postmodern blackness in ABC’s #Blackish @black_ishABC

This week I found great relevance in Tony Purvis’ article on postmodernism and television in The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism. In one of the opening statements of the chapter, he states that television is praised and censured for its ability to be the site of fantasy, ecstasy and pleasure. Ultimately the piece helped me to reflect on the question of whether or not television is still the site through which consensus norms and values are transmitted, as they were in the period of television’s modernity. I recently watched a series on ABC called Black-ish, which by its very titled screamed postdmodernism to me. I decided to use this show as a medium to provide my own analysis of postmodernism and television.

Image from Deadline.com

The very title of the series speaks to the complexities of the present in both the series and in the field of postmodernism. The title refers to a characteristic of not being a stereotyped urban black person or an urban black person with non-urban characteristics. This sets the background for the series. The show revolves around the lead character Andre Johnson and his family as they try to adjust to life in the suburbs. Through its treatment of cultural identity, postmodern subjectivity, and the generic boundaries of hybridization, the show Black-ish can be read in a postmodern context.

One aspect of postmodernity that recognizable in the show is its ability to blur generic boundaries of hybridization. It playfully makes use of self-referential preoccupation with the inner thought of Andre. Truth and falsehood are manufactured in various ways on the show. Thus it scantily totes the line between reality and Andre’s perception of reality. For example, on the first episode Andre feels like an animal at an exhibit as neighbors stare at his family as they pass by. This is clearly an example of how Andre’s thoughtful imagination influences the show. Yet there is no event to counter this reality. Thus it blurs the line between what is real and what is perceived as real by not clearly indicating a difference.

Realizing the plurality of perspectives is evident through many of different voice on the show. Andre and his father have different interpretations on what it means to black in a suburban setting. Simultaneously, Andre’s wife Rainbow and their children also have different interpretations of blackness. Laurence Fishburn’s character juxtasposes yet another example of blackness. Fishburn’s character plays the live-in father of Andre. He represents many of the traditional notions of blackness derived from the Civil Rights movement and its subsequent social impact.

They (the family) struggle to gain a sense of cultural identity in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class neighborhood. Black-ish for them refers to the ways that they have to redefine what it means to black in under a different social context. In the very first episode Andre is promoted to the Senior Vice President of Urban development. At first this promotion irritates him because he associates Urban Development with “minority stuff.” For his first project he submits to the other senior vice president his intention for urban development, which fit basically every conceivable stereotype for urban. By the end of the episode however he realizes that there is no one interpretation for the concept of urban. Urban only implies “minority stuff” if that is the way you choose to interpret it. Thus postmodern subjectivity is involved even in how the show defines itself. I think it is critical to understand that the show does not conceive of one definition of blackness and what it means to black under any context.

G.R.R.

Godaime Raikage Richard. Sociology of Religion. Japanime. Sports. Liberation. Brother of h00die_R.

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The Luxury of Liberation part 2: Womanism, salvation & beyond

Continuing from last week’s theme of examining the role of black women in the shaping of African American political theology I again explore further dimension create theology that moves beyond liberation. This week we move to the second half of Delores Williams work explicating a womanist view of Christian theology. One of her major points again is to pose a critique of traditional Black Liberation Theology: that is to say while the traditional male-centered discourse of Black Liberation Theology is centered on masculine understandings of liberation, womanist discourse is focused on survival. As folk wisdom in the black community states brothers “dream dreams” but “ the sisters have the vision.” This can be restated to say that often times male-centered black liberation theology has been concerned more with the ideal world, while women have been more concerned with practical world and how to survive in the here & now. This principle has been pivotal in the role that African American women have played in political theology. If Rosa Parks did not sit first, Martin Luther King Jr’s marching would not have been as effective. If Ida Wells Barnett did not count the black bodies that were lynched throughout the United States, there would not be such a comprehensive record of this. Moving beyond this schism that separates womanist from Black liberation theology are the religious claims that Williams pursue in the second part of Sisters in the Wilderness. The second half of her book expounds upon the notion of womanist God-talk. It follows up on some of the implication of the first half by bringing the concern of African American women into theological discourse and into Christological discourse.

For Williams, a re-conceptualizing the Christian narrative begins with changing the axiom of the traditionally male-centered story of salvation. In both Matthew and Luke the stories begin by proclaiming the patrilineal heritage of Jesus and thus showing the importance of the maleness of Jesus a Savior. However, Williams wants to begin this narrative from the perspective of Jesus’ mother, Mary. Thus Mary can become the starting point for the divine revelation of Jesus Christ. She points to the first chapter of Luke as the starting point of this narrative. In verse 35 the Holy Spirit comes upon her and she is overshadowed by God’s power. Mary is a poor pregnant teenager who suffers from a variety of vulnerabilities. Yet she has one thing going for her, that she is filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary in this context is a figure that marginalized women across the globe can identify with. By virtue of first associating Jesus with his mother first he also becomes more easily identifiable with marginalized groups. This interpretation of Mary is not a recent construction however.


The nineteenth-century abolitionist Sojourner Truth used this story to counter white male-centered narratives that sought to deny women their rights. The preacher claimed that women could not have rights because Jesus was not a woman. Truth famously claims “Where did your God come from. God and Woman, man had nothing to do with it.” This statement seems simple enough yet it has deep and ranging theological implications. It sheds light on the inseparability of the divinity of God and the divinity of womanhood in creating what we know as our savior. Also the notion of the virgin birth seems to suggest God’s ability to make a way out of no way. Imagine the uncertainty the Mary must have felt and her struggle just to survive. Not only does God make a way out of no way, God uses her most desperate situation to begin the salvific work for all of humanity. Williams re-conceptualization of the salvific narrative de-center the maleness of Christology and provides hope for the many women who cannot identify with traditional understandings of the salvific narrative.

