Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and the Church

Christian AnarchismMy book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist has been released and for a while it was a #1 release in at least one sales category. Thank you to all who purchased a copy. I hope that you will let me know your thoughts after you read it.

I have heard from some folk who are suspect of the title and the presumed thesis of my book. So, let me just tell you briefly what the main points are so that you might see that what I am proposing is not so ludicrous (at least as not as ludicrous as some interpret the title of my book to be).

First, Jesus is the liberatory figure, the prototype or archetype of a spiritual and social revolutionary, who ministers and gives up his life to overcome the evil powers which create injustices in our world. Jesus came to “to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18). Jesus, as resurrected Spirit, lives on in all people working towards a just and peaceful world.

Second, the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed (what I call the Commonweal of Love in my book) is the ongoing development of a society based on love and mutuality (justice); it is the process of creating the ultimate free society of free people. The Commonweal of Love is enacted by local egalitarian, non-hierarchical networks (“churches”) of lovers of God, people, and all creation.

Third, the local church is an all-inclusive collective of people in a community who love God in spirit and in truth by enacting the healing and justice ministry of Jesus until a just society is established on earth for all.

The Bible is the ongoing story of this process, of God redeeming the whole earth and establishing freedom and justice for all. On the mount of Transfiguration Matthew records these words from God about Jesus, “Here is My servant, whom I have chosen, My beloved, in whom My soul delights. I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations” (Mt 12:18).

And, of course, Jesus says to us, “Listen, the person who believes in me will do the deeds that I am doing. In fact, they will perform greater deeds than me…” (Jn 14:12). Now, let’s do them!

© Paul Dordal, 2017

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Was Jesus An Anarchist? (Lk 22:42; Jn 10:18)

In-Search-of-Jesus-the-Anarchist_MOCK-UP_WebMy new book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist is now available in print, and I hope the controversial title will entice you to purchase the book. But you should know that what I mean by the term “anarchist” is probably different than what may first come to your mind.

An anarchist is a person who lives as freely as possible, unencumbered by domination, yet in mutualistic community with others. In other words, an anarchist advocates for other’s freedom as much as he or she exercises his or her own. For no one can be truly free, while others are not. That is why any form of domination or oppression is vehemently opposed by anarchists. Anarchism could be simply defined as a completely free society inhabited by fully free individuals. Jesus is the exemplar of an anarchistic lifestyle and proclaimed it as normative for those who are followers of God (Jn 8:31-36).

My new book is purposefully small—only about 130 pages—really only an introduction to Christian anarchism. Therefore, I will be supplementing the book’s often simplistic message with blogs that nuance what I introduce in the book.

Today, I want to highlight the paradoxical nature of Jesus’ anarchistic orientation according to the definition I offered above. Jesus, in his mutualistic relationship with the Father, the Spirit, and the whole Cosmos, declares in the Passion of the Cross both his full freedom and his complete mutuality and submissiveness.

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane it seems as though Jesus is not making a free decision to go to Cross, because he is submissive to the Father’s will.  “Father, if it is possible take this cup from me. Yet, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Jesus, it might be reasoned is sublimating his own free will to the Father. But this verse must be placed in tension with another to understand the anarchistic orientation of Jesus. “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This is the charge I received from my Father” (Jn 10:18).

These verses are not contradictory. Only the dualistic mind believes they are in conflict, because paradox or mystery is so often rejected by the binary, either/or, thinking mind. But held in tension, these sayings of Jesus express the paradox of freedom and mutuality (equality) and reveal that to be obedient to God is to be absolutely free.  If you think this is essentially what orthodox Christian faith has always taught, then you just might be on your way to being a Christian anarchist too.

What do you think?

© Paul Dordal, 2017

The Last Scapegoat (Reflection)

scapegoat-JesusWhen Jesus went voluntarily to the Cross as the Lamb of God, he sacrificed himself as history’s last scapegoat.

