Category: Politics

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Wednesday Miscellany

A few unfinished scraps and fragments are cluttering up my “drafts” folder, so it’s time for another “Miscellany” post. There’s a common thread that runs through what follows—something like “the truth and how we tell it”—but nothing cohesive enough for a single post, evidently. 
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Andrew Sullivan thinks it’s impossible for human beings not to have a religion, “even in our secularized husk of a society.” I happen to agree with him—both about humans being irreducibly religious and about our society being a “secularized husk.” What a great description of a society that claims not to have left religion behind but is morally zealous in ways that rival the most enthusiastic evangelists from days long past.
According to Sullivan, our religious impulses have not disappeared, they have simply migrated to other domains. In America, the right’s religious fervour is concentrated in the attaining and securing of power. Salvation comes via the levers of politics. The left embraces an activistic narrative of social and moral progress. Here, too, salvation often comes via politics. Both views function as religions for their adherents.
This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in this paragraph where Sullivan compares the “Great Awakening” with the “Great Awokening”:

And so the young adherents of the Great Awokening exhibit the zeal of the Great Awakening. Like early modern Christians, they punish heresy by banishing sinners from society or coercing them to public demonstrations of shame, and provide an avenue for redemption in the form of a thorough public confession of sin. “Social justice” theory requires the admission of white privilege in ways that are strikingly like the admission of original sin. A Christian is born again; an activist gets woke.

The article has me thinking that whatever else the old religions may or may not have going for them, at least they were explicit about what they were. Few things get as tiresome as politics and irreligion masquerading as religion.
***
Those I work with on the preaching schedule for our church regularly hear me say something like, “We need to have a guest speaker soon. I’m getting sick of hearing my own voice.” I usually say this with a bit of a grin on my face. Sometimes I’d just like a break from sermon prep. But there’s a deeper reason. I really do believe that people benefit from encountering Jesus through a different set of theological goggles than my own.
The other day, I heard a preacher I respect talk about a mid-life/mid-faith course correction he had undergone. He finally encountered the “unvarnished Jesus,” he said. I wonder about that. I know what he’s trying to say. He came to a truer, deeper understanding of Jesus, one more faithful to the gospels, one less encumbered by the trappings of his own culture and the theological biases in which he was raised. I get all that. But do we ever encounter an “unvarnished Jesus?”
I don’t think so. This is one of my worries as someone who preaches 40+ times a year—that my congregation gets a Jesus that is heavily refracted through what I think is important, through what I prefer to ignore, through my agenda for the church, through my constellation of existential anxieties. It’s not that I think my Jesus is wrong or deficient. But I’m just barely smart enough to know that he’s incomplete.
Thank God for other voices. And thank God that preaching is only one way that the risen Christ encounters people on the road.
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One of the albums that’s been getting regular play in the headphones these days is Muse’s new one, “Simulation Theory.” I’m a sucker for anthemic rock full of grandiose lyrics, and Muse has always supplied both of these in abundance. Usually, after a few songs I’m just about ready to march out to protest something or stick it to the man. Just about.
There’s a song on their most recent album called “Thought Contagion” that takes direct aim at our post-truth, fake news times with megalomaniacal leaders spurred on by populist mobs.

You’ve been bitten by a true believer
You’ve been bitten by someone who’s hungrier than you
You’ve been bitten by a true believer
You’ve been bitten by someone’s false beliefs
Thought contagion
Thought contagion

It’s an understandable response to a truly odious cultural phenomenon. But the language is interesting, isn’t it? Nasty beliefs that we disagree with are described in the language of predation and disease. It’s “true believers” that are the problem. They spread their ugliness like a virus and if we’re lucky (or smart/virtuous) enough, we’ll stave off the infection. Our beliefs (i.e., right-thinking people’s beliefs) are the result of rational reflection and general decency. We are not “true believers” but “free thinkers.” At least so we are pleased to tell ourselves.
My skepticism of human nature and how we form/maintain our beliefs has a broader application than Muse’s, I think. “Thought contagions” seem to me come in all kinds of different strains, and we’re all more vulnerable to them that we might want to admit.
***
I was recently invited to speak on a panel next year about evolution and faith. One of my co-panelists evidently comes from an apologetics organization and wanted each of us to articulate our “positions” on evolution beforehand to aid in his preparation. I’ll confess that I groaned inwardly when the email came through.
There are two reasons for my groaning. First, the thought of going into battle in the Christian apologetics wars holds pretty much zero appeal to me. There was a time when this might have excited me, but that time has evidently passed. Haggling over the age of the earth and the one correct interpretation of a handful of bible passages isn’t something that exactly sets my pulse a-racing these days.
Second, I really dislike this assumption that we ought to be able to produce a “position” on an “issue” on demand. “Positions” on “issues” very often end up relegating more important things (like people) to the sidelines. I’d much rather talk about what’s going on behind the positions about issues. What views of God are operating? What existential hungers are being fed or starved?  What unspoken hopes and fears are lingering around the periphery? And so on.
I’ll likely lose the battle over the age of the earth. My “position” probably isn’t as well-fortified as it ought to be. But who knows, maybe an interesting conversation or two will materialize once the swords are set aside and truth is treated less as an artifact to protect than a puzzle to explore.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Podcast: Can Government Be Saved?

