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

My Country Is Not Of This World (Mk 8:15)

jesus-preaching-3In my upcoming book, In Search of Jesus the Anarchist, I make a case for a reading of scripture which brings the paradox of freedom and equality into focus. Dualistic thinking causes us to see freedom and equality on a continuum, one always being emphasized over the other. In anarchist thought, freedom and equality are simply two sides of the same coin—you cannot have one without the other. One cannot be fully free, while another is not.

Likewise, spirituality/religion and politics/social action are not two distinct fields of thought, but intertwined in the very fabric of every human being.  We are both innately religious and political animals. The Bible is at once both a spiritual/religious and political/social story of redemption. Jesus, who is fully God and fully human, lived perfectly within the paradox of absolute freedom and equality with God and humanity. Jesus calls us to view and live life in a non-dualistic manner. This is the path to freedom and equality.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says to us, “Guard yourself against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod” (8:15). These two yeasts represent the polarizations of harmful dualistic religious and political thought.

The yeast of the Pharisees is legalism (unfreedom) which results in religious oppression. The yeast of Pharisaism grows insidiously through an elite religious class (priests, religious lawyers, doctrine enforcers) who oppress the masses within their own community. Jesus counters this with a message of grace, mercy, and forgiveness: a spirituality based not on law but on love (Gal 5:13).

The yeast of Herod is the desire for political power (inequality), through being complicit with Empire. Herodian yeast is an idolatrous love of country more than the love of God. Jesus counteracts the love of power with a radical call to sacrificially serving the world and militant, agitating nonviolent activism against oppressive hierarchical power structures. “It can’t be the same way with you, whoever wants to be a powerful leader must repent and become a servant to all” (Mt 20:26, Mk 9:35). This is the politics of the Commonweal of Love (or as Jesus called it, the Kingdom of Heaven).

There is, however, a yeast we should seek: The yeast of the God’s heart reign: “The Commonweal of Love is like a woman baking bread. She takes some flour and mixes in a tiny bit of yeast until it permeates all the dough” (Mt 13:33). It only takes a little bit of Christ’s love in his people to counteract the yeast of the Pharisees (unfreedom) and Herod (inequality). The yeast of mutual love, of accepted suffering on behalf of others, of nonviolent action against injustice is what brings the paradox of freedom and equality into focus. It is Christ’s Spirit working in us that can make the paradox of freedom and equality a reality—the impossible possible.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Hearing The Voice of Truth (Jn 3:3)

voice-of-truthIn little over a month, my new book will be published. These next few blog posts are written to prepare you for what I am going to be sharing in my book. The book is called In Search of Jesus the Anarchist.

The title of the book is not a tease; the book is exploratory and contextual theology. In these uncertain days, marked by extreme polarization, my book proposes a new way forward, especially for disaffected Christians.

Nevertheless, what I am proposing in my book is, I believe, the truth about Jesus. With all the voices in our world, propaganda, fake news, cults, and gurus, how can we discern the voice of truth? Casting Crowns had a song a while back called The Voice of Truth. In this song, like so much of Evangelical worship music, the lyrics express a very individualistic form of faith. To Casting Crowns, the voices of “the world” are the ones that tell us lies about ourselves (negative voices), but the voice of God tells us the truth about God’s love for us (positive voices). It is a good song, after we account for its overly individualistic bias:

“But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.”

Now, if the voice of truth or voice of God speaks to us individually about our personal relationship with God, would it not also be sharing the reality of the plight of the poor, the oppressed, of all the injustices that God expects us to confront as God’s Beloved people? Would not the voice of truth break through our conformist attitudes toward the societal systems of domination and evil? Is not the Bible story also a very communal story, which is concerned with the grave injustices committed against the poor and oppressed? Yet, our Western faith practices and systems reinforce a Western individualism which is nowhere to be found in the Bible. In many ways, Western Christian forms do not proclaim the voice of truth.

Murray Bowen, of Bowen Family Systems theory, made the astute observation that emotional health was dependent on the level of differentiation or the degree to which a person can think and act for himself or herself despite the ever present voice of his or her family and societal groups. Thus, undifferentiated thinking occurs when one cannot hear other voices, because the voices of dominant family members and the societal groups to which they belong potentially drown out the voice of truth. This is why children tend to stay in the same religion or political parties as their parents. Undifferentiated thinking is why most people stay trapped in what James Fowler calls mythic/literal or conventional belief systems of faith. In essence, surprisingly, it is often people of faith, believers in God, who cannot hear the voice of truth.

