The No-No Word

“Give me that old-time religion. It is good enough for me. It was good for my old mother. And it’s good enough for me” – Old Time Religion by the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Religion (say it with me now). Dude, such a compacted noun! It’s been a platform for human interaction since the dawn of time. Oh the things that have been done with this word. You either love or hate religion. In many cases, people define religion as just one particular construct. I don’t think it’s that easy. When we look at the term, there are really three types of definitions: 1.) worship in a higher power, 2.) a belief system and 3.) secularism. All Peoples (Christian, Muslim, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, American, Democrat, Republican, Black, White, LGBTQ, etc.) fit in these three definitions of religion in one form or another, in my opinion. Let’s look at these three definitions, shall we?

Worship In A Higher Power

Worship is a very interesting word when it comes to its usage of etymology. In a religious traditional sense, the ones who relate to God/gods through (not solely) sacred scripture (Torah, Christian bible, Quran, Vedas, etc.), the term worship boils down to various acts of homage. This can be demonstrated through “rites and rituals”: raising hands and singing through music, praying x amount of times per day, blood sacrifice, offerings, etc.

This is done in order that the God being worshiped will grant blessings, peace, bliss, etc. This is where it gets dicey. What if different religions don’t adhere to the same type of worship? History shows, the reaction to different worship in God leads to vicious boundary lines in which people who don’t tow them eventually get hurt or killed.

If we don’t conform we are doomed. This “controlling power” has been detrimental to our evolution as a species. All religions from every tradition have committed this monstrosity. “Might is right” or “survival of the fittest” (controlling power) is not how to live as a social structure. Jesus showed another way of doing worship: In spirit and in truth. His worship was internal to better understand the truth of reality–thus, bringing about outward action. It was also non-sacrificial. This way let’s go on becoming people who scapegoat our dark side onto the shedding of innocent blood. He said “deny yourself”, as in letting go of our ego (controlling power) which then will lead us to a healthy way of doing worship (which literally means “worth” or  “adore”) to God AND creation (I.e. existence).

In other words, love each other and help the helpless for f sake! So does all the human race “adore” the cosmos? I would say the majority do in one way or another, indeed. This is where the term religion still plays an important part of bringing about a peaceful existence in the universe.

A Belief System

Putting trust in a way of seeing the world can be a very productive instrument within a community setting. As the individual seeks out paradigm shifts and inner contemplation, this will enable her/him to progress in a social setting. Education, careers, sports, church, family, etc. all are wrapped in how the individual trusts in what he or she is pursuing. No matter what discipline we take on, faith in “the process” takes shape and becomes our mode of being.

The downfall to this thinking is believing that our faith system trumps another’s faith system. This brings about endless contention that leads to factionalism. This is most destructive when a faith system becomes the ideology of a country. This is where lives are lost in the name of civil religion. We can’t take it if someone else’s beliefs are different from ours so we put up barriers and blockades: KEEP OUT! We will never learn from each other if we cast out one another for not thinking the same way. We need to learn to become a community that is united in its diversity if we ever want to thrive as a species.

Jesus hung out with the outcasts and the prestige of society. He spoke truth into both spectrums. His belief system offended and healed. But, no matter what, he didn’t let his beliefs get in the way of interaction with others who didn’t see eye to eye.Is it good to have a faith system? Yes! It’s whether or not we let our faith systems be measuring sticks to cast out others or let them be beacons to help others when they need it most.

Secularism

Where do we find the most interest/importance in? Sports? Family? Church? Career? Friends? Parting? Drugs? Sex? The list goes on and on in the world of secularism. What we put our interest in, really shapes are day-to-day experience with others. If we get caught up in an interest that leads to positive streams of progression and stability, that’s great! But even that can turn sour if that is only helping us and nobody else. Same is true for interests that don’t help oneself or others. This leads only to death and destruction. It takes great wisdom to find an interest that really provides growth and joy for all parties in one’s life. So, what interest is best?

In his book: Seculosity, author David Zahl put it this way:

“The objects of our seculosity—food, romance, education, children, technology, and so on—aren’t somehow bad. Quite the opposite—they are by and large great. It’s only when we lean on these things for enoughness, when we co-opt them for our self-justification or make them into arbiters of salvation itself, that they turn toxic…

Poking fun at our secular pieties, including my own, is part of disarming them.” Pg. xxiii introduction-Seculosity 

That’s it! Seeing our sense of humor as important helps us not to take our interests so seriously. We have to realize that we are all connected in one way or another. This isn’t only true for the human race but for all of Gods creation. To the smallest molecule to the humpback whale, what one does and invests in, has and effect on all. Does our interest bring life or death (dramatic I know)? It really does come down to that simple question. Or this one (better question): “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?”

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So, is religion evil? It can be. Is religion good? It can be. Regardless, we cannot deny that religion is ingrained in us as a species to better understand and create our reality. I think we can’t cast it out or just let it be that same old-time religion it always has been. We need to explore, progress, and hold onto whatever this religion “thing” has to offer. I think something new awaits! This is where healthy religion shines—where laughter springs out of the wallows and we become liberated from our driery selves…

Alan Watts said it best:

“A priest once quoted to me the Roman saying that a religion is dead when the priests laugh at each other across the altar. I always laugh at the altar, be it Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist, because real religion is the transformation of anxiety into laughter”. 

