Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Few Thoughtz: The Politics of Jesus, pt. 2

Peace and blessings,

During the last post, I provided my general thoughts on Dr. Hendricks’ “Politics of Jesus,” highlighting things that I agreed with and things I either disagreed or had concerns with. I now want to offer a potential explanation as to why I think he went to such great lengths (by “great lengths” I am referring to the extent to which he used biblical scripture to support and further his position) to urge us as Christians and those who may not be Christian but are passionate about issues of social justice to pay more attention to Jesus Christ’s revolutionary nature, and the implication of this nature on past, present, and future politics.
Looking back at the points in my life when I first realized that I was passionate about something, I noticed that whenever this realization occurred, it was as a result of experiencing or wrestling with two extremes simultaneously. In other words, once I learned something that was totally contrary to what I had previously been taught, I would kind of “flip out” in a sense. As a result, I would devote all of my energy embracing this “new” information that I would cut myself off from considering any other type of information that may differ from this “new” information that I was now fully embracing.
I think that Dr. Hendricks had a similar experience. It the start of the book he talks about his experiences with trying to understand God and Christianity as a child. He mentions how whenever he would suggest to others that the way he sees Jesus is different that how the Messiah has been characterized, portrayed, and widely represented historically and presently, he would run into opposition. In particular, he would be made to feel as if his “radical” view of Jesus is nothing more than a function of his misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the “real” Jesus: one who is meek, divine, and only concerned with our personal piety and salvation. As he got older, however, he began to become more engaged in the scriptures and realized that his “radical” notion of Jesus was not “wrong” or inaccurate. In fact, it was the exact opposite. In other words, Hendricks had discovered this “new” characterization of Jesus that was so drastically different than the apolitical characterization of Jesus that he was so accustomed to.
As a result, he focused most, if not all of his efforts on emphatically supporting this position. Further, I think that it was this simultaneous struggle between two drastically different conceptions of Jesus, and the resulting focus on supporting his “new” realization that Jesus was in fact a revolutionary, that explains why some of his interpretations of the scriptures (e.g. the passage in Matthew and the passage in Mark), seem to be earnestly trying to highlight some further social, economic, or political motive, when it is possible that it may not be.
As I said in the previous post, I am not saying that his interpretation of the passages in Matthew and Mark that I highlight are inaccurate, because I am in no way a biblical scholar, and he is. What I am saying is that for me personally, I do not see those larger motives. Second, there are plenty of interpretations of scriptures that he highlight in the book that I do agree with.
In conclusion, I want to note that Hendricks sheds some much deserved and long overdue light on some very important aspects of Jesus’ revolutionary nature, that in my opinion are just as important as His divine nature. In fact, I would argue that Jesus’ life and ministry is absolute proof that having an intimate relationship with God necessitates intimate relationships with others, such that we work to break down the walls of injustice, in any and every way God calls us to do so. We cannot be intimately connected to God if we are not also intimately connected to God’s children. Lastly, I think that the potential explanation I offered for as to why I think Hendricks was so “hard core” on arguing his position, reflects a larger issue regarding the “popular” conception of Jesus and Christianity that is prevalent within mainstream America. The sooner we start looking at Jesus’ divinity and revolutionary natures as sequential and interconnected (i.e. because He was divine, He was always concerned with holistically meeting people’s needs) and not polar opposites (or at the very least two separate, distinct, aspects), the better we will become as a people. Books that highlight the revolutionary nature of Jesus will then no longer be looked at as shocking revelations, but instead as confirmation.

What do you think? What is your conception of Jesus? Where does your conception of Jesus come from? Stay blessed, encouraged, and speekonit…

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Few Thoughtz: The Politics of Jesus, pt. 1

"Rather than taking a literalistic or legalistic approach, the politics of Jesus calls for scrutinizing every political policy and policy proposal by this standard: Is it based upon the command to 'love your neighbor as yourself?' That is, does it treat the people and their needs as holy? It is important that this principle not be treated as a law with layers of liturgical and organizational requirements. Rather, it is to be seen as a yardstick that at every point seeks to apply mishpat (justice), sadiqah (righteousness), and hesed (steadfast), continually demonstrated love for our neighbors to every public and private act of consequence. This is the way the politics of Jesus enjoins us to approach every question of politics and social policy (pg. 323)."

"If we look honestly and unflinchingly at the political culture in America today, it becomes clear that Jesus' judgment against the religious and political leaders of his day (in reality, they were the same) is also his judgment against the leaders of our day. America's most vocal and self-described politicians 'of faith' profess biblical beliefs while consistently acting in ways that contradict biblical justice. Worse, they portray themselves to the American masses as the definitive moral voice of America, the righteous, divinely ordained spokespersons for God to us all. Yet there is little question that if Jesus were walking among us now, he would stand against the political leaders of our day--and many of the religious leaders, too--as he stood against them in his own day (pg.329)."

Peace and blessings,

I chose to begin with these quotes, because I think they accurately characterize Dr. Obery Hendricks' position as articulated in his book, "The Politics of Jesus." The following book review will be two fold. First, I will briefly (but then again, do I ever discuss anything "briefly?"LOL) discuss the aspects of Henricks' position that I agree with, and those aspects that I disagree with. Afterwards, I will offer a potential explanation as to what factors may have influenced how he argued his position.

