Race Around the Web

August 28, 2008

I direct your attention to two somewhat related posts regarding race and ethnicity.

The first post (on Emergent Village) by Anthony Smith challenges those non-voting white folks who encourage black folks to abstain from voting. Here’s a snippet:

Voting, as it is oftentimes seen by historically marginalized groups, is a precious gift. It is not seen, within the language game of the prophetic black church, as a form of violence. That voting is seen as means of violence can only come from Christians who don’t know what it is like to be without the gift. This is why the loudest voices for political disengagement on Gospel grounds tend to be of lighter hue. It is another form of advantage to eschew voting. I profoundly agree with Christians engaging in anti-imperial practices or pro-kingdom activities that give sign to another world in our midst. But understand my suspicion. I am postmodern, after all.

This is a great issue worthy of serious consideration. I’m thinking of a response to Anthony’s weighty and compelling article.

The second post is a forum conversation taking place at Submergent’s website regarding the ethnic mix of folks involved on that social website. The post is raising issues of unity and diversity, privilege and oppression, etc. In the comments, Eliacin Rosario-Cruz offers the following insight:

It is not enough to wait until gender diversity/multiculturalism just simply happen. To wait on that is to perpetuate the “Luxury of Obliviousness” in which white males can afford to be oblivious to the injustice and the marginalization of women and people of color. Women and people of color cannot afford to wait until the mono-cultural/mono-gender group decide when to “include” them. The embrace of the “other” need to be intentional from the beginning. If gender diversity and multiculturalism is not part of the DNA, then is a later add-on. Women and people of color are not accessories to be added later on. Many of us believe God’s Kingdom will be formed by a large multicultural multitude, if so, then we are called to represent that multitude and live in that reality now…The lack of voices/participation of women and people of color in the church represents a chromosomal disorder in the Body of Christ.

How do we meaningfully address the social/economic/racial/ethnic/gender within our communities, organizations, and movements?

How do we foster diversity among websites and web networks when a majority of users are still, it seems, white men?

The Beliefsale

August 26, 2008


The laying down of my life

is beginning to look like a garage sale.

As the sun rises over suburban horizons

dew is gathering on boxes of

possessiveness and dogmatism


          but readily negotiable.

A blanket on the pavement

has all my individualisms

spread out, with a sign that reads

“25 cents each.”

You see

I had previously been tempted to sell a few old ideas

(if only to make room for new ones)

but today I´m selling the whole cabinet

          drawers included

          make me an offer.

Instead of buying new ideas

          to replace the old ones

          like I’ve always done

(I think I´d rather rent.)

And as for the basics

the permanent

the non-negotiables

not for sale?

A scroll on the post of my door

is more than big enough.


Author Bio:: Ted is a poet who is currently pretending to be a missionary in Paraguay. When stateside, he enjoys shopping at garage sales with his wife, Sarah. You can read about their adventures at their website,

Autumn=more articles?

August 25, 2008

It has been a good year for Jesus Manifesto. Our reader base is widening and the quality of content is deepening. Only two things remain: we need more content and we are due for a redesign. We’ve got some folks working on the latter, but I need you’re help on the former.

Over the past year, we’ve had a lot of submissions, but over the summer, submissions have slowed. Now would be a great time to submit articles to JM. Here are four good reasons to write for JM:

  1. Lots of people will read your article.
  2. You can link to your own website in the author profile, which will increase web traffic to your own site.
  3. You’re likely to receive a good amount of comments.
  4. You’ll be contributing to a growing, robust online community of thoughtful people committed to Christ-centered praxis.

Click here to submit an article. Don’t be shy. If we decide not to run your submission, we’ll try to give you constructive feedback.

The Style of Subversion Part 3: A Loving Resistance

August 25, 2008

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Evangelism for the Ordinary Radical

August 17, 2008

“So, are you an anarchist?” my upstairs neighbor Jonah asked.  I had just told him about this website that dabbles in Christian Anarchy from time to time, and such an obscure topic had evidently snagged his curiosity.

“Well, no, not quite.  I figure if all that talk in the New Testament and our Christmas hymns about ‘Jesus is king of kings and lord of lords,’ and ‘joy to the world, the Lord has come: let Earth receive her king,’ is true, then those are massively political claims, far bigger than cute figures of speech to sooth the sin-sacked soul.  So, yeah, if I believe that, then that has big implications for my politics.” I then rambled on about embodying an alternative politic in community, not primarily pursuing state action — you know the rest.