Now, what if to be born-again meant to be able to break free of the negative and erroneous “group think” or undifferentiated thinking about God and life we inherited from our parents and or societal domination systems? Isn’t this what Jesus was saying to Nicodemus. “Because you are trapped in your Pharisaical group think, you cannot even see the beauty of the kingdom of God. You must be converted; you must be born-again, again!” (Jn 3:10 & 3:3).

When you hear people talking about politics or religion and you think their beliefs are crazy or stupid, or you feel yourself getting angry because of the different ways others think, feel, or act, ask yourself these questions: “Could I learn something here? Why I am reacting so negatively to this voice? Could it be the voice of truth, the voice of God?”

I will close with this for now. If the voices we are listening to or agreeing with are xenophobic, isolationist, imperialist, homophobic, racist, patriarchal, classist, etc., we are not hearing the voice of God—the voice of truth. Because the voice of truth will tell you a different story. The voice of truth says do not be afraid to rise up against the domination systems of evil, even if they are your own.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

De-Churching Society (Prophetic Reflection)

tear-down-this-churchChristian worship forms were developed primarily from Jewish synagogue practices of the 1st Century CE. Yet, the Jewish people, prior to the Mosaic Covenant, worshiped God through personal and familial spiritual practices, not those developed by hierarchical or institutional religion. There were no local temples, synagogues, or even communally prescribed ritual practices.

Even after the Mosaic Covenant, these local, family-based practices continued, with the addition of a yearly requirement, if you were financially able, to sacrifice at the Tent of the Meeting or later at the Temple in Jerusalem. After the introduction of the Mosaic Covenant, the most important religious practices were Sabbath rest and the yearly Passover meal (both family practices). On the Sabbath day, rituals and prayers were done in the home as a family, but there were no other prescribed liturgical or dogmatic rituals. The primary act of worship was to honor the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day of the week, trusting in God for provision and care unlike the surrounding “pagans” who worked seven days a week.

It is not until the Rabbinic period did synagogue-based worship come into existence (probably no earlier than 350 BCE). According to Chabad.org, an orthodox Jewish group, “From Moses’ times until the restoration of the Second Temple, we fulfilled the obligation to pray daily by composing our own prayers, and praying privately.”

The notion of a religious need to publicly worship God inside a dedicated structure derives from the institutionalization of religion, which is based on money and power, not spirituality. And with increased institutionalization comes the need for more stratified power relationships (clergy, ranked lay positions, professional support staff, etc.) and an expanded prescription of oftentimes oppressive rules and regulations.

Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous or other groups who are committed to non-institutionalization, Christian groups who insist on owning property or hiring staff are soon trapped in the vicious cycle of supporting a mission that is not primarily concerned with people’s spiritual development or worshipping God, but with gaining “nickels and noses.” The old maxim is proved true: Your mission is what you measure. Now, I have never seen a church with “nickels and noses” in its mission statement. Nevertheless, offerings and attendance are the two most cited measurements in the West of a church’s success or failure. There is a clear connection between mission drift and institutionalization. Neil Cole said, “[I]f we could figure out how to do church without needing buildings, we would be better off.”[i]

Christian anarchism is focused on de-institutionalization because of its inherent objectification and oppression of the same people these institutions say they are trying to assist.  Ivan Illich notes, “The only way to establish an institution is to finance it.  The corollary is also true. Only by channeling dollars away from the institution … can the further impoverishment resulting from their disabling side effects be stopped.”[ii]

De-institutionalization is the primary way that Christianity will regain its life and world-changing movement orientation and focus on worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth. Returning to the forms of truly ancient worship, those prior to the institutionalization of Judaism and Christianity is what will return the Church to its core mission: Loving God, loving people, loving the common weal.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

[i] Neil Cole, Organic Church, 37.
[ii] Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society. London: Marion Boyars, 1970, 4.

I Don’t Believe The Way You Do: And I’m Still A Catholic!

conformity-2It is clear that Jesus was not a member of any of the sects of Judaism in his time (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, or Zealots). Jesus was critical of much of these sect’s beliefs and practices, but also praised them when they were in line with the goodness and love of God. Jesus was not beholden to one theological construct over another, and Jesus never identified with any of these sects as his own. He simply was a “believer” and called God his Father. Jesus was a universalist; he was for everyone, and that is why Jesus was a Catholic.

