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. ❤

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!

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.

 

 

 

That Holy Anarchist: 5 Insights from Mark van Steenwyk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first is the early church. Mark writes,

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

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

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

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

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

In other words:

Grace and peace.

(Go read Mark’s book!)

William, Whiteness, and I

This is an article I wrote to submit to The Mennonite. It did not get published. I figured I’d go ahead and post it here.

William Stringfellow did not consider himself a Mennonite. However it is well known he had many Anabaptist sympathies. He deserves a place in the collective history of Mennonites and Anabaptists. For those unfamiliar with Stringfellow, he was a white lawyer who moved to Harlem, New York in the 1960s as an advocate for minorities. Almost all of his written work is simultaneously autobiographical and theological. In other words, it is incarnational. In the tradition of Stringfellow, I hope to offer a simultaneously autobiographical and theological reflection on my own whiteness and how I must mentally and spiritually work with it.

I grew up in a small town in rural Ohio amidst a largely white population. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few non-white families…but they could be counted with fingers on one hand. Imaginably, I did not have much exposure to the rest of the world during my first 18 years of life. Thankfully, through the process of studying Church history, I discovered the empathy and inclusiveness of Anabaptists. I participated in an Urban Ministry program in Philadelphia during my freshman year of undergraduate studies. I learned, and am learning, a lot about the world, other people, and my own whiteness. In the learning process, the most important thing I must remember, and not be ashamed of, is: I don’t know as much as I think I do—a lesson which is part of the foundation for working with my whiteness.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being white. My whiteness does not make me less human or precious. Just as being a minority does not make someone less human or precious. We are all human. We are all caught up in a complex, interdependent world with problems and issues that extend deeper than our own individuality. In the words of Walter Wink, “we are not individuals but interbeings.” The color of my skin is not the issue. The problem is a sickness in the collective psyche of a largely white culture—lackluster empathy infused with a surge of apathy. Simply put: I will never be able to love my minority brothers and sisters if I think less of myself because of my whiteness.

One of the best ways to stave apathy is keeping attune to the experiences of my minority sisters and brothers. I ought to be open to conversation with them, and seek to be a person they can trust to converse about racial issues. I should learn to listen. William Stringfellow, in his book Count It All Joy, describes the sacredness of listening to another:

“Listening is a rare happening among human beings.  You cannot listen to the word another is speaking if you are preoccupied with your appearance or impressing the other, or if you are trying to decide what you are going to say when the other stops talking, or if you are debating about whether the word being spoken is true or relevant or agreeable…Listening, in other words, is a primitive act of love, in which a person gives self to another’s word, making self accessible and vulnerable to that word.”

In other words, listening to my sisters and brothers puts them before myself. I am duty-bound to seek comprehension of their experiences to the best of my ability. At the same time, I need to realize they are under no obligation to answer my questions, to agree to the difficult work of moving toward unity, or to trust me. I must make myself vulnerable, and face the possibility of being rejected by the other, who may have been hurt too many times by their own other.

I must not fear failure. As Stringfellow wrote, “biblical spirituality means powerlessness, living without embellishment or pretense, free to be faithful in the gospel, and free from anxiety about effectiveness or similar illusions of success.” Intercultural dialogue, communication, and community are difficult. They take a lot of energy. There are no guarantees they will work out well, or in the ways one expects. The hope is to succeed, but the underlying motivation is to keep trying even if failure rears its ugly head. The overall point is to love and unite with my brothers and sisters. If I don’t succeed the first time, the second, or the third, I must get up—after much reflection, wisdom seeking, and prayer.

Not fearing failure, I must also realize that there is a large possibility I could be wrong in my understanding of how to reconcile with my brothers and sisters. I ought to hold my tenets loosely so that I do not make them more important than the people I am trying to love. I should allow my brothers and sisters to guide me into their versions of reconciliation, so that I do not force my own ideals onto them. I must verbalize this desire explicitly and implicitly, so that others may know I value their thoughts, and so that I can be held accountable to this standard. If I enter into intercultural communication with the assumption (either conscious or unconscious) that I am always right about everything, communication will never truly happen.

If I do fail or become arrogant, the proper response is repentance via seeking reconciliation and forgiveness. I must not do this for the sake of my brothers and sisters but for myself. My brothers and sisters have no obligation to offer me forgiveness or seek to reconcile with me even after only a single offense. As Stringfellow wrote, “acceptance of another person is acceptance of the other as he is, without entailing any demands that he change in any empirical way.” I cannot force reconciliation on anyone. Dare I never think, though, that means I do not have an obligation and responsibility to attempt reconciliation. To think such a thing would be blasphemy.

Most importantly, I need to thrive on the fact that I have inherent value as a human being. To quote Stringfellow a final time,

“Now you can love. Love yourself. That is the rudiment of all other loves. Love yourself: that means your final acceptance of and active participation in God’s love of you. Love yourself. If you love yourself you will become and be one who can love another. Love yourself and then your love of others will be neither suicidal nor destructive, neither jealous nor possessive, but then your love of yourself will enable, embody, enrich, and elucidate your love of others, and your other loves will do the same to your self-love. And when you love others–tell them so–celebrate it–not only by some words but by your life toward them and toward the whole of the world. Your specific love of another is verified and supported in your love of all others and all things, even those that which seem to be unlovable, which seem unworthy to be loved. Let that be the manner of your witness to the One who loves all though none are worthy, not even one.”

If I cannot love myself by coming to terms with my own imperfections and complicity, I will never be able to fully love another. If I cannot move past white guilt, I will seek reconciliation for the wrong reason: making myself feel better. If I cannot see how valuable I am regardless of whether I ‘succeed’ or ‘fail,’ I will sink further into self-loathing when I believe I have failed. If I cannot find worth outside of my voice being heard, then fighting against racism may become more about being trendy (it’s rather trendy with us ‘social justice warriors!’) than about truly seeking the best for my minority brothers and sisters.

In summation, I have inherent value as a human being, and my response must be centered on repentance. There is a high probability of failure, implicit bias, and apathy. I must keep in mind that I am repenting not of my whiteness or skin color, but of those characteristics which do not adequately incarnate Christ in the world. I ought to remember that I am repenting of 1) apathy toward fellow people and 2) complicity to unjust systems. I have to recall that I am to work individually and collectively against this demon we know as racism—I am not in this alone. Ultimately, Christ is victorious. Christ’s victory permits me to love myself, and therefore to love others.

Some may think these convictions and this pursuit is extreme and placing too much responsibility on myself. Some may think that this is being overly sensitive to the needs and desires of minorities. In fact, I have heard such comments before. I disagree with that sentiment because minorities must accommodate to a primarily white culture every waking minute. The least we can do is seek to accommodate the predominant culture to others’. If we truly seek to love God, and therefore love our brothers and sisters, we should want to engage in intercultural dialogue, communication, and community—even if it is difficult and daunting.

Vandalism for Jesus

We Came To Be Arrested: The Catonsville Nine & William Stringfellow as Incarnational Criminals

Unfortunately, history is written by the victors: culturally, politically, racially, militarily, religiously, and psychologically. In relation to this, George Mische, member of the Catonsville Nine, wrote, “we should write our own movement’s history. Because if we don’t, somebody who was not part of it will come along with preconceived notions and their own agenda — and get it wrong(1).” An arguable case for this statement is the very existence of the Catonsville Nine, which is a lesser known group of nine self-proclaiming Catholics who protested the Vietnam War by burning draft files with homemade napalm – all in the name of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Catonsville Nine, in conjunction with supporters such as William Stringfellow, changed the way antiwar demonstrations would be enacted for generations to come.

