We’re Neurotic: Nonviolent Reflections on Memorial Day – Year 2

The solutions are very straightforward. For a fraction of the expense that the U.S. taxpayer put into destroying Laos, you could clear the unexploded ordnance. So the first step would be to do what we claim the Japanese can’t do: take responsibility. Maybe that would be a start. So let’s overcome this strange defect and accept responsibility. That defect is not in the American public. It’s in American educated elites. They [have the ability] to find this out. If they don’t know it already, they can easily find out. It’s not like learning quantum physics. It takes no time to find out. They can use their position to make sure everybody knows about it.

When the editors of the New York Times and the rest take responsibility – which they condemn the Japanese for not taking – that will be step one. Step two will be to put in the resources that are required to overcome this U.S. atrocity and stop killing Laotian children. It’s not a big step. It’s not like bombing somebody. It would cost a lot less than bombing Iraq or Sudan. So there are some easy answers. Very easy answers.

~ Noam Chomsky in an interview with David Barsamian about how to deal with the undetonated ordnance issue in Laos, 1999

Last year I wrote a post called Let Us Remember: Nonviolent Reflections on Memorial Day. In it, I compared Fascist Nazi Germany to the United States. I wrote,

America’s military cause is no more justified than Nazi Germany’s. Both were/are fueled by ideological assumptions, paradigms, and worldviews that seek world domination through whatever means necessary. This is, of course, not to downplay the horrors of the Nazi regime. I am still highlighting those. However, I am also highlighting the horrors of the American empire. Both are Satanic: both treated their own (white male) people well, but the rest of the world as a rag doll.

But let’s stop a moment. Today is Memorial Day. A day off work dedicated to honor those veterans who lived, and possibly died, for our “freedom.” This generally means the “freedom” and “liberties” of the citizens of the United States. As we well know, however, in actuality, it simply means the “liberties” of middle/upper class straight white men (and whomever they choose to share their almighty ‘liberty’ with). (Let’s not get into how a country cannot truly be ‘free’ and ‘liberated’ if other countries live in poverty and bondage. *ahem*) Yet, somehow, we gather the whole country to celebrate (half-heartedly) the mass murder of other nations (in the name of God), viewing it as honorable and as if it were the right thing to do.

People get upset about the commercialization of Christmas as a holiday. They get upset that Jesus has been turned into a commodity by capitalism and consumerism – that the spirit of Christmas goes from one to giving to one of consumption. I feel similarly about Memorial Day – a day about honoring those before us is actually a day gripped tightly by the military industrial complex to inundate U.S. citizens to reality and how the world views us. As I’ve written elsewhere, I am an advocate of nonviolence. I believe any type of killing is murder. So, while I can respect veterans for doing what they think is right, especially when it is a difficult choice, I still think they were wrong.  Especially on a day like Memorial Day.

This ‘holiday’ is used as propaganda to romanticize the horrors men, women, and children experienced (both in the U.S. and other countries) so that the general populace doesn’t really question what the heck was going on. Rather than mourn the deaths of all humans involved in armed conflict, we celebrate and honor those who come from the U.S. Rather than talk about and remember the unjust horrors the U.S. inflicted (and still inflicts) in many countries around the world with its military industrial complex and innumerable coups, we pretend we’re the savior of the world (when in actuality most of the world hates us, even if they obey us out of fear). Whereas Germany mourns what it did in The Good War, we exalt ourselves for any war we’re involved in – or just don’t talk about it if it went terribly. We repress, we forget, we hush hush. As Carl Jung said, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” In this case, neurosis is a substitute for admitting we are wrong, we are not the heroes. We feed ourselves lies of glory and create within our collective psyche a savior-complex.

In other words, we’re neurotic.

So, today, I want to remember some of the terrible things the United States has done. Specifically, two key incidents during the period historians refer to as The Long Sixties (1950-1970s). This is not to say the sacrifice U.S. veterans made is not worthy of remembrance, but to say that the innumerable foreign citizens, soldiers, and societal institutions the United States has destroyed and ruined are worth remembering just as much, if not more so, on a day such as Memorial Day. It is, put concisely, trying to add nuance to a society which likes it’s ‘facts’ in black and white.

1) Cambodian Bombing and Genocide

Between the years 1965 and 1973, the United States dropped, at the very least, 500,000 tons of bombs on the country of Cambodia. Some historians argue far more. Either way, that is equal to the amount the United States used in the entire Pacific theater during World War II – I believe this is counting the atomic bombs.

Why the massive amount of bombing on such a small, neutral country? Viet Cong troops, and eventually Khmer Rouge rebels were stationed there, even if against Cambodia’s wishes. Thus, the US took this as justification for the bombing – even if there was intentional disregard for civilian life.

