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A Call to Abundant Life: A Manifesto Against Death

[What follows is the transcript of a paper I presented at the theology pub night hosted by Nexus, a church of sorts, in Kitchener.  The conversation that followed was gracious, thoughtful, and enjoyable, so many thanks to those who were willing to engage in this subject matter with me.  Truth be told, although much is abbreviated here, I feel that what I express here summarizes a lot of what I have come to believe based upon my education and experiences over the last twelve or so years.  I also believe that it points the way forward in terms of the avenues that I believe are most worth pursuing if (a) one is committed to the pursuit of life-giving change or (b) one somehow identifies with the Jesus movement.]
A Call to Abundant Life: A Manifesto Against Death
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it (MK 8.34-35).
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being give up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you (2 Cor 4.8-12).

  1. When all is said and done, the God whom Jesus claims to know intimately, and the God who is worshipped by the other authors of the New Testament, is the God of Life.
    1. This is the Trinitarian breakdown:
      1. God the Creator is the Sustainer and Giver of Life (cf. Barth’s CD III.I; Moltmann’s “God in Creation”).
      2. Jesus reveals that this Creator is opposed to all the Powers that operate in the Service of Death and the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that Life will triumph over Death.
      3. The Spirit is the Spirit of Life and dwells within us to empower us to act as agents of Life within a world still in bondage to Death (cf. Jn 6.63; Ro 8.1-10; 2 Cor 3.6; also Moltmann “The Spirit of Life”).
    2. In God we live, in Christ we have the assurance that we will triumph over Death, and in the Spirit we may already begin to triumph over Death here-and-now.
  2. The “worship” of this God of Life can be summarized as the embodiment and actualization of a lived commitment to that which is life-giving and life-affirming (Ro 12.1). Nothing more and nothing less than this is worship of this God.
  3. However, as the New Testament also makes clear, there are other Powers and Principalities who operate against the God of Life and who serve the ultimate enemy, Death (cf. Eph 6.12; Col 1.16, 2.15; 1 Cor 15.26; Rev 20.14).
    1. In this regard, Sin itself is nothing less and nothing more than that which is death-dealing (similar but different: cf. Barth in CD III.II on sin as an ontological impossibility and as a manifestation of non-being). This is why Sin and Death are constantly paired with one another in the Bible. Death enters the world by means of Sin (Ro 5.15) and Sin is the sting of Death (cf. 1 Cor 15.56). Sin is the servant, Death is the master.
    2. While the New Testament suggests that these Powers have some sort of spiritual subjectivity or personality, their material and physical side should be emphasized (cf. Wink’s trilogy). The Powers that are united in the Service of Death are known to us, not so much as living beings, but as institutions and structures that normalize, valourize, and actualize death-dealing practices.
      1. A good way of gaining an understanding of how a “spiritual being” can also be understood as an historical institution is by recalling how contemporary transnational corporations are identified. They are businesses – they are not “alive” – and yet the law recognizes them as people and they are granted the same legal rights as people.
  4. Once we recognize this struggle between the God of Life on one hand and Death on the other hand, one realizes that worshipping God by means of a lived commitment to that which is life-giving and life-affirming, means that one must also embody and actualize a lived commitment to resist and destroy that which is Death-dealing and Death-affirming. This is the war that the authors of the epistle to the Ephesians tell us we are called to wage against the Powers and Principalities (Eph 6.12).
    1. This is also what it means to pursue holiness in opposition to Sin. To be holy is to be set apart from that which is death-dealing for the service of Life and the God of Life.
      1. [To say that righteous justice (or just righteousness) leads to life, and wickedness leads to death, is a tautology (cf. Prov 10.16). Life leads to Life; Death leads to Death.]
  5. In order to worship God well in this two-fold way, we must analyze our context carefully lest we mistake that which is life-giving for that which is death-dealing and vice versa. In my own analysis, I have come to the following conclusions:
  6. First, the single most death-dealing aspect of the way in which we share life together – the single greatest power in the service of Death – is the imposition of hierarchical and unequal power relationships between people.
    1. Anything that institutionalizes, perpetuates, affirms, valourizes, or creates such hierarchies and power divides between people is operating in the service of Death and should be challenged, resisted, avoided, and destroyed by those who seek to worship the God of Life.
