On symptoms

My last email/post here was a short announcement that I was ‘unplugging’ for a week or so. My family and I live in Chicago. A big reason we live in Chicago is because of the public places and spaces. When those are inaccessible, Chicago becomes kinda... Lifeless. 

It’s been okay, but we needed to at least get outside. Madison, WI is one of our favorite places to get away. A couple of years ago, we found a nice little Airbnb on a lake that’s super clean and not too pricey.  So that’s where we were last week. And it was wonderful. If you know Madison, you know that there’s ample water and green spaces to enjoy. The weather was beautiful. Ahhh... 

And then, we got back to Chicago...
Plugged back in...

And, damn...

The world took an even deeper turn into the depths. The blatant (creepily nonchalant) murder of George Floyd caused the centuries-old rupture in the fabric of our nation and world to tear apart even more. The peaceful protests attracted violent looters. This is not a cause, but a symptom, of the racism that has been passed down for generations. It’s an outplaying of our inherited sins. A reckoning that was only a matter of time to come to fruition. 

My first reaction to the looting was frustration in that it defeats the purpose of ending police brutality - especially on people of color. I see that this will likely only root police brutality in even deeper. Now it has something to react against and a reason to escalate. 

But it helped to be reminded by our Metro Chicago Bishop the following...

“Unfortunately, some suppressed traumas have also ignited looting and the destruction of property. Such activity is neither the cure for the pandemic of systemic racism nor the perpetual brutality exercised against Black and Brown bodies, but it is a symptom of these things.” 

At this moment, all I really have is lament. 

Lament for the brutal and unnecessary deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the countless children of God that remain unnamed in the media. Lament for the countless children of God who have been collateral damage of this upheaval; not just during this pandemic and this week’s protests and riots, but throughout the centuries leading up to it. 

As someone who’s preparing for ordained ministry in the church, I have to take a stark look at the role religion and theology has played in this rupture. After all, bad theology is at the root of the symptoms we’re seeing in our streets today. As Luther stated in Thesis 21 of the Heidelberg Disputation,

A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls a thing what it actually is.

Theologians of the cross aren’t so much concerned with obvious moralistic ‘bad things’ like smoking, drinking, cussing, nudity, and saying God’s name in vain. The thing to be concerned about is so-called goodness - aka ‘theology of glory’. 

It’s astounding what humans can get away with when we deem a bad thing ‘good’. 

Our true teeth come out when we cloak evil in righteousness. 

I want to share a blurb from Pr. Nadia Bolz Weber (please read the whole thing here if you can)...

...Because from the beginning of this country, Christians have done evil and called it good. We have used God’s name to commit horrible sins and rather than repenting, just repackaged the evil.  (slavery -> Jim Crow -> voter suppression -> redlining -> police brutality -> school to prison pipeline)

I am persuaded that the venom of white supremacy runs deeply in us as a country and a people, for a very specific reason:  because the fangs that delivered it were given not the devil’s name, but God’s. When slavery, genocide and land theft is established as “God’s will”, it delivers a poison that can infect the deepest parts of a country while exonerating evil. Because messages that are transmitted to us in God’s name imbed far beneath the surface, all the way down to our original place, our createdness, our source code. And that shit does not just go away because we read a Ta-Nehisi Coates book or happen to have a Black grandchild.

Wokeness and policy change and celebrating diversity are a start, but not nearly enough to dig out the full infection. We must repent of the original sins of this country. Christian sins. Because the toxic heresy of God-ordained domination is a spiritual malady, not a cosmetic one.

This is why when people ask me, “why are you still connected to the institution of the church?” I can only answer, “because I believe that scripture and theology and liturgy are too potent to be left in the hands of those who only use them to justify their dominance over another group of people”

I’ll leave it there for now. 

Christ, have mercy. 

Grace + Godspeed,

Jonas