Jonah had a slight grin arising from somewhere between hesitation and fascination.  Unsure of where to take the conversation from there, I quickly shifted our chat to the situation in Georgia, Hugo Chavez, and Mercosur.  The topic of Jesus and his kingdom didn’t return to the conversation.

As I left from there for a bike ride, my mind was flooded with questions about why I am still so bashful in talking to non-Christian about all this “Jesus as King” business. The spiritual-mystical side of Christianity and the gospel are easy to talk about, but the revolutionary and political stuff doesn’t come half as naturally to me when talking to non-followers.

The existence and love of God?  Sure.  Holy Spirit stuff?  Yep, I can contextualize that reality no problem.  I’ve even been known to talk about the Trinity’s implications for personal identity and community life to non-Christians before without much hesitation.

But this “Jesus is King” thing… it feels so hard to explain this.  A revolution/radical/counter-imperial framing of the biblical story and gospel puts a lump in my throat.

Maybe it’s because my journey into a radical Christianity took place mostly within seminary, where I can talk about this stuff at that level.  Heck, a couple years ago I even wrote a paper for an evangelism class about gospel-as-revolution.  While my theology has shifted somewhat since writing that paper, I still stand by it as broadly biblical.  Yet I see now that I wrote it with the hope of it radicalizing other Christians who read it.  It was my smarmy twenty-something way of tolling the bell of dissidence in a dispensational school.  But my language about a radical faith still only seems to make any sense to those with a basic sense of the biblical story.  My revolution-bent theology is entirely calibrated toward a well-read Christian conversation partner.  Who was I trying to evangelize: Christians or non-Christians?

Un-fixing the Chasm

I doubt I am alone in this anxiety.  It’s so hard to explain “Jesus-as-my-King” to non-Christian coworkers and neighbors.  My coworker Hazel asked me once why I practice abstinence: “Is that from, like, religious convictions?”  “Kinda,” I stammered.  “It’s really more political than it is religious,” I continued, before our work duties cut the conversation short.

For as post-Christendom, postmodern, and utterly New-Agey as many like Hazel are, I meet many of them who are ensnared by the Enlightenment-era lie that the spiritual and the political are entirely discrete and separate things.  It’s the founding dualism of the democratic West: that there is a chasm forever fixed between theology-spirituality-mysticism-religion-private and politics-ethics-sex-economics-public. Sexual ethics, goes the lie, finds roots in fearful heel-clicking to the religious magesterium by sheeply pew-fillers, not out of our affectionate allegiance to a living King of the Earth.  Folk like Hazel (and most American Christians, at that!) are struck with cognitive dissonance when we answer their questions about our spirituality or ethics with a political and this-worldly answer.

All the more difficult is explaining this gospel-as-revolution-of-Jesus business to them!  Before I can explain darn-near anything to anyone about the gospel, the kingdom, or the King, I will need to explain my divergence from the lie of political-spiritual dualism.

Un-polishing the Gospel

But the need for such throat-clearing in good-news-ing grinds sharply against my evangelical upbringing and present instincts. Good-news-ing should be sharp and clear and reasonably quick,” say those instincts, “Not bogged down with all this gobbldigoop about some far flung public/private dualism.  Dualism shmuialism, Brandon: Jesus is at stake here!

A deeper voice than evangelicalism pesters me, too, for a more polished good-news-ing: the American Pragmatist in me says, “Oh, you can explain all that revolution hoo-ha once they’re in the fold and have Jesus in their heart.  Just give them a very basic pitch for now.  The political offense of the gospel can come later.”  There are times where that logic is apt.  The basic truth of God’s inescapable love, or of His broad intentions for the world, are enough (and to be sure God’s revolution fits most snugly within the framework of the love of the Triune God, not the other way ’round).  But usually, the gospel also carries a hard public edge in the New Testament.  Jesus’ upside-down kingdom proclamation and carry-your-cross invite rattled many.  And Paul’s claim that the true Lord of the world is, of all people, a crucified backwoods Jew was at least as pitiably, foolishly amusing as it was vulgarly offensive to the Greeks.  The array of good-news-ing given us in the Bible reminds us of the occasional brandishing of this gospel’s revolutionary and radical edge.  The marketing sensibilities of evangelicalism and American Pragmatism never get the last word on God’s gospel.

