Murmurs and Antagonisms

Orthodoxy via Heresy

Category: God

On Following Jesus

I’ve taken to saying that I still identify as a Christian. At its most basic this simply means I’m attempting to follow Jesus. But what is “following Jesus”? What does that mean? Sure, the typical answer is doing – or acting – in accordance with the way of Jesus. And that’s not wrong. But I wonder if there’s anything unique about following Jesus, at least in a world of options. I think not. But I still follow Jesus and I still think of Jesus as having some salvific power. But I think I’m beginning to realize that I am incapable of having a personal relationship with Jesus. More: I don’t think it’s possible. It’s definitely not possible in any traditional understanding of a personal relationship. I can’t call Jesus, or text him, or tweet at him, or hug him. I can pray, though the benefits are questionable to me. As a friend once said (paraphrased and worded to the best of my memory), “An immanent god isn’t one too interested in answering prayers, I don’t think.” This has stuck with me. And I’m not sure I could explain how it’s affected me, just that it has. The point is that my belief in an immanent deity instead of a transcendent one makes it unlikely that I can pray with reasonable expectation of my prayers being answered. So, not sure I can have a personal relationship with Jesus.

What then? How do I define my relationship to this man who claimed to be God?

To get at this I need to detour into a discussion of idolatry. I think Marion offers the most helpful clarification regarding idolatry. Marion argues that idolatry finds its problem in its limits. As he states, “Only the genuineness of the idol, as a limited and hence real (real because limited) way of taking the divine into view…” (God Without Being, 28). This makes clear to me why discussions of a personal relationship with a no longer existing person seems odd. I’d actually contend it’s idolatry. Which, finally, takes me back to the ideas of a personal relationship.

Most Christians would, I think, argue that because Jesus exists in a heavenly realm now (he ascended after all) he is still existing and therefore a personal relationship is possible. But that doesn’t seem to make sense without assuming – or doing – the prior work of redefining what “personal relationship” means. Thus, if Jesus is in heaven the way we advance our relationship is to read the bible and pray. Which, also seems odd. Sure, prayer might be just like talking to a friend but Christians can’t even agree on what prayer is really. And reading the bible as a way to form a “personal relationship” seems mildly disturbing. Treating the bible like a diary (which it’s not) of God makes it seem like it’s okay to read the diaries of friends and parents etc. My point is that I don’t think one can have a personal relationship with the God-Man personally on practical grounds. But, more, I think these discussions presume an experience of the divine which verges on idolatrous.

The problem is that folks don’t realize the idolatry of claiming to know a man who died and disappeared. With Jesus we only have a three year snapshot of his life and ministry. Thus, any attempt to demonstrate the historicity of Jesus will be limited by our human capacities. As such, I’m not sure we really will ever know the flesh and blood Jesus. We rely on testimony. We build a construction of Jesus and then associate it somehow with God (insert a protracted discussion of the sensus divinitatis as an example of this). The idolatry comes from a valid experience of the divine but then limiting it to that.

So, what does it mean for me to follow Jesus? It means I follow a construction. I follow an icon of the invisible, questionably existent God. I risk idolatry because I construct an image of what Jesus desires of me. Ergo, I can deconstruct the way of Jesus and try to bette grasp on to this.

 

(Note: writing this I realized I’ve hit the problem of conversion…which will probably lead me to another post. Nor do I think idolatry is inherently a problem.)

An Apology and a Promise

I’ve been thinking about the focus of this blog. About it’s design, layout (which I’ve updated to something far simpler), goal. And while there really is no express goal (as such) I want to focus my writing more. I’ve failed, twice, in abiding by my own standards about blogging. Actually, just by my standards regarding social media. Twice I engaged in the Christian blogosphere. I criticized Matthew Paul Turner in a post that was unfair, harsh, and mocking rather than constructive. The other time I criticized, rightly (I think), the tendency to be bland and inane in Christian blogs. I focused specifically on Rachel Held Evans. Both times were different. In one I was in error, the other I don’t think I was. But both posts have been removed. Not because I’m ashamed. Not because I am upset. Rather, I do not want to engage in little spats within a tiny culture. I’m not interested in (sometimes helpful) but rather bland blog posts. I’m definitely not interested in perpetuating little twitter wars over blog posts that will pass within six months time, or less.