      1. This is the first point where we see the connection between Christianity and anarchism. Anarchy literally means “without rulers.” It’s most fundamental commitment is to the establishment of horizontal relationships between equals and it’s most fundamental opposition is to vertical relationships between people.
        1. This is also why anarchy has the potential to succeed where both communism and democracy inevitably fail.
          1. Communism has relied upon a vanguard, an elite group who carries the revolution forward and seizes power on behalf of others. Yet, inevitably, communism fails because this power imbalance leads to further expressions of death-dealing violence and oppression.
          2. Similarly, democracy has relied upon representation, a different kind of elite group who ends up representing elite interests rather than the will of the people. Hence, democracy, too, ends up become another institution invested in perpetuating death-dealing violence and oppression.
        2. Anarchy is structured in such a way as to avoid these pitfalls. This is why I only came to realize that I was an anarchist after having studied the New Testament for over ten years. A few years ago, I read some of the writings of Peter Kropotkin and I realized: “Oh, I already am an anarchist.” This is also why I think that contemporary anarchists like Alex Hundert or Harsha Walia inadvertently have a lot more in common than Jesus and Paul than pretty much anybody I know who identifies as a Christian. It’s also why I think group’s like Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council or the Downtown Eastside Power of Women group are far more like the groups that gathered with Jesus and Paul than any church I have ever known.
  7. Second, the two greatest tools employed to support this death-dealing hierarchical way of structuring our life together are: (a) the affirmation of private property; and (b) the rule of law.
    1. These three things – hierarchy, private property and the rule of law – are intimately linked together. More than anything else, the ideology and practices of private property contribute to hierarchical power distributions and the primary purpose of the rule of law is to enforce property rights and the divides they create.
      1. Hence, the need for a police force. The police are nothing if they are not the private militia of the propertied classes (cf. Williams’ “Our Enemies in Blue”). The police are only necessary when there is a divide created between “the haves” and “the have-nots.” They are there to ensure that this divide stays in place (the Occupy Movement helped expose this purpose to the general public).
      2. The police force is also a useful way for us to recall how much these three things – hierarchies, private property and the rule of law – are utterly reliant upon violence. The Law itself is nothing but an effort to claim an hegemonic (moral) control over violence. It is legal, right and just that these people imprison these other people. It is legal, right and just for these people to be forcefully medicated at the order of these other people. It is legal, right and just for these people to carry guns in public and, if they want to beat up or kill any members of the general public, or of “troublesome” populations, they have a demonstrated ability to do so. The Law claims this hegemony over violence, the general public accepts the moral claims of those who wish to enforce this hegemony, and in this way private property and hierarchical relationships are sustained. If, however, we understand the law to be immoral – or overruled by love and replaced by grace – then the way is paved for the rejection of the violence it espouses. Once that violence is rejected, challenged, and confronted, then the way is also paved for a sustained assault on private property and the established hierarchies of power.
        1. Aside: Some have suggested that money is the root of all evil but money is only a servant of these more foundational matters. Money, legal tender, serves private property with the assistance of the rule of law.
        2. Others, especially those rooted in Marxist traditions, have seen class as the root of all evil. This is an important observation to consider – class matters, and it matters very much (cf. bell hooks). However, not all hierarchical power arrangements between people are rooted strictly within class categories – even within classes there are hierarchies and other hierarchies exist outside of these categories – and so we should not focus on this point to the exclusion of all others.
        3. Still others have suggested that patriarchy is the root of all evil. Patriarchy is one example of a death-dealing hierarchical way of structuring life together, but it is only one example.
          1. It is also another servant of private property as patriarchy is premised upon male ownership of women and children. Indeed, the property rights we have inherited from the Romans within our Western legal tradition were constructed in order to permit one person to legally own another person. Making this possible was one of the primary purposes of Roman law (cf. Graeber’s “Debt”).
  8. Therefore, hierarchy, private property, and the rule of law are the three heads of Cerberus, the hound who guards the gates of Hell – only he is not guarding the gates to keep us out. We have been born into Hell and the heads of Cerberus prevent us from exiting.
    1. Hell, by the way, is not a place of eternal torment but, rather, is the location wherein a person or a group of people enter into the experience of godforsakenness.
