The Politics of Palm Sunday

IMG_3641This week more than ever, as we head toward the celebration of Palm Sunday, I am excited by the liturgical opportunity offered. As we remember the radicalism of Jesus riding a donkey into the center of town as a form of opposition to the Roman Empire we are encouraged to think about the damaging impact of imperialism in our own time. Taking seriously the satirical nature of a feigned parade, which in reality was a massive protest of people living under occupation, we have the opportunity to discuss the nature of public prophetic witness in fresh and new ways. We can never forget that the triumphant entry was an act of resistance centered in critique of the bourgeoisie. It is that epic moment when the proletariat speaks truth to power and the Gospel takes center stage in the public square. How could any true liturgist not be excited about this Sunday where we can remind the church of the politics of Jesus?

In far too many cases our churches have slipped into a coma brought on by a belief in the false dichotomy of personal piety vs. public prophetic witness. Many have traded the message of Jesus for a personal relationship with Jesus, as though the two could exist separate from one another. Jesus the Savior from sin is in too many cases disinterested in corporate sin and only concerned with individual behavior modification as though systemic sin is nonexistent. It is as though some have completely forgotten the tripartite assignment for the Church: (1) To proclaim the reality of Divine liberation, (2) to actively participate in the struggle for liberation, and (3) to provide a visible manifestation that the Gospel is a reality (Warnock 2014).  It is of utmost importance that in this time where we face the evils of plutocrats and oligarchs at the highest level of government the Church bear witness to the message of Jesus.

At the center of our liturgies we must highlight Jesus the political revolutionary who not only called for change in individual hearts, but also demanded sweeping and comprehensive change in the political, social, and economic structures of his life setting (Hendricks 2006). There is an undeniable justice narrative that runs the entire course of the ministry of Jesus, from the time e reads from Isaiah the prophet, that culminates in the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem that informs the gravitas of this Sunday’s celebration. Without recognizing that this moment in history speaks to our time and the interlocking systems of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy that continue to marginalize the least of these any church has been derelict of its duties to bring the Gospel to gathered congregants.

This Palm Sunday is an opportunity to engage in prophetic critique. Prophetic Critique can be defined as principled public criticism of and opposition to systemic injustice (O. Hendricks 2011). Here is a week in the liturgical calendar where a liturgy of resistance is not optional, it is the work of acknowledgement.  Christian communities must learn how to work vigorously for the change that is possible, to mourn over the persistent and seemingly ineradicable evils, and to celebrate the good where it happens and whoever its agents are (Volf 2011).  My hope is that this Palm Sunday our congregations will come alive with the fire of implacable Justice. That the focus of our experience together will be the message of Jesus who spoke from the margins to the center of power in ways that caused the surrounding community to find the courage to be true to the truth.

I invite you to leave comments below and let’s start a conversation about the power of Palm Sunday!

 

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Hendricks, Obrey. 2006. The Politics of jesus. New York: Three Leaves Press.

Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of the Black Church:Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. New York: New York University Press.

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A Critique

bibleIt is said that theology arises from the freedom and responsibility of the Christian community to inquire about its faith in God (Migliore 2014).  This is for me true, and yet I see the responsibility of theology to continually examine the proclamation of the church by continually critiquing and revising the language of the church. (Cone 1997)  This critique is always considering the tradition of the church and the praxis of Jesus. The contemporary church may be missing its opportunity to live into its primary task. We are now faced with national and global evils of epic proportions that call for religious communities to respond  with a clarion call to action. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us of three evils in the twentieth century that only become magnified in our own time. These three evils are materialism, racism, and militarism  (Cornel West 2014).

Materialism is the spiritual catastrophe that underlines the wicked behaviors that fosters empire. Capitalistic greed promoted by a corporate-media complex has so hardened the hearts of the bourgeoisie that poverty and its egregious effects have become acceptable human conditions. This materialism lies is the root of modern racism and militarism and has become so pervasive in the church that it has silenced the prophetic critique that is fundamental to the message of Jesus. The opportunity of the church is to take seriously the lived reality and embodiment of Jesus (Wallace 2002). The poor Jewish Jesus with his non-normative body shows up with an anti-imperialist message over against the religious tradition of his time.  It is Jesus who unhinges the relationship between the underprivileged and the privileged: born in a manger and becoming King of the Jews without amassing either wealth or military might. Centering the lived reality of Jesus in all of our liturgical functions must become a priority of all those who claim the message of Jesus.

Racism is the moral catastrophe born of materialism in the context of the United States. From the beginning of its insidious functions on the shores of North America, religion has been used to justify the inhumane treatment of multiple people groups based on the social construct known as race. If culture comprises a people’s total social heritage, including language, ideas, habits, beliefs, customs, social organizations, and traditions etc., then white culture built on white religion and theology certainly exists in the United States (Douglas 1999). White-supremacist thinking, rooted in metaphysical dualism, socialized citizens of this nation to think in binaries such as good/bad and black/white. This has been the ideological rationale for the domination permeating our nation’s religious thought and shaping its most powerful institutions (hooks 2003). The Church is invited in this moment when racism is espoused so openly at the highest level of government to call for a moral revolution that centers the idea of imago dei.  For the Christian, it is immutable that all souls are of sacred value and made equally in the image of God. This must be of utmost importance in the constructs and substance of our liturgies and community outreach.