Intentional. Richard Nixon told Henry Kissenger (who somehow won a Nobel ‘Peace’ Prize…), “They have got to go in there and I mean really go in. I don’t want the gunships, I want the helicopter ships. I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?” This was all a part of Nixon’s “Madman” Theory of War: be as crazy and violent as possible so that your enemy doesn’t want to mess with you. Basically like deterrence but super violent either way. Kissenger then relayed to Alexander Haig, “He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves.” These bombing raids were kept secret from the general public. The US doesn’t like its evil to be known.

unitedstatesbombingpointsincambodia
Area of Cambodia bombed by US – almost half the country.

Ben Kiernan, leading Cambodian Genocide scholar, estimates civilian casualties caused by US bombing to be 150,000.

On top of the bombing, the US was involved in a coup in 1970 to remove Sihanouk from power. The coup in conjunction with the bombing obliterated an already destabilized government. The US, China, Vietnam, and various political groups within Cambodia kept pulling the leading government officials (the prominent leader being Sihanouk) in multiple directions. After the removal of Sihanouk with right-wing replacement Lon Nol, Cambodia quickly became polarized.

The bombings created enough turmoil that the Communist Party of Kampuchea, which is what became the infamous Khmer Rouge, with Pol Pot as its primary leader, gained prominence. The Samluat Rebellion, a peasant uprising in Cambodia, helped pave the way to give Pol Pot power. Peasants were basically forced to give their rice to government workers (technically they ‘sold’ it, but it was so cheap they might as well have given it away for free). To make sure this continued, armed soldiers were placed near peasant farms and in villages. Peasants, being pissed off, killed two soldiers in rebellion to show they wouldn’t be treated as less-than-human any longer.

Pol Pot jumped on this opportunity to organize the frustrated peasants and gathered them into the Khmer Rouge movement. The Khmer Rouge began attacking military outposts and taking over Cambodia.

It wasn’t until the coup that Cambodia began associating with Vietnam’s Communist movement. From that point on, the two began collaborating, frustrated that the US played god. The Vietnamese viewed Sihanouk as the true leader of Cambodia, and offered their full support while Sihanouk and Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge joined forces against the US-backed government.

What began as a country which tried desperately to remain neutral (and arguably democratic) ended up as opposing and hating the US and pursuing communism.

The irony of the situation is that Pol Pot probably would not have been able to gain power in Cambodia if it weren’t for the illegal and covert US bombing/coup.

As a 1973 Intelligence Information Cable from the CIA’s Directorate of Operations explained:

Khmer insurgent (KI) [Khmer Rouge] cadre have begun an intensified proselyting campaign among ethnic Cambodian residents . . . in an effort to recruit young men and women for KI military organizations. They are using damage caused by B-52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda.

The narrative goes on and on with more and more destruction: the US puts its hand in something, screws it up, then has to kill more people to clean up its mess and make sure it still comes out looking like the hero rather than the villain. If you want to read a fuller narrative about the US involvement with Cambodia and how we ended up supporting the people we had, a decade before, tried killing, please refer to the many sources I provided below.

Before I continue, I’d like to share a quote from one of my main sources for this section, in which he parallels the Cambodian coup with the Iraq coup.

Any lessons to be drawn about the consequences of US intervention in Cambodia do not appear to have been learned: as the journalist John Pilger has pointed out, just as the massive destruction of Cambodia by the US bombing campaign helped create the conditions for the KR’s ascension, the US invasion of Iraq similarly destroyed a society and set the stage for the rise of ISIS. And just as the United States supported its former enemies in Cambodia against Vietnam throughout the 1980s, Washington entered into a tacit alliance with jihadist groups in Syria against Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Indeed, if we can expect anything from US foreign policy, it’s atrocities and complicity, cloaked in the language of democracy and human rights.

2) Laos

We’ve briefly discussed Cambodia. We’re going to even more briefly discuss Laos. If you want more in depth information, I will provide plenty of sources, and you can obviously do more research as needed. I’d love to provide fuller narratives, but alas, I don’t get paid to do this, and unfortunately just don’t have the time.

“From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.”*

laosbombing
Total area of Laos bombed by US.

The US was trying to wipe out the Pathet Lao and pro-communist/socialist Vietnamese forces in Laos. While trying to do so, they murdered countless civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands. Over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped – 80 million did not immediately detonate. They were intentionally manufactured so that all would not detonate upon first impact. To this day, Laotian people are still murdered by hidden bombs dropped many decades ago. The legacy of the US-backed murder of Laotian civilians continues on our day of relaxation/celebration: Memorial Day. For us, we eat hamburgers and potato chips. For the Laotians, they lose a few limbs and a child to bombs, since it happens almost, if not, everyday.

In fact, over 20,000 people have been killed in Laos from the undetonated US-dropped bombs. “Nearly 40 years on, less than 1% of these munitions have been destroyed. More than half of all confirmed cluster munitions casualties in the world have occurred in Laos.”

