Tag Archives: freedom

Self-Determination.

Today marks the second day of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a seven day holiday celebrated around the world by people from the African diaspora. Ever since I was a fifth grader, I have been aware of this holiday. At that time, my family and I were attending a predominantly Black Baptist megachurch which celebrated both Christmas and Kwanzaa. As a family, we didn’t really celebrate the holiday but I grew to respect people who chose to. One of the laziest criticisms of Kwanzaa is that it is a “made-up” “fake” holiday. If we are gonna be honest, all of our holy days are socially constructed, or “made up” as they say. I would argue what matters not is the origin stories of holidays, but ultimately the values that they teach.

In his significant work, Black Theology & Black Power, James Cone quotes Kwanzaa founder Maulana Ron Karenga and his criticism of Christianity, and the need to “concern ourselves more with this life which has its own problems. For the next life across Jordan is much further away from the growl of dogs and policemen and the pains of hunger and disease” (page 33). In the era of Black Lives Matter, I find Karenga’s words timely. U.S. Christianity, specifically White evangelicalism, has sneered at visions of black liberation for decades. Rather than join the struggle versus mass incarceration and the pre-school to prison pipeline that subjugates an overwhelming number of young black boys, White Christians would prefer to continue to perpetuate antiBlack narratives and politics for the sake of maintaining their power.

White Supremacist myths that continue to oppress Black people include the slaveability and dependent nature of Black souls. In this mythology, Blacks do not like freedom, Black people are servile, they play the entertainer, the really good athlete, the nice Black soldier, the “welfare queen,” or the uncritical “uninformed” Democratic party voter all at the same time. We see these images in the white supremacist media from good liberals at ESPN to the nice establishment conservatives at the Wall Street Journal. Black intellectuals are never seen as unique thinkers, only the black versions of European greats, like Frantz Fanon as the Black Jean-Paul Satre, for example.

These racist myths exist only to justify the current status quo, and to justify the four hundred year legacy of Black enslavement without any means of reparations, justice, or reconciliation. And yet, today is what celebrants of Kwanzaa call Kujichagulia Day, a day to reflect on SELF-INITIATIVE, SELF-RESPECT, AND SELF-DETERMINATION. If our notions of the human involve racist ideas, then I suggest that unfreedom, oppression would be part of our understanding of personhood. This would explain the preferred viciously antiBlack racist anthropological gaze of the majority population here in the United States. However, if one’s understanding of our humanity is that freedom is an inextricable part of our being, then the desire for self-determination shouldn’t be considered anything to be but natural. Over the years in my experience as an educator in a special education program, I have had to re-learn and learn with teenagers with disabilities about the value of self-determination. When working with various students with disabilities, I have learned that autonomy is going to look a whole lot different from one student to the next. For example, for one student who may be higher functioning with a slight learning disability, independence could look like moving away from study helps like dictionaries to newer reading strategies. Or, for another student who may have a significant intellectual disability and motor impairment, self-initiative could look like learning how to crawl and then walk for the very first time with the help of leg braces and a gait trainer. Self-determination isn’t going to look the same for everyone.

This essay is not only a push for the Black community to being more inclusive of people with disabilities in the practice and idea of Kujichagulia, but also to make it (self-determination), the strive towards freedom more contextual and less hegemonic. Such a move would allow us to also make a break away from essentialism that we sometimes see from defenders of Black culture. What if all Black college football players decided to boycott the NCAA until they, and all other student-athletes were paid? Or imagine a world where Black writers didn’t have to be the only ones left to navel-gaze of the history of white supremacy? Hear me out, but maybe what if Black scholars started doing work independent of White theorists and started appreciating the intellectual history and labor of Black people? What if Black self-initiative looks like not needing the approval of Whites, whether they be conservative or liberal or Marxist? We cannot have any form of racial reconciliation or racial justice without first developing a self-respect for our own work in a world where there exists a preferred hierarchy of values.

 

Photo Description:  Photo is a drawing of the 7 Kwanzaa candles, from left to right, 3 green candles, 1 yellow candle, then 3 burgundy candles.  Photo was taken by Katallna-Marie Kruszewskl. found on flickr.  

The Good News about God's Emotions. And Ours.