True Christians, as followers of The Last Scapegoat, proclaim in word and deed that they will never scapegoat anyone; that they will endeavor to never discriminate against or hate others. For they realize that in doing so, if they marginalize or blame immigrants, Muslims, Blacks, LGBTQI, leftists, or some other people group for their problems or the problems of society, then they crucify their Savior all over again.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Unwinnable

ddequoteYesterday, as the US president visited Pennsylvania and thousands waved their flags, chanting USA, USA, the sickening reality of endless US militarism and imperialism continues to go unchecked by just about everyone in this country.

I served honorably in the US military as a chaplain for seven years and was in combat for a year in Iraq. Nevertheless, I simply cannot understand why so many US citizens are so supportive of war and not appalled by this country’s increasing militarism and imperialism. US wars have not solved anything or brought about peace. US militarism and imperialism have not made us safer, and certainly, have not made the rest of the world safer.

It also perplexes me that US citizens believe president after president who say that the US military is the “best” in the world. If we would take our heads out of the sand for just one moment, we would see that the US military has failed miserably over the last 50 years at accomplishing sustainable peace in the world.

Why? Because the US government and its military-industrial-complex are not in the business of winning wars or peacemaking, but of maintaining continual wars to steal or control resources, subjugate other nations, and line the pockets of the plutocrats (the 1%) who actually run this country.

The US has invaded or bombed seven different countries since September 11, 2001 and has hundreds of military bases all over the world, with little to nothing to show for any of it. Yet, the call of the current US regime is for even more money to be spent on the military and war.

Below is a list of six of those seven countries, all Muslim majority nations, that the US military is currently bombing or fighting in, with the (estimated) percentage of the land/population that each of these country’s government has control of:[i]

  1. Libya: 90% controlled by terrorists and militias
  2. Syria: 65% controlled by terrorists and militias
  3. Somalia: 50% controlled by terrorists and militias
  4. Afghanistan: 40% controlled by Taliban, terrorists, or militias
  5. Yemen: 30% controlled by terrorists and militias
  6. Iraq: 20% controlled by terrorists

How is it possible that all of these countries are so unstable when we have spent two trillion dollars ($2,000,000,000,000) fighting the so-called war on terror? This is not to mention the millions killed, wounded, or forced to flee from these countries because of war. And what do we US citizens have to show for all our warmongering since 2001: Tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women dead or wounded, an astounding twenty trillion dollars in debt, and not more stability or safety, but more chaos, more terrorism, and less safety.  Yet, amazingly, many US citizens keep waving their flags and saying let’s bomb and invade some more.

Bombings and war will not bring peace! They just bring more bombing and war.

It’s time to wake up and wage peace! War does not work! War is not winnable!

Peace is possible.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

[i] Source: Al Jazeera

 

There Is No “War” On _______ [Fill In The Blank With Your Polarized Political Opinion]

War On EverythingI am neither offended nor outraged, but I am saddened by bourgeois liberals who are offended by a non-existent, so-called “war” on science or deluded conservatives who are outraged by a so-called “war” on Christmas, etcetera.

I have been to war, and war is hell. I would hope that we could try not to diminish the reality of the horror of war or the victims of violence in war by using the word “war” to describe someone’s opposition to someone else’s political or religious point of view.

But I am sure that some liberal will be offended or some conservative will be outraged by my suggestion.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Toward A [Christian] Anarchist Position on Anti-Imperialism

anti-imperialismAs a Christian and an anarchist, I condemn without commentary the immoral U.S. government’s bombing of the Syrian airbase on April 7, 2017 (and all the illegal bombings it has carried out all over the world especially over the past 16 years). I am encouraged by many like-minded folks from various Pittsburgh-based progressive and leftist groups which have cried out against U.S. militarism and imperialism this past week.

