Nothing Else Matters (Reflection)

Nothing20Else20MattersFaith (God)
At the foundation of our lives is our faith, whether we are aware of it or not. Now, faith is not just a simple belief in something or someone; faith is where we place our hope, trust, our dependence. As small children, our faith was in our parents, who provide everything for us. As we got older, and more independent, we begin to adjust our faith dependency to other people or even things: teachers, friends, religions, political systems/figures, intellect, science, money, self-image, etcetera.  But, if we are honest, we soon come to realize that our parents or other people or things or systems or intellect are not 100% worthy of our trust. These people, things, etc., are very fallible and sometimes (or oftentimes) harmful or unhealthy.

However, if we were fortunate to have been brought up in a healthy, nurturing family system that emphasized a truly loving, gracious God as foundational or we later discovered a truly loving, gracious God (without being constrained to a strict dogmatic religious construct) our faith may be said to be based on the eternal spiritual foundation of love. This is what St. John discovered when he said, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Thus, what matters, first and foremost, is expressing our faith in love as the meaning and purpose of our lives: “When we are in Christ, being religious or not doesn’t mean anything. What matters most is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:6).

Family (Jesus)
Moving forward from this eternally existent foundation of faith as the crux of what matters in life, we practice faith expressing itself in love in our present lives to our fellow beings. We live and love out of the “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27) This is filial love, the love of other not as other but as an extension of our very own humanity—our family. The Christ that is in me is the Christ that is in you. We are indeed all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our view of the world then becomes this: there are no borders, or nations, or religions, or politics, or any constructs that can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus. We are all interconnected by a Divine Reality. When we move beyond the dualistic belief that there is a material reality separate from the spiritual reality, and instead move towards an integrated spiritual/material reality, the barriers that separate us are broken down. As I said in my last post, the dividing veil has been torn in two. We were blind, but now we see through the veil (or the pall), and the indwelling Christ compels us to love the world.

Future (Holy Spirit)
Therefore, we recognize that to live in the here and now as faith expressing itself in love means that we are being called to co-create another world—a just world—a Society or Commonweal of Love—the eternal City of God. The divided world we are now living in needs reconciliation (re-integration), and the movement towards our preferable future is no less than a social revolution. Prior to being able to co-create this world means, of course, destroying the idolatrous world of harmful dualistic beliefs, systems, and structures which are not life-giving, but life-destroying. Our call, especially as those who name the Name of Christ, is to become revolutionaries who struggle, yes even with those who do not name the Name of Christ, but who understand the struggle and need to co-create God’s Commonweal of Love.

So, nothing else matters except our eternal God-given faith in Christ expressing itself in love to our family (the whole world) and participating with the Spirit in the co-creation of the eternal City of God.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Overcoming Sin: Restoring Right Relationships (Reflection)

we-shall-overcomeOne of the most profound statements of the angels who announced the coming of Jesus was that “Jesus will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).

Recently, I had a conversation about sin with one of the student chaplains at the hospital where I work. He is a recent seminary graduate, fresh with a command of systematic theology. After a bit of back and forth on the nature of sin, my final question to him was, But just what is sin? Initially, he gave the typical dictionary and theological answers. Dictionary: An immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law. Theology: Sin is “missing the mark,” and the “mark” is God’s moral law. The moral law has to do with purity or holiness, for God is Holy. He also noted that there were sins of commission and sins of omission. This is standard Sunday School fare, really.

When I challenged him to go deeper, about the effect of these individual sins, what they caused, he was able to quickly recognize the relational basis for sin. He said, what I had hoped he would conclude, “Ultimately, sin is broken relationships.”

It is quite disconcerting that most Western constructs of sin interpret sin in a very individualized manner with a focus on personal holiness (moral living). The scriptures most often misquoted to support this individualism come from the Old Testament: “Your sins have separated you from your God” (Is 59:2). (Though, clearly, this should be interpreted collectively, as in Israel). And especially, David, who said, “Against you [God] and you alone have I sinned” (Ps 51:4).

But is this true? Did David sin only against God. Is sin primarily a private affair between individuals and God? Undoubtedly, we have to say no to this. Undoubtedly, our sins against God are primarily relational sins against our own selves and others (which includes God, of course). David’s sins were against his own body and other people. Is not God, represented in David’s cry, the entirety of David’s relational world. Misinterpreting David’s assessment of his personal failings reduces the goal of life to personal moral sin avoidance or “personal holiness,” which further disembodies and detaches us from the material reality of our inherent interconnectedness.

