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Race-ing Towards Nicea part 1: The Incarnation

*Editors Note*: This is a Re-Post of my contribution to our Preaching Chalcedon Tri-Blog event. I am turning this into a series

THE IMPURITY CODE:How Liberal & Evangelical Christians Both Can Affirm the Nicene-Chalcedonian Tradition

First, I would like to take the time to commend Amanda Mac for this intriguing conversation that has stirred up a lot of interest apparently. Optymystic Chad deserves commendation as well for his brave stance, for not many Christians are willing to challenge tradition, and in such a provocative manner, no less.

Honestly, I come to this conversation without a dog in this fight. As a young pup growing up, I was Baptist, and the only creed we recognized was the Lord’s Prayer.  Like many folks, I did not encounter the Nicene-Chalcedonian formulas until graduate school. Honestly, for some reason, there is something magical about the ancient Creeds. As a children’s pastor at a church I once worked for, after they recited the Apostle’s Creed, I felt more alive and ready to give my children’s sermon, without a moment’s hesitation.  Perhaps it was a reminder that I am part of something larger than myself, that there is a cloud of witnesses that transcends any community I partake in. So as a matter of transparency, I come from a non-creedal tradition, and this is my defense (sorta) of the Chalcedonian Formula. On to the questions!

Homoousios As Hegemony

He asks,

“Further, the language of Christ’s two natures, while taken for granted by Chalcedon, is a Greco-Roman construct. Homoousios vs. Homoiousios is not Biblical language. It is simply one culture’s way of framing the earlier Hebraic faith. I oppose Chalcedon because it gives the appearance of divine approval to an outsourcing of theology to a 4th and 5th century Greco-Roman group of people who admitted no agenda, but clearly had one.While claiming to affirm a certain level of mystery, Chalcedon only does so after it has already said more than it should have. ”

Then Chad also inquires,

“Further, why does Christ have to be both Divine and Human? Or more to the point, if scripture only approaches this teaching narratively, why do we insist on understanding it mathematically? Economically? Through a Roman lens? Is it not enough to understand Jesus as being fully human, yet paradoxically doing and saying things only God could say and do? Why not let many theories abound?”

Chad is not the first to make these charges against the Chalcedonian Council. Neither do his pre-cautions go unwarranted. For instance, in her work, The Black Christ, Christian theologian and womanist Kelly Brown Douglas, who herself affirms the Nicene-Chalcedonian tradition as an Episcopalian, says, “Black Christians tend not to consider it relevant to their own beliefs about Jesus” (p 112). She adds, “By ignoring Jesus’s ministry and focusing on his “being,” He is seen as someone to be worshipped, believed in, but not followed or imitated” (112-113). Seeing the face of Christ in the oppressed, specifically, black women is part of Brown Douglas’s Christology, but no where (at least from her viewpoint) can one see that in the N-C tradition.

The hegemonic nature of the Chalcedonian Promulgation also stands as a barrier for Christian bible scholar and feminist Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. She, too, finds it way too problematic that Graeco-Roman terms were used as a fixed formula for attributing imperial economic labels onto Christ’s life. She says,

“This Christological doctrine thereby inscribes into Christian orthodox self-understanding and identity the “mysterious economy” of kyriarchal relations and imperial domination. By associating fatherhood/masculinity with divinity and eternity and by firmly placing motherhood/femininity in the temporal realm of humanity, it introduces not only gender dualism, but also the dualism between church and world, religion and nature, heaven and earth.” (Jesus, Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, page 22).