More than that, I take comfort in the various ways that the people we meet in the Bible tell the good news.  Some, like Isaiah, see it from a distance and describe it as the curse being undone (last bit of ch 55).  Others, like Jesus, describe it as the coming of the kingdom of God.  Paul says its Jesus crucified, or Jesus risen, or Jesus ascended and ruling, or Jesus crucified and risen and ascended and ruling.  Sometimes Paul says the cross is propitiatory, and other times it is the victory of God.  John scribes it out within the context of love, while other bits of the NT just call it a trusting, loving allegiance to Yahweh.

Sometimes it’s personal, other times it’s emphatically public.  Sometimes it’s fashioned to contrast with the Temple, other times with someone’s self-idolatry, other times with Caesar himself.  For me to get caught up by this lump in my throat about the political edge being in every single sharing of the gospel is as silly as trying to collapse all that diversity in biblical good-news-ing into one sharp formula. I’m doing the same offense to the gospel in trying to mold it after revolution as many evangelicals are in trying to hammer it into four spiritual laws or four circles on a napkin.  They’ve all got a purpose and a place.  God help me to see and celebrate this!

And that’s another beauty about the gospel: we can trust in its power no matter who’s telling it, how they’re telling it, or to whom they’re telling it.  When it comes naturally to me as God’s revolution, then I will feel gloriously free and secure in telling it that way.  When it bubbles up to a coworker as simply God’s inescapable love, and that revolution-skew is put off for later, the radical in me needn’t feel insecure and marginalized.

In the meantime, I ask Father, Bless me and my community with a fresh zeal for evangelizing about the Jesus Revolution that’s as fervent as that of any Obama fan, and as Spirit-filled as that of any mainstream evangelical.

The Style of Subversion Part 2: Resisting Pseudo Alterity

August 12, 2008

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Going Public with My Privates (part 3 of 3)

August 11, 2008

…on becoming post-(whatever I was).

After talking about my brief movement in evangelical fundamentalism rather than evangelical liberalism (part 1), and discussion how they really are not that different (part 2), what needs to be rethought now is that we must abandon the movement from private to public altogether, and this abandonment is what I finally emerged into (all three parts are best read together, otherwise the innuendo will be lost…)

Beyond the Private

We must stop trying to find the right mixture of, or the correct position on the spectrum between Fundamental/Evangelical/Liberal.   We must repudiate the ground, or rather the gene pool, from which both spring.  The common heritage from which Fundamentalism, Liberalism, and Evangelicalism springs are the very dichotomies we have been investigating: private/ public; individual/communal.

The Church never conceives of a movement from private to public, or individual to communal. Rather there is always merely the public and the communal.  We can see this most clearly when we consider the obsession Fundamentalists and Liberals have with the family. Both are totally fixated on the family, and for good reason.  For modern politics, the family is the interface between private and public life.  The family moves between the oikos of the home and the polis of society.  It is the source and symptom of culture.  Fundamentalists desire to protect the family from what they see as the corrupting influences of culture, while Liberals want to infuse the family with all the liberating elements of their progressive culture.  But this battle over the family (over sexual difference, over gender roles, and identity formation) only makes sense if we already assume that these two areas are actually separate, that there is a movement from one to the other, from the private to the public and back again.

But the Church is both oikos (household, family) and polis (city, society), and therefore beyond both.  There is nothing private about the Church.  In a sense, simultaneously as the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ, being one union (for marriage is only a picture of the union between Christ and His Church), the Church has no privates. Everything is revealed.  Everything is exposed.  What the sexual revolution attempted to accomplish in society, the Church has already accomplished. The Church has already subverted all categories of society, of social structuring, based in or outside the family, which is why the early Church was persecuted so viciously.  The Church, as both Bride and Body of Christ, exists beyond essential sexual distinctions, and therefore beyond distinctions of public and private.

Beyond the Public

What this means, therefore, concerning our initial question is that we cannot rest contented moving beyond Evangelicalism by going public either as Liberals or Fundamentalists.  There is no lasting life, no potent seed, springing from this marriage.  Only prolonged infertility.

