Readings

I have been reading and reflecting on a couple of things.

1. Just received a copy of The Teaching of the 12 by Tony Jones. This should be a great conversation partner with the missional community I am a part of, Mission House.

2. People of the Spirit by Graham Twelftree. An illuminating text on St Luke’s understanding of the church’s mission.

3. Gospel of Luke. Right now Mission House is in Ch. 4. We are learning that the gospel call us to continue what Jesus began ‘to teach and do.’

4. Hebrew Prophets. We are finishing up Elijah-Elisha now. I’m reading the prophets with a small community in Cooleemee, NC, New Harvest Ministry. Just as Elisha inherits the mantle of Elijah when he ascends we have inherited the mantle of Jesus after his Ascencion.

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Advent Reflection: Salvation Came From The Cut

 

 A Postcolonial Advent Meditation 

The Jews of Jesus’ day were waiting for the coming Messiah.  Like the Jews of Jesus’ day we are waiting as well.  We are also remembering the coming of baby Jesus and the anticipation surrounding his advent.  Along with waiting we are asking for both a personal and communal advent.  During this season we are longing to be renewed and reminded of the old, old Story.  We ask God to trouble the stagnant waters of our souls. 

As we meditate on this story we may hear a call to participate in this Story: 

And Mary said:  
   “My soul glorifies the Lord  
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  
 for he has been mindful  
      of the humble state of his servant.  
   From now on all generations will call me blessed,  
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—  
      holy is his name.  
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,  
      from generation to generation.  
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;  
      he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones  
      but has lifted up the humble.  
 He has filled the hungry with good things  
      but has sent the rich away empty.  
 He has helped his servant Israel,  
      remembering to be merciful  
to Abraham and his descendants forever,  
      even as he said to our fathers.”
 

Mary gives expression to a hope shared by many Jews of her day: a deliverer will come to defeat and plunder the powerful while simultaneously lifting up the poor, the humble, and the tortured victims of Empire.  In my experience such a reading is not commonplace in our North American Churches. Usually the advent is rehearsed as a celebration of the mechanical fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. There will be many sentimental performances of the Nativity scene throughout the country this week.  There will be readings from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospels pointing out how Jesus ‘fulfilled’ prophecy.  There will be little mention of the very real historical situation of Mary and Joseph’s world.  A world ruled by the Roman Empire.  A world where 5% of the inhabitants owned 95% of the land and resources leaving the scraps to the other 95%.  Where the Romans reigned victoriously over its colonies.  The news of victory called the gospel. 

Are we being called to participate in the story laid out by Mary?   

In our meditation maybe we will remember that Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus were numbered among that 95%.  That these were folks who lived in the forgotten places of Empire.  In a word, baby Jesus was born in what would be a historical parallel to the ghetto.  It would take a book to lay out the development of ghetto life in connection to North America’s imperial reality. The story of Jesus’ birth tells us that Mary gave birth to him in a manger.  A manger was the last place a person would want to have a baby.  It would have been extremely unsanitary for a new born child.  We have heard this all before.  We get it.  Jesus was born of low estate.  What of today?  What are the parallels today?  If Jesus were to be born in our time and place locus imperiium where would he be?   

He would have been born in the cut 

What is the cut you may ask?  The cut is a space between houses in the projects (i.e. the ghetto).  It is a space where all kinds of inhumane illegal activities take place.  It is also a space where the homeless sleep.  A landscape of broken crack pipes, heroine needles, nihilism, despair, and many other domestic symptoms of Empire.  It is a space in the urban imagination, at least mine, where you are reminded that this is a forgotten place.  A place at the bottom.  But even in the midst of the bottom and despair resides hope and community.  It is not completely overtaken by nihilism and the many other leftovers of Empire.   

I believe Jesus would have been born in the cut.  The Word of God, God Incarnate, King of Kings, Lord of lords, Emmanuel would have been born in a space we drive by everyday in our gentrifying communities.  Those spaces we either know nothing about or care little for.   

Is this where your imagination takes you when you celebrate Advent?  If not, then I am afraid your imagination has been disciplined more by the story of Empire than that of the Advent. It is truly a subversive thought:  the salvation of the world came from the cut!

   

Advent Reflection: Deviants, Vigilantes and Empire

 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” Matthew 2: 16-18

“The new cultural and institutional systems of Empire support a monopolization of resources by the ruling elites, whose lives become concerned in competing with one another for the top positions in the dominance hierarchy. Because power struggles are continuous and often treacherous, relationships commonly feature a substantial element of distrust, fear, and duplicity. Fear is Empire’s friend, as it creates a psychological need for certainty, control, and structured relationships that motivates acquiescence by those below.” – David Korten, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community

Thought:  When the present/established order is challenged it recourses to violence, coercion, and labeling to squelch the alternative voice, perspective and practice.  In the context of North American Christianity establishment forms of Christianity are adept at using fear (e.g. believing such and such will lead you down the slippery slope to relativism and hell) and using the word heretic.  A survival function of establishment Christianity is to label serious challenges or what is perceived to be a threat as ‘heresy’.  This is a quick way, it is thought, to disregard a troublesome expression of Christian faith.  History teaches us that establishment Christianity is normally blinded by its own epistemological and moral totalitarianism.  It cannot see its own crumbling from the inside-out.  As it dies on the heap of its own rigidly structured world it sends out assasins to eliminate the threat to its existence.  It sends out what New Testament scholar Bruce Malina calls vigilantes: Vigilantism is establishment violence against a person or persons successfully labeled as deviant by some moral entrepreneur in the community for the purpose of maintaining prevailing values…The object of vigilantism is to eliminate deviant behavior. –  The Social Gospel of Jesus (p.57)

Thought: Apparently, Jesus was not a part of the establishment.  According to the establishment of Jesus’ day he was a heretic and a theological deviant.  

Reflection:  While many Christians feel compelled to maintain the center I find it interesting that Jesus worked primarily in the periphery.  The coming of baby Jesus was not received with joy by those in the establishment…by those that held the power to name what was and what was not orthodox.  Herod and Company’s orthdoxy was driven by fear and a particular kind of certainty that did not have room for the deviance of Jesus and his rag-tag group of disciples.  Jesus’ deviance was perceived to be a grave threat.  So much so that Herod had every little boy killed in Jesus’ town.  He shot wide of the mark hoping to squelch and kill the deviance.  This Advent season has me asking myself: will I be a vigilante…or a deviant? 

Dialog: The Gospel, Social Injustice, and War

From my brother Rod Garvin over at Soul.  He has enaged a black Reformed brother on the relationship between the gospel, social injustice, and the role of the church in the midst of these realities.  Great discussion taking place.  Here’s an excerpt from the post:

I have been having a very stimulating and enlightening conversation with Thabiti Anyabwile, one of my Reformed Christian brothers, over at Pure Church. His post entitled, “‘This Day and Age’ and the Church” served as a starting point for the dialog. I welcome you to read the original entry, as well as the comments below and weigh in on the very important questions that we both have raised during the course of the dialog.

I believe this to be an important discussion for black Christians (any Christians actually…for this seems to be a discussion taking place everywhere…it seems) of whatever tradition to have.  The black Church’s tradition of prophetic witness and social justice is waning, in my opinion, and is becoming overtaken by more insidious forces such as American Individualism and Consumerism.  I look forward to seeing these brothers (maybe some sisters can chime in as well) dialogue.  I have joined the fray as well.

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