The Essential(isms) of The Faith

It would be impossible for Kelly Brown Douglas to speak for all persons of African descent at all times, and I doubt that she was doing that, but without qualifications, one finds themselves into Essentialism Land, that magical place where everyone knows who you are ‘cuz of what you look like. Brown Douglas forgot to mention that there is a significant population of Black Catholics who, like M. Shawn Copeland, who could attest to their black Christianity emphasizing the importance of the creeds. By the same measure, my apologies, Chad, but there is no such thing as THE Hebraic faith. Come on, friend, you know that Second Temple Judaisms thing? I would not say that one Jew is more “Hebraic” than another, for who am I, as a Gentile, to say such a thing. Is Philo somehow less Jewish because he wrote in Greek? Yes, the whole “Homoousios vs. Homoiousios” controversy is extra-biblical, but I don’t affirm that strict version of Sola Scriptura, and I doubt that you do either. Furthermore, to understand the Covenant Pentecostally, a believer has little choice but to affirm multi-lingualism. J. Kameron Carter understand Irenaeus’s writing to be pointing in this direction. In his Race: A Theological Account, Carter argues, ” In Christ, then, language is liberated from the fiction of purity and thus from every structure of dominance and slavery [.]” (30)  The notion of a pure biblical language, a pure race, a purely feminine/ masculine person comes unraveled in the covenantal Jewish flesh of Yeshua. There is no dualism or monism in Christ, but there is Reconciliation.

In order to understand Carter’s logic, one must go back to look at his theology of Israel, a theology that is anti-racist and anti-supercessionist. One cannot speak simply of Christ as purely human because Jesus’ humanity “constitutes a new intrahumanity.”  Christ’s existence is unique in that the Logos and Spirit are en-fleshed and in communion with the Father.  For Carter, “Christ’s flesh is mulatto flesh. […] The covenantal people of Israel witnesses to creation its own fruitful ‘contamination’  before YHWH as its life-giving limit” (30).  As Carter articulates so very well  Yeshua’s intrahuman fleshly existence , which supercedes space and time to receive the worship of Jews and Gentiles alike, is forever bound to impurity, therefore, the ethnic lines and classes set up by white supremacists and Social Darwinians alike are exposed for what they are: PURE FICTION.  Christ Yeshua is what it means for creation to exist in the presence of the Triune Creator, and no language can fully encapsulate that very miracle, but at the same time, every language and culture articulate it in their own unique way.

Goodbye, Every True Scotsman!!!

 

An Impure Orthopraxis

Amanda asks:

Should we preach Chalcedon today?  Is Chalcedon useful today?

I would answer, without a shadow of a doubt, yes, and more yes, but with a few qualifications.  As I alluded to in my response to Chad, one must understand Yeshua in light of what the formula says,

“but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ;
even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us”

I would argue that the Chalcedonian Formula is more of a Code, yes a Code. A Code is, for the most part according to Dictionary.com, a system of rules and regulations. It is an Impurity Code because it recognizes that the reconciling mission of the Savior is programmed into his very being: “recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” Once one understands the Chalcedonian Impurity Code in this manner, minus the anathema threats, it becomes a weapon against closed societies that regulate humanity according to “gender” and “race.”

I suggest that we listen to the wisdom of J. Kameron Carter in his theology of participation, where “Chalcedon is to be conceived as witnessing to a theology of covenantal participation in which the life of YHWH is throughly implicated in and suffuses the life of Israel. […] It is precisely this participatory transcendence, this ecstasy, by which God is God for us, that makes creation transcendent within itself in its ecstasy back to its Creator” (191).  In other words, Christ’s intrahumanity in reconciling creation to its Creator, makes all of creation more than just material. Corporeality is the reality in which God has been revealed, for the Transfiguration, as testified to by Moses and Elijah, reveals that all creatures have been placed under a new social rubric.  The mathematics of Chalcedon is quite simple, really: Christ + All=1/ All – Christ= 0.  Bodies, therefore, become the very vehicles by which God is magnified.  Just as Moses and Elijah stand witness to that blinding light on Mount Tabor representing the legal and prophetic word, so must one recognize that Christ is the hermeneutical key to our open creation.  Becoming involved in the logoi of the prophets is to become involved in the life of God.  Contrary to Kelly Brown Douglas’s claims, Yeshua is not a person to be followed, for we do not live in the 1st century, nor do I wish to “imitate” Yeshua the Messiah because the scriptural witness informs me that his death ends all sacrifices and what good does it do the oppressed to live a life ordained with suffering? Is not that the reason womanist theology had to distinguish itself from J. Deotis Roberts’ and James Cone’s Christology?   If Christianity is just another story like Harry Potter where the hero gives his life for others, I want a new religion.  Thus, it is important to realize that the early churches speculated that it was possible that Christ is the door to life in God, and therefore our agency is not our own, but Christ’s.  Yeshua the Messiah, as what Latin American Liberationists call The God-Poor, existing in solidarity with the oppressed empowers humanity to join in God’s redemptive love for the cosmos.