In his book, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, scholar and Catholic priest Raymond Brown found seven distinct traditions in the various churches that were started by the apostles. Brown said, “There is no reason why there could not have been in the one city house churches of different traditions….”[i] Yet, Brown shows that even though these churches had different traditions and theological emphases, they would have still have been in communion with one another.

So, Jesus was not a member of any sect, and the early Christians did not practice exclusivism even as members of unique traditions. Yet, today Christians, to become members of churches, are obliged to hold to the distinctives of the various denominations and sects of Christianity, which way too often do not have communion with one another. Even within a particular tradition there are those who would criticize and even condemn those who don’t hold perfectly to a certain “party-line” of dogmatic teachings. Rigid religious exclusivism abounds and is often encouraged!

This is why I am advocating well-ordered anarchism as the solution to the exclusivism nightmare from which so many Christians cannot seem to awake. I want us all to be Catholics (universalists), if you will, no matter what group or non-group you identify with. All who even remotely have faith in Jesus are Catholics, no matter if some Grand Poohbah, clergy person, or even the person sitting next to you in a pew tries to say otherwise. You are free in Christ! You are beautiful before God!

Some of the issues of which I have been indoctrinated by an Evangelical or conservative Catholic upbringing are simply man-made constructs based on a narrow and often times erroneous interpretation of Scripture. For instance, Just-War Theory simply does not line up with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Rigid and absolutist teachings about divorce and remarriage, male-only clergy, hierarchical organization, homosexuality, abortion, capitalism, and how we see other religions are simply unhelpful and, worse, they are hurtful and oppressive.

It is time to do away with the denominations, do away with rigid dogmatism, do away with systems of theology which are exclusivist, do away with church institutionalism, and to embrace the diversity of belief which Jesus and the early church proclaimed and embraced.  It is time to see God for who God really is and always has been: Ultimate Love! When we do this, we can be like Jesus, the One and True Catholic.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Note
[i] Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1984, 23.

We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Box (Reflection on John 10:9)

bigger-boxOne of the most iconic lines in movie history was in the film Jaws when Roy Schieder, upon seeing a twenty-five-foot Great White shark jump out of the water, said, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” When the ugly realities of life jump out at us or when monstrous suffering comes upon us, we might need, not a bigger boat, but a bigger life-box. And if we are not in abject distress, but want to grow in our own life, to become our most free and fulfilled selves, to heal from our previous woundedness and progress toward the ideal of Holy Mystery, then we are going to need ever bigger life-boxes.

Exploding The Myths
It is an urban myth that a pet turtle will grow larger if you put it in a bigger tank or life space. However, it is absolutely true that for humans to grow spiritually, emotionally, or intellectually they will need to expand themselves into ever bigger life spaces—bigger boxes.

Another myth is that humans can “think outside the box.” To think outside of the box is to be beyond our limits—an unreality. Outside the box is a vacuum, it is disconnected. But if we create a bigger box, expand our horizons, and slowly push out our limits, we can stay within ourselves and include all our previous boxes—all our histories, prior beliefs, and relationships. This is the way towards integration; our newer and bigger boxes always include all of our previous boxes as well as our newer understandings.

Therefore, thinking outside the box is a misnomer, since, as finite beings, we are time, space, and matter bound. But the box that God has created for us to live in is bigger than we can imagine; it is infinitely expanding and we can, we must, enlarge the confines of our self-imposed boxes in order to encounter God and grow as human beings. Thus, we don’t ever really think outside the box, but we can and should continue to be open to learn, to be transformed, to push the limits of our understanding and create ever larger boxes.

Escaping The Prison System?
The notion of our lives as boxes might seem confining, and it should. We are finite people. And sometimes the boxes we create (our beliefs, relationships, values, etc.) are so confining they can become like a prison that keeps us from growing and becoming truly free. I have noticed in my own brokenness a sense of needing to escape from one box or prison of my own making to another. On the other side, sadly, I have also noticed many others simply biding their time in their own prisons until their sentence is done and they die. They never grow, other than in despair and loneliness. Others learn how to escape their prisons, like me, thinking they are free, but still don’t realize that in escaping one box, they have just entered into a new prison-like box.

If we really come to understand ourselves, we will arrive at the conclusion that we are trapped in an extensive prison system (various rigid belief systems). So, escape isn’t the answer, but expanding the walls of our boxes (prison walls) ever further outwards is. Yet, how do we do this?

