Loving In The Loser’s Club: The Gospel According To Stephen King’s IT

“A frightening possibility suddenly occurred to him: maybe sometimes things didn’t just go wrong and then stop; maybe sometimes they just kept going wronger and wronger until everything was totally fucked up.”

“OH SHIT! I BELIEVE IN ALL OF THOSE THINGS!” he shouted, and it was true: even at eleven he had observed that things turned out right a ridiculous amount of the time.”

“There was power in that music, a power which seemed to most rightfully belong to all the skinny kids, fat kids, ugly kids, shy kids—the world’s losers, in short.”

One of my favorite things about Autumn is October because, well, Halloween. I mean, Hallowen. HALLO-FREAKING-WEEN. As I wrote elsewhere, I believe Halloween can be observed in a very Christocentric manner, all month long.

My main way to observe this sacred time has been to reread through Stephen King’s masterpiece, IT, once again. I cannot rave about this book enough. If you are even vaguely interested in reading it, please for the love of everything holy and uholy, read it. Haha, get it? IT. What’s that? Puns are evil? Nah.. oh.. okay..

If you haven’t read IT and are still interested in reading this post, please check out this brief plot summary so as to make sense of this gibberish I’m conveying. However, if you’ve seen the original film adaptation, that should be sufficient. If you’ve only seen the first part of the recent remake, be aware there are spoilers ahead.

There are many themes I would love to draw out, but for the sake of brevity let’s tie some random threads together and hope we acquire something sensible! Seriously, though, this book conveys many beautiful truths: the Christocentric gospel, mimetic theory, death anxiety,  and the centrality of love (here I mean agape, not eros) in living a satisfactory life. To name a few.

The first thing I’d like to point out about this book is that Stephen King manipulates the ‘haunted house’ horror trope. He expands this common microcosm from haunted house to haunted town (ie: Derry). Pennywise doesn’t live in a house, It lives in Derry.  Pennywise appears to be an almost omnipresent being in Derry. It can appear just about anytime and anywhere. Derry is Its town – one could say It owns Derry. It influences people and events. In this way, Pennywise is symbolic of the zeitgeist of a town. Now, the dictionary definition of zeitgeist reads as such:

the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time

and while I am using it in this way, I’d like to expand a bit. The zeitgeist is not simply covering a particular period of history, although it certainly embodies that. It can also mean the cultural atmosphere of any place, period of time, or group of people . For example, here are some questions that can get at the zeitgeist of one’s workplace: how casual is one permitted to dress, what goals does one’s workplace have and how does it seek to implement them, and what are the policies for showing up early or late? In relatively simple terms, I’m referring to culture. On a smaller scale this means the culture of a house, a workplace, a family, a person (ie: one’s psyche and way of thinking). On a larger scale, this could look like a county, a state, a nation, a non-geographically connected group of people.

The thing about culture is it is very real, and many ways even tangible, but it is often overlooked. People live in it, and often follow its mandates, without consciously thinking, “I’m obeying the rules of my culture.” Those who don’t obey get punished whether most explicitly via prison, mental asylums, or social stigmatization. Most people do not go through life self-examining themselves to choose what they want to consciously absorb and meld into and what they don’t. People just go with the flow.

Some, though, consciously follow the rules for fear of being cast out. They may theoretically disagree with an aspect of their culture, but we live in the postmodern age, and who knows what the hell is right…right? Let’s just do this thing, or go with this motion – why stir the pot and be looked down upon?

This is Pennywise. It manipulates Derry through apathetic ignorance and fear, just like the zeitgeist. Pennywise is simultaneously Adolf Hitler and Adolf Eichmann. It is in-your-face evil, but It is also the type of evil that apathetically pushes papers and blindly follows orders, irregardless of compassion and empathy.  It is not mere malice, it is willful ignorance, which, I would argue, is just as heinous.

“I started after him…and the clown looked back. I saw Its eyes, and all at
once I understood who It was.”
“Who was it, Don?” Harold Gardner asked softly.
It was Derry,” Don Hagarty said. “It was this town.”

See, almost all of the residents of Derry ignore Its presence. It is implied they are all very well aware of It, but they refuse to really acknowledge It, think about It, talk about It. They quite literally just live with It. But they can’t just ignore the mass murder of children. They have to put the blame on someone or something, even if that blame is not directly or consciously related to the initial problem. In other words, the people of Derry conjure up some form of scapegoat.

This sort of thing plays out everyday in a multitude of ways. On a microcosmic scale, imagine a father having a terribly stressful day at work, not dealing with the problem directly and consciously, but instead taking out his frustrations on his unassuming child. The child becomes the scapegoat for something unrelated to him, and the father’s stress may be relieved (sort of…not to speak of the guilt that should come from within). On a macrocosmic scale, one need only look at the current state of American politics – we have two generalized political bodies blaming the other for seemingly every problem in the nation state. It’s scapegoating on a broader scale.

