God is Love and God Loves You

Luke 13:10-17 (Homily)

The statements “God is Love” and “God loves you” are abstract concepts. I can tell you these things all day, but apart from concrete manifestation of that love in substance and action, both statements fall flat. We live in an era where words are tossed about, rapidly and thoughtless so. We say I love you to our friends and family and then in the next breath profess love to jellybeans. What then does love mean? In the predicament where there is little concern for the substance of language, the meaning of words, and the impact of nouns and verbs, how do I communicate to you love? What does “God is love and loves you” mean? A profession of love causing you to experience and believe that profession, means the profession needs substance, the landing has to stick; deed must follow word.

We encounter Jesus on the Sabbath teaching in a synagogue. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a woman appears having an ailment for 18 years. Luke explains: she is bent forward,[1] unable to raise herself up completely. Luke doesn’t tell us much about the woman. He only tells us that she’s suffered with this ailment for 18 years. For nearly two decades she existed in a curved-in state, unable to look up. Her eyes took in more of the ground than the sky; her face went unnoticed, turned toward the dust and dirt of her travels. The very face a mother adored, a lover loved, a child yearned for now hidden in plain sight. An identity hidden; she was merely a body in the crowd. 18 years nearly unseen. That’s a lifetime for some of you.

When she appears,[2] Jesus perceives her. In the midst of all the people attending the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus’s perception of her presence is identical to his question, “Who touched me?” in Luke 8, while being pressed in on all sides in a crowd. Luke loves highlighting Jesus’s divine attributes. One of those attributes is perceiving the people his society and the religious therein have ceased to perceive. Jesus sees those who have fallen through the cracks, those who have slipped off the grid, those who have been relegated to the fringe. Those who have been excluded and isolated? These he sees. And he doesn’t merely see, he perceives and he acts. Jesus loves these.

On any other day, that woman would’ve gone in and come back out without much notice. But not today; today, Jesus notices her very presence. And what does he do? He calls her to him. “Woman, you have been[3] set free from your infirmity.” And then he lays his hands upon her. In an instant (literally), she is set straight (again)[4] and (at the same time) is bestowing glory on God.

And, I am brought back to Genesis 2. The last time someone was this curved-in was when Adam felt the deep trial of isolation. In the presence of God, he longed for an other. As God gazed upon this turned in man, God said: it is not good that this man is alone. I will make a partner for him. And like the light and the dark on the first day, God pulled the man apart—taking one and making two. Just as light is its own substance and so too the dark, both the man and the woman were two complete individuals—they were equal but not interchangeable. Forever, in this swift movement of deft surgical precision, loneliness was lifted from Adam’s back and cast into the outer darkness to take up its kingdom where there is not. And God sat on his throne among the light, in the midst of the life of humanity in community in the cool of the verdant garden. And it was very good.

As Adam was set free from his infirmity of loneliness in divine intervention, so too this woman is set free. Jesus lays his hands upon her and separates her from her burden, from her isolation, from her oppression, from her exclusion. She now stands upright, for the first time in 18 years; she can see the bright light of day, the blue of the sky, the twinkling stars of night. As she stands upright, she gazes (again) into the eyes of those around her, to recognize and to be recognized in her identity. Jesus restores her to the dignity of her humanity articulated in upright posture. Not frail and hunched over, she stood tall and looked out, restored by the simple word and touch of Jesus the Christ, by his love. What was her life of burden and bondage is now relegated to the old age of what was; she is ushered into the freedom and liberty of the new age. And when that event of encounter happens with God, a thick and dark line is drawn in the sand between what was and what is and what will be; a line is drawn like the one created by the collapsing walls of water forever separating Israel from Egypt and their bondage and captivity.

