Repent…the end is not at hand

My favorite pop psych carpe diem mental masturbation exercise is imagining what I would do with the time I have left if I only had a year to live.  Being “of the cloth,” I fantasize about devoting my few remaining days to delivering desperately needed inoculations to people dying of highly contagious bleed-out diseases in godforsaken banana republics laced with landmines and crawling with the minions of local wackadoo dictators.

But let’s get real.  Like most people, I’d probably spend my last days watching Glee reruns and eating Girl Scout cookies by the sleeve.*  Given an expiration date, very few of us make an about-face, amend our errant ways, and get any more firmly on the straight and narrow that we’ve ever been.  Where genuine repentance is concerned, the last minute isn’t much of a motivator.

In the wake of the latest school-shooting-de la semaine and the inevitable ensuing firestorm about firearms, I’ve read several variations of the following on Facebook:  “Guns aren’t the problem.  People are the problem.”  These gemlike bumper sticker policy statements unleash predictable surges of political and moral controversy and streams of uninformative/uninformed, unkind, and unoriginal responses as people on all sides of the issue weigh in, yet again, on how and why our children are dying in hails of gunfire in their classrooms.  Then, just as predictably, those same outraged authors immediately scroll on to click “Like” on the latest videos of a cat in a shark suit riding on a Roomba.**

I try not to engage in exchanges of verbal gunfire on social media, preferring, as I do, to hide behind a Norton security screen and fire random shots into crowds via this blog.  But I’ll tell you what I would have posted to Facebook if I hadn’t gotten sidetracked by dogs on skateboards.  People are the problem.  People have been the problem since Adam and Eve got dressed and escaped Eden.  All of us bear the weight of sins we’ve inherited from our ancestors – social sins, sins of inequality, systemic “isms,” and systematic injustice; and we bear within us the sins we ourselves have committed and keep committing.  Being human gives human beings a deservedly bad name.

Gun control, mental health treatment, arming teachers, encasing our children in Kevlar; the solutions fly in a frenzy of hand-wringing for about a week after every mass shooting, then we go back to business as usual, acting as if none of this has anything really to do with us until the next barrage of media images showing sobbing teenagers in front of makeshift memorials with stuffed animals and crosses and balloons and handmade signs that say, “We will never forget you.”

Except we do.  These days, mass murder seems to be the cost of participating in our free and democratic society.  It’s positively routine anymore.  And it’s precisely our business-as-usual approach to routine civilian slaughter that makes these catastrophes possible again and again and again.

By itself, all the gun control – or gun stockpiling – in the world will not end events like Columbine, Pulse, Aurora, Las Vegas, Sutherland, Sandy Hook, and Parkland.  Because guns – or the lack of them – aren’t the root of this kind of evil.  Our society, pathologically permissive of violence, is.

Which brings me to repentance.

Popularly associated with hair shirts, self-flagellation, sackcloth, ashes, and consuming entire sleeves of Girl Scout cookies in a single sitting, repentance is one of the most misused theological concepts in the Christian playbook.  The Greek word metanoia, which we translate as “repentance,” literally means “turning around.”  Repentance is a course-correction made possible by the understanding that we are not moving in the right direction.  Unfortunately, the people most interested in repentance – Christians, supposedly – are among those most guilty of failing to do it.

I remember watching professional football games on TV as a kid and seeing a season ticket holder seated behind the goal posts raise a sign during every field goal and extra point that read: “Repent!  The end is at hand!”

Despite the personal satisfaction obtained via such broad-spectrum guilt-baiting (not dissimilar, I suspect, from the satisfaction gleaned from posting things on Facebook such as, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”), to my knowledge, no one in the Bible ever said, “Repent, for the end of the world is at hand.”  They did say repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

One of the other most misused theological concepts in the Christian playbook is the concept of the kingdom of heaven.  Contrary to opinion popular among the “Jesus Loves You and Burns Sinners in Hell” crowd, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven in the Bible, he’s not talking about some heavenly reward for the deceased faithful.  He’s talking about a state of grace in this life, on this space-time continuum.  He’s talking about something we do in this life, not something we earn our way into in the next.

People who truly repent — who take a fearless moral inventory of their world and then make substantive behavioral changes — actually do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven.  Starting today.  Right now.  Not after breakfast.  Not after death.  Repentance, that active course correction, brings the kingdom of heaven to the present moment.  That’s what Jesus meant when he prayed, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is done in heaven.”  Understood this way, repentance is less a sentiment and more a decision; less a feeling than a course of action.

We are called to repent because the end is NOT at hand.  But for those of us who do repent, the kingdom of heaven on earth may be.  In any case, keeping on keeping on for American society should not be an option, especially for people of faith.  Keeping on keeping on will not usher in the earthly rule of the Prince of Peace.  It is, however, successfully managing to make life hell on earth for far, far too many.