Greg talks about Shane Claiborne, government, and ministry. Send Questions To: Dan: @thatdankent Email: askgregboyd@gmail.com Twitter: @reKnewOrg http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0430.mp3 Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | Google Play | RSS
The post Podcast: Can Government Be Saved? appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

The Centrality of God’s Love: A Response to Greg Boyd’s Cross Vision (III—An Alternative)

Ted Grimsrud—November 8, 2018
Greg Boyd’s book on reading the Bible nonviolently, Cross Vision (CV), sets before us a challenge. Is it possible to accept the Bible’s truthfulness while also affirming a consistently pacifist worldview? I conclude, after reading both CV and its more scholarly companion, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, that indeed the best, most respectful, reading of the Bible does support a pacifist commitment. However, I think the case for this might be made more persuasively following a somewhat different approach than Boyd’s. In this post I will sketch an alternative approach to Boyd’s for a biblical theology that also places God’s nonviolent love at the center.
Starting with God’s nonviolence
Like Boyd, I begin with God’s nonviolence (see my blog post, “Why we should think of God as pacifist”). I believe that the fundamental reality in our world is love. And God is love. So my interest in writing this piece is not to try to persuade people who might think otherwise that God is nonviolent. Rather, I want to explain why I think the Bible supports that conviction. What in the Bible leads to confessing God’s nonviolence? And what should we think about the parts of the Bible traditionally cited as the bases for denying that God is nonviolent?
Let me first, though, say just a bit about what saying “God is nonviolent” means for me. In a nutshell, to make such an affirmation is to confess that the Bible teaches that God created what is out love and for the sake of love. It also teaches that God participates in the world most directly in how God brings healing in the face of brokenness, binding wounds, reconciling alienated relationships, and empowering creativity and compassion.
And also like Boyd, I believe that the Bible’s definitive portrayal of God is found in the story of Jesus. That is, God is most clearly and reliably known to humanity in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. My affirmation of God’s nonviolence finds its strongest grounding in my affirmation of Jesus’s nonviolence. Just as it is unthinkable to me that Jesus would punish, hate, exploit, or violently coerce, so is it unthinkable that God would.
Jesus’s nonviolence?
After these agreements with Boyd, my differences begin to emerge in the discussion of how we best understand Jesus’s nonviolence. Boyd centers his emphasis on the crucifixion of Jesus, following Protestant theology by understanding the cross as a sacrificial act necessary for the effecting of salvation—though he does differ from most other Protestants in drawing pacifist conclusions from this affirmation. He does not deny that the meaning of the cross extends to understanding Jesus’s life as exemplary. However, in his rhetoric, the cross is almost always mentioned all by itself and not spoken of in relation to Jesus’s life and teaching or in relation to the cross being the Empire’s method of executing political offenders.
I focus more on Jesus’s life than his death. I see the meaning of Jesus’s death having most to do with the hostile reaction of the powers-that-be of empire and temple to his subversive way of living. When God vindicates Jesus by raising him from the dead, God vindicates Jesus’s entire way of life and declares it as the model for all people of good will. So, I would say that we know that God is nonviolent because we confess that Jesus shows us what God is like and Jesus’s life and teaching were thoroughly and consistently nonviolent. The cross is the consequence of that life, not itself actually a core revelatory moment. In itself, the cross is simply an act of terrible violence where the powers-that-be once more simply crush dissenters. The cross only becomes meaningful when God raised Jesus from the dead, defeating his killers, and vindicating his life. Such an act by God shows that Jesus reveals the true God. The self-important leaders of empire and institutional religion do not serve God but usually are in rebellion against God. They should not be given loyalty due to God.
So, for me it is not the cross as the central truth about Jesus and God. The meaning of the cross is mainly that it demonstrates what happens when political and religious institutions seek to silent the message of God’s rejection of domination and violence. They try desperately and ruthlessly to silence that message. The resurrection shows that they fail in their efforts. Jesus’s life and teaching are vindicated and proven to witness to God’s healing and reconciling love that cannot be defeated by the powers-that-be.
I believe a key element of the NT’s portrayal of God as revealed in Jesus is that Jesus’s witness, in his life and teaching, is in full continuity with the witness of the Old Testament (properly interpreted). Boyd tends to portray the OT as deficient and in many ways in tension with Jesus’s message of God’s nonviolence. I disagree. The revelation of God we see in Jesus is not a new revelation that relativizes Torah and the prophets. As Jesus himself said, he confirms the law and prophets.
Jesus’s message may be summarized by his central affirmation—that what matters most is to love God and neighbor with all one’s heart. He insists these words summarize the message of Torah and the prophets. When we recognize this connection, we will see that Jesus provides a lens for reading the OT on its own terms. Read in light of Jesus’s core command, the OT is not mainly a source of predictions or foreshadowings of a future messianic figure whose death would move things in a different direction—where the death is the central revelation.
I believe Jesus helps us see that the main message of the OT is the same as his message—the call to love God and neighbor with our whole hearts. As Jesus does, so does the OT place love and compassion at the center both of the human vocation and of the self-revelation of God. As well, Jesus and the OT both teach us that the flip side of the coin that tells us to love is the call to critique and resist domination and oppression. Jesus’s message clarifies and continues the OT message that affirms God’s mercy and rejects domination and violence. Jesus himself does not so much offer a new or distinct message centered on his identity as God Incarnate revealed in his death, but more a message that God’s kingdom is distinctively present in his life and teaching.