Do our congregations, which are steeped in a largely biblically-illiterate culture, just “know” that Christ is fully divine and fully human when we preach?

Ummm. Depends on who you talk to.  Sometimes there are congregation members who do their homework and read, and there are others that do not.

What would happen if we dropped the “shorthand” and began using the full sentence in our preaching?

I think people will start to walk out and leave. Long sermons are never popular, well, unless you grow up in the Black Baptist tradition. Sigh.

How do we guard against the tendency towards either Docetism or Nestorianism in our churches?

Pray.

Should evangelical churches, that are largely creedless, begin to re-examine and find ways to adopt these ancient statements in a post-modern context?

I would say this is the very last thing that evangelicals need to do if they want to reach out to a post-modern context.  So, no. They should first re-discover their own history before trying to explore historical Christianity.

To conclude, I will end with a passage from Scripture that is a short version of the Nicene-Chalcedonian Tradition:

“Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature” (2nd Peter 1:4)

 

 

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Once Upon a Shrink: Regina Meet M. Scott Peck

This is a guest post by Charles Hackney as part of the ongoing conversation here at Political Jesus on Once Upon a Time and Grimm. Just for the record, Chuck agrees with me 100% that #OUAT is the better show (and no that is not just because he’s married to me).

*****

This is the second of two investigations of the principal villains in Once Upon a Time. In response to Amanda Mac’s post on the theology of evil in OUaT, I previously discussed a possible Adlerian interpretation of Rumpelstiltskin.

Regina, like Rumpelstiltskin, begins in a position of powerlessness. Although the daughter of a wealthy family, she is bullied by her mother, a powerful sorceress who is not shy about forcefully using magic to get her way. Regina’s mother also uses her as a pawn in her bid for status, manipulating circumstances so that the king requests Regina’s hand in marriage. She later kills Regina’s true love, a common stableboy. Through an act of childish naivete, it was Snow White (the king’s daughter) who revealed Regina’s secret love. Regina not only becomes queen, but a powerful wielder of magic herself, and a common theme that runs through her plots is her desire to avenge herself on Snow in as painful a manner as possible. When her scheme with the poison apple fails, her final stroke is a curse that transports everyone to a terrible place with no happy endings (our world). Here, in the town of Storybrooke, the people’s memories are replaced, and their personalities stunted, and Regina reigns as Mayor, with only Mr. Gold (Rumpelstiltskin) rivalling her in wealth and influence.

Storybrooke presents the appearance of a pleasant small New England town, and Regina makes an attempt at establishing a happy family by adopting a son, Henry. It is, however, all illusion. The town is frozen in time, with none of the inhabitants growing or changing until the arrival of Emma, daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, and mother of Henry. Henry’s interactions with Regina reveal her motherhood to be more about control than about love. Emma’s investigations reveal the degree to which the inhabitants of Storybrooke are under Regina’s thumb. Scratch the surface of Storybrooke, and one finds that it is indeed a terrible place with no happy endings.

Many questions could be asked about Regina. One that occurs to me is this: why did her curse take this form? Why create a superficially-happy small town as her great act of vengeance upon Snow and Charming? Why include herself in the curse, eliminating her magic and her royal status in exchange for domination of an obscure little town? Why did she only begin to torment Snow (named Mary Margaret Blanchard in our world) after Emma’s presence had begun to weaken the curse?