Black Sheep In Wolves Clothing

“The black sheep is sometimes the only one telling the truth” – Unknown

It seems we always want to see something through even when its not working. It is the human trait: We love our ego so much that even when we are harming others, we still deny the truth of it all (I.e., cognitive dissonance). I know that is something I battle. What gives? Why are we so comfortable with something that works for us but is damaging to others? Now, I get that we also harm ourselves in many ways due to many negative habits, but it seems when our lifestyle is beneficial to ourselves and our tribe, it does not matter what happens to the other. Especially in our current social climate, it looks like this issue of privilege is at the forefront of it all. The rich keep getting richer, the marginalized keep getting screwed, and the comfortable (maybe fearful as well?) keep doing nothing. The vicious cycle continues.

Now, I understand that there are numerous factors that play a role in all of this. The “Great Reset” is something that has been boiling around the surface and we are all trying to figure the best course of action to take. Unfortunately, division/strife is the most common denominator. Coming from the “Christian” perspective, it seems we have a dualistic pull of its either “my way or the highway”.  Look, we are all going to choose what we think is right when it comes to the actions taken. Its either we have a problem when it comes to our current societal institutions or we do not. It seems from both the conservative and liberal Christian isles; we can agree on institutional issues. That’s a start! But a lot of it seems to be misguided by our worldviews when it comes to social policies. On the conservative side, we see a distrust with our medical institutions along with media outlets. On the liberal side, we see the huge issue of systemic racism and the wealth gap that is increasing more and more each day. Its hard to engage in productive dialogue—on both ends—when trying to find a common ground through it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my opinion and I believe its based in fact and reality (like everybody else, right?). I lean more progressive so I will have my perspectives. Some examples. Former president Trumps influence on American Evangelicals was/is really disturbing and dangerous (the attempted coup on the U.S. Capital). Christian Nationalism is running rapid through this country and that is a HUGE problem (but a bunch of Evangelical leaders just signed a letter condemning Christian Nationalism as heretical and antithetical to the teaching of Jesus…so that is encouraging). The conspiracy theories that are running rapid from Evangelicals are not helping. Until Evangelicals evaluate the reasoning behind the onslaught of unproductive conspiracy theories, they will never find the remedy. As Darrell Lackey states:

“Here is what I believe these evangelical critics are missing as they rightfully and courageously address this problem in their own camp: A key factor is the underlying theology, specifically a view of the Bible, and how E/Fs understand inspiration, authority, and beliefs like “Scripture alone.” Until they are willing to address those issues, the problem is sure to continue, as it has now, for decades.”

I do not want to make “theology” our faith. All theology stems from our own culture context. Does theology help? Sure. But it seems that it does more harm than good when it comes to relationships. “Err on the side of love” as Brian Zahnd would say. Orthopraxy > Orthodox all day! With that being said, there is a responsibility when we see the fruit of it all. This goes for both the right or left leaning “Christian”. Seeing this teaching of Jesus as being crucial to how our thoughts become actions, ignoring it would be futile. That is our privilege. We are participants of the Jesus way and this means we are called to be feet washers (public servants), tables flippers (speakers of truth to power), and leprosy healers (community liberators). We have these privileges in order to share them with others. Its Kenosis 101. We self-empty ourselves in order to heal and liberate others. It’s the Gospel! If we confuse this with using our privilege to suppress and dominate others, we are nothing more then Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Its funny but within the American context, we associate sheep’s as weak and just brainwashed followers. We hold up the more powerful animal (lion or wolf) as the symbol of liberty and leadership.

This is antithetical with the way of Christ. He is the slaughtered lamb, yellloooo (Rev. 5:6)! I get it, we all want liberty and to do whatever the hell we want as Americans. But true freedom is when we are living in the way of servanthood—which is a loving community not slaveholders. I would even go further and have us inherent the call of black sheep–carving our own paths along this terrain we call life. To those of us who have privilege and denying its responsibility, don’t live in fear! Be that lost black sheep, having trust that the True Sheppard will find you and guide your path to genuine healing and liberation. This is the way, I think, in order for all to be free. Be the Black Sheep in Wolves Clothing! Like Martin Luther King said: “No one is free until we are all free.”

Spiritual Roll Call

I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am. – John Newton

Here we are folks! We made it through the insane, sorrowful, confusing, defeating—and whatever other negative shit you can think of—year of 2020! Look, it has been a historic year and it’ll go down in history, no doubt. A lot of loss from all social aspects. Some experts are saying we might not see the end of the pandemic tunnel until 2024 (please god, I hope not). Lamenting is definitely a practice we all should be participating in—especially regarding the resent coup attempt at the U.S. Capital…Selah! Alas, if you are alive and kicking, it’s something hopeful to take into the new year. Let’s breathe for f-sakes! I like to share with you my own “Spiritual Roll Call” for this upcoming year. I think it’s healthy to step into a state of mindfulness when it comes to our wellbeing. So, let’s bring the awareness, baby!

Here is my “list” of where I am at with my spiritual (everything is spiritual, right Rob Bell?) life. Just going to lay out some “big” concepts with my inerrant (haha j/k) two cents. I hope it’s of substance and a possible help to whomever is reading this “blog”. Contemplation can definitely bring us into a more calming presence which hopefully brings about a more peaceful way of life (fingers cross for 2021). Enjoy my Spiritual Roll Call!

God

*Who* (or what?) is God really? Father? Mother? Being? Universe? Alien? Trump (seems to be for some but I regress hehe)?The who and the what don’t really tickle my fancy as much as the how? I definitely have come to a place where I see the Divine as more of an experience than a exact substance. As in, how is God moving and breaking through my life seems more relative than the ontological details. At the same time, I love swimming in the Jesus tradition. The story of Jesus still captures my imagination. Yes, that stems from a lot of culture and family upbringing–we are all products of our environment. Yet, there is something still so new and relevant with the Jesus story that resonates with me more now than ever. The Spirit of Abba seems to be forever guiding me—with her wings of love, grace, mercy, peace and justice…oh my! 2021 needs some of that.