The Big Story
I believe that affirming the Bible’s truthfulness and inspiration is important for Christian theology. However, I understand the meaning of that affirmation quite a bit differently than Boyd seems to. Boyd cites 2 Timothy 3:16 without discussion as his proof text for insisting that the Bible is inspired (or, “God-breathed”, CV, pp. 4, 7). He implies that “God-breathed” means each verse, maybe even each word, is from God. This view leads him to pit texts against texts and to understand differences between specific texts to be a problem. He constructs an ingenious argument to resolve those problems—his “something else must be going on” approach. As I discussed in the second post of this series, I have some problems with that approach.
Ironically, the main evidence Boyd cites to justify his approach—2 Tim 3:16 and the idea that Jesus affirmed the truthfulness of the Bible—need not necessarily lead to this kind of “verbal plenary” (that is, individual word-based) sense of inspiration (here Boyd seems simply to echo standard evangelical theology). Both 2 Tim 3:16 and Jesus actually take a more practice-centered view of the Bible. The 2 Tim text emphasizes the practical significance of inspiration—that the Bible seems inspired because it is useful for guiding us to live faithfully—not some kind of more formal definition of inspiration. Likewise, Jesus emphasizes in his use of the Bible that it is useful for helping people of faith to embody his message of shalom.
I believe, consistently with 2 Tim and Jesus, that the best way to appropriate the Bible as useful for faithful living is to read it in terms of its overall message when read as a whole—what I call its “Big Story” of “God’s healing strategy” (articulated in my book with that name). God is a God of healing and wholeness whose character as such is the central theme of the Bible. The way the Bible’s inspiration works is on the level of the truthfulness of the Big Story—not on the level of each particular text being equally authoritative or truthful nor on the level of the historical facticity or the accuracy of each text. Rather, the inspiration is to be seen in how the story as a whole provides life-shaping guidance into key themes such as God’s character, the human predicament, the path we are offered for faithful living, and the critical insights the Bible provides for understanding the world we live in.
The key move for understanding the Bible, then, is to orient each part of the Bible toward the Big Story. We read the parts in light of the whole, and recognize that some times we will encounter tensions in that reading where some specific parts do not seem to be in harmony with the Big Story. Those tensions are important and deserve careful attention. However, they do not lesson the truthfulness of the Big Story when we consider all the pieces together.
The centrality of peace
I will acknowledge that it’s not totally accurate to say that the Bible obviously has a single Big Story. Or, at least, not everyone will agree precisely about the content of the Big Story. Identifying this story is a bit of a subjective exercise. And I agree that we shouldn’t want to insist on a single interpretation of the Bible’s storyline. Part of what it means to be part of the community that respects the message of the Bible is that we engage in conversations with different versions of what that message actually is. We are not given an objectively provable interpretation of the Bible. What we should do is engage the Bible as an exercise in discernment for how it speaks to our lives in our world, expecting that it will offer guidance and encouragement.
At the same time, though, I think that most serious readers of the Bible over the ages do share a general sense of what the Big Story is about—a story of creation, fall, peoplehood, and ultimate healing. My version of the Big Story emphasizes what I call “God’s healing strategy” (see Ted Grimsrud, God’s Healing Strategy, 2nd edition). God creates the world out of love; humans exercise their freedom in ways that disrupt their relationships with God, each other, and the natural world; God initiates a long process to bring healing to all those relationships centered on communities of faith that culminates in the ministry of Jesus; and story ends with hope of completed healing in New Jerusalem.
To say that this Big Story is where the inspiration of the Bible finds its central expression is to say that the reader of the Bible should consider each discrete part of the Bible in light of this Big Story. The Big Story is about God’s commitment to peace, to wholeness, to healing. Along the way it tells of many human acts, beliefs, and commitments that violate peace and lead to brokenness. The ways of healing only ever find partial expression—often characterized by mixed motives on the part of the human players in the story. But there is a direction, a trajectory, a hope that understands the plot in terms of growing knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of God’s healing strategy.
So, the Bible as a whole is a book of peace. The God of the Bible is a God of peace. The clearest manifestation of God’s will to peace comes in the life, death, and resurrection of the one called “the Prince of Peace.” A reading strategy for the Bible that places the Big Story at the center will not see the presence of violent portraits of God as contradicting or threatening the message of peace and of God as the nonviolent author of peace. The discordant bits are to be expected in an ancient human document. They provide context, creative tension, and a counter-narrative that must be overcome for the story to be resolved. It is altogether possible that at times specific biblical authors intend to present a violent God, a God who approves of human violence. However, the intention that matters more, the intention of the Big Story, is to illumine how God is a God of peace. The various bits, including the discordant ones, do together give a peaceable portrait of God.
So, when we read the violent portraits we ask how they serve the Big Story, not how to understand them as autonomous accounts that contradict the centrality of the overall message of peace. We privilege the parts that reinforce the message of peace and subordinate the parts that challenge that part—recognizing, though, that the violent parts are necessary parts of the peaceable whole and should not be simply ignored and discarded.
