Where the Sidewalk Ends: The Spirituality of Apocalypse, part 1

August 6, 2012Ric Hudgens

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Editors Note: The first of a two part series

Navigating America’s suburban sprawl without an automobile is almost impossible as well as dangerous. Without sidewalks (or bicycle lanes) the automobile reigns supreme. The only safe way to avoid captivity in your suburban home is to submit to the imperatives of a fossil fuel economy, risk life and limb alongside speeding traffic, or flee the suburbs for the city or the country.

There is something virtuous about sidewalks in providing a safe, effective means for people who prefer to walk rather than drive. However sidewalks have their limitations. Having a sidewalk may be better than not having a sidewalk. The sidewalk may take you where you want to go; but sidewalks only take you where those who poured the sidewalk wanted you to go. As Shel Silverstein reminded us long ago: the adventure begins where the sidewalk ends. 1

I want to draw upon Silverstein’s metaphor to explore the practice of spiritual disciplines in contemporary radical Christian practice. Classic spiritual disciplines have their necessary function. They should be taken more seriously than they often are. My thesis however is that the classic practices of formation do not form radical Christians because they were never intended to.

If we are seeking the formation of twenty-first century Christian communities capable of solidarity and resistance to empire and civilization we may need to draw upon spiritual practices outside the norm represented by our Christian tradition. Our imperial, civilized selves practicing disciplines shaped by imperial, civilized traditions can never upend imperial, civilized institutions.

The emergence of an evangelical fascination with classical Christian spiritual formation and the practice of spiritual disciplines began in 1978 with the publication of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. 2 Evangelicals began to practice contemplative prayer, go on retreats, seek spiritual directors, and read classic spiritual works by Catholic and Orthodox authors. Evangelicals were seeking wisdom deeper than that available in the limited resources of their own tradition. They were motivated by the belief that the spiritual resources of the Christian past were a much needed antidote to contemporary theological and spiritual ills.

Foster’s efforts were reacting to the narrow, artery-hardening effects of fundamentalism’s overemphasis on pragmatism and cognitive belief; and its anti-traditionalism and sectarian paranoia regarding Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It also countered a neglect of the role of human agency in the everyday practice of grace – going beyond conversion, the mere forgiveness of sins and the assurance of salvation. It is impossible for anyone raised during the past quarter century to imagine how rigid denominational distinctions were fifty years ago. Both American social mobility and the emergence of the charismatic movement began to break down the barriers of American sectarian experience.

Christian teachers like Foster, Dallas Willard, and Eugene Peterson began to write and lecture on the contribution that human agency through the activity of body, mind, and spirit could make to the reception of spiritual power, character formation and spiritual maturity. There was a new emphasis in their work on what God was already doing in the world and how Christians could be trained and taught to enter into that activity through the practice of classic Christian spiritual disciplines. The definition of discipleship expanded beyond fundamentalism’s emphasis upon evangelism and Bible memorization.

But reflection upon the practical impact of this surge of teaching on spiritual formation results in a disappointing conclusion. The church’s abiding obsession with the ABCs (attendance, building, cash) keeps the lid on any impulse that would lead beyond taken for granted reality. Even the most fervent and disciplined practice of classic Christian disciplines will not necessarily lead to the formation of Christian communities capable of manifesting the fullness of life and withstanding the forces of globalization and neoliberal empire. In fact, these disciplines may only result in alternative forms of conformity that threaten little of the reigning order. Many of the missionary orders serving as agents of colonialism and imperial expansion were the strongest proponents and practitioners of classical spiritual disciplines. It is not at all inconceivable that a totalitarian principality focused upon domination might also be obsessed with the practice of spiritual disciplines that shape and direct the subjectivity of its members. In fact, some form of spirituality is essential to a repressive order’s effectiveness.

A liberatory spiritual practice will have to do more than help us internalize the imperatives of a Christian faith shaped by imperial objectives and civilizational demands. Going beyond where the sidewalk ends will mean venturing into territory where the powers never intended for us to go. Going beyond where the sidewalk ends means using the empire’s maps to find those places that are either uncharted, or purposefully neglected and obscured by imperial cartographers.

Almost every element of American society acts as an agent of spiritual formation. Public education for example is not about imparting the skills to simply live on the earth; in fact, those skills are often overlooked. Public education (and most private education) is about shaping human subjectivity to conform us to the reigning order. It educates for our effective submission to ends predetermined by those in power.  Expressions of media especially through television, movies, and popular music are powerfully forming of our sensibilities and desires. The global economy, the national tax structure, even local zoning regulations all contribute to shaping expectations and “needs” in ways that go unchecked by any countervailing power.

Christian spirituality is for the most part a spirituality of the gaps touching only those areas not already under the control of the marketplace. There are no quick fixes to this dilemma. Home schooling, living off the grid, practicing tax resistance may all be useful practices and yet leave the civilized imperial ego intact.

Joanna Macy has provided a helpful breakdown of the three main dimensions of the “work that reconnects”: (1) holding actions, to save lives and species; (2) alternative structures for a livable future; and (3) shift in consciousness, cognitive, perceptual, and spiritual. 3 All three dimensions are essential and work together. “Holding actions” are simply forms of political activism and resistance that seek to slow the destructive forces at work in our world. The formation of alternative communities where members carry the future in their bones is also essential for sustaining that resistance and the hope that invigorates it. But beyond this is the pursuit of a shift in our everyday mentality and awareness, retraining our consciousness for the work of communal resistance and solidarity. Radical visionaries and prophets will not emerge from Christian communities shaped only by traditional Christian practices.

Classic Christian spiritual disciplines make an essential contribution to the shaping of an alternative consciousness. They must be emphasized as a baseline aspect of contemporary discipleship. Christian communities that shape their lives around these practices will mature in ways that communities who neglect them will not. However, the practice of these classic Christian spiritual disciplines will only lead us where the sidewalk directs us to go. An apocalyptic discipleship intent on continuing Christian witness beyond the imminent collapse of imperial civilization will need to do more. Twenty-first century Christian formation begins where the sidewalk ends.


  1. There is a place where the sidewalk ends
    And before the street begins,
    And there the grass grows soft and white,
    And there the sun burns crimson bright,
    And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
    To cool in the peppermint wind.

    Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
    And the dark street winds and bends.
    Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
    We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
    And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
    To the place where the sidewalk ends.

    Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
    And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
    For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
    The place where the sidewalk ends.

    Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein, Harper & Row, 1974

  2. See the useful survey by Chris R Armstrong, “The rise, frustration, and revival of evangelical spiritual ressourcement”, Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, 2 no 1 Spr 2009, p 113-123.
  3. Coming Back to Life: Practices that Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, New Society Publishers 1998
  • goingthruchanges

    “Home schooling, living off the grid, practicing tax resistance may all be useful practices and yet leave the civilized imperial ego intact…
    Radical visionaries and prophets will not emerge from Christian communities shaped only by traditional Christian practices.”
    Great subject and points! How do we learn to see where our own spiritually internal sidewalk ends if not for the God given ability to continually point these questions directly at ourselves.

  • rdhudgens

    Hey Andy. Day’s retreats led by Father Hugo certainly were an important part of her life (as any similar practice would be an important part of our lives). The Catholic Worker (speaking very generally) has been about Joanna Macy’s #1 (resistance) and #2 (community). The “consciousness change” of #3 remained (at least in Maurin’s and Day’s generation) within the boundaries of Catholic social teaching (CST). They did perhaps see “the farm” as the end of their path. Whether that is the end of every path is unclear. Certainly if everyone was part of a CW-like community we would all be better off. I’m making a more complex proposal (perhaps too complex) that tries to address this “filthy, rotten system” from a different angle.

  • John T.

    I think the general direction of this article (off the footpath) is great and I look forward to the next one. However I feel Ric has been far too kind to Christian tradition.

    I fully endorse Ric’s thesis – “that the classic practices of formation do not form radical Christians because they were never intended to.” but if this was explored a bit more deeply we would discover that the reason for this is because the classic traditions actively militate against radical formation. As such I believe Ric’s thesis is contradicted by his affirmation that – “Classic Christian spiritual disciplines make an essential contribution to the shaping of an alternative consciousness. They must be emphasized as a baseline aspect of contemporary discipleship.”

