Confronting Our Ataxophobia (An Advent Reflection)

Patterns-In-Chaos-2008_Kerrie-WarrenI had a recent conversation with a Christian who said they admired what I was doing through my justice work.  I became intrigued by something the person said about why they didn’t get more involved in justice work. In my recent book, In Search of Jesus the Anarchist, I wrote about several fears which I believe explained why so many U.S. Christians were not doing the necessary justice work to enact Christ’s blessed Kingdom. I noted that fear of freedom, fear of being in the outgroup, and fear of oppressive punishment were just three dreads that kept Christians from engaging in meaningful missional activity. Nevertheless, during this conversation, I heard another significant fear that I had never considered.

This person, who would fall into several categories of being marginalized and oppressed, admitted that one of the main reasons why they did not get involved in justice work was for fear of the chaos that might ensue if the common people did rise up to oppose the unjust systems and imperialistic governments of this world. This person said something to the effect that if the masses really did start to fight back, the possibility of chaos would dramatically increase. And this person said they feared chaos more than anything else in life. So, I looked up the term fear of chaos, and lo and behold there is a word for it: Ataxophobia. Ataxophobia is the fear of disorder or chaos. It is a dreadful sense of loss of control.

I reflected on the possibility that this sense of fear over the loss of control, loss of psychological stability, or even the loss of a minimal sense of economic predictability may be a driving emotional reason why tens of millions of oppressed people in the United States continue to allow themselves to be under the thumb of their oppressors—the capitalist class (the 1%).

Ataxophobia is endemic in the petite bourgeoisie or the so-called middle class, who fear losing anything that might remove their false sense of security. And it is a false sense of security when examined with honest critical thinking because the capitalist system itself is filled with needless cycles of economic uncertainty and periods of economic busts which create chaos for so many. These economic busts are caused by the greedy overproduction inherent in the capitalistic system which throws countless people into unemployment, bankruptcy, family disruption, and homelessness.

Yet, it is possible and has been shown historically in other societies, that an economic reorganization of society based on meeting people’s needs rather than on free-market profiteering would remove, over time, the economic instability inherent with capitalism. However, since the capitalist class will not give up their power voluntarily, there will be a necessary struggle to rid our world of the instability and contradictions of neo-liberal capitalism and replace it with a more stable and equal economic system based on meeting people’s needs. The struggle that I am talking about is the revolutionary activity of the common people (the working class) in regaining what has been taken from them by the capitalist class. And, yes, this struggle will be messy and maybe even chaotic for a period.

The Christian season of Advent is upon us. It is a season of preparation and anticipation for the incarnation of Christ. The appearance of Jesus created quite a lot of chaos and disorder, and Jesus even admitted that he had purposefully come to disrupt the status quo: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Mt 10:34-36, NIV).

Thus, Advent can also become a spiritual time for us to realize, prepare for, and re-engage in Christian revolutionary activity which, unfortunately, might bring about a period of great suffering—where there even may be an increase in chaos and disorder. Nevertheless, this chaos will not come about because of Christian revolutionaries or our allies, but because the capitalist class refuses to correct the grave injustices of the evil systems which they have wrought upon our world. The season of Advent can be a wakeup call out of our false sense of security and re-energize us for the struggle ahead.

In the Gospel text for the first Sunday in Advent, we read, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory” (Mark 13:24-26). This scary an chaotic future event is to be brought about by the work of God through the revolutionary people of God in enacting the Christ’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It is Good News because when the “Son of Man” comes humanity will enter into the future “millennial” age of peace, prosperity, and equality for all.

It should be stated, however, but without equivocation, that as Christians engage in revolutionary activity, the Christian revolutionary is not desirous of chaos or disorder. Only a person with severe psychological disorder invites unnecessary chaos or pain into their own life or the lives of others.  This chaos really is brought upon us by the evil “rulers and powers” of this “dark world” (Eph 6:12).

Yet, my sense is that to be a growing spiritual person, to be a Christian, is to engage in the subversive, revolutionary work of Jesus to enact the Christ’s Kingdom, which is counter to the capitalistic governments (kingdoms) of this world.  To live out the Christian life is to overcome the fears of life in order to complete the missio Dei—the Mission of God—to bring in an eternal age of peace, prosperity, and equality for all.

The hope, joy, peace, and love of the Advent season is cause for celebration, yet it should be experienced in the context of our current suffering and the fallenness of our world. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). With the first advent of Christ, we recognize that, despite our hope and personal peace, there is still chaos and suffering in the world and all of creation is in a “groaning” phase of evolution.