We recognize that the Story finds its culmination in Jesus. With Jesus as the outcome, we read the OT with special attention to its elements that Jesus makes clear are the center of the Story. We don’t pit Jesus over against the OT (something Boyd at times comes precariously close to doing), but we look for how Jesus catches up the core aspects of the Big Story, especially the aspects that portray God as merciful, healing, just, and peaceable. Jesus’s message confirms that from the start the Bible presents a vision of peace—which includes a sense of perspective about the non-peaceable elements. These non-peaceable elements are a genuine part of the Story, but are subordinate to and interpreted by God’s healing work.
Israel and the land
Perhaps the most difficult text in the OT for the reading strategy I advocate is the Conquest story in the book of Joshua. This well-known account of the entry of the Hebrews into Canaan, the takeover the Promised Land, celebrates extreme violence both by God and by God’s people. Taken as a straightforward account of how Israel gained the land, the Conquest creates many difficulties, not only for pacifists but for any believer who does not believe that their God is the author of genocide.
A Big Story reading strategy does not provide a magic resolution for the difficulties. But it does allow for a more peaceable interpretation. A key point is that we should read the Conquest story in the context of the rest of the Big Story, asking how this particular story contributes to the peaceable message of the overall story. When so read, we may recognize that the takeover of the land actually was the first move in what proved to be a failed strategy for sustaining the community of the Promise. This community was established in Genesis 12 with the calling of Abraham to found a people that would ultimately bless all the families of the earth. With the takeover of the land, the community entered into an era of territoriality.
The community in the land required boundaries that required violent protection, fostered a sense of possessiveness, and ultimately led to efforts to expand the territory. Before long, the community desired to be like the other nations and its elders requested and received a human king—who, among other things, gathered weapons of war. The story that follows is largely a story of the failure of this kingdom to embody the main directives of Torah. Prophets rose to challenge Israel’s leadership for its injustices. Before long, the prophetic warnings of the ending of the territorial kingdom were fulfilled.
Dramatically, the story tells how shortly before the destruction of the Hebrew kingdom of Judah, servants of King Josiah found an old law book that triggered a reform movement that sought to reinstate observance of Torah. The reforms did not prevent the destruction of the kingdom, but they did provide the key element that allowed the community to sustain its identity—which from then on was to be a people centered around Torah that would be scattered widely, not a people in a particular territorial kingdom.
So, the meaning of the Conquest became not a story of the permanent founding of a territorial kingdom requiring profound violence at the start and on-going violence to sustain its existence. Rather, the Conquest is the beginning of the story of a path that proved to be a dead end. The promise remained in effect, but its sustenance became non-territorial, centered around the practice of Torah in communities where the people of faith were often a relatively powerless minority in relation to the wider society. So the peaceable meaning of the Conquest story is that territorial conquest and a territorial kingdom are not ever again going to be part of God’s healing strategy.
Jesus seems to have embraced this change of focus when he proclaimed as his central message the presence of God’s kingdom as a decidedly non-territorial kingdom—that would be constituted of scattered communities of faith that did not require violence for their sustenance. A kingdom of peace. Jesus, the new “Joshua,” rejected violent conquest when tempted by Satan at the beginning of his ministry. Instead, he offered a vision echoing the call that Jeremiah made to the people of the promise to seek the peace of the city where they lived (Jer 29:7)—to embody nonviolence. Jesus was not apolitical and only concerned about getting people to heaven. But his politics were the flexible, resilient politics of witness to God’s will for humanity through local communities of faith in nations that they did not govern.
The Bible and peace
What I have all too briefly sketched above is a reading strategy that takes as its starting point the conviction that the Bible as a whole presents God as a loving and healing God whose justice seeks to restore wholeness in human relationships with God, each other, and the natural world. The coherence of this understanding of God and the Bible does not depend upon a perfect harmony where each part of the Bible directly supports the whole. We may accept the presence of counter-images and seek to learn from those “problematic” texts.
However, the plot is clear, and from the very beginning we find testimony to God’s peaceable character and intentions for humanity. The Bible presents the life of faith as being a process of choosing among various options for understanding what’s most important in life—some options contribute to the healing project of God and some do not. The process of choosing appropriately requires wisdom, collaboration with other people of faith, and the willingness to turn away from paths that lead to brokenness—even when turning is difficult.
The choices also involve discernment into the teachings and stories of the Bible. How might we use the Bible as a resource for peace and not for brokenness? That God’s people have made wrong choices about how to read the Bible is shown within the Big Story itself—and certainly is visible in the past 2,000 years. Simply saying that we believe in the authority of Bible is not enough to assure that we choose the healing path over the path of brokenness. I believe, though, that when we read the Bible in light of the message of Jesus and with confidence that the Bible indeed does guide us toward wholeness when we let it, we will perceive the Bible’s Big Story and be empowered to move toward peace.
———–
The first two parts to this three part series responding to Boyd’s Cross Vision:
Part One: Boyd’s Argument
Part Two: An Assessment
 
