Anti-War Is Not Enough (Reflection)

Anti-Imperialist Button 1900I served thirteen years in the U.S. Army, including a consciousness-altering year of combat in Iraq.  Upon my return in 2010, I began the process of becoming an outspoken critic of war, especially U.S. wars. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1946, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” Yet, since re-engaging my anti-war activism I have discovered that hating war and being against violence is not enough. Because the causes of war are systemic, our whole way of organizing political and social life must change if we are ever really going to end war.

I know I am preaching to the choir when I repeat the immortal words of Jane Addams that “True peace is not the absence of war; it is the presence of justice.” This presence of justice, of course, can only be achieved when neo-liberal capitalist political, social, and economic systems, which create the impetus and machinery for war and the domination and subjugation of “weaker” peoples, are replaced by more equitable, human needs-based systems. Thus, true peace can only be established, not by simply holding a moral stance opposing war or witnessing to end violence, but by the more active engagement of joining the fight against imperialism—of intentionally opposing the neo-liberal capitalist system of the United States empire.

Recently, I have experienced pushback from some anti-war allies when I call for the expanded use of the term anti-imperialism. They say that the average person cannot understand the complexities of anti-imperialism.  Yet, this elitist position contributes to conflating instances of war with the systems that cause war, which keeps the anti-war movement in an infantile position where it doesn’t experience much success in thwarting or ending actual wars.

When I use the term imperialism, I mean when states, especially the United States, its allies, and their finance-capitalist handlers, attempt through huge corporate monopolies to exploit the resources of weaker nations.  Michael Parenti defines imperialism as “the process whereby the dominant politico-economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials, and markets of another people.” If the weaker nations do not submit to the imperialist’s expropriation, then various forms of violence (military interventions, sanctions, blockades, etc.) are used to keep them in line or to punish them. In the U.S. where there is a significant labor aristocracy (a large so-called “middle class”) the imperialist system is seen as beneficial for the “majority” and thus must be maintained by scapegoating any nation or people group that is opposed to the imperialist’s will (through racism, xenophobia, sexism, historical revisionism, etc.).

As a Christian and an Eastern-Rite priest I have come to understand the evil of imperialism not simply through my experiences in war or even studying political theory, but also through the Scriptures which are clear about God’s opposition to the oppression of the poor, violence, racism, xenophobia, sexism, and capitalistic greed. The church is complicit with the imperialists when it does not stand in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, not just in our own backyards or communities, but also with those around the world. If the church is not the church of the poor and the marginalized but supports the neo-liberal capitalist status quo, then it is not the church of God. It is part of the empire.

Nevertheless, being an anti-imperialist cannot only be based on a metaphysically derived moral position or personal experience. It must be based on the concrete needs of all people to live in safety and have their needs met in interdependent communities of mutuality. The anti-imperialist position is one that is also understood through scientific study, which empirically shows that our humanity and our planet are sustainable only through cooperation, not “free-market” competition (the basis of neo-liberal capitalism). Thus, anti-imperialists promote the inherent dignity and interconnectedness of all of life. Anti-imperialists oppose racism, patriarchy, sexism, fascism, homophobia, and anything that undermines the dignity of the human person and the environment where we live. Being an anti-imperialist is to stand for and with the worker, the tenant, the immigrant, the transgendered person—all marginalized people—and for the protection of our sacred environment.

So, simply being anti-war is only the first step in coming to understand the more mature and intersectional anti-imperialist stance, which is the true basis of an effective mass-movement for peace and justice.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2018

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Soul Kitchen – A Parable

Soul-KitchenJuly 6, 1971 – Los Angeles, CA

Two teenagers were sitting in a grungy coffee shop called the Soul Kitchen in south LA. One of them was weeping; the other was downcast. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, a man in his thirties, a hippie, walked in and sat in the booth behind the teenagers. They did not recognize the man because of their bleary eyes.

The man overheard the teenagers conversation and asked, “What are you discussing together?”

