Author Archives: Marian

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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Prayers for The Donald

Donald Trump is an evil man in the most banal sense of the word.  And by “banal,” I don’t mean trivial; any man with Trump’s wealth, fame, and connections certainly has destructive potential to be taken seriously.  I simply mean that there is nothing particularly unusual or ingenious about his wickedness.[i]

Biblically speaking, his malevolence is nothing new under the sun.  He is Solomon using women as objects of amusement and pleasure.[ii],[iii]  He is Pharaoh identifying resident aliens as the enemy, isolating them from the local population, enslaving their bodies and exploiting their strength.[iv],[v]   He is Pilate, with his casual contempt for the land he would govern.[vi],[vii]  He is Herod, with his monument-building and ruthless aspirations to political greatness.[viii],[ix]  He is, in other words, a dangerously flawed human being gleefully plumbing the depths of our human potential for awfulness.  Millions of us love him for it.[x]  And millions of others can’t tear our eyes away, though we may wish to.

That said, what kills me isn’t Trump.  Just as Jesus said, “You shall always have the poor among you,” we will also always have megalomaniacal dickweeds among us…often contributing to the perpetuation of poverty, but that’s a topic for another post.  What kills me, as always, is the so-called Christian response to him.  On the one hand are the Christians who piss themselves with joy every time some toxic vitriol about a) brown people, b) women, c) people with disabilities, d) non-Americans, e) prisoners, f) have I missed anyone? comes out of Trump’s mouth.  On the other hand are the Christians, like yours truly, who secretly pray for a stray asteroid or one piece of bacon too many to simply remove Trump from the human equation.

Obviously, any celebration of evil (on the one hand) or prayerful exercise of evil (on the other hand) is patently un-Christlike.  I think Trump delights some Christians because he openly displays the rottenness that contaminates the human heart, particularly American human hearts with our conflicted and self-contradictory history and national identity of “liberty and justice for all”/slave-holding, genocide, and oppression of women and foreigners.  In this respect, Trump gives us a vicarious thrill when he spouts off about women bleeding out of their eyes (“or wherever”), or prisoners of war as “losers,” or roughing up brown people exercising their right to free speech.  I’m sure a great many Christians agree with their ever-lovin’ hearts and minds with the hateful sentiments behind such comments, but on some level, I think we all find Trump entertaining because yes, “he just said that.”  And it touches a similarly corrupt chord in all of our hearts.

Being a political liberal and a “progressive” Christian, I’m generally self-congratulatory about taking the moral high ground on social and political issues  But when Trump strums those corroded strings in my heart, in that soft, mealy spot in my own character, I respond as most of my kind do: with hot, righteous, but not altogether justifiable indignation.  Then, being a proper religious, I pray.  I’d be lying if I said I pray for Trump’s welfare, or for the heart-healing I think his ardent fans need.  No, I pray for Trump’s destruction.

The great political theorist and ethicist, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote that only power can confront power and an evil and corrupt establishment cannot be brought down with sit-ins and kumbaya.[xi]  An apt political observation, but it doesn’t stand up to Jesus’ command to love thy enemies and pray for those who persecute you.[xii]

I can’t for the life of me think of how to pray, with integrity, for The Donald, nor for many of our national and global leaders who seem bent on building empires for themselves on the backs of other nations and of their own people.  The best I can do is grieve my sin (yes, I just said that) and let God do the praying for me.  Paul wrote in his final letter, the letter to the church in Rome:  “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”[xiii]

We don’t know how to pray as we ought, or live as we ought, or hold each other or our public officials accountable as we ought because to do so would cast a circle of light over all of our sins.

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[i] These terms probably seem quaint or even archaic.  “Wickedness,” “evil,” and “sin” don’t see much play in my progressive Christian tradition, which is one of many ways educated, white, liberal Christians quietly acquiesce to the viciousness of our society: we patently refuse to call it what it is.

[ii] I Kings 11:1-3, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315650964

[iii] “18 Real Things Trump has Actually Said About Women,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/18-real-things-donald-trump-has-said-about-women_55d356a8e4b07addcb442023

[iv] Exodus 1:8-22, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315651105

[v] “Debunking Donald Trump’s Five Extreme Statements about Immigrants and Mexico,” http://www.forbes.com/sites/doliaestevez/2015/09/03/debunking-donald-trumps-five-extreme-statements-about-immigrants-and-mexico/print/

[vi] Luke 13:1, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315651271

[vii] “Hey Trump, Don’t Use “Crippled” as a Metaphor for America,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-kuusisto/donald-trump-and-the-crip_b_8510368.html

[viii]  “History Crash Course #31: Herod the Great,” http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48942446.html

[ix] “How Donald Trump Abandoned his Father’s Middle-Class Housing Empire for Luxury Building,” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/08/10/the-middle-class-housing-empire-donald-trump-abandoned-for-luxury-building/

[x] A long, but fascinating article in The Atlantic features thirty reasons, from all along the political spectrum, for why so many Americans support Trump’s presidential bid:  “What do Donald Trump Voters Actually Want?” http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/08/donald-trump-voters/401408/

[xi] I confess, this is a bit of a paraphrase.  For Niebuhr’s actual position, see Moral Man in Immoral Society.

