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

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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.

10/07/01 – A Date Which Will Live In Infamy

soldiers-in-afghanistan“We will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail.” – President Bush, 2001.

The war in Afghanistan started on this day fifteen years ago. Former president George W. Bush spoke the above words just days before the invasion, and it is abundantly clear that the U.S. has not grown tired of war. It has been waging this war for over 15 years now (despite what Wikipedia says). And though the U.S. has not tired of war, the U.S. has indeed faltered and often failed in this so-called global war on terror.

But becoming tired of war is not the real problem.

Too many of us are sick of war and sick from war. “War is always an evil,” Jimmy Carter, another former president, said recently. And evil is what makes humans sick—sick in our minds and sick in our souls. U.S. combat veterans are not just coming back with physical wounds from fighting, but sick in their constitutions—negatively changed forever in their minds and souls. I should know. I am one.

But it is our whole society that is now sick from war after so many years of senseless and unnecessary national violence.  This U.S.  government’s disposition towards violence has spread to the streets of our communities, with our police increasingly using military tactics and equipment to quell any hint of opposition to the U.S. corporate and government domination systems.  We should not be surprised. The U.S. has been in some sort of war conflict for 222 of its 239 years of existence.

It is obvious that the U.S. is not tired of war; but, its citizens are desperately sick from war.

“This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist …” – President Obama, 2014

Today, President Obama has continued U.S. military warfare in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and God only knows where else. All this without any Congressional declaration of war against any of these countries. When the U.S. military recently attacked militants in Libya, where were the news headlines: “U.S. Now At War With Libya!” I might understand no outrage, but not even a mention to that effect in the mainstream media?

Imagine if one of Africa’s national leaders said, “We will wage a steady, relentless effort to take out violent racists wherever they exist,” and then began dropping bombs on suspected violent racist’s homes in ten different Western nations. There would be outrage; there would be calls for a war crimes tribunal. Is this a fallacy of false equivalence?  Only if you think that the U.S. is morally exceptional, which, of course, it is not. The U.S. is a nation, which is simply an abstraction, like any other nation. What is real, what is concrete and observable is a nation’s actions.

It is time to call what the U.S. government is doing overseas what it is: gravely immoral and evil. Our militarism is evil and it is making the U.S.’s citizenry and communities sick, both spiritually, materially, and emotionally. Worse yet, U.S. imperialism is not just killing militants but also many tens of thousands of innocent civilians, making the societies of other nations desperately sick as well.

It is time to end all U.S. military interventions overseas, stop all U.S. arms sales to other nations, close Guantanamo, and decrease the size of the U.S. military budget by half.

The only way to heal from this war sickness is to end the wars!

(c) Paul Dordal, 2016

For or Against? Being Good News to the World (Reflection)

ForOrAgainstJesus came bringing the Good News (the Gospel) of salvation to the world, and charged his followers to do the same (Mk 1:14; 16:15). Yet, there has been much talk recently about the presentation of Christianity as unattractive, especially in America – as often not being Good News, but bad news of condemnation of people who are not Christians.

Christians are frequently, but unfortunately, known, by unbelievers and some believers alike, for the bad they are against rather than the good they are for.  There is a hypocrisy here that is without question, as the focus of some Christians is to create “scapegoats” of the “bad people” in the society, while these same Christians view themselves as the “good people.”

My wife, Martha, reminded me of how often, growing up, she heard Romans 1:18-32 used in the pulpit to condemn homosexuality (vv 26-28), while completely ignoring the sins committed by just about everyone in the congregation (vv 29-31). Hence, Christian traditionalists are routinely judged for their unbalanced stance against:  homosexual marriage, divorce, abortion, pre-marital sex, alcohol consumption, evolution, and the list can go on and on.