To help explain Regina’s character, I turn to a classic psychological examination of evil, M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie. In People of the Lie, Peck describes the essence of evil as a form of self-deceptive narcissism.

“Malignant narcissism,” says Peck, “is characterized by an unsubmitted will” (p.78). He argues that all mentally-healthy people submit to something other than themselves, be it God or love or truth or whatever else requires personal preferences to be subordinated to a greater good. The core of evil, however, is an unwillingness to submit to anything beyond the self. If anyone wonders why “healthy” is being contrasted with “evil,” instead of “good and evil” or “healthy and unhealthy,” Peck considers evil to be the ultimate form of human dysfunction, akin to a personality disorder. But Peck believes that evil is different from mere psychopathy. Psychopaths lack empathy, the emotional capacity to care about the rights and feelings of others, and so are, according to Peck, blissfully unconflicted about their antisocial actions. Evil people retain a sense that they have done wrong, but they suppress the truth in order to maintain their narcissistic self-concept and see themselves as faultless. But suppression is not elimination, and the unconscious conflict between their vision of their perfection and their deep intuitive sense of their imperfection requires them to engage in constant activity to maintain the illusion of perfection. “The evil are ‘the people of the lie,’” says Peck, “deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception” (p.66). The following is Peck’s formal proposal for evil as a personality dysfunction:

“the time is right, I believe, for psychiatry to recognize a distinct new type of personality disorder to encompass those I have named evil. In addition to the abrogation of responsibility that characterizes all personality disorders, this one would specifically be distinguished by:
(a) consistent destructive, scapegoating behavior, which may often be quite subtle.
(b) excessive, albeit usually covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.
(c) pronounced concern with a public image and self-image of respectability, contributing to a stability of life-style but also to pretentiousness and denial of hateful feelings or vengeful motives
(d) intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of a mild schizophreniclike disturbance of thinking at times of stress.” (p.129)

We can see quite a lot of this in the behavior of Queen Regina. Peck spends a great deal of his book on the scapegoating behavior of the evil person. Because they see themselves as perfect, but with the insecurity that comes from knowing at a deep level that they are not, anything that threatens the illusion of perfection is intolerable. Regina frequently casts herself in the role of the victim in search of justified retribution. Snow White robbed her of her happily-ever-after, so she will do the same to Snow White. When Snow (as Mary in our world) is framed for murder, Regina says “We got her, Daniel. We got her.”, as if all this has been about righting a wrong committed by Snow. In the seventh episode (“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”), Regina says that others “don’t know the wretchedness inside [Snow] like I do.” It never seems to occur to her that Snow’s “betrayal” of her secret was the act of an innocent child being manipulated by an evil sorceress. The true villain here was Regina’s mother, but instead of blaming her mother, Regina blames Snow, and in essence becomes her mother. To admit that Snow was innocent would require Regina to admit that she had misplaced blame and had become the thing she had despised. Similarly, we see no indication that Regina has considered the possibility that her cold and controlling behavior toward Henry might be a large contributor to his belief that she is the Evil Queen from his fairy-tale book. Instead, she places the blame entirely on Emma.

A scene that shows Regina’s intolerance to criticism also comes from the seventh episode. Regina confronts Emma, claiming that everything bad that has happened (including Sheriff Graham’s romantic preference for Emma over Regina) is Emma’s fault. Emma replies, “You ever stop to think that maybe the problem isn’t with me but with you? Henry came and found me. Graham kissed me. Both were miserable. Maybe, Madam Mayor, you need to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why that is. Why is everyone running away from you?” In one of the few instances of Regina losing control, she punches Emma in the face.
The personal image of perfection can lead to a concern for a similarly-positive public image. Regina can be seen in Storybrooke engaged in many of the pro-community activities of a small-town mayor, including fundraisers and public projects. She presents the appearance of caring for the community, keeps a beautiful house, and her appearance is never less than perfect. This concern for an image of respectability may also be one of the best explanations of Regina’s desire to adopt a child. Another explanation might be the power of thralldom.

