Tag Archives: Rome

Jesus for President

30 Apr

Jesus for President-Shane Claiborne
Section III: When the Empire Got Baptized Part V

God Bless America (This ought to be fun since I work with a 501c3 non-profit church that has this painted on the side of their building)

Ched Myers does great work with the idea of “God Bless America” in his article “Mixed Blessing: A Theological Inquiry into a Patriotic Cant,…

In the Hebrew Bible, the imperative “Bless!” occurs only thirty out of the several hundred times the verb barak (“to kneel,” as before a king) appears. OF those thirty occurrences, the majority are liturgical exhortations to “bless the Lord,” mostly in the Psalter (e.g. Ps. 66:8; 96:2; 104:1). In other words, the act of blessing is most often directed toward heaven, not solicited from it! Only four times in the entire Hebrew scriptural tradition do we find requests in the imperative for divine blessing. Even more intersting (or troubling, from the point of view of the “patriots”) is the use of blessing in the New Testament. Of the forty-one appearances of the Greek verb eulogeoo (“speaking a good word”), only twice do we find it in the imperative mood. In neither case does it involve God. It does, however, involve us–and our enemies. In his famous sermon on the Plain, Jesus invites his disciples to “bless those who curse you”. These instructions are later echoed by the apostle Paul: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”. The lesson is unmistakable: we would do much better to ask God’s blessing on the world, and to bless God by loving our enemies.p199

Quotable Quotes-Jesus for President

4 Apr

Jesus for President-Shane Claiborne
Section III When the Empire got Baptized part IV
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What was so evil about Sodom? “now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezek. 16:49). That’s not what we learned in Sunday school.p187

When we are talking about a baptized empire, one that has dazzled the church into fonformity, we are not just talking about the violent militarism of Rome or the United States or Iran or North Korea. We are also talking about a much more prevalent, subtle, and powerful empire that seeps into every home – our daily global lifestyle.188

But wait, there’s more!

Quotable Quotes-Jesus for President

22 Mar

Jesus for President-Shane Claiborne
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Section III: When the Empire Got Baptized pII

On the Political Fringes of Empire p156

“Martyr means “witness.” Just as Christians wanted to live like Christ, they also wanted to die like Christ. This meant loving their enemies, even as their enemies fed them to beasts. There was no greater honor than to show the world what love looks like in the face of tremendous evil.”

“Wish yourself a martyr’s death. Blushing for shame you will be dragged before the public. That is good for you, for he who is not publicly exposed like this before people will be publicly exposed before God. Power streams forth when you are seen by men.”-Maximilla

Rome was not just an “evil empire.” It was dazzling, magical – the world stood in awe of her. Rome was known for her roads, progress, culture arc, architecture, and security. She was the best empire there ever was, some might say. Christians longing for the world to be God’s began to think maybe Rome’s hands would be the next best thing. There was no questions that there was a great splendor in Rome. The question was, what is the cost of that splendor? p158

An inscription in Halicarnassus, in Asia Minor, celebrates Augustus as “Savior of the whole human race.” “Land and sea have peace, the cities flourish under a good legal system, in harmony and with an abundance of food, there is an abundance of all good things, people are filed with happy hopes for the future and with delight at the present.” Jesus lived during the “golden age” of Rome. p159

“If anyone wants to see the beauty of the earth, he should travel the world or just come to Rome. For what grows and is produced among individual people is always here and here in abundance…Anything that you do not see here does not count among what exist or has existed.”-Aristides

Constantine and the “Fall” of the Church

[Constantine] emerged from the imperial tumult through several military conquests, the most popular of which was the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in the year 312. Before he entered into battle, so the legend goes, he saw a sign of the cross and heard a voice saying, “In this you will conquer.” Hmm…ironic, considering that for Jesus the cross meant refusal of worldly ways of conquering. Nevertheless, Constantine’s army won the battle, with crosses painted on their shields, securing Constantine’s power as the Western Roman emperor. With his gained appreciation for Jesus [or noticing that he must coopt Christianity because it was sweeping the empire] helping him with the war, he later passed the Edict of Milan, which granted tolerance to all relgiouns, especially Christianity.pp162-3

