Heroes and History

The far right has few heroes.

That’s why so many of these climate-change denialists act like they are Galileo. All these jingoist Christian nationalists try to claim they are like Martin Luther or Dietrich freakin’ Bonhoeffer. Many closet white supremacists use the name of Dr. King or Rosa Parks. Co-opting the names and messages of great people is necessary to present terrible ideas as palatable.

In private they may praise the name of Hitler, or Nathan Bedford Forrest. But publicly, they have no inspirational fighters for truth and liberation, and that’s why they have to appropriate the words and images of famous people they would have burned, shot, or hanged.

Whenever they try to lay claim to some aspect of inspirational history, some selfless act of bravery that made humanity better, they whitewash and obfuscate. (This is why John Merrill had the temerity to justify voter suppression in the same breath as he mentioned Dr. King and Rosa Parks, claiming that automatic voter registration “dishonors their legacy”.) Their rhetorical acrobatics tell a funhouse mirror version of history. They envision a world where statues of slave owners teach history, but actual curriculum that teaches about slavery is “divisive.”

(This is pretty much the same thing they’ve done with Jesus: Worship the man. Ignore the teaching.)

And that’s why their name dropping of heroic figures stops with the top tier, with the Dr. Kings and the Galileos. They don’t talk about Oscar Romero, or Angela Davis, or Sojourner Truth, or Hypatia, or Martin Niemoller, or Dorothy Day, or Bayard Rustin, or Cesar Chavez.

And this is why we need to lift up the voices and names of those who are not instantly recognizable, to broaden our scope of heroes, to move away from the “Great [white] Man” approach to history.

Have yourself a lot of heroes. And make sure most of them *aren’t* famous.

Link

1) The linked article is for those who choose to engage.
2) Frequently it is not worth your time, energy, or mental health to engage.
3) I continue to resist the false, often implicit claim that persuasion is the only value of rhetoric on social media, or that the only merit in engaging is converting someone to your point of view. As Jesse Williams said, it is not your purpose in life to tuck ignorance in at night. Vituperation is an ancient and important rhetorical form. 
4) Still, it’s important to know how to talk to someone who has gone off the deep end, especially of that person is important to you.
5) And I persist in the belief that everybody can be saved from our tendency to harm ourselves, each other, and the planet.
6) And I persist in the notion that people with certain forms of privilege are the best suited and most obligated to speak to those who will listen.

Old White Guy Whitesplains Social Justice

Screenshot of David Brooks’ most recent NY Times column. Link here.

David Brooks has swallowed a big lie. Now he is propagating it:

“…a quasi-religion is seeking control of America’s cultural institutions. The acolytes of this quasi-religion, Social Justice, hew to a simplifying ideology: History is essentially a power struggle between groups, some of which are oppressors and others of which are oppressed.”

Until now, I’ve largely seen the “social justice is a religion” trope from right-wing white evangelicals terrified of losing their political power. Their targets have usually been people like me: pastors who believe Jesus did indeed have much to say on matters of power and oppression. They have simply wanted to discredit folks like me as “not real Christians.” I’m used to this, and have largely let it go.

But David Brooks, who has a much larger platform and sophisticated audience, has now brought this trope into the mainstream. I know a lot of clergy-types and moderates who love Brooks, so I am addressing this primarily to you:

Brooks is giving voice to some of the discomfort you may feel. He’s also completely wrong about activism, and late to the party about symbolism.

Let me start with the obvious bullshit before I come back to the “social justice as religion” trope.

Academics, activists, and organizers ALWAYS point out that symbolic changes are not substantive. This is a truism. A tautology. It’s like saying frosting isn’t cake, or “beauty is only skin deep.” There has been no end of activist writing over how painting “Black Lives Matter” on a street doesn’t change policy, or that “greenwashing” and “rainbow flags” don’t solve anything. “Performative” allyship is primarily about “virtue signaling” (like “politically correct”, this phrase was a liberal self-critique before conservatives co-opted it). And historically-oppressed groups need “accomplices, not allies.” So in pointing out that symbolic changes are… well, symbolic… you are very, very late to the party, David Brooks.

Yet symbols are important, and often most important to the people who say that they *are not*. It is an old, old trick to pretend you don’t care that someone attacks a beloved symbol. Symbols and the rituals around them have power. If they didn’t, most religion would evaporate.

