There were a few more things we might have mentioned, so stay tuned for Episode 2.
I worked at a big fat church for a few years once.
For about five minutes of those few years, the staff was charged to “live in the republic of ideas.” I wrote what follows earlier today, but it strikes me as the difference between the Kingdom of God’s raison d’etre and the raison d’etat so many churches live and ultimately die by:
It occurs to me that our use of terms like “industrial” or “industrialized” nation reveals rather efficiently the willingness of our power elites (political and economic) to sacrifice most of us for personal gain; to spiritually, emotionally, and economically destroy the creative, academic, merchant and truly small-business class (let’s call it the bourgeoisie) right along with the cynically styled “working class.” We bourgeoisie and/or proletarians freely mingle, and not-so-freely mimic the choices of the power elites (be they Clintons or Romneys) with what we’re told are consumer “choices” but are really the gasping acts of hanging-on desperately performed by human agents too exhausted from surviving to enact true human agency. This is purely diabolical; if there is a God in heaven, that God must not endorse this system. Surely, the central Christian image of God not in heaven but on a cross is in reaction to the system that enslaved Judea, that murdered John the Baptizer, that found Jesus guilty of blasphemy and sedition. That Christ’s message — God is for the margin and not for the power structures we worship — brought about his death at the hands of those power structures isn’t only a sort of proto-theological poetry, it is the essential Christian fact, the essential Christian witness, the essential Christian claim about the nature and person of God. That Jesus spoke of a kingdom different from those of the Sanhedrin and Rome and Washington and Wall Street and Seattle isn’t some spiritual-only conceit. What Christ called the Kingdom of God is not so-called Christendom, not the so-called Church; it is a physical network of willing rebellion.
The same day our first black president became the first sitting president to ever visit a prison, we learn about the prison death of Sandra Bland, a young black woman who was beaten by white police and wrongly jailed. The prison says Bland killed herself. Anyone with a brain says bullshit.
Yesterday, the President was asked if Bill Cosby’s Medal of Freedom could be revoked. Mr. Obama, an expert on Executive Orders, said our nation has no precedent or mechanism for revoking the honor, but also said that anyone who does what Bill Cosby has confessed to doing is a rapist. Cosby, a rapist who, with Methaqualone, revoked the freedom of his victims, can keep his Medal of Freedom because the President can’t think of way the Executive Branch could repeal the honor. This is the man who defied all odds to become our first black President. This is the man who delivered (for better and worse) the kind of health care reform no one thought possible. This is the same sitting president who, in recent months, hasn’t met an executive order he didn’t like. But he can’t pry the Medal of Freedom from Ghost Dad.
In Chattanooga, four Marines are dead after a terrorist attack perpetrated the same day Muslims around the world break the fast of Ramadan. Muslim communities have rightly condemned the massacre, which is almost immediately classified as an episode of terrorism. The shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, another clear act of terrorism, was not labeled so by law enforcement with the same speed or diligence. All terrorist acts are hate crimes. All violent hate crimes are terror.
Two days ago, Nate Silver revealed research showing that life is as dangerous for Black Americans in America as is life in Rwanda. That Rwanda.
Yesterday, assholes greeted the first black president with Confederate flags in Oklahoma. Inside the prison, he did one of the blackest things of his presidency, albeit subtly. He called out the prison industrial complex from within the literal belly of the beast. White progressives like me will say he didn’t do enough, never understanding from experience what it is to be black in America, never understanding why even a second-term President of the United State with zero political capital at stake can’t say what he really means simply because he’s also black.
During the 19th-century Christian Revival we now call the Second Great Awakening, which started where I happened to go to seminary, Lyman Beecher said that slavery was a national sin threatening “to entomb our glory.” 200 years later, marks of that shame are no mere scars on our body politic. They are open, festering, bleeding wounds. Blackness is less a social stigma than a sentence; the punctures in Black America’s hands and feet, the gashes in its sides, the ropes around its neck are not just lyrical or spiritual. And just in time comes White America, with another book by the same white author from a million years ago who somehow cemented the Tall White Savior tope among our elite, white, and nominally progressive intelligentsia, this time about how sad it makes her that her daddy is a racist. White Academia will parse this out for decades, but it’s already been called “a revelation on race.” White America doesn’t just control community policing, foreign policy, and most of the nation’s wealth. It, of course, controls the discussion on race, and on the artistic merits of literary treatments of it from genteel would-be hell-raisers working out their privilege.
These are all facets of our most cherished, robust, and foundational national shame. And, put another way, shame is clearly something we have none of.
This is not some middle-of-the-night rant about white guilt or self-loathing. But before I’m the proud descendent of hard-working Europeans et al, I’m a stubborn and imperfect follower of a colored carpenter who was murdered by the State and other social elites for pointing out these very sins and calling bullshit on them. “Jesus help us” is no anemic yearning, no therapeutic incantation. It is a protest. It is a demand.