1968 was a year when the Vietnam War, under the supervision of president Lyndon B. Johnson, was at its height. In January, the infamous Tet Offensive occurred, which horrified thousands by being displayed on television screens(2). During this event, over 500,000 American troops were in Vietnam(3), quite needlessly, according to many antiwar protesters, especially considering that most of the soldiers were drafted. As many as 35,000 men were being drafted per month as of 1965, all the while the trend continued to rise in the coming years.(4) These monstrous facts outraged many people, which led to frequent manifestations of antiwar protest, generally in the form of nonviolent and nonvandal marches.

It was amidst this growing antiwar movement that in the spring of 1967, a Josephite priest, Philip Berrigan, wrote in a letter to Walt Whitman Rostow, a special assistant to the president, that he and his colleagues “believe[d] the Vietnam war to be an enormous moral, political and economic disaster to both Vietnamese and Americans, and a criminal threat to world peace(5).” Eventually this belief inspired him to, in the fall of 1967, transform his abstract Catholic confessions into creative practical action by seeking new, more emphatic ways of protest. With Jesus Christ as his anchor point, he gathered three other Catholics in Baltimore, Maryland: Tom Lewis, David Eberhardt, and James Mengel. Their goal was to craft a plan to protest the draft in such a way that a peaceful, loving statement would be made, that would, at the same time, force the public to reconsider the war and approach to protests. The four decided to pour blood on draft files to ruin them and symbolically call out the political institutions that they viewed as responsible for the vast amount of pointless murder splattered throughout Vietnam. These four men, and their actions, became known as the Baltimore Four. The action made the front page on local newspapers, which is exactly what the Four wanted.(6) After the initial protest, the Four patiently waited to be arrested and tried for their crimes – they simply wanted their motivations to be properly understood. After the trial, the Four were eventually sentenced to prison for terms lasting from 2 to 6 years(7).

Eventually, Philip Berrigan was released on bail, and he, along with his friends George Mische and Tom Lewis(8), decided to continue the protest, while searching for more people to join them. Philip’s goal was to find people that “[were] privileged, middle class [and]  that are viewed favorably by society…that is the type of person…that should act on civil disobedience(9).”  Part of his reasoning for this was that he became convinced of “the uselessness of legitimate dissent,”(10) and therefore sought more drastic forms of protest that would effect lasting change. Eventually, Phil, Tom, and George gathered five more people: David Darst, John Hogan, Marjorie Melville, Thomas Melville, Mary Moylan(11). The eight conspired together the most loving and dramatic action they could throughout the course of the Spring. Their main goal: get arrested and burn draft files(12). The reasoning: an overly dramatic and theatrical trial would be a powerful platform to be heard and inspire others, and burning draft files would prevent the persons each file represented from being drafted(13). A few days before the act, Phil traveled to Cornell University in an attempt to recruit his brother, Daniel, for the action. He succeeded, and the group grew to its final number: nine(14).

May 17, 1968 was the fateful day of the protest. The nine members traveled to the Selective Service office in Catonsville Maryland. Upon making it to the second floor of the building, the group shocked a few employees and darted for the draft files stored along the wall. Forcing open the filing cabinets, each member loaded  wire baskets full of A-1 draft files, and quickly ran out the building. In no time at all, the nine dumped the files out in a large pile outside the building, drenched the files in homemade napalm and set them ablaze(15). As David Arst said in regard to the homemade napalm, “we all had a hand in making the napalm used here today(16).” While the papers burned, the nine members held hands and prayed the Lord’s prayer. Phil Berrigan was caught on camera as saying, “we sincerely hope we didn’t injure anyone(17).” Daniel Berrigan, in explaining the motivations of the group on film said, “we have chosen to be powerless criminals in a time of criminal power. We have chosen to be branded as peace criminals by war criminals…to be found guilty under the rules you worship is an honor(18).” He would later go on to say, “our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children…And yet, and yet the times are inexhaustibly good…the truth rules, Christ is not forsaken(19).” Dan’s words were sharp like a sword, and bombastic like napalm – but he, nor the rest of the nine, ever resorted to violence or the use of bombs. Although, for a time, Philip Berrigan flirted with the idea of using bombs as forms of protest, but eventually concluded bombs too violent(20).

Within a few minutes, a small group of police officers showed up and arrested the nine, amidst firefighters hosing down the fire with water. The entire protest action took less than fifteen minutes(21).  The news of the napalm action spread around the United States like the fire induced by napalm in Vietnam. However, the press mostly focused on the two brothers: Philip and Daniel Berrigan, who became the poster children of the group. This is especially evidenced in Time magazine’s treatment of the event in its January 25th, 1971 issue, in which the Berrigan brothers overshadow the other seven members, despite the very late participation of Daniel Berrigan.

A major part of why Daniel Berrigan and his brother overshadowed the other members in the press coverage is that Daniel Berrigan was an extremely elusive man. While most of the Catonsville Nine, such as newlywed Melvilles, willingly turned themselves in after the trial, Dan refused to be imprisoned. Without telling his family or Cornell colleagues, he disappeared(22). Unlike most of the nine, Dan struggled with the notion of turning himself in because he wondered if that would tarnish and trivialize the statement the Nine made. Rather than showing the inferiority of the state, he feared such an action would only feed into the common belief the state was the end all be all(23). Within the first few hours of being an “underground” fugitive, Berrigan reflected on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his nonviolent resistance to another political tyranny: the Nazi regime. Berrigan hoped and prayed he could maintain the same resilience that Bonhoeffer portrayed decades earlier.

Originally planning on turning himself in after ten days of hiding, Berrigan read his friend, Howard Zinn’s book Disobedience and Democracy, which influenced him to stay underground much longer than he anticipated(24). With such statements as “the slow workings of American reform, the limitations on protest and disobedience and innovation…are simply not adequate…the demands of our time will not be met by [a] narrow approach to civil disobedience,” one can see how Zinn’s book would have affected Berrigan’s thought at the time. Eventually, after almost a year of being on the run, Daniel went to Rhode Island to visit his friends William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne, whom he knew would willingly accept him, despite his fugitive status. With Stringfellow writing statements as, “it is unambiguous in each of the gospel accounts that Jesus Christ was a criminal….it is easy for us to gainsay the criminality of Jesus and to ignore entirely what his status as a criminal may mean for those who profess to affirm and to follow him…Jesus was….a criminal: not a mere nonconformist, not just a protester, more than a militant, not only a dissident, not simply a dissenter, but a criminal….from the point of view of the State and of the ecclesiastical authorities as well – from the view of the Establishment – Jesus was the most dangerous and reprehensible sort of criminal…a subversive,”(25) in articles with titles such as Jesus the Criminal which referenced contemporary civil disobedience protests such as the Catonsville Nine demonstration, Berrigan knew he could find a safe place. And find a safe place he did – upon his arrival at Stringfellow and Towne’s home, the two friends greeted him with a hospitable feast(26).

In conjunction with the hospitality, Anthony Towne offered sharp criticisms of Berrigan’s treatment of the whole situation. Towne said, “the movement badly [needs] depersonalization….from the time of the Catonsville action the movement [has] depended too much upon the personalities of [you and your brother], and during [this] fugitive era it depended almost entirely on [your] personality.” Towne thought that if the FBI were to capture Dan, the entire movement and momentum would be decapitated and stunted(27). Despite the strong desire of both Stringfellow and Towne to protect Dan, staying with his two friends would eventually be his ruin. On August 11, Stringfellow noticed a strange man on the property. After a brief conversation with the man, he stated he was there for Berrigan. Dan, who made no effort to flee, exited the house and said, “I suppose you’re wondering who I am. I am Daniel Berrigan(28).” He was immediately frisked, handcuffed, and arrested. As he entered the car to be taken away, he lifted his handcuffed hands in a gesture of endearment to his friends and said, “God bless.” He kept his peace and graciousness amidst the whole situation.