Militarism is an imperial catastrophe produced by a military-industrial complex that was nurtured in the womb of materialism. It was fed on the milk of racism and once again religion has been its teacher.  The particular genius of imperialism is found in its capacity to delude so much of the world into the belief that it is caviling primitive cultures when in fact it is grossly exploiting them (Cornel West 2014). For those who claim the Christian faith, our human interactions rest on the ethic of neighbor love; this is true of all great religions.  The aftermath of violence is bitterness and often tragic rage.  Our nation has become so immune to the ravages of war we no longer bother to declare or end wars. We are in constant violation of the ethic of neighbor love.  The church must fulfill the prophetic call to speak truth to power and seek peace and that must be woven into the fabric of every liturgical moment.

There is much for us to do to call our nation and our world to live into the highest of human potential, and the Church has the means and systems to do it. Will we rise to the occasion or become tragic victims of the culture?

 

Peace Is Possible,

 +Donalson

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin. | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Cornel West, Christa Buschendorf. 2014. Black Prophetic Fire. Boston : Beacon Press.

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

hooks, bell. 2003. Rock My Soul. New York: Atria Books.

Migliore, Daniel L. 2014. Faith Seeking Understanding: AnIntroduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Wallace, Maurice O. 2002. Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in Afircan American Men’s Liturature and Culture 117-1995. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

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She Matters

chapel6 copyThe work and wisdom of women has been the backbone of our Christian churches, and the same can be said of most of the world’s religious communities. It is interesting in light of this reality that most of our God-talk has been gendered masculine. This is probably because while the work and wisdom of women has been the sustaining and advancing of our Christian communities, all too often the great majority of leadership in those same communities has been vested in the hands of men. And I know my Biblical literalist siblings will attribute this to God’s mandated male leadership, but that is a conversation that overlooks some real Biblical truths in favor of one Biblical interpretation. The literalist assertion of univocity between human language about God and God fails to appreciate and see the nuance of the most basic characteristic of religious and theological language: It’s iconoclastic character. All language about God is a human construction and therefore misses the mark of all that God is. I would like to lift some truths and raise some questions because as the father of an amazing and gifted daughter, I am acutely aware that she matters.

The Christian Bible teaches that God is spirit. Spirit is a disembodied reality; therefore God is neither male nor female.  The Bible also teaches that we are all made in the image of God, therefore both men and women are equally created in God’s image. If these things be true then God is neither male nor female. This spirit, which is beyond gender binaries, is the creative source of all and is diminished in our mind by ouIMG_4874r propensity to gender our references to God.  God is neither male nor female; rather God is both male and female and beyond. If we use pronouns which are exclusively male or female we fall into idolatry forgetting that God is beyond either (McFague 1987). Since God has no biological realities, when we speak of God as beyond male and female, we are really speaking specifically about the characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity. Since God has no material embodiment it becomes important to say that God is spirit. Spirit is life or intelligence, conceived of entirely apart from physical embodiment. It is vital essence, force, energy, as distinct from matter (Holmes, The Science of Mind 1997). My distinct theology says that God is beyond gender and yet present in every point of the gender continuum. This God force or Allness is manifested in human genders in all the beautiful arrays of gender identities that manifest themselves, in that all are created in the imago dei. Using images of God in our theology and liturgical moments that are rooted in masculine antiquity tends to speak to a cultural understanding that no longer exists (James 1996).

Names matter because how we name something is to a great extent what it is to us.  When we gender God as male, we move in our minds from metaphorical language about God to concretizing God as a man, forgetting that this merely anthropomorphic language.  We are preeminent creatures of language, and though language does not exhaust human reality, it qualifies it in profound ways (McFague 1987).  It follows then that if naming can be hurtful, it can also be helpful. Names mean that we see and are seen. The sin of naming God only in the masculine is we do not see our sisters and we ask them not to see themselves in the Divine. Our God-talk then becomes a subordination and oppression of women and their embodiment and lived realities.

In solidarity with my sisters, I would like to invite the whole church to live into an ethic of liberation which arises out of a new sense of love, for ourselves and for all humanity (Williams 1993). I would like to invite us to image the femininity of the Divine in ways we lift the feminine character of God in all of our liturgical moments. In this we will ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.

 

Works Cited

Holmes, Ernest. 1997. The Science of Mind. New York: G.P. Putnums Sons.

James, David C. 1996. What Are They Saying About Masculine Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press.

McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness . Maryknoll: Orbis.

 

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