    The first point to make is that the “Classic Christian spiritual disciplines” are the product of the Roman Church, created by Caesar Constantine and a central pillar of the development of imperial civilized society as either the religion of the state or in the case of the Holy Roman Empire, the church itself was the imperial super-state. This is where our tradition comes from, it has nothing to do with the spiritual discipline, practice or formations of the tribal Hebrew culture of Jesus and the bible. There is nothing holy about the traditions of western civilization. The line of continuity that runs from the radical anarchist Jesus and his disciples through to radial christian anarchism today does not pass through the structures and religious institutions of imperialist super-states. The tradition of Jesus has always been with the poor and in conflict with the empire and its economic elite, not transmitted by it.

    The traditions and disciplines of the bible are not represented or reflected by the traditions of the empire. Until recently, the Roman church denied the christian masses access to the bible, locking it into Latin that none but the church hierarchy could interpret. Until the invention of the printing press and the mass distribution of the bible in contemporary languages, the entirety of the christian tradition was formed by the church hierarchy and in the absence of any serious scrutiny of what is in the bible. Protestantism embraced the bible as a central authority but it was perceived and interpreted through the lens of Roman tradition, in particular interpreting the bible and generating theology based on Constantine’s Nicean Creed – an edict that “anathematized” the Alexandria based African Jesus movement, the heretics who said jesus was a geo-political reality and not an etherial spirit in the image of Greko/Roman deities as Constantine’s minions insisted. While the Roman church was itself an institution of state, the Protestant church just replicated the tradition (the footpath) and began a cult of state sycophancy continued until today, within a self proclaimed ecumenism with the Roman church.

    From the Nicean anathematization to the inquisitions to the heretic and witch burnings, the exiles, the bannings through to Ratzinger’s extinguishment of liberation theology to today’s church’s repression and demonization of homosexuality – the church has always militated against radical formation and its disciplines and traditions all conform to acceptable parameters of the empire.

    And this brings me to the issue of “alternative consciousness” that is raised in Ric’s article.

    I would like to draw a distinction between an alternative mode of consciousness (e.g. transcendent) and an alternative sub-mode within a singular consciousness, (e.g. liberal or conservative).

    To cut a long story short(er), I believe Jesus was a Shamanic Doctor (witch doctor). This was his tradition and the tradition of the priests of Israel, the grand priest being Melchizedic, whose order the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was a priest of.

    The realm of alternative consciousness lies in the tradition of the Sufis and the Shamans – a consciousness that involves engagement with spirits and dimensional shifts, it involves trance and hallucination, it involves song and dance, it involves faith healing and it involves miracles – just like the visions and festivals of the bible. This alternative mode of consciousness has been specifically and harshly repressed by the church.

    The church has always defined itself within the language and logic of mainstream Helenic imperial consciousness – a paradoxical mix of rationalism and superstition. While the church “believes” or has “faith” in a detached non-material realm, the spiritual realm, the dominant paradigm of the church is rationalism. The church has taught that being a Christian is not dependent on an existential gnosis but on adherence to doctrine. Jesus is not preached through the direct experience of healing but through proselytism and apologetics.

    Christian mysticism has been heavily regulated to ensure it is not witchcraft, contained in safe repositories such as monasteries and convents. Mystics are seen as special gifted individuals who have a consciousness alien to and unattainable to our own consciousness. Like miracles and exorcisms, mysticism is accepted by the church as long as it is authorized and controlled by church authority – all else is deemed heresy and demonism.

    But the tradition of Jesus, the Shamans and the Sufis is about everyone (who chose to) to engage directly with the Holy Spirit, not by a more clever philosophy than their Hellenic masters, but by ceremony – baptism, Passover, Festival of Light, Pentecost, pilgrimage, Jubilee, and the ritual reading of scripture – all of which Jesus did.

    Traditional and classic spiritual disciplines and practices and their underlying philosophical platforms are forces to repress radical formation and alternative consciousness. We need to repent of this tradition, not pretend it is a platform into radical discipleship.

    If you are going to walk in the forest, don’t take any footpath baggage with you. It will just slow you down and it is useless once you have left the path. Don’t just leave the path, dig it up and plant a tree so the Roman Chariots can’t pass.

    • rdhudgens

      John, I’ll admit that you may be further into the forest than I am, but it seems we are walking the same path. I’ll look forward to interacting with you some more after you read part two. Thanks so much for this provocative reply.

    • Josiah Keen

      I agree with some of your critique. However, It would help me to understand which “spiritual disciplines” we’re talking about because when I think of fasting, prayer rules, works of service, pilgrimages, etc. I understand those to be practices in many other spiritual traditions. Do you see no difference between Roman and Orthodox teaching/practice in the area of the spiritual discipline? What of the desert fathers and mothers? Peace.

      • John T.

        Hello Josiah,

        I am talking about all spiritual disciplines as a wholistic framework, not particular elements of the discipline.

        To take one example from your list of disciplines – prayer. All religions and spiritualities engage in practices that can be called “prayer”. But the different religious perspectives determine totally different meanings for what prayer actually is. Hellenists believe prayer is talking to the old man in the sky (the Zeus archetype) and we ask him favors or praise him for giving favors. Buddhist prayer is the repression of all conscious thought. Sufis believe prayer is direct engagement with a multitude of spirits and dimensions. The three are not the same thing.

        When Jesus taught about prayer, in his introduction to the Lord’s prayer, he says –

        Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, (I)go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

        Here Jesus identifies that both his Hebrew movement and the Gentiles engaged in prayer but in their form and meaning they were antithetical – the difference between silent private reflection and public theatric prayer.

        Although the practice of “prayer” is pretty universal, the meanings and experiences of prayer are very different.

        The Orthodox church is the Roman church, the west split off from it but all he basic frameworks of the orthodox church were constructed by Caesar just as with the western empire. I don’t know a lot about the Desert Fathers and mothers and can’t give any relevant opinion except to say they were formed trying to find a safe place from Roman persecution and given that they were in Egypt, my guess would be they were amongst the African heretics that the Nicean Creed anathematized with all the other gnostics. But these people lived in an interesting time – after the total smashing of Israel and the genocide of the Hebrews and before the empire co-opted the Christian story. This non-statist Jesus movement was persecuted as much as the traditional Hebrews were. It is in this time that Christian gnostic movements popped up around the empire, including the beginning of the English church that actively resisted Roman invasion in England. This new non-statist christianity is very different to Roman Christendom. I mention England because I know a little bit about it (unlike the Desert parents), exiled Hebrews such as Joseph of Aramathea fled to England, an Island of the edge of the frontier of the empire, to escape Roman persecution for the same reasons that the Desert Parents went into the Egyptian desert. So I certainly wouldn’t write off the Desert parents but their tradition seems to have pretty much ended once Constantine legalized them.

    • Chris Haw

      I read this article just before attending my beloved hierarchical papist gathering this morning, the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, during which I credulously bowed in deference to a priest and received the Body of Christ, in ritualistic unification with both the poor of the world, the Blessed Mother, and the anti-christ himself, the Holy Father, Peter’s successor, the antithesis of Christ’s holy reign, the Pope. I must say that this article didn’t trip me up at all as the church bell rang and I, jumping to my feet like an obedient lemming, stepped out the door like a child on his way to imperial brainwashing.

      But it does seem that both Ric’s, and particularly John T’s response, would trip up a few. So, I respond to them with a bit more detail than anyone here wants.

      1) I start with a clarification of words. Ric and John T use some words that get very easily conflated: “Solidarity” is placed in some obvious opposition to “empire” and “civilization.” Must the definition of civilization inherently include empire? Is literacy an aspect of civilization? Then why get all excited for the invention of the printing press? If you respond, saying, “well, I mean the bad things of civilization–like its empires, hierarchies, and systematic enslaving of the poor,” then you have all of a sudden stepped off the soap box of vague generalities and entered into a real promotion of thought.

      The “anti-civ” schtick doesn’t seem to very often reflect upon how it is typing its proclamations on the pages of the internet and powered by the grid of civilization. Either we must keep digging a hole of bipolar schizophrenia by hating yet participating in a civilization we abhor, or we might consider tipping a hat of respect to parts of civilization we find either half-acceptable or worth redeeming. In other words, I don’t think it worth our time to use words implying anti-civilization when the real structure of our words might be better phrased, “civilization, I declare you uncivilized. (I thereby seek to act more civilized than you.)”