Church

Being raised in a pretty dogmatic tradition, its pretty amusing to see myself back participating in a brick and mortar church. I don’t think I’ll never not find this to be hilarious (in a good way). As a person who is pretty anti-authority, it’s ironic being part of a Christian church. I am even part of the members board?! Elder Hathcock anyone?? Being raised L.D.S., the title of elder is pretty cringing (no offense). But that’s the paradox of it all! I found a church that has some of same structures from my past church experiences—but at the same time—it’s doing something way different and reknewing. It’s exciting! Shout out to Oceanside Sanctuary!

With that being said, I get that some people are just not going to step foot in a church ever again (for good reasons). Those who find themselves in the physical church have their reasons too (don’t ask me what those are hehe). It’s easy to point fingers and bring our judgments to the nones, dones and the active. All I trust in is that community matters. We are all connected and I think it’s super healthy to help each other out. And I guess I like how the Jesus commonwealth feels best (shoot me).

Scripture

Can we really trust in ancient stories? Can we experience them in a way to better enrich our lives and those around us? Well, I don’t know for sure—but it seems like in the Christian tradition—we see more harm being done with the Bible than good. But this can be done with anything really, right? I mean look at the smart phones we use everyday? Technology is an amazing gift (especially through this pandemic). But we see the other side as well. Social media is just one click a way to a world of division and hostility. But it also can be used for just the opposite. Kind of what the Bible does, right? We can either take this book and use it to seek and destroy each other or we can let it help us point to divine healing and liberation. I will take the latter. Quote me on this: I will never use scripture to judge or condemn anyone…woooweee!

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There you have it. Some of my perspectives that will hopefully bring about some healthy change in my little bubble and beyond. It’s good to name and claim it once in awhile when you are looking to be transparent, I think? Maybe your spiritual roll call will lead you into a meaningful presence which will produce new heights for this 2021 year. Let’s do this!

Abide In The Abyss

Without order nothing can exist-without chaos nothing can evolve. Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing. – Oscar Wilde

It is a hard thing to grasp when one comes to the threshold of an unknown road. Do we panic? Do we push back? What do we grab on to when experiencing this unfamiliar and turbulent route? I don’t know for sure, but it does seem like the more we experience the chaos, the more we scramble for answers. Maybe instead of demanding answers, we start asking questions that are more relevant with the path in front of us? Specifically, within the American Christian landscape, we cannot deny that we are at a critical crossroad. Are we going to listen to the petitions that are being proposed or are we just going to seek the more familiar and accessible remedies?

The “answers” might seem finite and foundational–but in the end–the order we want will end up being of no value. This “abyss” seems unpleasant (maybe unbearable at times), but what if we can learn to abide through it, to better heal and liberate as a community? What are the questions and answers I am referring to? Well, if I had all the prevalent questions with the damaging responses in this blog, it would be a million-page novel. But I did come up with four main ideas which seem to shed some light regarding the current church vs the world problem we are experiencing. Look, the “church” is supposed to be leading in example on how healthy community is done. Unfortunately, it seems to be doing the opposite. I believe these ideas play a huge role in why this is the case.

1. Culture Irrelevance

Wait, hold the phones?! As Jesus-followers, aren’t we supposed to be the called-out ones that are “not of this world”? How can I say culture irrelevance is part of the problem of the current state of American Christianity? Easy. Throughout the Abrahamic faiths and Jesus tradition, all the players who had a role in bringing this movement into fruition, worked and lived within their own cultural context. You cannot have the prophetically justice stance of Moses without having a dictator like the slave-driving Pharaoh. Or the “rags-to-riches” story in the journey of Ruth through the perils of a patriarchal society. Its relative for all these characters when they engaged in the culture of their day. From politics, earth-care, education, traditions, and entertainment, all these cultural aspects play a role when shaping and forming one’s Jesus community. To place the church “outside” of the culture of the day, is to put it in a stale and unproductive state. This does nothing in bringing about the earth as it is in heaven admonition from Jesus. It only brings about an escapism which never produces good fruit.  

2. Consumer-Oriented Platforms

We want it all, we want it with ease, and we want it NOW! This is the modern era of consumer Christianity. The bigger, stronger, and faster consumer minded motif we find ourselves in is becoming more of a game than a gift. Our easy access to goods is bringing about those lovely seven deadly sins we all enjoy so much (tongue and cheek, hehe).  Instant gratification is so nice, isn’t it though? I love having access to so many goods from just the tip of my fingertips and the scroll of my smart phone. Our technology driven society is helping the insta (haha get it?)cause for sure (plug in and stay tuned). Yes, technology has done some great things for human civilization. But we cannot deny the negative side of it as well. I get that we all enjoy some type of “retreat” from the woes of this world so we can encounter God. This is all well and good. You want rock stages, fog machines, Starbucks coffee and strobe lights, knock yourself out. I am not trying to say to stop doing these types of practices. The problem I am seeing is, instead of getting disciples, we might be getting fans. Hey, but fans are the ones that keep this consumer machine rolling…we need fans, right? Economies based on exchange will need some admirers if we are going to keep this merry-go-round operational. Entertainment can be intoxicating along with being detrimental when it comes to participating in the Jesus Way. Look, we all are going to be within the non-dualistic tension of being consumers and lovers (1 Cor 13:4-8). Its what we do with this tension that matters.