More specifically I am referring to the Mimetic Theory proposed by Rene Girard. If you are unfamiliar, please read here. Briefly, the scapegoat functions as the guilty person/party, whether directly involved with the issue at hand or not. The scapegoat may be a person of blemish, embarrassment, quirkiness, etc… they just have to be an easy target which the larger body of people can unify against. In Christian theology, the scapegoat is Jesus Christ. On a practical, socio-politic-historical level, the political powers of His day (ie: Caesar) and the religious authorities (ie: the Pharisees, Sadducees, etc…) used Jesus’ crucifixion as a means to unify the people in the midst of political and religious crisis. On a theological metanarrative level, the Trinitarian God lets humanity kill Him in order that His love may be known, and the absurdity of violence and vengeance is shown. In other words, Jesus Christ functions as the scapegoat for humanity’s own self-inflicted harm. However, unlike other scapegoats, the victimization of Jesus Christ leads to the eventual end of violence and the absolution of sin, therefore ending the need for a scapegoat mechanism.

Now, in Stephen King It, the scapegoat just happens to be The Loser’s Club. As stated above, this scapegoat process is hardly conscious. There isn’t the clear and coherent thought: “We have to ignore Pennywise, but deal with this problem. Let’s indirectly take out our frustrations and qualms with the inhumane aspects of our zeitgeist (personified in Pennywise) on these weird kids.” I’d like to point out, as well, that The Loser’s Club may not be the only scapegoats. Because the narrative is centralized around this group of people, they are the scapegoats given, but that does not mean they are the only people of blemish in Derry. For example, King writes that Derry is extremely hostile to the LGBTQ+ population. This group of people are also scapegoats in Derry’s zeitgeist.

The Loser’s Club consists of a ragtag band of outcast kids who all have some sort of turmoil or social abnormality that makes them just not quite…right. These social quirks make them easy targets. Many would consider them to be a curse – but it is these very oddities that bring The Loser’s Club together in the first place. They bond over them, gain the strength to face Pennywise, and learn to love themselves and each other in the process. (Blessed are the persecuted.) The Loser’s Club comes together over their own insecurities and abnormalities to form a community. This community is guided by the gentle voice of the Turtle. The Turtle appears to be an omniscient Being of benevolence. The Turtle occasionally steps in to guide and assist The Loser’s Club toward agape love and victory of evil personified. The Turtle represents the Trinity, especially the Holy Spirit.

In Christian theology, the Holy Spirit guides humanity toward truth, holiness, and love. The Turtle in It does the same, and while I think this comparison is the biggest stretch I provide in this analysis, I still think it works. Some Christians may argue it is a bit blasphemous because the emphasis in the narrative is obviously on the power of love as found in The Loser’s Club and the Turtle is only in the background helping out. The kid’s do not explicitly worship the Turtle, and care far more about loving those around them. But that’s just it – Christ himself calls the Church his body, and therefore any true agape love found in the Church is also the love of Christ manifested on Earth.

Which leads me to my next point: The Loser’s Club is the Church. Now, you may be thinking, “hold on a minute. You’re comparing the scapegoat, outcast, loser group with one of the most powerful religions in the history of mankind?” but just bear with me a second. I do not in any way mean the powerful church, lower case c. I mean the Church, capital C.

Okay, that probably doesn’t clear things up all that much. I’m sorry. What I mean is that I believe the Church is always powerless. If the Church has political power or privilege, it is not the Church, just some piece-o-shit sham. In fact, that church is Pennywise. A modern day example: Pennywise embodies many aspects of the American Evangelical Church movement. This movement, culture, zeitgeist, is full of middle/upper class, white privileged, cisgender, powerful men and blindly submissive women that knowingly (or often more common: willfully and blindly) use their power to oppress many groups of people and spit in the face of Christ. Now, I’m not saying that if you or someone you know considers themselves to be an Evangelical in America that they (or you) are equivalent with Pennywise. But I’m definitely saying there is some truth to the claim that, by and large, American Evangelicalism is heinous, blasphemous, and evil.

Before you flip and get pissed at my statement, I’m not saying that other forms of Christianity aren’t evil, either. I’m pinpointing a group of people I myself am a part of. I’m not singling it out to, well.. scapegoat it. I’m using American Evangelicalism as an example because I am well acquainted with it, and feel more comfortable critiquing my own circle than another’s.

But what does this mean for the real Church? The real Church is, according to the precepts of the ‘world,’ powerless. It is all those Christians who consciously attempt non-conformance to the evils found in the institution of Christianity. It is those who refuse to simply go through the motions to make themselves feel better – to numb themselves with the opiate of the masses, as Marx so eloquently put it. Those actively working against the principalities and powers of the zeitgeist – they are Its explicit enemies. But they don’t work against people, they work for people, all people, seeking the reconciliation of everyone.

The real Church is often oppressed, sometimes willfully so. Oppressed not by “happy holidays,” or some non-existent Islamic overlord, but by choosing to live with the oppressed. The real Church works to end the oppression of peoples everywhere, all the while taking residence with them, if the oppressed are so willing to accept them into their community. The real Church gives up its power to become one with the powerless. The real Church is a co-suffering Loser’s Club. And just like the Loser’s Club, the real Church flips the principalities and powers on their head to reveal it holds true Power, thanks to the co-suffering love given by the Trinity.