      2) While reading this article, a crack of light came into my sad mind (darkened of course by aeons of papal repression), when Foster/Willard/Petersen were identified as reiterating Vatican II’s reminder, in Gaudium et Spes, about “what God was already doing in the world.” I thought for a second we might be getting such a counter to the anti-civ schtick by acknowledging the relative goods of the heathens and their projects of culture and organization. But no…

      3) I also thought we might be getting a thoughtful, post-liberal delivery of a psychology of mimesis when I saw the words “alternative forms of conformity”–for that indeed is the message of the New Testament, in that we imitate and conform to Christ (or his saints) as he imitated and conformed to God. But then, after reading more closely, I–the slow reader, being deformed since birth by archaic Catholic restrictions on literacy–became downcast, seeing that we were instead going to all pretend that mimesis is escapable, and that whatever “alternative culture” we radicals choose to form will somehow be acultural, and that we would magically destroy the human urge to imitate. I read, indeed, an essay presuming that not only is all conformity bad, but that nonconformists actually pretend that they aren’t conforming to some superior nonconformist.

      4) We receive, then, in John T, a commentary treating Catholicism as a historic-whole when he wishes to condemn; but when he seeks to draw from the well to bring up goodness (like the Church’s canon) he seems to insist that the well is not the Catholic’s well, for they are too disunited of a body over time to be considered a historic-whole. It is too diffuse to praise, but plenty united to condemn. We thereby obscure history by citing the darker parts of checkered past of Jesuits (and treating it as representative), but keeping in mind only the lighter parts of the checkered past of, say, anarchists.

      5) As a point of history, these so-called “traditional practices” are not the product of Constantine. At all. This is just historical crap; please delete that paragraph from the universe John T. They were there before him (big time), and they continued–in even greater force–after the collapse of the Roman Empire. And if John T instead meant that the Roman Church was created by Constantine, he would also be wrong–in fact, we should all go home now and read books if that’s the history we’re telling ourselves. It might have been more historically true to say that Constantine, if anything, by extending Christian aversion to blood sacrifice into the public realm, abetted the decline of the Empire. Leithart, though I loathe his theology, makes some of these connections in his Defending Constantine, which every Jesus Radical should have to stomach for the sake of debate.

      6) To address the ultimate thesis of RIc’s essay (Macy’s three points), I must say that these three points have indeed been active ingredients in movements within the imperially-hampered Roman Catholic Church–and not condemned by its magesterium–in everything from Las Abejas to the Berrigans (to the, now noted in comments, Catholic Worker). The vague denunciation given to the “extinguishment of liberation theology” appears to me that the denouncer has not read Ratzinger’s nuances on the matter–correct me if I’m wrong.

      7) To declare that the Nicean creed anathematized the poor little “African Jesus movement” is a cheap word play pandering to white-post-colonial guilt. His main critic Athanasius, too, was African; and, counter-intuitively, his movement won out contra Arius’ friendliness with the imperium. Arius had the more comfy theology for Caesar, as Athansius’ high christology relativized Caesar’s absolutism against a higher, not equal, standard. John T simply has the story wrong: Arius had more friends in the imperial court. (John Howard Yoder, Preface to Theology, p.199.).

      And while there is not a dot of persecution history that I wish to defend, I won’t allow that to short circuit a reading of history in the right order. True, if we were to travel to some medieval century, the Roman Church looks demonically harsh; and I think it would to any bishop today. But if we stayed for more than a few minutes on that time-traveling trip, and saw what the other major powers were like, we would actually find curiosities like people blaspheming in public courts so they could get transferred to the ecclesial courts, which were known to be more liberal and less-harsh in sentencing. The persecution which (rightly) appears ugly to us today would appear quite different if we read history in the forward direction.

      (Or, “do not say to yourselves, if I had lived in the times of the prophets I wouldn’t have spilled their blood…” This, too, is a form of harsh scapegoating.)

      And while it would take a much more space to talk with nuance about the current discussion on homosexuality, it is just a false canard to use words like “demonization.” John T could do well to visit the cross roads between the likes of James Alison’s good commentaries and a text of Ratzinger’s, like the “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”

      8) Once we get into the vague territory of saying, with a totalitarian despotism, “there is nothing holy about the traditions of western civilization,” I feel like we can no longer have specific and intelligent argument. Nothing, at all? Really? Its like declaring, “furniture, as a whole, has entirely become unholy”; or, “food, specifically, of the solid varieties, is deplorable.”

      This heavy handed antagonism toward an entire portion of the planet and its history stems, it seems, from the misguided sentence that follows–that Jesus was some radical anarchist. Whatever those words mean, I would prefer to reserve them for people that don’t instate apostles and representatives and say they have special authorization. This anti-civ antagonism also seems to stem from a lack of knowledge about how much of what we call the “imperial Church” was the result of a Church being the only standing organization after the apocalypse of the 5th century hit. The Church is already, by experience, a post-apocalyptic organization.

      9) John T’s response looses its steam of truth when he goes for the sharp dichotomy promoting shamanic ceremony against the clever philosophy of “Hellenic masters”. Are you kidding?: I can shrug my shoulders at the boring pitting of the Holy Spirit against heavy scholasticism. But the Catholic priest, even today, still can’t shake the criticism that they are druidic pagans. And yet we have somebody coming along saying that the Roman Church is destructive of ceremony, ritual, feasts, and pilgrimages? What kind of moving targets are we looking at here?

      This kind of writing only further confirms something I not too eager to affirm–that there is reasonable justification for a teaching authority in the Church and for denying certain heretics the badge of truth. You can count me off of John T’s newly forming denomination.

      Your blind traditionalist, Chris Haw

      • rdhudgens

        Hey Chris. Always good to hear from you, esp. when you provide lots of “details”! I’m glad you were in mass today. Catholic theology perhaps provides a much broader base of theological support for my own concerns than almost any other. Since my essay is more irenic than John T’s it seems to me that you are responding more to him than to me. I find your strong reaction understandable given his own comments, but less so in relationship to my own essay. I do acknowledge that I may be letting myself off too easy!

        I do recognize the strengths within the classic Christian tradition and although my approach is in some sense “radical” it does not require me to anathematize all remnants of the past. I think all forms of radicalism are stronger when they can utilize central elements of the tradition in ways that triangulate its concerns (Matthew 13:52 is a good paradigm here). I find the classic tradition to be the place we must start from, just as the current socio-political order is our given context and not something that we can “escape”.

        On the anti-civ discourse I do want to clarify that you seem to equate anti-civ discourse with a critique of literacy and symbol making. That is only one theory (“best” represented by someone like John Zerzan I suppose) and not one that I personally agree with. Perhaps I should have been clearer about that in my writing, but perhaps part two (which was submitted at the same time as part one) will clarify my own admittedly anti-civ trajectory.

        The length and intensity of John T’s comments and your response may distort the reading and understanding of my own efforts. On the other hand both of you push me to think more clearly, make my own intentions more explicit, and listen to each response with more humility. All of that has to be a good thing – even when it resembles a posture also recommended by the classic Christian tradition!

        Grace and peace.

        • Chris Haw

          Ric, Thanks for the reply. I tried–but apparently not hard enough–to clarify when I was sharing a critique of who. I “replied” my comment in John’s thread, for most of my critiques went to him. Thanks for the occasion to have a good old fashioned argument. Chris

          • rdhudgens

            That’s a relief. Arguments (old-fashioned or not) about Arius and Ratzinger make me very very sleepy. You boys have a good time and turn off the lights when you get done!

          • Brandon

            This comment is the first time I’ve wished there was a “like” button on J-Rad…

          • rdhudgens

            Actually there is a “like” button . . .

          • John T.

            I am sorry church history bores you Rick. You are not the only person disinterested in it. However the blind, unquestioning sycophancy to church totalitariansim and state collaboration is, unfortunately, a consequence of not having a close and honest look at our church.

            I can assure you that critiquing authoritarianism of the church is not a matter of boys having a good time and I find your belittling of the issues to be offensive – especially considereing the millions who have been murdered, tortured, imprisoned, exiled and demonisied by the tradition of the church. I fully respect and enjoy the argument with Chris – even though we disagree we are taking seriously each others positions – and any light in this will come through the discussion of the issues, not through winning or losing arguments or, as you would seem to prefer, dismissing the argument as boring.

            Matthew 4: 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. 9″All this I will give you,” he said, “If you will bow down and worship me.”

