“Our society is dominated by the self-serving who proceed by ways of calculation and cunning and manipulation and deceit. But such a society — with its violence, its consumerism, its militarism, its alienation — is no way to live. To ponder an alternative, from greed to generosity, from self-serving to gratitude, our whole life made available as one long thank offering” is transformative. “Such a way of life contradicts the way of the world.”
— Walter Brueggemann in Living the Questions’ “Countering Pharaoh’s Production-Consumption Society Today”
Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the world’s leading interpreter of the Old Testament and is the author of numerous books, including Westminster John Knox Press best sellers such as Genesis and First and Second Samuel in the Interpretation series, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, and Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes.
What do Bob Marley and Hugh Sherlock have to do with one another? The Rev. Hugh Sherlock was a Jamaican, a Methodist minister, the first President of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas — and, of all things, author of Jamaica’s National Anthem. He also ran a boys’ club in the shanty towns of Kingston. “Operation Friendship” he called it. And it was in such a township, under the tutelage of Christian teachers, that Bob Marley lived. That’s where he formed his political and social views. That’s where he developed his music. And that’s why we shouldn’t be surprised that, through his music, he wanted to address the society around him.
Reggae became the soul music of Black Caribbean people. And it became the vehicle for giving black people their pride. The only way black people could be superior to whites, argued Marley, was by refusing to practice the racism of white people. Marley was a peaceful, gentle, man who’d known great suffering but refused to reflect anger back into a world that had already seen too much of it.
Two days before Bob Marley was scheduled to perform at the “Smile Jamaica” peace rally, a gunman came to his house and shot Marley and several others. Despite his injuries, he walked out on the stage and wowed the crowd for 90 minutes. Impressed by his determination, somebody asked him, “Why?” He said, “The people who are trying to make this world worse are not taking a day off.
How can I?”
From the authors of “Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity” www.livingthequestions.com
Bob Marley portrait by Scott Guion (c) 2006. Visit Scott’s website by clicking HERE.
It’s Still About Conquest
About the best we can say of Christopher Columbus anymore is that he was a cheapskate. On his 1492 voyage, he promised a reward to whoever spotted land first. Hooray for sailor Rodrigo de Triana, right? Nope. Columbus claimed he had seen a “glow” the night before and gave the reward to himself.
The bottom line is that what we know now about the man should be enough to make even the most ardent “Knight of Columbus” feel ashamed – and it’s not PC revisionism of Columbus’ reputation, either. His own journals and logs reveal a man who, even by the standards of his own day, was more opportunistic monster than heroic explorer.
The one who many still celebrate for “discovering” America was, in fact, a heartless slave trader who brutalized and enslaved whole villages in an effort to lessen the effects of his failure to find a new trade route to the Indies.
As it turns out, the “Columbus sailed the ocean blue” song we sang as children needs a few new verses. One might be about how he murdered countless natives. Another might be how he also dealt in child prostitution, giving his sailors the perk of 9 and 10 year old girls for their amusement. His reputation was so grim that, upon the approach of any Europeans, natives poisoned their own children and then committed suicide rather than face whatever torture was in store for them.
But he was not totally without scruples. Because the Catholic church forbade enslaving of Christians, he made sure not to baptize any of the natives he was selling into slavery.
Columbus’ own contemporaries despised him. As governor of Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, he was a despot who kept all the profits for himself, A number of attempts were made on his life and at one point he was actually arrested and sent back to Spain in chains for crimes against humanity. Good thing for him he brought a lot of gold and bought off the King and Queen, who pardoned him so he could get back to work.
We’ve got universities, companies, networks, rivers, whole countries named after this man. But most folks don’t have a clue as to the real nature of who he was and the horrific nature of his actions. Any claim he might have once had to being a brave explorer is eclipsed by the reality of the inhumanity he visited upon his fellow humans.
Like many holidays that involve a day off for Americans, most people either don’t care or downplay the origin of the celebration of Columbus Day. Good thing he was a Christian! Imagine how bad he would’ve been if he wasn’t following Jesus.
Considering Jesus’ summary of the Jewish Law and Prophets: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” it begs the question: how do we get from Jesus to Columbus? Or from Jesus to Jim Jones? Or from Jesus to any of us, for that matter?
A part of the reason is because Christianity has, for nearly two millennia, functioned out of an imperialistic mindset. Bent on conquering the other more than “loving” the other (along with the warped sense that coercing people into belief was a form of loving them…), Christianity has helped make tyrants like Columbus possible. For much of its history, the only thing Jesus would recognize about Christianity is that it functions with the same MO as the Roman economic, political, and military machine that led to his execution.
Jesus was pretty clear about the principle of “Loving your neighbor as yourself.” He even clarified that this included one’s enemies. In Romans, Paul even looked at it from the other direction: “If it hurts your neighbor, don’t do it.”
