An update on my life (& other propaganda)

I may not be as actively blogging as I’d like, but I assure you – I’m here. Still alive.

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With some of my favorite Friends

I haven’t had as much time or energy to write the past year – I’ve been trying to survive. To make it. To push my way through a 50-60 hour work week to barely pay my bills.

2016 and 2017 were packed with devastation, desperation, and were all around pretty terrible. Between the ending of my three year relationship, the death of my brother, and months of being unemployed, things were really hard. It feels miraculous that I’m still alive.

Things have only recently started to become more comfortable, and I’m beginning to have a little more space to digest the past year.

One thing I’ll admit: under the weight of surviving, I was often a reactionary. I made bold statements meant to convict, or rather guilt, those who didn’t hold radical political convictions. I deemed them lacking empathy for the oppressed, and to be honest, I saw them as people who didn’t care for my well-being. I came to despise them.

Of course, I wasn’t always full of grace, but also… a lot of people didn’t make space for me, not even those I considered my closest fellowship. It often felt like the only thing I could do was react. I wish I could have communicated the burdens and convictions of my heart with nuance, but I also don’t feel guilty or wrong for things I have said. They were and are true.

Through survival, I feel the Holy Ghost has transformed my conception of the gospel. The good news of Jesus became material. It became about people, and their bodies, and their survival. It became about liberation and humanization. It became about empathy.

For awhile I couldn’t even pray in good conscience. It felt like a waste of time. I knew I needed to act. It was there, in the streets, protesting, in direct actions, that I met God again. Rebuking the powers of this world. Lifting up the humanity and divinity of those our society is built on marginalizing. Revealing the justice of her kin-dom.

The past six months or so I’ve met other Quakers, Christians, and mystics who feel the need to act. They are convinced that the white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist empire we exist in needs to be abolished. Smashed to pieces. They are convinced that this is their duty as messengers of Christ’s gospel, as holy fools. They are people I wait in silence with, I pray in tongues with, I organize direct actions with.

A lot of my energy has gone into organizing with them. It’s been good. For me, for us. With these people, I am remembering why I fell in love with Jesus – the One who embodied solidarity and died building a revolutionary community. The One who desires to humanize both the oppressed and the oppressor, by tearing kings off thrones, and lifting up the humble – those subjugated by state violence, those forced into meekness.

This group I’m talking about is the Friendly Fire Collective. As our blog puts it, “the Friendly Fire Collective is a loose network of anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist Christians. Drawing from Marxist and anarchist political traditions, and grounded in the biblical vision of God’s Kin-dom, we believe we are called to create a new world in the ashes of the old.”

Knowing my Friendly Fire comrades has changed my life. Through them, I’ve stumbled into a Christianity I can believe again.

Some of them were recently arrested and are now facing felony charges for protesting at Michigan State University against an event that featured notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer. Because of this protest, Spencer decided to cancel the rest of his campus tour and declared that antifa was winning. My comrades believe that the struggle against fascism looks like something. And the cost for them is real. It could put them in prison. They remind me of Jesus.

We are currently organizing a retreat that will take place May 1-3. We will be participating in Philadelphia’s May Day march, we will be feeding the hungry, and we will be praying, worshiping, and teaching one another kin-dom praxis in some cabins we reserved in the woods. It should be fun.

For those interested in coming out to the May Day retreat, applications are due March 29th. For those who are interested in our collective, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions. Also, we have a monthly newsletter that you can sign up for – and here is our March issue.

Friendly Fire doesn’t exist to build our own brand. We are not a church-planting movement. We are a bunch of poor kids who love God and people. As a collective, we hope to nurture the emerging Religious/Christian Left. We want to help those with radical convictions and faith in Christ discover how these two things can be, and should be, beautifully married. We pray we can inspire the emergence of other collectives and prophetic radicals.

All this to say: Christians of the Left, unite!

 

To the White Liberal Church

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I’m glad you don’t hate gay people. I’m glad you think Black Lives Matter. I’m glad you’re inclusive, welcoming, affirming – I’m glad you’re the good kind of religious people.

But you’re not.

A lot of us had to learn that the hard way.

We had to learn that we were counted as members in order to reach a quota. We were present so the pastor, the church, the denomination, looked good. Open-minded. Liberal. Progressive.