In a nutshell, Hendricks (2006) argues that both historically and currently, leaders (political and religious) have in some form or another misinterpreted Jesus' ministry and/or neglected critical components of His ministry. As a result, Jesus has been, and is currently regarded as a passive Messiah only concerned with our personal piety, righteousness, and salvation. According to Hendricks, this view of Jesus is inaccurate or at best incomplete because it fails to acknowledge Jesus' revolutionary nature and his mission to non-violently dismantle social injustice and economic and oppression. Through closely examining scriptures and the social, economic, and political contexts in which these scriputures were written, Hendricks passionately reminds us that in addition to His divinity and the fact that He came, died, and rose so that through Him we can be saved, He was also dedicated to changing the structures which sought to oppress and marginalize the very people He came to save (which is everyone). Whether it was feeding the five thousand, healing (restoring) the lives of those treated as social outcasts, or constantly opposing the Pharisees' and other leaders' illusions of power and dominance over "the least of these," Jesus was always about meeting people's needs (spiritual, mental, physical, and economic).

I agree with his general arguement, and that Jesus' revolutionary nature is often neglected within most political, social, and economic discourse and policies in the U.S. In addition to some political and religious arenas, I think that the media (movies, etc...) is also partly responsible for the neglect of Jesus' revolutionary nature and His emphasis on social, economic, and political change that lovingly and righteously serves all humanity. My only criticism of the book, however, is that I think that some of Hendricks' arguments that he derives from analyzing certain scriptures are somewhat "far-fetched." One example of this is his analysis of Matthew 20:1-16, which is the parable where Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven using the analogy of a householder going into his vineyard to hire workers. In the parable, the householder ends up paying the workers who were hired last and thus only worked one hour, the same wage as those who were hired first and worked for twelve hours. Hendricks argues that despite the general impression that this parable is about how God's love, grace, and mercy are available to everyone regardless of status or circumstance, the parable is actually about the oppressive condition of the workers, the low wage they were paid, and how they were exploited by the householder who hired them.

Another example has to do with his examination of Mark 5:1-10, which is the passage where a man is possed by a legion of demons and is healed by Jesus. Primarily drawing on the facts that the demons asked Jesus no to send them out of the country (as opposed to being sent out of the man), and that at the time "legion" referred to the Roman legions, which was the Roman army, Hendricks argues that the passage is not about an exorcism, but about Jesus addressing the Roman army "for its role in the upheaval that was devastating the social fabric of Israel (pg. 146)." I am in no way a biblical scholar or theologian, nor do I claim to be. I am simply saying that to me, it seems like these conclusions appear to be somewhat of a stretch. Although it is possible that his interpretations of these passages are correct, I think it is more likely that both interpretations are correct. In other words, the passages are more likely demonstrating Jesus' revolutionary nature and concern for "the least of these" though their illustrations of the equal access to God's kingdom (Matthew 20:1-16) and Jesus healing a possessed man (Mark 5: 1-10), than only demonstrating Jesus' revolutionary nature.

In the next couple of days, I will discuss my thoughts as to why I think Hendricks chose to put forth his argument in this way. Until then, stay blessed, encouraged, and speekonit...

Friday, July 06, 2007

On the Immigration Debate, pt. 2

Peace and blessings,

As promised, I wanted to follow up on my previous post regarding the immigration debate. What's interesting to me is that we have a long history in this country of engaging in or allowing certain things to happen as long as those things benefit us economically. However, once these things become a burden on us, we want to do away with them completely. The way I see it, the current immigration debate is no different.

In addition to contributing to the social and cultural fabric of the U.S., most would agree that immigrants (legal and illegal) have contributed most signifcantly to the U.S. economy. Furthermore, economic prosperity (better jobs, wages, schools) is one of the main reasons that people come to the U.S. The argument that the amount of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is becoming "problematic" because they are using services that are intended for U.S. citizens holds weight, but viewing this argument, and the whole debate through a historical lens may shed some light on what should be done to address this issue.

This country was founded on, and is maintained by, capitalism. In other words, America came to be as a result of a minority of people exploiting and gettting wealthy on the backs of the majority. The very first manifestation of this was slavery, which was the most extreme form of capitalism. In contemporary society, capitalism generally refers to the idea of maximizing profit from cheap labor. Slavery was an extreme form of this because slaves (especially those working in the fields) did not get paid anything.

It is my belief that this capitalist mentality, or this notion that there's nothing morally wrong with a few getting extremely wealthy off of the backs of those who are barely making enough for themselves to survive, let alone their families, that is mostly responsible for the large numbers of immigrants (legal and illegal) in the U.S. In other words, the "promise" of jobs and the fact that capitalism requires increasingly cheap labor to increase profits and remain competitive contributed to this widely held belief that America is the place to be if you are looking for a job. As a result, people from other countries, expecially those from countries where they are oppressed and in dire poverty, come to America to seek employment and a better life for themselves and/or their families.

For instance, not to sound stereotypical (and I apologize to my readers if this statement is interpreted as such), but most would agree that there are certain sectors and jobs that appear to be primarily occupied by immigrants. It seems like allowing immigrants to come to America and employing them to work for cheap is "cool" with major corporations and the government (they are actually one in the same) as long as the primary "consequences" of this decision are increased profits, maintenance of vital institutions, and the perpetuation of the capitalist ethos. A "consequence" that America did not expect, however, was the realization that immigrants are not just workers but human beings, and that they felt entitled, citizen or not, to utilize the services of the country that is prospering from their labor.

Now i'm not saying that nothing should be done about immigration in America because there should be. What I am saying is that in order to fully address the issue in a way that values the humanity of each immigrant and of all those involved, America must take a hard look at the cultural ethos which helped create the situation that Americans are complaining about now. Trying to address this issue by only focusing on what to do with the illegal immigrants in this country and prevent more from entering the country will not suffice. Capitalist ideas are a huge part of the problem, and thus addressing these ideas are an integral part of the solution. It's not just a political and economic issue, but a moral one.....

What do you think? What role (if any) do you think America's promotion of capitalism plays in the massive flow of immigration the country has seen in the past 20 or so years? Weigh in and speekonit...