in the following verses, when Jesus requires that we forgive others if we want God to forgive us, the word is different, specifically meaning transgressions.

To the first century Jewish audience, who longed for "thy kingdom come", the two concepts were very much connected. The poor longed for the restoration of their homes and ancestral lands, which was one of the provisions in the Law for Jubilee, while on a nationalistic level, the Pharisees and zealots longed for the day when the Roman occupation would end, signaling God's forgiveness of the nation's sins that first sent them into captivity. For Jesus to proclaim these Jubileean ethics was in essence quite the same as announcing the inauguration of the long awaited kingdom. Thus the gospel is Jubilee.

Sooooooo, my questions are................

1. Exactly how was Jubilee realized in Jesus and where do we fit into this story? It wasn't just "spiritual" or even symbolic, the resurrection forbids that interpretation. The resurrection was proof, to the first century Jew, that God really had chosen Jesus to be the Messiah, the King of the new creation, the second Adam of the new humanity. As believing Gentiles we have been elected into this new humanity and are thus fellow partakers in everything Jesus accomplished. Israel's story becomes our story.

2. To what extent and in what way do the provisions for the Year of Jubilee in the Law inform our ethics toward those within and those outside of the church/kingdom and to the rest of creation? Was the Law a foreshadow of the things to come? If we are living in a greater age, how far do these ethics reach? Are we to be in perpetual Jubilee? In what ways? Forgiveness of debt? of sin? of crime? A gift economy? Cyclical rest for us and for the land? Fair economic redistribution?

3.What kind of social implications does this have for the church and how we define it as a political entity?

Well, I guess I'd better read on....