Despite his capture and the imprisonment of the Nine (minus Mary Molan who stayed underground for nine years and was never caught…rather, she turned herself in), the legacy of the Catonsville Nine lives on. With such protest acts as the DC 9, the Beaver 55, the Boston 8, and the Milwaukee 14, the Catonsville Nine influenced many people and organizations to not only think more intently and creatively about protest, but also about war, life, and death. The dramatic narrative of the Nine can also be experienced in the form of a play, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, as a documentary in Hit & Stay, and in historical literature in The Catonsville Nine.

The theological, biographical, and philosophical elements continue on in the work of William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne who co-authored a book called Suspect Tenderness: The Ethics of the Berrigan Witness about the time Daniel Berrigan spent with them before his arrest. The Catonsville Nine also greatly influenced William Stringfellow’s seminal piece, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, which he was writing upon the eve of Berrigan’s arrest at Stringfellow’s home(29). This became the book that Daniel Berrigan later recommended to students at Union Theological Seminary, amidst plans to launch an underground seminary(30). Stringfellow’s An Ethic also played an integral role in the overall work of political theologian Walter Wink, meaning that many aspects of contemporary political theology can be traced back to the protest of nine Catholic priests(31). The Catonsville Nine and the Berrigan hospitality incident also indirectly influenced Stringfellow’s work, Conscience and Obedience: The Politics of Romans 13 and Revelation 13 in Light of the Second Coming, which he wrote specifically because of a conversation with an FBI agent who was interrogating him about Berrigan. The agent asked, “Doesn’t the Bible say you must obey the Emperor?” Conscience and Obedience is Stringfellow’s response to his question. Stringfellow wrote in the preface that he “could not concede the simplistic premise about the Bible that [the agent’s] question assumed, and rebuked him about [it], taking perhaps forty-five minutes to do so(32).” Traces of the occurrence can be seen throughout other works published under Stringfellow’s name, such as The Politics of Spirituality. 

Berrigan and the Catonsville Nine have also received acclaim from intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, the latter of which said, “in this modern world we have this fetish about property and about things much more than we have about people….people are more important than pieces of paper – people are being burned and killed(33).”  To Zinn, the Catonsville Nine offered a proper perspective and revaluation of human life. Even Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground said, “religion is boring and kind of a bummer, but these folks are different. One of the reasons is because they carry out their politics, their faith, and their moral principles in action. It’s the action that makes their principles comes to life(34).” While it remains up for debate, the evidence is strong that the Catonsville Nine did more than prevent a few hundred potential draftees from being forced into combat. They created a monumental shift in the realm of theology and Christian thought (whether the recipients of the legacy realize it or not). Not mere abstract academic theology – but pragmatic, down-to-earth, gritty, incarnational theology. In some respect, the Nine brought a little bit of the Kingdom to Earth(35).

Footnotes:

1 http://ncronline.org/news/peace-justice/inattention-accuracy-about-catonsville-nine-distorts-history 

2 http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/tet-offensive 

3 A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn p.477 

4 The Portable Sixties Reader; The Sixties: A Chronology, p. xxx 

5 http://c9.digitalmaryland.org/artifact.cfm?ID=CUCN016 

6 Hit & Stay documentary. 

7 A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn, p.488 

8 https://sojo.net/magazine/january-2013/fracture-good-order 

9 Dean Pappas in Hit or Stay documentary. 

10 Philip Berrigan as quoted in https://sojo.net/magazine/january-2013/fracture-good-order 

11 http://c9.digitalmaryland.org/page.cfm?ID=36 

12 http://c9.digitalmaryland.org/page.cfm?ID=1 

13 George Mische explained in the documentary Hit & Stay that each individual only had one draft file representing himself. If that file were destroyed, that man would not be able to be drafted. Thus, burning the draft files had a significant impact on many lives. 

14 http://c9.digitalmaryland.org/page.cfm?ID=4 

15 http://c9.digitalmaryland.org/page.cfm?ID=2 

16 David Arst, quoted in Hit & Stay documentary. 

17 Phil Berrigan as quoted on footage shown in Hit & Stay documentary. 

18 Daniel Berrigan as quoted on footage shown in Hit & Stay documentary. 

19 Daniel Berrigan quoted in https://sojo.net/magazine/january-2013/fracture-good-order 

20 https://sojo.net/magazine/january-2013/fracture-good-order 

21 http://c9.digitalmaryland.org/page.cfm?ID=2 

22 The Catonsville Nine p. 269 

23 Ibid. 269 

24 Ibid. 270 

25 Jesus the Criminal by William Stringfellow, Christian Century 

26  Suspect Tenderness: The Ethics of the Berrigan Witness by William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne, 1971.

27 The Catonsville Nine  p. 283 

28  Ibid. p. 284

29 From the Preface to Conscience and Obedience, William Stringfellow, 1977 p.15 

30 From the Preface to William Stringfellow: Essential Writings, Bill Wylie-Kellermann, p. xii-xiii 

31 Ibid, p. xiii 

32 From the Preface to Conscience and Obedience, William Stringfellow, 1977 p. 16 

33 As quoted in Hit & Stay documentary. 

34 Ibid. 

35 The Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 6 verses 9-13. 

Bibliography

Charters, Ann. “The Sixties: A Chronology.” In The Portable Sixties Reader. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Hit & Stay. Directed by Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk. United States, 2013. Film.

“Inattention to Accuracy about ‘Catonsville Nine’ Distorts History.” Inattention to Accuracy about ‘Catonsville Nine’ Distorts History. Accessed December 14, 2015. http://ncronline.org/news/peace-justice/inattention-accuracy-about-catonsville-nine-distorts-history.

Peters, Shawn Francis. The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era.

Stringfellow, William. 1970. “Jesus the criminal.” Christianity And Crisis 30, no. 10: 119-122. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 13, 2015).

Stringfellow, William, and Anthony Towne. Suspect Tenderness: The Ethics of the Berrigan Witness. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.

Stringfellow, William, and Bill Wylie Kellermann. William Stringfellow: Essential Writings. 2013.

Stringfellow, William. Conscience & Obedience: The Politics of Romans 13 and Revelation 13 in Light of the Second Coming. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1977.

“Tet Offensive.” History.com. Accessed December 14, 2015. http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/tet-offensive.

“The Catonsville Nine File : Blood to Fire.” The Catonsville Nine File : Blood to Fire. Accessed December 14, 2015. http://c9.digitalmaryland.org/page.cfm?ID=4.

“The Catonsville Nine File : Collection.” The Catonsville Nine File : Collection. Accessed December 14, 2015. http://c9.digitalmaryland.org/artifact.cfm?ID=CUCN016.

“The Catonsville Nine File : Profiles of the Catonsville Nine.” The Catonsville Nine File : Profiles of the Catonsville Nine. Accessed December 14, 2015. http://c9.digitalmaryland.org/page.cfm?ID=36.

“The Catonsville Nine File : The Action.” The Catonsville Nine File : The Action. Accessed December 14, 2015. http://c9.digitalmaryland.org/page.cfm?ID=2.

“The Catonsville Nine File : The Beginning.” The Catonsville Nine File : The Beginning. Accessed December 14, 2015. http://c9.digitalmaryland.org/page.cfm?ID=1.

“The Fracture of Good Order.” Sojourners. November 27, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2015. https://sojo.net/magazine/january-2013/fracture-good-order.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-2001. New ed.