“The first group to try to do something about this issue was the Mennonites. The Mennonite Central Committee has had volunteers working in Laos since 1977 and has been trying to publicize the problem and get people interested in it…there is a British volunteer mine-detection group – composed of professionals, but not the British government…They have some Laotians working with them. The Americans are notable by their absence, as the British press puts it.” – Chomsky in Propaganda and the Public Mind by David Barsamian, 1999

“Furthermore, according to the right-wing Sunday Telegraph, the British mine-clearance group claims that the Pentagon will not even give them technical information that would allow them to defuse the bombs. There’s some technique you can use to make sure they don’t go off, but they won’t give them that information. So the British mine clearers themselves are at risk because this is secret information. The U.S. is not there clearing the bomblets and won’t give the British who are doing it information about how to do it safely.” – Chomsky

Despite this being our fault, we have generally refused to help clean up the mess. For example, “between 1993 and 2016, the U.S. contributed on average $4.9M per year for UXO clearance in Laos; the U.S. spent $13.3M per day (in 2013 dollars) for nine years bombing Laos.” We spent $13.3 million a day (in 2013 dollars) to bomb Laos for nine years straight. We can’t even manage to spend half that per year to help clean up the mess. We’re too busy making other messes! “In just ten days of bombing Laos, the U.S. spent $130M (in 2013 dollars), or more than it has spent in clean up over the past 24 years ($118M).” So much for being savior of the world.

3) 20-30 Million Murders…and then some: Are we the terrorists?

Cambodia. Laos. East Timor. Syria. Guatemala. Nicaragua. Afghanistan. Iraq. Angola. Bolivia. Argentina. Brazil. Vietnam. Chad. Colombia. Chile. Korea. China. Cuba. Democratic Republic of Congo. Dominican Republic. El Salvador. Grenada. Haiti. Honduras. Hungary. Iran. Indonesia. Palestine. Nepal. Pakistan. Paraguay. Panama. Philippines. Sudan. Uruguay. Yugoslavia.   The list goes on and on. The US has made quite a mess of the world. Don’t get me wrong, its not the only perpetrator. But it is a perpetrator that refuses to take responsibility. Instead, it wears a facade of heroism.

You may still be thinking, “this isn’t as bad as Nazi Germany.” Well, first of all, comparing death tolls and statistics feels so…inhumane. The murder of a single human should affect us, let alone a million or ten. But, it helps to do so…thus, the United States has murdered more than 20 million people in 37 “Victim Nations” since the end of WWII. The linked article begs a very important question: “how many September 11ths has the United States caused in other nations since WWII?” The answer is far too many, and leads me to a state of surprise that the US has only experienced one 9/11 itself – and that its own confrontation with terrorism didn’t lead it to empathy but rather more destruction. Not that it should experience more. As I’ve said, I advocate nonviolence both in the personal and political spectrum. War, murder, terrorism, and the like will get us no where.

Is this what we had in mind? Take down Hitler so we can do what he wanted to do – but a lot more covert and under the radar, stretched over a couple generations so it looked less wrong?

Either way, let that sink in. The beloved savior of the world, the United States, has been responsible for the unjust murder of at least, but probably more, than 20 million people – not counting WWII. Depending on how you look at the numbers, that’s more than Nazi Germany.

God bless America.

 

Sources:

Cambodia:

I borrowed a lot from this jacobinmag source. It was my primary go-to for the Cambodian part of this article. Credit goes to that writer for the information and chronological order of mine.
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/04/khmer-rouge-cambodian-genocide-united-states/

http://johnpilger.com/videos/year-zero-the-silent-death-of-cambodia

http://gsp.yale.edu/case-studies/cambodian-genocide-program/us-involvement-cambodian-war-and-genocide

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/refugee/war_cambodia.html

Killing Hope by William Blum

Laos:

http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21714972-how-unremitting-decade-long-bombing-campaign-affected-small-southeast-asian

http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/01/30/512449534/how-the-u-s-war-in-laos-was-key-to-the-birth-of-a-military-cia

http://legaciesofwar.org/about-laos/secret-war-laos/

http://alphahistory.com/vietnamwar/laos-during-vietnam-war/

Propaganda and the Public Mind: Conversations with Noam Chomsky Interviews by David Barsamian

Other:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/us-has-killed-more-than-20-million-people-in-37-victim-nations-since-world-war-ii/5492051

Prophet’s Playlist: May 2017

I am no musician, but I thoroughly enjoy listening to music. It pumps me up, helps me feel, connects me to the world, and expands my perception. I hold a special inclination toward heavy music – especially heavy music that protests injustices. It is, in my opinion, prophetic.

