Saturday, October 20, 2012

Jesus As President: politics for ordinary radicals; part three; When the Empire Gets Baptized

 First we looked at how the stories and values of the Hebrew scriptures presented competing visions of the people of God, between those who desired and abused power, and the prophetic voices who sought freedom and justice as the way to be in right relationship, or covenant, with God. Then we looked at the life and values and ministery of Jesus and how it contrasted with the life and values and power of Caeser and the Empire. Here we will look at the early church as a follower of Jesus against the lure and the domination of the Empire calling people to follow it. And how gradually the church sought the protection of the state instead of trusting in the power of God and gained the world but lost its soul, except for minority of souls who continued to be a peculiar people embodying God's vision on the margins of the Empire, and refusing allegiance to the Empire even in the midst of the Empire.

Jesus as President: Politics For Ordinary Radicals, part three: When the Empire got baptized…discussion based on book by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haws


1.     When those who followed the way of Jesus were called atheists for not following the Roman Gods way and instead the way of the gospel, when persecuted for not adhereing to the Empire way of life and markets and military, when they didn’t believe the state was the savior.

2.     They didn’t celebrate the festivals of the state (what would that mean today? Like Black Friday coming up in November? Others?)

3.     Baptism for jesus followers was a way of conversion and dedicating their lives to the dangerous way of following the God of Israel as shown in Jesus instead of the way of Caeser. It meant for many having to change their jobs, how they made money, whether from the brothels or from the government and the early church had to support those making that change.

4.     They started living Jesus’ vision now, not just waiting for him to come back and do it for them, not waiting to do it in an after life….but how could they get food from the markets without supporting the Empire? They had to get the mark of the Empire before they could enter the agora; John in Revelations and others cry out against the Empire and collaborating with it and that it is already fallen so need to find another way of living by sharing, not only food but life: they lived near one another, daily sharing of worship and friendship, and resources, and gradually effected change and a small alternative society within the Empire, like leaven and mustard seed. Image of the New Jerusalem: city of God come to earth, where mourning is turned to dancing, death is no more, the gates are left open for everyone, and the gardens take over the ghettos.

5.     Who they were: from the fringes of Empire, and from the middle of it: those who had been left behind in the Imperial progress, without family, without health, without country, and those who were converted from it. Both became “martyrs” which means witnesses. Rome was not just violent and evil but it was alluring in its wealth, art, society, roads, security. By contrast the early followers of Jesus were considered the scum of the earth: from 1 Corinthians 4: We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment….and from 2 Corinthians 4  If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!

6.     Constantine: before his military rise to Emperor, the church had gradually become more mainstream, widespread and populous, easy for it to be coopted by the rulers. It had lost much of its Jewish roots by this time. 300 years after Jesus. Now it was influential on a major level and could be “relevant” in the world. From baptizing all those within the Empire, to resist the Empire, it instead baptized the Empire itself. As if we felt we needed the state to do what God and church couldn’t….one aspect of the Nicene Creed, making Jesus deemed same as God, was to make clear that Caeser wasn’t.

7.     Movement away from places of power to the desert and abandoned places of Empire, in order to find self and faith and God. Every 500 years or so a major movement of renewal…from Constantine to Crusades to Conquistadors in Americas, the effort to take God to people and control them instead of going to serve them and find God there.

8.     Puritans City on A Hill vision; American exceptionalism?; beware all efforts to see yourself as a special people different from others, beware having God on your side; we are a Christian nation insomuch as the USA looks like Christ….Shane’s Traitor response from Iraq, p. 175….like Frederick Douglas’s depiction of difference of Christianity of slave holding America and Christianity of Christ….but the church is not just called to opposition to the American Empire, but also to the dictatorships and power-over values of other nations as well

9.     The Gospel of America and Beyond: global reach of consumer values and also military presence, 700 stations in more than 100 countries (Rome had peace but throughout its Empire years, its legion out on the edges was not in war but only a few days; and the cost to the Empire consumed half of its budget that could have gone to the poor)…What are our idols? What would we kill for?...Who provides for our economy and cheap oil and food and products? Who is exploited for our lifestyle? Wendell Berry’s words calling us to a kingdom of God economy, not just distinction between church and state, but between church and economy, how we live and make our homes; in Rome people began dropping out and going to edges to farm and live and not need the economy of war…Read America through the eyes of the Bible, not the Bible through the eyes of America….The theology of power-over translated into kinds of church today (Mark Driscoll’s words that drive the mega-church world power church macho church today: “I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” So he presents Jesus as warrior prize-fighter Hollywood action hero….Replacing flags and crosses that signify death and power with that of the “slaughtered lamb of God.”…God bless the whole world: no exceptions.

10.    What about Hitler? Example of Jesus telling Peter to lay down his sword not to prevent Jesus’ death. Bonhoeffer and Hitler, but he did it recognizing he was doing evil. And knowledge Hitler’s don’t come from nowhere, but we are called to be active in stopping them before they get power. Unintended consequences when we try to take God-like action; Hitler was even more emboldened after assassination attempt, thought he was protected more by God. Violence is not redemptive but damages the image of God within us. Evil done in the name of Good….christians leaving the military or saying they will go die for brothers and country but won’t kill for them anymore….the case of Catholic air force captain George Zabelka who blessed the men who dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, including Catholic soldiers, and they later regretted what they had done as the bomb landed on the cathedral in Nagasaki, the heart of Catholicism in Japan. He said he didn’t preach to them the Sermon on the Mount, to love their enemies; something for three hundred years the Church preached and lived after Jesus even though during those three hundred years it had been bearing the brunt of the Empire trying to wipe it out by killing. Church needs to begin by confessing how it has not been the church, and needs to wash feet of those it has wronged, and become the church as it does that, not as it holds a sword and is capable of beating up evil-doers in the name of God. People might pay attention to the church that does that.  


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