Category Archives: culture

Paulo Freire and #GivingTuesday

“This then is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any attempt to ‘soften’ the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity,’ which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source… True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity.” (The Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

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Lost Narrative

As the results of the election became clearer I acerbically tweeted that perhaps the arc of the moral universe does not bend towards justice. It was half sarcasm, half honest sentiment. Yesterday I spent a lot of time ruminating about the loss of a narrative.

I started paying attention to politics and social issues in the late 90s. Although there were ebbs and flows, until yesterday I could see steady movement towards a more just world. Progress was incremental (far too slow for my liking) but it seemed that we were at least moving in the direction of equality and justice. The small gains we’ve made over the last 20 (50?) years feel lost. Hate and bigotry have been mainstreamed again.

This presents a challenge to me. I work for justice and teach about social change because at some level I believe it can happen. But maybe it can’t happen, at least not in the way that I want it to. I don’t want to let disenchantment lead to inactivity but I feel the seductive pull.

I’m wrestling with two questions and I hope that you, dear reader, might be able to help.

  1. Is there a narrative to be found? Those wiser, and likely older, was my narrative falsely constructed? Did such a story never exist in the first place? What story do you see?
  2. Why do you seek justice? What motivates you when despair and disenchantment creep in? How do you work when the results are so tenuous and fleeting?

Chime in. I need some help here.

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The Morning After

Some thoughts as I process last night…

Ian was in tears about the result. He asked if he could miss school today because he is worried about what his classmates might say. Since we’ve just sent a clear message that bullying and hate are totally ok–even rewarded–I don’t blame him.

I worry about Ela. The glass ceiling is fully intact and I worry that she will not be given the opportunities that she as a smart and resilient person should be afforded. I’m also worried about her safety because we apparently don’t mind powerful (and not so powerful) men grabbing women by the p***y.

Dylan seems unfazed. I’m glad. As he gets older we’ll continue to work on a hunger for compassion and justice.

I’m listening a lot to this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv05US9f_vM. A lot.

Apparently I need to keep at it with justice issues. We are so much further away from our ideals than I had imagined. I am doubling down on my commitment to walk with and amplify the voices of those who are marginalized and vulnerable. I will be doing some thinking about my strategies (maybe you have some suggestions for me).

I’ve been reading Paulo Freire with my students. Two ideas he expresses seem apt: 1) Those who are oppressed never do violence first. It is always a response to the oppressors. Whites and Christians did great violence last night. 2) The oppressors cannot liberate anyone. Those who are oppressed are the only ones who will bring liberation, to themselves and to their oppressors. I defer to the wisdom, resilience, and agency of Women, Muslim, Black, Brown, LGBQT, poor, and other marginalized people (we disenfranchise in so many creative ways, it seems that the above have borne the brunt in recent months).

When I was in high school and college I raced road bikes. I loved the hills. I thrived on them. The pain and willpower required to conquer them energized me. The next four years (and beyond) look like a big fucking mountain. Bring it.

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Jesus Was Right to Call Us Sheep

So a new Jesus movie is opening this weekend on 3,000 screens. And Christians of many (conservative) stripes are thrilled about it. I hear rumblings about peoples lives being changed by seeing the film. Mega churches are renting out stadiums for church members to bring their unsaved friends. As if no one in the U.S. has heard or seen this hackneyed presentation of Christianity. Jesus, a white dudebro with great hair and teeth and stands up to the evil dark skinned Jews. We love us some White Savior with great teeth.

Dudebro Jesus

News flash: we have heard this story and this understanding of Jesus has little (if any) use for us today. This Jesus has been roundly rejected in the Global North. Not because we are godless pagans (though some of us are) but because the questions of the movie are fundamentally irrelevant to our daily being and doing. Yes, christological debates were huge among the elite in the third and fourth centuries. Today? Not so much. I am daily confronted with the impotence of the church when it comes to the great horrors of our time, especially poverty and inequality rooted in various forms of discrimination. I will spare you the litany. And yet here we find churches expending considerable time, energy, and money… to basically line the pockets of Hollywood bigs. Sheep indeed. Forming new sheep. 