3. Exclusionary Campaigning

Factionalism has been the new trend within the American church today. Looks like we are joining the American polarized political divide. Yes, we are supposed to act within our current cultural issues, but what is to be our tactics? It cannot be one that causes divisions and strife (Gal. 5:20) but one that produces LOVE, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That is what we are called to participate in. This is what produces the fruit that Jesus spoke of. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a crazy time to be alive in the USA. Tensions are high (so much so people are throwing out possible civil war). We are going through extreme social unrest from pandemics, racial injustices, economic disparity, and political strife. The divide is obvious and deep at the moment. But no matter what, the church is to be the example of love above all else (i.e., Shalom). This love may look like a “dividing sword” (Mat. 10:34) to “others” who maybe just haven’t had the vision of a justice (love in public) rolling down like a river through our American streets. Regardless, we are here to love our enemies (which means we have no enemies) and be a people of inclusion, hospitality, and generosity.

4. Doctrine Certitudes

Jesus was about the Gospel, not doctrine. This Gospel should always be seen as a way to bridge the gap between the outcast and the conformed, the poor and rich, the black and white, the gay and straight, the man and woman, the transsexual and the heterosexual, the child and adult (Gal. 3:28-get the picture?). We cannot be bamboozled by this notion that the Gospel is just one tight net idea that once examined and believed, no other type of suggestions or behaviors can stem from it. The Gospel is a plethora of creative and innovative ways of being in the time and place we are given.It is not just a set of beliefs (atonement theories) to believe in, nor is it one certain type of action within one’s culture (social justice). The Gospel involves those ideas and actions, for sure! But it’s really just simply good news, which everyone needs nowadays.

* * *

Well, what do you think? Again, if we are looking to bring about the cross-like, forgiving love that Jesus brought, what do we do in the chaos and order? WE ABIDE (uh oh, I just gave you an answer haha)! We breathe. We seek. And maybe, just fucking maybe, we will find…

Just as the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you. Abide in My love! 

Truth In The Noise

When we haven’t earned the right with our blood, sweat, tears, and time, truth-telling is most often received as judgment. Jared Byas

What a no holds barred match of viewpoints we find ourselves in, within our current culture climate. With so many voices being echoed through all available chambers—social media being the main sphere—how do we know truth? Beats me (haha). But I do believe there is something to an experiential encounter with a “quality or state of being true”, that holds more tangible weight than other voices. In other words, how does our experiences inform us about whether or not an specific idea or act is the actual essence of truth?

Maybe by “walking in another’s shoes”, we reach a firmer grasp on what is true or false? Look, I get the importance of doing your own research and the importance of peer reviewed articles. We read articles, try to have an open mind, listen to experts (a lot of conspiracy with this at the moment…good lord), and attempt to listen to both sides. This is good advice and has helped me tremendously. But I cannot help to hear the saying of Jesus: “Love your neighbor as yourself” when trying to pursue *the* truth. Yes, we can’t forget the other saying of Jesus: “I am the truth”. Amen! But you know we are part of his body so we can’t dodge the responsibility of being part of that truth ourselves. To embody a reality of authentic truth, we get there by self-giving love. And to love is to put ourselves in other’s perspectives, which in turn, enable us to “see and hear” the truth that sets us ALL free.

Don’t get me wrong. Critical thinking skills are needed to get us to a place of factual analysis (Critical Race Theory for example). The point of any cognitive critique is to bring in a set of ideas and push them to the forefront of discovery. These are all good and much needed steps to find truth. What I am proposing is when we are pursuing the truth we must do it in love. Yes yes yes; love love love is all we need, blah blah blah. Listen (or read? hehe) here, alright?! The only love I am talking about is the love that “lays down her life for a friend”. Capeesh?

This love is a movement of action where all eyes can see. Or, how Dr. Cornel West puts it: “Justice is what love looks like in public”. Speaking truth to power is the gateway of experiencing healing and liberating truth. This is the gospel that Jesus preached. He was “living” this truth, no matter what the cost. It’s an inner truth that Jesus couldn’t deny. Folk rock band The Avett Brothers song, Tell the Truth say (sing?) it best:

Tell the truth to yourself and the rest will fall in place

I can make my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, my lover, my neighbor, my friends all happy

Give of myself whatever they ask

But without this single truth it is only emptiness that I cast

A happiness that will not last

But I’m not here for that for what does happiness help without this single truth given to thyself

Tell the truth to yourself and the rest will fall in place

When we come to a point of a moment of truth, we must embrace the love of self and others to really accept it. Inner truth always will pour out onto others. Hear me out on this: This isn’t the same as weaponized truth, where we just have our weapon of choice—locked and loaded—ready to beat the shit out of any who dare not to comply to our truth claims. I believe we have come to a point in our current social dialogue that all we want to hear is our reasoning biases in the voice of the other. If it isn’t there, bombs away!

We all should be passionate and prophetic when we are looking to carry out our truths to implement change. A little anger helps but when it is the most thundering sound and drowns out love, that’s when we get nowhere. Yes, we need to hear the voices of the oppressed, the sick, and the poor at this current time of history (and all of history past). I mean, this is what Jesus did all day long during his ministry. But we cannot forget how he redeems, reconciles, and resurrects it all: By a cross of forgiveness and love. Author and podcaster Jared Byas says it like this:

We live our lives feeling that there is a tension between truth and love. But there’s only a tension if we believe truth and love are equals and opposites. They are not. Love is the bottom line. When we pursue a life of love, we will find truth along the way. When we pursue truth, we do not always find love along the way. When Jesus tells us the greatest commandment, it’s not truth-telling, it’s not fact-based, it’s not doctrinal. It’s love.