10 Reasons to Read Jacques Ellul

  1. He was a polymath, able to think in a deep interdisciplinary manner.Working with a variety of disciplines such as theology, sociology, ethics, media ecology, politics, and urban thought, he wrote upwards of 50 books and thousands of academic articles. Rather than make his work shallow and stretched too thin, he made it all interconnected and impossible to understand without a thorough reading of a variety of his pieces to understand what lay at the groundwork of his thought and intentions. Much like creation itself, his work and thought is inextricably interdependent and interconnected.In fact, his works are highly dialectic, and interact with one another. Ellul himself said that you cannot read one without reading others. “I have not actually written a wide variety of books, but rather one long book in which each ‘individual book’ constitutes a chapter (Ellul on Religion, Technology, and Politics).”
  2. Influenced by some of the greats, he didn’t simply follow, he dissected and took what he thought was good, leaving the rest to rot.He was influenced greatly by Karl Marx, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.He influenced the likes of Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, and William Stringfellow.
  3. He criticizes equally and in a balanced way.In other words, none of the main political/economic options are viable for him: democracy, capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism. They’re all equally absurd. (Although he tended to have a greater disdain for fascism.)Similarly, Ellul did not like to associate with a single Christian denomination (and ironically was generally more well-liked by non-Reformed Christians than the Reformed Christians whom who ministered with), thinking the institutionalization of the Church always ended terribly, but on the flip side realized no organization was not possible either. He continually sought a middle ground, a balanced walk on a tight rope, a narrow way, that neither secular nor religious people could really grasp or manage to walk without the hope of the Gospel.
  4. He realized urban migration is a phenomenon not going away any time soon (if ever), and while he criticized it, he encouraged Christians to move to urban environments.

    Many critics of Ellul have only read his socio-political works related to the city, while ignoring his theological works. This is self-harm, as the socio-political works are only half his thought. While they show major criticisms and negative thoughts toward the city, seemingly offering no hope, the theological works look to the New Jerusalem as being the end point, or telos, of history.
  5. He was an outsider.Class: unlike many intellectuals of the twentieth century, Ellul grew up in poverty. This gave him a different perspective than many wealthy scholars.Geographically:  Although a French citizen and national, he lived outside of Paris, which was the heart of French intellectual life and scholarship. An intellectual not living in Paris was unheard of and taboo.

    Linguistically: Although he was most well known in the United States via his translated works, he was only able to write in French and spoke broken English.

    Politically: He rejected all mainstream political options, considering them all to be intellectually shallow and petty.

    Religiously: He was raised in a non-Christian home, but became a diehard disciple of Christ. French intellectual circles in the twentieth century were primarily secular, and being an academic Christian was nearly unheard of – even somewhat looked down upon.
    France was primarily Roman Catholic in populace, but Ellul identified with the Protestant Reformed Church. Despite being a member of the Reformed tradition, he held great disdain for John Calvin and considered Calvinism to be intellectually shallow. Instead, he held the minority viewpoint of neo-orthodoxy found in the writings of Karl Barth.

    He wrote of himself, “it is obvious that I have always found myself alone and out of place (Ellul on Religion, Technology, and Politics).”

    Frequently misunderstood, Ellul didn’t enter the conversation from the same angle as his contemporaries. He rarely wrote about just one topic at a time in a linear manner. The authors of the book, Understanding Jacques Ellul, who appear to be dear fans of Ellul, refer to him as a “fool,” in the most endearing way possible. They refer to a passage out of Umberto Eco’s novel Foucalt’s Pendulum in which he defines the nature of foolishness:

    “‘Being a fool…is complicated. It’s a form of social behavior. A fool is one who always talks outside his glass.’
    ‘What do you mean?’
    ‘Like this.’ He pointed at the counter near his glass. ‘He wants to talk about what’s in the glass, but somehow or other he misses. He’s the guy who puts his foot in his mouth. For example, he says how’s your lovely wife to someone whose wife has just left him.’
    ‘Yes, I know a few of those.’
    ‘Fools are in great demand, especially on social occasions. They embarrass everyone, but provide material for conversation. In their positive form they become diplomats. Talking outside the glass when someone else blunders helps to change the subject. But fools don’t interest us, either. They’re never creative, their talent is all second-hand, so they don’t submit manuscripts to publishers. Fools don’t claim that cats bark, but they talk about cats when everyone else is talking about dogs. They offend all the rules of conversation…’ ”

    Ellul looked at issues of his time from a different angle than others..and while he wasn’t necessarily ‘wrong’, and in fact, possibly ‘right’, no one wanted to pay much attention because he seemed to be talking about something else entirely.

  6. He wrote many critiques of technology, or what he called “technique,” but instead of being “for” or “against” something, he argued Christians follow their consciences and do what they find to be profitable, all while maintaining their freedom and not being in bondage to the technology. This gets at the heart of another issue he felt and thought passionately about: Christian freedom and liberty. He refused to write systematic theology or ethics, telling Christians what to do or not to do. Rather, he encouraged Christians, and all people, to think for themselves.
  7. He stood by his convictions and lived out his beliefs.Even though France is well documented to have aided in giving Jews over to the Germans during WWII, Ellul was a part of the small resistance in France to seek to save the lives of Jews by hiding them. While he despised the Spanish Civil War and the war against fascism, he refused to take up arms, although he was tempted to many times. Although he strongly criticized politics, he thought the most powerful politic a person could become involved in is local politics, and while he vested little to no hope in even local politics, he was involved for much of his life. He was involved with the mindset that at best, his involvement would make things a little bit better for people, but only in a temporal sense. He held onto politics loosely, and was partially involved solely to get to know his community more intimately.
    He was deeply committed to his wife throughout their long marriage, and greatly influenced and encouraged by her. For being an extremely busy scholar, teacher, and politician, he remained loyal to his wife and still found her to be a major priority. This echoes the previous sentiment that he sticks by his convictions – relationships are the most important thing in the life of a Christian.
  8. He revived the theological method of exegesis long before anyone else (and arguably introduced Karl Barth to French intellectual circles).Not only that, but he consistently made sure it was Christocentric. While his commentaries are in a league of their own, not entirely systematic, but also more complex and scholarly than a sermon, they offer a sort of “empirical theology.” Just enough systematics that they are rational, but just enough situational and empirical application that they are down to earth and livable. He argued vehemently against wholly abstract theology, considering it to be of the devil, as it rarely, if ever, truly helped people to live according to the life of Christ as represented in the Gospels.
  9.  He sought to offer a holistic critique of modern society in a similar vein as Marx.Not of just capital, but a critique that covered everything a modern human would involve herself in. He critiqued technology/technique and secularism in the same way Marx critiqued capital and religion.
  10. He is fun (and edifying) to read.With over 50 books and thousands of articles, reading Ellul is an adventure that takes all sorts of twists and turns (sort of like reading Karl Barth). To even begin to grasp him, one must read a few of his books on a related topic, and generally a couple of introductions by reputable Ellul scholars. He was paradoxically simple and complex. If one can get through the strain of grasping his intent after reading a few topics, one may be able to traverse the rest of his works with a bit more ease.

Sources:

Ellul on Religion, Technology, and Politics

Understanding Jacques Ellul

Introducing Jacques Ellul

Works by Ellul:
Money & Power, The Technological Society, The Technological Bluff, The Political Illusion, Anarchy & Christianity, Violence, Propaganda, The New Demons, Perspectives on Our Age, The Presence of the Kingdom, The Ethics of Freedom

Psalm 136 in Contemporary Realities: “God’s Work in Creation and History”

A small liturgy for our contemporary context set on Psalm 136. Expect to set aside around 1+ hour(s) to go through it. The challenge: how do we reconcile the call of a historically oriented psalm to worship God in an age full of suffering and evil, especially when the refrain beckons us each verse: “for his steadfast love endures forever?” Take from it what you will.

