Lessons from Jesus

After a week of examining the ministry of Jesus, which culminates with the triumph of love over death, I have been reminded of some notable insights. The work of Jesus reminds us that the prophetic instinct always discomforts the comfortable and comforts the discomforted. Idolatry in its most basic form is a human attempt to evade or deny the contingency or fragility of any human construct (including government and religion). Just as in the time of Jesus, modern attempts to ossify, petrify, or freeze human creations of method, technique, rationality, sexuality, nationality, race, or empire are suspect. The prophetic work of Jesus was not about predicting outcomes but rather to identify concrete evils (West 2002). Much of what passes for prophetic ministry in today’s vernacular is missing the complete picture of the prophetic ministry of Jesus.

The social teachings of Jesus: respect for the person; service as “summum bonum”; overcoming evil with good; and the equality of humanity situate him as a radical revolutionary prophet  (Rustin 2012). 

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These teachings are diametrically opposed to contemporary popular culture. If culture comprises a people’s total social heritage including language, ideas, habits, beliefs, customs, social organizations, and traditions etc., then we are in need of the message of Jesus in every cultural outlet known to humanity (Douglas 1999).  The prison industrial complex, the military industrial complex, imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchy, all in service to laissez faire market capitalism which neglects the poor, undermines the dignity of labor, threatens the environment, and glorifies greed; makes the prophetic message of Jesus completely countercultural. This countercultural message is as relevant and necessary today as it was over two thousand years ago.   The gospel of Jesus accents decision, commitment, engagement, and action which transforms what is in the light of that which should be. It does so because Jesus recognizes the dignity of persons is their ability to contradict what is, to change and be changed, and to act in light of that which is not –yet. This also recognizes the depravity of persons is their proclivity to cling to the moment, to refuse to transform or be transformed. This situates the proper loci of Christianity in the center of this worldly liberation and other worldly salvation (West 2002).

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The teaching of Jesus can best be described as a seamless garment, a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death (McCoy 2015).  The ethics that emerge in the teaching of Jesus show God’s defense and vindication of the oppressed, a critique of the dominant systems of power and their powerholders, the vision of a new age to come in which injustice is overcome by the reign of peace and justice for all. They are ethics that denounce religious ideologies and social systems that function to justify and sanctify the dominant unjust social order (Ruether 1993). We can no longer pretend be followers of Jesus without wearing the seamless garment of these ethics with courage. The real work of following Jesus retaining our prophetic critique in order to speak truth to power knowing we cannot assimilate or incorporate because we dare not render unintelligible the radical mess

age of progress that happens when you point to the ethic of Jesus.

From Jesus’ personal mission statement taken from the book of Isaiah to His last moments intimate moments with His disciples, his ministry was focused on service. He was consistently serving the needs of individuals and the community. The work he did to maintain his ministry was minimal in comparison to the work he did to benefit the individual and redirect power in the social space.  It is easy for those in power and those with privilege to ignore the emphasis of Jesus on social service and redirect the attention to

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otherworldly attributes because they can escape the call to service that central to following Jesus. For those on the margins this is not so easy because the conditions of tyranny that they suffer on a daily basis and the attacks on their very embodiment are most in need of the attention of Jesus and His modern followers. I am grateful to be reminded of the person and work of Jesus. I am personally called to lean into the invitation to take up my own cross and follow Jesus in this way of being in the world. The road is rough, and the going is tough, and the hills are hard to climb, but I have decided to make the way of Jesus my choice.

Feel Free to Comment Below!

Non schola, sed vitae,

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

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church:A Womanist Perspective . Maryknoll: Orbis .

McCoy, John A. 2015. A Still and Queit Conscience: The Archbishop WHo Challenged a Pope, a President, and a Church . Maryknoll: Orbis.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1993. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston : Beacon Press .

Rustin, Bayard. 2012. I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters. Edited by Micheal G Long. San Francisco: City Light Books.

West, Cornel. 2002. Prophsey Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity . Louiseville: John Knox Press.

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The Death of the Cross

An honest analysis of Holy Week invites us to take seriously the death of Jesus. It is easy to rush to the glorious resurrection and the triumph of life over death, but if we are ever to take seriously the power of the resurrection, we must be radically acquainted with death. For those of us living in the contemporary moment the paradox of a crucified Jesus at the heart of the Christian story is amplified when we look at the reality of modern government sanctioned executions of innocent persons. This paradox is particularly evident as we consider crucifixion was a particular form of torture reserved by the Roman Empire for insurrectionists and rebels, and our own nation has often used capital punishment in much the same

way (Cone 2011). The cross of Jesus, a paradoxical religious symbol, inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  Maybe this year as we engage Holy Week we should really look at the Jesus of the crucifixion.