Now, this is not to say I don’t think harm was done by the MPT post in reference. I think he made a lot of people feel unsafe. Mix that post in with the Tony Jones fiasco and you have women not feeling safe in the progressive circles which claimed to make safe space for them. But I can’t, in good conscience, continue the endless tirade of blogs and criticisms. Criticism is rightly placed and used, and ought to be used. I applaud it. It’s what good journalism does: pushes back, discovers, tells a story. It must do so, however, with integrity (the way Rolling Stone handled their reporting of the UVA scandal as an example). It’s what good blogging ought to do. Or, maybe not, since the nature of the blog is such that it just creates echo chambers of hits and shouting. [Note: I am not a journalist, the use of this is simply a comparison to how stories of a serious nature ought to be handled. See this post by Caitlin Flanagan as an example of what I think is good journalism.]

The reason for writing this post is that I am done with using twitter as a tool for litigation. I am done using twitter as a tool to start uproars about bullshit, like the “Christian Cleavage” fiasco. I understand all of the reasons for being mad, I do. But I can’t use twitter like that. So, I won’t. Nor will I use my blog to just call out others in the Christian blogosphere (unless I have an actual, meaningful criticism and not a mockery). That isn’t my interest at all. My blog is for my intellectual pursuits, what I’m thinking through, and sometimes my poetry. And maybe eventually the stories of others if they feel safe enough to share.

So, I apologize for turning this blog into an angry, rant space. I’m going to do better. As a friend told me, (paraphrased and slightly reworded), “Some things are best left in a journal.” I am done being bold for the sake of boldness. I want to to push Christendom where it needs to be pushed, at its underbelly. I don’t want to push on the surface at bloggers. And I definitely do not want to push at what I see as surface issues that describe deeper problems. I want to push against the thinkers of Christendom that stand the test of time, that are shaping conversations now.  That’s where I want to wage my little battles, engaging seriously and effectively. So, I promise to try to do better. To always side with victims. To not give an outcry where my voice isn’t needed. And I will try to care less about the popular Christian blogosphere…especially since they nor I will be remembered when we die. Hopefully, some day I can share stories of survivors. I want to share stories. I want my blog to be a safe space. And I want those stories to be emphasized. But I do not want to weaponize those stories. But for now that is not the focus of this blog. As such, I will leave it to other, better equipped and knowledgable bloggers to raise stories and share them.

[As a former homeschooler and conservative Christian, I am fully aware of the abuse/injustice plaguing those communities. I am specifically concerned about the homeschool community within Denver and how they’re shaping so much of America. The ideologies advanced do harm, do damage, oppress, and are abusive. And I want to combat that at its core. And people within Christian circles are doing so. If requested I can provide a list of resources, and will probably create a page on my blog for resources and links.]

 

God Cried First: Thoughts on SELMA

[Critiques are welcome. Just thoughts I had right after seeing the movie last night.]

I don’t cry during movies. It’s not my type of coping with the feelings and experiences in a film. But I cried twice tonight. And it wasn’t just because the images on screen were moving— though they were. It’s more than that. It’s knowing that we’re not past the past, that my brothers and sisters of color are still fighting. And maybe they’re fighting me. And maybe they’re more broadly fighting the dominance of whiteness that has over run this country. In fact, there’s no maybe’s about it—they are. Tonight I saw the film “Selma” for free (theater chain let students in for free). And tonight I saw art. Art that spoke. Art that silenced.

The entire time in the theater I knew factually what was going to happen, at least to Dr. King. But it was no less pressing and beautiful to watch nonviolent (potentially the most violent) action happening on screen. So many thoughts are flooding my mind right now, too many to track and catch and tie down meaningfully…

I don’t think I should try to tie them down. I should just write. And as I write I think and think and think of what else to say. And there’s nothing. As my friend stated on Twitter: “‘Selma’ is singular,” and I think he’s right. Of the films nominated for Best Picture only two make sense to me : “Selma” and “Boyhood”. “Boyhood” only because it’s so artfully done and is a masterpiece of cinema and what slow film making can do. But “Selma”…”Selma”, I hadn’t even heard of it till about three weeks before it came out, and I normally keep up on films. It came out of nowhere. And of course I read reviews and all were correct on their praise.