A few other (minorish) beefs:

  1. British accents! WTF??? (Also, WTF with only the bad guys having British teeth?)
  2. Written and directed by people with NO theological training. But Roma Downey did play an angel in a TV series with HORRIBLY SHITTY theology.
  3. The mishmash of all the Gospels into a single story… Doesn’t anyone listen to Irenaeus anymore? (Maybe that is not such a bad thing…)

Thanks to @danielsilliman for his post on the marketing of the film and the many links therein. The vitriol and frustration are my own. Which is perhaps a topic for exploration later.

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Filed under bible, culture, early Christianity, religion

5 Minute Post: Ken Ham’s Biblical Interpretation Is as Clumsy as his Science

Tonight Ken Ham and Bill Nye will face off to debate the origins of life. The whole exercise is a farce. James McGrath (@ReligionProf) has posted numerous pieces illustrating the absurdity of Young Earth Creationism (the idea that the world was created in six literal days about 6,000 years ago) and I refer you to his blog to explore the multitude of reasons why such a view is entirely untenable. In this quick post I want to simply draw attention to the fact that Ken Ham’s ideas are thoroughly unbiblical. The irony here is that his website “Answers in Genesis” has the proud tagline, “Believing it. Defending it. Proclaiming it.” Well, dear sir, maybe you should actually know what “it” says. As a public service, here is a tutorial.

1) Genesis 1-11 narrates three events of creation. Only one of them is concerned with six days. Gen 1:1-2:4 is a distinct creation story and it is written with theological not historical intent. The author organizes the account around six days of creation to affirm God’s sovereignty (compare this account to the popular ancient creation account, the Enuma Elish, for example) and the holiness of the seventh day. There is no concern with science or history here, these concepts did not even exist as we know them. To read it as such is to impose a hermeneutic that the text itself does not demand (and one that Mr. Ham seems to be oblivious to).

2) The second distinct creation story (Gen 2:4-25) uses a different title for God (LORD God in Gen 2 vs. God in Gen 1), has a different order of creation (e.g., humans early on vs. humans last), and a different mode of creation (molding vs. speaking). The number of days required for the events to unfold are unclear. The original editors of Gen 1-11 saw these discrepancies and inserted a toledoth formula (“these are the generations of”) to announce that we are dealing with different accounts (for other examples of this strategy, see e.g., Gen 5:1, 10:1, 11:27). In short, the Bible itself does not tell a single story of creation in a set number of days.

3) The third account of creation (still in the first 9 chapters of Genesis!) is following the flood when God again makes a wind blow over the waters (Gen 8:1), reissues the command to be fruitful and to multiply (Gen 9:1), and reiterates that humans are created in the image of God (Gen 9:6). Again the time frame is irrelevant and the concerns are theological and moral.

4) Leaving Genesis, we see that creation is described in many ways throughout the Bible. In Job 38, God wrestles with primordial forces (no speaking here!). In Psalm 104 God stretches the heavens like a tent. Perhaps more importantly for the question of time, God continues to create to to the present. In Proverbs 8 God gets help from Lady Wisdom in the ordering of the cosmos (mono-what?). Christ plays a part in creation Colossians 1:15-20. And on and on.

In sum, the Bible has many ways in which creation is conceived. None of the descriptions are concerned with history or science, but with what it means to be human and how we ought to relate to God, to one another, and to creation. Questions of history are foreign to the text. Ham’s “literal” interpretation is nothing of the sort.

Mr. Ham, your biblical literacy is as tortured as your scientific inquiry.

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Privilege Revisited

A few weeks back (!) I posted on my struggles with privilege. There were many helpful replies and suggestions. You can see the various comments on the original post, at The Episcopal Cafe, and in the thoughtful blog post by my former student, Travis Meier. I had many insights shared by my friends on Twitter. Thanks especially to Kelly Baker, Maggi Dawn, and Greg Hillis (psst… follow them!). In this post I want to tackle two issues around power and privilege that are particularly difficult for me. Again, I welcome your insights.

