Towards A Theology of Political Struggle (Reflection)

A Theology of StruggleThe quintessential text of spiritual warfare for most Christians is found in Ephesians 6:10-20. Far too much ink has been spilled on inane and downright superstitious interpretations of this text. And even though most traditional commentaries speak of the spiritual nature of the Christian’s struggle in this pericope, “The Armor of God” text seems to speak at least equally, if not more, about a socio-political struggle (see especially Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be).

As I re-read the Bible with wider lenses, I have come to see this portion of Scripture as a potential basis of a theology of revolutionary struggle for the Christian, both politically and spiritually. Why, because I believe God’s “armor” is to be used primarily in the struggle against earthly socio-political evil, not just spiritual evil. Again, the typical Western Christian has over-spiritualized this text as a sort of laundry list of individualistic and pietistic behaviors for defending oneself against oftentimes imaginary devils or self-created demonic activity.

Let’s take a closer look, especially at verse twelve, where, upon a deeper reading we find that the Christian call is to struggle primarily against oppressive earthly evil:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the principalities (or powers) of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).

Here St. Paul says Christians fight against four enemies, which I have underlined above. The word against is used four separate times to emphasize that these are not a series of conceptual evils, but against four distinct and real enemies.  We are, first, told that we do not struggle (that is resist or fight) against flesh and blood. Flesh and blood is not just an allusion to the spiritual nature of the battle, but also corresponds materially to our neighbors: the poor, the oppressed, the broken, the downtrodden. We are not to join in oppressing our fellow human beings; we do not struggle against our own.

So, just who are Christians supposed to resist or engage in struggle against? Clearly, Paul says it is the “rulers,” “authorities,” and “powers,” “of this dark world,” and “the spiritual forces of evil.” It is important to note that the fourth evil we struggle against is clearly spiritual, but the first three are manifestly earthly (of this dark world). These earthly entities that Christians will struggle against are kosmokratōr or world rulers (that is oppressive earthly rulers, like the Roman imperial dictator); exousia or authorities (which likely corresponds to oppressive and legalistic religious rule), and archē or principalities (domination systems or oppressive governments).

Now, like all Scripture, this text needs to be bridged into our current context. The Bible is not a static dogmatic document, but a wisdom lens or a guide to critique and inform our current situation. This being true then, clearly the U.S. Christian’s primarily battle or struggle is against the evil rulers in our government (in today’s case the Trump Regime or in the recent past the Bush, Clinton, or Obama Regimes). Secondly, the struggle is against the religious leaders, groups, and institutions that are coopted by the government to suppress the “flesh and blood”—our brothers and sisters, the common proletariat. And third, our struggle is against the domination systems that oppress, which is primarily the systems of capitalism and imperialism and all their negative effects. This is not a list to be followed seriatim, but one that is meant to call on all Christians to become revolutionaries against oppressive rulers (oligarchs and plutocrats), religious leaders (greedy televangelists & institutionally-minded religious functionaries), and the systems of evil (capitalism, imperialism, racism, and ethnic, gender, and sexual discrimination, etc.).

Undoubtedly, behind the counter-current of God (all spiritual good) is the devil (all spiritual evil). So, we do need spiritual power, the indwelling Holy Spirit, to struggle both against earthly and spiritual evil. Nevertheless, as Christians our fight is primarily against earthly evil, and God and all his holy angels are to fight the spiritual demons in heavenly realms on our behalf. As U.S. based Christians our eyes need to be opened to bring into balance the political and spiritual struggles in order that we may faithfully follow our Lord.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Christian Anarchist Disciplemaking (Luke 4:18-19)

cross anarchyIn every great movement of thought and practice, there is an intense desire in those movement’s follower’s to communicate that thought and practice as liberating for others.  Socialists want to teach capitalists to be socialists; recovering alcoholics in AA want to teach active alcoholics the methods of AA; Christians want to teach atheists and others to become followers of Jesus, and so on.  The anarchist is no different.  The anarchist is an educator by nature, a disciplemaker, especially since the political philosophy of anarchy is so woefully misunderstood by most people. We must educate others before we can expect them to agitate for their own liberation and the liberation of others.

The Christian anarchist is commissioned by Jesus to educate. “Go and educate all people groups about the anarchist way of peace and freedom, teaching them to follow everything I taught about freedom, and immersing them into the eternal consciousness of the beautiful, mysterious paradox of God; and, my Spirit will dwell in you to be your guide and strength forever” (Mt 28:19-20, author’s paraphrase).