Unfortunately, long before the recent U.S. strike against the Syrian airbase, the Syria situation had been the locus of significant debate and division within the radical left socialist movement in Pittsburgh. Accusations have been hurled at each side of this divide about who is an actual anti-imperialist. Though it is an important debate, the divisions have, sadly, weakened the anti-war/anti-imperialist movement in Pittsburgh at a time when we desperately need to work together.

Nevertheless, the positions of these two sides of revolutionary socialists, though having some valid arguments (opposition to the demonization of post-colonial leaders, opposition to regime change, solidarity with foreign liberatory groups, and opposition to brutal dictatorships), they fall short of an anarchist anti-imperialist position. This does not mean, of course, that anarchists cannot struggle alongside these revolutionary socialists. Anarchists can consider both sides comrades as we struggle against capitalism, militarism, and imperialism, but only as long as we anarchists are fully aware of their statist orientations and goals.

I am in strong relationships with three other spiritually oriented Pittsburgh-based anarchist activists. We have been working as mediators between these two sides in order to bring solidarity (but not uniformity) to the anti-imperialist struggle. Yet, I also believe, as anarchists we must be able to stand on our own convictions, and not simply choose sides in the debate among the revolutionary socialists. As a Christian anarchist, I believe there is an anarchist perspective on anti-imperialism which needs to be articulated as a means to share this perspective with those who have anarchist leanings as well as with the revolutionary socialists we often work with.

Here are a few points to consider for anarchists going forward especially as it applies to the Syrian flashpoint.

  1. [Christian] anarchists are by nature anti-imperialist. We always oppose any outside powers which seek to impose their will on the people in a particular place. We also oppose all hierarchical (oppressive) nation-states. Thus, as we oppose imperialism, we also oppose nationalism. Lucien van der Walt, a South African anarchist, said, “Anarchists stand in solidarity with struggles against imperialism on principle, but seek to reshape national liberation movements into social liberation movements.”[i]
  1. Therefore, we should identify and support truly anarchist or revolutionary non-statist socialist groups in a particular place and not join in on the demonizing of the oppressive State-Ruler at the time. Demonizing a particular State-Ruler and supporting regime change suggests that there is “good” State-Rule or “good” State-Rulers (Mk 10:18). This process will require that anarchists identify and confirm that the liberatory group we are in solidarity within a particular land is indeed a revolutionary group (and not a tool of one of the imperialist powers or the nationalist movement in that country).
  1. From an anti-war/anti-imperialist [Christian] anarchist perspective, the means by which anarchist social movements create revolution should be militantly non-violent. “We do not fight with the weapons of this world ….” (2 Cor 10:4). My personal belief is that using violence against humans is simply falling into the same oppressive behaviors of the oppressors. (Nonetheless, once an anarchist group has established itself in communality, it inheres the right to protect itself against violent imperialists and nationalists.)
  1. Additionally, as anti-war/anti-imperialist [Christian] anarchists, we understand that the revolutionary struggle must be one that results in a non-hierarchical organizational system lest we fall back into nationalism, which inevitably leads to imperialism. Jesus, our anarchist example, said, “You know that the rulers of this world like to oppress the people. It can’t be that with you. You must follow another way. Instead, the greatest among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:25-26).
  1. [Christian] anarchists, therefore, should only functionally, not formally, associate with statist revolutionary socialist groups. But we don’t need to call out specific groups for having a deficient imperialistic theory, and we remain in solidaristic dialogue as we struggle together against U.S. imperialism. However, our anarchist movement will only grow as we do not get sucked into our various allies’ statist ideologies and debates.[ii]

I hope these reflections encourage meaningful and respectful dialogue among those who sincerely struggle for the liberation of all people. Finally, I hope that all who are opposed to U.S. militarism, imperialism, and capitalism can band together towards the enlightenment and empowerment of the oppressed masses who unwittingly support the immoral U.S. government’s actions around the world.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Notes

[i] Lucien van der Walt, “Towards a history of anarchist anti-imperialism: In this struggle, only the workers and peasants will go all the way to the end.” March 3, 2005. Downloaded from https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/lucien-van-der-walt-towards-a-history-of-anarchist-anti-imperialism

[ii] See Lawrence Jarach, “Anti-Imperialism: Just Another Statist Ideology” in Anarchy Magazine, issue #65, 2008. Downloaded from http://anarchy101.org/397/how-does-anti-imperialism-relate-to-anarchist-thought.