The first has to do with a common theme of using power and privilege in small things. Greg tweeted at me a quote from Dorothy Day that captures this sentiment well:

Young people say, ‘What can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we can only lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize & transform these actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves & fishes.

Others gave me concrete suggestions places of where I have power. Like treating others kindly, listening to stories of those who do not have power, managing the classroom in such a way that those who are marginalized are given space to share, and so on.

I really like this advice. I know it is true. The bible is full of stories of small acts and marginalized people doing great good (the Christ event, anyone?). And yet my struggle with a suggestion like this is that it feels so small, so insignificant. (As a side note, I really don’t like Mother Theresa quotes.) I blame my dad for my insufferable idealism, but if it is not gonna get at the root of the problem I struggle to expend the extra effort. Privilege strikes again. One of the things I want to work on is doing the small things (and there are so many!).

What about you? How do you deal with seemingly insignificant choices? What strategies for motivation do you have? What small areas of power or privilege are you aware of that would be good for me to remember?

This reluctance to act where I do have power brings up the second issue. I am so quick to give up what power I have. Lauren commented,

Most importantly, you have to fight the feeling of powerlessness. It is the trick of the mind in a racist, classist system. It tricks us all into thinking we have no power to change anything, especially those who have the most power to do so. Amazingly, I find that it is a white men who feel the most powerless. So it convinces me all the more that this is simply a delusion from the master narrative that we have swallowed.

I would add that for a long time I used power unintentionally and I know that I hurt people as a result. It has made me leery of power in general. I am not sure if this is simply a justification to avoid action but I am honestly nervous about unintentional harm. There are so many variables, so many ways that my perspective will be limited (we all know how annoying well-intentioned people with privilege can be–speaking when they should listen, acting when they should empower, etc.). Again, I am curious about how you deal with this tension. If you are in a position of privilege, how do you use your power constructively? Do you have questions you ask before deciding on an action? Do you have checks on your power? If you are a person who has been marginalized in any way, what advice do you have for a person with power? Am I asking the right questions? Is the tone appropriate?

As always I welcome the conversation.

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Rock and Roll Jesus

Last week I took to teh Twitterz to crowdsource popular songs about Jesus. I compiled the songs into the following list. I will be adding hyperlinks to the YouTube songs and videos for easier access over time. For now, here is the list (another fabulous list can be found at Pop Culture Christ). Glaring omission? Let me know in the comments! Thanks to all who helped!

Bartender (Dave Matthews Band)
Christmas Song (Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds)
Crucify (Tori Amos)
Down by the River to Pray (Oh Brother Where Art Thou)
Gloria (Patti Smith)
God (Tori Amos)
Godspell
Human of the Year (Regina Spektor)
In the Name of Love (U2)
Jesus (Velvet Underground)
Jesus Came to Tennessee (Will Hoge)
Jesus Christ (Big Star)
Jesus Christ Superstar
Jesus Christ Was an Only Child (Modest Mouse)
Jesus Is Just Alright (Doobie Brothers)
Jesus of Suburbia (Green Day)
Jesus Take the Wheel (Carrie Underwood)
Jesus Walks (Kanye West)
Jesus Was an Only Son (Bruce Springsteen)
Mrs. Jesus (Tori Amos)
My Hero (Foo Fighters)
One of Us (Joan Osborne)
Opiate (Tool)
Personal Jesus (Depeche Mode, Johnny Cash)
Picture of Jesus (Ben Harper)
Power of Gospel (Ben Harper)
Rebel Jesus (Jackson Browne)
Sober (Tool)
Spirit in the Sky (Norman Greenbaum)
Suzanne (Leonard Cohen)
The Man – Modern Jesus (Portugal)
The Transfiguration (Sufjan Stevens)
The Troublemaker (Willie Nelson)
When the Man Comes Around (Johnny Cash)
When You Were Young (The Killers)

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