Subverting the rhetoric of American empire

Brandon Rhodes has written an EXCELLENT article at Jesus Manifesto called “Severing the Rhetorical Roots of the Empire“. In it he lists some quotes, inviting followers of Jesus to creatively rewrite them to displace idolatry and blasphemy with subversive truth, just as Paul and other early Christian authors rhetorically usurped Caesar’s place of privilege and subordinated him to the risen Christ.

I’ll start with a few contemporary quotes that ought to be easier to start with, and then work back in history.

George W. Bush:

“America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil — the very worst of human nature — and we responded with the best of America.”

Bush #2:

“This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”

Bush #3:

“In every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom. They have attacked America, because we are freedom’s home and defender. And the commitment of our fathers is now the calling of our time.”

Bush #4:

“Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.”

Abraham Lincoln:

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Thomas Paine:

“We have it within our power to begin the world over again.”

The U.S. Constitution:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

I believe that if we are to speak prophetically to the political realities of our time we have to produce language that echoes and engages the foundational statements that form the core of the American’s political self-understanding. These blasphemous claims, rooted in the idolatry of the flag and national spirit, must be challenged with the truth that Christ alone is Lord, that Christ alone is the one who defeats evil and brings peace and justice, that Christ alone makes atonement and hallows the earth, and that Christ alone has recreated, is recreating, and will recreate the world.

I end this post with one of my own – the antecedent should be obvious.

I pledge allegiance to the cross, to the one who carried it and died upon it,
and to the reign of true peace and justice, the kingdom of God in the world,
one church under God, holy, catholic, and apostolic,
in the unbreakable bond of divine life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
with true freedom and perfect justice for all.


musing about political terminology and misc.

Too often in our reading of the Bible, we make an easy association between words like “liberty”, “justice”, and other words that have political associations in our time, as well as words with other economic and social implications, and the usages of such words in modern liberalized political discourse. This error is often compounded by a profound general lack of knowledge of the origins of modern political systems and how these words came to be used in the ways they are today.

I’m currently reading William Cavanaugh’s Theopolitical Imagination, and that’s only one of the several simple-yet-profound points he makes. The underlying premise seems to be that the act of political organization itself is based on an act of imagination (the act of imagination that convinces a “provincial farm boy” to become a soldier and go far away to kill people he doesn’t know, so provoked by the concept of mystical communion set within arbitrary national borders and a constructed sense of common history and national mythology), whereas Christians are called to be a people of a different politic, a politic shaped by the imagination of the Eucharist which is deeply subversive to this modern nation-state imagination. It’s pretty good so far, I’m about 50 pages in (so almost halfway done – it’s a short book).

I have a shelf of books I call my “introduction to postmodern- and radical-Christianity” section. It includes books such as Dale Brown’s Biblical Pacifism, Vernard Eller’s Christian Anarchy, J. Richard Middleton’s The Liberating Image, and several other books that I feel provide good introductory discussion to topics pertinent to postmodernism, radical thought, and the Christian faith. One thought that’s percolating in the back of my mind is the possibility of doing a series at some point where I go through each of these books – that would be quite a lengthy project though. Perhaps a series of reviews would be more manageable.

I still don’t have my computer back, so updates will probably be few and far between for the time being.

Language, embeddedness, and perspective/normativity

It’s really only recently, within the past couple of years or so, that I have begun really, seriously considering and reflecting on just how embedded I am in a world where white, male, straight, Anglo-European, blue collar middle-class, small town, and education level so define the way I see things, the way I speak of things.

So many times the language I use is the language of habit, unthinkingly reflecting the place from which I come and the privilege in which I am embedded. While there is a sense in which the only language I have to use is that which I have inherited and developed within that embedded-ness, it is also true that I must be critical about the language I use to speak and even to form my thoughts internally. The language I use often uncritically mirrors that which I believe is either wrong or at least not normative, and yet I tend to see situations as if my perspective was the norm, and as if someone else would be “wrong” simply because s/he did not see the world colored in the same shades I do.

It is not as if I can escape being white, male, etc. and there is a real sense in which I can and should embrace those things about myself that so deeply make up significant parts of who I am. I can’t exactly rewind on my education, nor do I want to – indeed, I believe one of the most important reasons to become educated is to learn how to critically engage my very self and the ways that my perceptions create my world. I don’t believe the language I use, culturally conditioned as it is (for all language is culturally conditioned), is fallen beyond the point of redemption. I cannot and should not seek to assimilate my self, in all its glorious and hideous embedded-ness, into a place that is foreign to myself – but at the same time I need to acquire a sense of limited perspectivity beyond that to which I have already attained.

Or, to use Don Miller’s language from Blue Like Jazz, I need to stop believing the lie that life is primarily a drama about me.

Strangely, it is often precisely at the times I am most aware of this need that I find myself having thoughts shaped by language and habits I believe do not honor the image of God in those who are different than me – reproducing stereotypes of race, gender, class, sexuality. I’d like to think it’s because thinking of such things in that context brings them closer to the surface so I can begin to be healed from them… but sometimes I wonder if it isn’t just because, despite the fact that I think I believe in radical equality and the Imago Dei present in all people, I’m really just a bigot at heart.

a brief on the nature and limits of counterculture

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some thoughts on truth and religious epistemology

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another article from Brian Walsh and brief comment

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a brief on language and domination

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