      1. Godforsakenness itself is when God abandons people to the consequences of their own actions or to the consequences of the actions of others. Like the exile experienced by the Hebrews – the Hebrews go into exile when the Shekinah, the female personification of the Glory of God, departs from the Temple. God leaves. War, rape, death, torture, slavery, and deportation follow. The same goes for the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. God does not leave – instead God forces Adam and Eve to leave. Death, fratricide and civilization follow after them (on the inclusion of civilization here, cf. “Endgame” by Derrick Jensen).
        1. The term “godforsakenness” is a very accurate word to describe our contemporary existence. We live in a world that is more and more deeply marked, scarred, and defined by our sinful actions. The more we engage in that which is death-dealing, the more Death comes to define our world. The ever increasing triumph of Death in our context is the definitive sign of our own exile and godforsakenness. We, too, have been given over to the consequences of our own actions and of the actions of others (cf. Ellul’s “Hope in Time of Abandonment”).
  9. However, as the early Creeds remind us, Jesus descended into Hell to set free those who were and are captives there. His cry “eloi eloi lama sabachthani” reveals that God chooses to come and be in solidarity with the godforsaken. Jesus reveals “God With Us” in our godforsakenness (Mk 15.34; Mt 27.46; cf. Moltmann’s “The Crucified God,” and von Balthasar’s “Mysterium Paschale”).
    1. This is a liberating solidarity. It is one that tears down the gates of Hell. The three heads of Cerberus – hierarchical power relationships between people, private property, and the rule of law – are all cut off and the way is paved for people to go free.
      1. This is why in their actions and lived commitments Jesus and his subsequent followers, like Paul, continually engage in an assault on these three things.
        1. Regarding hierarchically structured power divides in relationships between people, Jesus targets pretty much every institution and ideology that operated this way in his context: he dethrones the law, he rejects and condemns the Temple institution, he assaults purity codes, he refuses to distinguish between the healthy and the sick, he challenges patriarchy and family values, he casts out the demons of colonization, he confronts those who wish to discriminate against children, he welcomes the marginalized and excluded, he enters into solidarity with the poor, he tells sinners they are already forgiven, and he recognizes that women have the same authority and status as men. In everything, he levels the playing field between people and calls people to relate to one another as equals.
          1. Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus and sought to overthrow the hierarchies he encountered based around slavery, ethnicity, gender, imperialism, colonization, and socioeconomic status (Gal 3.28; 1 Cor 11.17-34).
        2. Jesus also disregards private property. To begin with, those involved in the movement that gathered with him pool their resources in order that there might be enough for everybody (cf. Lk 8.1-3; Jn 12.6, 13.29). This is why he tells a rich young man that selling all he owns and giving the money to the poor is what he needs to do to enter the kingdom of God (cf. Mk 10.21; Mt 19.21). It is also why Jesus says that those who give up everything to join in this movement with him while also gain everything back one hundredfold (cf. Mk 10.29-30; Mt 6.25.33).
        3. However, Jesus also disregards the property of others and it not opposed to destroying it if it is a barrier to Life and if it is operating in the service of Death. By doing so, I believe that Jesus is following the idol-smashing tradition established by people like Gideon (cf.Judges 6.25-32) – surely one of the greatest forms of idolatry is permitting private property to take priority over the life or well-being of another person. Thus, for example, Jesus has no problem with those who tear the roof off of a home in order to lower in a lame friend to be healed (Mk 2.1-5; Lk 5.18-26). He also has no problem annihilating a herd of two thousand pigs, which would be a major financial blow to the absentee owner (Mk 5.1-20; Mt 8.28-34; Lk 8.26-39). Finally, Jesus has no problem trashing the market in the Temple and it would be beyond naïve to imagine that much of the money and goods that were scattered amongst the Passover crowds made their way back into the hands of the original owners (John 2.13-16; cf. Mk 11.15-17; Mt 21.12-3; Lk 11.45-46).
          1. In all this Jesus is following a particular justice-based trajectory on property that is found in the Bible. It can be summarized as follows: Everything belongs to God the Creator. The Creator has shared all things with us, not so that we can collect, hoard or own them ourselves but so that they can be communally distributed based upon need. Any hoarding, any private ownership practiced over against Life, is theft and idolatry – i.e. serving that which is death-dealing instead of worshipping the God of Life.
