Playing Revolutionary

Of course, we may “play” revolutionary and delude ourselves that we can do battle against the atomic bomb. Usually when the reality of the political situation dawns upon the oppressed, those who have no vision from another world tend to give up in despair. But those who have heard about the coming of the Lord Jesus and have a vision of crossing on the other side of Jordan are not terribly disturbed about what happens in Washington D.C., at least not to the extent that their true humanity is dependent on the political perspective of government officials. To be sure, they know that they must struggle to realize justice in this world. But their struggle for justice is directly related to the coming judgment of Jesus. His coming presence requires that we not make any historical struggle an end in itself. We struggle because it is a sign of Jesus’ presence with us and of his coming presence to redeem all humanity. His future coming therefore is the key to the power of our struggle.

-Dr. James Cone, God of the Oppressed, pg. 132

These words of Dr. Cone really showcase where my head is at recently politically and theologically. Things seem really, really bad, because they are. We are in a political moment unlike any other in our history, one that is dangerous and destabilizing. The future feels immensely less certain than it did two years ago.

But despair is not the attitude of the Church and those of us in it, those of us defined as Christians. The vagaries of politics and world affairs do not define our hope, nor do they determine the future we know is guaranteed. And, crucially, they do not set the terms of engagement. Christ does. As Dr. Cone says, we struggle because we know God, not because of anything less.

Things are bad. God is bigger than it anyways. Keep up the fight, but remember, the end is already written in our favor, in humanity’s favor, despite our best attempts to fuck it up (and we are certainly doing our best at that recently.)

And remember: we aren’t called to play revolutionary. We are called to be disciples. In all your work in the world, don’t forget that, and don’t forget the potential of the Church to craft disciples.

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“The earthly city glories in itself”

In yesterday’s post about Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, I ended with a short discourse on the nature of sin as pride, drawing on Neibuhr, and relating to this moment in American political history. I just want to expand a bit on pride, by drawing on Augustine a bit, in the hopes of illuminating the point I was making a bit.

In Book XIV, near the very end, Augustine writes,

“We see then that the two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the Heavenly City by the love of God carried as far as contempt of self. In fact, the earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord. The former looks for glory from men, the latter find its highest glory in God, the witness of a good conscience…The one city loves its own strength show in its powerful leaders; the other says to its God, ‘I will love you, my Lord, my strength.’

Consequently, in the earthly city its wise men who live by men’s standards have pursued the goods of the body or of their mind, or both. Or those of them who were able to know God ‘did not honor him as God, nor did they give thanks to him, but they dwindled into futility in their thoughts, and their senseless hear was darkened: in asserting their wisdom’ – that is, exalting themselves in their wisdom, under the domination of pride – ‘they became foolish…”

When Augustine writes here of the earthly city, we can think of the powers that be, in Washington DC and beyond, in order to gain some understanding. And when we make that move, it becomes clear that Augustine might either have had a glimpse into the future, or knew the tendencies of humanity all to well!

The political moment exemplified right now by Donal Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, and this whole sordid political regime can be discerned in words like “glories in itself,” “loves its own strength shown in its powerful leaders,” and “self-love reaching the point of contempt for God.” I don’t speak in this comparison of Trump’s overwhelming narcissism, lack of intellectual curiosity, or idolization of strength over weakness. I also am speaking of the rush by political leaders in the White House, Congress, and the media to ignore the cries of the oppressed, deny the claims of truth and right, and blindly confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, despite what he may or may not have done.

It is pure, unblinking pride that compels these men to ignore the pursuit of justice and truth and push forward so blindly for a political victory. They believe so deeply in their own wisdom, they have such deep wells of self-love, that they can no longer perceive the presence of God in the world. Pride has blinded them; through pride, “they became foolish.”

This isn’t to associate the demands of God with the goals of the Democrat Party in the nomination of Kavanaugh. Rather, this is pure critique of an entire system that is so fixated on a temporal political win in this moment. Augustine, and Neibuhr after him, identified the chief sin of humanity as pride, which masquerades as selfishness and self-love so often. Pride is the motive from which our leaders consistently work – and why identification of God with any political leader, party or nation is idolatrous and dangerous.

My Favorite Bible Stories, Part 2: The God of my Enemies

jonahvtI don’t have a specific verse or set of verses today. Instead, I commend to you the entire book of Jonah.

Jonah is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. We all know it, heard it growing up. I am particularly fond of the Veggie Tales film Jonah. Those are some catchy songs.

But it’s what comes at the end of Jonah that I love. After being called by God and running, after being thrown overboard and swallowed by a fish and spit out on dry land, after a long and arduous journey across the desert of Syria to the enemy city of Nineveh, Jonah delivers his message to the Assyrians: repent, or perish at the hand of Israel’s God.

Message successfully delivered, Jonah leaves Nineveh, and camps out on a nearby hill to watch God rain down holy fire on the unrepentant barbarians. Why shouldn’t he enjoy a good show and well-deserved comeuppance for his enemies after everything he’s been through? And what a satisfying show it will be! Nineveh, after all, is the capitol of Assyria, Israel’s worst enemy, who had threatened them and attacked them and made their lives generally miserable. Finally, Jonah thought, justice will be served! God will save God’s people, by killing these others!

Only, it never happens. The king of Nineveh repents, and decrees a fast in the whole city, in order to appease God and avert destruction. God relents. The people of Nineveh, God’s very own children, are saved.

Jonah is pissed. Not only because Nineveh was saved, but because he knew this would happen. “Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” Jonah knew God would spare Israel’s greatest enemy, and he can’t stand it. He wanted justice. He wanted the very people who plagued Israel, who destroyed their land, to be wiped from the earth.

And instead, he got a God of mercy, and compassion, and love. He got a God who is not just his God, not just his people’s God, not merely a divine strongman protecting just the Israelites. He got a God of all people. A God who protects God’s own, be they Israeli or Assyrian or Greek or Roman.

I love this story, because it reminds me today that God is the God of America, of Christians, of the West. God is the God of all. God does not support our side against theirs. God does not ride into battle with us, to protect us and avenge us. God instead stands with all of humanity, on both sides, no matter the wrongs committed by either side. God’s justice is bigger than our justice. God’s mercy is more bountiful than our mercy. Indeed, “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”

Jonah reminds me that, when my country gets into a war fever, or descends into tribalism, that God does not condone such things. God loves all of humanity, be they American, Israeli, British, Palestinian, Iranian, Mexican, Chinese, Russian, French – all of us.

And if we expect God to vanquish our enemies, well, we will be very surprised to find that our God is not just our God, but is the God of our enemies as well.