I enjoy reading, but with my recent schedule and life transitions, I have been far too tired to read and focus. Therefore, I have focused more on music as of late to get me through. I’d like to share some of the songs that speak to me with a prophetic voice. I’ve been thinking about writing this for awhile, but have finally achieved a stable enough schedule to do so! As I said above, I am no musician. Nor am I music critic. My sharing of these songs will primarily be focused on lyrical meaning. Technicality of music goes right over my head.

1) Silent Planet’s “Darkstrand (Hibakusha)”

This song is the best place to start. Recorded by up-and-coming metalcore band Silent Planet, it tells the story of a little girl and her mother during the atomic bombings of Japan. The lyrics are chilling, and instantly draw the listener into a state of simultaneous sympathy and dread. It raises many questions about human nature, good, evil, God, and love. The accompanying music quickly grows chaotic and ends with a slow, but very haunting, fade out – the calm after a storm. Or in this case, one of the worst war crimes in history.

This song, and its accompanying lyric video, has probably made the biggest impact on me. Three years ago when it was released it helped reignite many passions for me amidst a period of depression. Silent Planet includes citations in their lyrics, to show where they get their inspiration. They cite philosophers, historical occurrences, theologians, and other musicians. It just so happened that many of their citations paralleled what I had been reading and thinking about at the time of the release. Their music provided an emotional outlet and resonance that many heavy bands have been unable to do for me.

Stand out lyrics: “Isolated, trapped between, a picture of you now stained on the street. Oh mother, teach me how to die” and “Your life was only a nominal fee”

2) Stray From The Path’s “First World Problem Child”

Coming in angry and brutal is Stray From The Path’s “First World Problem Child,” with the opening lyrics: “Every rich white kid’s got something to say…SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

I recently discovered this song while listening to Rage Against The Machine. It came up as a suggestion after a RATM song. This isn’t surprising given that SFTP sounds very much like RATM. It’s as if RATM had a child with 2010s hardcore.

Since discovering it, I’ve been listening to it, and the album, rather frequently. It reminds me to shut my mouth on issues of race and listen to the voices of those who actually know what life is like when your skin isn’t pale. It reminds me that even though I barely make enough money to set some aside to save, I still have a wonderful wife, two outstanding jobs, food, and shelter. I have no reason to complain. I need to “shut the fuck up” and go try my frailest best to love and listen to people.

In other words, it makes me angry…but angry at my own inner entitled racist.

Stand out lyrics: “You can use a taste of another race – what’s it like to be your neighbor?” and “Easy living in your position with a white last name. Pre-conditioned to be the villain  another suburban day”

3) Bad Religion’s “American Jesus”

Worried about the current global state of affairs? Don’t worry, we’ve got the American Jesus. We’re a-okay! Oh, wait..maybe that’s part of the problem.

Written to critique the religious madness that is the United States with satirical overtones, it is just as relevant, if not more so, than it was in the 90s. When we have a businessman turned “Evangelical president” you know we’ve hit the epitome of selling religion. Three cheers for capitalism. Hip hip, hoo- oh shit..we just took down another democratic government in the name of god.

Too many citizens of the United States seem to believe that the U.S. is the chosen nation of god. This generally means the “Christian” god. Which Christian god they are referring to, though, I’m not sure. There’s the Presbyterian god, the Catholic god, the Orthodox god, the Methodist god, the Baptist god, the Anabaptist god, the Buddhist-Jesus god, the Evangelical god, the Pat-Robertson-is-god-incarnate god, the Rapture Ready god, the liberal god, the feminist god, the Zionist god, the…you get the point.

Almost all of these gods, if not all of them, have been appealed to for the sake of increasing the United States’ power and global ‘authority.’

Blasphemy.

Stand out lyrics:

“I feel sorry for the earth’s population
‘Cause so few live in the U.S.A.
At least the foreigners can copy our morality
They can visit but they cannot stay
Only precious few can garner the prosperity
It makes us walk with renewed confidence
We’ve got a place to go when we die
And the architect resides right here”

So, it’s a short playlist. Three songs. But, hey! This is the first month I’m doing this, and I just want to give you a taste of what’s to come. Have any suggestions for next month, be it genre, band, song, or otherwise? Shoot me a comment below and let me know!

Death is Dead

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:21-22

Death, in other words, is what all men truly have in common with each other and with the whole of creation. Death is what you have essentially in common with me and the only reality, it seems, that we have in common with everyone else and everything else in this world.

~ William Stringfellow

I’m a busy man these days. No busier than others, I suppose. I like to blame my illness and many life transitions for my lack of writing and rigorous intellectual thought as of late. But I am without excuse. Regardless, I want to write something, anything, about this Easter weekend. What better to write about than death? The greater meaning associated with this arbitrary weekend is that death is truly the only lifeless creature in this reality.

Yet death pervades all aspects of our lives. From desiring the next and greatest technological gadget, to watching television, to spending quality time with those we cherish – to live is to live with, avoid, or fight against death. It is the ever-present moral problem, the shadow behind us on a sunny day, the clouds above us on a rainy day – it is, in a sense, as omnipresent as the Greeks like to think of God.

