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

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.

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

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.