Thus, the Christian anarchist must educate, but this education should never be coercive or proselytizing. We are not converting people to an institutional religion, but releasing them from political and religious bondage by the testimony of our own life. St. Peter said, “… always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience…” (1 Pe 15-16a, NET). The Christian anarchist educates for freedom, to help his or her fellow human to break off the chains of State and Religious oppression and to live freely and responsibly.

The foundational text the Christian anarchist educator uses to teach others is Luke’s recording of Jesus’ announcement of his liberating purpose: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me 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 4:18-19, NET).

Jesus proclaimed (euaggelizō/kēryssō = words + action/deeds) the gospel (good news) to the poor (not the rich oppressors).  This good news to the poor includes four word/actions (1) release of captive hearts/minds/bodies, (2) healing of spiritual/political blindness, (3) freedom for the oppressed, and (4) Jubilee, the canceling of debts of all people.

How did Jesus the Anarchist do this? First, Jesus was teaching people to move into a reality on earth that already existed in the spiritual realm. He called this the Kingdom of God, what I call the Commonweal of Love.  Jesus representing the divine cosmic creator proclaims a sort of emancipation proclamation: “So if the son sets you free, you will be really free” (Jn 8:36, NET). This proclamation is for all oppressed people, as well as a direct challenge to oppressors. As George Clinton sang in the seventies, “Free your mind and your ass will follow/The kingdom of heaven is within….”

Second, Jesus is the cosmic eye opener.  He, through his preaching and activism, literally opens the eyes of the actual blind and also the spiritually blind so that they can see the oppression that they have been under for so long.  Jesus is the real divine Morpheus, who gives the red pill to all so that they can see how they have been imprisoned in the Matrix of the capitalistic, colonial, and imperial oppressors.

Third, Jesus proclaims through his way of life the way to truly break free from the oppressor.  He frees us to forgive our oppressors, to acknowledge our own part in our victimization, and then to set the oppressor free as well. On the cross, Jesus overcomes not through brute force, but by resurrection, by eternal life, by forgiving the blind oppressor: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34, NET).

Finally, Jesus exhorts us to be free from the chains of property. He announces the Year of Jubilee, the year of the canceling of all debts and the redistribution of wealth and land. John Howard Yoder says of the Lord’s Prayer, “The ‘Our Father’ is genuinely a jubilary prayer.  It means ‘the time has come for the faithful people to abolish all the debts which bind the poor ones…’” (1994: 62).

All Christians are called to proclaim and live out this same message of peace and freedom, to liberate others, to make disciples of Jesus the Anarchist.

Reference
Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

A Theology of the Stoop (Reflection)

martha-and-kids-on-a-stoop-on-ward-ave-in-s-bronxWhen I was five years old, I remember my twin brother, Pete, and I hanging out on our stoop at 1132 Ward Avenue in the Soundview section of the Bronx. It was one of those hot, humid New York City summer days.  One of the neighborhood boys visited our stoop and showed us that he had a firecracker left over from the Fourth of July.  We told him to set it off on the sidewalk, but he decided to stick the firecracker in some freshly laid dog shit near a tree in front of our stoop.

Our young friend lit the firecracker and we all ran away as fast as we could.  But it didn’t go off. So we all went towards the pile to investigate.  When we had put our faces close the firecracker, it suddenly went off and dog shit was all over our faces.  Pete and I ran up to our third story apartment, screaming for our mother, who when she saw us started yelling and cursing at us in Spanish.  We were already pretty embarrassed, but now we were really scared, because we were sure to get the belt for this. But then something different happened.  My mother started to laugh hysterically, and so did we!

I have so many precious memories of sitting and playing on the stoop – especially during the hot summers, because no one had air conditioning.

You know, air conditioning isn’t really all that it’s cracked up to be. I think they should rename air conditioners Relationship Minimizing Cooling Mechanisms.  Far too many people today who live in air conditioned homes, including myself, live out their mode of hot weather existence by going from the perceived comfort of their faux cooled homes into their Freon chilled automobiles in order to get to some other climate controlled indoor man-made place of economic mass consumption.

Yet, for the multitudes of New Yorkers in the not so distant past, air conditioning was a luxury which only the very wealthy could afford.  The rest of us sat on stoops.  And not just when it was hot.  We sat there as long as it wasn’t absolutely freezing.  The stoop was the inner city playground of both adults and children in my place in the Bronx.  It was from there you picked your teams for stick ball on car lined streets or to dry off after splashing in the spewing water of an open fire hydrant. It was where you would take your seat in the community.  The stoop is where you get to sit down and enjoy Sabbath rest.  The stoop was where real life and relationships happened.