[xii] Matthew 5:44,  http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315653551

[xiii] Romans 8:26, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315650687

[xiv] Illustration by Canadian artist, Dominic Philibert, http://dominicphilibert.blogspot.com/2010/09/donald-trumps-for-clarktoys-trailer.html

© Marian the Seminarian 2015


Epistle of Marian to the Followers of this Blog

Marian, servant of God,[i] by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ[ii] and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,[iii]

to Constant Readers:[iv]

Peace out.

I have heard of your faithfulness, good looks, feats of strength, and general thingness.[v]  So…good job and keep circulating those tapes.

It’s been several months since you heard from me.  If this was first century Palestine, you’d attribute the hiatus to slow postal service or me getting eaten by lions somewhere, but thankfully, we’re two thousand years beyond all that, except, possibly, for slow postal service.  Lo, these last many weeks, I’ve been immersed in deep and significant higher learning about Presbyterian polity,[vi] creeds, and confessions,[vii] Biblical Greek,[viii] and Paul’s seminal epistle to the Romans.  It is in regards to Romans that I write you today.

The book of Romans has been freaking people out for centuries.  A madcap hybrid fund-raising letter/theological treatise written in characteristically incomprehensible Pauline Greek,[ix] the book of Romans kept Augustine up nights, inspired Luther to pound his historic list of grievances to the Wittenberg door, gave Calvin the idea of dressing up as a doubly predestined sinner for Halloween – a totally depraved act which, as we all know, led him to invent the Protestant Reformation[x] – and gave Barth something to read in his free time when he wasn’t pissing off the Third Reich.

After two months of dogged study, I am now fully qualified to stand shoulder to shoulder with these theological grandmasters and share my view of what, clearly, is the principal take-home message of this famous letter:

Grace, baby, grace.

kitten

I couldn’t come up with a meaningful picture of grace, so I opted for this kitten that looks like a marshmallow.

Oozing through this letter is the theme of God’s grace, which Paul presents alternately as a) God’s faithfulness to Israel and b) God’s justification of Christ-followers’ through forgiveness of sins.  N.T. Wright, an epicure and soldier on the front lines of the new-perspective-on-Paul, doesn’t see much of a difference between the two:  “Dealing with sin, saving humans from it, giving them grace, forgiveness, justification, glorification – all this was the purpose of the single covenant from the beginning, now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.”[xi]  Pretty much this means that God had it all figured out for all of us a long time ago and we can just get over our damn selves.

Now, I know that some of you are thinking, “Yeah, but what predestination?”  As a good Calvinist, I turn to Barth.[xii]  He said that humanity’s love for God originates in God, who exists outside chronological time, so a temporal human life can’t predicate predestined outcomes because in the mind of God, whatever we’re hurtling toward is already reality, so we can just get over our damn selves.  And anyway, God gets to pick no matter what and because God’s faithfulness and love surpass human belief or unbelief, we can stop worrying and just get over our damn selves.

Yes, yes, some of you are going to the dark side.  What about double predestination you say?  Paul sums it up best:

Nothing, you name it, separates us from God’s love.  Not even twerking.[xiii]

So, rejoice.  Let’s get over our damn selves and enjoy God’s grace, peace, and general thingness.  Amen.

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[i] Stop laughing.  I’m doing homage to a classic literary form here.

[ii] Please don’t hold this post against Jesus.  He’s been held against enough posts.

[iii] In the cunning guise of Rail Yard Red Ale and Frito pie.

[iv] Or Re-Readers, to which you’ve been reduced to since this blog hasn’t seen two microseconds worth of action in six frickin’ months.

[v] I also heard something about the Guinness people, a deacon clearly operating without adequate adult supervision, and a hot dog eating contest, but since you didn’t break the current record of six hot dogs consumed in under three minutes, I really don’t think that’s something we should broadly advertise.

[vi] Because, loosey goosey as our theology may be, by God, all Presbyterian pastors know how to run a decent and orderly meeting.

[vii] These are kind of like Presbyterian fight songs.  For example:  “Rah, rah, ree!  Total depravity!  Rah, rah, rent!  Limited atonement!  Rah, rah, race!  Irresistible grace!”  We have pompons and everything.

[viii] One of the peculiar hazing rituals to which Presbyterian candidates for ordination are subjected.

[ix] Through an aneurysm-inducing cocktail of participles, serial clauses, and run-on sentences, Paul makes his point in Koine Greek at least as well as I make mine in English with liberal applications of footnotes and semicolons.

[x] And Protestants have been protesting ever since.

[xi] From N.T. Wright’s latest New York Times bestseller, Justification: Twenty Centuries of Low-Fat Cooking on the Road to Damascus, p. 95.

[xii] While avoiding Calvin himself and his five centuries of bad press.

[xiii] Romans 8:38-39, slightly abbreviated and nominally paraphrased.

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(c) Marian the Seminarian, 2014


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