Sources for each verse will be listed after each section. If I have breached any copyrights, please forgive me. I do not mean to plagiarize in anyway, but rather, link to original sources whenever possible. If you want me to remove something, please inform me, and I ask for your forgiveness.

Psalm 136: “God’s Work in Creation and History”

(1) O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

Rape Statistics

rape1

rape2

For more statistics, please view the links below, with many more visuals and detailed explanations of the numbers.

https://www.visualnews.com/2015/07/28/the-rape-statistics-you-need-to-know/

https://www.rainn.org/statistics

(2) O give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

Drone Warfare

Credible, independent attempts to determine how many civilians the Obama administration has killed [via drones] arrived at numbers in the hundreds or low thousands.  And there is good reason to believe that they undercount the civilians killed.

Casualty estimates

Reported deaths and injuries

Pakistan 2004 onwards
US Drone Strikes
Our complete
Pakistan datasheet

Most recent strike:
May 21 2016

Total strikes: 424
Obama strikes: 373
Total killed: 2,499-4,001
Civilians killed: 424-966
Children killed: 172-207
Injured: 1,161-1,744

Yemen 2002 onwards
US Covert Action

Our complete
Yemen datasheet

Most recent strike:
October 18 2016

Confirmed drone strikes: 137-157
Total killed: 581-848
Civilians killed: 65-101
Children killed: 8-9
Injured: 100-235

Possible extra drone strikes: 90-107
Total killed: 354-508
Civilians killed: 26-61
Children killed: 6-9
Injured: 82-109

Other covert operations: 19-82
Total killed: 205-438
Civilians killed: 68-102
Children killed: 26-28
Injured: 43-132

Somalia 2007 onwards
US Covert Action

Our complete
Somalia datasheet

Most recent strike:
September 28 2016

Drone strikes: 32-36
Total killed: 241-418
Civilians killed: 3-10
Children killed: 0-2
Injured: 18-24

Other covert operations: 9-13
Total killed: 59-160
Civilians killed: 7-47
Children killed: 0-2
Injured: 11-21

Afghanistan 2015 onwards

Our complete
Afghanistan datasheet

Most recent strike:
October 22 2016

Bureau data
Total strikes: 626-631
Total killed: 2,199-2,851
Civilians killed: 90-145
Children killed: 4-21
Injured: 268-290

USAF data
Missions with at least one
weapon release: 800
Total weapons released: 1,760

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/the-obama-administrations-drone-strike-dissembling/473541/

http://www.democracynow.org/2013/10/25/as_us_faces_new_scrutiny_on

https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/

 

(3) O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Syrian Civil War

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State. This is the story of the civil war so far, in eight short chapters.

syria1

syria2

syria3

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868

 

(4) who alone does great wonders,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Dehumanizing Syrian Refugees: “They’re all criminals!”

At the same time, the pervasive fear of refugee-related crime on display both in German public-opinion polls and Hoaxmap rumors is out of sync with the data so far on the actual relationship between refugees and crime rates in Germany. Recent numbers from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) suggest that the influx of refugees into the country this fall had a low impact on crime numbers relative to the natural uptick that would happen with any population increase: Although the number of refugees in the country increased by 440 percent between 2014 and 2015, the number of crimes committed by refugees only increased by 79 percent. (The number of crimes against refugees increasedas well.) Furthermore, according to Deutsche Welle’s analysis of the report, the number of offenses increased in the first half of 2015 but “stagnated” in the second half, precisely when most of the refugees were arriving and the rumor mill switched into overdrive. And although sexual offenses account for over 25 percent of the rumors on the Hoaxmap, the BKA data showed that only 1 percent of refugee-related crimes fell into the sexual offense category.

Finally, there’s another possible contributor to the prevalence of rumors about refugees and crime, especially sexual assault: the media’s own apparent reluctance to offer reliable reports of refugee crime. Although police reportedly received 170 complaints regarding women being groped and robbed near the train station in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, it took until January 5 for the story to make national and international headlines, and even longer for arrests to be made. The perceived foot-dragging and bias, according to Banulescu-Bogdan, “really exacerbated people’s fears. They thought ‘everybody’s trying to tell us that we have no reason to be fearful, that our anxieties are illegitimate in some way and look what happened. What else are they covering up?’

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/04/refugees-crime-rumors/480171/

https://www.thelocal.de/20160610/why-refugee-crime-numbers-have-plummeted

(5) who by understanding made the heavens,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Democracy?

(6) who spread out the earth on the waters,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Polluted Pacific Ocean – Fukushima and Nuclear Radiation

NOAA energy map shows the intensity of the tsunami caused by Japan's magnitude 8.9 earthquake

…if that weren’t bad enough, Fukushima continues to leak an astounding 300 tons of radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean every day. It will continue do so indefinitely as the source of the leak cannot be sealed as it is inaccessible to both humans and robots due to extremely high temperatures.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Fukushima has contaminated the entire Pacific Ocean in just five years. This could easily be the worst environmental disaster in human history and it is almost never talked about by politicians, establishment scientists, or the news. It is interesting to note that TEPCO is a subsidiary partner with General Electric (also known as GE), one of the largest companies in the world, which has considerable control over numerous news corporations and politicians alike. Could this possibly explain the lack of news coverage Fukushima has received in the last five years? There is also evidence that GE knew about the poor condition of the Fukushima reactors for decades and did nothing. This led 1,400 Japanese citizens to sue GE for their role in the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Even if we can’t see the radiation itself, some parts of North America’s western coast have been feeling the effects for years. Not long after Fukushima, fish in Canada began bleeding from their gills, mouths, and eyeballs. This “disease” has been ignored by the government and has decimated native fish populations, including the North Pacific herring. Elsewhere in Western Canada, independent scientists have measured a 300% increase in the level of radiation. According to them, the amount of radiation in the Pacific Ocean is increasing every year.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-10-02/fukushima-radiation-has-contaminated-entire-pacific-ocean-and-its-going-get-worse

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-fukushima-pm-idUSBRE97601K20130807

http://www.neonnettle.com/features/448-officials-fukushima-has-now-contaminated-1-3-of-the-worlds-oceans

(7) who made the great lights,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Nuclear Warheads

warheadsgraphic_160726

warheadinventories_160815

For more information on current rates of production and maintenance, see the link below.

https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat

(8) the sun to rule over the day,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Carbon Dioxide

claimechange

Scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii announced in 2013 that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reached a daily average above 400 parts per million for the first time in history. CO2 concentrations “haven’t been this high in millions of years,” said scientist Erika Podest at the time. “This milestone is a wake-up call.”

But the situation has only gotten worse. Worldwide, 400 ppm, which indicates the ratio of carbon dioxide to other gases in the atmosphere, started to be read more consistently and in more locations. Last March, global CO2 levels topped the symbolic benchmark for an entire month — a first since record-keeping began. Antarctica, the last place on Earth without a 400 ppm reading, finally reached it in May.

Now scientists say we’ve arrived at yet another critical climate change juncture: CO2 levels surpassed 400 ppm this month— and it may not fall below that mark ever again.

“I think we’re essentially over for good,” said Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institute for Oceanography’s carbon dioxide monitoring program in May.

Though one-off lower measurements could still be read in the coming weeks, Keeling said “it already seems safe to conclude that we won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year ― or ever again for the indefinite future.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/carbon-dioxide-400ppm-permanent_us_57eb7636e4b082aad9b7e9ab

http://www.climatecentral.org/news/world-passes-400-ppm-threshold-permanently-20738?utm_content=bufferd6901&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

(9) the moon and stars to rule over the night,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Pentagon Supplied Propaganda: Fake Terrorist Videos

The Pentagon paid a UK PR firm half a billion dollars to create fake terrorist videos in Iraq in a secret propaganda campaign exposed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

PR firm Bell Pottinger, known for its array of controversial clients including the Saudi government and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s foundation, worked with the US military to create the propaganda in a secretive operation.