Theodosius proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of the empire, making it a crime not to be a Christian. That’s when things got even messier. The first recorded instance of Christians killings pagans occurred shortly after and before long, the militant church conquered lands and people throughout Europe, compelling them to be baptized or die.p163

The kingdom of God that had been known through a king who rules with a towel, a donkey, and a cross had become the empire of Christendom. In the name of the one who taught us to love our enemies, the church burned its enemies alive.p163

Imperial Christianity grew quickly from five million to twenty-five million people. Constantine flung open the doors of the church to the rich and powerful, but it was at a great cost. Repentance, rebirth, and conversion were exchanged for cheap grace, and the integrity of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus faded. People joined the church in droves, but Christain disciples were hard to come by. Christianity had an identity crises.p165

The history of the church has been largely a history of “believers” refusing to believe in the way of the crucified Nazarene and instead giving in to the very temptations he resisted – power, relevancy, spectacle…To say that we must kill our enemies and join the popular project to “rid the world of evil” is to call Jesus unrealistic. And this is possibly desirable for many; surely his ideas do not resonate with any common wisdom. But can you call Jesus the Son of God and also say, “He just doesn’t understand the world today”? p166

Another Exodus

“It is hard to imagine a gospel that is more of an antitheses of Jesus’ gospel and the Beatitudes than what we hear today in the church: “Blessed are the rich”; “Blessed are the troops”; “We will have no mercy on the evildoers.”

…about every five hundred years there has been another exodus. During the crisis of the Roman Empire’s crumbling, there were the desert fathers and mothers and the Benedictines. And during the difficulties of the Crusades and the split between East and West in the church, orders like the Franciscans, Poor Clares, and Dominicans were birthed. p169

Fast-forward from Constantine in the 300s to the Conquistadors invading (or settling, depending on your perspective) North American, circa 1600s…The Americas were soon violently swiped from the native inhabitants. This pillaging was powered largely by Christains, who often inerpreted their “success” as a reenactment of the Israelite conquest of Canaan.p171

The American project may have been a result not so much of malicious people as of bad theology – or wanting the right thing but pursuing it by the wrong ways.p173

So are we saying the United States of America is not a Christian nation? The United States is Christian inasmuch as it looks like Christ.p174

“Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference – so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. …I love the pure, peaceable and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, alaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.”-Former slave, Frederick Douglass

Quotable Quotes-Jesus for President

21 Mar

Jesus for President-Shane Claiborne
Section III: When the Empire Got Baptized pI
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The more the early Christians reflected on the life and message of their rabbi-messiah, and the more they tried to live the way of the gospel, the harder they collided with the state and its hopes and dreams, militaries and markets. In fact, Christians in those first few hundred years were called atheists because they no longer believed in the Roman gospel; they no longer had any faith in the state as savior of the world. p141

“We are charged with being irreligious people and, what is more, irreligious in respect to the emperors since we refuse to pay religious homage to their imperial majesties and to their genius and refuse to swear by them. High treason is a crime of offense against the Roman religion. It is a crime of open irreligion, a raising of the hand to injure the deity…Christians are considered to be enemies of the State…we do not celebrate the festivals of the Caesars. Guards and informers bring up accusations against the Christians…blasphemers and traitors…we are charged with sacrilege and high treason…we give testimony to the truth.”-Tertullian

“He called Abraham and commanded him to go out from the country where he was living. With this call (God) has roused us all, and now we have left the state. We have renounced all the things the world offers.”-Justin

[Origen, quoting Celsus:] “If everyone were to act the same as you Christians, the national government would soon be left utterly deserted and without any help, and affairs on earth would soon pass into the hands of the most savage and wretched barbarians.” [Origen:] Celsus exhorts us to help the Emperor and be his fellow soldiers. To this we reply, “You cannot demand military service of Christians any more than you can of priests.” We do not go forth as soldiers with the Emperor even if he demands this. [Origen goes on to say that if the Romans followed the teachings of Jesus, there would be no barbarians.]-Origen