The Loser’s Club overcomes the evil of Pennywise twice. The first time is while the members are children. During this period they defeat It, but don’t kill It. However, they hope it is over and finished. They promise each other if It ever comes back, they will reunite and fight It again. Almost 30 years pass, and It resurfaces as strong as ever. They reunite and fight It, of course succeeding because, c’mon, all you need is (co-suffering) love.

All this is sweet and thematic, but the thing I’d really like to point out here is the 30 year gap. King tells us that The Loser’s Club almost completely forget about It as they ‘mature’ into adulthood. Only one original member stays in Derry, and while he does his best to remember and stay vigilant, he eventually forgets. The perspectives of all members as adults are shown to us one by one. Some of them appear content while others appear discontent. All of them are comfortable though – even those in abusive relationships. They are comfortable in what they know, or refuse to admit. But none of them remember any of the others, and life has completely moved on.

Until Pennywise’s activity is made aware to Mike by the Turtle. Once Mike remembers he reluctantly phones each of them. The individual club members are forced out of apathy to confront the zeitgeist, to confront the true way the world works. It wrecks one of them, driving him to the point of suicide. He simply couldn’t deal with the difficult journey of non-conformity.  The rest forcibly move out of the comfort of their blind stagnant lives, and decide to face the current.

But for about 30 freaking years they conformed. They grew into the adults society told them they should be. Self-absorbed, afraid, loveless (agape-less). Despite a very explicit face-to-face victory against evil incarnate, they succumbed to blind ignorance. They assumed one battle, one victory was enough. But that’s not how the zeitgeist works. Evil is paradoxically constant and malleable. As soon as it is conquered (if it ever truly is this side of life), it manifests itself anew. This is why political revolutions just never work. The Church always trips up here. It justifiably stops to celebrate a victory, but quickly gets lost in said victory and loses focus. It quickly conforms to the status quo and trots forward.

Herein lies one of the most important lessons of King’s masterpiece: as a unified group, we are able to maintain our focus. We are able to encourage each other to keep moving, to stay the course. Separated, we become weaker, the temptation toward apathy grows stronger, and we lose sight of everything we once strove for. Agape becomes impossible if we are isolated – there is no one to love.

The other important bit we cannot forget lest our undoing ensue is found in a simple quote from It:

“Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”

The point is we are all, always, a little bit apathetic, a little bit compassionate. A little bit evil, a little bit good. One may outweigh the other at a given point in time, but we are ever-moving creatures, always growing, always changing. We are nuanced and beautiful, even at our worst. The person you have demonized as evil is still a person, there is still some good in there somewhere. The person you have glorified as divine is still a person, there is still some evil in there somewhere.

In the novel, people are not the problem that must be overcome. The evil is Pennywise. As stated above, Pennywise is the zeitgeist incarnate. Evil manifested. One must work to lovingly change and challenge the cultural zeitgeist of one’s place. One must fight those things, not people. Love people. Our enemies are institutions, principalities, cultures. Our enemy is Pennywise. Not the people It manipulates. People are always precious. No nuance about that.

While King himself may not agree with this interpretation, and while I have taken some liberties, this shows only a fraction of why I love this piece of literature so friggin’ much.  It’s the gospel in horror narrative form. Many Christians I know find it to be abhorrent, find horror and Halloween to be abhorrent. They’re missing out.

Perhaps they’re too blind to see that

“…God favors drunks, small children, and the cataclysmically stoned…”

 

Peace be unto you this spooky season. May you learn to overcome the ego and the fear of death so as to truly live a life in and for Love. ❤

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Halloween: A Holy Holiday

As far as I am aware, Halloween is an ambivalent subject among Christians. Some dislike it for the ‘demonic’ activity it inspires. While I don’t deny Halloween does bring out devious behavior in some, I believe it also manifests saintly behavior in others – whether the actor be aware or not.

What do I mean?

First of all, we need to explore one of the most explicit themes of Halloween: death. Death is an ever-present moral power in the lives of humanity. All human action is motivated by the fear and/or knowledge of death. For example: why do we go to work? To be given money. Why do we need money? To buy shelter and food. Why do we need those amenities? So we don’t die.

Another example, which is a bit more cryptic: we seek self-esteem so that we can convince ourselves we are worth more than simple mortal beings destined for death. If our self-esteem falters, we feel bad. We sometimes feel worthless. Why are worth and meaning so important to us? Because, with such a fragile existence, we have to convince ourselves there is more to this life than a measly 70 years of life. Self-esteem helps us cope with the immense amount of anxiety that comes with being a mortal.

Almost all, if not all, human activity is spurred on by physical or psychological survival. And these things are motivated by a fear/knowledge of death.