Nevertheless, when we view sin primarily as broken relationships (or matters of justice), we must still begin with ourselves. We begin with the brokenness of self, which is a lack of understanding our own true belovedness–our innate relatedness to God and others. When we recognize our broken relationship with God, we realize our failure to understand and abide in God’s perfect love for us and respond to God with reciprocating love. Our broken relationships with ourselves and God leads us to regularly respond in selfish ways which leads to despair and a cycle of sinful behavior–of more broken relationships. Our shortsighted selfishness leads us to break relationships with others, primarily because of our own brokenness, but other’s brokenness as well.

The key to overcoming sin, then, to restoring our broken relationships, is to confront our own sinfulness, our own intra-relational brokenness. We do this by recognizing, receiving, and abiding in Christ as perfect love, sitting at the foot of the Cross, and reciprocating our received love towards God and others. This experience of God as perfect love inevitably will lead to us engaging in the joy-filled, blessed, but hard work of reconciling ourselves to others, of reconciling the whole world to Christ.

Thus, Jesus is the foundation of saving our broken relationships, of saving us from our sins. This is the work of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, the restoration of the Garden of Eden, the bringing of justice on earth as it is in heaven. Thus, we are each called to live a cross-life, receiving and abiding in Christ’s perfect love for us, and bearing our own crosses for the world (see Figure 1).

relational-restoration-graphic

(c) Paul Dordal, 2017

I Don’t Believe The Way You Do: And I’m Still A Catholic!

conformity-2It is clear that Jesus was not a member of any of the sects of Judaism in his time (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, or Zealots). Jesus was critical of much of these sect’s beliefs and practices, but also praised them when they were in line with the goodness and love of God. Jesus was not beholden to one theological construct over another, and Jesus never identified with any of these sects as his own. He simply was a “believer” and called God his Father. Jesus was a universalist; he was for everyone, and that is why Jesus was a Catholic.

In his book, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, scholar and Catholic priest Raymond Brown found seven distinct traditions in the various churches that were started by the apostles. Brown said, “There is no reason why there could not have been in the one city house churches of different traditions….”[i] Yet, Brown shows that even though these churches had different traditions and theological emphases, they would have still have been in communion with one another.

So, Jesus was not a member of any sect, and the early Christians did not practice exclusivism even as members of unique traditions. Yet, today Christians, to become members of churches, are obliged to hold to the distinctives of the various denominations and sects of Christianity, which way too often do not have communion with one another. Even within a particular tradition there are those who would criticize and even condemn those who don’t hold perfectly to a certain “party-line” of dogmatic teachings. Rigid religious exclusivism abounds and is often encouraged!

This is why I am advocating well-ordered anarchism as the solution to the exclusivism nightmare from which so many Christians cannot seem to awake. I want us all to be Catholics (universalists), if you will, no matter what group or non-group you identify with. All who even remotely have faith in Jesus are Catholics, no matter if some Grand Poohbah, clergy person, or even the person sitting next to you in a pew tries to say otherwise. You are free in Christ! You are beautiful before God!

Some of the issues of which I have been indoctrinated by an Evangelical or conservative Catholic upbringing are simply man-made constructs based on a narrow and often times erroneous interpretation of Scripture. For instance, Just-War Theory simply does not line up with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Rigid and absolutist teachings about divorce and remarriage, male-only clergy, hierarchical organization, homosexuality, abortion, capitalism, and how we see other religions are simply unhelpful and, worse, they are hurtful and oppressive.

It is time to do away with the denominations, do away with rigid dogmatism, do away with systems of theology which are exclusivist, do away with church institutionalism, and to embrace the diversity of belief which Jesus and the early church proclaimed and embraced.  It is time to see God for who God really is and always has been: Ultimate Love! When we do this, we can be like Jesus, the One and True Catholic.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Note
[i] Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1984, 23.

Hospital Chaplaincy: “Hi-Touch”

hi-touch(This post was originally published in the National VA Chaplain Center’s Newsletter, Spirit of the Chaplaincy, Vol. 7, No. 2, November, 2016)

I want to honor a person who has touched the lives of thousands of people through the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. In honoring the Rev. Eugene “Gene” Reddel, who was my CPE supervisor from 2012-13, I don’t just want to sing his praises, but also share a critical lesson he taught that helped me transform from a proclamational pastor to an incarnational chaplain.