The poor Jewish Jesus with his non-normative body shows up in Palestine 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. By meeting needs of the poor, hungry, those without healthcare, and the mentally ill, Jesus becomes popular with the masses. It is not from the center of power and privilege he moves the crowds but by serving the needs of the people.  The narrative of the life of Jesus highlights his lived reality as a practicing Jew living in a territory controlled by Roman political, military, and economic forces. Jesus through preaching and practice, in living and behavior performed masculinity in ways that opposed patriarchal expressions of maleness (Copeland 2010). Any nonnormative behavior from those who will engage the act of leadership leads to the death of a cross.

The cross of Jesus is moored to his engagement as a political operative and revolutionary.  The message he proclaimed not only called for change in individual hearts but also demanded sweeping and comprehensive change in the political, social, and economic structures in his setting in life: colonized Israel. If Jesus had his way, neither the Roman Empire and the ruling elites among his own people would have held their positions of power (Hendricks 2006). The cross follows a call for a radical redistribution of authority and power, goods, and resources in favor of those on the margins of society.

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Jesus’ awareness of his ministry charge, noted in Luke 4:18, was in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah; therefore, if leaders are to be faithful to the work of Jesus they will engage prophetic praxis. This engagement will always cause them to risk popularity and possibly even safety.   Sallie McFague, a prolific feminist theologian, taught that if one understands the life and death of Jesus as a parable of God’s relation to the world, then being a Christian means to be willing to look “God-wards” through the Jesus story. Further, one is constrained to ask how that story is significant now (1987). This is of great import in that what makes theology distinctively Christian is its analysis in light of the person and work of Jesus. The cross is the destination on the way to resurrection that the leader must prepare for. Such vulnerability for leaders includes the task of critical theological reflection; this should result in leaders who think critically about the role of family formation in their own history, their ecclesial formation, and their social context.  All this is needed to be faithful to Gospel values as seen in the person and work of Jesus (Francis 2015).  May we become radically acquainted with the cross in this Holy Week.

Non schola, sed vitae,

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. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Francis, Leah Gunnning. 2015. Fergusen & Faith: Sparking Leadership & Awakening Community. St. Louis : Chalice Press.

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

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

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The Palm Sunday Crowd

Palm Sunday has historically focused on the Triumphant Entry of Jesus. It has centered the narrative of Jesus’ prophetic critique of the Roman government delivered through an act of political satire that mocked imperialism and its pageantry. Prophetic critique can be defined as a principled public criticism of and opposition to systematic injustice and Jesus ride through the center of town on a lowly donkey surely qualifies this scene (Hendricks 2011). What we rarely talk about is what this moment may have been for those bore witness to the scene. Why would they cheer and celebrate this liberative movement, and yet a week later those same crowds cried out for Jesus to receive the death penalty? What was it about these people that caused them to respond in vastly different ways to the same voice of liberation?

I submit, that the crowds of oppressed people born under Roman occupation, suffered from self-hate and oppression sickness.  Oppression sickness is internalized oppression that causes the oppressed to be infected by the sickness of the oppressor (Flunder 2005). It happens when people who are oppressed begin to see themselves in the same way the oppressor sees them and causes the oppressed who long for freedom to reject those who speak of freedom.  There is often immense struggle for oppressed or exploited groups to have or maintain a standpoint on which to critique dominant structures because in their own minds the experience of the oppressor confers special jurisdiction over the right to speak about oppression (hooks 1994).  That is to say the experience of having no voice teaches people to remain voiceless, and one exceptional voice of liberation is often not enough to sustain a movement toward liberation.

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One definition of a prophet is a person who threatens a culture’s power structure by holding up a mirror to its folly and showing where such folly leads. Jesus observed that societies kill those prophets and when the threat of their prophetic voice is gone, they build monuments to the prophets and to watered down, sanitized versions of the teaching of those prophets. They are no longer then cultural critics, rather they become tools of the dominant power structures of those cultures. Jesus obviously intuited this would be his own fate and yet engaged his role in the epoch fiercely (Pearce 2002). Oppressed people struggle to identify the voice of the prophet until they are handed a sanitized version of the prophet, at which time they begin to question the narrative and move toward the potency of the true message. We see this very scenario played out in the lives of Malcolm X, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Creaser Chavez, and Ignacio Martín-Baró, S.J.  

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What the crowd failed to realize is the same thing that oppressed people everywhere must learn. It is only through rejection of oppression – which is always defined as rebellion – that liberation comes. Truly the message of Jesus was love, and the only way to demonstrate true love of self and of the oppressor alike is to rebel against the tyranny of domination. Paradoxical though it may seem love may only be found in the wholesale rejection of the violence of oppression (Freire 2000).  Jesus’ act of political resistance was seen by Rome as a threat in that oppressors conditioned by the experience of oppressing others will always see anything other than dominating as a violation of their sovereign rights. The crowd had not moved far enough toward internal freedom and decolonization to recognize the messenger of hope in the moment as signal that true liberation had come.