Our gifts were used, flaunted even, and we were constantly affirmed. Told we were needed, necessary, and we were thanked. Over and over again. For what? For showing up. Without saying a word, we were counted prophets.

Until we noticed how you spoke to our immigrant mothers in broken English, or that your missions program was deeply problematic, or that the whole staff was white – and we said something. And then, we were no longer told we were prophets. Instead, we were trouble.

Sometimes we were patted, thanked for speaking our truth, told our words mattered and that they’d spill into the board meeting. But nothing happened. We were just politely hushed.

And then so many of us realized what was happening, wondered why are we even here anyway?

We fell in love with Jesus – who centered and glorified those on the margins. We fell in love with Jesus, but maybe not your Jesus.

It felt good to hear his words from the pulpit, it set fire under our feet, a burning in our chest, but then we looked around the congregation and wondered who here would die for me?

And when we realized that we couldn’t be confident that our fellow church members would share their wealth, their privilege, or their lives with their siblings in Christ, that’s we also realized they probably aren’t our siblings. And this is probably not a church. At least not the one Jesus formed.

We want the Church of Jesus. A church that feeds the hungry, frees prisoners, cancels debts. A church that is aware and awake to the suffering around them and determined to dismantle and destroy every system causing this suffering. A church led by and for those so often pushed down and out. A church that embodies Love, a church that embodies Jesus.

That’s not what you offer. Your seminaries, your liturgies, and your churches weren’t made for us. Not even your gospel is for us. I’m not the only one that’s left the white liberal church, and I won’t be the last. We’re done with your churches and we’re not coming back. And I’ll let you know – we’re finding each other and we’re building something better. Truer.

A Revolutionary Pentecostalism

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A service at Catch the Fire Church, site of the Toronto Blessing

To be Pentecostal is to be political.

Through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we are immersed into a new reality. We see the governments and authorities around us for what they are, and in us begins a longing for the kin-dom Jesus spoke about, breaking in and spilling over. A new politics emerges in our hearts, one that values others as holy and seeks to create a world where love is the name by which all are known. We stumble into a world where the weak reign and the powerful are humbled, where divinity is found in humanity.

This is the kin-dom of God.

We are overcome by a love that drags us down into its deep embrace and shows us who we were made to be, who we really are. We meet mercy as a dear friend – familiar, intimate. Love was always there, staring us in the face, waiting for us to open our eyes. There were moments where we yielded to love without knowing, our eyes shut tight. But in this baptism, we jump in to seize (and be seized by) God’s kin-dom. We are gloriously devastated. And we see in this kin-dom of God – as it touches the world around us and everything bursts into flame – that we are standing on holy ground.

We know it in our bones. We always knew. When we were baptized in the Spirit, did not our bodies tremble? We were transfigured, and we could not help but babble in Spirit language. We were babies with so much to say, but our words were not enough to utter what stirred within us. We stuttered – our tongues undone. The world heard us tripping on syllables, intoxicated, and counted us fools. But here we are with our feet planted firmly in heaven.

We must not lose sight of that baptism. It was a taste, a first opening, a grand and debilitating invitation to the kin-dom within. We must not be satisfied with that taste. We weren’t invited to visit the kin-dom, but to host, to live in, to embody kin-dom come. We are called to feast.

This kin-dom cannot co-exist with our current governments and authorities, the systems, the powers and principalities. There is no place in the kin-dom for domination, no need of coercion.

So it is through baptism that we enter apocalypse, the uncovering of truth. Our eyes are opened, and we see Love. Our eyes are opened, and we see the devastation of empire. Our eyes are opened, and we know that empire’s time has come to an end. It is finished.

But the Church tells us to wait. That reality, that world – that’s in the future. We have no role in its manifestation, we’re told, so we wait – convinced that this waiting is patience, convinced that we are waiting on God. Tragically, we’re waiting on what is already in us while God waits for us to take hold of it. God calls us – agents of kin-dom come – to break in, to dismantle, to sabotage, to subvert, to find those imprisoned and set them free.

I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

God has been waiting for us to break in and bind the powers of empire – capitalism, white supremacy, the carceral state, every injustice, every evil.

God has been waiting for us to break in and loose those in slavery to empire – the poor, the naked, the hungry, those sick and in prison, anyone hungry for Love.

We are called to fight our way into the future we believe in. To create a world where kin-dom can thrive. To bless, nurture, and build movements of liberation. To participate in them, to join the struggle of the oppressed. To manifest the outrageous empathy and compassion that we met on those sweat-soaked church carpets. Freely we have received, and freely we shall give.