More thoughts On The Patristics, Divine Apatheia, & Divine Freedom

Content Note: brief discussion of depression

When I was a teenager, I battled depression for several years. I was unaware of God’s purpose for my life, I had few friends. I really didn’t go out that much. I struggled to reign in my emotions especially whenever my parents’ divorce was brought up. I was disappointed in ecclesial bodies and equally frustrated with the law system. At one point I was desperate, and I had no idea what to do. My mother suggested I read this book, and so I did. The first step I had to take was to recognize I was depressed, and admit that I needed the LORD’s help. While that particular book was a nice step in the right direction, it was actually a Bible passage that helped me to learn how to control my emotions rather than they control me:

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

– Isaiah 40:28-31

But really, reading and memorizing the last half of that chapter was life-changing, and I consider my experience, that summer after my sophomore year, to be one of my many conversion experiences. I really did feel like I was a new person. My Bible reading in the morning had a rather narrow focus on Bible passages that dealt with joy Yes, I even had Nehemiah 8:10 referenced on the cover of my High School Year book:

schs yrbook1

While I loved politics and U.S. government class and student council and all that jazz, in my inner-life I was oddly fascinated by celestial realities, what would it be like when I got to heaven. This was the only form of Christianity I knew, and while I was friendlier and happier, I was also just as distant from others. It’s difficult to relate to others who have real world concerns if you’re focused on trying to be optimistic all the time in order to avoid being the person you once were in the past. The problem was: I was still letting my past determine who I wanted to be, who I was.

Unfortunately today in theology where “relationality” has run wild, there are all sorts of unchecked claims being made about God, especially in the U.S. No I’m not denying that the divine is relational. What I am rejecting is the set of terms that God’s relationality is being discussed to begin with, for theological and political reasons. For example, process theologians contend that God is morally neutral, does not take sides, and to simplify the argument being made, “our tears are God’s tears.” On the more traditional side of things, unfortunately, there are a number of evangelicals and post-evangelicals who are eager to impute our desire for eternal bliss onto the Godhead as well.  This view of the Trinity is not new, but it has been popularized since the days of Jonathan Edwards, and found itself in renewal in the U.S. and abroad in the “Christian hedonism” movement.

During the Spring season of this year, I dialogued with Richard Beck’s series from seven years ago on divine apatheia and the Christian tradition.  I also discussed how Juergen Moltmann and Clement of Alexandria wrote about divine apatheia as God’s own self-sufficient divine liberty.  Now, what I want to do is to address what does Clement of Alexandria (a Church Father) have to say about is called divine equanimity as people call it, and how does this related to Moltmann’s theology of the cross. The evidence might surprise you.

First of all, I just want to state up front that I think it is rather unhealthy for scholars to argue that they are using apatheia the same way the Church Fathers did while #1, claiming to making their own private definitions of apatheia, and #2, being motivated themselves by their experiences. Nicene-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy is not something to club your opponents over the head with; it is just one starting point for engaging in dialogue with historic Christian thought. Now unless you have been living under a rock, you (the audience) should know by now that my favorite Church Father is Clement of Alexandria for a myriad of reasons. His influence has been marginalized, his Egyptian context neglected, but his writing, his exegesis, remain all the more relevant and provocative. For Clement, there are two things of worth noting before getting into his writing: #1, God’s goodness (character) is what makes God immutable, & #2, divine impassibility is a characteristic from God that is to be shared with humanity. 

As I have mentioned in the earlier posts, like most church fathers and mothers, Clement of Alexandria had to be in conversation with Greek philosophies such as Stoicism and the various Middle Platonisms (CoA preferred Jewish Middle Platonism > “secular”, other middle platonisms).  Here is what Clement has to say about God’s nature as it relates to God’s emotions:

“But God is impassible, free of anger, destitute of desire. And He is not free of fear, in the sense of avoiding what is terrible; or temperate, in the sense of having command of desires. For neither can the nature of God fall in with anything terrible, nor does God flee fear; just as He will not feel desire, so as to rule over desires.”- Clement of Alexandria in The Carpets (The Stromateis), Book 4, Chapter 23