This is why I think Halloween offers such a beautiful way to interact with the thing that subconsciously motivates and scares us. Halloween deals explicitly with death – it brings it out of our subconscious and forces us to face it. Usually, this manifests by wearing costumes and making a fool of it, by watching scaring movies, by going through simulated haunted houses. As a collective society, we poke fun at death, we show that death doesn’t have ultimate power – we can still find joy amidst decay. We realize, for a night, that death, albeit powerful, doesn’t have the final say. It is a mockery of death, similar to Christ’s resurrection. This is why I consider Halloween a “Christian” holiday in the same vein as Christmas or Easter.

You may be thinking: Halloween? A “Christian” holiday? But what about all the criminal activity? My first response is: criminal activity occurs during the Christmas season, too. It is generally known that armed robberies increase around the Christmas and New Years season, although crime rates for all three holidays show no discernible pattern statistically speaking.

That said, don’t participate in the criminal activity. Not all ways to celebrate a holiday are equal. To assume so is like saying one will not go to church because they are all like Westboro Baptist Church. And don’t let the criminal activity dissuade you. The possibility of being robbed while you go visit grandmother’s house generally doesn’t prevent you from traveling for the Christmas holidays – often for days on end. So why let it dissuade you for one night?

I know many Christians who are frustrated that Christmas has become so commercialized and taken captive by the consumer spirit. They loathe it while still celebrating and observing many of its ritualistic and cultural imperatives – many of which don’t even stem from a Christian root. Yet these same people will not partake in the joy of Halloween due to similar reasoning. I suppose commercialized death isn’t as appealing as commercialized salvation.

Regardless, Halloween speaks to our physio-psychological need to know that death holds no ultimate power. While it may be the ruling principality of this day and age, its victory is an illusion – it deserves to be mocked. It is a sign of the coming Eschaton – where the dead are permanently given life. It is a conflagration of the already and the not yet – the time between our Lord’s resurrection and the Second Coming. I mean, it is the night where the dead walk among the living after all – and that is precisely why I like it.

Universalism by John Wesley Hanson

I just finished reading John Wesley Hanson’s Universalism. It was a short and easy read. Well, easy insofar as it wasn’t very theologically academic. It was difficult in that the edition I purchased was a print-on-demand from Amazon…the transcription was so poor I found typos and grammatical errors every few sentences. This lead to a lot of double takes, but honestly didn’t interfere too terribly with the process.

I’d like to share the last couple pages of Hanson’s book, because he basically outlines the previous 200 pages in a very succinct and compact way. A way that is potentially more palatable to my social media friends who have no time to sit down and read a dry book on universalism. I added a few thoughts of my own to his points, and tried to clarify some things that my be confusing, but for the most part, this is quoted from his work. I believe his work is now considered in the public domain. Please inform me if this isn’t the case, as I will swiftly remove this.

The whole premise of Hanson’s book is that universalism, as manifested in Christian theology, is not, and was not, considered heretical to Christians from 0-500 A.D. He outlines the history of the belief among prominent and minor Church Fathers (and Mothers) and shows that universalism was actually the dominant belief of Christians, and if we are going to be honest with ourselves, we cannot truly claim the belief to be heretical.

“If we want to be true and honest Christians, we must go back to those earliest ante-Nicene authorities, the true fathers of the church.” ~ Max Muller

1) During the First Century the primitive Christians did not dwell on matters of eschatology, but devoted their attention to apologetics; they were chiefly anxious to establish the fact of Christ’s advent, and of its blessings to the world. Possibly the question of destiny was an open one, till Paganism and Judaism introduced erroneous ideas, when the New Testament doctrine of the apokatastasis was asserted, and universal restoration became an accepted belief, as stated later by Clement and Origen, A.D. 180-230.

2) The Catacombs give us the views of the unlearned, as Clement and Origen state the doctrine of scholars and teachers. Not a syllable is found hinting at the horrors Augustinian endless terror, but the inscription on every monument harmonizes with the Universalism of the early fathers.

3) Clement declares that all punishment, however severe, is purificatory; that even the ‘torments of the damned’ are curative. Origen explains even Gehenna as signifying limited and curative punishment, and both, as all the other ancient Universalists, declare that ‘everleasting’ (aionion) punishment, is consonant with universal salvation. So that it is no proof that other primitive Christians who are less explicit as to the final result, taught endless punishment when they employ the same terms.

4) Like our Lord and his Apostles, the primitive Christians avoided the words with which the Pagans and Jews defined their versions of endless punishmen: aidios or adialeiopton timoria (endless torment), a doctrine the latter believed, and knew how to describe; but they, the early Christians, call punishment, as did our Lord, kolasis aionios, discipline, chastisement, of indefinitie, limited duration.

5) The early Christians taught that Christ preached the Gospel to the dead, and for that purpose descended into Hades. Many held that he released all who were in ward. This shows that repentance beyond the grave, perpetual probation, was then accepted, which precludes the modern error that the soul’s destiny is decided at death.

6) Prayers for the dead were universal in the early church, which would be absurd, if their condition is unalterably fixed at the grave.