            1. In this regard, Marx and the communists have understood more about Jesus and the biblical tradition than a good many Christians: “From each according to his or her ability; to each according to his or her need” is exactly right.
          2. This is also something that the early assemblies of Jesus followers understood. We see this kind of approach to private property being practiced by the assembly of Jesus followers in Jerusalem mentioned in Acts 2.44-45 and 4.32-35. We also see the same understanding reflected in a good many of the writings of the Church Fathers, who, amongst other things, assert that if you own an extra pair of shoes they do not belong to you but to the person who is so poor that he or she does not have a pair of shoes. Hence, if that poor person takes a pair of shoes from you, he or she is simply taking what is rightfully his or hers. The poor person is not robbing you, you are the one who has robbed him or her by claiming a pair of shoes that does not belong to you (cf. “Faith and Wealth” by Gonzalez).
            1. As a more contemporary illustration of this, I am reminded of an event that some anarchists helped to organize in a poor neighbourhood in Canada. This neighbourhood was being aggressively gentrified and an expensive grocery store chain had recently set up shop there. The poor people who lived in the neighbourhood could not afford to shop there and the other local grocers were suffering because of the presence of this chain store. Therefore, a “flash rob” was organized. Everyone from the neighbourhood and from the local shelters was invited to the store at a certain time on a certain day and invited to take whatever they wanted without paying. This occurred, the store was all but emptied in a few minutes and the crowd vanished as quickly as it appeared.
              • Who do you think were the real thieves in this situation? Who were the real followers of Jesus?
          3. Paul also follows this trajectory in relation to private property. We see this most especially in his efforts to engage in a financial Collection for the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem who were suffering from poverty. This was not the first time Paul participated in something like this – earlier he had helped the assembly of Jesus followers at Antioch engage in a similar kind of Collection for people who were suffering from a famine (cf. Acts 11.29-30). It is also not the last time that Paul thinks this will happen – he encourages some people to participate because, at a future time, they will probably need help and will benefit from the assistance of others (cf. 2 Cor 8.14). Essentially, what Paul and his co-workers do with the Collection is find a way to network poor communities across national, ethnic, socioeconomic, and ideological barriers so that they are able to share what they have amongst themselves and get by without having to rely upon the charity of the powerful and without having to recourse to even more desperate measures like selling themselves or their family members into slavery or sex work or migrating from one’s community in order to look for work elsewhere. This is an excellent example of the “abundant life” Jesus offers working itself out in the here-and-now.
            1. This, by the way, is also why Paul and his co-workers refer to Jesus followers with sibling-based language more than anything else. Living as brothers and sisters had very significant implications within the first-century. At that time, there was to be no private property between siblings. Brothers and sisters were to share everything they had with one another. So, also, for those who are brothers and sisters in the Messiah.
        4. Regarding the rule of law, the first thing to remember about Jesus is that he was a law breaker. In the episodes I have mentioned, he could be charged with vandalism, theft over $5000, inciting a riot, assault by trespassing, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, accessory to multiple crimes, and so on. In addition to these episodes, there are all the other infractions we see him committing throughout the Gospels: disregarding purity laws, claiming authority over things that he was not legally permitted to claim, disregarding dietary and Sabbath laws, and entering into the Temple without paying the required tax. We tend to think of these laws as “religious” or “moral” but we need to remember that they had the same status in first-century Judaea as the laws of Canada have in Kitchener today.
        5. Not only was Jesus a law breaker, but he broke the law to such an extent that he was legally executed by the State. What was his final charge? That of terrorism. Jesus died as a State-executed terrorist. This is why Pilate hung a sign over his cross calling him the “King of the Jews.” By doing so, Pilate mocks all Judaean aspirations for liberation from the imperial rule of Rome. A similar form of mockery today would be for Canadian soldiers to hold a sign over dead Afghanis calling them “Freedom Fighters.” Canadian troops don’t really think that dead Afghanis are freedom fighters – they think that they are terrorists – and the same applies for Pilate’s placard about Jesus.
        6. So, Jesus broke the law and was condemned and killed according to the law. It is not surprising, then, to discover that he subordinates the rule of law to practices that are life-giving. Sabbath laws are not what matter – healing this person now is what matters. Property laws are not what matter – healing this person now is what matters. And so on. This is the embodiment of the law of love, which transcends and overrules any other rule of law and any other legal tradition. It reminds us that the law exists to serve people. People do not exist to serve the law. And when the law becomes death-dealing or ceases to participate in that which is life-giving, then it should be broken.
