Tag Archives: Advent

Royal. Bodies. #StayWokeAdvent #Ferguson

staywokeadvent (1)

Over a week ago, NBA basketball star LeBron “King” James found himself in hot water after breaking a rule. While hanging out with Prince William and Duchess Kate, LeBron violated British royal protocol by wrapping his arm around Kate’s back. The bodies of the members of the British Royal family are national treasures, and palace officials work to make sure that particular customs are adhered to.

Today I would like to reflect on the Advent Lectionary selection, 2nd Samuel 7:1-11, 16 (NRSV). Because the personal is political, and vice versa, I purposefully chose what I believed to be the most difficult text to deal with during this season of repentance. The chapter itself brings a lot of baggage, and so if you do not understand the context (historical & theological), it becomes more about King David and his reign rather than the actual kin(g)dom of God. The prophet Nathan is approached by David and is asked whether or not David is the one to build YHWH’s temple.  Nathan at first approves of the project, but then that night, God speaks to Nathan, and tells him, hold up homey, I have other plans. Verse 6 says, “I [YHWH] have not lived in a house since the day I brought the people of Israel from,  Egypt, to this day but I have been moving in a tent and a tabernacle.”

Right away, YHWH is reminding Nathan the prophet and King David that the central story for Israel is THE Exodus. The story of God liberating the Hebrew people from the wrath of Pharaoh is the foundational narrative by which we understand God’s sovereignty. God’s freedom is a freedom for others, a releasing of the captives whose bodies are suffering affliction. The human body is of utmost importance to YHWH because in it is located the imago Dei, as well as the primary means by which God receives worship (READ: LOVE). Therefore, White Supremacist systems that value the value of one group of people over People of Color, especially Black men, are in direct opposition to the Kin(g)dom of God.

Because God has blessed humanity with embodied spiritual existence, ALL of our actions do matter. The books of 1st and 2nd Samuel are good reminders. When the Israelites reject the prophet Samuel as kyriarch Samuel first reminds them that YHWH was the divinity who reigned over them since delivering their ancestors from Egyptian oppression (1st Samuel 8:), and that with this new political structure Israel desired, there would be consequences: “He will take your male and female slaves” “He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers” “he will take your sons to be his horsemen” (1st Samuel 8:10-18). In each example that the prophet Samuel gives, he refers to the future king’s lordship over Israel’s children’s bodies. Israel’s monarch will become Pharaoh: “And in that day, you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

David is not allowed to build YHWH’s temple because he had too much bloodshed on his hands (1st Kings 8). What God does promise him however is that God “will raise up your offspring after [David], who shall come from [David’s] body” and YHWH then promises to establish that progeny’s kingdom. David’s throne will be made to rule forever (2nd Samuel 7:16). Now, it would be quite easy to spiritualize this promise, but we must not ignore the theological significance of the human body here. God’s shares God’s divine power with us human beings so that we may reign with God. The kin(g)dom of God is not some otherworldly reality in the great by and by; the kingdom of God takes place whenever the Holy Spirit is active and working within and between human bodies. The question is, what does the kin(g)dom of God look like in the here and now?

The Israelites failed to believe the words of the judge/prophet Samuel, and by the time King David rose to power in Hebron, it was too late. King David’s sexual assault set in motion events where the reign of God became absent. The murder of Uriah, the death of Bathsheba’s newborn child, and number of political conspiracies and military battles that were waged against David’s household. One must ask herself, “Where exactly is God’s kin-dom found during the days of King David?” Okay, really where was God’s reign found during Israel’s monarchies?

Might I suggest that God reigns and continues to rule through the prophets? Nathan, Samuel, Huldah, and Deborah and a number of YHWH’s prophets stood as God’s voice, re-telling the Exodus story and God’s liberating activity when it comes to human affairs. Israel could exist with a king. Israel could be perfectly fine without the military dictators in some instances that we read about in Judges. Israel could be Israel even while in exile. Why? Because God chose to execute God’s rule through the prophets.

Notice what Nathan says about YHWH, that Ya has been moving through tent and tabernacle. God prefers to be on the move, marching with suffering humanity in their struggles for justice. In the Gospel of John, chapter 1:14, the original greek means that YHWH set up God’s tabernacle in Jesus’ royal flesh. And where did the Logos take up residence? Christ was not to be found among the powerful, but the outcast, the sick, and his fellow first century Judeans who were being colonized and terrorized by the Roman Empire. In the wake of the #Ferguson movement, where are the prophets? The kingmakers of the world (the racist media) are vying to make Al Sharpton king once more so that they can control the narrative. Yet it is clear that there is no need for an earthly ruler when all of humanity has the potential to have the reign of God in their hearts. The Spirit of Jesus is working in the midst the women and men organizing and updating their fellow human beings on Twitter, marching the streets to #ShutItDown, to end the current anti-Christ system of police brutality and mass incarceration.

There is no need to look for messiahs to save the poor. Human beings can and must do it themselves.”- James Cone, Malcolm & Martin & America: A Dream or a Nightmare?, page 315

This has been my contribution to the Theology of Ferguson #StayWokeAdvent lectionary reflections.

To “Safeguard the Nation”: Redemption, Torture, and #BlackLivesMatter: Advent Reflections

Timothy McGee is a doctoral student in systematic theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.