You may be wondering what exactly death has to do with every facet of your life. Take a basic example: work. You go to work to make money. Why do you make money? To pay for housing, food, transportation, and all the other amenities that keep the cycle of your life flowing – work, pay, leisure, work, pay, leisure. Why do you do these? In essence, so you do not die. If you stopped working, there is a good chance you would die in many forms: you might become homeless and lack proper shelter, food, and healthcare. You could physically die. If you don’t physically die, your social life might pass away – it is hard to keep up with the Jones’s if you don’t have a job or a home. Eventually, then, your self-esteem will probably die.

What about all the little things at work? Promotions, getting along with co-workers, enjoying the job. Why are these important and how are they related to death? Well, if you get a promotion, you make more money. Physically, you may be better off and more able to avoid death. Socially, your status may go up and you may acquire more social power, thus feeding the ego and preventing a death of the self-esteem. What of relationships? Faring well with co-workers could lead to a promotion, it could feed the self-esteem/ego, and help one’s life feel meaningful. Rewind. Why is meaning important? And how is it related to death? Well, we are mortal beings. More specifically, we are mortal beings who are aware that we are mortal beings. Unlike most, if not all, other animals, we know we are eventually going to die. Yet, we also have the ability to see beauty, to consciously love, to make moral decisions. With this kind of power, coupled with our mortality, we begin to want to make our lives matter – otherwise it appears all for naught. Why have these abilities if we eventually die? The question is agonizing – it produces in us our anxieties. Thus, we seek to give meaning to our lives, however fragile – regardless of culture we find ourselves in. This does not mean that for our lives to have “meaning” we must continue to live on physically – for example, certain cultures, such as the Japanese, have found a certain kind of meaning and honor in suicide. The search for meaning drives humans to do much of what they do. At its root, then, avoiding or fighting death drives humanity.

This is not necessarily bad. All aspects of culture are not inherently ugly, or disdainful, or terrible. There is much beauty and wonder created in the name of death. That said, much of it, at root, comes out of a spirit of fear.

But there is no fear in love, as we are told by Jesus’ disciple John.

And this is precisely where Jesus and his resurrection becomes intrinsic to us as human beings.

Jesus’ resurrection shows us that there is no more to fear. He has conquered death. He has made it so we no longer have anything to fear – we are free to give up our lives to sacrifice for another, because in reality, we are not really losing our life. We are free to love fearlessly and selflessly, without secretly trying to feed our ego. We are free to be rid of need from another human, from idolizing each other, so that we can more accurately and lovingly care for one another.

This does not mean, of course, we will be successful. Some people who have foolishly believed they have conquered the fear of death may commit themselves to suicide so they can simply skip to the coming eschaton. This however, is not truly freedom from the fear of death – what drives a person to such impatience or theatrical measures? Either feeding the ego (“look at me and how I’ve conquered death!!”) or unconscious fear of not maintaining fearlessness in the face of death (“I must prove I’ve conquered death by physically killing myself!”). Both are illusions of fearlessness – both motivated by the fear of death. In other words, to live in Christ is not intentionally killing oneself for selfish sake (because that is still fearing death), but to lay down one’s life for the betterment of others, without fearing what may come of one’s own well being.

And we can do this, because “[Jesus] himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14b-15) 

Christus victor.

Grace and peace.

 

 

 

White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Blogging Through Pt. 3

Feminist theology is a very broad term ranging a variety of theological traditions. This makes sense, given the nature of Christian theology, which is far from homogeneous. Without giving a detailed analysis of each tradition, which Grant does provide a brief overview, let’s look at the general goals and themes within Christian Feminist theology as a whole.

Grant suggests there are four main themes, or “goals,” of feminist theology. The first of which is to develop a wholistic theology. By wholistic theology, she means a theology which more accurately represents all of humanity. Most theology has emerged out of the minds and experiences of only half the human race (men). Thus, “feminist theology seeks to bring about a more realistic and wholistic picture of the universe by developing a more wholistic theology.”

Second, feminist theology seeks to eliminate the notion of patriarchy. Patriarchy is “characterized by male-domination and female submission and subordination.” In a patriarchal society/church, men are considered to be superior in strength, intelligence, spirituality, and the like, while women are considered weak, dull, and incapable of asserting themselves. Thus, feminist theology seeks to show that such a notion is false – these traits can be found in various manifestations in the complex personalities of any given human being – whether male or female.

Third,  feminist theology seeks to create and offer freshly positive images and archetypes of women. Given the fact that most, if not all, of society and institutions therein function under a patriarchal paradigm (as mentioned above), to provide a more equal understanding of both (and all) genders, positive metaphors and images must be provided for women. Women have often been associated with snakes, witches, temptresses, prostitutes, and single mothers (which is often a derogatory term…in this case, the single mother should be an image turned into one of strength, not one of mere failure). “These negative images must be changed to reflect reality.”