G.R.R.

Godaime Raikage Richard. Sociology of Religion. Japanime. Sports. Liberation. Brother of h00die_R.

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A Crisis of Masculinity: a guest post by @ethawyn

Kevin is a theology student at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. He has a BA in Philosophy, dabbles in art, and has a passion for all things sci-fi. He’s also a High Church Anglican with a Pentecostal past that he’s sometimes proud of. When not writing guest posts for Political Jesus, he blogs over at Many Horizons

Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence

We have a crisis of masculinity, but it’s probably not the one you think. If you’re a complementarian, or hang out around complementarian circles, then you’ve probably heard the notion that the church has a masculinity crisis: our version of Christianity isn’t ‘manly’ enough. Our wider world, however, is awash with hopped up masculinity, reveling in myths of men who get it done with fists and fortitude. From Hollywood films where a good-hearted bad-ass (often Liam Neeson) plays a husband/father/other who gets revenge and saves the day, to the rhetoric of blood and honor on the sports field, we revel in the notion of man as warrior. This is the true crisis of masculinity.

Let me tell you two stories, both true.

The first you’ve probably at least caught wind of. On Febuary 15, 2014, NFL running back Ray Rice beat his fiancée unconscious. Initial video showed her being dragged out of an elevator. Before the full video was released, a lot of voices came out calling for caution in judgment. After all, they said, we don’t have the whole story; she might have done something to provoke it.(1) Even the NFL itself acted, until the full video was released to the public, as if there might be some extenuating circumstances

The other story comes from a year ago. On the 26th of April, 2013, a man by the name of Earl Silverman committed suicide. Silverman had been an advocate for men’s rights, and ran the only shelter in Canada for male victims of domestic abuse. He had run it out of his own pocket, unable to get funding from either government or private donations.(2) This lack of shelters for male victims of violence is despite the fact that men and women are almost equally likely to face domestic abuse and violence.(3) Male victims also underreport violence (7% report it versus 23% of women who do).

These two events have something in common. On the one hand, we have a man committing a horrible act of violence, with the reaction in some quarters being to justify his abuse. On the other hand, you have male victims of domestic abuse, who society fails to provide support for, and who often themselves fail to seek help. At the root of both of these problems is the same twisted notion of masculinity.

If men are warriors, rugged creatures of fortitude who fight to make the world right, then it is reasonable for us to expect them to fight. The only moral question is how they deploy that violence (so that the question becomes “Was he justified in beating his fiancée unconscious?”). Conversely, funding is unavailable to help male victims because men who suffer abuse are mocked or discounted because of the expectation that they should be warriors who can overcome this problem themselves. Even the victims have bought into this picture and so fail in massive numbers to seek help.

This is truly a crisis of masculinity, and the crisis is that our culture has perverse and wicked vision of what men should be. It is certainly not the vision of the victorious man we see on the cross. Our God and savior hung there naked and ashamed for the salvation of us all. In contrast, think of Peter, who like the Hollywood bad-ass took up a sword to protect his own, and was rebuked by Jesus. The contrast is telling.

There is great danger in taking on our culture’s perverse vision of masculinity and Christianizing it. Too often, we are deeply concerned to appeal to the masculinity of men who are leaving the church, rather than being willing to challenge the sin masquerading as manhood. In a culture that glorifies male violence, we ought to be very cautious about using images like warrior knights to describe what we think men ought to be.

Men should be allowed to be victims who need rescue (we all, after all, needing rescue from sin by our God), and perhaps we should be okay with women sometimes be the rescuers.

(1) Matt Saccaro, “‘It Wasn’t Ray Rice’s Fault’: The Sick, Twisted Logic of Men’s Rights Activists on Domestic Violence,” last modified September 9, 2014, accessed September 25, 2014,

(2) The Huffington Post Canada, “Earl Silverman Dead: Owner Of Shelter For Male Domestic Abuse Victims In Apparent Suicide,” The Huffington Post, last modified April 29, 2013, accessed September 25, 2014 .

(3) Statistics Canada, “Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile,” last modified January 9, 2013, accessed September 25, 2014.

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Spiritual Warfare & Demonic Strongholds: Unclean Spirits/Mental Demons Pt. 2

Content note: brief mention of suicide

So in the last post I tackled mental/emotional issues, most specifically depression, as demonic strongholds that are often symptomatic of our fallen world that is external to us and bound to produce such a heavy , demonic burden on the mind. In today’s post, I want to take it a bit further to the manifestations of mental demons –> i.e. spiritual warfare, and it’s more all-encompassing than just depression.

8Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. ”

1 Peter 5:8

 

As I stated in my introductory post for this series, I wanted to explore/use media and pop-culture to illustrate some of these ideas. There are two souls that I wish that more folks knew when it came to film/animation: Satoshi Kon & Darren Aronofsky.

Satoshi Kon.jpg(Satoshi Kon)

The late Satoshi Kon ( died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer) was a prominent  film director and animator and had a penchant for making some of the most surreal animted cartoons (anime) ever to hit TV and silver screens. His emphasis on human consciousness, the blurred lines between reality and dreams, and the ability of the invidual to relate to the outside world are some of his most recurring themes. Some of his most influential work includes the likes of Tokyo Godfathers, Millenial Actress, Paprika and Paranoia Agent. For today’s post, I will focus on Paranoia Agent.