Gene had a profound impact on my life as a chaplain and as a person, as well as hundreds of other CPE students throughout his over 40-year career in the VA. I am now serving as a Clinical Chaplain and ACPE Supervisory Candidate at VA Pittsburgh, in part, because of Gene. Gene retired in 2015, and now several of us are capturing some of the “sayings” of this wise sage. Many of Gene’s sayings, of course, are not his own. They are the accumulated wisdom of his 50+ years in ministry.

As a learner, I have a tendency to adapt what I learn to my own understanding. One of Gene’s sayings was, “Hospital chaplaincy is hi-touch whereas medicine is hi-tech.” I understood immediately the contrast that Gene was pointing out. What Gene was trying to convey to us is that hi-touch does not necessarily mean physical touch, but a more sublime spiritual touch.

But I had a problem.

I was a talker. I originally understood my pastoral ministry as hi-talk, and not just the pastoral care recipient’s talk, but my own as well. I was very apt to tell a story, or, really, to sermonize my patients. One of my consulting supervisors assessed me as wanting to be a W.O.R.M.—a Wise Old Religious Man. However, I began to realize that my hi-talk ministry was not helping me connect spiritually with the Veterans. Chaplains use of words are still necessary and important, for prayer and spiritual assessments, but it was a real spiritual presence (hi-touch), not necessarily words, that I needed to be proficient in a clinical setting. So, I began to practice silence in my visits with Veterans.

To become a hi-touch chaplain, I had to grow my own sense of spiritual touch. I had to learn that silence does “speak” a clear word; and for me to hear I had to be totally present to the other. To do so meant that I had to be deeply “in touch” with myself if I was going to spiritually “touch” the lives of others.

Spiritual touch is what happens when little is said but much is experienced. People in deep friendships often say that with their close friends there is little need to talk. We just enjoy being in each other’s presence. This is how God touches us as well. God enjoys being in our presence. We can sit at the feet of God and touch Divine Mystery. Similarly, we can sit at each other’s feet and experience the God in each of us. Being hi-touch chaplains means developing the spiritual skill of touching soul-to-soul and heart-to-heart, of really hearing the inner-life or the spirit of those we care for.

Today, in my orientations to CPE students I’ll share, “The spirit of chaplaincy isn’t hi-tech or hi-talk, but hi-touch.” Some students smile when they hear it, or respond by saying ooh or ah. Though I am aware that using this saying might be playing into my wanting to be a W.O.R.M., it will always remind me of my supervisor, Gene Reddel, who helped me become an incarnational listener— a hi-touch chaplain.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Change Your World

change-your-worldOur individual responsibility is not to change the world, but to change our own world, to open ourselves to God to transform our inner selves into Christ. Then we will act more authentically in the world.Then we can become transformative agents in the world.  Then we can participate in God’s ongoing evolutionary work in bringing heaven to earth.

(c) 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

People do not change. …except….

grace-changes-everything

People do not change. They almost never can.
Though some people have their eyes opened.
Then others say, “Oh, how you have changed!”
Yet nothing has really changed, except a blind person can see.

People do not change. They almost never can.
Though some people who were lost, get found.
Then others say, “Oh, how you have changed!”
Yet nothing has really changed, except a lost person is found.

People do not change. They almost never can.
Though some people are raised from the dead.
Then others say, “Oh, how you have changed!”
Yet nothing has really changed, except a dead person is alive again.

Amazing grace!

© Paul Dordal, 2016

The Apology That Leads to True Freedom (Reflection)

freedom-allSaint Justin, in his First Apology, warned of the demonic forces which attempt to enslave the world. The follower of Jesus, however, Justin Martyr says, is empowered to be free from the demons of sexism, capitalism, racism, nationalism, and imperialism (First Apology, 14). Justin’s list of systems of oppression put a social justice frame around the apostolic, but often obscure, teachings of Saint Paul who said, “We fight these demons, these powers and principalities, not with the military weapons of the world, but with the nonviolent, but powerful and living Word of God” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

The liberating teachings of Christ and his prophets and their repudiation of the demonic systems of domination and oppression today need to be preached again, primarily to the Church and then to the world. Unfortunately, the tremendous good which the Church does is often overshadowed by its succumbing to evil and being complicit with the injustices of abuse of power, seeking prestige, and the acquiring of vast amounts of wealth and property. These injustices require a constant critique of the Church. Thankfully, the Church is Holy and cannot be fully overtaken by Satan and the demons (Matthew 16:18). Nevertheless, it can surely benefit from a critique from within and hopefully grow in holiness.

