Monday, February 2, 2015

"Advent Rants"

After some encouragement, and with Lent on the way, I’ve decided to put these “rants” from December 2014 together in one place. These rants were the result of my “discipline” for Advent—Advent ranting. It was a tough one to sustain. 

These rants were posted on Facebook, first, roughly one per day. Liturgical enthusiasts notice that a couple of “days” are missing. This is because I spent some days in the midst of Advent deeply grieving, unsettled, depressed, and nearly immobilized by the reactions of many friends, neighbors, relatives, and family in Christ to the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, sparked by the death of Michael Brown, and the failure to indict the officer who killed him, Mr. Wilson.

The conversations that emerged from reactionary whites largely focused on what they with certain media and news sources called “facts.” Anger or uprise, they explained in cafes and pulpits, would be “inappropriate” if somehow it could be proven that Michael Brown was really “at fault”. These same white people would then post to Facebook (and wherever else they could find an approving audience) YouTube videos and memes of “examples” of black and brown men shot down as a result of being armed or of assaulting an officer, noting that these Black men “deserved it.” Simultaneously, they’d thank God publicly for the violent and punishing acts of the police officers.  

This stream of memes and media came with two new and popular hashtags: #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter:

The first missed the point that saying “Black lives matter” is important in the face of a stream of white (and other) voices claiming that Black lives don’t—and in the face of a society demonstrating that they don’t, by killing Black people, by not indicting officers who kill Black people, and by subjecting poor, black and brown people to mass incarceration. To say Black lives matter does not negate “all lives matter,” but to say “all lives matter” as a reaction to “black lives matter,” demonstrates a strong white cultural discomfort with the suggestion that Black lives really do matter, period.  

#BlueLivesMatter was the voice of a strong piety and a seemingly rekindled blind love for law enforcement, “peace and security.” It also (like #AllLivesMatter) demonstrated white Americans’ emotional investment in any phrase about lives mattering, except Black lives. This discomfort seems to have manifested itself in “sympathy for Goliath the underdog.” With a religious fervor, many white Americans “came to the defense” of Mr. Wilson, still living, not indicted, turning him into a symbol of all of the “men in blue” who were “under attack” (#BlueLivesMatter), even as they protested the symbolic nature that Michael Brown had taken on after his death, demanding “details” and “facts.” Goliath, who would kill thousands, becomes “bullied” when the thousands rise up. 

Of course, for those who think in systems, the police are not the Goliath, racism is—and the systems that create and perpetuate racism, classism, and inequality, (often violent inequality), the systems in which all of us reside and participate. Police themselves are necessitated by and the manifestation of a system that demands the recruitment of poor and working class people, (with the promise of salary, pension, and so on), for the sake of enforcing laws made by those who hold higher status and more wealth—be those laws just or unjust—“Peace and security.” 

We all participate in these systems. The question for those who would ask it is “How to replace them?” 

Much love to those who constantly “remember the poor” who move in love, and whose hearts are open to genuine hospitality; to those who fight to make this world a place where all people might feel at home and share in the inheritance of God’s creation, and who create communities of love and service here in our midst everyday. “In so doing some of you have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:12).”

You do good work. 

This, on the other hand, is just a bunch of rants, but whatever: here they are: 

Advent rant, day #1! It is incredibly frustrating for me to read articles that spell out, clearly, the problem of systemic oppression, and then conclude with stuff like "Here's what you can do!" "To be green." "To donate to the poor!" really: "To feel better about yourself!" "To be saved!" The solution to systemic oppression is never individual action. And it never will be. None of us is the Savior. We must be careful not to give false hope to Christians (or to anyone) by supplying pietistic “cures” for social ills. Prayer for forgiveness will not eliminate oppression. It just won’t, ever. Changing six light bulbs will not solve global climate change. Individually deciding not to shop at one store or another will not earn workers rights. It might alleviate guilt, but mistakenly. And guilt isn't the central problem here. Oppression is. Systemic oppression. A corrupted, broken system. Organized people calling for or creating systemic change--replacing the system from which these abuses are birthed is the deeper struggle. It is difficult. It requires relationships and communities and hard work. That hard work is needed. A society that enables abusers and users (corporations and the ultra-rich) to kill and abuse and devalue the poor and people of color, sacrificed either for profit, or lack thereof, is an unjust, immoral society. Repentance is not prayers for grace, or even peace, but rather, a radical reorientation, a recentering, a New Creation, a "New Heavens and a New Earth.”