To be a Pentecostal is to be a revolutionary.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

On Being Friends with Jesus

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“Slain in the Spirit”

I came to know Jesus when I was 16 years old. I was swallowed up by a revelation that sticks me with today: Jesus is God. Before that, religion was forms, it was duty. But then, it became a relationship, a person, a new kind of existence.

When I look to Jesus, I look to God. In this human, I can know God. It was through Jesus that I realized that I could be friends with God.

Newly saved, I would be anxious to get home from school, wanting alone time with God. I would read the Bible for hours, wrestling with the text and demanding wisdom, clarification, answers from God, and sometimes I’d be led to something, and other times not. No matter what, I was just happy to be in God’s presence.

I’d sing to God, dance with God. I’d have fits of laughter that would go late into the night. My mom would come into my room to scold me, thinking I was on my laptop screwing around on YouTube. She’d find me sprawled out, being tickled by the Holy Spirit. Her son, a Pentecostal. Relieved, I’m sure, that I wasn’t on the computer, but mostly confused. She didn’t know what to do with me.

The cheesiest pop songs on the radio – God, even Coldplay – began to mean to something to me. That’s how I felt about God. I longed for God. She was beautiful. I couldn’t get her off of my mind. I loved how she wrapped herself around all humanity, all creation. I love how she made her home in me. She was Love itself. And I was in love. I still am.

All that to say, I love Jesus. God is my friend.

As I’ve come to know Jesus, I’ve come to the humanity of God. The God I met in Christ is the marriage of humanity and divinity. “Fully God” looks like “fully human.”

The life of Jesus is the life of God. And his life wrecks all hierarchies. It dethrones all kings. Even Jesus was dethroned. With a crown of thorns, he took up a cross instead. And he calls us to do the same.

This is what it means to be godly: it is surrender to empathy wherever she leads you. It requires a certain weakness, a humanness, a vulnerability, that makes one take up the pain of others, to join their struggle and lean into solidarity,  fearlessly and shamelessly yielding to the movement of liberation.

By the looks of it, being God is being an accomplice, a comrade in the struggle. If the livelihood and very existence of the oppressed is practically illegal, then we are called to become accomplices. We are called to an existence that rejects and actively combats the false authorities that are imprisoning and murdering God’s image-bearers. Going as far as literally “setting prisoners free.”

Allies are not accomplices. Allies are disconnected from empathy, valuing appearances and gestures over action. Knowing the direction of where justice is calling us to, but limiting their surrender to it. They create no tangible or material change but rhetorically affirm their righteousness. They will not join the struggle of the oppressed but will instead dialogue with the oppressor, believing that they can convince others to be reasonable, compassionate, and perhaps, repentant. Meanwhile, people die.

Their desire for everybody, most importantly the oppressor, to be comfortable is more necessary than the liberation of those suffering. They’re proud to be more progressive and enlightened than others. They believe they see beyond the emotional cloudiness of the oppressed and the ignorant bias of the oppressor. And that they can be friends with both.

But they can’t. When you become a friend of Jesus, you discover he has very real friends, and very real enemies. Ultimately, Christ’s war is against systems and not people, but there are people who enjoy and push forward these systems, and they need to be restrained. These people are not your friends.

When you become a friend of Jesus, you join the struggle of his friends. And his friends are those that bear the Image of God most fully – the oppressed.

In some sense, there is still a hierarchy. We are called to lift up those who have been crushed, to amplify the voices of those pushed out and rejected. They are God’s priority and this is their gospel. In their suffering and denial of power, they know the heart of God. By being willing to do whatever it takes to honor their Incarnation, you become a Christian.

Honoring their Incarnation may call a disciple of Christ to what some may call violent action. We cannot simply dismiss all physical harm done to others for the sake of revolutionary and liberatory purposes as violent, when the ways we are trying to transform society are not working, and people are dying as a result of that.

If your pacifism is merely an ideological value and not a threat to the state and these systems we are called to wage war against, then your pacifism sides with the violence of the state.

The threat of the Alt-Right and the growing number of organized and armed fascists and ultra-nationalists, is a reality the Church is facing and will continue to. Violent political upheaval didn’t climax in Charlottesville, it was simply inaugurated on a larger scale. The original sin of the United States, white supremacy, has become more blatant and spelled out, and as capitalism collapses on society, things in this regard will only get worse.