            Mark 10: 42Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

            ….. does this stuff bore you too?

          • rdhudgens

            Hey John T, No offense intended to either you or Chris. As I previously expressed to him my concern is that your argument might obscure the primary intent of my essay. You affirm my main trajectory but then take my argument in directions that I would not want to go. However, this is an open forum and you have every right to do that. You do not however oblige me or anyone else to engage with it – especially, when it is not expressive of my main concerns.

          • John T.

            I guess I see the classic traditions of the church repressing radical formation and the consciousnesss that has evolved from that ongoing process (and implications for alternative consciousness) to be pretty pertinent to the issues in your article.

            If you can analyse “American society” as an agency of conformist formation, why is the church outside of that same analytical realm?

            Peace, I meant what I said originally about it being a great article.

          • rdhudgens

            John, I liked your initial comment and found it paralleling many of my own thoughts. Your subsequent debate with Chris on Roman Catholicism simply drifted outside my specific area of interest. That is not a criticism of you or Chris; nor is it a criticism of the significance of the topic. I can’t be interested in everything – even when it is something that perhaps I should be interested in. Peace.

          • rdhudgens

            John, One more thought about church repression. I think the traditional church (be it Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, etc) has often tried to suppress by inclusion as well as be exclusion. The “subversive memory of Jesus” and the subversive contents of Scripture continue to create a dynamic situation underneath any oppressive ecclesiastical system. Church calendars were created to connect Christian theology with traditional religious and natural cycles. What this has meant is that oppression is never the only reality. The same church that tried to stifle dissent also preserved a witness to dissent that others could imitate (mimesis Chris!). The irony of all human history (and especially church history) is that the potential for renewal always remains – like seeds buried in animal scat along the trail.

          • John T.

            Wow Rick, that sounds like real head in the sand stuff.

            1/ The subversive contents of Scripture have always been in direct conflict with any oppressive ecclesiastical system, they have never (since Nicea) been underlying dynamics of the system, except in rebellious sub-systems such as Anabaptists and Catholic Workers who identify as part of the church but are not embraced by the church. In their case, they are only sustained by the part of the sub-system that manages to survive outside of the traditional church, the church itself either directly represses or indirectly ostracizes the sub-systems. However the subsystems are totally vulnerable to the church’s repression because of their loyalty to that system – which is the primary mechanism of repressing dissent. Even Daniel Berrigan stopped trouble making in Latin America when his bishops told him to stop – because he loved and believed in his church.

            The church has provided witnesses of dissent in the same way that Egypt provided Moses to imitate, or Babylon provided the prophets to imitate or Rome provided Jesus to imitate or Hitler provided Bonhoffer to imitate and today the Christian Emperor Obama provides the Occupy movement to imitate. In terms of mimetic theory, the church has imitated Rome and not Jesus, including how it deals with dissent.

            2/ Church calendars were created to provide a universal (catholic) centralized calendar across the empire. Rome’s calendar was solar, the biblical Hebrew calendar is Lunar and includes the sabbath day, sabbath year and jubilee into its ecological calendar, all relating to seasonal land management. The bible calendar has harvest festivals, passover, Tisha B’av, Pentecost, Passover, Hannukah and other land based seasonal festivals that were outlawed in Rome after 70 AD and the banning continued long after Constantine. The Roman religious calendar, in particular its main festivals of Christmas and Easter connect Christianity with the imperial status-quo including the Sol Invictus festival (christmas) and the spring fertility festival (Easter) of the Greko/Roman tradition. The big distinction between the biblical and Roman calendars is that the Hebrew tradition celebrates the cycle of seasons but the Roman calendar celebrates astrology. The church simply converted astrological gods to saints and they each got their day or month of the calendar. The imperial calendar was designed to connect Christian theology with the religious traditions of Greece and Rome but it has not at all connected theology with natural cycles, it has done the opposite by extinguishing the calendars, festivals and land management systems of all indigenous traditions including the Hebrew tradition in Israel over land now occupied by Caesar’s forces.

            Yes – the possibility for renewal is ever-present in all situations including the church. I hope that the church does repent of its history and re-embraces the Jesus of the bible. In the West, orthodoxy and tradition is collapsing in all branches of the church so things are looking good in that regard, there is an emerging gap in the market that the real Jesus of Nazareth (not Rome) could fill.

            It is important to be able to tell the difference from the seed and the animal scat. In terms of Christian formation (and mimetic theory), it is more important to be able to tell the difference between where the seed came from and where the animal scat came from.

          • John T.

            p.s. Ric,

            I wrote the following article yesterday after reflecting on this conversation.

            “Prayer; Moses was an atheist”


          • rdhudgens

            Dear John.


          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            Never seen a “Dear John” comment before…

          • Nekeisha

            Good to e-see you Chris :) Hope you are doing well these days.

          • Chris Haw

            Nekeisha, Sorry for the delay. Good to e-see you too! Your talk from EMU still rings with edifyingly educational tones in my mind.

        • Travis

          I was hoping part 2 would contain some practices borrowed from the people described in the book you reviewed a while ago, The Art of Not Being Governed. I guess this (the second to last paragraph above) means there won’t be any suggestions about purposely “losing” written language. =p

          • rdhudgens

            a brush, a burin, a pen or a stylus is like releasing a bite or
            lifting a claw.” (Gary Snyder)

      • John T.

        Hello Chris,

        I think you are sugar coating history.

        Constantine described Arius as “an imitator of the wicked and the ungodly” and ordered that his writings be burnt and those found in possession of his writings to be executed. (http://www.fourthcentury.com/index.php/urkunde-33)

        Your (and Yoder’s) suggestion that Arius was friendly with the imperium and that his was a “more comfy theology for Caesar” does not seem to fit the historical record. Constantine did invite Arius back from exile but his interest was to end the ongoing conflict over Arianism that had continued by his supporters while he was exiled. Arius had to agree to recant from his theology before he was able to return and by the time he did returned to the church all his writings were burnt. Upon his return he died in suspicious circumstances – a classic imperial tradition for solving conflicts.

        I have to respond to your comment about the poor little African Jesus movement and white colonial guilt and firstly issue a challenge that perhaps you are in denial of the fact that Jesus and the rest of the Hebrews were Africans, not gentiles. The reinvention of Jesus as a white European that holds white european world views is not the tribal indigenous Jesus, the son of David and Abraham that is revealed in the bible.

        In Old Testament times, before the conquests of Alexander the Great, the African super-nation extended all the way to India – the cultural frameworks, trade routes, land laws, tribal family structures etc. There were no nation-states but tribal territories networked across the super-nation.

        But by the time of Nicea, North Africa had been colonised by Rome but the cultural traditions were African – at least more so than at Alexandria.

        Arius was from Libya, the province of Africa (Libya is the Latin name for the whole of Africa but the province was where Libya and Tunisia are). Athanasius was from Alexandria, the capital of the Egyptian province and regional centre of Hellenist culture and Roman power since Alexander the Great.

        The other controversy (other than Arianism) resolved at the Nicea councils was Donatism.

        Donatus was from Libya too, Carthage, the capital of the province of Africa. Donatism rejected the authority of church officials who had collaborated with Rome prior to legalisation – Donatism was an anti-imperial movement. But Nicea supported the authority of the collaborators and Constantine confiscated the Donatists churches and kicked out their bishops. Roman troops were used to crush protests in the province of Africa when Donatus refused to surrender the Carthage church.

        Arius was first excommunicated by Bishop Peter of Alexandria for supporting Meletius of Lycopolis, an adherent of the Donatist heresy that Roman collaborators should have no authority in the church. The conflict with the North African Arianists and the North African Donasists indicates a significant conflict between the anti-imperialist Africans and Rome and this should not be overlooked in understanding the outcomes of Nicea. It has nothing to do with white guilt.

        After the repression of the North African Arialists and Donatists, there was no anti-imperialist tradition within the church until after the publishing of the common language bible.

        • John T.

          p.s. Chris,

          You seem to be suggesting that there might be some positive nuance to Ratzinger’s banning of the preaching and publishing of books by theologians promoting liberation theology.

          Ratzinger said – “An analysis of the phenomenon of liberation theology reveals that it constitutes a fundamental threat to the faith of the Church.”

          He did acknowledge that Liberation theology correctly asserted social responsibility to the poor but said – “an error is all the more dangerous, the greater that grain of truth is”, absolutely dismissing any merit at all in Liberation theology.