So, can we really know truth? Yes and no. But we definitely will never get there if we do not show the love, people! What if truth is not a belief to be held but an experience to be shared? I like that possibility. Let’s step into that realm of trusting love and see where The Truth leads…

As for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part. For love is the end. — 1 Corinthians 13:8-9,13

The Empire Is Not Good News

To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely – to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away.-Dr. Cornel West

How are we (I.e., American “Christians”) supposed to *act* in our current climate where the pandemic reigns, systemic racism runs rapid and the economic state is at its worse sense the Great Depression 2020 has been a mix of 1918, 1930s, and 1960s all wrapped up in one “apocalyptic” year and there seems to be no end in sight. The unveiling of the principalities and powers (corrupt institutions) are now in the forefront for all citizens to witness. The term “viewer discretion advise” has never been more relevant.

We are hearing from both world views (conservative and liberal) advice and warnings in what the “right” strategy is when it comes to the current world crises. The polarization has come to a boiling point and you better take cover! Masks vs. no masks, black lives matter vs. all lives matter, all coming to a dualistic head, about to explode. The American political landscape has been experiencing a tug of war (no pun attended) regarding ideals which in-turn is hindering an actual plan of action. Thus, we have the never-ending cycle of us vs. them that only brings violent unrest.

This is not a denial of the actual current damaged systemic realities (white supremacy, racism, pandemic health crisis, police brutality, etc.) that this country is experiencing. I understand that some are living in denial of these issues (and it is not getting us anywhere). Alas, what I am trying to manifest is Christ-participants response to all of this? It cannot only be a conservative view of just letting the old ways be preserved no matter how many lives are harmed and oppressed along the way. It also cannot be a regulated liberal view, espousing a non-stop cancel/shame culture in where people are ostracized and scapegoated, no matter what the price. Is this American binary platform, in which we have two sides to choose from, all there is? The issues with our two-party system, plurality voting rules, winner take all voting, gerrymandering, (to name a few) is not helping when it comes to a more just (love in action) social system.

When we leave social restorative justice (it cannot be an eye for eye kind of justice here, peeps) in the hands of the elite, what we get is an Empire. If we are living in the 21st century United States, we are living in an Empire (bold statement I know but stay with me). There are a few interpretations of Empire (hey, is post modernity baby haha), but I find this one fitting when it comes to defining Empire with our current state in Murica:

Conglomerates of power that are aimed at controlling all aspects of our lives, from macropolitics to our innermost desires.― Joerg Rieger, Christ and Empire

 

What does Empire involve? All types of “power over” institutions from education, to government and religion. When our systems become an economy of exchange where the mighty dollar reigns, the result is imprisonment. From a Christ-participant perspective, what we have seen since the fourth century is Civil Religion: the Christendom of Empire, reigning down with an oligarchy thumb. Since that time, the supposedly Jesus Community has been entangled with the State. This might be the deadliest mixture when it comes to corrupt power. Christians have become the Roman occupiers―plundering and destroying all that gets in their way―instead of Jesus followers being eaten by lions and burned at the stake. When we became more about geo-political dominance and less about serving “the least of these”, the distinction between the Jesus-Way and Empire are unrecognizable. Palestinian Christian, author, and Lutheran pastor Mitri Raheb puts it this way:

Empires create their own theologies to justify their occupation. [Just as the early American empires chose to overlook its mistreatment of the Native tribes who already lived here and then justified a slave holder form of Christianity in much of the Americas. —RR] Such oppression generates a number of important questions among the occupied: “Where are you, God?” and “Why doesn’t God interfere to rescue [God’s] people?” When, under various regimes, diverse identities emerge in different parts of Palestine, the question arises, “Who is my neighbor?” And finally, “How can liberation be achieved?” is a constant question. {1.}

I think this is what we have in our current state of affairs. Are we (I.e., White American Christians) as claimed participants in the Jesus way, going to see ourselves as the Roman occupiers? Are we finally go to repent (change our way of thinking) and really set out to be a people who wash feet, serve the poor, and set the captives free? That is it, really. Breaking free to liberate others. This is what privilege is all about. We cannot let the ways of Empire cloud our minds with this “America first” attitude. Its movements that change things, not rusted-out institutions. It is power under not power over that brings about resurrection (Jesus on the cross, anyone?).  So, regardless if you see masks as not needed, or black lives as a neo-Marxist communist organization, what do you do for the least of these? For your enemies?

I think it’s time that we truly see that “our citizenship is in heaven- Philippians 3:20 “ which includes “every nation, tribe, people and language-Revelation 7:9”. It’s time to let go of our egos and be humbled. We need to listen and educate ourselves through and by the voices of the marginalized in order to bring about the liberation and healing that sets all of God’s creation free…

Only the oppressed can receive liberating visions in wretched places. Only those thinking emerges in the context of the struggle against injustice can see God’s freedom breaking into unfree conditions and thus granting power to the powerless to fight here and now for the freedom they know to be theirs in Jesus’ cross and resurrection.― James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed

Jubilee State Of Mind

Central to God’s covenant with ancient Israel (the spiritual ancestors of Jews, Christians, and Muslims), these laws describe and prescribe what the new life beyond “Egypt”—at that time seen as a symbol of bondage, economic exploitation, impoverishment, and slavery—is to be like. They embody God’s dream, God’s passion for a different kind of life on earth, here and now, in this world. – Marcus Borg

What do we do when we are placed in a time with so much uncertainty and fear? With the current pandemic we are facing, how do face the reality of death and economic turmoil? Whatever your view on the causes of the covid19 virus—from conspiracy theory pandemonium to “mainstream media” coherency—we cannot deny the current effects of the onslaught of mental and physical devastation. When we are hit with something that is so out of our control, how do we react in a healing and liberating way? Well, trusting in our first responders (the real heroes) who are putting themselves in harm’s way for the safety of others is what we must do now. But what about the bigger systemic issues that are taking hold?