7) The idea that false threats were necessary to keep the common people in check, and that the truth might be held esoterically, prevailed among the earlier Christians, so that there can be no doubt that many who seem to teach endless punishment, really held the broad universalistic views in more academic works, as we know the most did, and preached terrors pedagogically to the laypersons.

8) The first comparatively complete systematic statement of Christian doctrine ever given to the world was by Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 180, and universal salvation was one of the tenets.

9) The first complete presentation of Christianity as a system was by Origen (A.D. 220) and universal salvation was explicitly contained in it.

10) Universal salvation was the prevailing doctrine in Christendom as long as Greek, the language of the New Testament and its writers, was the language of Christendom, rather than Latin, as used by Augustinians.

11) Universalism was generally believed in the first three centuries, when Christians were most remarkable for simplicity, goodness, and missionary zeal, giving communally to all, freely sacrificing their lives as martyrs (thus, one does not need the fear of eternal torment to evangelize or love others).

12) Universalism was least known when Greek, the language of the New Testament was least known, and when Latin was the language of the Church in its darkest, most ignorant, and corrupt ages (ie: medieval period).

13) Not a writer among those who describe the heresies of the first three hundred years intimates that Universalism was then a heresy, though it was believed by many, if not by the majority, and certainly the greatest of the fathers (Origen, the Gregorys, Clement, Basil, etc.)

14) Not a single creed for five hundred years expresses any idea contrary to universal restoration, or in favor of endless punishment. All of the creeds we use in modern times, that were written in the Patristic period, were created and written by proponents of universal salvation. These are some of the very creeds biblical inerrantists use to claim in our contemporary times that universal salvation is a damnable belief.

15) With the exception of the arguments of Augustin (A.D. 420), there is not an argument known to have been framed against Universalism for at least four hundred years after Christ, by any of the ancient fathers, even those who did not believe Universalism.

16) While the councils that assembled in various parts of Christendom, anathematized every kind of doctrine supposed to be heretical, no oecumenical council, for more than five hundred years, condemned Universalism, though it had been advocated in every century by the principal scholars and most revered saints.

17) As late as A.D. 400, Jerome says ‘most people’ (plerique) and Augustine says ‘very many’ (quam plurimi), believed in Universalism, notwithstanding that the tremendous influence of Augustine, and the mighty power of the semi-pagan secular arm were arrayed against it.

18) The principal ancient Universalists were Christian born and reared, and were among the most scholarly and saintly of all the ancient saints, as many were the founders of famous seminaries, theological/philosophical libraries, and conducted
themselves in a loving manner, as testified by contemporaries and historians.

19) The most celebrated of the earlier advocates of endless punishment were heathen/pagan born, and led corrupt lives in their youth. Tertullian, one of the first, and Augustine, the greatest of them, confess to having been among the most vile, and believed they deserved to be punished for it.

20) The first advocates of endless punishment, Minucious Felix, Tertullian, and Augustine, were Latins, ignorant of Greek, and less competent to interpret the original meaning of Greek Scriptures than were the Greek universalistic scholars. The prior relied on faulty and erroneous Latin translations.

21) The first advocates of Universalism, after the Apostles, were Greeks, in whose mother-tongue the New Testament was written. They found their Universalism in the Greek Bible and passed down through disciples of the Apostles. Who should be correct, they or the Latins?

22) The Greek Fathers announced the great truth of universal restoration in an age of darkness, sin and corruption. There was nothing to suggest it to them in the world’s literature or religion. It was wholly contrary to everything around them. Where else could they have found it, but where they say they did, in the Gospel? Many in these modern times think universalism is paganistic, but that is quite the opposite: Christian theology is the first to have birthed universalism.

23) All ecclesiastical historians and the best Biblical critics and scholars agree to the prevalence of Universalism in the earlier centuries. Many scholars who once wrote of the lack of Universalism have corrected themselves apologetically after further research and discovery.

24) From the days of Clement of Alexandria to those of Gregory of Nyssa and Theodore of Mopsuestia (A.D. 180-428), the great theologians and teachers, almost without exception, were Universalists. No equal number in the same centuries were comparable to them for learning and goodness in Christian theology.

25) The first theological school in Christendom, that in Alexandria, taught Universalism for more than two hundred years.

26) In all Christendom, from A.D. 170 to 430, there were six Christian schools. Of these four, the only strictly theological schools, taught Universalism, and but one endless punishment.

27) The three earliest Gnostic sects, the Basilidians, the Carpocratians and the Valentinians (A.D. 117-132) are condemned by Christian writers, and their heresies pointed out, but though they taught Universalism, that doctrine is never condemned by those who oppose them. Irenaeus, in his famous ‘Against Heresies’ condemned the errors of the Carpocratians, but does not reprehend their Universalism, though he ascribes the doctrine to them.

28) The first defense of Christianity against Infidelity (Origen against Celsus) puts the defense on Universalistic grounds. Celsus charged the Christians’ God with cruelty because he punished with fire. Origen replied that God’s fire is curative; that he is a ‘Consuming Fire’ because he consumes sin, but not the sinner. The sinner, he saves.