 

* I’d also book a trip to Hawaii so I could scratch “spit off the rim of a live volcano” off my bucket list.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I fucking love this one.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2018

 

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Better Angels

Blundering Oracle

“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

With those words Abraham Lincoln concluded his first inaugual address as the 16th President of the United States. Lincoln, as almost everyone knows, was the first Republican to be elected president, and by inauguration day, it seemed that he might be the last. Not the last Republican president, but the last President of the United States. Seven states had already seceded, four more would soon join them, and the future of the country was very much in doubt.

Yet here was Lincoln speaking hopefully and confidently about something no one could see and few likely believed: Americans would be reunited when their memories were…

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I am not Spartacus

Most of my posts are written with a fairly general readership in mind: mainly agnostics and atheists and other non-Christians looking for some straight-shooting about American Christianity and Christians, and those faithful few who feel strangely liberated by theological musings liberally peppered with profanity.

But today, I want to address a very particular group of you: white, progressive, American Christians.  First let me say that I know you’re trying to help.  I am, too.  I know you scratch your heads and feel culturally superior to conservative, Bible-believing Christians who see Donald Trump as a second King David, rather than the latest King Herod. I do, too.  And I know that you want to do more than simply say you value the lives and civil rights of non-Christian Americans; you want to act.  So do I.

So, since we are in agreement, let’s also agree to avoid acting in ways that replay the worn-out worldview of the white man’s burden. The particular action I’m referring to is that of well-meaning non-Muslims donning hijab with no understanding of what hijab means to Muslims and no intention of embracing the principles – and bearing the prejudices – that wearing hijab entails.

Non-Muslims wearing hijab as a symbol of political protest and social solidarity makes about as much sense – and is potentially as offensive to the party we are trying to support – as men dressing in drag in order to advocate for women’s reproductive rights or equal pay in the workplace.

Appropriating the symbols of another gender, race, or religion isn’t support; it’s a misdirected and subtle expression of cultural superiority. Are you listening, liberals?

Rose HamidTo Rose Hamid, who stood up in silent protest at a Trump rally in South Carolina and who endured vicious racist and nationalist invectives and the humiliation of being ejected from the building – I am in awe of your courage to stand up for exactly who you are and for others who identify with you because you share the same experience.

To CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad, who CNN quoted as saying: “Donald Trump should issue a public apology to the Muslim woman kicked out of his rally and make a clear statement that American Muslims are welcome as fellow citizens and as participants in the nation’s political process,” I agree that Trump should make that apology, but it’ll be a very, very, VERY cold day in hell when he does.  Allow me to suggest that Trump’s supporters – those happy few with a shred of decency and basic moral fiber – should issue that apology on behalf of their candidate.  He’s not king, for fuck’s sake; voters, at least for the moment, have a say in what kinds of behavior they will tolerate from an aspirant to “public service.”

And to all good-intentioned non-Muslims…and non-blacks…and non-Spanish speakers…and non-immigrants and non-women and non-disabled people out there who think that slogans like “We are all Charlie Hebdo” mean something to the people who actually ARE Charlie Hebdo…we need to rethink our strategy.

Trump must be challenged by the people he’s not directly attacking – white, Christian Americans who don’t want Trump pimping out the Constitution to suit his corporatist, oligarchical ends.  And we same white, Christian Americans need confront our (selectively) Bible-believing sisters and brothers in Christ who seem to have forgotten what it means to be patriotic Americans, devout Christ-followers, and rudimentarily decent human beings.

My fellow progressives, “I am Spartacus” is a terrific sentiment when Spartacus himself is standing next to you and a Roman officer holding a mallet and nails is itching for a crucifixion. If some dickless, Uzi-toting moron suddenly bursts into the Piggly Wiggly demanding that all non-Christians line up in front of the cigarette display for a first-hand experience of what the 2nd Amendment allegedly means, then yes, you should be a Muslim that day.

But the rest of the time, let’s proudly and publically claim our Christian faith in the spirit of the God who came among us as the least of these: an uneducated man of the laboring class, born of a woman of questionable virtue in a backwater town in a country occupied by a brutal foreign power, who lived as a refugee in Egypt for the first few years of his life and as a transient for the last three years of his life, and who, per the late, great, and inimitable Douglas Adams, was “nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.”

Jesus was an observant Jew up to the last night of his life. He spent his ministry confronting a corrupt Temple establishment and the Roman government as a faithful Jew. If he could do that, surely we Christians can confront the likes of Trump and his devotees as observant, faithful American Christians.


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