The Midtown South branch of the NYPD recently tweeted (and promptly took down) an image of Jack Nicholson playing Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men, along with the full quotation that begins with the famous line, “you can’t handle the truth,” and includes the troubling statement, “You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives!”

Posted two days after more than twenty-thousand people marched in New York to protest the killings of unarmed black men and women, this quote reveals the deep cultural as well as material connection between the military and police, such that the defense of one institution serves as the identical defense of the other. It thereby also reminds us that the domestic killing of unarmed black men and women should be connected to the international killing of unarmed civilians via drone warfare, and the torture of “enemy combatants” held in secret CIA detention centers overseas.

The reasoning provided by Jessup and quoted by the NYPD was recently repeated, even more callously, by Dick Cheney. Cheney argued that he was fine with the brutal treatment of innocent detainees as long as the objective of “saving lives” was fulfilled. No tragedy even, as long as “we” triumph.

The redemptive logic displayed in the tweet and defended by Cheney collapses the notion of “saving lives” into a larger project to “safeguard the nation.” It is not simply empirical individuals whose existence has been threatened but a whole idealized mode of life that has come under threat. What ultimately connects the militarization of the police to the imperialist policing of the world by the military is the sense that “America” is under attack and its salvation requires an increasingly violent response.

Talal Asad, an anthropologist and post-colonial theorist, has pointed out that Western Christian and secularized understandings of redemption have always been accompanied by a kind of cruelty or disregard for human life. The goal of redemption is to bring out the potential humanity of those not fully human others—whether poor black urban youth or Arab Muslims—and to contain and extirpate (culturally or biologically) those internal and external inhuman others who refuse and resist being “humanized” or redeemed by the West.

The current population self-identified with this redemptive project of humanizing potential human others, that is, the middle-class white U.S. citizen, is facing a crisis of legitimacy that it perceives as a threat. No longer able to sustain the fiction that its own interests are the nation’s best self-interests let alone the self-interests of the human species as a whole, it interprets this loss as attack or threat, doubling down on the myth of “American awesomeness” in the face of torture reports, police brutality, economic downturn and instability, racialized and gendered violence, and the increasingly strained position of the U.S. as the political and economic leader of the globe.

In face of the realization that its power and prestige cannot be assumed, the salvific defense of this class and its self-interests turns violent. If torture or the shooting of unarmed black civilians happens, these are simply, at worst, tragic necessities so that this threatened way of life—America—can continue. And it must continue, it must be saved, for it, in fact, is what redemption means. As the Jamaican essayist Sylvia Wynter has argued, human redemption has become materialized and now simply is entrance into the cultural mode of life defined by and structured for the sake of white, middle class America.

These tremblings of an Empire and its way of life are happening during Advent, a time in which we Christians remember that the prophesied birth of the Jewish Messiah sent the ruling elite of another Empire into a murderous, genocidal tirade. The “tragic sacrifice” of innocent life was deemed necessary to preserve the structures that would ensure global peace, the Pax Romana. But beneath and against these tremblings of Empire, other forms of life were emerging. In the language of the Gospels, the Kin(g)dom of God was breaking in, not in the pompous glory of power, but in the birth of a child in a stable, welcomed by poor shepherds and foreign wise men.

In the opening of Luke’s Gospel, Mary praises God for granting her the honor of mothering this Messiah. She sings,

 

He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

    and lifted up the lowly;

 he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and sent the rich away empty.

 He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy…

If we white U.S. Christians cannot echo Mary in this song of praise, it might be that we are more interested in preserving our self-proclaimed role as universal saviors than in embracing the form and mode of life in which Jesus of Nazareth actually came, and into which he continually calls us. On the other side, I can think of no better summary of Mary’s song happening today than the refrain Black Lives Matter. Not all lives matter, but black lives matter, for in a very biblical way, we do not seek to include the part into the whole—the covenant with Israel into creation, the Jew into the Gentile, black lives into all (human) lives—but constantly challenge the proposed whole for the sake of the part: creation for the sake of covenant, Gentiles grafted into Israel, and all lives matter only because black lives matter.

Perhaps then, as one marcher in New York wrote on a sign, the black liberation theologian James Cone was (and is) right, and the Gospel can and still should be summarized for us today as “Jesus Christ is Black.” A Black Christ is not antithetical to us white people. Christ is, however, quite clearly opposed to the redemptive violence unleashed against non-white bodies at home and abroad for the sake of saving what our bodies represent: the form of life that falsely claims to enact, bring, and secure the peace that will redeem or humanize all peoples. Against this redemptive life we too must learn to shout and hope and pray and live and act and work so that God’s kin(g)dom will come and Shut It Down.

Dear Santa

Dear Saint Nicholas,

If you are real, we hope you read the Political Jesus blog.  It’s a shame that your good name has been used in the name of mindless consumerism.  And to make things worse, now there are people who preach a prosperity gospel where God is seen as a genie. Anyways, Optimistic Chad (the better half of this blog) and myself were wondering if you could maybe help us out.  If you could find it in your Norwegian heart to send Chad and I a forest green Green Lantern hoodie, we would be most grateful.

PS:

Specifically,

Rod would like a green GL hoodie without the zipper.

Chad would like one with a zipper.

Also, Rod’s friend Seth would like a GL hoodie with a zipper.

Sincerely yours truly,

Rod and Chad

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