In Luke’s brief story, he boldly describes the cosmic battle between God and the powers of sin and death. Jesus heals on the Sabbath and is chastised. He brings dignity and humanity to an old woman, and the ruler of the synagogue loses his mind.[5] After a stern, “Hypocrites!”, Jesus tightly correlates Satan (the powers of sin and death) to the religiosity of the rulers. According to Jesus, using the law to keep people bound in their burden and oppression is letting Satan have his way in the world. The law is good and can create and maintain freedom; but it should never be weaponized. When we love the law more than we love people, we are in the business of stripping people of their dignity and humanity. The law was made for humans, not humans for the law.

Back to the beginning, God is love because God is active and God’s activity is manifest in love loving, which is bringing freedom to the captives (in a real way). When I profess love, my love best look like this…

 

 

 

 

[1] More like “bent-forward-ing” the verbal aspect of the word doesn’t translate well into English.

[2] The word that is translated as “appear” in the text is technically “Behold!” which carries the same force of “suddenly there she was!” thus “appearing”.

[3] The perfect passive here has the force of an event that has occurred to the recipient that has ramifications into the present. In a sense, she will has been set free and will continue to be set free. Woe to anyone who attempts to reverse the divine action.

[4] Highlighting that she wasn’t always this way that at one point she could stand up straight.

[5] Quite literally, he is indignant, it’s the manner of his being in the current situation.

Redeeming Radical Rhetoric

Sancta Colloquia episode 110 ft. Garrett Gore

In this episode of Sancta Colloquia, I was able to (finally) talk with (in voice to voice) another one of my favorite Twitter Tweeps: Garrett Gore (@GarrettLacan4).  The conversation presented exactly as I hoped it would: Garrett produced intriguing material and authors and taught me a bunch of things. He’s a few years older than my students and part of that really remarkable generation rising. As I say in the introduction, I take the wisdom offered to me by those who could be my kids as seriously as I take the wisdom offered to me by those who could be my parents. This is something our world–or at least our particular western, American context—would do well to be a lot better at. And if you take the time to listen to Garrett you’ll learn an important lesson in language and leftist theory and revolution. Garrett did an excellent job explaining the necessity of “redeeming radical rhetoric”. This makes sense and it’s ironic. Don’t we adults accuse the youths of not taking language as seriously as we do? Yet here is one of those youths explaining the system of language as well as articulating the deep need for redeeming language and rhetoric and words. Garrett says, “Humans are subjects who are tortured by language.” And I think he’s right; this is the back bone to the entire conversation. Whether how we use words, how words impact us, what we think about words we think we understand, there’s an awful amount of torture. We need to reclaim language, Garrett explains in various ways, so we can cause a hard break with the many abusive systems in play (Religious, Social, and Political etc.) that are employing language to sustain the abuse and oppression. The status quo is sustained through the use of language that causes numbness and blindness and deafness; Garrett issues a call to wake up and see the power of language used rightly and powerfully and critically. It was such an honor and privilege to have Garrett on the show; I’m grateful for his wisdom and ability to communicate these very important concepts. I hope you enjoy listen to his words as much as I did.

Intrigued? You should be. Listen here via Screaming Pods (https://www.screamingpods.com/)

A huge THANK YOU to my friend and producer Sean Duregger (Twitter: @seanCduregger) and Screaming Pods (Twitter: @ScreamingPods) for hosting Sancta Colloquia (Twitter: @SanctaColloquia).

Garrett says: Hey all. I’m Garrett and I come from Texas on the DFW area. I am a former Evangelical and now I am a Post-Theist Quaker. Currently, I am doing undergrad studies, majoring in Philosophy, and hope to go to Grad school to study Political-Theology and other thinkers I’m interested in such as Zizek, Lacan, Fredric Jameson, among others. An issue that is a particular interest of mine that also forms a good deal of my background in philosophy, theology, and theory studies is Anti-Capitalist critique as I am unapologetically Communist, and shamelessly endorse Jameson’s Universal Army model to move beyond Capitalism and toward a Communist society.

