Meshuggah – Immutable Swedish, Progressive/aTechnical Death Metal “Humanity is immutable, too. We commit the same mistakes over and over. And we are immutable. We do what we do, and we don’t change.” ~ Mårten Hagström
While most of me believes he is right. I hope he is wrong. I guess that’s why I’ve taken up to calling myself a Christian again even though I do not believe in a god that is a creator or personal or interventional or distinct from “creation” the physical universe in any way. I no longer believe in the divinity of Jesus. And I don’t believe in his resurrection or the resurrection of the dead.
So, why have I taken up calling myself a Christian again while all of the other white progressives are busy appropriating Buddhism? I guess because it is culturally/historically accurate. Because I believe in redemption. I believe in resistance. And I still hope the “Lion lays down with the lamb” and that the day comes when war is no more. I hope for a “Messianic Age” even though I do not believe in a literal Messiah, especially one grounded in an ethnic, cultural and historical place and time in human history. That’s the kind of tribalism a messianic age necessarily negates. I am the tabernacle. So are you. So was Jesus. So is Royce Da 5’9.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived* among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is the only Son, himself God, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
* The word “lived” is so very inadequate because the Greek has “in us”. The exact phrase in Greek is eskēnōsen en hēmin “tented in us” where en is the common Greek preposition for “in”. It literally means “tabernacled” among us. He was a portable house of the divine. So are you.
In a time of cultural turmoil, during a period of personal crisis, Amythyst Kiah was woke by “a siren with broken wings.” She rose up and sang this song, Sleeping Queen. It is a a song that Kiah describes as a lament. She grieves for the unjust world described by philosopher, Michel Foucault. It is the world we live in. It is a world where power is abused and the torture of human beings continues, in the name of discipline and punishment.
In a time of cultural turmoil, during a period of personal crisis, a young betrothed woman called Mary was woke by an angel. Mary rose up and sang a song of celebration. Her soul “magnifies God” and Mary rejoices about a world described by the Hebrew Prophets. It is the world we live in. It is a world where power is abused and the torture of human beings continues, not only in the name of discipline but all too often in the name of God.
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. Traditionally, the third Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday. From the Latin term gaudēte – meaning rejoice – in churches everywhere, this is traditionally a day of joy of anticipation at the approach of the Christmas celebration. During Advent, Christians traditionally focus on “three comings of Christ.” The first coming of Christ was into human history via Mary’s body and what Christians call the Incarnation. The last coming of Christ is the now ever delayed Parousia. But most importantly, on this day Christians celebrate and look forward to the daily coming of Christ into the lives of those who are “in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
I grew up in a Christian household and went to a Christian Church. But it was not a liturgical church. The Bible was “important.” But 2,000 years of Christian traditions, teachings and creeds seemed of very little, if any importance. It was not until I was in my first year as a Religion major at Calvin college that I remember hearing my first (and still the best) Advent sermon I ever heard. The Pastor’s name was Mara Joy. And she radiated with joy as she invited all of us within the sound of her voice to vigilantly watch for “the coming of Christ” into human lives each and every day. I guess in some ways. I’ve been working on this “sermon” or reflection ever since hearing that one some 15 years ago.
If you’re just tuning in, the first two weeks of Advent, we looked at some of the literary and theological parallels between the lectionary passages from the Prophet, Isiah and Matthew’s gospel. This Sunday’s Readings provide a welcome break in the alternative gospel reading from Luke: Mary’s Magnificat. It is Mary’s song of joy, exclaimed shortly after her visit from the angel, and upon her arrival in the home of her relative Elizabeth. Elizabeth is also pregnant with a slightly different kind of miraculous conception. According to the stories those babies turned out to be John the Baptist and Jesus. It’s a boy times two!
But, could Mary and Elizabeth’s conversation and Mary’s subsequent song pass the The Bechdel test? I think so! The dozen or so male pronouns in Mary’s song betrays the weakness of religious language and language in general. Whatever God is, God probably doesn’t have a penis. Right?!? And this song is not primarily about what God is going to do in her son. No! In this song, Mary recounts to Elizabeth the miraculous stories passed down through the generations about the things God has done. She sings of a God that abounds with mercy and steadfast love from one generation to another. Mary sings of a God that humbles the haughty and powerful and lifts up the downtrodden. Most of all, Mary expresses gratitude and joy God had chosen her.
Most often, pastors love to preach that Mary was surprised, honored and above all that she surrendered to the will of God. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve heard the story so many times that the scandal of it all gets a bit lost on us.
I am not talking about the silly “was she simply a young woman or a virgin” arguments. But the real scandal: Its in the song. Its in today’s story from Luke. Its a story told in song from one woman to another. It is a story about one woman being filled with God – literally.