Peck devotes a section of his book to the idea of thralldom. He connects thralldom to “the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of others for the purpose of defending and preserving the integrity of our own sick selves… For the evil to so misuse their power, they must have the power to use in the first place. They must have some kind of dominion over their victims” (p.119). When one enthralls another, the victim is rendered weak and passive, further enhancing the offender’s feelings of power and superiority. Thralldom runs through Regina’s actions in the show. She steals the huntsman’s heart, sapping his will and making him her slave, a relationship that continued in Storybrooke until Emma frees him. When the Genie falls in love with her, Regina manipulates him into killing by her command, and seems quite happy about the idea of him being trapped in her mirrors, making him an easily-accessible and easily-ignored resource. In Storybrooke, the Genie is transformed into a journalist, who remains her miserable but willing puppet. In fact, a major component of the curse involves the enthrallment of the people of Storybrooke. As can be seen in the character of Prince Charming, a strong and courageous hero is changed into a spineless coward. Jiminy Cricket, an unwavering voice of principle, becomes easily manipulable. The frightening Red Riding Hood loses her willingness to take risks. The defiant Grumpy becomes the pitiable town drunk. Only Rumpelstiltskin seems to have retained any of his former willpower.

Perhaps the attraction to evil of thralldrom best explains why Regina chose the kind of curse that she did. Not only did she rob the people of their happy endings, and thus exact revenge, but she caused a collection of powerful and brave characters to become submissive to her, feeding her narcissism. Adopting a child would have given Regina another life to dominate, had Henry not seen through her illusion.
Peck is pessimistic about the possibility that an evil person can change. Change requires admitting that one is wrong, and it is highly unlikely that Regina’s narcissism will permit this first step (this is a common problem among those with personality disorders). Regina will never see the truth. All we can hope for is her defeat.

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Why #Grimm @NBCGrimm is better than #OUAT @OnceABC

My epic blog post Why Grimm is better than OUaT

This is my contribution to the Political Jesus Triblog Event: Grimm Versus Once Upon A Time

Chad’s case for why Fable comic books From Vertigo are better than either Grimm OR OUAT

Amanda’s: OUAT: A Great Examination of Evil; Grimm Just Plain Awful

Tonight I have taken up the task of making a case for the NBC t.v. series Grimm over and against Once Upon a Time. I will have to defer to Chad and his argument for Fables. While the Pilot does sound like a rip-off from Fables, reformed-Werewolf helping to find kidnapped Red Riding hood(s), that was not what the whole season was about.

On Protagonists

 

Did you notice something about Amanda Mac’s post? She only discussed the ANTAGONISTS for her case in favor of OUaT. I chuckled after noticing, but yes, the reason I do watch OUaT was for the antagonists, Mr. Gold and Mayor Regina. Their stories are the most compelling and heart-breaking. Snow/ Mary Margaret has to be the least sympathetic heroine ever written (right up there with Alicia Silverstone’s BatGirly in Batman and Robin). Sheriff Swann as her sidekick  of sorts reminds me more of a Clark Kent from Smallville during the seasons 6-8, boring and just bland. The two actors who stood out and actually recently earned nods as cast regulars, Meghan Ory/Ruby and Emilie De Ravin/Belle. Preferably, Ruby should get more lines than, “Oh, look, over there!” or “Um, um.”  Given the difference in genres between Grimm and OUaT, OUaT sought to appeal to “girl power” since it was more a drama/fantasy.  Thus, the  reason why relationships (father/son, mother/son, lover/lover) were so essential to pushing the narratives each week.