One idea comes to mind: Jubilee. No, not the chick from X-Men (hehe). The word “jubilee” is derived from the Hebrew word jobel, which means “ram’s horn”; since it was precisely that horn which was used as a trumpet, whose sound indicated to everybody the beginning of the jubilee year. We find the concept of the jubilee in the book of Leviticus, in the code of holiness, which tells us of the significance of the jubilee year: a year of liberation, alleviation and simplicity. It is within this framework that the official reset idea was started. To experience the commonwealth of God, living out this jubilee reality wouldn’t hurt. I believe we find ourselves in such a time where the spirit of jubilee could burst forth and become incarnated in the current coronavirus-stricken world.

 

Liberation

The Year of Jubilee, which came every 50th year, was a year full of liberating people from their debts, releasing all slaves, and returning property to its original owners (Leviticus 25:1-13). Could we use the essence of this ancient “law” (which really was a vision for a new lifestyle) in our current state of affairs?  Let’s see how this can correlate with our current social issues. Here are some stats (from the U.S. perspective):

  • Covid-19 has cost more than 33 million Americans their jobs in the last seven weeks – 10% of the entire US population. The official unemployment rate had shot up from 4.4% to 14.7% on Friday (unseen since the 1930s Great Depression). {1.}
  • Forecasts suggest COVID-19 is likely to cause the first increase in global poverty since 1998.
  • Using the most recent data, the World Bank has predicted coronavirus is pushing 40-60 million people into extreme poverty.
  • The areas most affected depend on the impact of the virus on economic activity and the number of people living close to the international poverty line. {2.}

It isn’t just what the virus is doing to the economic climate now but what it was doing prior to the lockdown. Mass incarceration, education reform, racism (in all its forms), civil rights, climate change, white supremacy, etc. all were issues before covid19 hit. We are still facing this, as we just witnessed an actual murder on video of an innocent black man: Ahmaud Abrey! If this is not the call for liberation (which includes merciful justice) then I do not know what is.

 

Alleviation 

The other side of this coin is the over exacerbation of western consumerism. If we do not keep up with the “empire money making” machine, we will be left in the dust. Western civilization has over emphasized the competitive spirit into a form of slavery. If we do not work those long hours, we do not move up the corporate ladder (yay). Look, hard work is great when it is done in a way that benefits you and others well-being. Hyper Capitalism (not taking any sides on the socialism vs. capitalism debate) is not helping anybody. We are stuck in the consumerism rat race and we need to take steps to release the chains.

Especially with the current pandemic we find ourselves in, we cannot ignore the fragility of our “economy of exchange” that is not up to handle an onslaught of helpless communities in need of care. This is not to criticize our first responders (nurse, doctors, fireman, etc.). We would be utterly doomed without their heroic service. What I am implying is the current trajectory that western societies are headed, we will see no type of practice of rest (sabbath). You see through popular culture the rise of awareness for the importance of meditation. By this becoming more of a daily practice will be a huge step into this sabbath way of contemplation. Like all mystics of the past, the way to encounter true existence is to be aware of the ever-present moment.

Simplicity

Last but not least, is the jubilee call of simplicity. When its all said and done, the task of one living the “simple life” is to actually stand against the plague of disease, social injustices, and economic woes. I do not know about you, but during this quarantine I found less of the non-stop merry-go-round business of life and found more of a content way of being. Yes, I understand that not all of us our experiencing this. People are losing their jobs, houses, and more. But this is where privileged people like me can step up and really show a service minded outset to bring about the peace that is so needed in our current culture. To quote Richard J. Foster from his book, Freedom of Simplicity:

“Simplicity is not merely a matter of having less stress and more leisure. It is rather an essential spiritual discipline that we must practice for the health of the soul.”

There it is. The Jubilee. Yeah, a pretty hefty proposal, I know (is it really, though?). Look, this is not an attempt to make the utopian jamboree (though it does sound nice). It is also not some idealistic plea to just make me (or you) feel all warm inside (not that I am against that haha). But I do strongly believe it is something we can (and should) explore. Why, you ask? Well, when faced with an entity (virus) which has taken us to a place we have never been before—societal disorder on a worldwide scale—that’s when the spirit seems to move herself to places where we have never seen available. Jesus was not lying when he said: “you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” It starts with the breaking of the fruit of the spirit to entice us to act in love. Placing our trust in a new “abnormal” could just be the ticket to embrace a new kind of communal reality. One that brings the jubilee admonition of liberation, alleviation, and simplicity. That is good news, right? Some good news sounds pretty fucking fantastic right about now…

“Now is the time to give me roses not to keep them for my grave to come. Give them to me while my heart beats, give them today while my heart yearns for jubilee. Now is the time.”-Mzwakhe Mbuli

The Rites to Freedom

Ritual is simply a set of practices in a period of chaos so we can experience the chaos safely.

Jason Coker

 

In a time of unrest and chaos, the tool that seems to work most effectively is the practice of rites and rituals. Now, this can be (and most likely is) triggering for most of us who have experienced unhealthy spiritual practices. Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is something more and more people are dealing with and I know its something that is not to be taken lightly. When it comes to the Christian tradition, the “church” has not always been a place that produces healthy rites and rituals to assist us in getting through the ambiguous times in our lives. Instead, church practices often get the process ass backwards: We develop rites and rituals to control and manipulate people to believe and act a certain way instead of creating spaces available for us to grow in these times of pandemonium. Cognitive dissonance is viewed as an issue of faith instead of a step needed to be taken within the spiritual journey.