Rather, whatever it might mean to be post/progressive-evangelical, it would mean to affirm the centrality of the Church as its own public display of the Gospel, which has never been, nor could be private.

“But will not the perspective that the Church is always public, lead straight to fideism (epistemology) and sectarianism (sociology)?”

Yes, it will! But I would counter that these criticisms only spring from the project of universal reason (epistemology) and the myth of the public square (sociology), both of which created the divisions (private/public; individual/communal) which we are trying to subvert.  These are not really criticisms at all; merely a modern nostalgia unable to cope with the present reality.

By affirming the centrality of the Church as public we dismiss the rhetoric from the Left (the keepers of the public sphere) which police religious language, submitting it to an equally private notion of universal reason (and do not be fooled by recent rhetoric by presidential hopefuls).  We reject the rhetoric from the Right seeking to legislate private morality without reference to the social good.  And we refuse the idea that there is any conception of the Good outside the Gospel (and its living witness in the Church). By this we will insist that the Church, not the State, is God’s means of salvation.  For far too long the State has persisted in the myth that it keeps the public peace by means of private policing.  But this only fosters a more insidious violence, and a perpetual war on terrorism.

We the Church must develop more self-confidence, not assuming ourselves merely one soul among many hoping to be infused into the Frankensteinian body of the state.  We already have a body, a flesh in which we are living.  We are the public Body of Christ, and as such we must continue to proclaim to the world, “This is my body, given for you.”

go as poor among the poor…

August 7, 2008

“The Church must be free to be poor in order to minister among the poor. The Church must trust the Gospel enough to come among the poor with nothing to offer the poor except the Gospel, except the power to discern and the courage to expose the Gospel as it is already mediated in the life of the poor…When the Church has the freedom itsdeelf to be poor among the poor, it will know how to use what riches it has. When the Church has that freedom, it will know also how to minister among the rich and powerful. When the Church has that freedom, it will be a missionary people again in all the world. When the Church has the freedom to go out into the world with merely the Gospel to offer the world, then it will know how to use whatever else it has–money and talent and buildings and tapestries and power in politics–as sacraments of its gift of its own life to the world, as tokens of the ministry of Christ.”

–William Stringfellow in A Private and Public Faith, 1962

Every time I read this quote, my mind trips over it…and it confirms something that the Spirit has been agitating in my gut: our job as the Church isn’t to redistribute wealth. Nor is our job so condescending as to share in our “blessings” or to “live simply so that others may simply live.” I’m not saying that wealthy people should keep hoarding wealth or that we should live a life of consumer whoredom.

But when we put such socio-economic concerns in the wrong perspective, we tell God’s story all wrong. It is like starting a joke with the punchline.

Jesus isn’t some sort of Religious Robin Hood. His mission wasn’t simply to redistribute assets from the powerful to the powerless, from the oppressor to the oppressed, from the wealthy to the poor. Rather, it was to name the poverty and powerlessness and oppression of all people and to bring freedom. Freedom from ourselves, freedom from our violence, freedom from sin. And that freedom only comes when we let the Gospel–the reality that God is with us in Christ Jesus–transform us.

Jesus offers freedom from oppression. That is good news, both the the oppressors and the oppressed. Both the fat American and his skinnier global counterpart are enslaved by the same global system of oppression. They are both crushed in the gears of a demonic machine. It is from that machine that Jesus came to set us free. And once we have that freedom, we can be free to do other things…like give our affluence to the poor. Or speak to the Powers. Or realize that no Man can oppress us, since we are already free.

I’ve realized that I sometimes get things mixed up. It is easy to replace the radical message of Christ for something like the radical message of Marx. They aren’t even close to the same thing.

And I have cringed when talking about the Gospel on occasion because I mistakenly allowed the word “Gospel” to be defined by traditional Evangelicalism, where the tendency is to use the word to signify something like a legal transaction by which the penalty for our sin has been taken by the death of a god-man, and that this message must simply be affirmed for the transaction to take place.

The solution to that mistake isn’t simply to exchange it for its Liberal counterpart (which, like Evangelicalism, privatizes the faith except for that dimension of our faith that is useful for affirming progressive socio-political agendas).

Nor is the solution to do what so many are doing these days: to simply wed the two views into some sort of hideous chimera. We can put makeup and a dress on this chimera, but it will still remain an ugly beast.

