Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Renouncing the Nation-State and Recapturing the Reality of Eucharist

With all the debate that has been going around regarding immigration and the new law in Arizona, it is a good time to examine the building blocks that have created our concept of the modern nation-state. It is a good time to read William Cavanaugh.

In his article, "World in a Wafer", Cavanaugh contrasts the artificial unity of Globalization with the true communion of the Eucharist. While corporate globalization, upheld by a confederation of nation-states, has succeeded in creating a monolithic "McDonalds" culture throughout the world at the expense of ethnic diversity, it is the Eucharist that truly collapses the walls of division among social groups. Yet it also affirms diversity of culture, being celebrated in small localities and lending itself to take a variety of shapes and forms through its various liturgies.

When I see Christians affirming the walls that divide nations, I am intensely saddened. The reality of the Eucharist should consume and destroy all national identities. Yes, we are to submit to the laws of the nation- state that may exist, but that does not mean we should try to perpetuate them or shouldn't try to change them, or rather change the hearts of those who uphold them through reasonable debate and prayer on their behalf.

In our hearts, if the reality of the Eucharist has taken hold, we must also renounce our identities with human nations. By this I do not mean renouncing the diverse ethnic practices and cultural heritage that makes our shared unity in Christ more beautiful. Rather, we must renounce the human boundaries and arbitrary laws that create distinctions between who is "one of us" and who is an "other". In the Eucharist the only "One" is Christ's body, shared by all who are of his body, and the only "other" are those to whom Christ must be preached.

If our identity with the nation-state were dissolved, the nation-state itself would dissolve, because it is only an illusion in people's minds. The power of the powerful is only possible if the masses believe in it. But what would be put in it's place? Perhaps a return to a confederation of local villages would be in order. Things were organized much like this before the Federalists took over the colonies. It is the expansionist ideology, which has taken various shapes and forms throughout our short history, that has created our national enemies. The best course of action to take then, would be to simply and peacefully dismantle the infrastructure that the Federalists have created, to free our minds from the tyranny of fear that is their greatest weapon to keep themselves in power. To free our minds from ignorance and the false claim that safety is achieved through biggering the military and homeland security measures. If we lived simply in small villages, neighbors banding together to protect the weak and provide for the poor in their own localities, if we stopped running after more land, more wealth and more power, if we stopped measuring success in terms of wealth or job security, then our very smallness would be our greatest protection. No one would bother us because we wouldn't own or control anything they would want.

This is a way of life that can be sought after and enjoyed now, even if the vast majority do not agree. By refusing to recognize social boundaries in our everyday interaction with people, by sharing all that we have, by practicing radical hospitality, by refusing to buy things we don't need or own things that would cause us to worry if they were taken away. This is true freedom, and this freedom is absolutely free.

Friday, April 2, 2010


There are a lot of different voices out there telling us how to deal with the problem of injustice. Some say we must do away with aggressors through force. Others say we must extricate ourselves from unjust systems. Some say we must disarm unjust powers, others call for a radical redistribution of wealth.

It is a nagging question, and one that would not leave me alone. I knew I was searching for something, I could see a light ahead, but I was still in a tunnel. Then the answer came when I wasn't looking for it at all, like an explosion of light. I do not know why it seemed so significant, since my discovery was a reaffirmation of what I already knew, what had always been there. And I do not know exactly where to go with it, or how to describe it without resorting to overused "Christianese" cliches.

But there I was, reading an old interview with N.T. Wright, a favorite theologian of mine. His book, The New Testament and the People of God, radically revolutionized the way I read the Bible. Being a scholar of 1st century Jewish thought and practice, he shed a lot of light on our understanding of what justification meant for Israel and for Paul. It wasn't some personal thing between God and the individual, rather it had to do with the definition of who God's people were and how God's promises to Abraham were fulfilled in Jesus. I had been discussing these things with members of my family who had recently "discovered" Wright, and we have also begun reading and discussing the book of Galatians together. And so I "happened" upon this interview, and while reading through it two things popped out to me in a fresh way. One was that, while discussing "justification", Wright mentioned that through Jesus' death on the cross, God definitively dealt with the problem of justice in history. The second came later, as I was growing a bit bored (it was a long interview) and Wright was answering questions about 9/11, etc. He said we needed to bring Bin Laden to justice, but that it couldn't be done with B17 bombers. BOOM! There it was. The two fused in my brain as if in a nuclear reaction. The cross is the only way to bring Bin Laden (or Hitler, or whatever evil thing may be out there) to justice.

I laughed, I cried, I fell down and worshiped. I danced. I opened my doors and windows and blasted the Hallelujah chorus through my poor, abused little speakers. If only the world could see this. If only I knew how to communicate this.

After last night's foot washing at church, followed by Holy Eucharist, I knelt in the pew and continued to wonder. These things that we do and reenact communicate that Jesus is among us, and that we, the Church, are to be his hands and feet in the world. Jesus has nail holes in his hands and feet, the permanent marks of the cross. Here is true justice, God making things right through the sacrifice of the spotless lamb. It isn't something that is simply pronounced, or some scale of right and wrong that is made to balance, but rather something that flows. From the cross, onto us, among us, through us, into the world. The things we do as we are transformed by the Spirit of justice will vary from church to church and from person to person. But the cross will always be there as our defining point, something to measure our deeds against, the ways we think we are bringing about justice. And we will be known as the scarred ones.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Dawn's Early Light

Every nation has its own creation myth. In ancient history, the story would go like this: The god of such and such a people engaged in a violent, bloody, cosmic battle with an adversary, the adversary was killed, and the new nation was born. This creation event served as both justification and inspiration for that nation's future military activities.

While not as obvious in our scientifically "enlightened" modern times, the deeply religious nature of our own civil cult has similar manifestations. Pagan sacrifice is alive and well as men and women are glorified for giving their lives in military service, in an endless crusade to preserve the nation's very existence. Their sacrifice is surrounded by symbols which are invoked in reverent piety by vestment and gesture. Uniforms of rank and authority demand homage in the form of salute and stature as grand ceremonies surround the deaths of the sacrificed victims. The national anthem is also played with proper, pious pose, reminding all of the unconquerable symbol of our sacred, blood drenched origin.

While it is heroic and noble for individuals to give their lives to save others, another, deeper story is being told here, one that preaches that abundant life (or freedom, as some like to call it) is not possible without the perpetual shedding of blood, without perpetual sacrifice and perpetual violence. It is a constant cycle of creation, death and regeneration, as the undying spirit of "we the people" defeat the unending challenges to perceived rights. Friends, this is a salvation story if ever there was one.

God's story, however, is different. There was no struggle, no violence. God simply spoke and it came to be. (There is good scholarship showing that the Genesis account was written primarily to subvert the Mesopotamian creation story, a culture that constantly tempted Israel with its idolatrous practices.)

Calling things into being which were not. Calling a people his own people, which were not a people. And redeeming them with a sacrifice offered once and for all, through the free gift of his only begotten son. He offers abundant life, true freedom, now, to all of us. This is not just some hope for a distant, future utopia. This is how we are called to live now, in the midst of these other competing salvation stories and demands for allegiance.