But something hit home during the movie. Something beautiful seemed to click for me, or I guess, something’s been clicking for a year or so and sealed itself (more) firmly. For a year I’ve been trying to unlearn my ties to whiteness, I’ve desired to center black persons and bodies. And I know I’ve failed and messed up. But “Selma” made me realize something beautiful (a lot of beautiful things actually). During the final sequence when you have Dr. King and a whole army of beautiful souls singing freedom and smiling and walking proudly, the camera frame centers them, focuses on them, emphasizes them. They are the center. And I think it clicked for me that to take seriously the centering of black bodies I need to take seriously history. I need to take seriously what Laverne Cox so beautifully called, “The practice of freedom.” To do that I, we, need to take very seriously what Du Bois said:

“Actively we have woven ourselves with the very warp and woof of this nation,—we fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood with theirs, and generation after generation have pleaded with a headstrong, careless people to despise not Justice, Mercy, and Truth, lest the nation be smitten with a curse. Our song, our toil, our cheer, and warning have been given to this nation in blood-brotherhood. Are not these gifts worth giving? Is not this work and striving? Would America have been America without her Negro people?”

Du Bois is right. And that’s what the movie reminded me of. Not my struggle. Not my song. Not my cheer, and not my blood. Martin Luther King Jr’s., blood, Malcolm X’s blood, and the thousands hung from trees and posts in the South. Their blood, their suffering, their toil, that’s what brought America to where it is. They are the heart of America, literally. I think I truly believe that now. I think I finally in some way see it now. I see more clearly what Du Bois was saying through this movie. As Dr. King (the character) says early on in response to a grandfather mourning the death of his grandson at the hands of police, “I know this…God cried first.” God cried first for Trayvon, for Michael Brown, for John Crawford III, for Tamir Rice, for Eric Garner, for Islan Nettles. God cried first for these bodies. God cried first. And I see humanity more truly, more beautifully than before. I left the movie in awe of the actors, actresses, director and screenwriter(s), everyone involved in the film. But I left humbled. I am part of “Jim Crow under a bald eagle,” whether I like it or not.

“Selma” is vital to the American consciousness I think. It makes black bodies matter to white people who only payed lip service previously. It made them matter more to me and I hope I haven’t just paid lip service. It’s odd and wonderful what a film can do to you. I think it made me more human. And I think it’s a reminder that God cried first. God always cries first when a black body is torn from this world by white supremacy, by the white supremacy I am embedded in.

Remarks on Jesus’ Blood

Blood is weird.

Anidjar thinks blood exists everywhere and he’s not wrong. Blood functions within Christianity rather oddly. This function is summarized nicely by the line, “Oh, how precious is the flow/that makes me white as snow/no other fount I know/nothing but the blood of Jesus.” I’ve been thinking about this line, about the ironic ability of red blood to make white (or is it white blood making white?). Even that phrase, “makes me white as snow,” seems odd. Making white, odd. In American history blood and sin tie together in intimate ways that reflect a strange back and forth between blackness as privation and salvation as life in whiteness.

I think my hesitance with this hymn stems from the fact that it bears a similar line of argument to that of Samuel Cartwright’s abhorrent argument regarding the blood of African Americans. His argument goes as so:

It is the red, vital blood, sent to the brain, that liberates their [African Americans] mind when under the white man’s control; and it is the want of a sufficiency of red, vital blood that chains their mind to ignorance and barbarism, when in freedom.

Earlier Cartwright states that the blood of a person of color is darker than that of a white person. And if Anidjar is correct in states that “Blood must become a category of historical analysis,”(44 of Blood) then the logic of Cartwright and the hymn go hand in hand and a brief look at the function of blood seems apt.

Without the white washing blood of Jesus one is unable to be “saved” which really only means, in American Christianity, being more white. “Christian master, enter the dark cabin of thy servant [read: slave], and with the lamp of truth in thy hand, light up his yet darker soul with the knowledge of him, whom to know is life eternal…” (A.T. Holmes, “The Duties of Christian Masters”). The gospel no longer stands as an end, but a means to extract labor, to civilize. The ultimate goal of the message of Jesus seems to be: blackness is the privation of the saving blood of Jesus that makes white as snow the “still darker soul” through enslavement’s catalyzing effect on blood flow.