 

OUaT unfortunately really did not have a culturally diverse cast (I read that that’s changing in season 2) but that wouldn’t be my ONE big critique. My larger criticism of OUaT is that everything in Once Upon A Time felt like a metaphor for marriage and weddings. For example, the fairies got their fairy dust from where? Diamonds! Of course diamonds that overworked dwarves (proletariat) mined for day and night. OUaT felt like ABC wanted to replace the now (thank God!) cancelled Desperate Housewives, with a more fairy-tale version of DH. You spin the Disney fairytale movies into Grey’s Anatomy/Desperate Housewives mix, with a little police drama on the side, and you get OUaT. Girl power? More like opiate for the oogling masses.

Grimm on the other hand is a part of the horror/fantasy genre of television, which I thoroughly enjoy. I have made my utter dislike for procedurals and cop drama shows (Law and Order, Criminal Minds, etc.) but Grimm because it is a horror/fantasy is a lone exception. Like OUaT, Grimm relies on the strength of the narrative each week rather than a strong protagonist. It was a surprise success for NBC in large part due to its procedural format.  Did I mention Amanda Mac’s epic FAIL prediction that Grimm would be cancelled; in fact, it was renewed more than a month at least than OUAT?  Grimm is a rarity for the horror genre; its culturally diverse cast in contrast to horror shows that have rather bad records when it comes to racial inclusion was a plus and a pleasant surprise. Next season, Grimm is shoring up its cast with a veteran horror tv genre actor, Mark Pelligrino (one of my favorites) of Supernatural and Being Human (USA) while OUAT seeks a more racially diverse cast with the addition of a Mulan-like story character.

 

EPISODIC ADVENTURES

Next, I will turn to comparing two episodes, inspired by the same fairytale, to show the essential differences between OUaT and Grimm. The fourth episode of OUaT “The Price Of Gold” was a re-telling of the Cinderella story with Ashley Boyd a “real-life” citizen in Storybrooke.  The driver of the story is Rumplestiltskin who grants Cinderella’s wish to dress really nice so that she may marry the prince. Cinderella owes Rumpy her first born child. Meanwhile, Ashley is struggling to survive in Storybrooke as a pregnant, unwed and single teenager waiting on a man to rescue her, which happens (sort of) in the Valentine’s Day episode,
“Skin Deep.”

In stark contrast, the Grimm re-telling of Cinderella (and the difference between it and OUaT’s version) is an excellent peak into the creators’ vision for Grimm as a show. The 21st episode of Grimm Season 1, “Happily Ever Aftermath,” follows the story of Lucinda and Arthur, newlyweds who are on top of the world. Unfortunately, Arthur’s fortune comes from a dad who is involved in a billion dollar ponzi scheme, and it’s up to Lucinda to get the couple back into the black. That involves Lucinda using her powers as a Wesen, a Hell Bat who kills people by making high pitch sounds. Her targets are her stepmother and her step-sisters who also happen to be rich.  Greed, it turns out, drives people batt-y! Yes! Cheese-ball puns, for the win! No, in all seriousness, Grimm had a consistent message of economic and social justice throughout the season. In the episode, “Leave It To Beavers,” Nick (our Chosen One-the Grimm) teams up with a group that Grimms historically bullied, the Beavers, to take on a collective of Trolls trying to run the beavers’ construction business into the ground. The Trolls were fighting for a tradition of extorting others, government collaborating with businesses. The armed confrontation between Grimm and the Trolls is an allegory for aggressiveness that lower class must have to survive in an unjust world. Grimm also addressed drug culture, domestic violence, and rape, the latter two prominent in “The Thing With Feathers,” as well as police corruption (Nick’s partner Hank).

CONCLUSION

Grimm is an allegory of race relations, and the particularity of European identities that go suppressed due to class struggles and race. References to World War I, the “Old Country,” “Royal Families” as well as Nick’s other sidekick, Monroe’s knowledge of languages such as German make obvious Grimm as a racially and culturally aware horror show in a genre where you can expect all the people of color to die first or have insignificant roles. Grimm contains an ontologically superior story to OUaT; OUaT has “true love” as an opiate, while Grimm has politics and social justice. I’ll take justice and love the Other over deceptive definitions of “true love’’ any day of the week.

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