Knowing God: Truth As Paradox (Reflection)

ParadoxJesus said that eternal life was “to know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom God sent” (John 17:3). From this verse and many others like it, there seems to be a real comprehensibility of God—a salvific knowing where we join God in intimate relationship.

Yet the moment we believe we have come to “know” or “grasp” God, we suddenly realize that what we have believed cannot be God. For God to be truly God would mean that God is beyond knowing. The finite just cannot fully grasp the infinite. Our thoughts and words will never completely make God comprehensible. St. John would later try when he said quite clearly that God was pure or perfect love (1 John 4:8).  But even this is impossible for us to take hold of. God is simply greater than our capacity to comprehend.

We soldier on, nonetheless, in our pursuit of knowing God or we wither in despair. A.W. Tozer said, “The yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of humankind.”[i] This yearning to know, though, is so elusive that we are often filled with angst, and rightfully so. Hopefully, we will recognize that within this unease is the necessary prompting to search all the more. We all want, yes, we all need, to “know” God. To truly be alive, we must be in relationship with Divine Mystery.

So, how can we really know God? In the Hebrew language, this knowing (yada) is akin to the passionate feelings and sexual intimacy shared by lovers. Adam knew Eve. We don’t simply know about God. We are to know God personally, even intimately. Of course, we need to tread carefully here. But I do want to emphasize that this “knowing” is not only factual or intellectual. It is yada! We must be able to “feel” God to know God. Our feelings are facts too!

Now, beyond the “feeling” of God, as important as that is (for our feelings, like our thoughts, are elusive as well), we are called to approximate the knowing of God as true Truth with our minds. We must know this Truth in a way which we might even communicate it to others with words and actions.

But how do we know anything? Other than those who believe that all knowing is illusory (which would still be a knowing), most of us know that we know. Still, can we know anything for certain?

Without getting overly academic, our ability to know, especially as expressed in modern terms, is usually placed somewhere along two poles (a continuum) of the purely subjective (absolute idealism) or the completely objective (naïve realism). The acclaimed missiologist Paul Hiebert gave a listing (or a taxonomy) of how we can know, and settled on the, still modernist, view of critical realism. Hiebert said, “In critical realism we speak of the Truth with reference to reality. We also speak of a truth—our partial understandings of the greater Truth. Our understandings are objective (to the extent they are tested against reality) and subjective (because they are ours as humans in our specific cultural and historical contexts).[ii]

This is a great start to understanding how we might know the Truth, but it still does not account for the perplexingly contradictory truths of Scripture. If we are to take Scripture seriously, then the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the reality of Jesus’s glorified resurrected body are neither objective or subjective truths—they are simply preposterous.  They are paradoxes. To grasp these truths one needs to pull the objective and subjective poles of the paradox tightly together. Ron Rolheiser said, “To let go of either pole of a paradox, to reduce the tension, is to fall from wisdom. Hence, as we struggle theologically and spiritually with certain key questions, we must be careful to always hold two, seemingly contradictory, truths together.”[iii]

Now, of course, this all may seem like metaphysical nonsense to some—bourgeois philosophizing. Who has time to care about such things? What does it really matter? Most humans simply want to know how to live a fulfilling and happy life. But that’s it, isn’t it? We all do want to know God!

As my new book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist is coming out in just a few weeks, I am preparing you to deal with the paradox of my outlandish title. How can Jesus be an anarchist? But Jesus was an anarchist because he was completely free and yet in complete submission to God, who is Jesus’s equal. What a paradox!