My friend Melanie has written much more beautifully, and holistically, along a similar vein of thought here.

Stop Being Nice

Kind words aren’t enough. They never are.

Being nice is not the answer. It never has been.

Wanting justice, demanding justice, demanding fairness, these are good and right. And I get that in some contexts peacefulness may be the better part of valor, but nothing significant has changed by being nice and saying kind words. Christianity is no different.

Christians, me included, are guilty of making the bible soft. And, no, I refuse to argue that we make the bible soft by cushioning its’ truths. We soften the bible’s demands for justice and love. We soften the God who has a preferential option for the marginalized. Christians are too nice.

We tell people they’re loved by God even though they’re gay.

We tell people all will be made well in the end and racism will die the death that death died.

We tell transgender/gender non-conforming folks that they are loved and we’ll pray for them to love their bodies.

We tell these marginalized groups in America all these nice, trite, gentle words. But we ignore the bible.

Let’s recap for a second what the bible states regarding the oppressed:

From Amos 5: “There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.”

From Acts 8 a gender minority says: “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”

I need to listen to the voice of the prophets, demanding justice. I need to listen to a God who will cast down those in power because of God’s love for the oppressed. I need to listen to the God who sides with prostitutes, lepers, queers, ethnic minorities, and immigrants.

I need to listen for God’s voice in the cries of those the United States bombs.

I need to listen for God in the voice of trans women who are murdered for being women.

I need to listen for God in the voice of persons of colour who suffer violence against their bodies by the powers that be.

I need to listen.

And stop softening the bible.

If God loves trans folks: I need to  fight for them. Fight the misgendering, fight the violence, fight for their recognition.

If God loves ethnic minorities: I need to fight racism, fight the structures of racism in communities, in my church. And shut up.

If God loves those we bomb: I need to stop simply praying, do something. Write my senator. Protest. Change how I think, vote, if I vote at all.

If God loves gay people: I need to fight for their rights as citizens of a country. Fight for their acceptance.

I’m convinced heaven will be full of queers and persons of colour teaching us what grace and beauty looks like. Heaven isn’t just for white, straight, cisgender people. Remember this.

 

Bible vs. People: People Win

The bible is a book written by men and inspired by God.

No more, no less and too often we treat it as more. The bible is a book and like any book tells a story. That story isn’t about creationism, predestination, homosexuality, or any myriad of issues we want it to be about today. Heck, the bible is minimally about ethics as understood in the Western world. Ethics, biblically, are linked to Jesus. The book we too often idolize is the cradle which holds Jesus.

And I’m tired of everyone treating biblical faithfulness as the litmus test of salvation. Though, maybe not directly, far too often people imply that lack of biblical faithfulness (which usually means any disagreement with their specific interpretation) goes hand in hand with heresy or some other kind of idea that we’re not saved.

The bible is about Jesus and somehow we lose that. And Jesus tells me to love my neighbor, the least of these. And, frankly, that love has led me to support a less than traditional idea when it comes to lesbian and gay folks. When people have died, are dying, being subjected to injustice, that’s not God’s heart. I get Romans 1 leaves little room for some but I don’t know where I stand on that passage and, frankly, I really don’t care. If I’m ever asked if being gay or lesbian is a sin I’m gonna say no. Being “something” or “anything” (I know those words are stupid) cannot in and of itself be a sin. Orientation is not a sin. People are made in God’s image and because of our sinfulness we’re gonna mess up, we’re gonna over emphasize certain biblical ideas and interpretations. And I know I could be wrong. But I can’t hold a view that has been about silence and death.

Love your neighbor, admire the beauty within, see God in the Other because that’s where God is to be found. But never forget the bible is not deity, it’s special/beautiful/disturbing/all kinds of jacked up, but it is primarily, solely, about Jesus. And if what we believe does not love our neighbor (and letting kids die because we tell them they’re sinners, abominations, committing mutilations etc. isn’t loving) or help us better love then, sorry, I can’t hold it.

“I rest my faith on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness…”

Attack the Patriarchy

Remember this: men abandoned Jesus after the crucifixion. Women remained before the cross and while he lay in the grave. Women preached the news of his rise. Men quit on Jesus. If that’s not an indictment of patriarchy I’m not sure what is.