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Jesus engages a pedagogy of the oppressed in this moment as prophetic praxis. The crowd fails to engage this learning movement because the threat of freedom was far greater than they had been conditioned to process and yet the moment is not lost on us as we look back through the privileged lens of history.   I wonder how far we have really come as we engage our celebration of Palm Sunday? Do we see this as an opportunity to speak truth to power and call the attention of our congregation to the dominating forces of evil? Are we in danger of repeating the mistake of the crowd in not recognizing how imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy violently marginalizes the masses while the wealthiest one percent have become a ruling class? Will we cry hosanna while doing nothing to support those voices who bear witness to our freedom? Who will we be in this moment?

Non schola, sed vitae,

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

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where The Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgram Press.

Freire, Paulo. 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury.

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

hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

Pearce, Joseph Chilton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street Press.

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Musings on Theological Education

The traditional model for theological education in the West has for years featured a banking method of instruction. The banking model featured a sage on the stage dumping information into the assumedly empty heads of students who were expected to regurgitate the thoughts and ideas of learned professors. Somehow our institutions of higher learning have come to see knowledge as a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those they consider to know little or nothing (Freire 2000).  Theological scholarship of a Western Anglo-Teutonic nature upholds a hegemonic view of sacred text and disinherits voices from the margins in the quest of faith seeking understanding. Much of the difficulty in moving our theological thoughts in a progressive direction is rooted in teaching methodology that upholds bias toward the supremacy of the dominant culture. Theologies are about power…. These discourses and seminary pedagogies are about the hegemony of power- the distribution and the economy of this power (Cone 2018). 

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A full eighty percent of the faculty teaching in ATS (Association of Theological Schools) accredited institutions in 2017 where white (Young 2018). Given the abundant weight of dominant voices and the overwhelming preference for the western banking model of education, seminaries and schools of theology have often been repositories for colonization. In the banking system of education, the assumptive narrative is that memorizing information and regurgitating it represents gaining knowledge that has been properly deposited, leaving little room for resistance discourse or counter-cultural critique (hooks 1994).  Perhaps one of the reasons there is a steady decline in the enrollment of most seminaries and schools of theology is that they are woefully tone deaf to the voices of those on the margins. The faculty fails to embody and reflect the reality of the communities who most engage organized religion and there is little education for critical consciousness.  While I have heard countless arguments regarding the reasons for the decline in enrollment, few are taking seriously that the pedagogy of our religious institutions is out of sync with the needs of our society.

It might serve us well to reconsider a new pedagogical framework entirely for theological education. I suggest that our programs begin to feature voices from the margins who traffic in education for critical consciousness. This pedagogy makes oppression and its causes objects of reflection by the oppressed, and from that reflection will come their necessary engagement in the struggle for their liberation (Freire 2000).  Forty-two percent of students enrolled in ATS accredited institutions self-identify as being other than the dominant culture and yet their stories are still not centered in the academic enterprise and the majority of their instruction is not by people who share their narrative (Young 2018).  How revolutionary would it be if these voices, along with women and other minoritized communities, were centered in institutions that make the classroom a democratic setting where everyone feels a responsibility to contribute to the central goal of expanding the conversation? It would be interesting to see religious education where the experience and the voice of the students was centered on par with the academic training of the professor?

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Accepting the decentering of the West globally, embracing multiculturalism, compels educators to focus attention on the issue of voice. A focus on who is speaking and who is listening rather than seeing students as passive consumers in the educative process would be transformational for many seminaries. This is the revival that is needed in the halls of religious education. Religion does change and religions do change and often that change is superficial before it is structural and systemic, but if religious education as we know it is to survive in the contemporary moment, our systems of religious education must catch up to the changes already in the making (Frazier 1974).  

Heretofore much religious education in the West has lacked integrity. While holding forth lofty aims such as freedom, equality, and justice to be central to the message of the Gospel, there has been an absolute failure to create learning environments and outcomes which reflect these very virtues. Integrity is the integration of ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs, and behaviors. When our behavior is congruent with our professed values, when ideals and practice match, we have integrity (hooks, Rock My Soul 2003). The current sociopolitical landscape is inviting religious education to a new integrity where its own praxis and pedagogy become the sight of liberating education.

Feel free to comment below!

Non schola, sed vitae,

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

Works Cited

Cone, James H. 2018. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Frazier, E. Franklin. 1974. The Negro Church in America . New York: Schocken Books.

Freire, Paulo. 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury.

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

—. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

Young, Mary H. 2018. Committee on Race and Ethnicity: Cultivating Educational Capacity Conference . Pittsburgh : The Association of Theological Schools.

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