Tag Archives: Jesus

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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Immanuel…Bat Man?

Last summer, late one evening, I was ironing a shirt.  And suddenly my vision kind of fluttered and went dark for a second.  So, I look up from my shirt and kind of blink my eyes.  And nothing happens.  So, I go back to ironing and a few seconds later, it happens again.  This time, I’m shaking my head and rubbing my eyes, thinking – oh, my, this is the stroke my doctor warned me about.  And I’m standing there like this and suddenly, I see it.  A bat.  A bat circling frantically around my ceiling.

I scream and run downstairs, scaring the cat half to death.  And the bat is flying and diving and I’m totally freaked out.  So, I’m thinking, how do I get this bat out of my house?  And it comes to me!  I turn off all the lights in the house, open up the back door and turn on the porch light, thinking the bat will follow the light.  It probably took a good five minutes for it to occur to me that a) bats aren’t moths and b) bats are blind.

So, I start knocking around in the dark trying to find my cell phone.  Then I remember again that the bat is blind, so I turn on a light, find my phone and call my husband.  Where’s the bat, he says.  It’s everywhere, I say.  What are you doing, he says.  I’m trying to avoid the bat, I say.  He says, How?  I say, By running around waving my arms.  He says, Sit.  Down.  You are interfering with the bat’s sonar.

So, I huddle on the sofa, watching this albatross-sized bat flying all over.  And I’m equally scared of two things.  One, getting rabies.  Two, guano.

And then, all of a sudden, the bat lands on the curtain rod over our living room window.  And now that I can actually see him, I see that he’s just this tiny little gray thing.  Tiny, no bigger than a sparrow.  And suddenly, I feel really bad for this poor little bat who has been stuck in my house for who knows how long and obviously wants nothing more than to get back outside.  Suddenly, I just wanted to help the bat, to do something to lead it out of my house and outside where it wanted to be.

And then I remembered a story I once heard describing the miracle of the incarnation.  That’s the miracle we’re really celebrating at Christmas –  the dreams of Joseph, the virgin birth, the angelic host singing praises before shepherds – these are all secondary to incarnation of God in Jesus Christ – God made flesh.

And lo, she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger...or something to that effect.t

And lo, she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger…or something…

It’s an unlikely combination, humanity and divinity, and theologians have been trying to explain it for at least 1700 years.  How did the incarnation happen?  How did it really work?  What did it accomplish?

Our lack of genuinely satisfying answers to these questions has been a stumbling block for many people, even for some of us who have been Christians most or all of our lives.  It’s just such a far-fetched idea – the divine taking on human flesh and then suffering, terribly, in that flesh.  No wonder we try to make rational sense of it.

But, my friends, this is something we can’t think our way through.  The miracle of the incarnation is something that the heart receives.  Because what really matters is not the how and the what of Jesus’ birth and life on earth, but why.  Why did God bother?  Why didn’t God just part the Red Sea again, send some fire down from heaven, make another donkey talk?  (That’s in Numbers 22, if you want to look that one up.)

I’d like to share with you Lauren F. Winner’s understanding of the incarnation.  Winner is the child of a lapsed Baptist and non-practicing Jew who, in her early twenties, converted, fully, to Orthodox Judaism.  But during that process, she became intrigued by the Christian understanding of Immanuel – God with us – and eventually, she abandoned Judaism, lured by the incarnation like a moth to flame (and unlike a bat to a porch light.)

In her memoir, Girl Meets God, she writes:

Here is the thing about God.  He is so big and so perfect that we can’t really understand Him.  We can’t possess Him, or apprehend Him.  Moses learned this when he climbed up Mount Sinai and saw that the radiance of God’s face would burn him up should he gaze upon it directly.  But God so wants to be in relationship with us that He makes himself small, smaller than He really is, smaller and more humble than his infinite, perfect self, so that we might be able to get to Him, a little bit.