 

Syndicated from Thinking Pacifism

Loving In The Loser’s Club: The Gospel According To Stephen King’s IT

“A frightening possibility suddenly occurred to him: maybe sometimes things didn’t just go wrong and then stop; maybe sometimes they just kept going wronger and wronger until everything was totally fucked up.”
“OH SHIT! I BELIEVE IN ALL OF THOSE THINGS!” he shouted, and it was true: even at eleven he had observed that things turned out right a ridiculous amount of the time.”
“There was power in that music, a power which seemed to most rightfully belong to all the skinny kids, fat kids, ugly kids, shy kids—the world’s losers, in short.”

One of my favorite things about Autumn is October because, well, Halloween. I mean, Hallowen. HALLO-FREAKING-WEEN. As I wrote elsewhere, I believe Halloween can be observed in a very Christocentric manner, all month long.
My main way to observe this sacred time has been to reread through Stephen King’s masterpiece, IT, once again. I cannot rave about this book enough. If you are even vaguely interested in reading it, please for the love of everything holy and uholy, read it. Haha, get it? IT. What’s that? Puns are evil? Nah.. oh.. okay..
If you haven’t read IT and are still interested in reading this post, please check out this brief plot summary so as to make sense of this gibberish I’m conveying. However, if you’ve seen the original film adaptation, that should be sufficient. If you’ve only seen the first part of the recent remake, be aware there are spoilers ahead.
There are many themes I would love to draw out, but for the sake of brevity let’s tie some random threads together and hope we acquire something sensible! Seriously, though, this book conveys many beautiful truths: the Christocentric gospel, mimetic theory, death anxiety,  and the centrality of love (here I mean agape, not eros) in living a satisfactory life. To name a few.
The first thing I’d like to point out about this book is that Stephen King manipulates the ‘haunted house’ horror trope. He expands this common microcosm from haunted house to haunted town (ie: Derry). Pennywise doesn’t live in a house, It lives in Derry.  Pennywise appears to be an almost omnipresent being in Derry. It can appear just about anytime and anywhere. Derry is Its town – one could say It owns Derry. It influences people and events. In this way, Pennywise is symbolic of the zeitgeist of a town. Now, the dictionary definition of zeitgeist reads as such:

the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time

and while I am using it in this way, I’d like to expand a bit. The zeitgeist is not simply covering a particular period of history, although it certainly embodies that. It can also mean the cultural atmosphere of any place, period of time, or group of people . For example, here are some questions that can get at the zeitgeist of one’s workplace: how casual is one permitted to dress, what goals does one’s workplace have and how does it seek to implement them, and what are the policies for showing up early or late? In relatively simple terms, I’m referring to culture. On a smaller scale this means the culture of a house, a workplace, a family, a person (ie: one’s psyche and way of thinking). On a larger scale, this could look like a county, a state, a nation, a non-geographically connected group of people.
The thing about culture is it is very real, and many ways even tangible, but it is often overlooked. People live in it, and often follow its mandates, without consciously thinking, “I’m obeying the rules of my culture.” Those who don’t obey get punished whether most explicitly via prison, mental asylums, or social stigmatization. Most people do not go through life self-examining themselves to choose what they want to consciously absorb and meld into and what they don’t. People just go with the flow.
Some, though, consciously follow the rules for fear of being cast out. They may theoretically disagree with an aspect of their culture, but we live in the postmodern age, and who knows what the hell is right…right? Let’s just do this thing, or go with this motion – why stir the pot and be looked down upon?
This is Pennywise. It manipulates Derry through apathetic ignorance and fear, just like the zeitgeist. Pennywise is simultaneously Adolf Hitler and Adolf Eichmann. It is in-your-face evil, but It is also the type of evil that apathetically pushes papers and blindly follows orders, irregardless of compassion and empathy.  It is not mere malice, it is willful ignorance, which, I would argue, is just as heinous.

“I started after him…and the clown looked back. I saw Its eyes, and all at
once I understood who It was.”
“Who was it, Don?” Harold Gardner asked softly.
“It was Derry,” Don Hagarty said. “It was this town.”