The Way To Growth And Freedom
Jesus said, “I am the gateway to the infinite; you can come and go as you please with me” (Jn 10:9).  As I have encountered, who I am now calling, Jesus the Anarchist, the One who is absolutely free, yet in submissive communion with the whole world, I am starting to experience an ever-expanding life-box. I am no longer confined to just one way of reading the Bible, one way to worship or believe in God, but I am open to whatever the Spirit wants to teach me about myself, God, and the universe. Some people have discovered Jesus in a similar way, but call him the Cosmic Christ, Divine Mystery, or something else altogether. How ever you understand the infinite God, and whatever way you have opened yourself up to be changed, to expand your limits, the key is to encounter and believe in the Absolute Paradox, even Jesus, who can set us free. Jesus said, “With me you can know the Truth and then become truly free” (Jn 8:32; 14:6). This Truth does not confine you to being a “Christian” in the conventional sense, but opens up the possibility to expand your limited universe.

Helping Others Into Freedom
In my ministry, many of the veterans I serve are suffering from PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, Moral Injury, Homelessness, or a host of Addictive or Mental Disorders. As I have come to embrace Jesus the Anarchist, the Absolute Paradox, I realize that I am not to minister to the suffering by helping them to reduce their pain, or shrink their suffering, or return them to some previous state of homeostasis. This is often impossible. I have come to understand that the way to spiritual healing for many of these suffering folk is to help them find ways to expand their boxes, increase their options, grow their choices, enlarge the size of their playing field, to broaden their healing potential rather than try to decrease their suffering. In growing the life-box, the suffering, the pain, or the distress takes up less life-space and permits the sufferer to roam more freely in their expanded self. This is what God wants to do for all of us. Jesus says, “Come to me and I will give you rest for your souls. I will expand your horizons and give you peace” (Mt 11:28-30).

Still, this is just an invitation, a choice we all need to continually make. Do you need a bigger box? Jesus is inviting you to grow with him. What better time to do this than now, on Christmas Day, the day we celebrate the always giving gift of Jesus!

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Fresca de Campagna (Recipe)

fresca-de-campagna-2Story:
I am originally from New York City. I met my wife, Martha, who was visiting my church in Manhattan, NY in 1998. She went to the single’s fellowship after the worship service one Sunday and sat next to me. We struck up a conversation, and we found we had a lot in common. I invited her out for a date the following week. We went to Foccacia’s, my favorite Italian restaurant in New York. We both ordered the “Fresca de Campagna.” Afterwards, we went to the movies. We married in 2000, and afterwards enjoyed eating often at Foccacia’s. It was our restaurant, and Fresca de Campagna our dish.

Even after we moved to Pittsburgh in 2004, we would return every year to New York City to go on a date to Foccacia’s and eat “Fresca de Campagna.” Sadly, in 2010, we went back to New York and found our favorite restaurant had closed down. We both cried outside the new crass bagel shop in its place.

About a month after we returned to Pittsburgh, Martha surprised me one night with a dish that looked like our favorite dish. With tears welling up in my eyes, I asked “Is that Fresca de Campagna?” She said, smiling ear to ear, “It is!” Oh, Divine! It tasted just like the restaurants, but somehow better. It is now our family’s favorite dish, and, if it were up to my 9 y.o. daughter, we would eat it every day.

Ingredients:
1 Box of Penne Pasta
1 pint (or more) grape tomatoes ( diced Roma’s work well too)
1 log Fresh Mozzarella
Chopped fresh or dried basil
White wine (cooking or drinking)
Butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:
Cook pasta, al dente, according to directions on box (add salt to taste).

Dice tomatoes (or cut grape tomatoes in half).  Put tomatoes into a bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Add chopped fresh basil or dried basil.  Stir tomatoes and let sit while cutting fresh mozzarella (this marinates the tomatoes for greater flavor).  Dice the fresh mozzarella and set aside.

In a large pan, add olive oil and sauté garlic until brown.  Add white wine and butter to make a sauce.  Cook down the wine for 2-3 minutes.  Add the pasta to the sauce and stir around.  (I add butter and white wine according to liking).  Once the pasta is coated, add the tomatoes and cook until warm through.  Turn heat down and add mozzarella, stir, turn off heat, stir and serve (you want to turn the heat down so the mozzarella doesn’t all melt…it’s better in little chunks!)

(c) Paul Dordal, 2016