Without spoiling too much, Paranoia Agent is a 13-episode show in which a pair of detectives are charged with uncovering  and finding the identity of “little slugger”, serial attacker/ killer. As the name of the show might suggest, however, the detectives, throughout the show begin to realize something rather perplexing about the nature of the serial tormentor- he may not actually exist, at least not in physical reality. Soon enough, after several episodes in and victims revealed, you begin to realize the unifying theme of all of the “lil slugger’ attacks: he seems to attack those in situations of immense emotional vulnerability – in times where reality seems to be so burdensome,  that the victim, rather than dealing with the situation, the lil slugger comes roller-blading right along with his golden baseball bat to strike the victim and place them out of their misery. The victims typically don’t die but they are unconscious and afterwards, they are more sober-minded. It is suggested throughout the show that the lil-slugger is actually not real but nothing more than a neurotic defense mechanism to protect the victim’s ego from being overwhelmed from outside attack.

Now, this may seem like a random selection at this point, but what I adore about the way Satoshi Kon wrote and conceived of this show is that the Lil Slugger simply is not physically real, rather he prowls around, seeking someone to devour. Preying on the emotionally vulnerable is lil-slugger’s technique and seems awfully similar to how scripture warns of the devil’s behavior.

This of course gets increasingly interesting when we think of the lives of those who are oppressed, systematically. Who else is more emotionally vulnerable than the meek and the poor in spirit? Perhaps this explains the rampant drug abuse/addiction., sex abuse/addiction, etc. we see in oppressed communities of color, especially , something to put them out of their misery. This of course has clear echoes to my last post , as some will sadly seek to do this through suicide. One thing I’ve always loved about Jesus, especially growing up in the pentecostal tradition, is that He is not some nifty narcotic and shot to our vains , He forces us to DEAL with our issues through the power of forgiveness and the refining fire of the holy spirit (Holy Ghost Fire, us pentecostals like to say) , he deals with the unclean spirit and fights and overcomes.

Next time.. I will dive into Darren Aronofsky’s portrayal of a demonic stronghold many are far too familair with – drugs. Til’s next time ;)

 

Harry

Like a Lotus: Born into the murky, muddy waters I was, l ived, I breathed In awe of starry veil above me and the verdant radiance around me I gazed, I glowed, I gasped Striken with gale winds I braced, I fell, I felt Like a dove He descendeth He is, He lives, He breathes Like a lotus summoned by the sun’s rays I opened, I blossomed, I live

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The Good News about God’s Emotions. And Ours.

More thoughts On The Patristics, Divine Apatheia, & Divine Freedom

Content Note: brief discussion of depression

When I was a teenager, I battled depression for several years. I was unaware of God’s purpose for my life, I had few friends. I really didn’t go out that much. I struggled to reign in my emotions especially whenever my parents’ divorce was brought up. I was disappointed in ecclesial bodies and equally frustrated with the law system. At one point I was desperate, and I had no idea what to do. My mother suggested I read this book, and so I did. The first step I had to take was to recognize I was depressed, and admit that I needed the LORD’s help. While that particular book was a nice step in the right direction, it was actually a Bible passage that helped me to learn how to control my emotions rather than they control me:

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

– Isaiah 40:28-31

But really, reading and memorizing the last half of that chapter was life-changing, and I consider my experience, that summer after my sophomore year, to be one of my many conversion experiences. I really did feel like I was a new person. My Bible reading in the morning had a rather narrow focus on Bible passages that dealt with joy Yes, I even had Nehemiah 8:10 referenced on the cover of my High School Year book:

schs yrbook1

While I loved politics and U.S. government class and student council and all that jazz, in my inner-life I was oddly fascinated by celestial realities, what would it be like when I got to heaven. This was the only form of Christianity I knew, and while I was friendlier and happier, I was also just as distant from others. It’s difficult to relate to others who have real world concerns if you’re focused on trying to be optimistic all the time in order to avoid being the person you once were in the past. The problem was: I was still letting my past determine who I wanted to be, who I was.

Unfortunately today in theology where “relationality” has run wild, there are all sorts of unchecked claims being made about God, especially in the U.S. No I’m not denying that the divine is relational. What I am rejecting is the set of terms that God’s relationality is being discussed to begin with, for theological and political reasons. For example, process theologians contend that God is morally neutral, does not take sides, and to simplify the argument being made, “our tears are God’s tears.” On the more traditional side of things, unfortunately, there are a number of evangelicals and post-evangelicals who are eager to impute our desire for eternal bliss onto the Godhead as well.  This view of the Trinity is not new, but it has been popularized since the days of Jonathan Edwards, and found itself in renewal in the U.S. and abroad in the “Christian hedonism” movement.

During the Spring season of this year, I dialogued with Richard Beck’s series from seven years ago on divine apatheia and the Christian tradition.  I also discussed how Juergen Moltmann and Clement of Alexandria wrote about divine apatheia as God’s own self-sufficient divine liberty.  Now, what I want to do is to address what does Clement of Alexandria (a Church Father) have to say about is called divine equanimity as people call it, and how does this related to Moltmann’s theology of the cross. The evidence might surprise you.

First of all, I just want to state up front that I think it is rather unhealthy for scholars to argue that they are using apatheia the same way the Church Fathers did while #1, claiming to making their own private definitions of apatheia, and #2, being motivated themselves by their experiences. Nicene-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy is not something to club your opponents over the head with; it is just one starting point for engaging in dialogue with historic Christian thought. Now unless you have been living under a rock, you (the audience) should know by now that my favorite Church Father is Clement of Alexandria for a myriad of reasons. His influence has been marginalized, his Egyptian context neglected, but his writing, his exegesis, remain all the more relevant and provocative. For Clement, there are two things of worth noting before getting into his writing: #1, God’s goodness (character) is what makes God immutable, & #2, divine impassibility is a characteristic from God that is to be shared with humanity. 