          1. Paul also embraces this element of what Jesus was doing. This is why he is known as the Apostle of Grace. We live in grace, not according to the rule of law and the violence that sustains it. Again, we need to think about Paul’s statements in relation to the law as addressing the rule of law itself. Paul is not opposing himself to some kind of Jewish “works righteousness” – as though the Jews were trying to earn their way into heaven – as though this is simply some kind of spiritual struggle. No, as New Testament scholars have aptly demonstrated, the Judaism of Paul’s day was itself overwhelmingly oriented around grace. Paul is not attacking “works’ righteousness” as Luther imagined when he carried his anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism back into his reading of the New Testament, what Paul is attacking is the rule of Law – the laws of society. It is this that he refers to as the “law of sin and of death” that is now conquered by the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Ro 8.1-2; cf. Ro 7.1-8.39).
          2. It is not surprising to find this radical opposition given that the person Paul refers to as his Saviour and Lord was killed, according to the law, as a justly condemned State-executed terrorist. The law – given its association with private property, given the way in which it promotes and sustains hierarchical power imbalances between people, given its implication in the crucifixion of the Lord of glory and other forms of violence – is rejected. Instead, we now live in grace and institute the practices of love in the service of Life.
            1. One small contemporary example of breaking the law in the service of life was the tent city that was erected in Vancouver’s downtown eastside during the 2010 Olympic Games. The Olympic Games always have a devastating impact upon marginalized populations within host cities, especially upon communities of people who are experiencing poverty, and so some folks were trying to draw attention to this and advocating for “Homes not Games” (cf. Lenskyj’s “Olympic Industry Resistance”). As a part of waging this struggle, a privately owned site that was designated as a parking lot for the Vancouver Olympic Committee was illegally occupied and a tent city erected there. The community organized itself and chose to appeal to First Nations elders, mostly women who were residents of the downtown eastside, as guides for the community. Others, like myself, who were not street-involved were present to act as friends and allies. Not only was this community a wonderful example of people finding an alternative way of sharing life together and taking power over their own lives, but, at the end of two weeks, all 80 homeless people residing there were given immediate long-term affordable housing. This is a form of law-breaking that is life-giving.
    2. In all of this we see that the liberation Jesus pursued, along with others in the movement that gathered with him or, like Paul, followed in his footsteps, has a very strong “here-and-now” element to it.
    3. We also see that the love and abundant life the members of this movement sought to actualize led to significant conflicts with other parties and Powers who sought to follow the law, protect private property, and reinforce the established hierarchies. After all, not just Jesus, but the 11 Apostles, plus Paul, were all executed (or, in one case, exiled) by the State.
  10. How, then, does this work out in our contemporary context?
    1. To begin with, I believe that this excludes certain environments from being avenues to life-giving change of this nature. In particular, the following Powers are so far given over to the service of that which is death-dealing, that we should not hope for much from them or from our involvement within them. I am referring to:
      1. The political system and political parties or positions;
      2. Businesses and transnational corporations;
      3. Universities and academic institutions;
      4. Social services, non-for-profit agencies, and charities; and
      5. Churches or other religious institutions.
      6. All of these bodies are deeply and inextricably enmeshed in commitments to power hierarchies, private property, and the rule of law – a conclusion I have come to reluctantly after years of effort and involvement and of hoping that things could be otherwise. Here we should heed the words of the seer in John’s Apocalypse: Come out of them my people! (Rev 18.4).
    2. Consequently, I think that this leaves us two options that could be combined with one another but which I will consider independently:
      1. First, I believe that actively pursuing grassroots mobilization, conscientization, and empowerment in solidarity with people who have been marginalized is a way of living faithfully within the trajectory established by Jesus (on “conscientization” cf. Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed; also cf. Sobrino’s “No Salvation Outside the Poor” and the whole tradition of Liberation Theology). This seems to be a way that may actually serve that which is life-giving and resist that which is death-dealing.