The Kingdom of God is here. It is in and among us just as the King is in and among us. Why do we refuse to let that reality shape our imaginations? Why do we, instead, act as though all we have to offer the world is either the precepts of Christ (as filterd through Marx) made manifest through a better society (as one group would have us do) or the meaning of the Cross (as filtered through the Reformation then through Evangelicalism) as reproducable on a Gospel Tract?

The first group renders the Kingdom into a progressive utopia. The second into a theological abstraction. But what if we were to try to understand it as a present reality?

Red Letters: Living a Faith that Bleeds

August 6, 2008

After expressing his apologies to the 50 million individuals in our world infected with HIV/AIDS, Tom Davis goes beyond scolding the Church for its lack of initiative (“Those of us who claim to follow Christ’s teaching should be ashamed…Entire nations are going up in flames while we watch them burn,” p. 13) and challenges those of us who bear the name of Christ to embody a more holistic gospel—a gospel that not only offers the poor life after death, but life well-lived in the now.

With the endorsements of numerous pastors, authors, Hollywood producers, and the CEO of Coca-Cola in his back pocket, Davis holds nothing back in Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds. If you are looking for a hermeneutical take on appropriating the “red letters” (the words of Jesus as recorded in the four Gospels), this book will disappoint. Tom Davis is not on a mission to sway the reader with his theological aptitude, but rather to propel the reader into putting down the paperback and doing something with his or her faith. And it is this that he does very effectively, weaving stories of abandoned children like 13 year old Happiness into the reader’s consciousness, the little girl who lost both parents to AIDS within six months and knows all too well that “death is a criminal” (her own words). Then there is Adanna, whose name means “father’s daughter,” except her father, along with her mother and sister are now gone to AIDS. At 10 years old, she is forced into selling sex to drunken men who will steal her dreams while giving her a loaf of bread.

With stories like these, I felt like a total jerk for even noticing Davis’ use of resources. Wikipedia as an “expert” on World War II (p. 75)? Really? We all use the source on our blogs, but in a published book? And the use of someone’s personal Comcast website as well as just seems sloppy to me (See p. 184 and 186). Couldn’t anyone track down the original sources these sites were quoting? Nevertheless, Red Letters fulfills its purpose. With damning quotes such as “We can’t reach far enough to offer compassion because our arms are too busy holding all that we own” (p. 39), Davis’ writing cuts to the heart and inspires action. And we aren’t in the 1980’s anymore as Davis openly discusses AIDS and its relationship to gang rape and African rituals said to cleanse one of HIV if they have sex with a virgin. All the social stigmas are swept out from under the rug. Every statistic is placed on the table. We then have to ask ourselves the hard question: What will we do? Or as the author puts it “What will our generation be remembered for? YouTube?…Wouldn’t it be better if we could be known for defeating poverty?” (p. 133)

Tom Davis asks us to “live ourselves into a new way of thinking” (quoting Richard Rohr on p. 105). Acting like Jesus, not merely “believing in Jesus,” has the power to reconfigure our souls. Unlike some depressing volumes on poverty that leave the reader unable to breathe, let alone act, Red Letters finishes with some extremely practical “next steps” advice. The centerpiece of the chapter entitled “How to Bleed” is the FIVE FOR 50 plan. The reader is encouraged to take baby steps, first giving five minutes/day to pray, then five hours/week to fast, five dollars/month to the cause, five days/year to personally go and alleviate suffering, and finally, inviting five people to join you on the journey (for more information, see the Five for 50 website). On final glance, I would recommend Ron Sider’s classic Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger for a more theological look into poverty and the Christian response, but Tom Davis’ story-weaving ability and grassroots credibility make Red Letters a quality read for anyone who needs motivating.

To see EVERYTHING that Tom is doing, visit any of the following:
The blog:
The movement:
The coffee:
The ministry:

mere anarchy

August 5, 2008

foundations have to crumble
in order
to break new ground.

The center
that once held
is now
dangling from the fringe.

What is new
may not be true
then again,
what was
was not

questions have to surface
in order
for answers to emerge.

The certainty
that once soothed
is now
scratching to get out.

What is new
may not be sure
then again,
what was
was not

things fall apart
in order
to come together.

The cracks
that once tormented
are now
letting in the light.

What is new
may not be pure
then again,
what was
was not

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