Advent rant, day #2! It is an awful thing for a church youth leader to take a group of youth into a country or neighborhood he or she deems "less fortunate," only to settle for the "moral of the trip" or the "lesson learned" being, "WOW! OMG! Those people had, like, nothing! But they were so happy! And so faithful! Did you see all those pictures of Jesus in the kitchen?! Check my instagram from yesterday, LOL! God really blessed them in their poverty! But I'm, really, just, you know, so grateful for all our blessings, and I just wanna say I won't take them for granted anymore!" God is present in the crosses of life and in the mangers. This I believe. But where the concept of God incarnate, God in flesh, God in poverty, God in unjust suffering is important for Christian symbolism, it is only important insofar as it is an interpretive lens through which we look into the world for the Christ of the manger and the cross who calls for redemption and Resurrection. In “finding” Christ, in oneself and in humanity’s shared and particular oppressions, the church and the Christian is called to respond accordingly--with just and liberative acts. We don't worship the suffering. We stop it. Though crosses and mangers may be gilded in sanctuaries and on funny ecclesiastical hats, their obvious injustice ought to remain repulsive in reality. Suffering or poverty should never be a source of gratitude-in-comparison for the well-off, ("I'm glad I'm not him") or a source of imagined joy-from-poverty because the crucified offers hospitality, or seems to be smiling. Christ’s identified incarnation in crosses and mangers (a revelation to many who are taught only a theology of glory and good-feelings), is an identification of Christ in situations that are unjust, and situations that remain unjust (and unrighteous) and in bondage to Sin until they are transformed, liberated, resurrected from oppression and death, to abundant life. If so-called "mission" trips of this sort leave youth unchallenged or feeling simply "good," they are not mission, they are spiritual voyeurism, maybe spiritual tourism, maybe just a trip. The proper response to poverty and injustice is not gratitude, but outrage, and perhaps, in Advent, a cry out to God, "O! That you would tear open the heavens and come down!”

Advent rant, day #3! Christians hating on other religions or accusing other religions of being "hateful" or "violent" in contrast to Christianity demonstrates either an ignorance of or a disregard for Christian history, and therefore a disregard of the Christian's "own" faith, and the tendency toward violence and hate of many of those institutions and individuals through whom Christianity was transmitted. Oppressive power can use any faith to further oppression, hate, and dehumanization, and it has, again and again. The Spirit of joyous rebellion can also use faith, but for liberation. The Spirit of Pentecost, the Spirit who moves over the face of the deep, blowing this way and that, wherever she might please, can speak through any language of faith, can be spoken of meaningfully through varied cultural symbols and songs and sacred texts, and can speak a Truth-that-sets-free that cuts through varied beliefs and dogmas and confessions and world views. The question for the Christian is not "why are other religions wrong?" They are not. And that question is horribly arrogant. The question is "Where is the Spirit who gives life and liberation moving?" Where is the Spirit? Where is the Spirit that was "upon" Jesus, calling him to free the captive and to proclaim good news for the poor? How is the Spirit still calling us to do the same? Where is the Spirit bearing fruit through my faith tradition, through the faith traditions of others, outside of faith traditions? Where is my faith failing to give life or to liberate? How might I change to foster a liberating Spirit? How might I love my neighbor of any faith, rather than hate anyone of any faith? In the words of 1 John, "If we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see (1 John 4:20)? Hate is not a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus was not a Christian. The person used by Jesus to exemplify how his disciples were to love God by loving neighbor was someone from a faith tradition and ethnicity not his own. Hate sucks. It doesn't foster the work of the Spirit. So, seriously, cut it out.