Fourth, feminist theology must analyze male articulated doctrines and theologies. Any doctrine or theology developed by a man under a patriarchal system will, inevitably, perpetuate the patriarchal foundation. If feminist theology challenges the system, it will likewise challenge the doctrines, and vice versa.

This brings us to the focal point of the book: the doctrine of the God-man, Jesus Christ. God has been referred to as Lord, King, Father, and Master – all terms that generally carry a masculine association. Very rarely is God ever referred to as Mother by theologians (even if God is referred to as such in the Judeo-Christian scriptures). Feminist theology seeks to bring the feminine qualities of God to light, not necessarily to deny the masculine aspects of God (although some feminist theologians do this), but to balance out an image of God – one which says God is as masculine as God is feminine. But how do feminist theologians do this with Jesus Christ – the incarnate God who appeared to us as a man? And what is the significance of his incarnation and message for women?

It is that question that drives us ever forward.

 

White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Blogging Through Pt. 2

“What is women’s experience?” That’s a good question – I was wondering that myself, being that I’m not a woman and whatnot! I’m glad Grant is going to define her terms. It will, I’m assuming, prove helpful throughout the book.

She answers her own question with, “women’s experience is a complex of events, feelings, and struggles which are shared by women in various circumstances of life. It would be possible to examine several dimensions of women’s experience – the historical, political, psychological, social, religious and theological.”

While this is true, given that the primary focus of her study is Christology, and therefore the church, her focal point will be the church (and by implication the “larger societal question regarding women”).  Since women’s experience is not solely political, it will become evident that the struggle of women in the church is not solely one of the political process of ordination/leadership, but also theological issues. One of these theological issues she mentions is whether or not women can represent Jesus Christ. This seems to be a hot topic in the current cultural climate as of late, given the recent release of The Shack on the big screen. It seems Grant will have much to say on the matter.

Before we get to that, though, some preliminary matters must be brought to light. One such issue is the particular versus the universal. More explicitly, women’s experience versus men’s experience. Grant suggests that most of theology has been constructed by men, men whom have tried to show that their theology comes out of a universal experience, something that is self-evident and true for all people at all times. One thinks of Karl Barth’s claim that the absolute starting point of theology is the Word of God. However, this is a very patriarchal and oppressive way to do theology, especially since many of these men have been privileged. They are, well…men. Up until recently in the human narrative, men basically owned women. What men said and thought was what was done and to be. More often than not, these men were (and are) also white, upper middle class (or upper class), straight, and educated. They were/are the dominant force in the world – even if they don’t realize it or don’t want to be. These factors will most certainly play into their approach to theology – especially their view that their version of truth can be universalized and fit to match all people (including those whose experience they know nothing of). This isn’t, of course, to say that there is no universal truth, just that the fact these theologians have rarely, if ever, included other voices in their theological formulation is not only a huge issue, but one that degrades the truth value of their claims.

It is at this point that liberation theology (and frankly, the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jacques Derrida, and other postmodern philosophers), as a school of thought, becomes very helpful. “Recognizing inherent problems in the universalist approach to the doing of theology, liberationists propose that theology must emerge out of particular experiences of the oppressed people of God.”

As James Cone, author of God of the Oppressed, and famed Black Theologian, writes,

Because Christian theology is human speech about God, it is always related to historical situations, and thus all of its assertions are culturally limited…Although God, the subject of theology, is eternal, theology itself is, like those who articulate it, limited by history and time….[Our] image of God is a finite image, limited by the temporality and particularity of our existence. Theology is not a universal language; it is interested language and thus is always a reflection of the goals and aspirations of a particular people in a definite social setting.

If that isn’t postmodern, I don’t know what is. Anyway, that isn’t to say liberation theology (or postmodernism) isn’t concerned with universal principles, but that to get to the universal, we must start with the particular, rather than the universal to get to the particular.

An example of this, is again, James Cone. His work exemplifies the use of the particular/universal approach to Christology: “The Jesus of the black experience is the Jesus of Scripture. The dialectic relationship of the black experience and Scripture is the point of departure of Black Theology’s Christology.”

With all of this in mind, how does one construct a feminist Christology? Pretty much by smashing the “male universal foundation of theology.” Given that experience is the place which theological interpretation takes place, women must forcefully (if need be) take and claim the right to name themselves and their experience (identity politics!) so that their christological reflections can be authentically their own. As Grant writes, “Historically, the woman’s experience has been consumed by ‘generic’ (male) experiences and camouflaged by generic (male) language regarding that universal (male) experience.”