Mario Maffi said, “In the ghetto neighborhoods [of New York City] especially, stoops served many different functions…. These elevated platforms were ideal for observation, courting, a chat, or gossip….” (2004:8). Stoops were the center of life, of relational life, of what Jesus called zoe, or spiritual life.  The stoops were the relational circuits where we visited each other in our neighborhoods.

Two years ago I took my family from Pittsburgh, where we live now, back to the South Bronx.  I wanted to take a picture of us all sitting on my old stoop.  I told my children many stories of my childhood, including how when I went trick or treating I had to catch candy in my bag that was thrown from apartment windows five, sometimes ten, stories up.  I told them the old Puerto Rican wives’ tale that when it rained and it was sunny out, witches were having a barbeque.  Don’t ask.  I have no idea.  I told them how excited I was about the ghost the whole community came out to fight one summer’s evening; how I cried when a little baby died in a fire in the corner apartment building; how happy I was to find a quarter in front of the stoop, and I how I used it to buy a Matchbox™ car at the corner Bodega. I remember the fun Pete and I had racing up and down the block as my Dad timed us from the stoop.  I recalled with great fondness the loudness of it all, of having to scream for my mother to give me permission to cross the street.  She would then yell from the window, overlooking the stoop, when it was safe.

And then I told my family about the myriad uncles, aunts, and cousins on the block, each with their own stoops, stoops to visit, stoops to be with others.  I remember Uncle Dario who couldn’t hear too well, Uncle George with his huge Afro, Titi Nilda, Titi Lucy, Titi Martha, and Blanca and Carmen. They either lived on the block or they were somehow always there, and, of course, every other adult on the block was my “uncle” or “aunt.” Who really was your uncle or aunt or cousin back then was a complete mystery. Anyone allowed to spank you was somehow related to you; and there was a lot of spanking going on. I wasn’t told until I was in my twenties that my Titi Livia and my Uncle Dario were unrelated to me.  But we were related — much in the same way I am related to Jesus.

Because the stoop is where Jesus is.  Always, Jesus is waiting there to be with us, to visit with us, to commune with us, to abide in us, to be with us.  “Then God came out from heaven, became a human being in Jesus, and Jesus moved into El Barrio to hang out on the stoop with us” (see Jn 1:14). The stoop is a sacred space; it is holy ground; it is an altar in the ‘hood.  It is where heaven and earth intersect, where “Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss” (Ps 85:11, NABRE).

The dictionary definition of stoop is primarily a verb. It means to “come down from a height; to abase; to humble; to submit.” To be on the stoop is to stoop.  God comes to my stoop as the One who is grounded in my reality, as the One who wants to display the truest way of life in humility.  God submits God-self to me, God’s creature, in order that I might be One with God and all creation.  To be on the stoop is to be real, to manifest my truest self to God and my fellow creature.  When I visit others on the stoop, I am called to remove my masks, to reveal my vulnerable, interdependent, and authentic self to the other.

On the stoop Jesus, the real God, comes to visit with His real people. In the Canticle of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist praises God for the soon coming of Jesus the Messiah saying, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people. Because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Lk 1:68, 78-79, NABRE). What great news!  Emmanuel!  God with us on the stoop!

Yet after visiting my old stoop, waves of sadness came over me.  I realized that I, like so many others, can’t seem to really find my way back to the stoop.  I cannot find my way back to deep community. I have chosen separation and loneliness apart from God and neighbor.  It’s not that I want to be lonely; I desperately want deep communion with God and others.  But I have bought into the lie of the consumer society, and that the pain of my loneliness and separation is more bearable than the effort it would take to be restored to blessed community. Thus, I really haven’t felt it necessary or even prudent to go back to try and restore myself to the stoop of Christ.

Why? I am hurting; I am afraid!  I have an idolatrous desire to be air conditioned, away from God and others, superficially dabbling in religiosity, playing roles instead of living out of my brokenness.

So I no longer need to visit the stoop of my nostalgic past, but I have discovered I need to be restored to the stoop of my eternal now.

Today, I define my being lost as not knowing where my true stoop is – to be out of deep, growing relationships with God and others.  To be lost and alone is what it might mean to sit in darkness and death’s shadow.  The Israelites said, when you were lost and alone, you were outside the camp. Bronxites would say you were missing from the stoop.  Jesus might lament saying, “you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:44b, NABRE).

My heart’s desire is that I would be restored and gathered to my stoop, enjoying shalom and Shabbat with God, my family, my neighbor, being found and in community where there is neither black nor white, male nor female, religious nor atheist, but all are one with and in Christ, visiting, sitting, and abiding on the stoop together with Christ on earth as it is heaven.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2016