The firm reported to the CIA, the National Security Council and the Pentagon on the project with a mandate to portray Al-Qaeda in a negative light and track suspected sympathizers.

Both the White House and General David Petraeus, the former general who shared classified information with his mistress, signed off on the content produced by the agency.

The firm created television ads showing Al-Qaeda in a negative light as well as creating content to look as though it had come from “Arabic TV”. Crews were sent out to film bombings with low quality video. The firm would then edit it to make it look like news footage.

https://www.rt.com/usa/361385-pentagon-pr-firm-terrorist-videos/

http://www.veteranstoday.com/2016/10/02/pentagon-paid-firm-millions-of-dollars-to-create-false-flag/

(10) who struck Egypt through their firstborn,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Police Violence

blackpeoplemorelikelytobekilled

noaccountability

Police have killed at least 234 black people in the United States thus far in 2016.

http://mappingpoliceviolence.org/

(11) and brought Israel out from among them,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Mass Incarceration

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. The increase in the jail and prison population from less than 200,000 in 1972 to 2.2 million today has led to unprecedented prison overcrowding and put tremendous strain on state budgets. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners.

In the 1990s, as lawmakers campaigned to “get tough on crime,” America built a new prison every two weeks and still could not meet the demand for prison beds. Violent crime has fallen by more than 51 percent since 1991, and property crime has decreased by more than 43 percent. Although the crime rate has dropped steadily to about half of what it was in 1991, spending on jails and prisons reached nearly $81 billion in FY 2010. Today, nearly seven millionpeople in this country are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole.

The politics of fear and anger fueled “tough on crime” policies—including mandatory minimum sentences, extraordinarily harsh and racially disparate penalties for even minor drug offenses, and the explosion in life sentences without parole—that led to the unprecedented and unparalleled incarceration rate in America today. Private prisons operated by for-profit corporations multiplied from five in 1998 to a hundred in 2008, and profits have increased more than 500 percent in the last 20 years, creating perverse incentives and hindering efforts to reform sentencing laws, emphasize rehabilitation goals, and reduce the prison population.
———

You’re exhausted. You just got done working for the day. You aren’t blessed with a desk job, your work is manual labor. The only thing that got you through today was this moment right now — waiting in line for the money you earned after a hard day. You smile as you walk up to the man, tell him your hours for the day, and watch as he drops a whopping 17 cents into the palm of your hand.

I didn’t just describe a third world country, or a western nation prior to labor laws. The exact scenario described above is an everyday reality for inmates at for-profit prisons. The United States prison system is inherently flawed, both with mass incarceration and inhumane living conditions.

With the United States representing only five percent of the world’s population, it is completely ridiculous that around
22 percent of the total prisoners in the world are stationed in prisons within the United States.

In fact, in some parts of the United States, there are more people in prison than in college. The United States isn’t within the top 30 countries with the highest crime index, so the mass incarceration speaks to a much larger problem with the American prison system.

http://eji.org/mass-incarceration

https://thetartan.org/2016/10/3/forum/prison

(12) with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Starvation

About 21,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. This is one person every four seconds, as you can see on this display. Sadly, it is children who die most often.

Yet there is plenty of food in the world for everyone. The problem is that hungry people are trapped in severe poverty. They lack the money to buy enough food to nourish themselves. Being constantly malnourished, they become weaker and often sick. This makes them increasingly less able to work, which then makes them even poorer and hungrier. This downward spiral often continues until death for them and their families.


Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth.

If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.

WFP calculates that US$3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children. [The US spends far more than that every year on the military industrial complex.]

http://www.poverty.com/

https://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats

(13) who divided the Red Sea in two,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Abortion

abortions-in-america

abortion-outcomes-of-unintended-pregnancies

abortion-gallup-legal-certaincirc-illegal-trend

  • Based on available state-level data, an estimated 954,000 abortions took place in 2014—down from approximately 983,000 abortions in 2013 and 1.02 million abortions in 2012.

  • Twenty-one percent of all U.S. pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion. (AGI).

http://www.operationrescue.org/about-abortion/abortions-in-america/

http://www.abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics/

(14) and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Orphans & Children

  • It is estimated that 140 million children worldwide are orphans. (UNICEF).

  • Worldwide, there are 168 million who are child laborers, accounting for almost 11 percent of children (ILO).

  • 124 million children and adolescents are out of school (UNESCO).

  • As of the start of 2014, 1 in 11 children of primary-school age is out of school, totaling 59 million children (UNICEF).

  • There are over 250 million children living in countries affected by conflict (UNICEF).

  • 1 out of every 8 babies born in the world is born into conflict (UNICEF).

  • There are 30 million children who have been forced from their homes (UNICEF).

  • There are roughly 400,000 children in the US foster care system. Of that number, approximately 100,000 are waiting to be adopted.

  • Of the children waiting in foster care, 30,000 age out every year, without families.

  • The top five sending countries in inter-country adoption in 2010 were China, Ethiopia, Russia, South Korea, and Ukraine.

  • Asia is home to the largest number of orphaned children in the world: 60 million, at last count.

http://www.sos-usa.org/our-impact/childrens-statistics

http://showhope.org/4-statistics/

(15) but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Military-Industrial Complex

The table below compares average annual Pentagon budgets under every president since Truman, using “constant dollar” figures from the FY2016 Green Book. I’ll use these same inflation-adjusted figures throughout this article, to make sure I’m always comparing “apples to apples”. These figures do not include additional military-related spending by the VA, CIA, Homeland Security, Energy, Justice or State Departments, nor interest payments on past military spending, which combine to raise the true cost of U.S. militarism to about $1.3 trillion per year, or one thirteenth of the U.S. economy.

U.S. Military Budgets 1948-2015

Obama FY2010-15 $663.4 billion per year
Bush Jr FY2002-09* $634.9 “ “ “
Clinton FY1994-2001 $418.0 “ “ “
Bush Sr FY1990-93 $513.4 “ “ “
Reagan FY1982-89 $565.0 “ “ “
Carter FY1978-81 $428.1 “ “ “
Ford FY1976-77 $406.7 “ “ “
Nixon FY1970-75 $441.7 “ “ “
Johnson FY1965-69 $527.3 “ “ “
Kennedy FY1962-64 $457.2 “ “ “
Eisenhower FY1954-61 $416.3 “ “ “
Truman FY1948-53 $375.7 “ “ “

*Excludes $80 billion supplemental added to FY2009 under Obama.

The U.S. military receives more generous funding than the rest of the 10 largest militaries in the world combined (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, U.K., France, Japan, India, Germany & South Korea). And yet, despite the chaos and violence of the past 15 years, the Republican candidates seem oblivious to the dangers of one country wielding such massive and disproportionate military power.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicolas-j-s-davies/the-record-us-military-bu_b_8227820.html

I highly encourage looking at the interactive websites below to examine individual contracts and costs per day, month, and year. It is astounding how much money goes to keeping this active, while, as said above, a comparatively measly $3.2 billion is needed to get foodstuffs to all 66 million starving children in the world.

http://www.militaryindustrialcomplex.com/

https://www.nationalpriorities.org/cost-of/category/military/

(16) who led his people through the wilderness,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Domestic Violence

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.1

  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.1

  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.1

  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.1

  • On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.9

  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.10

  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.2

  • Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.2

  • 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.2

  • Domestic victimization is correlated with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior.2

  • Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.2

http://ncadv.org/learn-more/statistics

http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/relationships/a37005/statistics-about-domestic-violence/

(17) who struck down great kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Varieties of Drug Abuse & Addiction

abuseofprescription01

abuseprescription02.jpg

A table showing the prevalence of a large variety of drug use:

https://www.drugabuse.gov/national-survey-drug-use-health

https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics

(18) and killed famous kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Depression, Anxiety, and Mental Illness

depression-statistics-infogrpahic_updated

anxiety-disorder

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)

  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.

  • Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill, according to “The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders,” a study commissioned by ADAA (The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60(7), July 1999).

    • More than $22.84 billion of those costs are associated with the repeated use of health care services; people with anxiety disorders seek relief for symptoms that mimic physical illnesses.

  • People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.

  • Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/statistics-infographic

http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/facts-statistics-infographic

https://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

(19) Sihon, king of the Amorites,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Autoimmune & Uncurable Lifelong Diseases

autoimmune-infographic_03-1

Autoimmune Disease…

…is a major health problem.

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH estimates up to 23.5* million Americans suffer from autoimmune disease and that the prevalence is rising. We at AARDA say that 50 million* Americans suffer from autoimmune disease. Why the difference? The NIH numbers only include 24 diseases for which good epidemiology studies were available.

  • Researchers have identified 80-100 different autoimmune diseases and suspect at least 40 additional diseases of having an autoimmune basis. These diseases are chronic and can be life-threatening.

  • Autoimmune disease is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in female children and women in all age groups up to 64 years of age.

  • A close genetic relationship exists among autoimmune disease, explaining clustering in individuals and families as well as a common pathway of disease.

  • Commonly used immunosuppressant treatments lead to devastating long-term side effects.

  • The Institute of Medicine reports that the US is behind other countries in research into immune system self recognition, the process involved in autoimmune disease.

  • Understanding how to modulate immune system activity will benefit transplant recipients, cancer patients, AIDS patients and infectious disease patients.

…faces critical obstacles in diagnosis and treatment.

  • Symptoms cross many specialties and can affect all body organs.

  • Medical education provides minimal learning about autoimmune disease.

  • Specialists are generally unaware of interrelationships among the different autoimmune diseases or advances in treatment outside their own specialty area.

  • Initial symptoms are often intermittent and unspecific until the disease becomes acute.

  • Research is generally disease-specific and limited in scope. More information-sharing and crossover among research projects on different autoimmune diseases is needed.

…offers surprising statistical comparisons with other disease groups.

  • NIH estimates up to 23.5 million Americans* have an AD. In comparison, cancer affects up to 9 million and heart disease up to 22 million.

  • NIH estimates annual direct health care costs for AD to be in the range of $100 billion (source: NIH presentation by Dr. Fauci, NIAID). In comparison, cancers costs are $57 billion (source: NIH,ACS), and heart and stroke costs are $200 billion (source: NIH, AHA).

  • NIH research funding for AD in 2003 came to $591 million. In comparison, cancer funding came to $6.1 billion; and heart and stroke, to $2.4 billion (source: NIH).

  • The NIH Autoimmune Diseases Research Plan states; “Research discoveries of the last decade have made autoimmune research one of the most promising areas of new discovery.”

  • According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Women’s Health, autoimmune disease and disorders ranked #1 in a top ten list of most popular health topics requested by callers to the National Women’s Health Information Center.

http://dimostrong.org/autoimmune-disease-infographic/

https://www.aarda.org/autoimmune-information/autoimmune-statistics/

(20) and Og, king of Bashan,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Student Debt

debt-at-grad-school-graduation

General Student Loan Debt Stats

  • Total Amount of Student Loan Borrowers: 43.3 million +

  • Total Outstanding Student Loan Debt: $1.35 trillion +

  • Average Federal Student Loan Default Rate: 11.8%

  • Average Number of College Grads with Student loan Debt: 60%

  • Average Debt Per Borrower: $28,400

  • Average Debt Per Graduate: $16,033

Note: These stats are often misquoted. Many sites post the average debt per borrower statistic as the average debt per graduate.

  • Average Debt Per Graduate Student: $57,600

  • Average Debt Per Borrower at a Public School: $26,872

  • Average Debt Per Borrower at a Private School: $31,710

  • Department of Education’s Estimated Profit Over Next 10 Years: $127 billion

Federal Student Loan Debt Stats (Q2 2016)

Stats By Loan Status

  • In-School: 8 million borrowers holding $155.5 billion

  • In Grace Period: 1.5 million borrowers holding $27.5 billion

  • Repayment: 25.8 million borrowers holding $658.3 billion

  • Deferment: 4.9 million borrowers holding $129.8 billion

  • Forebearance: 4.2 million borrowers holding $139.4 billion

  • Default: 400 thousand borrowers holding $11.5 billion

Stats By Loan Type

  • Consolidation: 12 million borrowers holding $431.2 billion

  • Stafford Unsubsidized: 27.3 million borrowers holding $421.8 billion

  • Stafford Subsidized: 29.2 million borrowers holding $269 billion

  • Parent PLUS: 3.3 million borrowers holding $75.2 billion

  • Grad PLUS: 1 million borrowers holding $49.4 billion

  • Perkins: 2.8 million borrowers holding $8.2 billion

Direct Loan Stats By Repayment Plan (not FFEL)

  • Standard 10-year: 11.27 million borrowers holding $197.9 billion

  • Standard Over 10 years: 1.67 million borrowers holding $73.2 billion

  • Graduated Under 10 years: 2.63 million borrowers holding $67.9 billion

  • Graduated Over 10 years: 280 thousand borrowers holding $12.7 billion

  • Income-Contingent: 600 thousand borrowers holding $22.8 billion

  • Income-Based: 3.1 million borrowers holding $175.1 billion

  • Pay As You Earn: 960 thousand borrowers holding $41.2 billion

  • Revised PAYE: 190 thousand borrowers holding $8.1 billion

  • Alternative: 310 thousand borrowers holding $6.2 billion

  • Other: 450 thousand borrowers holding $45.5 billion

Private Student Loan (PSL) Debt Stats

  • Total Amount of Outstanding PSL Debt: $165 billion +

  • Average Amount of Students Using PSLs Each Year: 1.4 million

  • Average PSL Amount: ~$10,000

  • Percentage of PSLs Taken Out With a Cosigner: 90%

  • Number of PSL Lenders: Over 100

Graduate Student Loan Debt Stats

Combined Undergrad and Graduate Debt by Degree (as of 2012)

  • M.B.A. : $42,000 (11% of grad degrees)

  • Master of Science: $50,400 (18% of grad degrees)

  • Master of Education: $50,879 (16% of grad degrees)

  • Other Master’s Degrees: $55,489 (15% of grad degrees)

  • Master of Arts: $58,539 (8% of grad degrees)

  • Law: $140,616 (4% of grad degrees)

  • Medicine/Health Sciences: $161,772 (5% of grad degrees)

  • PhDs: Not Reported

st_2016-05-24_young-adults-living-01

https://lendedu.com/blog/student-loan-debt-statistics

https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics/

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/05/24/for-first-time-in-modern-era-living-with-parents-edges-out-other-living-arrangements-for-18-to-34-year-olds/

(21) and gave their land as a heritage,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