I deal a lot with paradoxes in my new book, especially the paradox of freedom and equality. Can we be both free and equal? In several recent conversations with Christians I know, even those who are open to explorative theology, the notion of equality seems to them an impossibility. Of course, if equality is an impossibility, then so is freedom.

Freedom and equality are two poles of a paradox called Jesus, who is the Truth! Anarchism rightly defined, for those who are still unaware, is simply freedom and equality lived out in paradoxical tension. Freedom and equality come together as we struggle to hold them together. And as we hold them in tension, we realize our Great Commission: to set the world free in Jesus so that all can live in justice and in peace (Jn 8:32; Lk 4:18-19).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

[i] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1961, 9. [Updated to gender neutral by the author].

[ii] Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994, 71

[iii] Ron Rolheiser, “Truth is Found in Paradox.” Downloaded from http://ronrolheiser.com/truth-is-found-in-paradox/#.WN-3i_nythE on December 3, 2016.

The Great Deformation (Prophetic Reflection)

Deformation-and-Abstraction-Work-by-Can-Pekdemir-Cgfrog-3Brian McLaren’s latest book The Great Spiritual Migration (2016, Crown) is a wonderful exploration of how followers of Jesus can move into new modes of being a Christian in the 21st Century. I highly recommend it. McLaren’s book somewhat reminds me of the late Phyllis Tickle’s brilliant book The Great Emergence from 2012 (Baker Books).

The main point that both Tickle and McLaren are making is that many Christians are discovering that the old constructs of their faith, theology, and church are simply not sufficient going forward.  Now, these contemporary authors, and many others like them, are not the first to call for a major reformation of the Christian faith and practice. We could go back to Martin Luther, of course, who was the author of what might be called the Great Reformation (even though there were many church reformers before Luther).

As hopeful as I am about a new great reformation, nevertheless, I am a little disturbed by a problematic thread which runs through Luther, Tickle, McLaren and many other reformers. In most of these writer-theologian’s expressions there seems to me to be a desire to remain respected by the groups/people they are critiquing and seemingly distancing themselves from. Now, you might be thinking that I am confusing their civility (or even sobriety) with an inauthentic desire for respectability. But this desire for respectability is seen, in Luther, for example, through his leaving in the Lutheran Church much of the damaging hierarchical practices and organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church.

Worse, though, is that, though Luther paid a significant personal cost for his reformation work, today’s modern reformers do so from the seat of bourgeois comfortability. This is the difference between civility and respectability—that there is no prophets “reward” for contemporary Western reformers (see Mt 5:10-12). Tickle, McLaren, and others (I could name a whole bunch) are great writer/communicators, but they are not calling a fig a fig and trough a trough. It’s all too neat and tidy. They don’t risk their reputations, and certainly not their lives, in following Jesus and leading others to Christ’s un-kingdom.

Additionally, the ecumenical movement, with its humble-hearted proponents and actors, is still wrapped up in this bourgeois mentality—a respectability that comes before and overshadows any real attempt or possibility to bring about real change.

It should be clear to most that the domination systems that we call organized Christian religion today are fundamentally flawed. And without sounding too much like a nihilist, what is needed to move the church forward is not a Great Reformation, or Emergence, or Spiritual Migration. What is needed is a Great Deformation of the institutional church. We need, as the Old Testament saints said, to “cut down the idols” (Deut 12:3), or as Jesus said, “tear down this temple” (Jn 2:19).  For the evolution of the church to be effected in this new era of enlightenment requires a revolution, not a reform, of hearts and minds—and institutions.

And a revolution is coming. The new, and necessary, revolution that is brewing against capitalism in West will only ferment, I believe, with a concomitant revolution against religio institutio or religionism.

Why is a religious revolution needed? Similar to the way capitalism is killing our earth and the human race, religionism is killing our souls. Reforms are not working; they will not work.  The domination systems are increasingly repressing and oppressing our societies, and this includes religious domination systems. Again, as I have said elsewhere, there is no religion without politics; there is no spirituality without social justice. There is no repentance (change) without struggle. Thus, we must struggle in our calling the capitalists to repentance, and the religionists as well.