They were shocked at the question. One of the teenagers asked, “Did you not see the news or read the papers? Are you from another planet, dude? Didn’t you hear about the thing that happened the other day?”

“What thing,” the man asked?

“About the Prophet. He died in Paris on Friday. The world couldn’t handle him. He was killed by the evil of this world. We thought he was the One. And the crazy thing is now they can’t find his body. Some people say he is not dead, but we saw the pictures. We heard the witnesses. But now some are saying he is alive. They even went to the morgue and the Prophet wasn’t there.”

“Man, you guys are dense,” the hippie man said. “Don’t you know that the Prophet wasn’t made for this ‘world’—that the Prophet is immortal and all the prophecies from all the Books have attested to this Truth. The Prophet cannot die.”

The young teenagers asked the man to sit with them at their table.

When the man sat with them, he ordered some French fries and a beer. After the fries arrived he gave thanks for his food and broke some of the larger fries and shared them with the teenagers.

After eating with the teenagers, suddenly their souls were opened and they realized that they were in the presence of the Prophet. They remembered the words from one of the ancient Psalms, “Well, I woke up this morning and got myself a beer” (RB 4:1).

Just then the man got up to leave and the teenagers asked, “Hey what’s your name?”

“John.”

“John, what? What’s your last name?”

“Doe, John Doe.”

The teenagers were amazed. And the man disappeared from their sight.

Immediately, the teenagers got up and ran to find their friends. “It is true! The Prophet has risen, He is alive.” Then the two told what had happened at the coffee shop, and how the Prophet was recognized by them when he broke the French fry and drank the beer.”

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© Paul Dordal, 2018

Holiness Is a Moving Target (Reflection)

makeyourmarkwhiteIf you are a Christian what you believe about sin affects what you believe about other aspects of the Christian faith, especially human nature, salvation, and what I will talk about here today: sanctification. Sanctification is the progression of a Christian towards a holy state of sinlessness, what some call perfection. The verse that powerfully describes this potential progression comes from 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” If you are not growing “from one degree of glory to another” as a Christian, if you are not progressively becoming holy, then you are not being “sanctified.”

Our English word for sin is a translation from the Greek word transliterated hamartia, which literally means to “miss the mark.” Conventionally, sin is normally understood as violating God’s Divine Law, whether natural or ecclesiastical, whether by commission or by omission.

Nevertheless, the course of sanctification, that one is progressing towards holiness, is not the achieving of perfection in a static reality. As much as we want things not to change, that life would consist of a set of easy, reductionistic, black and white set of choices, life, in reality, is not static. Knowledge is cumulative. Our universe is expanding, as well as our evolutionary minds and spirits. Adherence to many of God’s Divine Laws has changed over the centuries because our understanding and interpretations have evolved. Even Jesus often used the phrase “You have heard it said, but I say…” (Matthew 5) to emphasize an evolving understanding of the Law and pointing out the misunderstanding or misconstruing of the Law even (especially?) by the religious experts.

For those Christians who believed that slavery was permissible under the Law, that races were not allowed to intermarry under the Law, that women be obligated to wear head coverings in public under the Law, these beliefs are now understood today to be not only wrong but moral evils. The Law was wrong; not just our interpretation of it. In a contemporary example, the internment and separation of immigrant children from their parents (also done to African slaves in the U.S.) was a recent case where a law (that is, an Executive Order or policy, akin to a Divine Law?) was deemed to be so immoral that it had to be rescinded immediately. (Nevertheless, millions of U.S. citizens, many of them self-described Christians, including the scripture misquoting Attorney General, still believe that the internment/separation law was justifiable and even good, simply because it was the law).

So, when we say that sin is “missing the mark,” the assumption often is that this mark is fixed as in an unchangeable law. The etymology of the word comes from the sport of archery:  sinning is like missing the bullseye on a fixed target. For Catholics, the levels of guilt of missing this mark might be understood as the outer circles on the target. Nonetheless, the target metaphor is deficient because it also implies one hundred percent intentionality, that there was a conscious moral decision made without circumstantial factors or considerations. But it is also deficient, primarily, because the mark is not static—because man-made laws or man-made declarations of or interpretations of God’s laws are not static, nor are they perfect.