          I would be curious to hear what nuance you think I may have missed.

          • Chris Haw

            While I’ve never found myself wishing to defend him, I am sensitive to people speaking with exaggerated misrepresentation of another’s position–however much I am prone to some sarcasm and hyperbole myself.

            I am speaking from his few pages in his “Introduction to Christianity” (14-16, particularly). I would quote it all, but I’ll end up breaking this web page with all my blather. In short, he says, “Anyone who makes Marx the philosopher of theology adopts the primacy of politics and economics, which now become the real powers that can bring about salvation. The redemption of mankind, to this way of thinking, occurs through politics and economics, in which the form of the future is determined. This primacy of praxis and politics means, above all, that God could not be categorized as something ‘practical.’ The ‘reality’ in which one had to get involved now was solely the material reality of given historical circumstances, which were to be viewed critically and reformed, redirected to the right goals by using the appropriate means, among which violence was indispensable.” Anyway, more could be quoted (and I think certain varieties of Lib Theo are exempt here), but I think if he is still guilty in your jury, Yoder should be too–for they sound the same to me on this matter..
            But, even in your own words, Ratzinger apparently claims that there is a “greater grain of truth in liberation theology.” While he proceeds to then disagree with it, I don’t think you can any longer then claim he is “absolutely dismissing any merit at all.”

          • John T.

            The nett result of Ratzinger’s campaign was the banning of the teaching of Liberation theology and the banning of the practice of liberation theology under the auspice of the Roman Catholic church – lets not sugar coat what he did.

          • John T.


            The significance of Ratzinger’s inquisition and anathematizations, as well as the first ones at Nicea, is not in theological debate but in the real practice of power, politics and history.

            It is only the comfortably numb naivity of privilege that understands Ratzinger’s extinguishment of liberation theology as a theological debate.

            The base communities and home churches, the trade union support groups, the community schools and hospitals, the safe houses for rebels, the engagement in political parties and all the other massive real social movements that occurred within the Roman Catholic Church in Catholic colonies, especially in the Americas and Asia, under the banner of liberation theology were all smashed – either assimilated into a safe and powerless position in the church or thrown to the wolves of death squads or slow death through illness and malnutrition while global imperial elites consolodate their economic power over the lands and peoples. This was the consequence of smashing liberation theology.

          • Chris Haw

            Indeed his “extinguishment” is not merely theological debate, but a political debate. But I see his restriction here as not categorically differing from, say, any Mennonite conference declaring some hard line pacifism. That the Church might call for cessation of aiding militant rebels is a very different thing than the subject of hospitals. Lumping these all together as “smashed” seems to blur beyond any adjudication where real mistakes were made and where the Church continued its redemptive work. Wherever the real mistakes occurred I find no problem throwing the red flag with serious criticism; but painting every instance of colonial Church life in the 20th century with the same brush seems to do us all a disservice.

          • Chris Haw

            My above comment speaks shortly to this claim, in that I find it not entirely unreasonable that the Church have a definitive magesterium. We seem, at the surface, to disagree here. But, more importantly, it seems quite the opposite: that the anarchist-Jesus-movement is in fact not exempt from this practice of dispute and repression; they would–in their ostensible open mindedness– only wish to ban the teaching of the vast majority of the Christian tradition. Here lies the tension with democracy and authority.

        • Chris Haw

          -While Arius certainly received his share of imperial discipline, so did Athanasius–in five different exiles from four emperors.

          I would still like you to share how Arius’ theology was actually the more anti-imperial. To quote Yoder shortly for the trinitarians: “If you lower your concept of Christ, then you can raise your vision of the emperor because the Logos was in both Jesus and the emperor” (Preface, 199). My friend Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove once concluded upon this: “If Jesus is first among creatures, then he is, essentially, a type of the emperor—that one among men who was raised up to be semi-divine so that he would have authority to rule all people. Arian Christology, then, lays the theological groundwork for a church that props up Empire.”

          -That Jesus’ Hebrew genaeology (starting from Abrahamic “wandering Aramean” [Chaldean] stock and blending with the “mixed crowd” of the Egyptian exodus) involves African roots is easy for me to affirm. And it doesn’t bear on what I am saying. Trying to find who is more marginal to Rome feels like an exercise in futility (for Arius also had the social mobility to hop to school in Antioch; and he lived predominantly in Alexandria) and a work of reverse ad hominim (“if your not marginal, you’re questionable”). Being from the margins of empire does necessarily not make for anti-imperialism any more than Appalacia necessarily makes for Chomsky.

          -”In OT times…there were no nation states but tribal territories networked across the super-nation.” I’m not sure how this all relates to your antipathy with empire (which I share). Are we, per anarcho-primitivism, supposed to swoon when we hear the word “tribal”? Egypt was empire; it enslaved thousands in “Old Testament times.” What are you going for here?

          -As for Donatism, “collaborated with Rome” is a too blunt a sentence for all traditores. Indeed “collaboration” with Diocletian sounds terrible; but many of the people who recanted their faith were tortured or simply threatened with torture by Diocletian’s campaign. I have a hard time chalking that –and the many varieties of recanting–all up to “collaboration.” To reject the traditores’ re-communication or the validity of their sacraments–as the Donatists insisted–would necessitate scrubbing from the gospel record many occasions of grace: Peter’s post-denial forgiveness and rehabilitation, Paul’s conversion, and many other passages of mercy toward the apostate or backslider.
          Indeed, the Donatists shared an admirable tone of anti-imperialsim, along with Tertullian. But the Donatist rigor for purity fell out of balance with grace, doing so in a manner almost akin with Westboro Baptist–in their aggressive, sometimes violent protests, and perhaps (via their association with the the Circumcellions) violently harming others so they could, in return, become martyred.

          Now, this is not at all to say that the trinitarians were clean. They were often violent idiots too. I am simply saying that using some supposedly intriguing inverse reading of history so we can provocatively place the flag of righteousness on the victim-heretics is not going to work–not for me, at least. I prefer to look beyond the melee of their shared insanties and draw out any merits of their theology:
          And for me, the most important lesson from the Donatist controversy has been in contemplating the logical outcome of Donatist rigorism. To call a certain priest’s eucharist or baptism invalid because of their impoverished spiritual quality is a dead-end philosophy that begs to be rooted in something more plain and straightforward like apostolic validity. Where, if at all, could we draw the line when adjudicating the quality of a priest? Scouring for their purity would be unending, causing endless splits: we see this in the proliferation of anabaptist sects, who share affinity with Donatist sacramental theology. And, per Donatist logic, we would need to be baptized or reborn every five minutes–which would be quite irksome if nothing else. While I don’t love every second of living in the sinner’s church, I am exceedingly glad that a pure, rigorist Donatist is not the standard of a saint.

          • John T.

            What theological merits could be drawn out from “violent idiots” and “the melee of their shared insanities”?

            Paul was indeed a Helenist persecutor. But his conversion did not come when Christianity was legalised – as in the case of the collaboratiors who the Donatists opposed. As a direct result of Paul’s conversion he became an enemy of the empire and was eventually executed. The Nicean collaborators did not face persecution and death as Paul did, they faced the favour of Constantine – a very big difference. To compare Paul who turned away from Rome (repented) to Christians who turned towards Rome (collaborated) is, again, sugar coating.

            You have no idea of what Arius’ theology was and nor does anyone else because all his writings were burnt. From what we can glean from his opponents’ criticisms of him, we find the crux of the debate is between the new Homoousis concept of a mathematically equated God and Arius’s notion of an inherent hierarchy between God and Jesus described by the father/son relationship.

            The bible describes God predominantly in terms of father/son, as well as other concepts such as mother/child, husband/bride, etc.

            The bible says God is not just Jesus’ father but all our fathers – Jesus is our brother, he is Emmanual – God among us.

            Homoousios is not biblical. From what we can glean of Arius, his theology was biblical.