It seems to me that too often the political, religious, and/or social conversations which take place in the United States start from a polemic of for or against.  This makes the conversation over contentious issues often more a diatribe, rather than a dialogue that will help promote spiritual growth and mutuality. Interestingly, for those who are accused of being against something, those same people can usually make an anti-statement read like a pro-statement.  For instance, most theologically conservative Christians are anti-abortion, but refer to themselves as pro-life. Thus, perspective comes into play when making the statement that someone may be more negative than positive. But let’s not be naïve here and simply use semantics to make ourselves out to be the good guys and the other the bad guys.

Fortunately, there are many Christians who would like the (religious, social, and political) public square conversations to become more positive and dialogical.  What would it be like for Christians to be known more for what they are truly for rather than against (and I am not talking attitudinally, like being more loving or compassionate)?   I believe if Christians would shift the emphasis of the conversation from the overly sensual moral issues of our day to the more justice oriented teachings of Jesus, we would find more allies and have a greater opportunity to witness for the life-changing Gospel of Christ.

Jesus said, “Whoever is not against you is for you” (Lk 9:50, NET).  We have more allies for the faith than we sometimes think.  Conversely, if we believe that the world is against us, then we will assume a posture of being on the defensive, condemning the “bad people,” rather than being proactive by finding what Christians have in common with others of different or no faith.

I believe there are three Gospel imperatives which Jesus clearly taught which can be areas where more traditional Christians could find excellent ground for collaboration with progressive Christians and non-Christians (and atheists), and which will foster God’s Kingdom advance in the world.  Unfortunately, there are many Christians who are unaware of or simply disregard Jesus’ clear teachings in these areas, so it is important to note that this blog post is written not to the world, but to the Christian who is either ignorant of or ignoring important Biblical truths proclaimed by Christ.

First, and foremost, Christians should be known for peace.  I find it almost impossible to understand how Christians have historically twisted the clear non-violence teachings of Christ in order to support wars and oppression of all kinds.  Jesus said, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Mt 5:39, NET). Christians are clearly called to be pro-peace (Mt 5:9), which would also be understood as firmly against the use of violence (anti-war).   We ought to always stand for peace and against war in all situations.  We should be for the development of the capacities of people and vehemently against the arms trade which brings so much death.  Since many Christians erroneously see patriotism as a biblical imperative, Christians have, sadly, not been united in this area.  It is high time for Christian leaders, especially Orthodox, Evangelical and Catholic ones, to clearly join the chorus of the peace-promoting Christian groups (Mennonites, Quakers, many Mainline Protestants, Red-Letter Christians, and others).

Second, American Christians ought to be known for justice.  This would mean that Christians would be against practices like the death penalty, the use of torture, the slave trade, institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, and anything that diminishes the inherent dignity of humans (with as much fervor as they are opposed to abortion). Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Mt. 5:6,NET).   Christians who are justice seekers are not happy or satisfied because of what they get, but what they give to others.  Justice oriented Christians see Jesus in the poor, the marginalized (people of color, women, homosexuals, etc.), and those are very different from them.  This leads to third imperative in our day: the love of the immigrant.

American Christians have a clear scriptural duty to be for the alien.  Ironically, most American citizens who are Christians are either immigrants or the children or grandchildren of immigrants.  Have we forgotten what God said to the Israelites, “So you must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Dt 19:19, NET)?  Borders are meant to divide and nation-states were constructed to separate, but Christ wants to bring all people into global citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus said, “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God” (Lk 13:29, NET). Our being for the alien is not just an advocacy, but a love of those different from us.  “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the [oppressors] do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the [unbelievers] do the same, don’t they?” (Mt 5:46-47, NET).

Clearly, we have Gospel mandates that are just (and maybe more) important than some of the social issues that many conservative Christians overemphasize.  Can we seek a balance between the either/or and for/against polemics for which we are often responsible?  Jesus boiled down our mission to love of God and neighbor.  And just who is my neighbor: those who I might think are my enemies; people who are differently situated than me; and; people from other lands who would like to dwell in community with me.

© Paul Dordal, 2015