29) Origen, the chief representative of Universalism in the ancient centuries, was bitterly opposed and condemned for various heresies by ignorant and cruel fanatics. He was accused of opposing Episcopacy, believing in pre-existence, etc., but never was condemned for his Universalism. The very council that anathematized ‘Origenism’ eulogized Gregory of Nyssa, who was explicitly a Universalist as was Origen. Lists of his errors are given by Methodius, Pamphilus, Eusebius, Marcellus, Eustathius, and Jerome, but Universalism is never named by one of his opponents. Fancy a list of Ballou’s errors and his Universalism omitted; Hippolytus (A.D. 320) names thirty-two known heresies, but Universalism is not mentioned once. Epiphanius, ‘the hammer that crushes heretics,’ describes eighty heresies, but he does not mention universal salvation, though Gregory of Nyssa, who as we have said, was a strong universalist, was, at the time Epiphanius wrote, the most conspicuous figure in Christendom. Why, if Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, two of the most influential figures of their time, who were both strong universalists, were never called out for their universalism if it was considered heresy?

30) Justinian, a half-pagan emperor, who attempted to have universalism officially condemned, lived in the most corrupt epoch of the Christian centuries. He closed the theological schools, and demanded the condemnation of Universalism by law; but the doctrine was so prevalent in the church that the council refused to obey his edict to suppress it. Lecky says the age of Justinian was ‘the worst form of civilization has assumed.’

31) The first clear and definite statement of human destiny by any Christian writer after the days of the Apostles, includes universal restoration, and that doctrine was advocated by most of the greatest and best (here meaning the most influential, those we know lived their lives according to the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, those who did not want to persecute heretics [such as the likes of the vicious Augustine], etc.) of the Christian Fathers for the first five hundred years of the Christian Era.

In one word, a careful study of the early history of the Christian religion, will show that the doctrine of universal restoration was least prevalent in the darkest, and prevailed most in the most enlightened of the earliest centuries — that it was the prevailing doctrine of the Primitive Christian Church.

~John Wesley Hanson, Universalism~

Let Us Remember: Slavery Built America

American slaves are just as much veterans as those who have served in the military.

Today is Memorial Day. A day where we celebrate our ‘victories’ and mourn our losses, while respecting those who have sacrificed. The past two years, I have written pieces regarding my frustrations and moral qualms with Memorial Day. While I could write further on the subject, this year I don’t want to be re-writing the same old thing. What I want to do, instead, is show how if we demand to participate in this day of remembering what our ‘freedom’ costs, we must remember the African slaves and anti-Black culture that dominates America. Without our racist practices, and without the free labor that slavery provided, our capitalist society, our war machine (and thereby war effort), and the ‘liberties’ we have today would be nonexistent and would have failed. Our heinous, evil practice of dehumanization is what got us to where we are today. Freedom costs us – it costs us our conscience. Which begs the question – are we really free?

Much ink has been spilled to show that without slavery, colonialism, and imperialism, the economic strength of America would be much more fragile. When one wants power, one must take it from someone else. Whether that be nationally, culturally, or individually. America is great at it.

The point: we are not the good guy. I repeat: WE. ARE. NOT. THE. GOOD. GUY. We have enslaved. We have pillaged. We have raped. We have destroyed. We have killed. All for our own selfish needs (don’t tell me we were justified in WWII. We refused to assist until we ourselves were bombed. We entered for selfish motive. I mean, let’s not forget we refused to help out the Jews seeking refuge while they were being burned alive.) – no questions asked. How dare we celebrate that? To do so is to spit in the face of Christ – The Suffering. The One who would rather die than kill. Who would rather carry a cross than a gun. But it is also to spit in the face of the 20 million Africans enslaved in the making of the American Empire. Without their forced free labor, without their lives totally given to the American machine, without any say on their part, the American experiment would not have been nearly as successful as it is, economically speaking. Without the 200-300 years of slavery (slavery isn’t over. Don’t get me started on the subject of mass incarceration and unpaid/underpaid prison labor), we would not have had the resources to ‘win’ the wars we did. Oh the irony of a country that celebrates the “self-made man.” No such thing. If you’ve made it, you’ve made it because we have a history resting on a precedent of human bondage.

May God have mercy on us.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but in the broader narrative of American history, these black slaves, so dearly unappreciated, gave at least as much as veterans in the military. They gave the entirety of their existence. To this day, American culture is such that we have to consistently yell over the sea of white: Black Lives Matter! If we don’t, we forget. Heck, when we do, we’re deaf. Black people are the unsung heroes of this nation. They built it. We forced them to. They gave us our ‘victories.’ They are veterans. They deserve to be recognized. Celebrate Blackness this Memorial Day, not greed, not war, not murder!