As I have mentioned in the earlier posts, like most church fathers and mothers, Clement of Alexandria had to be in conversation with Greek philosophies such as Stoicism and the various Middle Platonisms (CoA preferred Jewish Middle Platonism > “secular”, other middle platonisms).  Here is what Clement has to say about God’s nature as it relates to God’s emotions:

“But God is impassible, free of anger, destitute of desire. And He is not free of fear, in the sense of avoiding what is terrible; or temperate, in the sense of having command of desires. For neither can the nature of God fall in with anything terrible, nor does God flee fear; just as He will not feel desire, so as to rule over desires.”- Clement of Alexandria in The Carpets (The Stromateis), Book 4, Chapter 23

At the end of this chapter, Clement even goes on to argue that at the Cross of Christ, The Logos that bled took away both wrath and lust (for wrath is the lust for vengeance). Now, also essential to this discussion of God’s freedom to inhibit any emotion God so chooses is the way in which Clement of Alexandria describes the life of the Christian mystic , the believer whom God shares God’s own impassibility with. In a chapter where Clement of Alexandria lists cheerfulness, hunger, anger, fear, desire, zeal, and courage as anxieties of the soul, Clement argues that the Christian mystic should practice IMPASSIBILITY, and not merely moderation of passion. “The Gnostic [Christian mystic] does not share either in those affections that are commonly celebrated as good, that is, the good things of the affections which are allied to the passions: such, I mean, as gladness, which is allied to pleasure;  and dejection, for this is conjoined with pain; caution, for it is subject to fear.”  (The Carpets, Book 6, Chapter 9) Clement goes on to add wrath to the discussion, which has been already conquered by perfect love that was revealed on the Cross. Just as Jesus our Lord and Savior was entirely 100% impassible (apathes), the Christian mystic has no need for “cheerfulness of the mind” or rage, nor envy.  Rather, in being assimilated to Christ, even the desire for joy is overcome by God’s immutable goodness that Christ has passed along to the Elect.  

In a U.S. American context, Clement’s ancient and bizarre message is next to impossible. Clement’s word to us is very disconcerting, because we have always learned as Americans that happiness is something to be pursued. We as U.S. Americans are socialized into Lockean values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of property happyness. Mainline and evangelical churches proclaim a false gospel with a politics of respectability, that believers should always have a smile on their face, while those who are depressed who suffer from chemical imbalances and external circumstances should live in shame. In the context of the Gospels, Christ uses the parables to teach us that the Holy Trinity does indeed rejoice when a person repents and is received to partake into the divine life.

hi 5 angels

 

God is not some PollyAnna in the sky. Neither is God a wrathful monster, or merely a “co-sufferer” of our afflictions. Rather, God is Spirit who is an overflow of unchanging, unsurpassable benevolence. Just as God can use the cheerful giver of the Pauline letters, God can also use the Elijahs of the world, angry prophets may struggle depression. The suffering love advocated by theologies of the cross (such as Moltmann) are not primarily determined by questions of theodicy, but rather are initiated by explorations into God’s own freedom to define Godself (revelation). 

“And the blood [Abel's] that is the Word cries to God, since it is intimated that the Word was to suffer.”-Clement of Alexandria, The Educator, Book 1, Chapter 6

“[YHWH] brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.”- Isaiah 40:23

h00die_R (Rod)

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Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology & an Ethic of Resistance

bonhof black jc

Reggie L. Williams, assistant professor of Christian Ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary, has a new book out from Baylor University Press: Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology And An Ethic Of Resistance. Recently there’s been a push to mold Dietrich Bonhoeffer to make him more palatable to conservative evangelical sensibilities, mostly overlooking his involvement with Black churches and its leaders in Harlem. I for one am glad that scholarship like Williams’ is becoming available. I hope to get a copy, either a review or purchased copy of the text.

h00die_R (Rod)

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The Luxury of Liberation: A Look at the Hagar Narrative

Delores William’s Sister in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk is a thought provoking text that questions some of the dominant paradigms in both politics and theology. Her work transcends the fields of theology, ethics, politics, history, biblical studies and various other discourses. In particular she begins by questioning the maleness of African American political theology. Williams was a student of James Hal Cone while at Union Theological Seminary. Cone has gained great renowned for his articulation of the black experience in a variety of different fields including; theology, history, politics, ethics, and anthropology . Williams although interested in the black experience believes that not all black experiences are the same. Specifically she is interested in articulating the interest of the black women from a historical, theological, and political perspective. She traces the historical experiences of black women beyond traditional male patriarchal discourse (black and white) using the Hagar narrative in favor of the Exodus narrative. The Exodus story tells how God delivered the Jewish people from the hands of the pharaoh through his servant Moses. Thus the explicit context of this story shows how God used God’s male servant to deliver God’s people from more male oppressor. The Hebrew people are certainly identifiable as people of color, which brings this narrative into the context of liberation theology. Context places this narrative as the plight of the modern day African American. The implicit meaning is that is that this story actually describes the modern day African American.