The Locust Effect: The Problem of Everyday Violence

“Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros, authors of The Locust Effect, Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, mine a rich field of data from international development experts who reveal that violence against the poor undermines the Millennium Goals relating to health, women’s empowerment, education, and economic development. For example, one out of three women around the world has been beaten, forced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.i The rates of violence against women and girls are even higher among poor women.ii Studies suggest that 49% of Ethiopian women will be assaulted, 48% of Ugandan women, 62% of Peruvian women, 35% of Indian women, and 34% of Brazilian women.iii According to World Bank data, the epidemic of gender violence puts more women and girls between the age of 15 and 44 at risk of death or disability than cancer, traffic accidents, malaria, and war combined. iv Efforts to address women’s health needs are substantially undermined by failure to develop government capacity to protect them from violence and deter it through effective law enforcement. Another area of vulnerability for the poor, especially women, is lack of access to land title and inheritance. As IJM has seen in our programs in sub-Saharan Africa to restore property that has been violently expropriated from widows and orphans, the lack of functioning justice systems to assure access to land substantially undermines economic development for the poor. Global studies show that 90% of rural sub-Saharan Africans (of whom 370 million are considered poor) live and work on land that has no formal or secure title. The same is true for 40 million Indonesians, 40 million South Americans, 40 million Indians, and about 350 million impoverished indigenous people around the globe. Indeed, around 1.5 billion of the globe’s urban poor live in informal settlements and slums without any secure right to their property.v One of the most pernicious sources of violence against the poorest is the police themselves. The UN Study “Making the Law Work for Everyone” reports: Perhaps one of the most striking revelations of the study is the extent to which the police and official justice systems side with the rich, persecute poor people and make poor people more insecure, fearful and poorer. Particularly in urban areas, poor people perceive the police not as upholding justice, peace and fairness, but as threats and sources of insecurity.”vi Development institutions are recognizing the impact of this violence on their objectives. The World Bank affirms that “crime and violence have emerged in recent years as major obstacles to the realization of development objectives.”vii Further, the bank has stated , “In many developing countries, high levels of crime and violence not only undermine people’s safety on an everyday level they also undermine broader development efforts to improve governance and reduce poverty.”viii Multiple studies by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have concluded that restraining violence is a precondition to poverty alleviation and economic development, plainly stating that “a foundational level of order must be established before development objectives can be realized.’”ix x Leaders of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) have concluded that, “Poor people want to feel safe and secure just as much as they need food to eat, clean water to drink and a job to give them an income. Without security there cannot be development.”

Quote above from the “Issue Brief” PDF below. I suggest watching the Ted Talk below to get a better grasp of what is going on here, and then explore the website.

http://www.thelocusteffect.com/sites/default/files/TLE_Issue_Brief.pdf

http://www.thelocusteffect.com/the-problem

(22) a heritage to his servant Israel,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

Environmental Racism

er-mother-jones-1er-vox-infographic

“The element of racism appears from the fact that poor areas are overwhelmingly nonwhite. In these areas, policies are also less regulated and there is an insufficient maintenance of environmental resources. Poor white areas, however, are more likely to have their environmental needs addressed quicker than poor racially marginalized ones.

People of color are unable to enjoy the full benefits of being heard or attract policy makers to change and enforce policies that accommodate the environmental needs of their community. Instead, they bear the burdens and cost of industrial and corporate policies that cause conditions that reproduce racial inequality by placing hazardous facilities in their areas with insufficient representation and resources. The distribution of pollution is, as a result, discriminatory to communities of color as the response level to their environmental needs is lower than white communities. This makes it harder for people of color to resist toxic exposure or to take part in advocating or speaking up against it.

Environmental racism is a major obstacle to achieving equitable distribution of health outcomes as well as protection against industrial pollution. From redlining to lack of political representation among people of color, the South Bronx has been the face of injustice as threats on environmental safety continue. This disproportionate burden of pollution dumped on racially marginalized areas like the South Bronx demonstrates how vulnerable poor people of color are to toxic waste sitting and lack of environmental and financial investment in their community. As Mychal Johnson exclaims, “poor people do not get enough representation. People of color do not get enough representation either. So how do you expect poor people of color to even be counted?”” [From the Huffington Post article linked below.]

http://www.rac.org/blog/2016/03/06/four-infographics-understand-environmental-racism%20

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sabrina-sultana/its-harder-to-breathe-wit_b_10253544.html

(23) It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Divorce

divorces_ratio_infographics_3_upd.jpg

http://www.ruvololaw.com/blog/divorce-rates-around-world-infographic-0

http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/world/worlds-10-most-divorced-nations/

(24) and rescued us from our foes,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Human Trafficking

inplainsight-sextrafficking-101

mythbusters_final_EHTC_v3

http://aheartforjustice.com/2014/01/11/human-trafficking-infographics/

https://traffickingresourcecenter.org/

(25) who gives food to all flesh,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

Documented Civilian Deaths In Iraq War

multigraph

This data is based on 49,429 database entries from the beginning of the war to 31 Jul 2016, and on monthly preliminary data from that date onwards. Preliminary data is shown in grey when applicable, and is based on approximate daily totals in the Recent Events section prior to full analysis. The full analysis extracts details such as the names or demographic details of individuals killed, the weapons that killed them and location amongst other details. The current range contains 32,685–34,136 deaths (20%–18%, a portion which may rise or fall over time) based on single-sourced reports.

Graphs are based on the higher number in our totals. Gaps in recording and reporting suggest that even our highest totals to date may be missing many civilian deaths from violence.

From this website:

https://www.iraqbodycount.org/database/

(26) O give thanks to the God of heaven,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

Death

Inevitable.

(1 John 3:16) We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

 

Psalm 136 and 1 John presented here are from the NRSV version from Biblegateway.com

Suffering: A Test Of Theological Method – A Review

Arthur C. McGill was a brilliant man who is unfortunately barely known in mainstream “progressive” post-Evangelical circles. His name is probably less known than that of William Stringfellow, which, unfortunately, is also not a common name thrown around these days. McGill was a theologian writing most prolifically in the 1960s and 1970s, with a flavour many post-Evangelicals could fit into their palate. What follows is a (short) review of his (short) book, Suffering: A Test Of Theological Method.

(The original review can be found on my Goodreads page here.)

This is a short little theological work, but quite an enjoyable one.
McGill first starts off with the problem of suffering and violence by defining both of them (suggesting that violence and suffering can only exist because of a deeper ontological truth behind humanity and all of creation: we are all extremely needy), and suggesting that because of human neediness, suffering is entirely unavoidable and to be expected, ESPECIALLY as a disciple of Christ (for which reasoning he will explain more fully throughout the book in his explanations of the nature of love as self-expending and the world trying to persecute the true life found in God) in only a few pages of the first chapter. This is, generally, the most one hears of violence/suffering for chapters to come, as McGill has to set a theological precedent before he can explain his thoughts on suffering in a couple short chapters toward the end of the book. From here, he then discusses theological method (a Christocentric one at that), a discussion of the “demonic” and evil forces that extend outside of individual sin and human responsibility, a discussion of the nature of God and God’s power (one of self-expenditure and service rather than one of domination and oppression), the nature of God’s inner self by comparing Arius and Athanasius (ie: Trinitarian theology), the victory of Christ over the previously mentioned demonic/evil forces, death and false identities, an anthropological/theological working of human need through the lens of his Christocentric hermeneutic and by appealing to the Parable of the Good Samaritan (in a way I’d never interacted with before, which was a major paradigm shift in my own theology), proffering practical outcomes of trying to live out the self-expending agape love of Christ and how the “world” will misinterpret one’s actions (just as they did with Christ) all the while vying for the importance of what he calls “Christian sorrow”, and finally concluding with a postscript on theological method, in which he refuses to give a step-by-step method of theological analysis/creative thinking, but at the same time, offers vague guidelines. At the very end, he suggests questions that his work raises – questions that somewhat seem to suggest his own work isn’t credible – which only goes to show his drive for pursuing nuance and wanting to get people to truly pursue the real Person of Christ – not a theological method coined by an academic who needs to churn out a novel doctoral thesis.