Tag Archives: Incarnation

infant lowly, infant holy

originally posted at Toy Adams’ Imagining Jesus blog

These days, there are a lot of Christians that like to talk about being “Incarnation,” and even to some extent “The Incarnation” itself. There are even some Christians who prefer to talk about multiple incarnations. When it comes to discussions of the Incarnation, we love the neat,cleaner, more respectable adult version, where we talk about Jesus as a Grown-Up, as he is able to walk  with us, talk with us personally. This perspective is a highly individualistic, it is self-centered, and exclusive of children’s subjectivity in the life of The Church.  As a Liberationist and an Open Theist, I am all for defending many (not all) relational approaches to understanding God. During Advent, this is the time where we must affirm God’s openness and freedom in choosing to reveal Godself in Christ Jesus, and at the same time we must affirm God’s particularity, the specific choice that God makes, God’s chosen location and positionality.

Let us not fool ourselves. Almost everyone remembers that famous scene from Talledega Nights, where Ricky Bobby proclaims that he loves to pray to Baby Jesus,. “Dear Lord Baby Jesus, we’d also like to thank you for my wife’s father Chip. We hope that you can use your baby Jesus powers to heal him and his horrible leg. It smells terrible and the dogs are always bothering with it” or “Dear Lord Baby Jesus, lying there in your…your little ghost manger, lookin’ at your Baby Einstein developmental…videos, learnin’ ’bout shapes and colors.” The hypermasculine shaming by our general culture was not the beginning of neglecting Baby Jesus as LORD. That all began when Christians throughout history appropriating philosophies that were inconsistent with the idea that YHWH himself became a child. In his book, In the End—The Beginning: the life of hope, Juergen Moltmann notes that the greek words for slave and child have the same root, that even the inspired New Testament authors use the term “childlike/childish” disparagingly (Luke 7:32/1st Corinthians 14:20, for ex.).

Unfortunately, Moltmann does not extend this logic to the Advent image of the Trinity, Mary our Theoktos, her husband Joseph, and Baby Jesus in the manger. In this lowly infant, God has once and for all united divinity with the class of human beings on the lowest rung of the social hierarchy. Children cannot speak. Babies cannot change themselves, feed themselves, OR WALK! Christians desire to solely talk about Jesus as an autonomous, able-bodied male-privileged Jewish subject. The idea that God was dependent upon a woman to nourish Him (in the womb) for His well-being is offensive to us. There are some Christians caught up in debating how the Son of God really could not become a human zygote because that means he was unconscious, and therefore could not reciprocate the love of the Father. This abstract and meaningless debate is one in which God’s sovereign choice at choosing risk and vulnerability is ill-recognized.  If the Church Fathers and Mothers agreed in line with the Gospel narratives that the Second Person of the Trinity did indeed become FULLY human, then the Son experienced fully and completely all things involved in human development and growth. As the Gospel according to Luke informs us, Jesus grew in both WISDOM and STATURE (Luke 2:52).

In agreement with James Cone, we as The Church must recognize continuity between the historical Jesus and the Christ of the creeds. God in the hypostatic union has reconciled marginalized humanity and emancipatory divinity. “For [the early church], Jesus is certainly a unique person, but the uniqueness of his appearance reveals the Holy One’s concern for the lonely and the downtrodden,” argues James Cone in A Black Theology of Liberation. By starting from the bottom-up, God’s salvation works for the benefit of all: God’s Triune love travels from least of these all the way to the top in order to raise up all of humanity at the New Creation (some people will choose judgement, others, reconciliation).This is the logic of the Resurrection, a theo-logic that finds itself as the result of the Incarnation of YHWH as Holy, Lowly Infant.

Following the arguments of the late Clark Pinnock, I can co-sign on the idea that Scripture presents us with a paradox of strength and vulnerability. “Though ontologically strong, God can be vulnerable because of the decision to make a world like this. The Lord of the universe has chosen to limit his power by delegating some to the creature. God gives room to creatures and invites them to be covenant partners, opening up the possibility of loving fellowship but also some of the initiative being taken away from God and creatures coming into conflict with his plans”- The Openness Of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Clark Pinnock gets the general description of God’s nature basically right but what his analysis ignores is the particular circumstances that YHWH reveals Godself. God invited the Hebrew children that YHWH delivered from Pharaoh to be covenant partners first. God chose to covenant with King David, Israel’s greatest king, to be God’s specific vehicle for the Logos’ embodiment. The loving fellowship that YHWH invites humanity to partake in is the story of the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom writings: the very narratives that reveal YHWH’s justice & preferential option for the widow, the stranger, and the poor. 