The voice and therefore, the struggle of modern day African American women is left out of this conversation. Williams examines the plight of African American women in the modern world to the story of Hagar. Hagar by today’s standards is a second class citizen because she is the maidservant of Abraham. She has no control over her own life and even though God liberates Abraham from his oppressor and gives him promises of prosperity, Hagar has no such promise. Thus for Hagar in this story she is not concerned with liberation because that seems like a luxury for her. Hagar’s concern is mere survival. Abraham forces her to leave and face the world all on her own, which in her day was an extremely difficult task because of the vulnerability of women (especially Women of Color). Hagar has only God to depend on for survival and in one of the most emotional moments in the Hebrew Bible she experiences her own theophany. God appears before her in the midst of her vulnerability to ensure her of her survival. God hears the cries of Ishmael and tells Hagar God’s plan for her prosperity through her son. The immediate concern in this story is survival. For Hagar liberation is so far removed it was not even in the peripheral. T

This is pivotal to taking a look at the various African American experiences that goes beyond liberation. Specifically Williams work have great relevance to many black women/ women of color in both the US and the 2/3rds world today. Many of these women do not have any of the assurance that their male counterparts have and suffer from the same vulnerabilities that Hagar suffered from and thus traditional notions of liberation are not even applicable. Williams speaks to the political domination that women of color have felt historically. Her analysis is multidimensional including aspects of race, class, gender, and even sexuality. William’s use of the Hagar narratives expounds upon an issue that is critical to modern day biblical interpretation: that is necessary to continually develop relevant narratives that go beyond liberation to address the myriad of issues that we are faced with today.

G.R.R.

Godaime Raikage Richard. Sociology of Religion. Japanime. Sports. Liberation. Brother of h00die_R.

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Nonviolence For When Life Happens #TheNewPacifism

As far as I can remember, I have been a lifelong pacifist, at least since I was in second grade. It was then that the first War On Iraq interrupted my morning cartoons to bring the U.S. American audience updates. Upset with the generals that were wasting my time, taking away “Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes” and what was once known as the “World Wrestling Federation,” war just never sat well with me. In college, I was an outspoken critic of the second Iraq War, and even gave speeches in Political Science classes on how aggressive imperialist foreign policies were incompatible with conservative notions of “humble” approaches to international relations. I will admit that for a time during my senior year, I do not recall why, I assumed that ideas such as Bill Clinton’s realism + multilateralism were more politically expedient than my “unrealistic” pacifist idealism.

It was in seminary that I was introduced to Peace Theologies, that I began to take the politics of Jesus seriously; rather than an irrelevant autocrat stuck in the sky, Christ became an ever-present Teacher. Where there had once been a disconnect between my pacifist Christianity and my moderate politics, I experienced what can be described as a radical conversion, a recognition of not only Jesus’ “spiritual” authority, but also His Lordship when it comes to the public sphere as well. Christian witness is always political because it was designed from the earliest churches to be public. Because this testimony should be first and foremost Christ-centered and Spirit-led, the idea of a Free Church is necessary for the congregation of the faithful to work out their faithfulness with trembling. This is why for many nonviolent Christians, the separation of church and state is of utmost importance. The neat thing about being a Christian pacifist is that it is an ongoing process. I mean, we are all persons in process anyhow, and my understanding of what it means to be nonviolent has grown considerably.

Recently, Rachel Held Evans (a writer who I have learned a lot from) reiterated her sentiments from a 2011 on the War On Libya, about being a “terrible pacifist.” Actually, I think the post is an example in taking steps of being a TERRIFIC pacifist. I especially liked the list on how Rachel (and really, how we can all) become better pacifists: “I can meditate on the teachings of Jesus”; “I can pray for our nation’s enemies”; “I can educate myself on foreign policy”; “I can study the imaginative work of peaceful activists like Mother Teresa and [Reverend Dr.] Martin Luther King Jr.” For me, pacifism starts as a process of discernment, raising questions, and not trusting nationalistic propaganda we are fed by the media. Christian pacifism starts with the teachings of the Jewish rabbi Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ sermons, sayings, and ministry are dismissed by mainline and evangelical Christians, much to the shame of the Church. The only way forward to a peaceable religion is to take Jesus seriously, The Word at His word. And not only should we as Christians study well-known peace activists from the last century, but also go back and read the anti-war arguments of the first Christians, the Church mothers and fathers, and ingest these teachings as beneficial for today’s world.

Recently, a fellow MennoNerd, Ted Grimsrud gave Evans some constructive feedback from her facebook page post on ISIS, war, and pacifism: Is Pacifism For when life happens?”. I have so many points of agreement with Grimsrud’s thoughtful and thought-provoking post that I do think it really challenges what we consider to be “realism.” Grimsrud accurately points to European imperialism as the cause of the First World War, and the Second World War, and thus finds the question of “What about Hitler?” to be suspicious.

“I’ll just say here that one big “option” specifically for the British would have been to abandon their empire. The conflict between Britain and Germany actually was mostly initiated by the British through their treaty with Poland that required them to go to war if Germany tried to take Poland by force. This treaty did not originate in Britain’s commitment to humane, democratic values (ask Indians and Kenyans during the colonial era about those values), but in the fear that the on-going viability of the Empire required it. Germany did not attack Britain because the Nazis wanted to conquer Britain and make the British Empire part of the Third Reich. The Nazis hoped the British would be their allies in a fight against the Soviet Union, and only attacked Britain through the air (with no intention of trying a ground invasion) to buy time until they turned east for the Soviet war.”