At the end of this chapter, Clement even goes on to argue that at the Cross of Christ, The Logos that bled took away both wrath and lust (for wrath is the lust for vengeance). Now, also essential to this discussion of God’s freedom to inhibit any emotion God so chooses is the way in which Clement of Alexandria describes the life of the Christian mystic , the believer whom God shares God’s own impassibility with. In a chapter where Clement of Alexandria lists cheerfulness, hunger, anger, fear, desire, zeal, and courage as anxieties of the soul, Clement argues that the Christian mystic should practice IMPASSIBILITY, and not merely moderation of passion. “The Gnostic [Christian mystic] does not share either in those affections that are commonly celebrated as good, that is, the good things of the affections which are allied to the passions: such, I mean, as gladness, which is allied to pleasure;  and dejection, for this is conjoined with pain; caution, for it is subject to fear.”  (The Carpets, Book 6, Chapter 9) Clement goes on to add wrath to the discussion, which has been already conquered by perfect love that was revealed on the Cross. Just as Jesus our Lord and Savior was entirely 100% impassible (apathes), the Christian mystic has no need for “cheerfulness of the mind” or rage, nor envy.  Rather, in being assimilated to Christ, even the desire for joy is overcome by God’s immutable goodness that Christ has passed along to the Elect.  

In a U.S. American context, Clement’s ancient and bizarre message is next to impossible. Clement’s word to us is very disconcerting, because we have always learned as Americans that happiness is something to be pursued. We as U.S. Americans are socialized into Lockean values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of property happyness. Mainline and evangelical churches proclaim a false gospel with a politics of respectability, that believers should always have a smile on their face, while those who are depressed who suffer from chemical imbalances and external circumstances should live in shame. In the context of the Gospels, Christ uses the parables to teach us that the Holy Trinity does indeed rejoice when a person repents and is received to partake into the divine life.

hi 5 angels

 

God is not some PollyAnna in the sky. Neither is God a wrathful monster, or merely a “co-sufferer” of our afflictions. Rather, God is Spirit who is an overflow of unchanging, unsurpassable benevolence. Just as God can use the cheerful giver of the Pauline letters, God can also use the Elijahs of the world, angry prophets may struggle depression. The suffering love advocated by theologies of the cross (such as Moltmann) are not primarily determined by questions of theodicy, but rather are initiated by explorations into God’s own freedom to define Godself (revelation). 

“And the blood [Abel’s] that is the Word cries to God, since it is intimated that the Word was to suffer.”-Clement of Alexandria, The Educator, Book 1, Chapter 6

“[YHWH] brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.”- Isaiah 40:23

Open Theism, Moltmann, Patristic Thought, & Divine Apatheia

In a recent facebook group discussion, we have gone back and forth about the meaning of what does it mean for God to be impassible?  Does God really not suffer, and therefore is not able to relate to humanity? A current stream of polemics in BOTH conservative evangelical and mainline liberal Christian academia consists of making Platonism along with any other form of Greek philosophy to be enemy of the one, true pure biblical perspective. The use of this argument is valueable but it does have it limits. As Christians, we are to experience the world Pentecostally, in that God has reconciled all nations and tongues to Himself in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in the Sending of the Holy Spirit to the Church to go through out the world. Each language, philosophy, academic discipline can be used for the glory of the Triune God. The confusion of Babel comes in when Christians, for example talk about capitalism as Christian freedom, or when the early Church Fathers appropriated the Gentile, philosophical writings of their contexts with words like “apatheia,” “immutability,” “impassibility,” and the like. How can the God who died on the cross be considered unchangeable and incapable of suffering in any way?

Pentecostal Hybridity [not syncretism, since cultures and languages are fluid, and they can change], leads to language barriers and conflicts, and yes, definitely extended debates. Christian engagement with the “world” [prevailing cultures] does require something more than nuance, it requires discernment. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are must examine the prevailing texts of the day, appropriate the good, and discard the bad by measuring them with the Cross. A while back, Open theologian John Sanders wrote a post on the Early Church Fathers on Hellenism and Impassibility. While in some of his published works, Sanders took a more critical stance on the Church Fathers’ and their appropriation of “impassibility,” Sanders is now arguing (rightfully) that the way the Fathers understood God’s impassibility was really quite different from Greek philosophy. Sanders notes,

“From the second through fourth centuries there was no standard definition of divine “impassibility.”[i] For Christian writers it did not mean that God was apathetic, distant, or lacked compassion. God did experience mercy and love. Christians disagreed with one another whether God experienced anger depending on whether or not they thought this emotion “fitting” for God. The word functioned in a couple of ways. First, it was a way of qualifying the distinction between creator and creatures. God is incorruptible while we are not. But we will be made impassible (incorruptible) in the eschaton. Also, we are prone to be overwhelmed by emotions, particularly negative ones, but God is not. Hence, it was used to safeguard divine transcendence (aseity) rather than deny psychological emotions to God. Second, it functioned to distance the Christian God from the gods of polytheism. They were passible in the sense that acted capriciously and lost control of themselves. In contrast, the Christian God faithfully loved, was patient, and acted consistently.[ii] Hence, it is clear that when the fathers said God was impassible they did not intend to rule out that he has emotions or that he is affected by and responds to us.”