Grant then gives a brief description of various women who have begun to tackle this issue and construct their own means of theological formulation. The one that stands out most to me is Sheila Collins, who makes experience an actively integral part. She differentiates between theology and theologizing: “Theology is a ‘systematized body of knowledge about God,’ whereas theologizing is ‘that dialectical process of action/reflection which generates ever new questions.” This is direly important, because it opens up theologizing to participation with many, and frankly, all people. People can begin to theologize out of their own contexts – cultural, political, social, relational, etc…

While feminist theology has begun the work of constructing sufficient Christologies for women, I think Grant is arguing, or will argue, that this feminism is one primarily rooted in the white women’s experience, and is therefore not entirely adequate, nor truly reminiscent of liberation theology. I think she will go on to argue that the Christology we must begin with is that of womanism.

White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Blogging Through Pt. 1

I lived with my mother throughout childhood (not that my father wasn’t present – he most certainly was!). Most of my close friends have been women. I am, according to American culture, probably about as feminine as masculine. Despite all of this, I am still a lower middle class white male. I do not fully understand the experience of women, especially lower class minority women. That said, I’d certainly like to try.  One place to start is with Jacquelyn Grant’s book, White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response. Given that I not only claim to worship but seek to follow and imitate the God-man Jesus Christ, I am inclined to think it would be helpful to understand a feminist and womanist christological framework to both expand my understanding of Jesus and women. There will definitely be failure. Intercultural communication, whether via textual document, person, or what have you is difficult. My unconscious sexism and racism will manifest. I ask forgiveness and grace amidst my privilege. Let this be not only a lesson in womanist Christology, but also my own inner workings.

Now… to the book! The synopsis on the back of the book reads:

Christology is especially problematic for feminists. Because Jesus was undeniably male and because the Christian church claims him as the unique God-bearer, feminist christology confronts the dual tasks of explaining the significance of a male God-bearer for women and creating an adequate christological model adequate to feminist experience. This work rehearses the development and challenges of feminist christology and argues that, because it has reflected the experience of White women predominantly, it fails to reflect the concerns of non-White and non-western women. In response to this failure, and as distinguished from feminist theology, the author proposes a womanist theology and christology that emerges from and is adequate to the reality of contemporary Black women.

Here is where my experience with feminism and womanism fails me. It fails me because it is tiny or nonexistent. I have read only a handful of books on feminism and absolutely none on womanism. This little book on Christology is also going to function as my introduction to womanism.

If you’ve taken a basic theology course, you probably know what Christology is. It is, in its most basic form, a theology of Jesus Christ – whether that theology is one of divinity, humanity, or both, there is no Christian theology without Christology. Pretty simple right? Well, yeah. Sort of. “Throughout the history of Christian theology, European and American white men have formulated christologies in the continual response to Jesus’ question, ‘Who do you say I am?’ ” It is generally white (or privileged) men who concoct our theologies. Men whose exegesis is rife with the eisegesis of privilege. In other words, the theologians who formulate our well accepted christologies are men who, generally, are granted privilege (because of their manhood, social status, or ethnicity) – privilege which plays an unconscious role in their manner of doing theology.

Black and other Third World theologians have argued similarly – that theology (and therefore Christology) are not unrelated to social, political, and economic realities of human existence. Grant shows us the basic argument:

  1. Human condition results from the conscious (or unconscious) ethical decisions of human beings
  2. The divine reality is on the side of the oppressed poor, the outcast, the wretched, the downtrodden
  3. Therefore the gospel reveals that the primary intention of God in the incarnation is one of liberation.

Grant believes that the theology constructed by Europeans and Americans is rendered useless to the majority of human beings because of their given context. Theology needs to be contextualized, and therefore, the oppressed throughout the world must play a vital role in our construction of theologies, and in this specific instance, our christology. That is, in very brief description, what this book seems to be about.

More explicitly, Grant will provide feminist answers to questions such as “can a male be a savior to women?” “Why is Jesus used as a ‘weapon’ against (the ‘progress’ or ‘advancement’ of) women in the church? “What is the relationship between the maleness of Jesus and the salvation of women?” “How did Jesus challenge the established order-particularly in reference to women- or did he accept what was said about women by status quo oriented people?” “In what way(s) can Jesus be considered the savior of women?”

After providing the feminist answers, she will respond with the challenge of Black women’s experience. Grant will

“argue that racism/sexism/classism, as a conglomerate representation of oppression, is the most adequate point of departure for doing the kind of wholistic theology and Christology which, as we shall see, feminist theologians advocate. Black women representing an embodiment of this triply oppressive reality possess the potential for an wholistic analysis that can provide for the development of wholistic theological and christological construction which are wholly rather than partially liberating.

I am excited and nervous to dig into this book. I hope and pray it opens up my heart, mind, and soul to the experience of an other.