Needless Theologies

No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” Deut. 23:1 

A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” Deut. 22:5

I have a problem with these passages.

No, I haven’t heard a sermon on either (and pray to God I never do) but I have a problem with the concepts listed here. Correction: I have a problem with the theologies of manhood/womanhood and sexuality within the Church. Too often the notion propagated in the Church is that men need to be men like those in the bible. Women need to meet the Proverbs 31 standard. But what about those in the Church who don’t fit either stereotypical means of outreach? What about the women in my church who don’t want to have a tea party? What about the men who don’t want to do “manly” things? I’ve gone to, been a part of, and tried to be active in the Church my entire life. And my entire life I have only seen the continued perpetuation of meaningless theologies of, well, crap.

The Church has so concerned itself with whether a guy wearing makeup or a dress is a problem, or a woman might end up being president, or how the West is losing its Christian values, so concerned itself with these trivialities we have ostracized, demonized, and harmed people.

The Church has taken abstract ideas – justice, manhood, womanhood, sexualities, etc. – and held them over people, attempting to fit people into a neat mold. So valued ideas over people that people no longer give two craps about our theologies.

But, this is not simply an angry rant. It’s Easter today. And Easter is the Church wide celebration of Jesus rising from the dead, kicking death’s ass, and putting us on pedestals. But it is more than this. Jesus rising from death to life is an affirmation of life. One of the key facets of Jesus’ earthly ministry was helping people live life to the full. Which implies to not live life to the full, which Jesus claims is why he came, is to live a dead life. As a friend put it: it’s Jesus vs. zombies.

But Jesus didn’t come bearing more rules that we have to follow. He wants bus to live fully. How, though? By loving God and our neighbor. All else, then, is secondary. If living fully, which includes your well being and happiness, involves dressing in a way which makes you happy, do it. If it means pursuing some other relationships, do it. The simple fact is, on Easter, needles theologies on trivialities need to go. Life is what Easter is about. We are no longer living dead, we are truly alive.

 

 

Being God Equals Loneliness

How horrid it must be to be God, to be alone, to be utterly alone. God, who is the ultimate “something” there is (admittedly, that idea might be a linguistic creation) is in a state of ultimate loneliness. There are no others like God. 

(Yes, I know, we have the Trinity in Christianity. Yes, it is three persons in one (which, is again, important but often practically meaningless language) and all three are equally God and individual, yeah, I’m not going into the discussion of Trinity, suffice it to say: useful but at time impractical because of the language used.) 
But God, as unified whole, the most complete whole, is alone. God is the only one like, similar to, in any way comparable to, God. It seems God needed a mission – unless of course the idea that God has himself to entertain and find joy in is true then I am wrong – to provide himself something to do, to be less lonely. Maybe that’s why humanity exists. 
We exist to glorify God and our glorification of him lets him know he is wanted (because everyone wants to be wanted). God created us to teach himself he is wanted. Maybe the courage of Nietzsche is letting God know he is unwanted. Maybe the courage of Christians is recognizing in Jesus that God doesn’t want himself but rather wants us. 

Grace

I read in the bible of a being that, with “truth and grace”, came into our world. What exactly does it mean that Jesus came in “truth and grace”? What exactly is grace? The sphere of Christendom I have grown up in has defined grace as “unmerited favor” or another odd, but no less abstract definition. But Jesus came in “truth and grace” or, rather, “truth and grace came through Jesus.” Either way, somehow I think I’ve missed the point. Grace is not some abstract concept. It might explain why the other more liturgical denominations speak of “means of grace.” 


Means of grace: word and sacrament: visible, tangible. 


Jesus brought grace into this world via Incarnation. Incarnation: real, visible, malleable, tangible, felt, and not off in the world of concepts alone. A conceptual understanding of grace demands nothing of us, has no long lasting effect. Grace is not for one time, one conversion. 


Rather, it is for all time, always reforming, always converting, and always being felt. And if it is not tangible and real it seems meaningless and lacking. 

Grace is…real and maybe it’s too real for our own comfort and maybe that’s why we put grace in the world of ideas because if it’s a reality found in the physical world, then it demands something of us. In fact, it is all around us.