There are three, but not just three, primary ways in which the Church has regularly become complicit with the demons and principalities.  It has often desired power, prestige, and property. Through its hierarchy, its pomp, and its acquired wealth, the Church has been infiltrated and  controlled by demonic powers. The first step in exorcising the Church of these worldly influences is to recognize this possession and to name the demons (Mark 5:9).  Thus, naming the world in love, as Paulo Freire espoused, we are able to expose the oppressor and to transform ourselves and them as well.

Upon naming these demons of abuse of power, of prestige, and of property, the Church is now able to be dispossessed of these possessions.  Go and sell all, Jesus says to the Church, and give to the poor, and then come follow me (Luke 12:33; 18:22). The Church by supporting and participating in hierarchical and patriarchal systems, by seeking societal standing and reputation, and by the purchasing and ownership of lavish properties has been knowingly and unknowingly used throughout history by Satan to contribute to the oppression of God’s good earth and her very good people.

What now shall the Church do? Apologize? St. Paul says there is a false sorrow that leads to spiritual death, but only a godly sorrow marked by repentance which leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).

No, it is time for the Church to repent, to change, to be set free by dispossessing itself of its institutional power, prestige, and property.  And then to present to the world, as Saint Lawrence did, the only true treasure of the Church: its agape people.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

A New Flat Earth Society? (Reflection)

flat earthFor millennia top-down hierarchy has been thought to be the natural or innate way in which humans organize society. Animal societies seem to indicate that social hierarchies are part of the innate structure of the animal world. To this day most human societies are organized around hierarchies (i.e., Government, Businesses, Religions, etc.).  Yet, is the spiritual and intellectual evolution of the human animal beginning to call into question the innateness of hierarchical social organization? Why is that more and more people are calling for a flatter way to organize human society, a more equal way to facilitate community life? I am meeting many people who have had “aha” moments because they have come to realize how unjust hierarchies inherently can be.

Hierarchies, by their design, simply can’t work to build an equal and peaceful society. Hierarchies, no matter how well intentioned, quickly devolve into relationships of division, mistrust, and injustice. Hierarchies, to be just, will work only when those at to the top, who have most of the power and resources, voluntarily distribute an equalizing amount of power and resources down to those who have less.  But this rarely happens, as can easily be seen from the great disparity of wealth and power throughout history and especially in our current times. Furthermore, inherent to hierarchy is the stratification of relationships, so that those who are on the bottom are often oppressed by those above; those on the bottom often feel left out, left behind, and left alone.

Yet, Jesus says to us today, as he did two thousand years ago, “It mustn’t be this way among you. Those who want to be at the top or who wish to organize life around hierarchies must forsake these ideas and become servants to all” (Mt 20:26).  Jesus is saying that the cycle of oppression and injustice will not end by bringing those on the lower tiers of the hierarchies up a few rungs or even by empowering the strongest of those on the bottom to reach the top.  The cycle only can end when those with power forsake their power and deconstruct the hierarchies so that equality and freedom can be achieved for all (Lk 12:33). Jesus’ prophetic call is the repudiation of oppressive hierarchical power (Mt 23:9-11).

There are some who believe that those on the top of hierarchies cannot be negotiated with, that only violence can be used to bring down corrupt hierarchical powers. Admittedly, many people with exorbitant amounts of money, power, and resources do not seem very eager to voluntarily divest themselves that the poor and the oppressed will be lifted up. But history shows us that when a violent revolution overthrows an unjust hierarchy, they are quickly replaced with a new unjust hierarchy. So, what can those who believe in a Gospel of nonviolence do?  Thankfully, history also shows that nonviolent resistance and action can be used to topple unjust structures of hierarchy, often to more long lasting and positive effect.  Though we could cite myriad examples from local nonviolent resistors, the more well-known examples of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Aung San Suu Kyi are proof that nonviolence is not only the right method but nonviolence also works.

A couple of months ago, while in morning prayer, I read in One Bread, One Body, a Roman Catholic devotional, that Jesus was a militant (June 13, 2016).  I was surprised to read this coming from such a conventional Catholic publication.  But it was Jesus’ militant nonviolent stance which the writer was alluding to. Jesus was militantly nonviolent; he called the world to peaceful conversion, not destruction.  And we are called to follow Jesus, to love our enemies by being militantly nonviolent, to call all to conversion to become peacemakers— to wage peace, not war.