Recommended and Mentioned reading:

Fredric Jameson:
The Political Unconscious
Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capital
An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army

Lacan:
God is Unconscious: Psychoanalysis and Theology by Tad DeLay
How to Read Lacan by Zizek

Zizek:
Zizek and Politics: A Critical Introduction by Matthew Sharpe and Geoff Boucher
Violence
The Monstrosity of Christ
The Relevance of the Communist Manifesto
The Idea of Communism
The Sublime Object of Ideology

Thomas Altizer:
The New Apocalypse
The Gospel of Christian Atheism
Satan and Apocalypse

Misc:
The Communist Horizon by Jodi Dean
Ethics of the Real by Alenka Zupancic
Towards a New Socialism by Paul Cockshott

 

 

The Toxicity of Toxic Language

When “Toxic” becomes Toxic

Here’s the thing about “toxic” relationships: it’s not always restricted to one person being *the* “toxic” person that needs to be excised from the group or broken off with. Though, this is commonly what is conveyed in the dialogue of aftermath of relational split: “that person was toxic; so glad that person is gone. Now, we/I can go on being/becoming more healthy.” While I don’t have a very high anthropology (meaning: I still question the inherent goodness of human beings but not the inherent dignity; plus, I’m a Luther theologian, it comes with the terrain), I still believe that *anyone* can be “toxic” in *any* given situation. It’s the mix of personalities in their potential for toxicity. Potential for toxicity can be other wise dubbed as the beloved and oft used term: “brokenness.” However, in common parlance, it’s not just “brokenness” (because general brokenness is acceptable for the most part), “toxicity” is like the dark underbelly of “brokenness,” the thing that is the deal breaker and can’t ever be tolerated by anyone. Thus, people who have otherwise standard issues and problems and “brokenness,” get labeled as “toxic” and should be avoided at all costs because they bring “toxicity” to everything. They’re essentially and inherently harbingers of poison to every relationship they touch; they’ve been ontologically defined as poisonous.

(Side note, I’d like to argue that it is better to render “brokenness” as “bentness” in order to adhere to the inherent dignity of human beings. “Brokenness” can indicate being useless and worthy of being trashed; all human beings are never ever, never ever of that category.)

“Toxic” is the new “co-dependent.” One of the problems of the language of toxicity becoming so popular is that it has lost its actual definition and impact (there are legitimately toxic people, things, and places in our lives). It has become easier to label someone as “toxic” because they are causing us *any* discomfort. Also, It has become all the rage to label someone, some-place, something as “toxic,” in order to scapegoat our own problems on to someone else, some-place else, or something else. It’s easier to just cut someone, some-place, something out of your life, rather than take a long hard look in the mirror and realize you are fucking up your own life. (I say this as someone who was caught too long in “toxic” this-and-that language and finally had to come to terms that *I* was (me and my trauma narrative) more of the problem than any other person, place, or thing.) Rather than knee-jerk reacting and labeling someone, some-place, or something as “toxic,” it might be worth slowing the roll and asking: why is this causing this reaction in me? Therein answers lie.

Another problem is, from my perspective, we all carry within ourselves potential for acting caustically[1] toward others; our potential for this activity can be actualized by other people acting out of their issues and trauma (and vice versa). Also, our caustic behavior can be actualized by another person’s otherwise normal personality traits because we’ve had some sort of trauma associated with those traits even if they’d never be considered categorically “problematic” by any professional. It’s rarely the fact that only one person is the “toxic” source, but rather the mix of personality traits we have that conform and collide with others. Conformity with others creates a wonderful sense of peace and acceptance, but this does not mean collision is out of the question nor does it mean that when collision occurs it’s a deal breaker and the other person is now “toxic.” Collision occurs as conformity becomes bedrock in a relationship. When the honeymoon of a new relationship wears off, it’s then where we start to see how different we are from each other and also the potential for triggering and being triggered. (And I am not speaking of small things like a disagreement and miscommunications that run standard in any relationship. Rather, I speak of the big collisions, the ones that demand terms like forgiving and forgetting.)