Deconstruction has been the “new” practice within the religious sphere in the last twenty years or so due to many factors. With the new internet age and the huge amount of access to resources, its been more and more difficult for the “powers that be” to keep a more discrete way of posturing when it comes to past, present and future church practices. Postmodernism has brought a lot of problems to be answered when it comes to religious institutions. When people have these crises of faith, the church is not equipped with the space (rites and rituals) to help heal and liberate those who need it. Deconstruction is a step that should be perceived as a healthy process that helps us mature in our faith. It shouldn’t be perceived as a problem to be solved but as a ritual to be practiced. We must learn to let go of corrosive practices of rules due to fear and embrace a more playful experimental practice of understanding.

How does that look like? Well, there are many ways we can experience spiritual practices that help us through the journey of life. It doesn’t have to be practices in a “brick and mortar” church setting. It can be a nature walk, surfing (my favorite), exercising, playing music, painting a picture, or crafting some good beer (my other favorite). There are various of ways to experience divine guidance. The Christian traditions rites and rituals that have been with us for 2,000 plus years can be practiced in a new light as well. We can always find new ways to interpret and repurpose a practice within a church setting to help us better connect and move to more liberating heights. Traditions are good if used in a healthy and freeing way. We can let go of the damaging aspects of a rite and ritual and still actually practice the act itself. I understand some are unable to ever practice certain rites and rituals within Christianity due to RTS and that is OK! Along as you find some time of ritual to practice to better center you as a human being, I think the world can benefit from it. With that being said, there are still some beautiful practices with this Christian religion that I still find beneficial. An example that I have come to experience when it comes to repurposing a certain spiritual practice is Communion/Eucharist/Lords Table (whatever name floats your boat).

The tradition that I grew up in (L.D.S.) named this practice The Sacrament. It has elements of truth (like all spiritual practices do in a sense) but also some pretty damaging aspects as well. In my opinion and experience (along with many others) the concept of purity codes comes to mind. In order to partake of the sacrament, you had to be “worthy” and “believe” in the church’s teachings. The point of this ritual is to renew the covenant you made at baptism. Unfortunately, this interpretation of the purpose of the Lords Table misses some really important factors to help oneself to become part of the gospel message. Instead of bringing us together with Christ and participating in the way of love, it becomes a rule one must follow in order to remain a “member of a church”. We are not part of some corporation/country club that keeps track of its members “loyalty”. This also brings out zealot faith which brings judgment on others who do not partake of The Sacrament. This should not be the point of why we consume of the bread and wine of Christ.

Fortunately, I found a Church (Oceanside Sanctuary) that has taken the practice of Communion to a level of healing and liberation one needs when it comes to healthy rites and rituals (yes, a bold claim I know). We think it is important to take Communion weekly, so we can come to the table of love and mercy despite our differences. Let’s face it, we all have our own views on anything from sex, politics, sports, education and of course theological views regarding the Christian tradition itself. But, guess what? Unity is possible within diversity. That is what Jesus came to bring. The Commonwealth of God is the reality where love can guide us to true freedom even through our messy differences. If we cannot practice healthy rite & rituals in a church setting, how the hell will we ever expect to see needed results outside the sanctuary walls?…

For Christians, to share in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, means to live as people who know that they are always *guests*—that they have been welcomed and that they are wanted. It is perhaps the most simple thing that we can say about Holy Communion, yet it is still supremely worth saying. In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ tells us that he wants our company. Rowan Williams

Check out my blog on Done With Religion (and others!): https://donewithreligion.com/2020/03/10/the-rites-to-freedom/

Curative Icon

How do you make any sense of history, art or literature without knowing the stories and iconography of your own culture and all the world’s main religions? – Polly Toynbee

When we Westerners create our icons, we do delve into the human figures throughout our history. There is something to say about the way an icon moves us to heal and liberate ourselves and the people around us. An icon can also have the opposite affect: Imprison and damage our way of being and others. We can see from human history, not all icons were worthwhile. In the end, it’s all about how we interpret the figure that we wish to iconize and how we put that vision into practice.

The origins of iconography take place within Christianity; with the images of Jesus and the saints after him. Western culture has taken this theme and has made it into a more “secular” phenomenon. We see this with past presidents, sports figures, social activists, etc. Some religious practitioners (fundamentalists mostly) find this to be disturbing due to the reasoning of making humans out to be “gods”.

How can we bring out these secular beings into the space of Jesus (they would say)? Aren’t we making icons into idols, then? I would say: Hell no! Here is why: By making humans into icons we begin to step into the reality of the incarnation of Christ. We experience that we all can make some type of change through healing and liberation. Its what Jesus did by being his true human self.

Let’s take the tragic death of Kobe Bryant for example. We have seen Kobe do some amazing things on and off the court. He became a great father, husband, activist, and friend. By his example and iconic status, others followed in his footsteps and made a difference. Is this not Christ-like? Others do not see it that way. This is from a tweet from an individual who did not see it this way:

“Kobe dies & the world goes crazy; the son of God dies for wicked humanity & very very few care” [1]

Without going into too much of a critique with this quote, I would just like to point out how this individual missed the point of the significance of Kobe Bryant’s death and the death of Jesus’. When we come to the realization that all deaths from the beginning to the end of time, from the ages of ages, have always been connected to the death of Jesus, we see that all deaths carry the importance of resurrection. This doesn’t always need to be the physical resurrection (although important) but also the symbolic resurrection, that helps all to wipe of the ashes of our current sadness and rise to a new transformed existence.