That Holy Anarchist: 5 Insights from Mark van Steenwyk

I just finished reading fellow MennoNerd, Mark van Steenwyk’s book, That Holy Anarchist. It was a quick, informative read that I wish was longer. Not many people in my circles are familiar with anarchism (or frankly Anabaptism), so while I will probably not be adding any new information that cannot be found in Mark’s book, I hope to share five insights that stood out to me, using my own flavour. Mark’s book is roughly 70 pages in length, but I will be interacting with only a few pages. This is in hopes of helping those unfamiliar with the relationship between Christianity and anarchism understand it more clearly. I also hope this whets your appetite to read his whole work.

I think the first thing worth noting is that anarchism is not monolithic. Mark points out that anarchism is stereotypically associated with a nihilistic high school student who just wants to see the world burn. In other words, think of The Joker from the film Batman: The Dark Knight. However, Steenwyk suggests that association with anarchism is not fair, because while sometimes true, it is not always true, and most certainly not true of traditional anarchism. In other words, just as Christianity, with its plethora of traditions and manifestations, is not monolithic, neither is anarchism. Both offer ‘good’ and ‘bad’ features. To reiterate: anarchism is not monolithic.

While anarchism is not monolithic, it does have an anchoring point. As Mark writes, ” ‘An-arch’ means contrary to authority or without ruler. So ‘anarchism’ is the name given to the principle under which a collectivity – a group of people – may be conceived without rule. Specifically, anarchism is traditionally understood to be a critique of the ‘state’ while promoting a stateless society.” To be contrary to authority. To be without a ruler. This is the focal point for the various streams of anarchism. Whether the anarchism critiques sexism, racism, classism, empire, or any combination of oppressive isms, anarchism at root is about living contrary to oppression and attempting to not participate in it. Succinctly, anarchism is resistance to oppression.

Although implied in the above paragraph, I want to explicitly bring to light that while anarchism is resistance to oppression, it does something else of great importance. As anarcho-primitivism shows, “oppression and domination go much deeper than a critique of the State or of corporations or of any powerful elite. Rather, it goes deeper into the fabric of our social structures.” While Mark doesn’t think anarcho-primitivism has gone far enough with this sentiment, he does believe that it is headed in the right direction. Anarcho-primitivism, and anarchism in general, needs to learn to address the interdependency of the various forces of oppression if it is to successfully resist them. He continues,

“’empire’ [is] a manifestation of inter-related oppressions. Empire is, in our context, that social reality (or unreality, depending upon how you look at it) that globally reaches out to manage all of creation (including humanity) into a system of exploitation wherein only the elite ultimately benefit.”

Anarchism works to reveal hidden forms of oppression and create novel ways to resist them.

Because oppression manifests itself differently in different eras and social contexts, anarchism should be considered more a posture and an attitude than a body of theory or doctrines. It is a general stance toward authority, power, and the corruption that very often comes with them. For this reason it “tends to be praxis-oriented, rather than theoretically oriented…at its best, anarchism isn’t theoretical, with all its abstract-thought-ducks lined up in a row, but rather an evolving endeavor where thought flows out of experiment and practice.” To reiterate, anarchism is generally more about practices than about theoryMark refers to this as the “anarchic impulse.”

Finally, anarchism, according to Mark’s representation, is not only compatible with various manifestations of Christianity, but has shown itself in many Christian traditions throughout Christian history. Mark provides a list of examples for his readers. For our purposes I will point out two, which I think are rather obvious.

The first is the early church. Mark writes,

The Jerusalem group, as described in Acts, shared their money and labor equally and fairly among members. There are also indications of consensus decision making (Acts 15). Within Pauline Christianity, we see glimpses of mutual submission rather than hierarchy (Ephesians 5), a charismatic understanding of authority and power wherein spiritual authority isn’t located within any one person but, instead, any person could manifest the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14), and a fundamental egalitarianism (Galatians 3 and Colossians 3).

Many theologians and denominations claim that the early church lived out or practiced their version of Christianity, so appealing to the early church is not always the most powerful argument. That said, I think Mark makes many good points.

The other instance I want to share is Mark’s reference to the Anabaptists. Apparently, according to Mark, Peter Kropotkin, in his essay on anarchism for the Encyclopedia Britannica, “traces the birth of anarchist thought in Europe to early Anabaptist communities. This makes sense, since traditional Anabaptists separated themselves from the functions and practices of the State. In addition, Anabaptists past and present have generally embraced pacifism and some groups have held property in common.” In other words, those ‘radical reformers’ during the Reformation, the ones so despised by the Protestants and Catholics alike, were prototypes (albeit not the earliest ones) for anarchism defined.

The point here, if not clear, is that anarchism and Christianity are compatible.

From here Mark suggest ways anarchism manifests itself in Scripture, and the fact that “Jesus is calling for a loving anarchy. An unkingdom. Of which he is the unking.”

In other words:

Grace and peace.

(Go read Mark’s book!)