Additionally, since the goal of sanctification is to be holy, many Christians believe the work of sanctification is to not sin, to abstain from wrongdoing, from breaking the law, or to stop missing this imaginary static mark. But again, this limited understanding of sanctification does not take into account that God is not Holy because God does not sin. God cannot sin, because God is incapable of sin. God is Holy because God is perfectly good in all God’s thoughts and actions. Therefore, it is not the abstention from evil or sin that is the goal of sanctification, but the positive becoming of the good.

The negative “missing the mark” word picture thus infers a human nature that is inherently evil, as opposed to what I want to propose as “making the mark,” which infers neither an inherently good nor evil human nature. If sin is the breaking of Divine law, and that Divine law is not fixed because it cannot be fully understood in its evolving perfection, then it is not the missing of the mark that constitutes sin, but the failure to make the mark by following the moving target which is sin. Sin as a moving target allows us to grow spiritually so we can begin to see things that we once, perhaps, were convinced were sinful (e.g., homosexual marriage) and conclude that they are not because we now understand the goodness (e.g. loving, committed homosexual marriage) of the once perceived sinful behavior. Sin as a moving target gives us flexibility so that we don’t see human thinking or interpretation of Law as static, but evolving and full of grace. This, then, is sanctification: not missing the mark, but being open to and moving with a loving God as God makes the mark and we participate with God in this evolving, growing spiritual life, we call human being.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

 

Faith is the Victory (Reflection)

Cornelia PetreaI don’t “believe” in god! To believe in god is to construct a thing, an object. It is to conceptualize an idea and give it a fixed, rigid shape. To believe in god is imaginary; it is childish magical thinking. The god that most people believe in is the god they created or had created for them by another, therefore not the God that created them. Our creeds and religions force feed us a patriarchal notion of god, which unfortunately cannot deepen a connection to God, but only further abstracts the object/idol of our own making.

So, how can I claim to be a Christian and not believe in god. Surely, I must have some belief. No, I do not nor do I want to “believe” in god in that way.

I am, however, distinguishing faith from belief. Faith is the victory, as the old gospel hymn goes. Faith is the actual experience of God. Faith is the know-ing of God (John 17:3), not the thought or idea of god. Faith is the concretizing of the abstract, the process of real-izing the Spirit of God that is within and without. “The Spirit joins with our spirits to assure us of our participation with God” (Romans 8:16).

So, faith does come by “hearing” the Word, even the Christ (John 6:68). It is not a word or words, but the Word or Logos. Faith comes by “hearing” the unconstructed Spirit of God—the real God which is beyond the grasp of language and thought.

Faith is the participation of Christ and our openness to Christ’s active participation in our lives.

Faith is the penetrating energy of Love.

Faith inspires compassionate action on behalf of God’s creation.

It is the God of faith that ought to be obeyed and followed: The God of the Kin-dom.

 

© Paul Dordal, 2018

A.C.T. For Activists

ACT+Hexaflex(This article originally appeared in the June 2018 edition of The New People newspaper.)

Depression. Anxiety. Despair. These are just some of the emotional distresses that I have observed in friends, comrades, and in myself, as we engage seriously in the work of social justice. Unfortunately, I have also observed a high occurrence of burnout among activists. It seems that many activists just do not have effective strategies for coping with the emotional rollercoaster that is part and parcel of confronting the myriad injustices in our world. And it isn’t just our justice work that is responsible for our emotional distresses. Poverty, war, racism, sexism, and other systemic injustices can be correlated with the mental illnesses suffered by millions of Americans.