Advent rant, day #4! One Christian telling another Christian how to worship the "right way," or "correctly" is not an act of liberative Christian love. But it is controlling. Super controlling. And can be, uncomfortably so. Prioritizing and then demanding one cultural expression of Christian meaning, call, and reverence over another is PRIORITIZING ONE CULTURE over another. This prioritization presumes that that culture which one prefers, as a matter of taste, is "correct," and more than correct--"right!" that is, "just." Liturgical enthusiasts turning up their noses at praise teams or camp counselors, "They are not grounded in centuries of blah, blah, blah! Theology! Blah blah!..."; and charismatics accusing liturgists of not "believing with their hearts! They just can't, like, lay back and feel the Spirit. If they just blah, blah, blah... One time Willow Moody Creek Adiaphora Brook blah, blah, blah..."; each is often an example of one taste attempting to force another taste upon another. (Not to mention each argument in favor or against the other is generally very shallow and untrue). Another and more serious problem with insisting that one's own taste is "truth" and then forcing that taste on others, in a context made up of many cultures (say, for example, Chicago), is that force of one's taste as truth itself, is deep, deep down, akin to racism, colonialism, burning witches, and inquisitions. As said above, one culture over another... Before one arrogantly declares medieval European liturgy--or suburban pop-praise--"the only way," one might want to think about the cultural, racial, social and theological implications of such an assertion. The question for the Christian who looks for Resurrection of the dead and the Life of the world, is not "which one is correct?" or "Why is mine correct?" Rather, "How does this help the community gather? Do we, gathered, hear a word of grace? Do we hear a call to the work of God's liberative Reign? Are people fed spiritually and physically? Does this communal act speak meaning to the people gathered here, in this context, at this time, in this culture, and does it point to or participate in the promised Liberation of God?”

Advent rant day #5! In relation to Neighbor, the Christian is called by Christ to relationship, compassion and justice. When one person or group states clearly and often "X matters, and X always matters!" and the Christian responds, "Y never happened. Z hurts 'their' cause," then there is neither relationship, nor compassion, nor justice.

Advent rant day #6! Faith is not only two extremes. Faith is not either "spiritual" or "active." Faith is not either "admiring Christ" or "following Christ." Faith is not a decision between either an exclusive, purity-obsessed, "thou shalt not"-centered, naval gazing spirituality focused on dogmas and untrue, absurd, even kind of silly-but-what-the-heck-at-least-we-can-build-a-theme-park-around-it-and-profit-by-selling-our-own-text-books intellectual assertions, praying to be free from this body, it's desires, and it's degradation, "death please hasten so my wretched soul can be in Heaven with Him, my LORD, my JESUS, my, me, I, my, me, me, me, my, I. Also please send me money. I've been good!"; or, on the other hand, a justice-preaching (sometimes doing but not too often, and not too controversial, but darn we are proud of our statements and bumper-stickers), grace loving, hippy or dippy or gritty or intellectual, "I'm not sure if I pray anymore but I sure do like art and indie music and sometimes a good craft beer or an organic, fair-trade coffee, and a few of the things Jesus might have said, on his better days, if-he-really existed-but-even-if-he-didn't-it-doesn't-matter-'cause-that's-not-what-faith's-about-it's-really-about-like...-you-know-[fill-in-the-blank]." Whoa. This is a rant. I kind of got off point... Anyhow, faith mustn't choose between what is seen as 'spiritual' or what is seen as 'active.' Great leaders in the faith have returned to prayer and meditation and spiritual experience for sustenance, again and again. Walter Wink, peace and justice-oriented theologian recounts his experience within Pentecostalism and prayer in Just Jesus. His words are quite powerful. Luther returns to daily spirituality, prayer, remembrance of baptism, scriptures and song in the face of a hostile, powerful papacy threatening to kill him while he preaches the grace of God and care for the poor. Dr. King recounts his kitchen table experience, and the Christ that encounters him, urging him to keep up the good fight of faith in the face of racist death-threats, while he organizes for civil rights, the end of war, and workers rights. The Christian might come to a faith that sustains the Christian with spiritual practices, symbols, and song and a faith that calls the Christian into the world, to work for liberative justice, a New Heavens, and a New Earth. It's not either "one PRAYS or one STANDS UP!" It can be "Precious lord, take my hand lead me on, let me stand."