            Tribal spiritualities such as recorded in the bible hold the genealogy – the father/son relationship is held very highly. It is genealogy that determines land rights – indigenous sovereignty. The land that God promised and gave to Abraham was also promised to all of his descendants – as long as the descendants kept their part of the deal – circumcision, the mark of the land covenant. Not only is God the heavenly father, but also the blessings and promises of the heavenly father are passed down through the generations from father to son. The tribal/genealogical world view makes sense of God through the father/son relationship. To Arius and all those of an African cultural heritage, Homoousios was just gobbledeygook. (and I think it is too)

            The messiah born of the appropriate bloodline, the son of Abraham and David, the root of Jesse, that proclaimed the Jubilee – the return of Abraham’s land to Abraham’s descendants, who chastised the Pharisees for their collaboration with Herod and who promised food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, freedom for the imprisoned and sight for the blind and health for the sick, the Messiah who repeated over and over again blessed are the poor – this messiah does not fit into the trinitarian framework of an etherial God that authorises divine authority for Caesar’s domination of the tribal territories.

          • Chris Haw

            I’ve had family in the last day or so–and will for a few more–so the debate-a-thon will need some delay on my end. We can proceed with the pugilism afterward.

          • Chris Haw

            Pardon my delayed response, please, as I have been busy angrily shoveling ice cream into my liberal face. (In actuality, my pregnant wife has seen to a lot of ice cream eating lately, and I’ve joined with relish!) So fattened by this, and by the enchanted contemplation of civilization’s shallow luxuries, I have been unable to lift my fingers.

            But, freed of that lethargy now, I start by acknowledging Ric’s note that our tangential topics might distort the limited nature of what he was trying to say. So, to give full credit to him, I indeed think the three dimensions of “work that reconnects” (almost the precise etymology of the word “religion”) are a helpful rubric for deeper Christian living.

            And while not sharing John T’s position on most of these topics, I agree with him that Donatism, Ratzinger, and Arianism, however arcane the disputes, still matter. Though, I took no offense to Ric’s finding it outside his interest here.

            Last, I am sad to have given Mr. Lewis the occasion to stumble upon this argument with a sense of it being about my ego–instead of, as it feels to me, being a solid disagreement and exchange. The world’s juries may ultimately declare me self-righteous in feeling the Catholic tradition truer on these matters; but I can say in earnest I don’t feel angry dialoging about it.

            And so, to the content of our exchange, I submit some final comments:

            -Drawing theological merits from people that were either violent or idiots seems to be a necessary Christian practice–even for Donatist ones. For the Donatists, like many of the “orthodox,” were not immaculately Ghandian in politics. To entirely write off a person or group’s position on the grounds they were bad or corrupt is not satisfying to me–as all people, even impressive ones, have serious blemishes that could distract from the merits of their idea.

            -We have blurred and moved the target by referring to “Nicean collaborators” as opposed to traditores. Now, it is true that Constantine convened the Nicean council. And he did so with extra-ecclesial motives, one of which was the “peace” of the empire. He wanted a division to be settled–and might not have cared much about the content of the dispute. But is it possible to see in this action of the “world” an element of some good and redeeming value? That someone not of deep Christian roots would convene (what he and others, not everyone, saw as) a conciliatory meeting with imperfect motivation, but it result in some relative amount of democratic debate? That it was a council of extended, open-ended debate and not a despotic declaration is a step forward in that day. I am mining here not for glaring and perfect goods, but relative shades of good, to more accurately judge history.

            -I don’t defend the methods of past modes of Church theological repression. And I think virtually all bishops today don’t either. But I think there is a legitimate place for the Church to define what is and is not its teachings–and for it to have evolved an office, however imperfect or corrupt, for that function. And while book burning is, to me, lamentable; I think there is reasonable grounds for the Church to have developed, categorically speaking, some process by which some doctrines are rejected. I imagine some Christian anarchists would want their hoped-for Church to have the freedom to do the same: for it to burn–or somehow strike from the record–the books of hierarchy, organization, and councils.

            -As to the semiotics of Arianism vs. trinitarianism, I don’t think that the trinity destroys what you and I feel is a deep “father-son” connection. The real question was not that relation, but whether it is an eternal or temporal relation. That trinitarians see it as eternal says to me, anthropologically, that humanity is not merely a creation but an imago dei–that humanity is eternally woven into the “godhead.” And this spurs the kind of deep thought that the likes of Teilhard de Chardin and evolutionary cosmologists would want to see exuberantly darting through our minds.

            It also says to me, per Ratzinger, that “divinity lies beyond our categories of unity and plurality.” That is, the trinity, as you say, is intentionally gobbledeygook. It is very seriously pressing the bounds of common logic; it is “an intentional elimination of dualism as a means of explaining plurality alongside unity; only through this belief is the positive validation of the many given a definitive base. God stands above singular and plural. He bursts both categories.” Beyond that, I would find it hard to press much farther on the Arian position; for it is a matter of longer contemplation, not blog-dispute.

            I think I will stop there. I’ll respond to any direct rejoinders, but won’t indefinitely belabor–at least here.

            Sincerely, Chris

          • John T.

            Hello Chris,


            “Drawing theological merits from people that were either violent or idiots seems to be a necessary Christian practice”

            “To entirely write off a person or group’s position on the grounds they were bad or corrupt is not satisfying to me”

            I hope you can see that this looks like sugar coating and denial.

            What did Jesus do? How did he embrace the bad, corrupt violent idiocy of his time and place?

            Mattew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

            Matthew 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

            Matthew 23: 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.

            Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

            (and indeed the whole of Matthew 23)

            Jesus was infinitely forgiving of the gentile scum, he even said a Roman centurion had more faith than anyone in Israel. Yet he seemed much less tolerant of religious hypocrisy than you are.

            My tradition is Jesus.

            As for trinitarianism – it is inherently dualist. The very concept is based on the separation of heaven and earth – just like the rest of Hellenist superstitious cosmology. Making Jesus the mathematical equivalent of YHWY extinguishes the temporal Jesus, the Jesus amongst us, Emmanual, and creates a dimensional division between God and us – that funnily enough can only be bridged by the church hierarchy.

            Emmannual, Jesus amongst us is a temporal manifestation of God – incarnational theology. Jesus is our brother by a common father – this is the nature of Jesus’ divinity – God amongst us. Trinitarianism expels Jesus from earth to sit in heaven as an element of the multiple personalities of the Hellenist old man in the sky god. Bah Humbug!

          • Chris Haw

            “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But don’t do what they do, for they don’t practice what they preach.” In Matthew 23.

            I still can’t see how the trinity destroys incarnation. It seems Jesus can be both a brother of humanity and be a Son of the Father. This to me is a fine synthesis beyond dualism.

          • John T.

            I am sorry that my comments are neither brief nor humorous but some things just don’t fit in nutshells.

            The Pharisees did indeed sit in Moses seat, they were Levi tribe of priests, the root of Jesse that remained in Jerusalem and loyal to YHWY throughout the exile – this is why Jesus was sinless.. Their authority was based on the law of Moses for the tribal division of the land of Abraham – their role was central to Hebrew sovereignty which is why the Greeks repressed them and their ceremonies and the Babylonians and Romans co-opted them to manage the affairs of the empire.. It is also why between the expulsion of the Greeks and the invasion of the Romans, the preferred mode of indigenous self determination was by way of the law of Moses and the centrality of the Levi priests to that.

            The Levi priests get their authority by their blood line and scriptures, not by their self appointed inheritance of Peter’s assumed leadership of a centralized church as the pagans do..

            Jesus’ affirmation of the law and priests of Moses cannot be used as a justification of the law of and priests of Rome. But what unifies them both is religious hypocrisy of which Jesus did not give even a fraction of an inch to, even though they sat in the seat of Moses.

            Furthermore, Jesus and John the Baptist were both levi priests, they both continued the priestly functions of the law of Moses. Because the Hasmonean collaboration with Rome, in particular the mega-funding of the temple by Rome, the temple priests were corrupted and as such could no longer perform the ceremonial functions of forgiving sins. So the Levi Priest John the Baptist baptised people outside of the corrupted temple and in the wild (at the time) and holy river Jordan in the same manner that Moses’ law manifested before Solomon’s temple.

            You compare the fourth century collaborators with the apostle Paul who – “spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him” (Acts 9:29). You compare the authority of the Roman church to the authority of the priests of Moses and Melchizedek. I don’t care what you think of your church but have some respect for the bible.

            Allow me to caricature you a bit, after all you caricatured me with your “anti-civ shtick” shtick. Perhaps the reason you “cannot see how the trinity destroys incarnation” is because you cannot see incarnation, it is an academic theoretical construct to you, based on the overall rationalist/superstitious paradox of Hellenist intellectual tradition.