So, what can we who fight the good fight do to take care of ourselves in the midst of all of these challenges? What practices can we engage in to keep ourselves emotionally fit for the long haul? In my work as a board-certified clinical chaplain, I am privileged to have been trained in several evidence-based therapeutic modalities, principles of which I use in my care of patients in the hospital setting. One of those modalities is called “Acceptance Commitment Therapy” or ACT. ACT’s overall goal is to increase “psychological flexibility” in response to the inevitable difficulties of life. Kershner and Farnsworth, ACT practitioners, define psychological flexibility “as the ability to adapt behavior to varying contexts and situations in the pursuit of one’s core values.” I have found that ACT’s core processes are effective in my chaplaincy work, but also for self-care as I engage in my volunteer work as a peace and justice activist.

There are six core processes of ACT which can be used for self-care. First, Acceptance is the willingness to accept our feelings in the face of suffering. Acceptance allows us to feel our feelings without judgment or defense. If you are extremely saddened by the racism in our society or anxious about all the work that needs to be done to end the senseless wars in our world, then accept your feelings as normative to the situation.

Another process of ACT is living in the Present Moment. For this, the practice of mindfulness is especially important. Mindfulness practice keeps us focused in the here and now and helps us to not ruminate on the unchangeable past or over-think an uncontrollable future. Defusion, a third process in ACT, is the method of responding differently to our negative thoughts about ourselves. When those negative thoughts enter your mind, you might say, “I am not my thoughts” or “I am having a negative thought, but I am not that thought.” Defusion is especially important in dealing with the often hurtful responses activists might get from reactionaries.

Related to Defusion, another ACT process is viewing one’s Self as Context. We, as “whole” humans, are not the content of what we do or what we have. As Henri Nouwen once said, “I am not what I do, what I have, or what others think of me. I am the beloved.”

Maybe what I appreciate most about ACT in relation to activism and self-care is its focus on living a Values-driven life. This is a fifth process of ACT where we remind ourselves what our core values are and recommit to living by them. This is a key piece to my own self-care. I refuse to see my emotional challenges as impediments to the valuable work I do for justice in the world. And finally, the sixth process of ACT is when we bring our values to life by moving into Committed Action. This means we can engage in activism based on an open, present moment understanding of who we are and in accordance with our values, in the midst of the anxiety, depression, or other strong emotions we may be experiencing.

To summarize, the ACT processes for self-care might be remembered simply as Accepting our thoughts and feelings, Choosing a valued direction, and Taking action.

Finally, I want to say that self-care strategies may not be enough if your emotional distress is severely interfering with your work, in your home, or relationships. I recommend seeing a mental health professional if your symptoms become acute or are too difficult to manage.

If you would like more information about ACT or to find an ACT counselor, go to http://www.contextualscience.org.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2018

 

Revolutionary Hope (Reflection)

Rev HopeAnyone who is in the world of the living has some hope; a live dog is better off than a dead lion. (Ecclesiastes 9:4)

Hope is in high demand in these dark days. War, poverty, discrimination of myriad types, and environmental destruction seem like they will never come to an end. Many young people can’t see a future where they will have reliable work, good healthcare, and meaningful relationships. I meet many folks who are in dire need of hope.

One of the problems that some have in finding hope is in the confusing tension of the inner/outer dimensions of hope. Inner hope comes from a meaningful personal existence and outer hope comes from being able to see humanity progress towards a peaceful and just society. Inner hope can be fostered primarily through gratitude: being thankful for your life and any blessings you can name. In the hospital setting, many of the patients I encounter express this inner hope as simply “being seen”—that is, simply being alive.  I say to them, “It’s good to see you.” And their reply is “It is good to be seen.”

Nevertheless, as many look out at the world, a darkness overshadows their hope because the future of our species and the planet looks so bleak.

So, how do I maintain hope in the midst of all that militates against it? Recently, I said to a friend, “The evolution of humanity is very slow—almost imperceptible. Sometimes it might even seem like we are going backward. Yet, throughout history revolutions of hope have always come, especially in the worst of times. These revolutions propel our species forward, despite the slow and deliberate evolutionary process.  My hope is in the coming revolution!”

A prophet once wrote, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). I have faith that we are going to overcome the darkness through an imminent spiritual and social revolution.