It is this kind of power analysis that is required (in my opinion) to practice pacifism. Unfortunately, many persons do not apply this same power analysis when examining situations of interpersonal violence such as domestic abuse. The possibilities that Grimsmud offered for these potential situations are limited by a lack of power analysis, the very same observations on power that were applied on the national scale of Great Britain versus Germany. More important than “developing skills at de-escalating conflict, learning better to detect danger signs that could prevent the violence from happening,” how about the Church teaching men that sexual and gender violence are not okay? Placing the onus on the individual without doing the preventative work of educating perpetrators comes awfully close to victim-blaming. In cases such as this, as a last resort, IMO, non-lethal, and if possible non-injurous forms of self-defense should be employed in case of an attack. Such a commitment to nonviolence means having a vulnerable space for victims, while retaining the Imago Dei in both the abuser and the abused. For advocates of Christian nonviolence, the sanctity of life, and the biblical idea that the human body is a temple of the Most High God takes priority over abstract notions of what it means to be pacifist.

For more posts similar to this, I would recommend checking out our #TheNewPacifism Synchroblog from last year, as we plan to bring it back next month, so stay tuned!

h00die_R (Rod)

priestly abolitionist time travelling supervillian

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Of Demons & Spiritual Warfare: Mental Demons & Beyond Ableism

Content Note: Discussion of depression, mental health issues, ableism

“28 When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who weredemon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. 29 And they cried out, saying, “[a]What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before [b]the time?” 30 Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. 31 The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going tocast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters.”

This passage and a few others in the 4 Gospels gives one of the famous accounts of Christ ‘casting out demons’. But as we navigate through this series for the month, we’ll come across different kinds of instances of demonic activity in scriptures. Of course, one of the themes is WHAT IS a demon? Is it the embodiment of evil or an actual being?… or maybe a little of both? And in what way does humanity’s crafted pop-culture units- movies, films, etc.,communicate even “secular” understanding of ‘demons’ ?

First thing’s first! It’s very clear that many folk ( some even Xtian! but many agnostics and atheists too) claiming that the demons spoken of in scripture are really just mental/psychological demons and they didn’t have another name for it at the time.. you know, since ‘modern science’ has all but disproven something like this, or at least made it very tough to believe..

Well, the problem with this is that it automatically concludes that those born with any number of mental/development disorders (including any number of intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autism, etc.) are just perpetually demon-possessed and therefore unclean or inferior and to the extent that they could ‘have these demons cast out’ , they’d be healed and more righteous. I.e. disgustingly ableist. Now, I’d like to believe that most folks who make their case to all demons being only psychological don’t quite mean it this way, but this is essentially one notion we’re left with.. We must be mindful of that when we’re discussing the idea of ‘mental demons’.

The idea of a demonic stronghold in one’s life or in society as a whole, is often illustrated in scripture as something that the person may not have been born with as a biological/medical condition, but more so because of the presiding evil order of ‘the things of this world’. Perhaps because of empire? Let’s take a look at one- depression!

Depression is one of the leading psychological illnesses of our time in America. The recent death of Robin Williams helped to bring to light something that so many folks struggle with daily. Some say that that depression is akin to an illness that is diagnosable that we had no part in contracting, still I’ve heard other say it’s a matter of feeling a deficit in life purpose. Regardless, many will always state that if the person dies as a result of suicide due to struggling with depression, then “they had demons that they couldn’t overcome…”- so even in our Western materialist secular society we still hear the invoking of the demonic in everyday parlance when it comes to a disease as mentally burdensome as depression and suicidal thoughts. At its core, depression feels like a heavy burden on the mind of the sufferer that often coincides with some other event external to the person. Bullying, unemployment, and yes- even racism!

The mental burden placed on the mind of the one who if forced to immerse into some presiding hegemony often results in suicide. We see this in the sky-high suicide rates of Indian farmers who are struggling and embarassed by their inability to provide for their families because of corporate agro giants like Monsanto rendering them poor. Also, there’s even this article: The Link Between Racism And Depression , detailing the link between racism and depression. And speaking of colliding worlds causing depression, here’s this from the study : ‘”What’s more Asian-American women have long had the highest suicide rate of other women that age. Asian-American women age 65 and older also have the highest suicide rates for elderly women. For immigrants in particular, cultural isolation, language barriers and discrimination add to the problem”

One common theme we see between many cases of depression is the idea of , as stated earlier – a painful sense of purposeless, almost as if you’ve been forgotten or forsaken.  And I couldn’t help but think of the consistent theme of “the old forgotten mansion” or “shack”, etc. that is also haunted. It’s almost as if being forsaken/forgotten is a prerequisite for the demonic, even in popular fiction! And who feels more forgotten than those who are oppressed by empire?

Let’s meditate on the link between being forsake and forgotten. The idea that Christ came to set the captives free. ( think, the phrase – “God-Forsaken!”). Christ’s ministry and power over the demonic proves that God has not forsaken His creation.

Until next time – we will explore notions of the demonic further and from a different angle, then!

For relevant posts on Ableism and Jesus’ confrontation with evil, check out these recommended posts:

Jesus heals a possessed man, or a man with epilepsy? by Sonja at Women In Theology

The Failure To Bother To Love: On Ignorance and Ableism by Katie at Women In Theology

Christianity, Disability, and Nonviolence #TheNewPacifism by Rod here at Political Jesus

 

 

Harry

Like a Lotus: Born into the murky, muddy waters I was, l ived, I breathed In awe of starry veil above me and the verdant radiance around me I gazed, I glowed, I gasped Striken with gale winds I braced, I fell, I felt Like a dove He descendeth He is, He lives, He breathes Like a lotus summoned by the sun’s rays I opened, I blossomed, I live

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Quitting The Progressive Christian Internet: Weeds Along The Moral High Ground part 2

Towards A Liberationist Theological Account of Difference & Community Online

In the early 1980’s, after a long struggle with the federal government, the city of Louisville, Kentucky agreed to start busing students of primarily black neighborhoods to schools that were primarily white in order to comply with national regulations regarding racial integration. It was in this context that I experienced my early formation as a student.  My favorite subject was Social Studies where the history of the U.S. begins in Europe, with the Spaniards, French, and British racing to find a faster route to India. It was during Social Studies hour in the afternoon, I had the privilege of learning about Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and George Washington’s military victories against the British redcoats.