“I do not wish to be a ruler. I do not strive for wealth. I refuse offices connected with military command. I despise death.”-Tatian

“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools…now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the crucified one…the more we are persecuted and martyred, the more do others in ever increasing numbers become believers.-Justin, martyred in 165 AD

“The professions and trades of those who are going to be accepted into the community must be examined. The nature and type of each must be established…brothel, sculptors of idols, charioteer, athlete, gladiator…give it up or be rejected. A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected. A proconsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he has despised God.”-Hippolytus, 218 AD

For some early Christians, a true conversion meant that they became a new kind of tax collector or business person, and for others it meant that they would get fired. In the young Jesus movement, if you worked in the brothels and decided to give your life to Christ and his kingdom, then you needed to rethink you career. But it wasn’t only people in the brothels who needed to do this reevaluation; so did folks who worked in the imperial games, made idols, served in the military, or worked in the imperial courts, jails, and markets. And it was the responsibility of the Christian community to support these young converts as they rethought their lives outside the empire.p144

“You who are God’s servants are living in a foreign country, for your own city-state is far away from this city-state. Knowing which is yours, why do you acquire fields, costly furnishings, buildings, and frail dwellings here? Anyone who acquires things for himself in this city cannot expect to find the way home to his own City. Do you not realize that all these things here do not belong to you, that they are under a power alien to your nature? The ruler will say you do no obey my laws, either observe my laws or get out of my country. Take care lest it prove fatal to you to repudiate your own laws. Acquire no more here than what is absolutely necessary. Instead of fields, buy for yourselves people in distress in accordance with your means.”-Hermas, 140 AD

The globalizing economy in the first-century Roman Empire was exploitative and unsustainable. Some of the best anti-imperial and pro-kingdom images we have from the early church are from John’s book of Revelation…the careful scrutiny of those in power while he was in exile forced him to write using poetry, symbols, and images…John’s writing in Revelation is filled with bizarre beasts like those we read about in Daniel. But John offers another image of the global market and the kingdom of Caesar…”the great whore.”(cf. Rev 18:2-5, 11-14) p148

Claiborne prefers the term “whore” to “prostitute” because prostitute implies a context of poverty and male-domineering sexual exploitation, whereas whore implies seduction and adulterous licentiousness.

Babylon (Rome) was considered to be great. John’s point was to reveal as a fraud what was every day considered normal, insisting that normal is not the same as good. p151

The supermarket of the day was called the agora…to enter the agora, in order to buy and sell, one needed to pledge allegiance, so to speak, to the economy patronized by Caesar…After affirming the center of the imperial economy, the person visiting the market would receive a mark on their right hand, allowing them to enter and to buy or sell:
“[The Beast] forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave to receive a mark [charagma] on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.”-Rev 13: 16-17

“The mark [charagma] of ancient Rome was not some esoteric symbol but a stamp used to certify deeds of sale, and the impress of the emperor’s head on the coinage…John new that while the right hand was holding the Roman coin, empire would transfix the mind of the bearer.”-Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther

[John] did not simply argue that various aspects of the market exploit this or that; rather he placed his concerns in light of a cosmological struggle between right and wrong…is is possible we can’t see the destructiveness of our economy not because we don’t know it’s terrible but because deep down, we feel that it’s necessary and that therefore it’s hopeless to criticize it?p153

Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Daniel had seared into Israel’s consciousness the sense of empires as “beasts”. 1) John alludes to this, naming the beast 666, the number of the beast who began the long drama of killing the people of Jesus…the Antichrist isn’t who any of us grew up thinking it is. Just as the letter X in Roman numerology stands for ten and V stand for five, so too do Hebrew letters hold numerical calue, and the letters of Nero Caesar add up: nrwn qsr = 666. Of course, this took a bit of calculation to figure out, as John warned, but it would not have been too hard to see what he was alluding to….We might even say that, in some sense, John was rewriting history from the perpective of the Lamb of God – Rome is no longer the prestigious guarantor of freedom at the height of its prosperity (as historians might read the times of John’s writing) but is the power that conspires to slaughter God’s love in the world. p154