See, almost all of the residents of Derry ignore Its presence. It is implied they are all very well aware of It, but they refuse to really acknowledge It, think about It, talk about It. They quite literally just live with It. But they can’t just ignore the mass murder of children. They have to put the blame on someone or something, even if that blame is not directly or consciously related to the initial problem. In other words, the people of Derry conjure up some form of scapegoat.
This sort of thing plays out everyday in a multitude of ways. On a microcosmic scale, imagine a father having a terribly stressful day at work, not dealing with the problem directly and consciously, but instead taking out his frustrations on his unassuming child. The child becomes the scapegoat for something unrelated to him, and the father’s stress may be relieved (sort of…not to speak of the guilt that should come from within). On a macrocosmic scale, one need only look at the current state of American politics – we have two generalized political bodies blaming the other for seemingly every problem in the nation state. It’s scapegoating on a broader scale.
More specifically I am referring to the Mimetic Theory proposed by Rene Girard. If you are unfamiliar, please read here. Briefly, the scapegoat functions as the guilty person/party, whether directly involved with the issue at hand or not. The scapegoat may be a person of blemish, embarrassment, quirkiness, etc… they just have to be an easy target which the larger body of people can unify against. In Christian theology, the scapegoat is Jesus Christ. On a practical, socio-politic-historical level, the political powers of His day (ie: Caesar) and the religious authorities (ie: the Pharisees, Sadducees, etc…) used Jesus’ crucifixion as a means to unify the people in the midst of political and religious crisis. On a theological metanarrative level, the Trinitarian God lets humanity kill Him in order that His love may be known, and the absurdity of violence and vengeance is shown. In other words, Jesus Christ functions as the scapegoat for humanity’s own self-inflicted harm. However, unlike other scapegoats, the victimization of Jesus Christ leads to the eventual end of violence and the absolution of sin, therefore ending the need for a scapegoat mechanism.
Now, in Stephen King It, the scapegoat just happens to be The Loser’s Club. As stated above, this scapegoat process is hardly conscious. There isn’t the clear and coherent thought: “We have to ignore Pennywise, but deal with this problem. Let’s indirectly take out our frustrations and qualms with the inhumane aspects of our zeitgeist (personified in Pennywise) on these weird kids.” I’d like to point out, as well, that The Loser’s Club may not be the only scapegoats. Because the narrative is centralized around this group of people, they are the scapegoats given, but that does not mean they are the only people of blemish in Derry. For example, King writes that Derry is extremely hostile to the LGBTQ+ population. This group of people are also scapegoats in Derry’s zeitgeist.
The Loser’s Club consists of a ragtag band of outcast kids who all have some sort of turmoil or social abnormality that makes them just not quite…right. These social quirks make them easy targets. Many would consider them to be a curse – but it is these very oddities that bring The Loser’s Club together in the first place. They bond over them, gain the strength to face Pennywise, and learn to love themselves and each other in the process. (Blessed are the persecuted.) The Loser’s Club comes together over their own insecurities and abnormalities to form a community. This community is guided by the gentle voice of the Turtle. The Turtle appears to be an omniscient Being of benevolence. The Turtle occasionally steps in to guide and assist The Loser’s Club toward agape love and victory of evil personified. The Turtle represents the Trinity, especially the Holy Spirit.
In Christian theology, the Holy Spirit guides humanity toward truth, holiness, and love. The Turtle in It does the same, and while I think this comparison is the biggest stretch I provide in this analysis, I still think it works. Some Christians may argue it is a bit blasphemous because the emphasis in the narrative is obviously on the power of love as found in The Loser’s Club and the Turtle is only in the background helping out. The kid’s do not explicitly worship the Turtle, and care far more about loving those around them. But that’s just it – Christ himself calls the Church his body, and therefore any true agape love found in the Church is also the love of Christ manifested on Earth.
Which leads me to my next point: The Loser’s Club is the Church. Now, you may be thinking, “hold on a minute. You’re comparing the scapegoat, outcast, loser group with one of the most powerful religions in the history of mankind?” but just bear with me a second. I do not in any way mean the powerful church, lower case c. I mean the Church, capital C.
Okay, that probably doesn’t clear things up all that much. I’m sorry. What I mean is that I believe the Church is always powerless. If the Church has political power or privilege, it is not the Church, just some piece-o-shit sham. In fact, that church is Pennywise. A modern day example: Pennywise embodies many aspects of the American Evangelical Church movement. This movement, culture, zeitgeist, is full of middle/upper class, white privileged, cisgender, powerful men and blindly submissive women that knowingly (or often more common: willfully and blindly) use their power to oppress many groups of people and spit in the face of Christ. Now, I’m not saying that if you or someone you know considers themselves to be an Evangelical in America that they (or you) are equivalent with Pennywise. But I’m definitely saying there is some truth to the claim that, by and large, American Evangelicalism is heinous, blasphemous, and evil.
Before you flip and get pissed at my statement, I’m not saying that other forms of Christianity aren’t evil, either. I’m pinpointing a group of people I myself am a part of. I’m not singling it out to, well.. scapegoat it. I’m using American Evangelicalism as an example because I am well acquainted with it, and feel more comfortable critiquing my own circle than another’s.
But what does this mean for the real Church? The real Church is, according to the precepts of the ‘world,’ powerless. It is all those Christians who consciously attempt non-conformance to the evils found in the institution of Christianity. It is those who refuse to simply go through the motions to make themselves feel better – to numb themselves with the opiate of the masses, as Marx so eloquently put it. Those actively working against the principalities and powers of the zeitgeist – they are Its explicit enemies. But they don’t work against people, they work for people, all people, seeking the reconciliation of everyone.
The real Church is often oppressed, sometimes willfully so. Oppressed not by “happy holidays,” or some non-existent Islamic overlord, but by choosing to live with the oppressed. The real Church works to end the oppression of peoples everywhere, all the while taking residence with them, if the oppressed are so willing to accept them into their community. The real Church gives up its power to become one with the powerless. The real Church is a co-suffering Loser’s Club. And just like the Loser’s Club, the real Church flips the principalities and powers on their head to reveal it holds true Power, thanks to the co-suffering love given by the Trinity.
The Loser’s Club overcomes the evil of Pennywise twice. The first time is while the members are children. During this period they defeat It, but don’t kill It. However, they hope it is over and finished. They promise each other if It ever comes back, they will reunite and fight It again. Almost 30 years pass, and It resurfaces as strong as ever. They reunite and fight It, of course succeeding because, c’mon, all you need is (co-suffering) love.
All this is sweet and thematic, but the thing I’d really like to point out here is the 30 year gap. King tells us that The Loser’s Club almost completely forget about It as they ‘mature’ into adulthood. Only one original member stays in Derry, and while he does his best to remember and stay vigilant, he eventually forgets. The perspectives of all members as adults are shown to us one by one. Some of them appear content while others appear discontent. All of them are comfortable though – even those in abusive relationships. They are comfortable in what they know, or refuse to admit. But none of them remember any of the others, and life has completely moved on.
Until Pennywise’s activity is made aware to Mike by the Turtle. Once Mike remembers he reluctantly phones each of them. The individual club members are forced out of apathy to confront the zeitgeist, to confront the true way the world works. It wrecks one of them, driving him to the point of suicide. He simply couldn’t deal with the difficult journey of non-conformity.  The rest forcibly move out of the comfort of their blind stagnant lives, and decide to face the current.
But for about 30 freaking years they conformed. They grew into the adults society told them they should be. Self-absorbed, afraid, loveless (agape-less). Despite a very explicit face-to-face victory against evil incarnate, they succumbed to blind ignorance. They assumed one battle, one victory was enough. But that’s not how the zeitgeist works. Evil is paradoxically constant and malleable. As soon as it is conquered (if it ever truly is this side of life), it manifests itself anew. This is why political revolutions just never work. The Church always trips up here. It justifiably stops to celebrate a victory, but quickly gets lost in said victory and loses focus. It quickly conforms to the status quo and trots forward.
Herein lies one of the most important lessons of King’s masterpiece: as a unified group, we are able to maintain our focus. We are able to encourage each other to keep moving, to stay the course. Separated, we become weaker, the temptation toward apathy grows stronger, and we lose sight of everything we once strove for. Agape becomes impossible if we are isolated – there is no one to love.
The other important bit we cannot forget lest our undoing ensue is found in a simple quote from It:

“Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”

The point is we are all, always, a little bit apathetic, a little bit compassionate. A little bit evil, a little bit good. One may outweigh the other at a given point in time, but we are ever-moving creatures, always growing, always changing. We are nuanced and beautiful, even at our worst. The person you have demonized as evil is still a person, there is still some good in there somewhere. The person you have glorified as divine is still a person, there is still some evil in there somewhere.
In the novel, people are not the problem that must be overcome. The evil is Pennywise. As stated above, Pennywise is the zeitgeist incarnate. Evil manifested. One must work to lovingly change and challenge the cultural zeitgeist of one’s place. One must fight those things, not people. Love people. Our enemies are institutions, principalities, cultures. Our enemy is Pennywise. Not the people It manipulates. People are always precious. No nuance about that.
While King himself may not agree with this interpretation, and while I have taken some liberties, this shows only a fraction of why I love this piece of literature so friggin’ much.  It’s the gospel in horror narrative form. Many Christians I know find it to be abhorrent, find horror and Halloween to be abhorrent. They’re missing out.
Perhaps they’re too blind to see that

“…God favors drunks, small children, and the cataclysmically stoned…”

 
Peace be unto you this spooky season. May you learn to overcome the ego and the fear of death so as to truly live a life in and for Love.

Syndicated from Interdependently Independent

Whose Suffering?

This is an excerpt from a sermon preached on October 7, 2018.   Job 1-2:1-10 While the question of why people suffer is at the heart of Job, there is another question I’ve been thinking about as I read the first two chapters of Job this week. I’ve been thinking about this question because our…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

A Prayer during Hearings for Supreme Court Nominees Accused of Sexual Assault

The Sunday after Christine Blasey Ford’s Senate testimony and the public re-traumatizing of all survivors of sexual assault in the U.S., my congregation, like many others, was hurting, confused, struggling, trying, wondering, searching for words. We spent some time in prayer, and this is the prayer I offered (as best I remember it):

 
Please join me in a time of silence for victims and survivors of sexual assault.
 
 
 
 
God we give thanks for the silence-breakers.
God we give thanks for the women who are survivors of sexual assault.
God we give thanks for the men who are survivors of sexual assault.
God we give thanks for the trans and gender-nonconforming people who are survivors, in so many ways.
Make our churches instruments of healing and recovery.
Teach us to lament. To listen to the laments of survivors.
We pray that we will have softer ears,
that we will become better listeners to survivors,
that we will learn to center the stories of survivors
and in doing so to create a more just world.
May we enter the public dialogue
practicing support and advocating for survivors.
May we speak healing and, when we make mistakes,
as we inevitably will in our attempts to learn justice, give us
the courage to learn from them and become better allies and better disciples.
And all God’s people said: I believe women.
Congregation: I believe women.
And all God’s people said: I believe survivors.
Congregation: I believe survivors.
Amen.

Syndicated from gathering the stones

Jesus and the Kavanaugh Appointment

I am inclined to believe the allegations of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez against Brett Kavanaugh. Ultimately, though, I do not know what happened between Kavanaugh and these women, so I can’t speak about him or these incidents with any authority. What I do know for certain is that much of the rhetoric…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

Believe in Something

So it seems Nike’s new 3oth anniversary ad campaign featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick is causing a bit of a stir today. Kaepernick is, of course, famous for his decision to kneel during the American national anthem before a football game to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Kapernick has been unable to land an NFL job since then. He is currently pursuing a grievance of collusion against the league and its owners who he says are keeping him out of the league because of their displeasure with his protests and his politics.
At any rate, the Nike campaign contains an image of Kaepernick with the following line:
Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.
Predictably, this has had a rather polarizing effect (is there any other kind of effect that something can have in the digital age?) out there in the world—everything from breathless affirmations of celebrity support to people burning their Nike shoes or cutting the famous swoosh out of their apparel. Kaepernick’s anthem protests have been a lightning rod for a variety of issues in these politically charged days—everything from the nature of patriotism to racial justice to the limits of free speech—and this ad campaign certainly seems poised to ratchet things up another notch.
My interest, perhaps predictably, is with the line in the ad itself. Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. It sounds pretty courageous and admirable, particularly if you’re inclined to generally agree with Kaepernick’s politics, which I am. But of course, if we actually move beyond the emotions that the image and the words have been engineered to stir up in us and analyze the words themselves, things descend into incoherence rather quickly.
Believe in “something?” Like what? Anything? Alt-right white supremacy? That the earth is flat? That our chaotic cultural moment has been engineered by Russian bots? That professional football should be banned due to its contribution to brain injuries? That pro sports in general is an idolatrous expression of a cultural sickness? That polygamy ought to be allowed as a concession to individual freedom? That Jesus Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead? I’m guessing that there at least a few things that Nike isn’t terribly interested in people believing, no matter how much we’re willing to lose for believing them.
And what about the “Even if it means sacrificing everything” part? Surely, we don’t have to think too hard to come up with examples of people who have lost everything—even their very lives—for beliefs that we would not be anxious to validate. Suicide bombers come to mind as the most obvious example, but there are all kinds of people who have lost family, friends, money, status, jobs, reputations for believing in things that many of us would consider certifiably insane. Being willing to sacrifice everything for your beliefs isn’t  necessarily the most reliable indicator of the merits of said beliefs.
Believe in something, even if it costs you everything. Well, yeah, maybe. Sometimes. I guess it depends on the beliefs. The Nike ad is, of course, a symptom of the confusion that characterizes our cultural moment. Believe whatever you want as long as you believe it sincerely. And as long as it fits within the boundaries of what is deemed socially acceptable by the drivers of mass media. I suppose that’s a bit clunky for a billboard.
I’m probably expecting too much (accuracy and consistency) from an advertising campaign slogan. Nike is selling athletic apparel, for heaven’s sakes, not trying to pass an exam in an introductory logic course! Except, well, they’re not just trying to sell stuff. Advertisers shape and reflect public consciousness in ways many of us are probably barely aware of. So maybe it’s not so bad to occasionally take a step back and say, “You sure about that? Is that really what we want to say?”