Are you at least grateful for your very existence—that you are seen—and can you see a glimpse of the next revolution? If so, then you can have hope too.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Our Daily Bread and Roses

Bread and Justice PrayerEach day I pray the Lord’s Prayer several times as part of my prayer practice. Today, let’s reflect on what it means for God to give us our daily bread (Mt 6:11).

Oftentimes Scripture is very simple, but also profoundly deep. Thus, simply, our daily bread should first and foremost be understood to be the basics of life, what we materially need to survive.  For the people during Jesus’s time, the material life may have been understood to mean just the big three needs: food/water, shelter, and clothing.

But when we consider the three basic material needs, we ought also to consider the other, more modern and interdependent material needs that relate to the three basics: education, environmental integrity, work, transportation, and healthcare. In a sharing society, one in which God’s norm of neighborly love is prevalent, no one would go without their basic material needs. Yet, to reduce material needs only to the big three, such that everyone has food/water, shelter, and clothing, but only some have good/meaningful work, healthcare, transportation or environmental integrity, is a grave error of reductionism—of oversimplification.

If we take Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs seriously, and we should, then it also means what is basic to daily bread is more than material needs. So, if we do not have the safety and security of our basic daily bread (food, shelter, clothing, living wage jobs, clean air, transportation, education, healthcare, etc.) we are severely diminished from moving into the more important, or higher, levels of human flourishing.

Additionally, in light of the Lord’s Prayer we should also recognize that humanity has never lived in an age of scarcity. Scarcity comes into play when a small number of people (elites) believe they have a right to a greater proportion of the resources of the earth. These elites believe they are entitled to more of God’s daily bread than others. The elite prayer is “Give me this day and my future daily bread and forget the rest.” These elites today are the captains of industry, media, politics, and finance-capital. They continue to try to convince us that capitalism is good for all, even though the basic material needs of all people are not met, despite God’s abundant provision.

The system that is opposed to God, to Jesus’s proclamation of a Daily Bread society is known today as Neo-Liberal Capitalism.  Neo-Liberal Capitalism will never create the conditions where everyone will enjoy the abundance of God’s provision—Our Daily Bread. Capitalism is not the creation of a free-market. It is barbarism, where the greedy elite are permitted and encouraged to create and continue to maintain an unfair advantage over the mass of humanity. Capitalism is what creates scarcity.

So far what we have talked about is mostly a materialist approach to daily bread, but it should go without saying that the needs of humans are not just material: they are emotional, spiritual, and relational. Humans are not mechanical commodities, we are spiritual organisms. When we pray that God would give us our daily bread, our sustenance for the day, it is also Jesus, the bread of life, the Eucharist, that is necessary for us to truly be alive—to thrive.

Our human thriving does not come only from material things, but through the relationships, we are able to engage in and maintain because we are provided the basic material necessities in life by God through the loving, caring people-focused systems created by God-respecting folk (or “Spirit” Consciousness for non-theists/atheists).

Daily bread then also means that I will have not only bread but roses too (see Rose Schneiderman’s famous speech where she said, “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”). Daily bread is not just about material needs, but about human flourishing spiritually, emotionally, and creatively. Praying (and working) for the provision of daily bread is about thriving as loving humans in a caring society focused on meeting the simplest and the deepest needs of all people.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Faith “In” The Union

workers-fist(This post originally appeared as an article in my local’s newsletter.)

Why is a priest and chaplain writing an article for a union newsletter? Well, first of all, I am a proud union member just like you. Second, I am simply following a long line of people of faith who have believed in and supported unions and workers throughout history.

Way back in 1893, Terence Powderly, the founder and president of the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, wrote about labor history up to that day: “Trade-unionists, members of guilds, leagues and other organizations of workers embraced Christianity and proclaimed its doctrines as being especially advantageous to the welfare of the toiling poor.”

Another important historical story is that of Father Thomas Hagerty, a Roman Catholic priest, who co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union in 1905. Fr. Hagerty wrote the following powerful words in the preamble of the IWW constitution: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.”