            Your comments in this conversation seem to me an example of the rationalist/superstitious paradox – you are starting with a solid faith and belief in the holiness of the imperial church and constructed various rationalist explanations as to how the recorded history can somehow be construed to confirm, or at least conform to, or at least not contradict, your faith and belief in the church.

            The classic traditions of the church do theology in exactly the same way. They start with the doctrine of the trinity and embrace it with faith and belief and try to rationally construe both the bible and experiences of god in daily life in terms of that doctrinal template.

            To understand the depth of the organic parent/child relationship as an explanation of god and of our brother Jesus, the divine amongst us, requires abandoning – even for a moment – the consciousness and world view of the empire and military and economic elites, not fusing with it. This is not just a matter of considering another opinion within the adversarial and devils advocate tradition, but of experiencing the world in a different way and drawing observations and conclusions from that different world view – a world of shamanic ceremony and place based identity. From the biblical tradition, the holy world view is that of the dispossessed, poor and imprisoned – the victims of empire. Blessed are the poor, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person toe enter the Kingdom of God. From this perspective, Jesus amongst us and the promise of our father’s inheritance has a very different meaning to the philosophical conundrums of rich global masters and their perceptions of their sky gods.

            Can you give any examples of homoousios in the bible? It is the basis for your faith and tradition, where does it come from?

          • John T.


            Saint Constantine’s attitude to the traditions of Jesus, in particular the Passover, the celebration of liberation from Egypt that Jesus told his disciples to continue in His name -

            “”… it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. … Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way.”

            What enourmous sin did the Jews commit? They evicted Rome from Israel.

          • Chris Haw

            Sorry: I should have answered your initial question more directly:

            I don’t see how taking somebody’s merits despite their flaws is sugar coating. You have waxed highly of King David. What can we say of him? The Bible gives him some high ratings; but it also paints him in a very terrible light and tells details of embarrassing and awful stories. Some of the prophets are downright insane; but we find the gold deeper within. Abraham wasn’t quite the Jesus-pacifist; but you have saved him a place in your anarchist kingdom. Can this Donatist inquisition last? Must Rahab’s hospitality be forever cursed by her imperfect past, or Jacob’s theft dissolve the root of Jesse’s stump?
            And I didn’t say Jesus “embraced the violence and idiocy of his day.” I am saying he could look past it–that he was capable of saying that he didn’t contradict the Law and prophets but fulfilled them, that Moses’ seat was still authoritative, that he drew out things old and new from his storehouse of treasures. I’m saying that while the Pharisees were among the violent idiots, he was able to have dinner with them even while disagreeing with them, that he could say we should “obey them” but not emulate them. In short, he could look past the surface of corrupt things to find the deeper root of the Jewish tradition.

          • John T.

            Where does the bible paint David in a terrible light? You may not approve of some things David did but the story itself makes no criticism of condemnation, rather it raises David as the most favored of God and the savior/shepherd archetype is based on him.

            You make a lot of assumptions about me. I am not a pacifist and am not confronted by David or Abraham’s violence. I am no a prude and am not confronted by David’s sexuality. While I am happy to wear the anti-civ label I disagree with it’s emerging orthodoxy that represented knowledge and art is alienated and that band society is better than tribe society, in fact I say band society is an ideological construct and does not and has never existed. But in the context of this discussion, I also disagree with the christian anti-civ critique of David.

            David was the redeemer, he too was a Levite – he reunited the tribes of Israel and instituted tribal sabbath law to replace the corrupted and war driven Kingdom of Saul, the Hebrew’s first failed attempt at gentile kingship. David had no temple. David’s kingdom was the last time the Hebrew people were united and (generally) faithful to God. It is this united kingdom, the reunification of Samaria and Judea that Jesus preached and, according to Acts, actually happened.

            Solomon is the transition, the end of heaven on earth began with his temple, when God was put in a box.

            The anti-civ critique of David is flawed for the same reason as the Hellenic heresies, they look at the story from the perspective of Greko/Roman civilization’s point of view. The Kingdom of David or the kingdom of God are perceived in terms of monarchist consciousness, not as the network of African tribal realms as described in the bible. David was king but his re-institution of Moses’ tribal sabbath and Jubilee law instituted decentralized economy and tribal structure as the mode of the kingdom, he did not institute a centralized state as Saul or the inheritors of Solomon’s kingdom did.

            I do not think there is any insanity in the bible, especially considering the characters are narrative archetypes and not biographical people. What there clearly is is shamanic vision, this is an attribute of the prophets right through to the author of Revelation. But biblical shamanic vision or mythical narrative does not justify obedience to violent idiots.

            Your Jesus might look past the violence and idiocy of his day but mine doesn’t.

          • Chris Haw

            Per Ric’s intimation of lowering the curtain here, I will defer, and share concluding responses to your points, and not respond with any further last words. Beyond this, I would hope to continue conversation in person some day; I’ll buy.

            The Bible, by my understanding, paints David in a bad light at the point it depicts David as more-or-less raping Bathsheba and then conspiring to murder Uriah to cover it up. I don’t take my aversion to those actions as sexual prudery or meek pacifism; they are violations of Mosaic law, if nothing else. And we have 2 Sam 11:27 saying “the Lord was very displeased with what he had done.” I also take David’s temple-less-ness on the grounds that he was simply not allowed to construct it, “because he had shed much blood upon the earth” (1 Chron 22:7f).

            As to the biblical warrant for Christ being (in non biblical words) consubstantial, or one in being, with the father, I would find at least John 1 a most mystical and deep place for such a mind-bending association–where the Logos is with God and also God. But a good amount of ink–not all imperially funded–has been spilled on the matter otherwise, and is readily accessible.

            With apologies for causing anyone on this thread a scandal of arrogantly missing the point or mind numbing boredom, I now bow out, prepared to not have the last word, and thereby appear to lose. Thanks for the vigorous interaction. Peace and love, Chris

          • John T.

            Hello Chris,

            Yes you are right about Bathsheba and Uriah, but that is David’s only blemish, according to the bible anyway –

            1Kings 15:5 “because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.”

            You are misinterpreting 1 Chronicles 22:8. The reason David does not get a temple is not because he is too sinful or unworthy or violent, the only reason Solomon got a temple was because of his father’s favor with God. The reason David does not get a temple is because the land and people are not ready – they had been through a prolonged period of war and had not yet had their stability and rest, which was the nature of Solomon and his kingdom.

            The “great wars” were not David’s sin but God’s command.

            e.g. 1 Samual 23:1 Then they told David, saying, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah, and they are robbing the threshing floors.”

            2 Therefore David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”

            And the Lord said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines, and save Keilah.”

            Your misinterpretation of Chronicles is the same illusion as the pacifist reading of the swords into plowshares prophecy, assuming it to be a moral affirmation of non-violence and a condemnation of violence – but it is not.

            Pacifists love to quote Micah 4:3 “…….They will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.”

            But for some reason they never seem to read the rest of the chapter (let alone the whole book). Micah 4:13 “Arise and thresh, Daughter Zion for I will make your horn out of iron; your hooves I will make out of bronze. You will crush many peoples; you will dedicate their ill-gotten gains to the Lord, their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.”

            The peace does not come until the war for justice is completed, I suggest this is the overarching narrative of the relationship between David and Solomon.


            Chris, thank you for this conversation, while I strongly disagree with you it is refreshing to hear a christian willing to try and explain their faith in tradition. Most christians including radical christians just faithfully but ignorantly accept the tradition of Christendom as a given and the platform for their faith. I am constantly surprised when Christians are stunned when I say the trinity is not amongst the descriptions of God in the bible – they had assumed the concept was biblical but never thought about it. Such faith in a concept that has just been assumed and not explored is a matter of brainwashing and cult behavior. I wish more christians took more interest in the tradition they claim adherence to, as you obviously do, whatever conclusions they come to after looking at it properly.


            Your brother from a common father,

            John Tracey

      • andy lewis

        This is Chris Haw unleashing his self-righteous anger upon everyone who has tried to forget his embarrassingly shallow theology… Chris, maybe you should stick to ice cream parties with other liberals like Shane.

        • JamesH

          Yeah, because a comment like yours isn’t “embarrassingly shallow” in the least bit . . .
          For the record, I greatly appreciate Chris’ comments. It’s nice to see someone challenge some of the simplistic portrayals of the Constantinian and post-Constantinian church that dominate so much free church, Anabaptist, and radical thought.