In addition to Social Studies lessons, some of the more memorable history lessons during my elementary education came during Library Time. It was there that two or three classes would gather into a large room in the library, and the librarian would show us a video and lead a discussion on that’s day’s topic. I can recall two specific lessons in the particular, that speak to the rather ambivalent nature of my experience. One day we had the opportunity to learn about the origins of Hanukkah (yes, that’s right, at a public school). As a third-grader, this was the very first time I had encountered the topic of Jewish history or the story of the Maccabees. The way the lesson was framed (Hanukkah being compared to Christmas…slightly problematic),

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I was even a little jealous of my Jewish friends who had EIGHT days of “Christmas” presents. No fair!  The comparison of the Jewish holy days of Hanukkah and the Christian celebration of Christmas is problematic for a few reasons, but the two major ones are as follows: First, comparing holidays of two major religions works in favor of secularization (read: late capitalism) in the appropriation of religious symbols for a more unified national hegemony. And secondly, this comparison fails because it inhibits both nonreligious and religious persons from being able to appreciate the uniqueness and particularity of the Jewish and Christian stories.

The other lesson that has always somehow stuck with me was the video on Christopher Columbus informing us of the background for Christopher Columbus Day. It was inexplicable why we (the students) still had to come to school on a federal holiday, but we did learn that Columbus sailed out to find India with the explicitly Christian blessing of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain. The “discovery” by Christopher Columbus plus the scholarship of Amerigo Vespucci were presented to us (the students) as world changing events; however there were no mentioning of Columbus’ letters to the royal family where he shared his most enduring innovation with the world: White Supremacy.

In my first part for this series, I talked about how much of the theological debates online have occurred between essentially three parties: the view from the Top/Down Privileged, the Middle Way (still Top Down) Privileged, and the Bottom Up Marginalized perspective. Part of that discussion highlighted some of the ways that members of the Dominant culture use language to hide their power. As I continue to experiment with a Liberationist Political theology for online behavior, in this post, I plan to look at the way privileged members of our society create communities, and work to sustain their privilege and retain control of THE Narrative. Whenever privileged persons label detractors as “angry,” “agitators,” “ideological (READ: unable to be civil and objective as white people)”, and “alarmists” who write with extremist radical strokes, they are continuing the White Supremacist, Male Supremacist colonial legacy of Christopher Columbus. “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet bank on unhealthy forms of community (both in real life & online) all the while denouncing #EmpireBusiness while profiting from it.

New Communities And Spiritualities

Part of Zach Hoag’s beef with what he called, “The Progressive Christian Internet” was that “And in the attempt to be ideologically Progressive, it often fails to be substantially Christian. [...] Love for God and neighbor are nowhere to be found, overwhelmed by pharisaical posturing.” Further more, Hoag contends that social media such as Twitter and Facebook as well as the Christian Blogosphere had “fostered a disconnect between the Progressive Christian Internetter and rooted, relational church realities, such that the ideology expressed online has become an end in itself rather than a means tethered to the end of ecclesia.”

For Hoag and the “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet, Social-Justice oriented Christians have been found lacking in the area of virtue. In fact, so much so, that Hoag has described his critics as the the modern-day Pharisees who do not show love for God or neighbor. Like many evangelicals and post-evangelicals, “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet portray the Pharisee Jewish party of Jesus’ first century C.E. context as obstacles to overcome.  Pharisees are the cold-hearted legalistic enemies against Jesus’ “grace-filled”civilized ways. This popular negative depiction of Pharisees has a long history of anti-Judaism, and fails to recognize that Jesus the Messiah and the apostle  Paul were having self-critical intragroup religious conversations. The injunction of “Pharisee” as a derogatory label against one’s “enemies” not only fails to show love for YHWH or our Jewish  neighbors, but it also is symptomatic of “Quitters” of the PCI and their inability to appreciate difference.

Also according to Hoag, the Progressive Christian Internetter violates White PostEvangelical (ever-changing) rules about civility, and being “grace-filled”, and more importantly: RELATIONAL! Angry Twittervists, YALL, they just ain’t RELATIONal enough! Co-Opting on the rise of postmodern neo-liberal discourse, Missional Christians use “RELATIONAL” as a catch-all phrase to shame people who have honest disagreements with their theologies. The use of “RELATIONAL” as a weapon void of any affirmation of difference means that it (relational theology, ecclessiology, etc) is just another tool for White Hegemony.

WHO WANTS TO BE RELATIONAL? ANYONE? ANYONE?

WHO WANTS TO BE RELATIONAL? ANYONE? ANYONE?

One example of “Relational” as Weaponized Discourse is the story I referred to in part one of this series. I had two friends write an email to Missio Alliance, and the response by Missio Alliance leaders included framing the discussion as my friends being the “angry rabble rousers.” The racist and sexist version of AnaBaptist Christianity that the PostChristendom conference was advertising was said to be only an “accidental” outcome. Predictably, Missio Alliance’s response to my friends called for a more “constructive and relational conversation” on these “issues.” While claiming to be advancing peace between brothers (Romans 12:8), there was a different story being told behind the scenes, as I demonstrated in part 1, that of referring to my friends’ actions as vengeful, violent, and lacking humility. I hope you (the audience) had a chance to reflect on what it means to call an e-mail campaign “violence,” because this can only make sense within the logic of Christopher Columbus-bred White Supremacy/Male Supremacy.