Today, the vast majority of American Christians are heretical by creedal standards. But in 431 CE things were a lot different. In the first few centuries of Christianity, if you were a prominent Bishop and you said the wrong thing about Jesus, you could get your ass killed! Or worse, you could be condemned to eternal damnation in Hell upon death. In fact,in 431, at what today is called the “Third Ecumenical Council” of the church condemned q guy named Nestorius and all of his followers for arguing that Mary was merely Christotokos, meaning “Bearer of the Christ” rather than Theotokos, “Bearer of God.”
For Nestorius it was first and foremost a rejection of associating God almighty too closely with humanity and human flesh. This was no longer the easily digestible and intelligible stuff about Jesus having two distinct natures in one person or three distinct personhoods of the “Trinity” subsisting in one “triune” God. This was truly radical stuff about divine personhood not only dwelling in flesh, but also passing through another human body. The body of a young woman. For out of her vagina, in a “manger” presumably with blood, a placenta, and other bodily fluids on the barn floor next to some poor Bethlehem Farmer’s ox and ass, would come… God.
Mary had a dream. Amythyst Kiah had a dream. Both women in one way or another confront the difficult reality of living in a world where the bodies of women are superficially critiqued by the society around them. a society that makes false Character judgements based almost exclusively on outward appearance and what they do or don’t do with their bodies in private. One woman praises God for what she sees as God’s faithfulness in times past. This lends weight to her expression of joy and praise about what she believes God will do, in part through her.
I wish I could say the world has changed tremendously since Mary’s Magnificat. But Amythyst Kiah just wrote Sleeping Queen in 2016. She wrote it in a time where elected leaders in a “free” Republic can go on national TV and brag about what they do to the bodies of women without consent. She wrote it in a world where men still regulate what women can and cannot do with their own sexual and reproductive health. She wrote this song somewhere around the time of The Pulse night club massacre in 2016. The recent attack at Club Q exposes the dark, xenophobic underbelly of our “free” society. Its a song of Lament, yes! Absolutely! But like Mary’s, it is also a song of hope. And like Mary’s Magnificat it is a song of radical hope in the face of a cruel world. It is a world in which people still find a perverse satisfaction in inflicting torture and cruelty in the name of “justice.” In this world of injustice where it seems like Mary’s song will never come to fruition, I don’t blame Kiah for going back to sleep that day.
But still I wait fight for the world these women collectively envision. I fight for my mother who showed me by example -her words were something different – that the creative power of the “divine” and the destructive force of the “demonic” lives in each and every one of us. I am thankful to the Mother of my children, for doing that which divinity does: encompassing and bearing new life. Thank you to my daughter for teaching me that I just don’t know shit! Seriously! All the time. Thank you to Leigh and Leanne for believing in me when I simply could not. And of course, thank you to my wife, and best friend for teaching me the true meaning of love that is patient. love that is kind, love that does not brag, envy, or boast. I want to love more like her each day.
I also want to dedicate this post to the women who taught me how to sing!!! Shuhada Sadaqat, who most of my life I have known as Sinéad MF O’Connor, thank you for living! Simply put, without you and your music I might not be alive today. Your music, has been a healing balm throughout most of my life! I really, truly hope I get to meet you while we both still share air and space on this earth. I give a huge shout out to Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson made me feel like me and my Dead Beat Club friends were going to be okay (someday). Thank you, thank you, thank you to Ani Difranco for teaching me that I didn’t have to be In or Out.
Last but certainly not least, thank you to Amythyst Kiah for this beautiful artistic statement. I hope do right by you. And I hope you have a beautiful, awesome, amazing, fanfuckingtastic Birthday! Celebrate you today! All day! And every day! Thanks one & all for reading. Until next Sunday, peace to you.
This is how we got here. Karen O’s words ring out like a fierce indictment: ‘tracing the steps’ of the “cowards” that have led humanity to this precarious cliff we are coactively hanging from. The slow, smoldering movement of the synthesizer seems to invite a sense of the grandiose. As the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play on, Karen O shares vocal duties with Perfume Genius. But amidst the foreboding, there is a palpable sense of resiliency bubbling up.