But it is in Christ that we can enjoy a deep experience of hope, joy, peace, and love which can cast out the fear of the responsibility of our freedom, minimize the fear of being outside the in-group of the petite-bourgeoisie, destroy the fear of authoritarian oppression, and even overcome the fear of the chaos that must inevitably result as we enact Christ’s Kingdom on earth.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

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Suffering Prophets (Reflection)

Emil-Nolde-Prophet-1912I am re-reading Walter Brueggemann’s book Prophetic Imagination with some friends who meet every other week for discussion and breakfast. It is amazing to read a book so many years after first looking at it to see where you have grown. My sense is that I have moved from a pastor who had some prophetic inklings earlier in my ministerial life to a radical prophet who recognizes the need to also be a healer/pastor if I am to be an effective proclaimer and enactor of Christ’s “utopian” Kingdom.

In the second edition preface to the book, Brueggemann states, “… ‘prophetic imagination’ requires more than the old liberal confrontation if the point is not posturing but effecting change in social perspective and social policy.” This means that if the goal is a societal change, which is what the prophet is calling for, not reform, but revolution, then simply joining a liberal justice group to protest this or that injustice or inequality is not prophetic.

The prophets of old and the prophets of our age were all willing to suffer or die for structural societal change. They didn’t choose or seek out suffering, but they knew that the true prophetic path was one of suffering and self-sacrifice. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. were all willing (albeit reluctantly sometimes) to put their lives on the line for the sake of enacting God’s just and beloved community. Jesus, of course, was and is the exemplar prophet who sacrificed his own life for the whole world.

Martin Luther King said, “A person who does not have something for which he is willing to die is not fit to live.” Certainly, MLK was following the prophetic path of Jesus when he said this. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Thus, the prophetic path is not set aside for a group of select, elite individuals or “leaders,” but Jesus is saying that all of his followers will be suffering prophets for the sake of the whole world, for the future City of God.

As we live in the heart of the U.S. empire, whose government is wreaking havoc on the whole world, where are the prophets, where are the followers of Christ willing to go the cross to enact the future City of God, what I have called the Commonweal of Love?

We are at a critical point in history, an opportune time to move the evolutionary process of humanity forward, a liminal period to fundamentally change the social structure from one that oppresses the masses for the sake of the few towards a new society based on meeting the needs of all people. To do that we need those who are called to be prophets to accept their calls to suffer, to sacrifice, and to enact the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Zoe, Agape, Kairos: A Material Spirituality (Reflection)

dance editThe material world is, and the spiritual world is. As we live in the here and now of the material, temporal realm, we, nevertheless, integrate our spiritual, eternal lives in the here and now as well. Spiritual people do not separate the natural from the supernatural; they never negate the physical to validate the metaphysical.

Yet, the body is barren without the breath of the spirit (pneuma), as the spirit is formless without the body (soma). Beauty cannot exist without both as the body is lifeless without the soul, and the soul cannot be beheld without the body.

The relational perichoretic of the Trinity brings this notion to the really real—the supranatural. The Father is the creator of biological life (bios) and gives second-birth by the spiritual life (zoe). The incarnated Child takes physical love (eros) and elevates it through the self-sacrificial Cross (agape). The Mother Spirit labors to effect the movement of evolution (chronos) and moves to effect needed revolutions at just the right time (kairos).

Thus, matter/intellect and spirit/emotion are always working together, as positive theses and anti-theses, to generate new syntheses that create the possibility of an eschatologically free, equal, just and beautiful world: The City (polis) of God.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Multi-Being Vs. Multi-Tasking (Reflection)

being-461780_960_720Recently, I typed “How To Multi-Task” in my web search engine and got back over 10 million hits. Multi-tasking, it seems, is a highly treasured skill. The dictionary says multi-tasking is the ability to “perform more than one task or activity at a time.” Of course, many high-functioning, go-getter-types claim to be great multi-taskers, presumably because that’s what employers and organizational leaders are looking for.

But there is a problem. The human brain was not designed to multi-task. In fact, what is actually happening is not multi-tasking at all, but multi-switching.  “Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.”[i] Furthermore, research shows that the more we try to multi-task, the less we accomplish. Our brains are designed to focus, not multi-task.