But 2000 years of putting “conquering in Jesus’ name” at the top of your list is a hard habit to break. Being “right” and showing others how “wrong” they are is still at the heart of many people’s core Christian beliefs.
“Answers in Genesis” Times Square Billboard
In keeping with their usual adolescent taunts of those with whom they disagree, Ken Ham and the folks at Answers in Genesis have invested in a billboard (see photo at left) that says way more about their having been compromised by imperialist culture than anything about Jesus. Their “To our atheist friends: Thank God You’re Wrong” message is not love. It’s not neighborly. It’s shallow, arrogant, and reinforces the very un-Jesusy notion that Christianity is about being right. Plus, it’s just downright embarrassing.
If our “friends” at Answers in Genesis were really paying attention to Jesus’ teachings instead of trying to conquer “the other,” they would be seeking ways to enter into conversation rather than taking very expensive cheap shots at their perceived enemies. If they were paying attention they would know that even Carl Sagan, poster child for atheists everywhere, said “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”
Even atheists know that in the final analysis, it’s about love! And isn’t that the starting point for any conversation that moves us forward as a community, as a civilization?
Despite what we learned as children, we know now that Columbus in large part used Christianity as a means toward satiating his personal greed for power and influence. Sadly, Christians like those at “Answers in Genesis” still function out of a similar imperialist mindset. Despite what many of us learned as children, Christianity is not about us-vs-them, conquering “the other,” and triumphing over “false” ideas. It’s about love – and not a rainbows and unicorns kind of superficial love – but a love that does the hard work of engaging those with whom we disagree for the shared purpose of working toward the common good.
Christians were originally called “people of the way,” people who followed the example of Jesus in making love of neighbor (and enemy) a way of life. As followers of Jesus, can we ever recover from thousands of years of having been compromised by dualism, violence, and the lust for power? Maybe we could start with a blogpost that cleverly disses our “friends” at Answers in Genesis by comparing them and their motives to Columbus’ reign of terror. Or maybe not.
Click HERE to see Eric Kasum’s article on Huffington Post about boycotting the celebration of Columbus Day
When it comes right down to it, Lent is all about preparing for an unjust execution. All these years later, is it possible to cross the breach from state-sponsored violence to a radical forgiveness? Is it possible to heal our culture of the notion that the solution to violence is more violence? Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and The Death of Innocents, thinks a change of heart is possible. Join her in exploring the consequences of capital punishment in the DVD series, “Questioning Capital Punishment.”
Perfect for small group study, let Sr. Helen guide your discussion on this life and death issue.
Questioning Capital Punishment is a five session DVD study. Each video session is approximately 15 – 20 minutes and discussion questions are provided as downloadable files from the product page.
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“People are worth more than the worst act of their life…” — Sr. Helen Prejean
To place an order, please click here, enter your login on the left side of the page, and click on “purchase now.” If you do not have a member account set up with LtQ, please start by setting up a member account at create an account and once your account is set up, please visit the Questioning Capital Punishment page to place your order.
Attention International Customers: This product is only available in NTSC format.
“Electric Chair” copyright © 2007 Janet McKenzie, JanetMcKenzie.com. Used with permission.
We spank children to teach them not to hit one another. We sanction the killing of killers as a deterrent against killing. We advocate the arming of citizens to promote personal safety. Is it any wonder that people are being deluded into complying with a system that allies them with violence, not compassion; with death, not life?
Even our language is overwhelmed with a continual drumbeat of violence. From seemingly innocuous phrases like, “Shoot me an email” to the “war on poverty” to “He’s da bomb” and even the “Fight for Peace” are simply “to die for” in our culture.
We are a wholly compromised culture that can’t even imagine the existence of any alternatives. Why? Because violence is entertaining, exhilarating, and as Chris Hedges has argued so poignantly, it gives many of us meaning.
From “The Myth of Redemptive Violence” in
Living the Questions:
The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity
by David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, the loudest voices seem to be focusing on curbing the availability of certain weapons and preventing unstable individuals from acquiring weapons. But Dom Crossan believes that “The most important question we have to face today really is violence.” Recalling John’s version of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, Crossan points out the way it is commonly misinterpreted: “Jesus himself says to Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ And if he had stopped there, [Pilate] would have said, ‘Well, he means it’s up in heaven.’ No, [Jesus] says, ‘If my kingdom was of this world, [my] guys would be in here to liberate me.’ In other words, ‘We’d use force and violence, just like you people did.’ So a kingdom not of this world is not a kingdom ‘in heaven.’ It is a kingdom here below which does not use force or violence.”
John Dominic Crossan is one of the world’s most respected Jesus scholars and author of numerous books, including “Jesus, a Revolutionary Biography” & “God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now.” He is featured in a number of Living the Questions programs, including “First Light” and “Eclipsing Empire.” In 2012, Crossan served as the President of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)