Such purist perspectives on violence are idolatry. The idea that God is above us and that their instruction is more important than the well-being and lives of God’s children is cruel. This piety is demonic. Any theology that values God above people is false. From experience I can say that as I’ve fallen more in love with God, I’ve fallen more in love with God’s children. Our loyalty to God is found in our loyalty to the suffering. If our loyalty to God leads us to betray or forsake the suffering, then we are deceived idolaters.

Allyship is not enough. The kin-dom of God is not a matter of talk, but power. When God’s love manifests, it turns power upside down. It destroys and creates. It tears down and lifts up. It’s shocking. It makes people angry, scared even. It’s prophetic.

Of course, allies will name the marginalized in their lives as prophets. That is, until they prophesy to them, or their community. When their allyship is attacked, they will shut down these prophets with condescension, with eyes signaling that they’re understanding but words that are really just a drawn out, polite hush. They say, isn’t that a little harsh? Isn’t that taking it a little too far?

Friends of Jesus are accomplices and realize that loving their neighbor looks like something. It looks like solidarity, it looks like mutual aid, it looks like reparations, and, frankly, it looks like revolution. They realize that sometimes loving their neighbor looks like keeping their neighbor from oppressing others. They realize that love for others can put their reputations and lives at risk. They realize that the systems that dictate our lives cannot be reformed or transformed, but need to be abolished. And they act on it. They live it.

God’s kin-dom demands more than allyship – it demands revolutionaries. To be a friend of Jesus is to know him not as a great leader or mighty king, but as a comrade. To be his friend requires becoming an accomplice to the oppressed, to join their struggle. As he was an outlaw for the sake of the oppressed, so will be his followers. He will walk with us, hand in hand, to tear down Empire, and to welcome our kin-dom. It’s in our midst, he says. We just need to be willing to let love unravel in our lives. It’s a daunting task. The systems of the world are built against you, and they will fight you from all sides. Do not fear, though, for he is with us, to the end of the age. Love is on our side.

Jesus, a Failed Revolutionary

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

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Many who followed Jesus hoped for a revolutionary, a leader who might liberate Israel from its imperial oppressor. Christ could have been the answer.

But he died.

And I wonder, if Jesus wanted an insurrection, then why did he die on the cross? Why didn’t he accomplish a revolution?

I’ve been sitting on this question, waiting and thinking. In the meantime, my apocalyptic theology has grown more and more anarchist. I’ve been impatient and angry. But my sense is that this isn’t the way of Christ.

God in Christ reveals what it means to be human. It is love – to live in communion with God and with your fellow children of God. It is to be surrendered to God’s liberating love, embracing the way we are all connected and bound to one another, and following the riskiest and most beautiful implications of this connection, even unto death.

Jesus embodied the truest, fullest way to be human.

And the cross reveals the cost. It reveals that this liberation work, creating a new society marked not by hierarchy but instead by equality and mutual yielding, might cost something. And it is worth it. It must be worth it. People are worth it.

I think the problem is that following God makes us feel like failures. We work and we work and we work, but we do not see the authorities and systems we fight come crashing down. We die fighting for revolution, contending for Heaven to be realized on Earth.

Living into God’s kingdom takes the same commitment that Jesus had, one where laying down your life for your friends is not just the greatest way to show love, it’s also the only way to undo imperial oppressors.

Jesus modeled the life of a true revolutionary, absolutely committed to the way and politics of heaven, even to the point of arrest, torture, and death – even to the point of failure. Living into Christ’s revolution means that failure is both possible and probable. But if resurrection is Christ’s insurrection, then failure might also be the only way to win.

There’s another lesson here: the destruction of the systems and authorities on this earth and the realization of God’s kingdom cannot be accomplished by one person. Christ’s ministry wasn’t a one-man show. It can only be realized through his people, through his body. Through us.

Jesus revealed to us that we need to actively live into another Way. We heal one another. We feed one another. We provide for one another. We work together. We fight for the liberation of all people everywhere. The Lamb’s war is our war.

It could cost us everything. But people are worth it.

The Kingdom is Waiting

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Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter

I remember falling in love with Jesus my junior year of high school. God received me, embraced me, didn’t ask questions. God loved me.

And then I started getting to know Christians.