This got me thinking about a sticky note that I have on my computer screen at the hospital where I minister as a chaplain.  The sticky note says,

Ministry Goals:

  1. Be Available
  2. Be Present
  3. Be Not Rushing
  4. Be Intentional
  5. Be Mercy-Full

Those five “be” statements really are what I attempt to be and to grow into being.  When I am with someone or a group of people, I am to a greater or lesser degree “being” with them. So, really I desire to be good at multi-“be”ing, not multi-tasking. If I am multi-tasking, I am probably not being available or fully present. If I am multi-tasking, I am probably rushing.

Jesus perfectly exemplified the “multi-being,” non-multi-tasking lifestyle. When he was told his best friend Lazarus was seriously ill, Jesus stayed focused where he was on the people and mission before him. When he had finished his ministry in that place, Jesus left to go to Lazarus’ home and found that he had died. Jesus wept openly at his burial place, and the people said, “See, how he loved him” (Jn 11:36).  Jesus was always available and present to those who were with him; he was always intentional, full of mercy, and not rushing.

Unfortunately, the typical capitalist business environment of do more, do it perfect, and do it now is antithetical to being human and certainly not multi-being. Businesses and other organizations who desire people to multi-task do not care for their workers. They are oppressing them. And the irony is that it is scientifically impossible to multi-task and multi-tasking actually lowers productivity.  So, let’s promote multi-being, rather than multi-tasking.

And while we’re at it, maybe we could change the name from busi-ness to being-ness.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Reference

[i] Anonymous. “Multitasking: Switching costs.” American Psychological Association, March 20, 2006. Downloaded on August 15, 2017 from http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx.

To My Fellow Ephesians (Praxis Poem)

Arise,
Night shadows
Shroud constricted pupils
From perceiving, receiving
The pure light of Love.

Asleep,
Lids encrusted
Not willing to admit
The liars we believe
Are our rulers.

Aware,
The forces of darkness
Like winged ants
Masticating our minds
Against the grain.

Artless,
Scattered
Rootlessly marching
To the oppressor’s beat
Begging for orts from his table.

Awake,
So ends
The nightmare
Now struggle for
Those in the clutches of Fear.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

You Say You Want A Revolution? (Reflection)

revolution of loveThere is a significant amount of chatter about revolution lately. However, I am not impressed with what I am hearing from certain corners. Several spiritual writers that I read have mentioned the need for a spiritual revolution (Google the term to get a taste). Of course, Trump, Sanders, and others from mainstream political parties have spoken of a political revolution (and look at the fine mess we have gotten into Ollie). But, ala Inigo Montaya, I don’t think revolution means what many people who use the word think it means.

Even the dictionary seems to correctly understand revolution as something people do, not what people say. A revolution has two qualities, and the first is “a sudden, radical, or complete change” of a social system. This understanding of revolution is closely tied to its root word “revolt,” which means that a revolution is the process of people revolting against power structures. Thus, revolution is not when well-known spiritual writers or politicians wax eloquently, yet benignly, about spiritual or political change. Revolution, spiritually and politically, is renouncing allegiance or subjection to a corrupt structural and systemic power. It is the action of joining others to overthrow corrupt political structures (like capitalism) or for religious folk the corrupt religious structures (i.e., dogmatic denominations/churches). So, it should be clear that these “spiritual writers” and “mainstream politicians” are really talking about reform, and not revolution.

The second quality of revolution is also fairly easy to understand. A revolution is an “action by which a celestial body goes around in an orbit or elliptical course.” Something that is revolutionary, then, is ongoing. In a spiritual sense, a revolutionary is someone who is radically repenting (changing) in a continual dialectical fashion. Just like a radical is someone who gets to the root of a thing, a revolutionary is someone who recognizes and operates in a recurrent dialectic of being changed spiritually and socially and changing corrupt spiritual and social structures to liberate others. It is a constant process of death and resurrection, of acknowledging blindness and then seeing, over and over again.

It is quite different from semper reformanda. It is semper revolutio!

Jesus clearly was a revolutionary in this sense. He wanted to tear down the temple and rebuild it differently (Jn 3:19). He called us to hate our own parents, siblings, and even our own life in as much as they/we were participating in oppressive systems (Lk 14:26). Jesus told us to sell our possessions and give them to the poor, in order not to be corrupted by greed (Lk 12:33). Yes, the revolutionary Christian is always working towards personal/spiritual and political/social change by radically sacrificing oneself for the cause of others: “We know what love is because Jesus gave his life for us. That’s why we must give our lives for each other” (1 Jn 3:16).

