Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Crossan, Empire, Rebel Forces, and Church

A belated promised post.

I heard several lectures by John Dominic Crossan (www.johndominiccrossan.com) a couple of weeks ago here in Tulsa that are coming from his soon to be published book "God and Empire." And then, a snippet from his travelling lecture on Empire is included in the new progressive Christian DVD curriculum, Saving Jesus, www.livingthequestions.com/savingjesus.html which we are using at The Living Room Church, www.livingroomchurch.net. They are a good diagnosis of the recently ascending (more recently descending?) trend in American political society toward Empire, but of course I am hearing what he has to say in terms of the Empire of Church As We Know It, and coming away more committed to joining and spreading the rebel forces that are beginning to coalesce around anti-imperical values for "church-ing."

His four main markers for the way Empire's work are by stressing: 1.piety; 2. war; 3. victory; 4. peace. My summation of his thinking on this would be that Empire's lace everything they do and say with religious/spiritual language and ritual (piousness or false piety I might say, since I have a strong kinship with historical pietiest movements within the radical reformation, for example) in order to appear to have God on their side (rather than worrying, as Lincoln said, whether God was or wasn't on their side). Once this connection is made they are able to wage war without engendering more than minimal protest because to challenge them then is to challenge the very values they are coopting. War is waged so that peace can be achieved through victory, and the hallmarks of that peace are that the values of stability and order and Empirical views are manifest--worldviews, for example, that true power comes from might, and is expressed in appearance, affluence, achievement. This is an all-too brief synopsis as Crossan brings in other cultural markers of Empire as well through everything from economics to pornography.

His model of anti-Empire subversive living is, of course, Jesus and Paul, and their values that became incarnated in the early church. It is no secret that the lessons of Jesus' relationships and of the "early church" in the pre-Constantine era are attractive to people in many levels, and the work of the Jesus Seminar in highlighting the alternative vision of Empire through the Parables has helped to fuel this fervor. I wonder what parable-living aimed at Church life would cause? I know it has fueled my own fever for alternative church-ing, and I recognize the signs in many others in the emerging church.

What I am wondering is if this anti-Empire thinking and acting that is cropping up more and more on many fronts local and global, directed most visibly at political and economic institutions, might also be at work in the challenge to the existing religious institutions? Will there be a joining of forces? Some of this is also captured in Frost's book Exiles, which I blog about below. Will churches be faced with how their identity and organization and values and budget reflect Empire values? Is there an inherent conflict or lack of integrity between church values and Empire manifestations, and could this unspoken or unnamed dichotomy be adding to church woes? Are churches caught living in the shell of Empire-model from the days of Churchdom at the time people are looking for rebel forces to give themselves to? Crossan says the Greeks learned you can't have democracy and Empire, and the Romans learned you can't have Republics and Empires. I wonder what the parallels for religious life are as well. Crossan does mention how the monasteries became the seedbeds for anti-Empire living after the "Ceaser-ization" (my bad word not his) of Christ and Church. Are small groups and twelve-step groups and all the revolutionary stirrings in church society today the new monasteries?

Another way of looking at this, maybe, is: What effects might the post-Bush End of Empire ripplings forebode for spiritual communities and the next generation which is coming of age in the "hoped-for" wake of the Iraq war?

By the way, Crossan will be the keynote person during the UU Christian Fellowship Revival this year, to be held in Cleveland, Nov. 1-4, 2007. See www.uuchristian.org. His focus will be on Paul, then and now.