When collision happens, it’s a time for introspection and dialogue. The normal and healthy response in situations where collision has occurred—in any way—is: discussion, both interpersonal (what happened and what can we do together to grow and move forward with our relationship (if possible)?) and intrapersonal (why did this action trigger this response in me?). Granted not all relationships are or need to be carried forward, some are mutually too caustic (as a whole) to be continued; not because one person is inherently “toxic,” but because the unit doesn’t work and we are both mutually bad for each other because we trigger each other, you trigger me, or I trigger you. None of us wants to be in relationship that is primarily collision and strife. None of us want to be causing the caustic reaction. (I’m a firm believer that not all personality types should be anything more than cordial acquaintances because the relational scales tip too much in favor of the potential for collision and triggering.) Often times, though, a good conversation will allow for light to be shed on issues that either or both people in the relationship were blind to, where acceptance of your own and the other person’s contribution to the issue can be owned, and create the space for solutions to move forward to be implanted and embraced.

We have used and abused the word “toxic” in all its forms, and the results prove disastrous. We are all bent, traumatized individuals making our way through this journey of life. Even the most integrated of us still has plenty to work on and will continue to aggravate, frustrate, and bother other wanderers. The most we can do is admit our own weaknesses, realize when those weaknesses are not beneficial to others, and realize where we can and need to become strong.

Something that I loved learning about when I started studying Luther and his conception of justification and the proclamation of the Gospel, was not that he let me off the hook of the law of God, but that he put me on it. Far from being a therapeutic hedonist, Luther has a high view of the law both as it plays into the believer’s relationship before God and in the believer’s life. No, sin boldly isn’t the same as: you do you as you please at whatever expense and at whomever’s expense. It’s about the reality that you are, by encounter with God in the event of faith, right before God, that this event-encounter is not born of your particular activity but does have significant bearing on your present activity. Luther’s dialectic of law and gospel and the need for the good theologian to be able to distinguish between the two is never about being given the license to avoid the law at all costs and to reject all people and things and words that give off even the hint of personal discomfort and conviction to us. Rather, it’s always about being able to really *see* with our own eyes what is the law and what is the gospel, what brings death and what brings life, and to act accordingly—not to avoid it but to enter into the event, to be encountered there in by God and God’s grace.

Sometimes, we must enter into the death present and terrifying in relational collision (to face it head on, eye to eye, word to word) in order to be brought into something so much more beautiful and alive than it could ever be if we had sidestepped the entire problem in the name of comfort. I will be more alive, you will be more alive, and even the relationship (either sustained or terminated) will be life giving (even if there is grief and pain as a result of termination). With God all things are possible, even abundant life out of what feels like and looks like certain death.

 

[1] I like “caustic” rather than “toxic” because there is an allusion to a chemical reaction, neither chemical is bad in it’s own state, but when combined the reaction is bad.

Feminist.

Someone I know from twitter challenged something I said in an interview that aired yesterday over at Key Life Network. Now before you cry out, “Down with trolls!”, I have to say this individual is far from a troll and is someone for whom I have sincere respect. I don’t entertain trolls, but I’ve learned that when Travis* asks what seems like a nonchalant, casual question or finishes a statement with an ellipses, I’m quite certain something is about to be unearthed, some preconceived notion of mine is about to be radically altered…for the better.  So, when he asked,

Why don’t you want to sound ‘like a complete, total feminist’?