One of my friends was asked to provide consultation in regards to making the Missio Alliance more diverse and more reflective of the AnaBaptist movement worldwide. The original letter that was filled with concern for MA’s conference that was held last week, pointed to five suggestions by my friend:

“a) The hegemony of the all-white male organizing committee members take a step back so that minority members could be a part of the planning process, so that a committee more representational of the diversity in Anabaptism would be reflected

b) That the location of the actual conference be somewhere outside of the suburbs and therefore more accessible to persons of color as well as whites. Since from the get-go, the idea was to host the conference in Pennsylvania, there are a myriad of choices in this regard. c) That its presenters specifically tackle issues that disproportionately affect non-whites, such as shooting, mass incarceration, poverty, etc.–all important issues of peacemaking, and since these issues will not be addressed until the dominant culture has skin in the game they must be taken seriously by the dominant white culture. d) That the demographics of those presenting as Keynote Speakers truly represent the vast diversity found in the larger Anabaptist movement in North America e) That these diverse presenters not be tokenized, but genuinely appreciated as expert speakers on the issues presented at the conference”

The original intent of the letter’s authors was to work to ensure that “the Anabaptist movement in North America is not dominated by white male hegemony and homogeneity.” What were the “acts of violence” advocated by the authors? Their desire: “we are encouraging all of those interested to respond to this email (and to disseminate it to friends and allies)” in order to place institutional pressure on Missio Alliance since it was claiming to speak for AnaBaptists in North America. These simple suggestions would be reasonable considering the fact that denominations such as Mennonite Church, USA’s Central District is committed to racial justice and celebrating cultural difference with events such as Black Mennonite Women Rock! and the Urban Anabaptist Ministry Symposium next month.

Progressive Christian Internet “Quitters” And Forced Teaming

When I look back on my socialization during Social Studies hour or Library Time, I think back to all the times I could hear, “Christopher Columbus did it for us. We did it! Yeah US!” (my apologies to the First Nations people and Leif Erickson) I remember all those times I was never allowed to ask, who is “we”, and why should I trust this “us”? I think back to learning about the Declaration Of Independence where the Founders wrote, “WE” hold these truths to be self-evident that ALL MEN are created equal. Who was this “we” and why should I trust “us”? The “WE” was and still is White men who own property, Christopher Columbus writ large. Some of the critical feedback I received from my first post in this series was that it was very America-centric in orientation. Having been told by a famous British theologian that all discussions pertaining to race have America at the center, I am familiar with this line of argument. This assumes that racism is not a problem in Western Europe. On the contrary, White Supremacy & Anti-Blackness is a global phenomenom and will always rely on a narrative of White Saviorship. It seems like Social Studies hour just isn’t for elementary students anymore:

Because my love for Social Studies grew into a love for Political Science, I became familiar with the term “hegemony.” Oppressive Institutions are fueled by oppressive mythologies plus practices. Part of what helped me as a kid to break out of accepting hegemonic forms of storytelling is to read the stories of the marginalized, the histories of First Nations peoples, biographies of renowned Black persons, and women. I had up until recently articulating the hegemonic mindset of the (actual) Progressive Christian Internet until I came across a post by my friend Sarah Moon: No, We’re Not On The Same Side, in which she talked about the notion of forced teaming. Forced Teaming is like political hegemony, but take place on primarily an interpersonal personal level. According to Moon, “Not everyone who uses forced teaming is intentionally trying to manipulate you, but that does not mean it is not a manipulative tactic that we should be careful to avoid using and be aware of when it is used on us.” In many ways, Political Hegemony and Forced Teaming intersect.

I gave the example of The Declaration of Independence earlier “We” hold these truths (whose truth? where was it presented?). The questioning of the “We,” “this universal US” is always the most dangerous questions. If you ask these hard questions, not only will you be labelled “rude,” but unloving, judgmental, angry, hypercritical, oversensitive. Whether it is Michelle Goldberg bemoaning the dark toxic twitter wars because her sense of sisterhood has been disrupted by those uppity Women of Color, or white male Christian bloggers having the sads because not all Christian feminists think alike, the forced teaming rhetoric of “We The Sisterhood of Feminists” or “We The Formerly Conservative Evangelicals Now Progressive Christians” facilitate the Columbusing of online discourse. OH MY GAWDZ, LOOK A BLACK TWITTER!

The injunction of RELATIONAL as an adjective to notions of justice and reconciliation is one of the ways that “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet manipulate audiences and critics in favor of forced teaming online. From a Liberationist perspective, a Bottom-Up approach to online communities would first of all, be forth right about as well as affirming of the variations of human experiences rather than presuming THE ONE GENERAL HUMAN EXPERIENCE. This would also mean a commitment to honesty, a truthfulness that is not sugarcoated in the name of preserving personal brands. Indeed, such a view requires a taking of risks on the part of people of privilege. In order for more just relationships to take place both in the virtual world and real world, privileged persons must be informed of what are the barriers to them being considered trustworthy accomplices in the struggle for justice.

In the words of Austin Channing, “Diversity without justice is assimilation.”

In my third and final offering in this series, I will take a look at the Progressive Christian Internet and its approaches to Leadership.

h00die_R (Rod)

priestly abolitionist time travelling supervillian

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