This Advent season I have also been working my way through Richard Wright’s Black Boy. Black Boy is Richard Wright’s autobiography about his childhood, or his lack thereof. It is a miserable tale in many instances, with stories about the brutality of an impoverished life, White supremacy, and religious fundamentalism. Wright shares a story of one Christmas day where he received nothing but an orange, and he describes the pain he felt while all the other kids in his neighborhood were playing outside, having fun. It was experiences such as these that taught Wright how to live in solidarity with those who are afflicted. “The spirit I caught had gave me insight into the sufferings of others, made me gravitate toward those whose feelings were like my own, made me sit for hours while others told me of their lives, made me strangely feel tender and cruel, violent and peaceful” (chapter 3).

The title Black Boy itself is filled with irony IMO.  When Black men are referred to as “boys,” it is an insult going back to African enslavement. Black people were/are considered to be at the bottom of White Supremacist hierarchy. On one hand, “boy” is pointing towards Wright’s experience of oppression under Jim/Jane Crow imperial domination.  On the other hand, “boy” is also being reclaimed with Wright taking back his ownership of his own childhood and his own story in spite of being robbed of it by organized religion and structural injustice. I am now contending that we Christians do a reclamation projection of our own, that of revisiting this notion of the Divine Baby more than once a year, to allow God’s choice for risk and vulnerability to define God, and not our own speculations. Once the Church returns to the childhood of the Triune God, we will be better able to join in the bottom-up Resurrection movement of the Logos. 

Royal. Bodies. #StayWokeAdvent #Ferguson

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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.

The Gospel Takes On Flesh: Anti-Racism As Spiritual Praxis

Yesterday, Tyler Tully wrote for the MennoNerds Synchroblog on Missional Spirituality:

“Contrary to the colonial model of disciple making, and past our notions of spiritual growth through purity (as the absence of anything that would pollute), I say the Kingdom of God is actualized “alongside the other” because our salvation from structures of privilege and oppression is always experienced communally. It springs from the present coming of Jesus “in the flesh” of the “other.” The gospel becomes actualized in us and for us, making us both spectator and participant in the New Kingdom of God. It is not a gnostic, noetic, or theoretical reality positioned in a past event, but a present, concrete reality. This liberating presence of Jesus–very real, very actual–is the gospel of salvation for both oppressor and oppressed, the privileged and the disenfranchised.”

You can read the rest at The Jesus Event: The True Gospel Is In the Other

Tyler’s approach to spirituality reminds me very much of James Cone and his chapter “The White Church and Black Power” where Cone argues that racism is inherently a theological issue.

“The issue is clear. Racism is a complete denial of the Incarnation and thus of Christianity. Therefore, the white [those churches of every cultural background who uphold oppressive values] denominational churches are unchristian. They are a manifestation of both a willingness to tolerate it and a desire to perpetuate it.”

(page 73, Black Theology and Black Power)

Making the connection between controversies over white supremacy and the early church Christological controversies:

“To be racist is to fall outside the definition of the Church. In our time, the issue of racism is analogous to the Arian Controversy of the fourth century. Athanasius perceived quite clearly that if Arius’ views were tolerated, Christianity would be lost. But few white churchmen have questioned whether racism was a similar denial of Jesus Christ” (ibid).

Two things: first, when it comes to Christianity, there is no such thing as Christian White Supremacist or Christian racists or Christian PaleoConfederates. You either believe the Logos put on Second-century Jewish flesh, or you do not. Many of the evangelical, missional and emergent dudebros and dudettes that accuse me (and others) of being too obsessed with racism call for tolerance of white supremacist individuals out of sentimental, privileged notions of forgiveness. Forgiveness I do believe in, it is cheap grace and refusals of repentance for racist practices I do not affirm.

Second, Racism is not only a denial of The Incarnation; white supremacy, anti-black racisms, etc., but is also a rejection of The Cross and Resurrection– the very Good News, itself as well.  The Gospel is God’s Victory Speech, the evangelion, in the greek just meant a good report, and the genre of these reports happened in the Roman Imperial context where Caesar’s would proclaim their “gospels” or military triumphs. Racists (including those who remain silent on church’s racist practices) rebelling against  God’s win through God’s Son, Christ Jesus, the triumph of reconciliation and liberation over empire , the triumph of healing and community over and against the sickness of white supremacy. So, whenever one prays to and meditates on our Risen Savior or whenever one resists racism wherever it raises its ugly head, she or he is partaking in the victory of the Triune God.

This is my contribution to the MennoNerds Anabaptist Missional Spirituality synchroblog.

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Christus Victor, Reconciliation, Cone, and Roberts