As I always try to do, I want to be clear: I am not trying to de-value American veterans. While I think war is anti-Christ in nature, and to participate in killing is contrary to the message of Jesus Christ, I respect veterans. They are truly an underappreciated, disregarded piece of American culture. I appreciate that they have sacrificed their time, their energy, their limbs, their minds. They have given a lot. I would just argue, they did so for the wrong reasons. They did so for America, not for Christ. Christ has absolutely nothing to do with allegiance to a nation. That does not, however, diminish their importance as human beings. That does not mean Christ does not love them, nor does it mean I do not wish to try to myself, in my own frail way. That does not mean when they come back home injured, bleeding, scared, alone, that we should discard them. We should care for them, help them along – welcome them with open arms. If you have served in the military, whether for this country, for North Korea, or the Nazi regime – you are beloved to Christ. But…so is the person you were sent to fight. Therein lies an issue.

Below are some articles regarding how 300 years of slavery made our capitalist system possible, and therefore, our victories at war (given our economic abilities) possible. I encourage you to research, research, research. Ask questions. Seek to understand the world outside your own experience.

Peace be unto you.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2017/05/03/the-clear-connection-between-slavery-and-american-capitalism/#597eac097bd3

https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-slavery-gave-capitalism-its-start

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/24/slavery_n_4847105.html

https://www.chronicle.com/article/SlaveryCapitalism/150787

https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/slavery-and-rise-capitalism

https://isreview.org/issue/99/slavery-capitalism-and-imperialism

https://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/18/how-slaves-built-american-capitalism/

http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/15556.html

 

 

A Perfect Cocktail of Disgusting Lies!: Matthew Distefano’s “Heretic!”

What Distefano shares with us in his new book, out April 1, is not heretical – it is, on the contrary, welcoming. Welcoming to those Evangelical Christianity has often shunned.

Attending a Conservative Christian university while visiting about one hundred urban churches after having grown up in the conservative Midwest, I have been well acquainted with the dominant manifestations of North American Evangelical Christianity.

I have found it wanting.

My relationship with it still exists, largely due to my introvert personality and general lack of verbally sharing what I truly believe with my conservative peers which make up a significant portion of my circle. One must pick their battles.

That said, Matthew Distefano’s newest book, Heretic! An LGBTQ-Affirming, Diving-Violence Denying, Christian Universalist’s Response to Some of Evangelical Christianity’s Most Pressing Concerns, resonates with me, as I believe it does an ever-increasing number of, for lack of better term, Post-Evangelicals. As the mouthful-of-a-title makes clear, it tackles some of the most heated topics among Evangelical Christians in the North American context with some tongue-in-cheek humor and signature Distefano wit to boot. Also, take the Parental Advisory warning seriously – Distefano uses some, ahem, colorful language.

Now, if you’re an Evangelical Christian, you may be thinking, “Universalism?? LGBTQ?? God as totally and wholistically nonviolent? Are you on pot? (A topic which Distefano has covered elsewhere) Of course he’s a heretic!” Except you’d be wrong, at least according to Christian tradition. Distefano still adheres to the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds (which were largely influenced by theologians who believe a variety of things that Distefano proposes in his book). The term heretic, historically, is less referring to what someone believes within the Christian tradition, and more about being divisive – someone who tears a community apart, often intentionally so.

For example, when an Evangelical church shuns a practicing homosexual – that congregation is being heretical, according to historical definition. When churches separate over minute doctrinal differences such as full or partial immersive baptism. Protestantism is about the most heretical manifestation of Christianity in the 2,000 year history of the religion – it just can’t agree on anything.

What Distefano shares with us in his new book, out April 1, is not heretical – it is, on the contrary, welcoming. Welcoming to those Evangelical Christianity has often shunned: those who refuse to believe that God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ is an abusive father who wants to torment 99% of the human population forever, to those who don’t maintain heterosexual relations or feelings, to those who believe violence is a never-ending self-perpetuating cycle. It seeks to cultivate community, not divide it. As far as I can tell, Distefano is even inviting those whom disagree with him to participate – if they can do so without themselves being divisive.

If you’re interested, Distefano’s book officially releases April 1, 2018. For the entire month of April, the Kindle edition will be 99 cents and all proceeds will go to the Preemptive Love Coalition. Check it out!

Distefano was kind enough to send a signed copy of Heretic! to me himself. Of course, I gave a donation to him in return. Being a shunned theologian certainly does not pay the bills very well!

Visit Matthew Distefano’s website!

Prophet’s Playlist: Thanksgiving Edition (November 2017)

Welcome to a special edition of Prophet’s Playlist – just in time for Thanksgiving. The theme tying these songs together will be the genocide of the Native American people and the theft of their land. Many people around the United States will be gathering with their families, celebrating what they are grateful for. A lot of those families will tell tales about the brave pilgrims who came here and made friends with the Native Americans. Much will be left out about the slaughter and thievery.

Therefore, let us not forget that what we have, we hold because the crimes and heinous deeds done by those who came before us. Let us recognize that the Native Americans who fought so valiantly to prevent the recent pipeline lost another battle due to our collective apathy and gratuitous blindness. The pipeline was built, not heeding their wisdom, and now, just days ago, 200,000 gallons of oil have polluted the minute amount of land we so ‘graciously’ granted to them.