Advent rant day #7! AND ANNOUNCEMENT RE: TOMORROW! When St. Paul wrote "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus," he wrote it to a congregation in Galatia in which his statement was not true, in practice. There, and in the larger first century Church, leaders were segregating themselves. St. Peter himself was excluding sisters and brothers from his table based on their ethnicity, giving into the pressure of his peers to segregate and "not make a stink." A band of teachers were teaching that unless these newcomers modified their flesh, they would not be "truly Christian." Paul called the church on its bullshit. He confronted St. Peter in Antioch, "to his face, because he stood condemned (2:11)." These divisions, Paul taught, were anti-Gospel, and therefore anti-Christ. What mattered for the Christian, he taught--the only thing--was faith active in Love (Galatians 5:6). Paul preached the Truth that all are One in Christ because people were living the Lie of ethnic, racial, class, and gender supremacy. The truth they heard was to be proclaimed True by their change in behavior. That is, the church was called to make the Truth, true, because it wasn't yet. Tomorrow, thousands of churches are once again called. We are asked to look racism in the face, proclaiming that it stands condemned. In the world as it is, slave or free, male or female, gay, straight, black, brown, white... We remain divided, unequally treated, discriminated against, and experiencing oppression and privilege, disparity and degradation from varied points of intersectionality. But in the world as it ought to be--and in the in-breaking Reign of Christ, we call for and attempt to be equally human, equally valued, equally treated, equally free, and equally alive. As an act of love we affirm our own humanity, and the humanity of others. We proclaim, with scripture, with people of all faiths, around the world, every life matters. Our lives matter. Your life matters. And, dear God, DEAR GOD, #blacklivesmatter. Right after 10:30am worship tomorrow (Sunday), at First Trinity Lutheran, all are invited as we gather outside to pray in solidarity for all who mourn racism and inequality, and to pray for the Spirit of joyous rebellion to push us into faith active in Love.

Advent rant day #8! Or not a rant. Today, I am incredibly grateful for organizers and leaders who cast visions, take action, and shift narratives, who channel the Spirit of joyous rebellion in a way I admire. I am grateful for organizers and leaders who agitate--and who agitate well, reminding us of our values, and pushing us to act accordingly. You definitely have changed my life so much for the better. You have enabled me to act. And I'm thankful. Much love for my sisters and brothers in SOUL an IIRON. I would tag you each by name here, but that certainly would be one step too far past the cheesy line, now wouldn't it?

Advent rant day #9! The piece of scripture that reads "For all must carry their own loads (Galatians 6:5)." Is immediately preceded by "All must test their own work (6:4)," and "Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (6:2)." It is followed by "let us work for the good of all (6:10)." The insight offered at the conclusion of the Epistle to the Galatians is not that "each one is isolated, on his or her own," and "you-know-I-mean-you better darn well learn to do some boot-strap-up-pulling, 'man' and, like-you-know take some responsibility!" and "Get-a-job-I-saw-a-sign-at-this-one-place-what-is-wrong-with-you-is-there-something-wrong-with-you?" shouting "I-once-stubbed-my-toe-and-it-hurt-really-bad-this-one-time-so-yeah-man-seriously-I get-it-'cause-I've-been-there!-One-time-my-check-bounced-the-account-was-really-low-man.-I! I! I! I! worked AT MCDONALDS for one summer vacation!!! OMG. LOL.-therefore-I-understand-suffering-and-oppression, I know exactly every little thing you are going through and fully get it totally all the way without exception, but I worked my way up, worked really hard in college (paid for by someone) and grad school (paid for, too) and then Law-'cause-I-wansn't-sure what-to-do-next, and I was tired of traveling, etc., etc., etc., and that's why I now have a job at the family business after one time working at McDonald's! 'Cause I worked really hard, man started at the bottom! So, yeah man, I really get oppression. Like my new watch? It's pretty sweet, right? But-yeah-you just gotta climb out, you know?!!!?!" Yeah. So THAT'S WHAT GALATIANS DOESN'T SAY. The insight offered from Galatians, rather, is that when communities orient themselves to reflect the in-breaking Reign of God, burdens are shared, loads are lightened, and everyone has meaningful work. Work is "meaningful" in that each one's work centers not on the individual alone, and benefits neither an employer alone nor the individual alone (emphasis on "not alone," rather than "not"). Meaningful work neither fosters nor enables hoarding or greed. Rather, meaningful work in a community oriented toward God's Reign "as far as it is possible" is to always contribute to the Common Good, the good of all (6:10). "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, sisters and brothers (Gal 6:18)."