This observation holds especially true, particularly when one looks at the corpus of one Clement of Alexandria. Clement worked really hard to distance the God of Christianity from the Roman imperial Egyptian divinities of his day. Clement understood the gods of that pantheon to be greedy, lustful, sexually immoral, and controlled by their desires; and of course, their worshippers followed in their footsteps. What Clement did was argue that God is apathetic to what these gods desired, that the God revealed in the Divine Logos-Person of Yeshua the Messiah was fully capable of controlling himself, and also served as the source of our holiness, our own participation in the divine apatheia.

Often dismissed often as a pantheist heretic and for his kenotic Christology, Juergen Moltmann in his The Crucified God: The Cross Of Christ as the Foundation And Criticism of Christian Theology, made similar arguments as John Sanders and Clement of Alexandria concerning divine apatheia. Our conversation starts on page 269,

“An examination of the discussion of apatheia in ancient Greece, Judaism, and Christianity shows that apatheia does not mean the petrification of men, nor does it denote those symptoms of illness which are today described as apathy, indifference, and alienation. Rather, it denotes the freedom of man and his superiority to the world in corresponding to the perfect, all-sufficient freedom of the Godhead. Apatheia is entering into the higher divine sphere of the Logos. […] Love arises from the spirit and from freedom, not from desire or anxiety. The apathetic God therefore, could be understood as the free God who freed others for Himself.”

For Moltmann, it is essential for Christian theology to have both apatheia and pathos (which we find in the Old Testament). Thus, Moltmann concludes about apatheia, “Christian theology can only adopt insight and the longing of Hellenistic apathetic theology as a presupposition for the knowledge of the freedom of God and the liberation of fettered man” (page 275) Contrary to the popular saying “freedom isn’t free,” freedom is free, and its source is found in the Open God of Liberation. Just as no one desire or emotion is able to claim the Triune God as its own, neither can any oppressive tradition or institution possess the freedom that the Christian has been given by the Creator.  In the words of Clement of Alexandria, “For God bestows life freely, but evil custom, after our departure from this world, brings on the sinner unavailing remorse with punishment.” (Sermon to the Greeks, Chapter 10).

The Crucifixion of God’s Son is the one true source of humanity’s liberty.  The God-Man’s death on the Cross must be seen as God opening up God’s covenant for all humanity. Undergirding this premise for Moltmann is his CORRECT observation that the downward pathos movement of YHWH can only be understood as part of the special revelation in the Hebrew Bible, and in God’s communion with Israel.

“Therefore, there is for it a direct correspondence between the pathos of God and the sympatheia of men. On the basis of the presupposition of election to the covenant and the people it is necessary only to develop a dipolar theology which speaks of God’s passion and the drive of the spirit in the suffering and hopes of man. This presupposition does not exist for the Christian, especially for the Gentile Christian. Where for Israel immediacy is grounded on the presupposition of the covenant, for Christians it is Christ himself who communicates the Fatherhood of God and the power of the Spirit. Therefore, Christian theology cannot develop any dipolar theology of the reciprocal relationship between the God who calls and the man who answers; it must develop a trinitarian theology, for only in and through Christ is that dialogical relationship with God opened up.”- Page 275, once more (Bold Emphasis My Own)

Moltmann’s move is a significant gesture, a critique of the Gentile imperial arrogance we know as natural revelation. Moltmann at once contextualizes himself in the story of the Crucified God as a German Gentile, and at the same time is able to articulate the narrative of God’s people (Israel) and God’s Messiah. Now, Moltmann goes on to argue that the beginning of Trinitarian history happens at Golgatha; I disagree. God’s own Trinitarian history begins with liberating Exodus event and the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word made fetal flesh. The history of full human participation in Trinitarian history begins with the Crucifixion, I would contend, since God sovereignly chose to embrace us ragged Gentiles into the salvific equation. The Openness of God for us begins with the sweet embrace of Jesus nailed to the tree.