Frederick Douglas said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” People with great power, secular or spiritual, will not give up the power they have stolen from the people. The people must take it back. This is the nature of the revolution that Jesus instituted on the cross. He disarmed the powers! (Col 2:15).

Now, I am not calling for the death of the church or religion. Far be it. I have a great hope of a resurrected, born-again church, a church on mission with Jesus to transform the whole world to the glory of the Father! What this new glorious re-born church will actually look like is still unclear. One thing is sure, though, it won’t be a hierarchical institution distinct from society. But it will be the soul of the world!

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Overcoming Sin: Restoring Right Relationships (Reflection)

we-shall-overcomeOne of the most profound statements of the angels who announced the coming of Jesus was that “Jesus will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).

Recently, I had a conversation about sin with one of the student chaplains at the hospital where I work. He is a recent seminary graduate, fresh with a command of systematic theology. After a bit of back and forth on the nature of sin, my final question to him was, But just what is sin? Initially, he gave the typical dictionary and theological answers. Dictionary: An immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law. Theology: Sin is “missing the mark,” and the “mark” is God’s moral law. The moral law has to do with purity or holiness, for God is Holy. He also noted that there were sins of commission and sins of omission. This is standard Sunday School fare, really.

When I challenged him to go deeper, about the effect of these individual sins, what they caused, he was able to quickly recognize the relational basis for sin. He said, what I had hoped he would conclude, “Ultimately, sin is broken relationships.”

It is quite disconcerting that most Western constructs of sin interpret sin in a very individualized manner with a focus on personal holiness (moral living). The scriptures most often misquoted to support this individualism come from the Old Testament: “Your sins have separated you from your God” (Is 59:2). (Though, clearly, this should be interpreted collectively, as in Israel). And especially, David, who said, “Against you [God] and you alone have I sinned” (Ps 51:4).

But is this true? Did David sin only against God. Is sin primarily a private affair between individuals and God? Undoubtedly, we have to say no to this. Undoubtedly, our sins against God are primarily relational sins against our own selves and others (which includes God, of course). David’s sins were against his own body and other people. Is not God, represented in David’s cry, the entirety of David’s relational world. Misinterpreting David’s assessment of his personal failings reduces the goal of life to personal moral sin avoidance or “personal holiness,” which further disembodies and detaches us from the material reality of our inherent interconnectedness.

Nevertheless, when we view sin primarily as broken relationships (or matters of justice), we must still begin with ourselves. We begin with the brokenness of self, which is a lack of understanding our own true belovedness–our innate relatedness to God and others. When we recognize our broken relationship with God, we realize our failure to understand and abide in God’s perfect love for us and respond to God with reciprocating love. Our broken relationships with ourselves and God leads us to regularly respond in selfish ways which leads to despair and a cycle of sinful behavior–of more broken relationships. Our shortsighted selfishness leads us to break relationships with others, primarily because of our own brokenness, but other’s brokenness as well.

The key to overcoming sin, then, to restoring our broken relationships, is to confront our own sinfulness, our own intra-relational brokenness. We do this by recognizing, receiving, and abiding in Christ as perfect love, sitting at the foot of the Cross, and reciprocating our received love towards God and others. This experience of God as perfect love inevitably will lead to us engaging in the joy-filled, blessed, but hard work of reconciling ourselves to others, of reconciling the whole world to Christ.

Thus, Jesus is the foundation of saving our broken relationships, of saving us from our sins. This is the work of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, the restoration of the Garden of Eden, the bringing of justice on earth as it is in heaven. Thus, we are each called to live a cross-life, receiving and abiding in Christ’s perfect love for us, and bearing our own crosses for the world (see Figure 1).

relational-restoration-graphic

(c) Paul Dordal, 2017