"Advent rant" day #10! "Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." -1 John 3:18

"Advent rant" day #11! "I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy." -1 Corinthians 14:5

"Advent rant" day #12! Here's to Grace, Love, meaning and Liberation manifest in times and cultures and bodies, and among the oppressed--special honor and love today for La Virgin de Guadalupe on her feast day and all who find in her inspiration and sustenance.

"Advent rant" day #13! Living hope, into which Christians are called, a hope which is represented as (but not limited to) Resurrection, Deliverance, Salvation, Redemption, and so on, is neither naive nor "untrue." In contrast to simple observation of what "is," or "what is observed" in the world, the truth born of a living hope is transformative. By its very utterance, living hope instigates conviction, redirection, and participation in the future it points toward. When living hope is spread from body to body, transformation takes root in the world. The world becomes. Human experiences are manifest in new and unexpected ways. More than "realistic," living hope speaks truth to reality, calling forth a new reality, transformed and made just. "[John] came to testify to the light (John 1:8)."

"Advent rant" day #14! The kind of story that incorporates in itself decrees from emperors, beheaded prophets, prophetic fulfillment, the mother of God singing of tyrants torn from their thrones, and angels appearing "to poor shepherds in fields where they lay," proclaiming to them a savior and messiah, singing God's glory in heaven and peace on earth while the king will soon plot mass infanticide for fear of this one baby--that kind of story cannot honestly be called "you know, not really political." Really. It just can't, in an honest way. It can, however, be called gospel--or at least a piece of the gospel.

"Advent rant" day #15! Some Christians among us teach that the one who is faithful will receive material blessing upon material blessing (especially money) in exchange for his or her faith. Some of these Christians claim their preachers' mansions and hummers and suits and gold watches and $90 haircuts, eyebrow-waxes and teeth-whitening products as "signs" that their preacher is "blessed," and "truly in the Spirit," and "speaks in truth and righteousness." If the standards by which these Christians measure the "rewards" of faithfulness are to be embraced and trusted as accurate, then neither St. Paul, nor St. Mary, nor any of the martyrs, nor any of the apostles, nor Christ himself, with no place to lay his head, can be considered faithful, let alone "blessed," "in the Spirit," or a speaker of "truth" or "righteousness." There goes the Magnificat. It must be that these Christians are wrong. It must be that sometimes the road of faithfulness leads to crucifixion--that is, if Jesus, the apostles, the martyrs, and the bearer of God are to be trusted. "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

"Advent rant" day #16! "God is love," claims the author of 1 John. The Divine is manifest in love, the demonic is manifest in fear, and "perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18)." Love unites, lifts up, builds up. Fear alienates, presses down, and destroys, creating "aliens and exiles," misery and violence. Fear exorcises the other. Love exorcises fear.
"Send us love, send us power, send us grace."