It is my firm belief that these great men of labor history were simply following the tenets of the faith which they avowed. From the original believers in the book of Acts, to the English Diggers in the 1600’s, to the Social Gospel and Liberation Theology movements of the 20th Century, Christian faith has consistently witnessed to the need for justice in the workplace.

Because bosses, landowners, and “lords” have long oppressed workers, the prophets of the Bible spoke out strongly against them. Jeremiah warned those who acted unjustly towards workers saying, “Woe to the one … who forces his own people to labor for nothing, who refuses to pay them for all their hard work” (Jer 22:13). St. James would write as well to the rich, “Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your workers. These are the wages you stole from those who harvested your fields” (James 5:4).

Unfortunately, fairness in the workplace and equitable wages and benefits for all has yet to be achieved in our country. In fact, the union movement is under attack from just about every corner. Worker rights that were hard won by the fighting unions of the early days are slowly being stolen from the workers. We need to return to the fighting spirit that characterized our faithful union brothers and sisters of old. We need to have faith in the union again!

So, what motivates me to be in the fight for worker rights, to continue to have faith in the union? It is the mission statement of Jesus that inspires my union activism: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19).

I hear the lowly carpenter saying to you and me today, “Now, go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37).

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Growing Beyond Conventional Christian Faith

Arm TreeChristian spiritual development sometimes comes at a cost, especially if you are deeply religious (i.e., committed to a particular denomination or a tradition of theology). Many religious people are conditioned by their churches/pastoral leaders to stay at the level of spirituality they are at. Conventional Christians are threatened by the notion of growth in spiritual understanding because spiritual growth takes effort and is often very unsettling. Spiritual growth requires change: change in thinking, change in behavior. Those who are growing spiritually are often misunderstood by their friends and family who don’t see anything wrong with their conventional understanding of faith. Sometimes, Christians who are truly growing are viewed as falling away from their faith, when in fact they are maturing.

Below, I offer an example for Christians to test their desire or ability to grow spiritually.

Conventional Christian faith views Jesus’s death and resurrection as a transaction. In simple terms, Jesus came to change God’s mind about people. This is the conventional theology of salvation, whereby Jesus died a violent death to appease an angry, wrathful God. Jesus was killed as a replacement for the death that all humans deserve (because we are sinful). God killed Jesus in order that we could go to some far-off heaven when we die. This violent vicarious atonement theory has been the standard Christian theology of salvation for over 1000 years for hundreds of millions of Christians. It’s not just the belief of fundamentalists and Evangelicals, but mainline Protestants and Catholics as well. But it isn’t true; it is a theory. This theory promotes violence, justifies oppression, and leaves most people with a harmful, false belief that they are inherently evil, thus trapped in unhealthy feelings of guilt and toxic shame.

To grow spiritually is to consider afresh the basic narrative of Christian faith. It is to see the Bible with a renewed set of eyes. Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about people, Jesus came to change people’s minds about God. Jesus came to change our minds about a God who we erroneously were taught was angry and wrathful, but who in fact is absolute unconditional love. Humans are not separated from God by our sin. Humans were not created sinful, we were created good. The original blessing is a much more important and biblical starting point than original sin when considering our anthropology. Though we do sin, God loves us and never leaves us. Thus, Jesus’s death on the cross occurred not to appease an angry God but was the result of power-possessed rulers who could not accept the God of love, the God of peace, the God who is opposed to injustice and oppression. Jesus’s resurrection was God’s answer to the cross. It was, as Marcus Borg says, “Rome who executed Jesus, but God who vindicated him.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is primarily a picture of the process of individual and collective transformation and not just a transaction.

This is not a subtle shift in thinking, but one that will move you out of the oppressive, overly-individualistic, exclusivist, and Empire-supporting Christian “faith” that was corrupted and co-opted by Constantine and others over the centuries.