        1. Here, it should be noted that contemporary anarchists have often done this more faithfully and with better results than contemporary Christian groups that have tried to engage in something like this – whether independently or in association with something like new monasticism, the emergent church, or whatever else happens to be hot at the moment (like talking about theology in pubs?). All too often, these parties of Christian hipsters end up acting as the shock troops of gentrification in the same way that Jesuit missionaries ended up being the shock troops of colonialism. When you compare this to the work done in mid-nineteenth century Russia by the Nihilists, or the work done by parties associated with Kropotkin, or Bakunin, or Malatesta, or the Spanish anarchists, or the American anarchists at the turn of the twentieth century, the difference in levels of commitment, depth of solidarity, costliness, and even success, is striking.
        2. That said, this sort of endeavor is very hard to do – especially for those who come from middle- or upper-class backgrounds. It takes time. It is not glamourous. It doesn’t pay well, if it pays at all. It requires sacrifice and it will alienate you from people who are well connected and also from friends, family members, and people whom you love deeply. There are huge barriers to attaining success in this kind of work. It can be frustrating, depressing, and appear fruitless time after time after time. Still, this is the same community mobilization that Jesus, Paul and their co-workers engaged in – it is this that gave birth to the Jesus movement in the first place. It is also this kind of mobilization that has produced the vast majority of life-giving changes throughout history. Life-giving change doesn’t trickle down. It rises up and happens when the marginalized become organized. In fact, all the rights we take for granted today came into being because of this kind of mobilization. For example, do you know that we have things like eight hour work days, five day work weeks, vacation time, health benefits, and even birth control because poverty-stricken anarchists fought and died so that we could have them?
          1. This may come as a surprise to some people, but anarchy is not about chaos or disorder. To quote, Proudhon, “anarchy means order” – and this saying is the origin of the most famous anarchist symbol (the “A” in the “O” with the “A” representing “Anarchy” and the “O” representing “Order”). Anarchy means that, with the absence of rulers, we can order our life together in a way that is life-giving and life-affirming. Consequently, the chaos, disorder, or violence that anarchism affirms is the disruption and destruction of any (dis)order that is oriented around the service of Death.
      2. Second, I believe we need to reconsider violent resistance, direct action, and less-legal tactics. We have already seen that the law and questions of legality should be of no concern to us if we are committed to following Jesus and I think the deployment of “less-legal” tactics are an appropriate response to a police-state that attacks and sometimes even kills peaceful protestors, or members of minority populations, with weapons that have been classified as “less-lethal.”
        1. Unfortunately, contemporary “Christian radicals,” unlike some of their more serious anarchist brothers and sisters, have not often taken their resistance to Death as seriously as their commitment to Life. That is to say, many groups of Christian radicals have created beautiful life-giving enclaves or intentional communities for their own members or for the few who are in contact with them, but have never taken many steps to confront Death, or the Powers that exist today in the service of Death, in any significant or sustained manner. This should be rectified.
        2. That sad truth about this is that sometimes one act of violence will do more than countless acts of peaceful protest. Thousands of people can protest, get arrested, write petitions, engage in street theatre, educate the public, and a pipeline will still be built from the tar sands to the Pacific. One person with a bomb could do more to stop that than all those thousands of people. There have always been members of anarchist movements who understood this.
          1. The first point here is that violence, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. The point is whether or not violence can be life-giving and, if it can be, then it is good and right to engage in that kind of violence (which is why a good many people do not consider property destruction to be an act of “violence”). This is what it means to confront the (moral) hegemony the rule of law claims in relation to violence.
          2. The second point here is that, all too often, pacifism or non-violent resistance is simply a tool that ends becoming completely enmeshed within the violence of our status quo (cf. Churchill’s “Pacifism as Pathology”, Gelderloos’ “How Nonviolence Protects the State” and Zizek’s “Violence”). Our daily life is so utterly and completely steeped in violence it is tragically laughable to think that anybody who lives, eats, shops, works, or pays taxes in our context could consider him- or herself a person committed to non-violence. We do not live within a context that permits us to choose between violence or non-violence. We are left choosing whether or not we will participate in violence against the poor and the oppressed or violence against death-dealing Powers.
        3. Of course, engaging in this kind of action means that discipleship will suddenly become very costly for us – but not only for us, our discipleship will also become costly for the Powers that operate in the service of Death. And that’s the point.