          • andy lewis

            To tell the truth, I’m surprised Chris has time to debate on here, I thought he’d be coordinating an election campaign.

          • Nekeisha

            Can we ease up on the chest thumping please? All the testosterone in the air is making my eyes water…

          • andy lewis

            The testosterone may be steroid related, this site needs a strict drug testing policy.

          • andy lewis

            Actually, now that I think about it the testosterone is probably from the milk in the ice cream Chris was eating.

  • JamesH

    Ric, I am on the edge of my seat waiting for part 2. What you’re saying resonates with me . . . in college I and many of my Free Church friends experimented with Canadian Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy because we “were seeking wisdom deeper than that available in the limited resources of [our] own tradition.” But ultimately I reached a point where some of these more ‘classical’ practices and traditions just didn’t seem capable of forming me into the radical Jesus follower I wanted to be. They helped me to detox from the stifling evangelical tradition I had come from, but they weren’t really helping me to detox from the empire that had worked its way into my DNA. I’m very interested to hear your suggestions for what sorts of practices of spiritual formation lay beyond the sidewalk.

    • rdhudgens

      Hey James. I recommend you get one of those inflatable exercise balls . . . I have no idea when part two will get posted and I have even less of an idea if it will help you answer any of your questions. As I’m continuing to reflect on both of these parts I’m realizing that the questions you underlined are perhaps more important than the few answers I’m offering anyway. I think the answers may get criticized, but if the questions don’t stand up to scrutiny then I’ve really been wasting my time – and yours.

  • Stephen

    i have to add my two cents to this awesome internet sparring. My favorite quote: “there is nothing holy about western civilization.” Thanks John T.! To Chris’s scoffing at that remark I offer these words: “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” We can mince words about it all we want, but either “holy” is a spectrum where everything is at least a little bit holy and a little bit unholy, or it’s black and white; either way, on one side there is Solomon’s glory (civilization) and on the other side there are wildflowers.

    Sorry to belabor this whole “anti-civ shtick”, i guess I’m still not over it. I enjoyed the detail of your debates, John and Chris. Keep it up! And remember, as Chris advises, let’s tip our hat at the clear cuts and watch the last wild places disappear for a subdivision: it’s up to U.S. to be more CIVILIZED than CIVILIZATION – just buy a prius!

    Sorry, I can’t help but make some jabs to lighten the mood. But seriously. I don’t know if this is worth responding to, but the reason I dont leave you alone and go live like a hunter gatherer, Chris, is because I choose to follow Christ back out of the wilderness towards a confrontation with the powers and service to a community of believers. Sometimes, though, I do need to go back into the woods to ask God for advice and to exorcise the demons of the city.

    Ric- looking forward to hearing the rest of your article. “Our imperial, civilized selves practicing disciplines shaped by
    imperial, civilized traditions can never upend imperial, civilized
    institutions.” I suspect nonetheless that at the root of even the most repressive practices of the tradition there is some misguided, abortive attempt to break the confines of domestication. It’s the institutions and ideologies that are repressive, and we’re all as individuals swung to and fro in a maelstrom of formalities and rituals, some well-intentioned, some downright evil, but I think we are only truly freed from this bombardment of dominating tendencies in isolated moments of transcendence, perhaps as a result of the kidns of spiritual practices you are talking about, ric. It would be helpful in this article (maybe this is coming in the second part) if we had more specifics about what those spiritual practices and traditions are.

    • rdhudgens

      Stephen, Part two was submitted with part one so we are all just waiting for it to get posted. On the tradition’s repressive practices I do not intend to make light of them, but rather to emphasize that they are never repressive enough to accomplish all that they hope to accomplish. Thank God. On “transcendence” part two will actually talk more about what Thomas Berry called “inscendence” without actually naming it as such.

    • rdhudgens

      I conflated the title of two of Calvin Luther Martin’s books. The book I was referring to above is entitled The Way of the Human Being. Martin’s earlier book was In the Spirit of the Earth.

  • rdhudgens

    I am not uncomfortable with a good argument, although I don’t choose to use my time on here for engaging in many of them. I do however want to use these arguments to illustrate something essential to my thesis.

    My suspicion is that prolonged addiction to argumentation is symptomatic of our dilemma. I’ve just served some time at the University of Chicago, founded by oil baron John D Rockefeller and funding the neoliberal ideology that has crushed our planet. There are some wonderful individual people at Chicago. Even anarchists have benefited from graduates of this institution (e.g. David Graeber). The rigor of their educational program is unparalleled. I learned a lot.

    Argumentation rules the day. Even the Divinity School proudly states that they are not a dogmatic school – what they believe in is a good argument. But argumentation (as necessary as good arguments sometimes are) is not one of the spiritual practices that will begin to shape us into the people we will need to be in order to manifest the fullness of the life God intended for us to have. I could “argue” that in fact the argument is a creature of the Western, Socratic tradition, institutionalized by the medieval scholastics, and now standing as the gate keeper of intellectual change.

    I am reminded of a story from Calvin Luther Martin (probably in his book The Way of the Earth) where he tells of some regional Canadian negotiations over land rights. The indigneous elders attended the meeting where everyone’s arguments and proposal were to be heard, where minutes were to be taken, and where decisions and policies were to be made. The elders listened to the long arguments made by the government and local leaders about the necessity of the imperial mandate. The chief elder then stood and began to tell a long story. The story began ages ago in the time of myth. The elder went on and on, telling the story slowly and deliberately. The story reframed the discussion as not about Canadian policy. The story underlined that their discussion was taking place as part of a much larger context and that the community involved in the discussion was much bigger than any room that might contain it. The Canadian bureaucrats didn’t know what to do. This was not an argument! Martin’s point in telling the story was that indeed it was not a western imperial argument. It was something else. Something that the west has never been able to comprehend. That ignorance somehow goes to the root of our dilemma.

    This is the irony of arguing that the western ecclesiastical tradition is totally repressive in a mode that was created by that tradition in order to repress dissent.

    So, I can appreciate a good argument. But at the end of the day the chasm between where we are and where we need to be is still going to be much wider than any argument can bridge. Unless we can get beyond argument into some practice that is truly transformative there is no material hope for substantial change.

    • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

      Do you think, Ric, that Jesus did not ever argue? With the Pharisees or scribes, for example? Or maybe you are thinking of one particular definition of “argue”?

      Certainly many in the Christian tradition who others (including me) recognize as good examples, also engaged in arguments regularly. Do you think this had no value in shaping the hearers or “manifesting the fullness of life that God intended us to have”?

      Of course if you’re personally not into arguing, I can respect that…

      • rdhudgens

        Rereading what I wrote above I see myself claiming that a good argument is something I appreciate. I also say that a good argument is sometimes necessary. Methinks you put words in me mouth. Perhaps I mean something else.

        • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

          Sorry, I guess I misunderstood what you were saying here:

          “But argumentation (as necessary as good arguments sometimes are) is not one of the spiritual practices that will begin to shape us into the people we will need to be in order to manifest the fullness of the life God intended for us to have. I could ‘argue’ that in fact the argument is a creature of the Western, Socratic tradition, institutionalized by the medieval scholastics, and now standing as the gate keeper of intellectual change.”

          It sounded like you were saying this was a creature we should avoid. But maybe not.

          • rdhudgens

            I am arguing that argumentation as a spiritual practice is still dominant in our institutions (churches, governments, academies). Christians (of whatever stripe) can be seduced by the apparent strength of argumentation even when arguing for vastly different purposes and ends. It is hard for us to imagine getting along without arguments. That is part of our intellectual and spiritual dilemma.

          • T. Brandon

            In china we have a story, which Ric, I think you’d like, credited to fourth century BCE daoist Zhuangzi (
            庄子 ) called the two goat herders. (Here I’ll change a couple insignificant points for the western audience, but the meaning will be the same).

            There were once two goat herders, Zang and Gu. Gu was a drunk who loved to gamble. Zang, however, was committed to learning and bettering himself.

            One day, Gu showed up to work drunk, and found some friends to play dice with. He spent the whole day drinking and gambling, and while he was incompacitated several of his goats wandered off.

            That same day, Zang was arguing with a local academic and several of his goats wandered off.

          • rdhudgens

            Perfect. : )

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