"Advent rant" day #17! Going to tell "it" on the mountain is a beautiful thing. In telling the stories of Christ's birth, of Christ born among the poor, of God embracing and dwelling in bodies, of God born in an environment on the earth, among God's creatures, among and with the homeless and displaced; celebrated and gifted in infancy by shepherds and magi, from the edges of towns and alien lands, from varied religions and "world views," or religions unknown or forgotten, hearing and trusting in their own angels, their own stars, their own measures of meaning and direction, traveling their own paths to God's new manifestation, a light shining in the darkness of empire and poverty and human existence; telling these stories, on mountains or elsewhere, it would be helpful for Christians to remember that these stories needn't be told to create or force belief in the characters or dogmas about the characters--the characters themselves would not have been capable of such beliefs or dogmatic convictions! Rather, those for whom these stories speak truth about the world they experience, and create hope and instigation toward what might yet be, might "testify to the light," in story, in language, in song, knowing that the light contained in language and story and song, also extends far beyond the songs, the stories, and the words that contain and transmit it. Stories are not containers in which one might "own" and handle the light. These are merely conduit and mirrors through which we might reflect and transmit the light, sometimes feeling its brightness and warmth, sometimes glimpsing a reflection, however incomplete, "through a mirror dimly," transformative and warming nonetheless. "Over the hills and everywhere, Jesus Christ is born."

"Advent rant" day #18! Forgiveness is an important theme running through the New Testament, and central to many Christians' experiences of God, in the first century and today. Jesus advised Peter to forgive his brother or sister not seven, but seventy-seven times (Matt 18:22). The author of Ephesians invites the community in Ephesus to "be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (4:32)." Some Lutheran reformers held that confession and absolution (reconciliation), commanded by Christ and embodied by neighbor, ought to be regarded as a third sacrament. In the past decade there has been an abundance of articles and essays highlighting the importance of forgiveness for the sake of the health of the one who would forgive, let alone the binding up of a relationship. Evidently, forgiveness is not only commanded, but both "good" and healthy for the individual holding onto ill-feeling and resentment. All of that being said, forgiveness as demonstrated in the New Testament results in new life, a transformed relationship, resurrection, a new being--and in the case of Christ and the new community, a new covenant--a contract, boundaries in which to live and relate to one another in a life-giving way. When Peter asks how often he should forgive, he is doing it as a "head" apostle--a person in power. In the parable that immediately follows that conversation in Matthew, Jesus speaks of a king who forgives a debtor (18:23). A resurrective forgiveness changes power dynamics, points toward egalitarian relations, and brings about a new covenantal way of being together. If a new relationship is not possible, if the one "sinning against," "continues in sin," that is, if the abuser keeps abusing, the crucifier keeps crucifying, if the one in power continues to press down on the lowly who Christ proclaims will be lifted up, then forgiveness (resulting in new relationship and new covenant) is not the command for the abused or the dis-empowered. Rather, the command is for the abuser to for-go, to give-for, to give up the power and stop the abuse. Restoration here demands repentance and a changed relation. Forgiveness is good. Ending abuse is better. Reconciliation is fine. But reconciliation without liberation is only silence in the face of crucifixion. The gospel calls for Resurrection. "No justice, no peace."
"He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly (Magnificat, Luke 1:52)."

"Advent rant" day #19! In the gospels, Jesus never once commands, suggests, or implies that it is the role of his disciples to control, judge, or condemn a neighbor's sexual orientation or gender identity. In the gospels, Jesus does command his disciples to love.

"Advent rant" day #20! Memes angrily denouncing "political correctness" and "happy holidays" in the name of "keeping Christ in Christmas," testify not to Christ, but to the Christian's own insecurity. If one wishes to "keep Christ," it would be good to ask how one might keep Christ at the center of the heart and the will, and therefore at the birthplace of each word and action. This is truer Christian protest, and might result in Christ's work: care for the poor and the oppressed. "Be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind... (Romans 12:2)."

"Advent rant" day #21!" "The Lord is with you (Luke 1:28)."

"Advent rant" day #22!" "Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, do you know what I know?"

To the birth of Resurrection in mangers, in crosses, in darkest nights.

Merry Christmas.

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