Being born a human was not the first time God made Himself small so that we could have access to Him.  First He shrunk Himself when He revealed the Torah at Mount Sinai.  He shrunk Himself into tiny Hebrew words, man’s finite language, so that we might get to Him that way.  Then He shrunk Himself again, down to the size of a baby, down into manger finiteness.

Jane Vonnegut Yarmolinky wrote, “The whole concept of God taking on human shape, and all the liturgy and ritual around that, had simply never made any sense to me.  That was because, I realized one wonderful day, it was so simple.  For people with bodies, important things like love have to be embodied.  That’s all.  God had to be embodied, or else people with bodies would never in a trillion years understand about love.”

Never, in a trillion years.

So, the story that the bat reminded me of goes like this.  A man owns a barn and one day a bird flies into his barn and can’t figure out how to get out.  So, the guy opens up the barn doors and waits to see if the bird can navigate its way out.  Nope, next day, the bird’s still there.  So, he gets a broom and tries to shoo the bird in the right direction, but the bird just gets scared and hides.  So the guy is thinking and thinking about how to free this little bird and he thinks to himself, “If I were a bird, I could lead this bird out of this dark old barn and into the sunlight.”

And friends, that’s what Immanuel – God with us – means.  When Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” I suspect he was talking about getting small, meeting us at eye level, showing us the way himself, sharing in the life we live.  Joining us right where we are, just as God created us – beloved beings crafted in God’s image and “in the flesh.”

As for the bat, after I stopped running around like a maniac, it eventually found its way out of our house and into the night, where it belongs.  We, however, are meant to live in light.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.   Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

This Christmas, may God bless you and keep you.  May the grace of Jesus Christ shine upon you.  And may the Holy Spirit give you peace.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2013


Blessed are the…wait, who exactly?

Become worthy of the message embedded in the Sermon on the Mount.  – Mohandas Gandhi

gty_victim_boston_tk_130415_wblogWell, fuck.

Again.

The self-defensiveness of the righteous, predictably, has already begun.  Obviously¸ the massacre in Boston was perpetrated by a) godless foreign terrorists, b) a godless domestic terrorist, or c) a generically bad person.   We just need to a) arm ourselves, b) get prayer back in schools, and c) be thankful we’re not bad people and everything will be okay.

But only two things have any hope of resolving any of this.  One, I believe, is the grace of God.  Days like today make me appreciate Calvinism’s stubborn insistence on the sovereignty of God.  And days like today really make me appreciate John Calvin’s stubborn belief in a good God, all apparent evidence to the contrary.

The other is that we ourselves must accept collective responsibility for perpetuating the evil that is altogether too prevalent and effortless in this world.

A wise friend of mine once told me that there are only two human emotions – love and fear.  And a surfeit of one significantly limits the other.  Jesus gets at this with his advice to “love your enemies.”   Here’s the kicker though:  we are the enemy.   If we want to stop things like the Boston marathon massacre from happening every damn week in this country, we must start loving ourselves.  And by love I don’t mean self-indulgence or self-congratulation.  Love is genuine compassion and courageous integrity.  As a society, we are short on both.

Rather than filling our hands with more guns and more magazines, we need to hold the hands of the bloodied and broken.  Before gratifying our need for justice, we need to grieve the losses.  Before crucifying, we need to cry.

And frankly, until we, as a people, acknowledge that the evil expressed in Boston today is an evil shared by all of us, until we admit that we are all shattered creatures, until we publically lament our common brokenness together, and unless we stop pointing fingers as if sin is something relative, this shit will continue until no stone is left atop another.

As much as many of us hate to admit it, Jesus of Nazareth had one helluva point when he delivered the Beatitudes – which is Latin for “blessings,” by the way – two thousand years ago.  My own words seeming somewhat inadequate in the wake of America’s massacre du jour, I’ll leave the last words to the author of the book of Luke:

‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’[i]

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[i] Luke 6:26-38

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© Marian the Seminarian, 2013


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