I went to an end-times Bible study most Saturday mornings my senior year of high school. We listened to recordings of teachings from Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer – Kansas City, a charismatic ministry with a mission of praying and worshiping 24/7.

It was a small Bible study. Usually there were just three or four of us. We ate bagels, sat in fold-out chairs in a circle, often huddled around a space heater. We listened to Bickle describe the dreadful days that were coming, and every so often one of us would exclaim “Wow!” or “Amen!”

But there was this one moment. I looked around the room. Nobody had their eyes open. They were concentrating on Bickle, trying to soak up every word. It dawned on me that they really believed the end times were approaching, that the day was near. I didn’t know if I believed that.

I felt bad.

Bickle talked about riots, literal battles between the righteous and unrighteous. It didn’t remind me of Jesus.

That’s how it’s been for me. I want to be orthodox, to be right, to fit in. More than anything, I want to be in a community of people who know the God I know, who know what it is to be loved with abandon. But this weird thing happens where for some reason I have to choose between Christ and community. And every time I’ve conformed myself to the expectations of a faith community, I’ve had to resist the love I first met in Jesus.

I think that’s toxic. I think it’s abuse. It took me a long time to see that.

Much of what we know as Evangelicalism doesn’t look or sound like Jesus.

But there’s another side to the story. Sitting in that circle, realizing that maybe I didn’t belong, I noticed a change in the words we were hearing. Bickle began talking about the Church being used to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth by embodying the Sermon on the Mount, by trusting Jesus.

And I knew.

That’s why I’m here. That’s a message I can believe in. But what is it exactly? Bickle’s eschatological narrative calls for us to convert people, pointing to a kingdom that is somewhere else and for another time.

But in Jesus, that kingdom is already here, among us, waiting for us to notice. Waiting for us with love.

This Has Always Been the Cost

We’re only 12 days in. Not even two weeks. And this presidency is already devastating.

Donald Trump is waging war against the American people.

Six journalists were charged with felony rioting for covering protests at the presidential inauguration. It’s now illegal to protest on the floor of Congress, or to live-stream a protest on the House floor. Resisting arrest is now considered a hate crime in Louisiana. A new bill was introduced in North Dakota that allowed motorists to “unintentionally” run over any protestors obstructing a highway.

History has a name for what America is becoming. And it’s not “representative democracy.”

Opposition is illegal. Yet we must oppose. Every vile thing coming out of this White House must be opposed.

A mark of Christian discipleship is a willingness to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Jesus invites his followers to take up their own crosses, to be willing to let Love lead us into dangerous, painful, even life-threatening territory. Jesus teaches us that “there is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Do we taste that love among us? In our fellowship? In our worship? Are we willing to die for one another? For the liberation of the oppressed? For Jesus? Are we willing to be tortured because of our deepest convictions? Are we willing to face unjust imprisonment?

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Convicted of blasphemy, James Nayler was branded with a “B” on his forehead and his tongue was pierced with a hot iron

Which reminds me. It was once illegal for Quakers to gather. For 25 years in Britain, the mere act of worshipping together landed thousands of Friends in jail. Whole meetings were sent to prison. And yet Friends kept meeting. They also stirred up trouble. They did prophetic acts, such as “going naked as a sign” or wearing sackcloth and ashes. They publicly argued with priests and condemned the established church. They refused to tithe and pay taxes that fed the violence of empire.

Friends did not avoid trouble. They ran toward it.

British prisons were filled with Friends. Within a year of the passing of the 1664 Conventicle Act – an act created to stamp out independent, nonconformist religious groups – 2,100 Friends from five London meetings were arrested. It has been estimated that 1 in 3 Quakers experienced state-sanctioned persecution in the first 35 years or so of the Religious Society’s founding.

Friends were holy trouble-makers.

This was their battle: the Lamb’s War. Being meek did not require subservience. Nothing about Quakers was passive or defensive. They created trouble. They were willing to deal with the repercussions of revealing the way of the Kingdom, of establishing a truer Society, even if it meant they might be publicly shamed, tortured, and imprisoned.

Today, as news keeps rolling in of injustices committed by our own government, I find myself wondering whether I might be willing – truly willing – to follow Christ anywhere. Even into prison. Even unto death. It seems that this has always been the cost of being a Friend of Jesus, a disciple of Christ.

Tomorrow is Day 13. I don’t know what it will bring. But I think I’m ready.