Syndicated from Rumblings

On Departing from the Script

The first thing I did this morning was trudge off to the post office with two very important documents to be sent by express post to the National SCIS Processing Unit of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. An SCIS is a “Secure Certificate of Indian Status,” otherwise known as a Treaty Status Card. Our kids have had Treaty Status numbers since birth, but we’ve not bothered to get an actual card until now. Adulthood and post-secondary studies loom ever more immediately on their horizons and, well, we’re rather keen to secure them whatever financial benefits they’re entitled to going forward.
The second thing I did this morning was answer a call from someone wondering if I was listening to CBC Radio. “You’d find it interesting,” they said. I went online and started listening. Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien was being interviewed and he apparently had some interesting things to say about his time as the Liberal government’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs. He had pursued some unpopular options at the time, including “The White Paper” which was a Canadian government policy paper that attempted to abolish previous legal documents pertaining to Indigenous peoples in Canada, including the Indian Act and treaties, and assimilate all Indian peoples under the Canadian state. That’s the kind of thing that might get you drawn and quartered in today’s political and discursive climate!
It was a fascinating conversation to this point, to say the least. But my ears really perked up when the host asked Chretien about his own son, Michel. Chretien and his wife Aline adopted Michel, an Inuit, in 1970. “How do you process conversations about white parents adopting native children in light of what’s been uncovered by the TRC, etc?” the host asked him. Chretien responded by refusing to even discuss the TRC. Instead, he said that at the time of his own adoption he was told by the chief up in the northern community where Michel comes from, that people will take any baby except an Indian boy. “Indian girls, Latin American kids, African kids, Chinese kids, no problem. But nobody wants to take Indian boys.”
Jean and Aline Chretien said, “We’ll adopt an Indian boy.”
It hasn’t been an easy road for Michel (now 49) or for Jean and Aline. I did a quick google search and found a number of articles itemizing Michel’s brushes with the law over the years. Drugs, alcohol, sexual assault charges, prison time… the list is not pretty viewing. The host on the radio program mentioned this history to Chretien—“You’ve stuck by Michel through some hard times.” Chretien, now in his eighties, responded simply, “It’s what a mother and a father do, what a mother and a father should do.”
I was in high school when Jean Chretien became Prime Minister of Canada. I recall that he was something of a laughingstock to this mostly ignorant teenager and his friends. We made fun of his French accent and the way his face was partially paralyzed by an attack of Bells Palsy in his youth. I had uncritically assimilated most of the anti-Quebec, anti-Eastern rhetoric that drifted around rural Alberta in those days (and today) and Chretien was a perfect lighting rod for all this. To top it all off, he was a liberal, which was almost as bad as being from Eastern Canada back then. He was a figure that was easy to ridicule and dismiss.
I grew up a little during Chretien’s three terms in office. I left behind a lot of the ignorance, stupidity, and cruelty of my youth. I grew to appreciate Chretien a little more, but to be honest I cared little about politics for most of my early adulthood and I didn’t know much more about the man himself when I sat down to listen to the interview this morning than I did as a teenager. Needless to say, my perspective changed over the course of the fifteen minutes or so that I listened to Chretien discussing Indigenous issues and his own family’s story.
I’ve been thinking about these things this morning as my precious SCIS documents make their way to Gatineau, Quebec for processing. I feel somewhat conflicted. I wonder if I am a hypocrite for trying to secure financial benefits for my kids from a system that, like Chretien, I’m not at all convinced is good for Indigenous people. It feels kind of mercenary. But then, I also think that these status cards represent a direct connection to their band, their history, their culture. They are an acknowledgment that Canada has obligations to indigenous people, however inefficiently and inconsistently these obligations have historically been understood and acted upon.
I wonder about Michel Chretien. I wonder if the dark roads he has wandered down are direct evidence, as some say it is, of what happens when non-indigenous parents raise indigenous kids. I wonder what gives people the right to draw straight lines like that. I know plenty of parents who have agonized over their biological prodigals. And the older I get, the more suspicious I am of straight lines and easy explanations anyway. Particularly when it comes to a human life, a human family. It’s so easy to make summary judgments from the outside. It’s so easy to be ignorant, stupid, or cruel.
Most of all, though, I am full of admiration for Jean and Aline Chretien. For taking an Indian boy that nobody else wanted. For standing by him when few else would. For departing from the script. For doing what fathers and mothers should do because they love their children.
Image source

Syndicated from Rumblings

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