This can be frightening stuff, yet it is also quite liberating. This understanding of a revolutionary spirit is needed to recognize the futility of reforms at this stage. Real paradigmatic change has always come through revolutions, not by reforms. Furthermore, it is well-known that the powers that control much of society, whether political or religious, will only allow reforms up to a point and will never relinquish their domination of and stranglehold on the masses. Reforms will never wrest power away from the oppressors and give it back to the people.

Only revolutionary work—both spiritual and political—only a mass movement of the people working together to take power back from the oppressors will result in equality and freedom for all. We need both a spiritual and social revolution, and they must work dialectically as well. And it’s not enough to change society, we must simultaneously help humans have a spiritual awakening to be in concert with the knowledge and purposes of The Holy Spirit.

For the sake of our families, our communities, our world, it is time for Christians to take up our crosses and truly follow a revolutionary Jesus (Lk 9:23).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Alien Nation (Reflection)

The_ScreamAs I read the writing on the wall, our situation in the United States has become untenable—one that clearly cannot be reformed under the current political and capitalist economic system. Yet, for many so-called middle-class U.S. citizens, even those on the lower edge, the situation may not seem so dire. After all, most people in the U.S. get to wear Nike’s or Adidas, have smartphones and other entertaining electronic devices, eat fast-food whenever they want, drive relatively newer cars, and live with some sense that life is at least not as bad as it is in many other countries.

Nevertheless, the inequality in our country and the social problems that result from this inequality are staggering. And, if we were doing so well why is that (the writing on the wall shows):

Over 40 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder, and 15 million have Major Depressive Disorder.  Those numbers only represent those who have been diagnosed; many more millions suffer untreated. Those with addictive disorders number 20 million, with 50,000 accidental drug overdose deaths every year (100 per day). 121 people in this country commit suicide every day. There are 2.2 million in jail and 4.7 million on probation. Last year 30,000 were murdered, 100,000 were shot with a gun, and 90,000, mostly women, were raped. These statistics are some of the highest rates in the world, only rivaled by countries actively engaged in war. And speaking of war, for such a noble country, the U.S. has been at war with some group for 222 of its 239 years of existence. This addiction to war and imperialism is the primary reason the U.S. is 18.9 trillion dollars in debt. Finally, most of us have heard that the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more than the bottom 90 percent, and that just eight people, six of them U.S. citizens, now own as much combined wealth as half the human race.

These statistics are overwhelming and undeniable. This dire situation is why thousands of U.S. citizens are mobilizing in collective action to attempt, at least, to bring some attention to the injustice and oppression caused by our broken political and capitalist system. However, we need many more to get involved to effect any real change and overturn this corrupt system.

Unfortunately, tens of millions have not engaged, but, instead, have withdrawn from collective action out of a false sense of malaise and powerlessness. This withdrawal from engagement is sometimes referred to as alienation and is a direct result of our broken political and capitalist system. Humans, through the capitalistic system, have been systematically commodified to anesthetize them from engaging in collective action. One of the 19th century’s great thinkers observed, “A direct consequence of the alienation of humankind from the product of their labor, from their life activity and from their species-life, is that humankind is alienated from other humans. … humankind is alienated from his species-life means that each person is alienated from others and that each of the others is likewise alienated from human life.” Those words were written in 1844. The situation of alienation in the US is worse now over 150 years later.

We have become an Alien Nation—commodified and separated from our collective humanity.

Scripture also speaks of alienation as sin (missing the mark): “Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions” (Col 1:21) The essence of these “evil actions” may initially seem to speak only of individual sin, but should also be interpreted to include the systemic sin inherent in our societal apparatuses. In Christ, sin is not only to be recognized and confronted individually, but systematically as capitalistic (and racist) economic oppression: “Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” This sin of ethnic/economic discrimination was not dealt with individually, but systematically through the development of a more just and humane system (Acts 6:3).

If we focus solely on our individual problems (or sins), we actually exacerbate them and continue to be alienated from God and others. Psychologists mostly treat mental illnesses as individual problems and religious folk speak way too often of individual responsibility for sin. But when we pull our heads out of our overly individualistic mindsets for just a moment, we will see that much of what is individualized as sin or mental illness is the result of a political and social problem which needs drastic treatment as well. In the case of the U.S. capitalist system, which is killing our world, my suggestion is “shock treatment.” We need to shock ourselves awake, re-engage in collective action, and radically replace the alienating capitalist system with a more equitable system.

Jesus told us how to do that: “You cannot serve both God and money” (Lk 16:23c), so “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Lk 12:33a).

© 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.