Are you stuck in a false construct about a God who is violent and requires appeasement (like the mythical gods of ancient idol worshippers), or are you ready to grow spiritually into a belief about a God who is True Love? Are you ready to be in a relationship with a God who wants to transform you into a whole, loving person, a God who wants to transform our world into what I call the Commonweal of Love (what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven)? Spiritual growth means moving away from an old way of thinking (and possibly even an old community of faith) and finding the narrow path of Jesus. Spiritual growth requires risk, yet replaces your old, broken wineskins with new wineskins that can handle the glorious New Wine of Jesus.

Contact me if you would like to have a discussion about this. I would love to talk with you about a new vibrant way to live the Way of Jesus.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

 

Good News For All People? (Christmas Reflection)

Good News For All PeopleWhen someone tells me they “believe” in Jesus these days, the question that pops into my mind is, “Which one?” Is it the Jesus who is the universal Savior of the world or an exclusive, personal savior concerned with our personal sins and problems? Is your Jesus for all people or just for you and some people?

Religious scholars have long debated whether we could really know the historical Jesus. They have also debated a variety of pictures the New Testament paints of Jesus. There seems to be a diversity of Jesus’s out there. Yet, the Church institutional would like us to believe that there is one unified Jesus to be found only in their magisterial or traditional systematic teachings (e.g., the Nicene Creed). This institutional version of Jesus seems to be a Jesus who is exclusive for Christians only, inordinately focused on personal piety, and more interested in life after death than what is happening in the here and now.

Recently, I was talking with an atheist in the company of a nominal Catholic. After hearing how I presented Jesus to the atheist, the nominal Catholic remarked to one of my chaplain colleagues the next day, “I don’t think Reverend Paul believes in Jesus!” The following week the nominal Catholic and I had an opportunity to discuss his perception of my beliefs and I assured him that I did believe in Jesus—now, more than ever. But I did say that the Jesus I believed in and followed was probably not the same Jesus he believed in—that my Jesus was the savior of all people, not just my savior.

Over thirty-five years ago, James Fowler wrote a ground-breaking book called Stages of Faith Development, which somewhat mirrored the ideas of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. In his book, Fowler noted that most Western adult Christians were comfortable in what he called the third stage of faith development which he labeled “Synthetic/Conventional Faith.” At this stage, Christians stop growing spirituality and are pretty much committed to what would be the party-line theology of the institutional church. They simply believe intellectually in the Jesus who is their personal savior who will grant them life after death in some celestial heaven. They may or may not be part of a community of faith, but beyond that, Jesus is not seen as for all people: for the Muslim, for the LGBTQ+ person, for the undocumented immigrant, for the oppressed person of color, or for anyone that might upset or interrupt one’s personal religious life or their individualized “American pursuit of happiness.”

So, if your Jesus is not “good news of great joy for all the people,” that is, especially, all marginalized people, then we don’t believe in the same Jesus. If your Jesus is only a personal savior, then what you believe in is a religion, an intellectual belief system, a dogma—not the Jesus of the Bible or history. Once Jesus is dogmatized he stops being Jesus, he becomes an object, an idol and a weapon to be used against those who do not “believe.” Dogmatic Jesus is the human construct of institutional Christianity.  And that dogma leads to domination and exclusiveness.

The Jesus I believe in was born “made poor” in the Middle East, raised under the oppression of an evil Empire. He grew up to become both a priest and a prophet, a healer of souls and a righter of wrongs—a fierce revolutionary, a person of peace and a warrior for righteousness. The Jesus I believe in knew it was not enough to simply minister to the needs of a few poor and oppressed people, so he died a sacrificial death for the whole world. This Jesus calls on Christians everywhere to struggle against the systems that create poverty and oppression (capitalism, racism, militarism, etc.)—to love the whole world and give up our lives for the poor and oppressed just like Jesus (1 John 3:16).  Jesus calls us to be both healers and revolutionaries, priests and prophets, peacemakers and warriors of justice.

If the Jesus you celebrate this Christmas is simply a personal savior (a never-ending baby in a manger) and not the incarnate, revolutionary savior of all people, then yes, I don’t believe in your “Jesus” and neither should you.

© Paul Dordal, 2017