We may have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season, but there are many who are lacking.

Indulge, but do so knowing that there are those who don’t have that opportunity.

Live, but do so knowing there are those who are dying.

Be grateful for what you have – and seek to share it with those that don’t have it.

Most of the videos below have lyrics included. For the ones that don’t, I recommend looking up the lyrics while listening.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Blackfire – Prove Them Wrong

 

Queen – White Man

Anthrax – Indians

 

Five Iron Frenzy – Banner Year

 

Iron Maiden – Run To The Hills

 

Europe – Cherokee

 

Neil Young – Cortez The Killer

 

Silent Planet – Native Blood

 

Jethro Tull – Hymn 43

 

Jimi Hendrix – Castles Made of Sand

 

Bruce Cockburn – Indian Wars

 

Skoll – Wounded Knee 1890

 

Grace and peace.

Prophet’s Playlist: October 2017

Prophet’s Playlist is back to bringing you musical fuel for your journey of compassion and understanding. Sorry we skipped a couple months!

 

mewithoutYou – “Allah Allah Allah

This song is all about the fact that God is in everyone. The image of God is in every human being. When it comes down to it, that statement is incredibly subversive. It means all humans are deserving of unconditional justice, unconditional mercy, and unconditional love. All humans are deserving of being treated as, well, human beings. Sometimes the principalities and powers (which are often created for the sake of people) prevent us from recognizing that. This song is a helpful reminder of never losing sight of the beauty in our sisters and brothers. It doesn’t matter what you done.

 

Silent Planet “XX (City Grave)

This song means a lot to me (all Silent Planet songs do, though…). It is the song that led me to discover this fantastic band, and rekindled my love for all things metal and hardcore. Anyway, the lyrics to this song are powerful, and truly speak for themselves, so I will share them below. It has made me cry many a time. Let us move toward gender equality, and the end of patriarchal systems. Please forgive my complicity as a straight white male.

This injustice renders my thoughts ineffectual. Forgive me, Lover, and forget my sullen face. Privilege brings us to this place of human currencies. (We) buried our sisters in a glass display, only to evaporate to a toxic skyline – underneath we sell off the bodies.

My body became a graveyard where they buried thirsty souls. Show me your righteous leader; I’ll show you the bullet holes. The preacher ¹ with the parched tongue and the “God” that he controls: “Shake off the sin! Shake off the sin!” And spit out your cacophony of lies.

I’ll climb through your screen and bleed out the image you left in me. ²

But God, are you man? Then how do you see me? From where you sit up in heaven ³, looking down on my hell. My body chokes back.
“I have nothing to draw with and the well is deep – where can I get living water?” ⁴

Enslaved in the “Land of the Free” ⁵ – my prison is our wedding bed where you left me for dead. You’ll leave us for dead. Apathy was our anchor to a digital sea ⁶ where you drown in the comfort of our complicity.

Can Love save me? Will Your wrath avenge us? ⁷

[¹ Our sister’s captor; Several famous pastor types – names omitted for legal reasons
² Sex slaves forced into pornography, speaking back to our collective male gaze.
³ Psalm 115:3; 139:8
⁴ John 4:11
⁵ America
⁶ Thrice, 2007
⁷ Deuteronomy 32:35]

 

Yelle “Interpassion

A love letter from Yelle to their fans, it also functions as a friendly reminder to befriend people dissimilar to ourselves. For those unaware, Yelle is a French pop group that primarily sings in French. However, this song is multi-lingual, a basic homage to the worldwide reach of humanity’s journey (…and their fan base). Interpassion asks us to understand neighbors near and far that are a part of cultures vastly and barely different than our own. In short, it nudges us to find our common humanity.

 

Norma Jean “A Media Friendly Turn For The Worse

A Media Friendly Turn For the Worse is about learning to think critically while engaging with media. Whether it be music, news, blogs, Facebook posts, Twitter, whatever – we must never forget to critically examine the barrage of information that we face on a daily basis. Which, honestly, isn’t always, if ever, practical, given we are living the age of too much info. We must even be critical with what data we critically examine. Just because someone whom we generally disagree with posts a news article, it does not automatically make it fake news. Just because our favored journalist posts an article does not mean it is without bias. Let us be aware of our own biases and be careful with what we choose to believe.

What I know was divided and broken down by the ignorance of others.
Spoken from their lips, but with the lungs of another.
Sounds great but tastes like blood.
These rumor sessions are assembled by us all… by us all.
They are the earth and we are the breath of life.

 

Rise Against “Bricks

The work we do isn’t always sexy and glamorous. Often times it takes place in the mundane day to day activities of our life. It is often dirty, boring, and for all intents and purposes, lame. But that doesn’t mean we should lose hope – let us always “sing for change” and “run on the fumes of injustice.” We certainly won’t run out of fuel. Let us encourage one another as we persevere forward, laying brick by brick, slowly but surely. In short, let us not grow weary in our labor of grace, mercy, peace, and justice.

 

May grace and peace be unto you.