This is what the ancient church attested to the iconography of saints. It was the correlations that death has been trampled by death, and that Jesus resurrection involved the whole creation. The point of icons is not to idolize them, but to participate in their healing and liberating life. We are not these perfect beings that have no flaws and scars! To think an icon is any different from us is to fail to see the point of being an icon in the first place. To think that to see one as some sort of icon is a way to be irresponsible for ourselves and how we act in the world, is being bamboozled. When we depend solely on an icon, without seeing that icon in our enemies, we will never bring about a world of peace and love. It is why icons exist, to enable us to see the least of these as God. The Universal Spirit is calling us to the oneness of it all. Maybe we can beckon to Her call and embrace the unity of a curative icon…

Modern man has been in search of a new language of form to satisfy new longings and aspirations – longings for mental appeasement, aspirations to unity, harmony, serenity – an end to his alienation from nature. All these arts of remote times or strange cultures either give or suggest to the modern artist forms which he can adapt to his needs, the elements of a new iconography- Herbert Read

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Empire Creed: Lex Talionis

With the most recent events regarding the U.S. and the assassination of Iran’s Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani, it’s hard not to feel the weight of the endless war games that come with countries “eye for an eye” agendas. This is nothing new. Throughout human civilization we have seen the non-stop vicious cycle of destruction when violent military actions is ensued upon others due to the law of retaliation mentality. When will we ever learn? Coming from the American perspective, I don’t know how anyone is feeling “proud” to be an “American” when we have our President twitting things like this:

“They attacked us, & we hit back. If they attack again, which I would strongly advise them not to do, we will hit them harder than they have ever been hit before!” {1}

When can go back and forth all day on the propaganda that this President uses to infuse the masses (he’s just a puppet of Empire like all the presidents before him, imo…but I digress). I also don’t want to fall into the trap of the Pharisee spirit with Trump as well. We need to love all Gods image bearers and Trump is one of them (believe it or not hehe). In all reality, if we really step back and see what his type of rhetoric is compared to what we find in the Jesus tradition, we will find total opposing views on how we are to show those “who persecute us” aka enemies. Author Keith Giles did a great comparison on how us Americans who claim to be Christ-participants, should move and have our being in this current nationalistic political arena:

If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the anti-Christ is the Prince of War.

If Jesus heals, the anti-Christ sheds blood.

If Jesus says we should love our enemy, the anti-Christ says we should torture them.

If Jesus commands us to bless those who curse us, the anti-Christ urges us to make war against them.

If Jesus says we should pray for those who persecute us, the anti-Christ says we ought to oppress and imprison them.

If Jesus tells us to care for the poor, the anti-Christ says we should just ignore them.

If Jesus says his disciples will not fight, the anti-Christ encourages us to glorify violence.

If Jesus says we should turn the other cheek, the anti-Christ says we should destroy the aggressor. {2}

I think this is well put. When it comes to seeing ourselves in the American landscape, are we not supposed to be for peace not war? We all can have our culture and enjoy what the American life can bring, not trying to shame anyone here. What I am simply implying is that there is a better way to engage what it means dealing with “enemies” (so-called that is). From just the history of America, when have been at war almost as long as we have been a country (93% {3}). When it comes to stepping into a reality that no longer engages in the Lex Talionis, I think we could see that good old “earth as it is in heaven” Jesus prayed about?

If you look at the history of Christianity, it’s interesting that we have done some beautiful things, but this war thing still is something we are having trouble with. The first 300 years of the Christian Church practices this non-violent resistance to the tee, but changed due to many factors:

The early church (the first 300 years) was strongly pacifist. Origen said that Christians “do not go forth as soldiers”. Tertullian wrote “only without the sword can the Christian wage war: for the Lord has abolished the sword.” Clement of Alexandria wrote “…he who holds the sword must cast it away and that if one of the faithful becomes a soldier he must be rejected by the Church, for he has scorned God.”

This changed rapidly in the time of Constantine – the Council of Arles in 314 said that to forbid “the state the right to go to war was to condemn it to extinction”, and shortly after that Christian philosophers began to formulate the doctrine of the Just War.

For many centuries Christians believed that it was right and proper to use violence (and thus war) to spread the faith and deal with its opponents. They did not regard violence as an inherently bad thing: whether it was bad or not depended on what it was being used for.

This thinking is covered under holy wars- the main examples of which, for Christians, are the Crusades.

From Constantine onwards Christian writers and preachers have used warlike and soldierly metaphors in their writing about the faith.

The idea that violence is not inherently bad can also be seen in some versions of the Just War doctrine – violence (war) can be a vital tool in restoring justice and peace. {4}

Where has this Just War doctrine lead us? Well, I can tell ya: The endless cycle of violence that only produces war not peace! Aren’t we tired of this shit! I mean come on people, wake the fuck up! Let’s get out of this rut of blood shed that leads only to more bloodshed and step into the Shalom Jesus came to represent. I know this leap is very frightening for some, but that is what faith is all about.

Are you ready to leap? I think it is time because we cannot afford this Empire Creed to casts its spell on us any longer. I mean look: It always seems to be a case of some ego driven Pharaoh of Empire looking to use the “might is right’” mentality to push some new agenda! We seen it from Constantine to Trump—will we ever learn our lesson—with the same old tune with the same old results…

Escalating violence results when mimetic rivals (who believe they’re fundamentally different) begin to mirror and imitate one another.

The President of Iran and the President of the U.S. will escalate violence, not because they’re different, but because they’re the same.-Brian Zahnd