          1. Truly costly discipleship has these two sides. Our discipleship is costly to Death and because Death is in charge of a good many things here and now, it ends up becoming costly to us. Hence, discipleship is only genuinely costly to us when we engage in the kinds of actions that are threatening to the Powers that be. Those who think that the “cost of discipleship” is not getting drunk with co-workers or not having sex outside of marriage or volunteering at a soup kitchen at Christmas, or not lying to one’s clients in order to increase one’s profits, are so far removed from the kind of costly discipleship that Jesus practiced and modeled that their understanding of what they do would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.
            1. Bonhoeffer understood this, even if the Christian pacifists who love his books have not. He participated in a plot to kill Hitler which, if successful, would have struck a great blow against a death-dealing Power. However, he failed and discipleship cost him his life.
            2. Paul also understood this and this is what he boasts of when he states that he bears on his body the brand-marks of Jesus (Gal 6.17). What does this mean? It means that, just like the Messiah, he too was scarred from the whippings and beatings and stoning he received at the hands of the social, political, economic, and religious authorities. Paul, too, wore on his body the scars of those who are justly condemned by the law, and he, too, was ultimately executed by that same law. That is the cost of discipleship.
        4. Therefore, if one becomes a law breaker like Jesus, then one genuinely risks facing the same fate as Jesus. One risks actually picking up a cross and following him on the via dolorosa. One risks being branded as a domestic terrorist and being justly condemned by the law. But, wait, did we ever think that following Jesus meant anything but, well, actually following Jesus?
          1. It’s fine if you don’t want to do this – shoot, we’ve got families to think of, I would miss my kids like crazy, plus it’s hard to get work with a criminal record, and forget about travelling out of the country, and my spouse would probably lose it over this – so it’s totally understandable if you don’t want to follow through.
          2. However, if that’s the case, I don’t know why you think you could call yourself a Christian or a follower of Jesus. What do you have in common with him or the movement that gathered with him or those like Paul who followed in his footsteps?
          3. Jesus was always clear that discipleship is costly but I wouldn’t be surprised if you, like the rich young ruler, are shocked and go away grieving because you have many possessions and many privileges and many loved ones (cf. Mk 10.22). Instead of following Jesus, isn’t it easier to find a way to feel like a good person while still benefiting from everything that your socioeconomic location grants you? Isn’t it easier to consider yourself a radical because you meet in a pub to discuss theology and plan how to be social innovators and spiritual entrepreneurs? It sure is. It has always been that way in the church.

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honour, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day (1 Cor 4.8-12).
Now large crowds were travelling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions (Lk 14.25-33).
This is the word of the Lord. But let us not forget the words of Mikhail Bakunin:
I am now convinced that the time for grand theoretical discourses, written or spoken, is over. During the last nine years more than enough ideas for the salvation of the world have been developed… (if the world can be saved by ideas) and I defy anyone to come up with a new one. This is the time not for ideas but for action, for deeds. Above all, now is the time for the organization of the forces of the proletariat.
Many are called but few are chosen (Mt 22.14) and so the harvest remains plentiful but the workers continue to be few (Mt 9.37; Lk 10.2).
Fire on Babylon. Lord, have mercy. Amen.

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  1. I follow you Dan, all the theology. Except I’m curious about violence. I think too many throughout history have legitimated their violence. I think I know conservatives who would align for your position for the wrong reasons. In death, I think Jesus was breaking the cycle of violence begetting violence. That said, situations like Bonhoeffer’s I would have laid aside my non-violent convictions. More out of personal conviction than carefully processed theology. Maybe, like you mentioned to me one time, violence against private property, or against structures. I think if we become violent the “who is who,” that being the death dealing type and life bringers type, gets confused. I think it is already confused though, most of the time.
    I get what you say about non-violence equated more with maintaining the status quo, and that ultimately we are participating, whether we acknowledge it or not, in violence all the time. Even well placed non-violent resistance does very little , and falls within the parameters of the acceptable dissidence that is embedded in the deal dealing system to give an illusion of freedom of dissent and choice.
    Have a good one man!
    Aaron Leakey

  2. Ok, Dan, I’ll bite.
    1. If I make some of the ‘life-giving’ choices which are not likely to much improve the lot of the oppressed but are likely to result in the breakdown of my family, for whom are such choices life-giving?
    2. Don’t apostles, council, deacons, etc. count as an (admittedly minimal) hierarchy?


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