I thought, “Oh, crap…here we go…”,  and I buckled up and braced for impact. My answers and his push-back revealed (to me) that I had serious cracks in my understanding about feminism in general and exposed (to me) my own very deep seated fear of being associated with feminism and called a feminist–not something I’m proud to admit. And if the initial question and the following push-backs weren’t well aimed arrows hitting each of their marks, it was the last remark he made that hit me so perfectly and with such skill that Legolas himself would be jealous. I had just defended myself by saying,

…even tho I’m cautious (and maybe overly so) about how i define myself as a feminist does not discredit all the work I do to promote women and men…

To which he wrote,

Nope, doesn’t discredit it. But it (your caution) may implicitly discredit the work being done by others…

That arrow hurt. That impact hurt. While I wasn’t hurled into an existential crisis, I was forced to reckon with some questions:

Why am I cautious about a feminist label?

Am I potentially hindering good work being done by disassociating myself from feminism?

Am I a feminist?

To answer the first question, I think the main reason I’m hesitant to call myself a feminist because of the way “feminist” is a four letter word in conservative evangelical circles, in which I was spiritually reared and (to some extent) academically trained. Not only is it considered a four letter word, but it is assumed to be so connected to secular life, that  a good Christian woman would never want to call herself a feminist. Feminist, from what I can deduce from my experience, seems to draws up imagery of an angry, man-hating women, looking to overthrow the entire system by her rejection of marriage and family. A couple of years back, my seminary had to deal with the issue of some male MDiv and DMin students singling out female MDiv students on the ordination track telling them they were acting against God’s divine ordering of the sexes. In conservative contexts, many feminist theologians get a bad name for some of the awkward things they do exegetically to scripture (sometimes the accusation is valid; sometimes not. And let us not confuse feminist theologian with a theologian who is also a feminist). As a woman student and then as a Teacher’s Assistant, who spoke up for the equality and freedom of women using both theology and scripture as my foundation, I thought I was in a bind: I’d lose my audience if I played the feminist card. So I distanced myself, “Not feminist…so you can listen to meRather than stand ground and demand that the word “feminist” be defined correctly in spite of the few places it’s been run into the mud, I attempted to placate the more conservative folk I was encountering.

And here I can answer the second question posed above: yes, my disassociation from feminism hinders the good work others are doing. How so? In this way: as I go about both my academic and pastoral callings, which incorporates a message of freedom for women and men, while simultaneously denying that I am a feminist essentially creates a dividing line where I make the implicit statement that what I am doing is good and what other feminists are doing is bad. For all intents and purposes, I’m promoting my work at the expense and detriment of the work of other feminists. I’m creating teams, an “us” and “them.” As a Christian the “us” and “them” will almost always take on the flavor of Christian and Secular, good and bad; this is unacceptable.

And since when is it a good idea for Christians (for me) to shirk a word or phrase because of the historically negative connotations it has carried? Am I not given a new language, a new grammar, a new voice to speak, new eyes to see, and new ears to hear as a result of faith in Christ? To part ways with “feminist” because of fear, rubs against the confidence I’ve been given in Christ. Rather than throw out language because of its baggage (hypothetical or not), let us use the new language we’ve been given in Christ to rightly define the language.

Feminism rightly understood is freedom and equality for woman alongside man; and this freedom and equality is beneficial for man in that it demands and expects more from him than has been previously expected from patriarchy. This freedom and equality for woman is exactly what is given to her through Jesus Christ; for scriptural support, start by reading through the gospel of Luke and move on from there. This demand on man that expects more than what patriarchy has ever expected is justified in the person and being of Jesus Christ.  The way Jesus interacts with women throughout the gospels is a demand and expectation on man to be capable of more. In union with Christ by faith in Him, men are neither tyrannical overlords lusting to rule over the weak woman nor primal beasts needing to be tamed and educated by the domesticated and civil hand of the woman; in union with Christ by faith in Him, the free man is rightly oriented to the free woman, and she to him because they are rightly oriented to God by the power of the Holy Spirit.This is the goal of feminism rightly understood, and it has everything to do with us Christians and Christianity.

Am I feminist?

Yes.

I am a complete and total feminist.

 

* @WTravisMcMaken (on Twitter) and I highly recommend visiting his blog: Die Evangelischen Theologen   http://derevth.blogspot.com/