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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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~

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!

Ashley Jackson (Guest Post): “Will I Always Have To Suffer Silently?”

I attended a Christian university. Stereotypically Reformed in theological outlook. Pretty whitewashed, lacking much diversity.

I have mixed feelings about the university which filled up two years of my life.

My personal experience was great. I’m a white male who, despite his heretical theology, maintained pretty strong relationships with peers and professors, generally did well in academia, and got along just fine. I can’t say the same for many a person that I know.

That said, I made so many genuine friends in those two years. It was/is full of beautiful people, such as the writer of this article.

I met Ashley Jackson my first semester as a Freshman. She seemed so full of joy, laughed at just about everything I said, and could maintain conversations about deep and real topics. I could talk to her and feel like I was legitimately being listened to. I can only hope she feels like she is being listened to.

Basically she was, and is, a rad person. And I am so excited and grateful to share a portion of what’s on her heart and mind here on this blog.

Now, I don’t claim to understand the experiences of people who are not me. I mean, let’s be honest, I barely understand my own existence, let alone the mental and emotional phenomena that happen in someone else’s sacred space. But this piece by Ashley broke my heart. I’m sorry Ashley. I’m sorry you don’t feel like you can be open about how society at large, and specific individuals, affect you on a daily basis. I’m sorry for my complicity, and I’m sorry if I’ve ever directly hurt you. Please forgive me. Forgive me as I stumble toward Christ and reconciliation with you.

Spoiler alert: Keep an eye out for new material from Ashley on her upcoming blog. 

Below is Ashley’s article. If you are white like me, I pray that you read it, reflect upon it, pray about it, and frankly just…feel it. Attempt to realize that your subjective experience of reality is not reality, but only a very small fragment of it, and that you need people who are different from you to expand your heart and mind to what is, well, truly true. Let us move toward the spaces that Ashley writes about where she may talk freely about what pains her.

Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us (white community) – sinners. Draw us to reconciliation with our minority sisters and brothers so that we may also know true reconciliation with You.

Lord Jesus Christ, be with Ashley (minority communities at large), as she (they) struggle(s) with who to trust, and where to go.

Will I Always Have To Suffer Silently?

“He was kind and steadfast.”

These were the words used to describe an African American professor. He was being recognized by the predominantly white school he worked at because of his kind and steadfast attitude. As I read this, I became a little heartbroken. He is one of many African Americans who I have seen be respected for their gentle spirits.

This professor makes me think about my own life. I think of the many times I have had to tone down my message/feelings/words when it comes to speaking of injustices and what I experience as an African American woman. Then I think of this professor and wonder if he had to do the same thing. If he was overlooked by other professors because of the color of his skin. The disrespect he may have received from students because of his race. If his opinion wasn’t taken seriously because he was a minority. I think of how often he may have had to suffer silently through his many years at this school and no one would have even known.

I just wonder if he would have been respected or esteemed so highly if he voiced any angers, frustrations, or irritations he had. Would people have listened? Would he have been taken seriously? Or would he have been told to soften his message? Would people have said that he was being too aggressive and he would have to keep his feelings to himself?

Why do minorities have to suffer silently? This is a question I wrestle with a lot. Especially when I find myself in predominantly white settings. Will it ever be okay to actually express what I experience on the daily as an African American or do I always have to keep it to myself?

There are moments when I want to blow up at people. When I want people to know every microaggression I encountered in one day. But I don’t know if I can.

So what do I do with these feelings? When is the right time to share them? Is there a right time to share them?

I would love to see what different spaces would look like, where these feelings and thoughts would be verbalized, discussed, reflected on, and then acted on globally. I hope that day will come soon.

 

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.