As peacemakers, we vigorously wage peace, where others wage violence; we grow love, where others sow hatred; we seek to build bridges, where others build walls; and, like Jesus we are called to confront the hierarchical powers and sacrifice all so that others may truly live.

To bring down the hierarchies of this world, to bring about a new flat earth society, means using nonviolent means to ensure that all are free and equal.  This is the Gospel of nonviolence—the proclamation of a new way of living— the process of bringing the Commonweal of Love to earth as it is in heaven.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Christendumb (Reflection)

The DeserterAfter just a few hundred years, as the Church grew rapidly despite intense persecution and without any political power, Christianity suffered its greatest blow to its credibility and viability as a movement of God’s authentic people.  In 313 the Church went to bed with Emperor Constantine and became part of the Kingdom powers of this world. The late Phyllis Tickle, encouraged by a new movement of authentic Christian faith in the 21st century, remembered this situation all too well.  “[T]here is no question that Constantine’s preempting of Christianity in the fourth century was the great pivot point by means of which Christianity became a dominant institution” (2008: 161). This pivot point is commonly known as the beginning of Christendom (Christian + Kingdom), which I believe should be known as the era of Christendumb.

Why is it dumb for Christianity to be a kingdom? Didn’t Jesus announce and proclaim the Kingdom of God come to earth (Mt 3:2, 6:10)? No, not in the way we commonly understand kingdoms. Jesus was using the vernacular of his day to make his point, but he was not promoting developing a Christian kingdom, like the kingdoms of his, or even our, day.  Jesus when asked if he was a king replied, “My kingdom is not from this world” (Jn 18:36a, NET). What Jesus was actually proclaiming was what I am now calling the Commonweal of Love.

To put it simply, Jesus’s kingdom is not a kingdom at all, because it is not about power.  Kingdom’s, nations, empires, like the United States, are power-based domination systems.  The era of Christendumb was all about power, and even when the Reformation came, other denominations, Lutheran, Anglican, etc. went to bed with or were the state powers of their time.  They were, and still are, (de)domination systems meant to control others.

One of the scariest things about Donald Trump (his rhetoric is fascist, plain and simple) is that he claims that he will give Christianity power again if elected.  Religious leaders like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. have sidled up to Trump in the hope that they too will have power. The response of all Christians to Trump and all denominational authorities should be resoundingly, “We don’t want your power, nor do we need it.”

To put it more clearly, if Christians were to have power then they could fight and kill just like the immoral nations of this world, especially the United States.  But Jesus said, “If my kingdom belonged to this world, my servants would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (Jn 18:36b, NET).  Jesus does not call us to have power, lest we fall into the temptation of the world towards domination and oppression.  St. Paul also proclaimed the strangeness of our commonweal of love and the pacifist attitude of Christians who live an alternative (anarchist) lifestyle: “For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God …” (2 Co 10:3-5a, NET). Our weapons are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Ga 5:22-23a, NET).

Christian should have no interest in the powers – the States, Empires, Nations, and Denominations of this world.  They are abstract objects, no-things; they are like deceptive idols (see Habakkuk 2:18 and 1 Corinthians 12:2).  Christians are inaugurating the new commonweal of love because “our citizenship is in heaven…” (Ph 3:20a, NET).

Mohammed Bamyeh said, “… the fundamental starting point in a consistent anarchist conception [is a] … duty toward humanity” (2009: 30).  “Fundamental to anarchist thought therefore is apprehending human reality in a non-abstract manner.  This perhaps is why anarchy has historically been oriented to local community, where human bonds are both experienced in everyday life and negotiated there as well.  Anarchists therefore do not belong to nations” (2009: 37).

That our citizenship is in heaven, i.e. the “kingdom” of God as Jesus preached it, is the real lived out, commonweal of love. The commonweal of love is experienced in the local “places” of relationships wrought in the Kairos time of the immediate reality of our lives.  Christians, like anarchists, do not belong to nations; we belong to Christ and the world, where we live and breathe as a no-nation under God.

References
Bamyeh, A. Mohammed (2009). Anarchy as Order.  The History and Future of Civic Humanity. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing.

Tickle, Phyllis (2008). The Great Emergence.  How Christianity is Changing and Why. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

© Paul Dordal, 2016