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.

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

Make America Least Again (Prophetic Reflection)

make-america-great-again-cross-outToday, the greatest danger to the world’s safety and security is the concept and practice of U.S exceptionalism. Making America Great Again by its very statement implies that other nations will necessarily be less. By Making America Great Again the rest of the world will suffer, but ultimately it will be the U.S. that suffers the most because of its arrogance.

I want to be clear: anyone who claims the Name of Christ cannot subscribe to U.S. exceptionalism. Our Scriptures tell story after story of how so-called great leaders and great nations have fallen because of their pride and imperialistic nationalism. The psalmist proclaimed:

“Why the big noise, nations?
Why the mean plots, peoples?
Earth-leaders push for position,
Demagogues and delegates meet for summit talks.

Heaven-throned God breaks out laughing.
At first he’s amused at their presumption;
Then he gets good and angry.
Furiously, he shuts them up” (Ps 2:1-2a; 4-5, MSG).

In contrast, the position of godly people is always as humble and down to earth. St. James proclaimed an oft repeated Scriptural truth when he said, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (Ja 4:6). This favor—the blessing, prosperity, and peace of God are not for the strong or powerful, they are for the meek and humble. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5, NIV).

It may be understandable for non-Christians, or those who hold no respect for God, to claim their own greatness or to promote abstractions called “States” as great or powerful, but it is unconscionable for a believer in God to ever make such a claim.

Jesus spoke clearly to his followers and said with no ambiguity, “Those who wish to be great, must be the least; whoever wants to be first, must be the very last” (Mt 20:26; Mk 9:35).

And if that was not clear enough he gave the example of how it should be done: “Jesus got up from the supper table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his loins, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him. After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, ‘Do you understand what I was doing? Since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow: do as I have done to you. You know these things—now do them! That is the path of blessing’” (Jn 13:4-5; 12b-17, TLB).

If you claim to be a Christian and wore the hat or agree with the sentiment of Mr. Trump, or you believe somehow that the U.S. is exceptional among nations, you might want to check your spirit and see what the Lord has to say about it.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

The Curses Reversed (Reflection)

reverse-curseIn conventional Christian thought the reversal of the curse that Jesus accomplished is typically understood as a relational reconciliation between God and humankind. Humans, as this reading goes, are “sinners” who are not capable of having a relationship with a holy God, who is without sin. In this reading of Scripture, restoring right relationship with God is the most important reason for Jesus’ incarnation, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. This reading is based on the notion that, and I will put it in stark terms, we are all bad and God is all good. It is a dualistic, simplistic, and extremely polarized reading of Scripture. Yet, it persists as the primary reading of Christianity.

So, we need to look at other ways to look at the curses in the Bible. But before we can do that we might need to look with new lenses. I call these lenses, anarchist lenses.

The curse of Adam and Eve was patriarchy, hierarchy, and domination: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Ge 3:16b).  The curse of Cain was a world filled with war and violence: “You are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your violent hand” (Ge 4:11). The curse of Babel was racism and nationalism: “their language was confused and they were scattered over the face of the earth” (Ge 11:4b; 7; 8a).

It is Jesus who comes as the proclaimer of liberation to reverse the curses which humans brought upon themselves.  The first reversal, that of hierarchy and domination took place as Jesus was nailed to the Cross. Jesus came preaching an end to patriarchy, hierarchy,  and domination and demonstrated it on the Cross as the suffering servant. Second, through his resurrection, Jesus, who is the prince of peace, showed that real life comes to the peacemaker willing to die nonviolently for others, not the violent who seeks to save their lives through the weapons of this world. Finally, it was on Pentecost when Jesus, through the Spirit, let the world hear that we could understand each other and not be separated by ethnicity, race, religion, gender, language, but that we could all be one, just as Jesus was One with God.

The Biblical metaphors of the curses are all reversed by Jesus, and the Spirit empowers us, as we are open, to be curse reversers in our world. We must put an end to patriarchy, hierarchy, domination, war, violence, racism, nationalism, and all forms of discrimination.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Christians Against Empires (Reflection)

B751_ItsAPlanetNotAnEmpireCan you imagine the enslaved ancient Hebrews voluntarily supporting the Egyptian Empire’s desire to conquer large amounts of territory circa 1400 BCE? Of course not. Can you imagine first century Christians being supportive of the Roman Empire in its quest for hegemony? I think not. Then how is that so many twenty-first century American Christians still support the U.S. Empire in its continuing imperialistic activities throughout the world?  Empire is empire and Jesus was opposed to them. So should all Christians.