This is where we are. We’re spitting off the edge of the world. It’s all come to this. The chorus washes over the listener in waves, creating a call and response effect with the main and backing vocal takes:
We’re spitting off the edge of the world (out in the night) Never had no chance (nowhere to hide) Spitting off the edge of the world (out comes the sun) Never had no chance (nowhere to run)
This is where we’re going. Everything we thought we ever knew, has radically changed to bring us to what we previously thought was the edge of the world. We’ve arrive at what seems like yet another point of no return. The days at hand won’t be easy. It won’t be easy. Things may not feel normal or comfortable: “Wounded arms must carry the load.” However, hope remains palpable. The final line of this apocalyptic ballad is pregnant with expectation:
Winds from the sky (never had no chance) Will watch us rise
Karen O wears a bit of a prophetic spirit on her sleeve. Explaining the meaning of this song, she said, “Spitting Off the Edge of the World” was inspired in at least in part by the devastating impacts of climate change. . “I see the younger generations staring down this threat, and they’re standing on the edge of a precipice, confronting what’s coming with anger and defiance,” she said. “It’s galvanizing, and there’s hope there.”
Karen O wears her prophetic voice on her sleeve. She couldn’t hide it if she tried. This is what a prophet does! They tell us where we are, how we got there and give us a good idea of what the consequences are going to be.
Long before Karen O ever sat down at a piano to compose, there was a guy – perhaps a group or “school” of guys – named Isaiah. The book of the Hebrew Torah that bears his name, conveys a very similar foreboding feeling that the world as we know it – a world of violence and mayhem is about to end. Long before Karen O longed for silence in the absence of bombs, Isiah Looked for a day when the ways of war and violence would be so passé that we can all feel comfortable melting down our tools of violence and fashioning them into tools of gardening: tools that cultivate life not death.
The human disposition of hubris and violence is so prevalent, the prognosis of our situation so unsettling, and the hope for a time of peace and rest so unwavering, that you can just about make out the mournful yet hopeful tune of a prophet regardless of time, place, culture or religion.
Unfortunately in our time, words like prophecy, even simple words like god, truth, good, evil have become so overly used as weapons, we might do better to lay them down for a time with the bombs and swords and just focus on trying to live life now.
We can all be pretty bad at that. We often live with a foot in the past, dreaming about a better future.
Sometimes it is so damn hard to just be here, right now, in the moment. The writer of the “gospel” or letter we today call Matthew was so eager for a time of peace and universal prosperity, that he used a rabbinical approach called midrash to apply a lot of Hebrew concepts to the person and work of a first century Palestinian peasant who inspired a minor uprising and was killed by the government of his time.
Writing around the time of 70 CE (about 40 years after the crucifixion), Rome’s destruction of the temple had many, Jews and Christians alike, certain that the end must be near. Matthew placed words of near certainty about the end of days in directly into Jesus’ mouth. If you go just a little further passed today’s reading, Jesus says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
He was wrong. They were wrong. At least in the sense that Jesus is going to come back and bring us an ice cold coke from the heavenly fridge or open up a can of fiery whoop-ass on the unrighteous
So what? That’s what I said for a very long time. So fucking what? The human predicament is still the same. Still so full of violence and war. Hanging our hat on external projections in the sky doesn’t seem to help at all. In fact, focusing on “the end” whatever the hell that means, has potential to turn us all into a selfish, preoccupied noobs that only cause more pain and violence.
What would happen if we lived in the present? Religious or not? What if we learned from the hard lessons that brought us this far? What if we changed the – just ever so slightly – the orientation (or disorientation) of only focusing on the “advent” or coming of the divine into our lives in the past. Those inexplicable moments that feel, for lack of a better word, “Holy.” We sit, dream about the good old days, and wait for restoration.
But that is no way to live. Regardless of time, place, culture or religion we have often dared to hope not too much, but too little. We need to stop waiting for restoration and start living towards our own emancipation and that of the whole.
Happy first Sunday of Advent. So we are at the beginning of a long journey. If you’re not familiar with some of the words and terms that are saturated in religious sectarianism (Like advent, sin, prophecy, etc) don’t worry, if you’re interested, we should have plenty of time to explore these things together throughout the coming weeks, months., years.
We’ll see how this goes and if anybody else comes along for the ride. My name is Wayne. I’m no longer a Christian. But terms like theist or atheist no longer make sense to me (or a lot of others) in a vast universe we know to be ever expanding.
Get the baby out of the trash can, and warm up some fresh bath water. Lets explore together what to throw away and what to keep.
I’ll start with one post each week offers a reflection on at least one (if not more) of the weekly passages from the common lectionary.
I won’t always save the passages or all of my cards so to speak for last. I’m just your average former pastor and recovering alcoholic with CPTSD, Anxiety Disorder, Chronic Depression and a hope that will not let me go – gentle or forcefully – into that good night.
Instead I will offer some reflection and life stories and try to celebrate the only way the light ever comes, anew, each day and punctuated by long cold nights, and even longer seasons of darkness. Spit in the face of that darkness as we spin together at what feels and has always felt like the end of the world.
For today, you can view the lectionary passages for this first Sunday of Advent here.