All theology is black theology, James Cone said. Here blackness has nothing to do with color but with violation: of personhood, of God’s likeness in us, of freedom and of futures. It has entombed whatever civic glory America had claim to, even as it entombed the living Christ himself. This is one of many facets of the Christian hope of resurrection, not for resurrection’s sake, and not for the sake, surely, of some jingoistic pride, but for the coming of an age and order where the war of each against all is over, where each and all have enough, where people aren’t raped and murdered because people in power have taken the mantle of God for themselves.
Jesus, help us.
Sudden fiction is another term for flash fiction, but the two aren’t simply synonymous, at least not to my ear. Don’t read too much into the title of this post. I’m not making some argument that the Gospel of Mark ought to be thought of as fiction or non-fiction by modern definitions. I’m talking about effect. Where does the writer mean to take us, and why? How do we know?
The Gospel of Mark is short, but it’s also very sudden. Replete with “immediatelys,” the narrative is constantly moving. Like a good short story, it feels meant to be read in one sitting.
I’ve just finished a sudden read in this manner. My sudden thoughts follow.
In Mark, Jesus is concerned with telling anyone who will hear that the kingdom of God is at hand, the kingdom of God is here, and that this news is good.
Often, his message gains traction through healing and exorcisms (these may or may not be the same). He is clearly opposed to entrenched religious systems and values, but not to the teachings of Israel’s prophets. His je ne sais quoi has precisely to do with his vision of God and God’s kingdom in the context of Rome’s empire, Herod’s puppet vassal, the Sanhedrin’s religious hegemony, the temple-merchants’ guild and the common-place fiefdom of first-century mores, beliefs, and expectations often beguiling his disciples or other parts of the general public. Often, those outside his immediate circle understand him best. He is arrested, tried, and crucified quickly. He even dies quickly. His tomb is found empty, and his followers are instructed by a heavenly presence to meet him, the Risen, in Galilee. No big deal. Biggest deal ever.
We shouldn’t be surprised.
So many hits on this blog are because of things I’ve said about Jesus or things I’ve said about comic books. Roll with it, right?
I saw this via George Takei via In Good Faith. I love that George shared this and what he said about it. Everybody wins.
It also reminded me of this, from one of the best Batman Elseworlds ever:
I’m fairly certain this book has informed a lot of what I do.
Can we recognize that Jesus inspired marginalized women to action and proclamation on one hand and affirm on the other that the pastoral epistles equating “good and orderly” church governance with all-male leadership aren’t bound to localized contexts? I don’t think so. It’s like saying “sure, you wanna spread the word about a man come back from the dead, you let a woman be the first to know. But if you want churches to work as institutions, you better call a man. I mean, come on guys, it doesn’t have to be circumcised. But it has to BE there.”
I’m trying to write a new post about depression and doubt. One does not do this without referencing Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway. I looked up some old posts for reference, only to find that I’d written this almost a year ago to the day:
I can’t say that my medical situation is exactly the same as it was then, but I feel a year better, at least, about almost everything.
Below is what I started with this morning before going back.
For me, doubt is never about the veracity of some narrative. I suppose that’s because the living Christ is the only thing I really believe in. I suppose it’s because I feel connected to the prophetic witness and movement of the Holy Spirit. Or perhaps I am drawn to these realities specifically because I can’t fathom the idea that the salvation of the world depends on getting this or that narrative right. I want to experience what Jesus experienced of God, and what his followers experienced of him. I want to do what he did. I don’t have time for anything else.
For me, doubt isn’t waking up and fearing that the stories we were raised on aren’t true. I don’t care about that. Doubt, for me, is far more insidious. It has to do with waking up and worrying that everything I fought for yesterday doesn’t matter, or, worse, would embarrass Ernest Hemingway. I’m talking about a specific, latent, and under-discussed anxiety that often turns young Christian or Muslim or just plain earnest men into misogynists: the fear of spiritual conviction as masculine failure. In the West at least, men are inevitably trained to worry about this. We are trained not only to believe that our worth as men or as people has everything to do with supposedly gender-bound responsibilities of provision to our families and sexual gratification to ourselves, but that the bald pursuit of both at any cost is somehow noble, right, and good. Spirituality (like nurturing) is better left to women. When we do pursue spiritual matters, God (God!) forbid we allow ourselves to cede equal ground to women or their equal standing before God. God forbid we affirm the radical hunches of Paul or the radical directives of Jesus. If we’re already concerned that spirituality (or anything not manifesting as apathy) marks as cruiser-weight chumps in the war of each against all, we’re not likely to admit women (or gay men, for that matter) can do that shit as well as us, period.
If you’ve ever felt this way, please know that hyper-masculine Neo-Calvinism won’t help. This isn’t about embracing a beefed-up vision of Jesus but about reclaiming an honest one. He fought the law and the law won. And then he won. On the dark mornings of my soul, waking up means having to remember that the radical potency of insubordination and insurrection isn’t just the point of Jesus’ witness, but of this “work in progress called life.” The point of life, as best as I can see it, isn’t found in the catechisms of J.M. Barrie, Martin Luther, or Ulrich Zwingli. It’s found in the life and work of someone like Jesus, killed for daring to free the world from the scarcity model.
That’s no small thing. It’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of. It won’t net you a sports car or pension or the kind of disposable relationships we sometimes crave. It may, however, net you some life and in that sense, abundance.