Monthly Archives: March 2013

heremeneutic of privilege

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As I often do when I feel overwhelmed by a controversial theological topic that is beating me up, I gave my good friend and brother T.C a call (http://www.theologicalgraffiti.com/). He has a way about him that gets me back on track. Yet again, he came through in the clutch.

This particular phone call touched on the edges of quite a few subjects, but the one I can’t seem to shake is the conversation we had about our hermeneutic of privilege.

For those who are not familiar with the word, hermeneutic is simply an interpretive lens through which we read scripture. Everyone has a lens (or lenses), as it is entirely impossible for any single person or group to read the scriptures with a blank slate. For me, I’ve identified my dominant lens as one of privilege. However, what I mean by privilege is more holistic than it may appear. I don’t only mean that I approach scriptures as a fairly wealthy and educated white male (which I most certainly do), but also, as T.C. pointed out, a person saved by the grace of God (a privilege that implies I am no longer a slave to the world’s system).

We who claim to be Jesus people believe in a God that was more privileged than any wealthy white male could ever imagine, yet was willingly emptied for our sake, strapping on all the baggage that comes with being human. This same God that we find exhibited in the person Jesus calls us to follow in his Way. This is a very basic reality inherent in Christian theology in which you would be hard-pressed to find any disagreement.

Being that there is very little disagreement on the matter, why is it that we who are privileged have not sought to combat the hermeneutic that has isolated us from the people Jesus spent the majority of his time with? Why have we not had the insight to realize our hermeneutic of privilege should lead to a life of disadvantage? If I were to guess, I would say that it has something to do with the fact that we spend more time studying and worshiping in buildings surrounded by people who are exactly like us than we do engaging with folks who look and think differently than you and I.

Remember where it is that you come from. This Jesus we follow didn’t sit behind a desk with a library full of books that might provide all his followers with the answers to every theological conundrum known to man.

Instead he walked, he cried, he healed, he ate, he drank, he sweat and he bled. He spent time with people who were not like him.

We have to begin to examine ourselves more fully. Where is the majority of our scripture reading taking place? Do we do more theology behind a desk, on a mac, in a comfortable leather chair, or is there more flesh and blood in your theological reflection? Are we involved in a diverse community, one that challenges our presuppositions and pushes us to examine ourselves in ways we would have rather avoided?

It is imperative that we walk alongside the folks that have been cast aside by the privilege we enjoy. In this way, we will subvert our privilege by allowing the poor, the meek and the pure seekers to illuminate our blind spots. This is the good news. This is the way of the Messiah.

-dave-

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Aside

The Walking Dead, saison 1I am a major fan of The Walking Dead. I’m not usually into zombies, but something about this show seems to do it for me. For all those who watch, the characters (those not yet undead) are faced with the choice between embracing the death growing inside them or living with the hope that life is still good and worth living . Some choose to dive into this world of walking death with full force, capitulating to its apparent hopelessness and choosing to leave their lives of kindness, generosity and trust behind. Others remain hopeful, seeking to treat the people they meet as they would like to be treated (welcoming them, killing off zombies for them, etc). This sort is the minority.

The main character on The Walking Dead, at least for now, is a man named Rick. He is the leader of a group of survivors (folks who have yet to fall prey to the zombie apocalypse), and is often forced to make decisions as to whether or not he should welcome strangers in or cast them away to fend for themselves. More often than not (as of late) Rick trusts no one, tending to throw others out into the streets rather than welcome them in (as had been previously done for him twice before).

The more time that goes by, the more survivors fall victim to the death that is permeating the world. Rick and his companions are fighting a losing battle, constantly struggling to make it through another day.  All the while folks are being driven to insanity, losing the version of themselves that would stick out their neck for a person to whom they had no particular allegiance.

Our pre-apocalyptic world is not so different. So many of us wake up without expectation, without hope. Our day ends with the swipe of our brow and a prayer of thanks that God got us through another one. We don’t seem to live for the thrill that somehow our whole wretched existence might just be turned upside-down. In fact, most of the decisions we make have a desired outcome of creating a more comfortable life.

Many, if not most people are in search of stability. There’s a steady longing for peace and certainty that comes with being human, but it seems to me that the life God has invited us into is not quite so stable. It is clearly more dangerous to embrace a life of faith, to believe that love is worth it. It killed Jesus, and it’s been known to kill one too many Walking Dead characters.

The way of love and non-judgment (a.k.a the narrow way) is as difficult as it gets. It doesn’t take much to inflict pain, to go along with the way world bends, to treat others as you have been treated, but loving others as you would like to be loved is a fight against the tide. You will often meet resistance in the form of distrust, since many previously unloved folks are accustomed to being treated like they are an inconvenience, or conversely, a charity case. Not only that, but the folks who “know the truth” will try to tell you that your fight is futile and that the work has already been done for you. They will insist that you are trying to earn some sort of favor with God, rather than understanding that you are just trying to take that Jesus guy seriously.

Fact is, there is hope all around us. There are people who would rather die than kill and seek the good of folks around them at the cost of their own comfort. In a world where death sits on the throne, for me the only way to live is as a conscientious objector. Our rebel king gave us a Way, not just a new fairy tale to believe in so we can feel settled as the storms come.  I say bring on the storms! Somehow life will always break through, and I want to be a part of the kingdom that fights fire with water, not a passenger waiting for my ship to come save me from the treacherous waters.

Maybe in the end Rick and his friends will realize that their existence is not worth holding onto until they have given up the fight to stay alive. Self preservation is one of our worst enemies and it causes us to neglect the people who would enrich our lives the most. Our lives defined by comfort and stability are as life-threatening as the dangers facing the folks in The Walking Dead. May we take risks that will awake us from our zombie-like state.

For more on the kind of life I am trying to describe, read my friend Ryan’s blog here.

-dave-

look alive