Which brings us back to “religion.”

As a scholar of religion, I need to point out that there are a lot of things that can be called “religion.” Sports, for example, have chants, hymns, rituals, codes of ethics, myths, and sacred texts.

But the rhetorical goal of calling this movement for social justice a “religion” is not to give it importance, but to discredit it. It’s to create a binary choice for people who do consider themselves religious (to support a “false” religion or their own) and for those who do not (to be “religious” or agnostic). It’s to rebuke white evangelicals, some of whom are just waking up to the fact that systemic oppression might be something God cares about, and a call for them to return to the individualistic, status-quo, white supremacist religion of their predecessors.

There is little institutional organization to this anarchic, diverse, grassroots movement we are seeing, so slapping the label “religion” on it is a way to both create a false expectation it can never live up to and to elevate Brooks’ own worldview, which is thoroughly white, male, respectable, and homogenous.

Brooks’ rhetoric also obscures and marginalizes the religious and theological critique of white power. This is especially harmful to womanist, black, and queer theologians and pastors who have been calling us religious folks to take this stuff more seriously for AGES.

There’s a lot more wrong with this article, like the fact that he accuses SJWs of being narrowly focused both on “symbolism” and “structures.” It comes off as argle-bargle from an old white dude. I think he’s anxious that his voice might have less power in the new world that is emerging. “A hit dog will holler,” as they say.

So as one white dude to another: grow up, David Brooks. Take several seats. Read a book. Listen before you opine on stuff you know little about. People have been talking about this stuff LONG before you.

Drug Policy and the Church, Day 1: Start Here

Portrait of John D. Ehrlichman, assistant to president Richard Nixon for domestic affairs, by Oliver F. Atikins. From Wikimedia Commons.

“[We] had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

This is where we start. This is a quotation from John Ehrlichman, President Nixon’s domestic policy advisor, and it needs to be the first thing we consider. Sure, we can talk about addiction, and harm reduction, and prohibition, and the history of drug use and religion, and a number of other things. I plan to touch on those this week. But when we talk about drug policy in the United States—and by extension, in the world and in the church—we need to start with this quote right here.

We start here because nearly everything in our country has been weaponized for the sake of white supremacy and imperialism: religion, roads, housing construction, banking, marriage, the family, mass media. This is not an overstatement. EVERYTHING. But drug policy has been one of the most devastating weapons contrived.

Phyllis Tickle said that society goes through periodic 500-year cycles of revolution and reformation, a “rummage sale” where old ideas are brought out into the light, and we decide what to keep and what to throw away. Our approach to drugs is one of these areas that is up for review. Drugs and drug addiction regularly appear in sermons and prayers, even though these modern terms never appear in the Bible, so it is appropriate for us to consider them. 

I grew up in the 1980’s, during the “Just Say No” campaign. I have practiced abstinence from illegal drugs my whole life. As a pastor, I’ve seen the devastation wrought by opioid addiction—and who profited from it. But I’ve also walked in the Amazon with indigenous people who told me, “God has put a cure for every human ailment in this jungle.” Plant medicine from the rainforest, they believed, could heal the world—if the descendants of Europeans could only stop destroying it.

We need to acknowledge the harm that drugs can do to individuals and society, certainly. Alcohol and nicotine are responsible for tremendous social harm. Prescription drugs are the newest form of a long-term drug problem. Yet we often blame drugs instead of their antecedents: poor quality social relationships, being stuck in meaningless jobs, self-medicating for depression and anxiety. There are behavioral and biological components to addiction. Yet our policies are not about addiction: they are about disrupting communities and targeting certain people.

I start with the above quotation because we need to understand that the stigma associated with addiction and drug use is very intentional. Drug policy is responsible for the massive swelling of our prison population: The “home of the free” imprisons more people than any country on earth. The War on Drugs launched on June 17, fifty years ago, and its purpose was always to delegitimize the anti-war and Civil Rights movements. In order to weed out these toxic policies and attitudes, we need to pull them up by the roots.

Prayer:
God of Justice, we so often do the wrong things for the right reasons, or allow unjust harm because we are convinced of a greater good. Give us wisdom and discernment to know truth from lies, and to be ruled by love rather than fear—in our personal lives, as well as public.  

Let’s Make June 17 “End the War on Drugs” Day

Source: American Enterprise Institute

June 17th is coming. This is the date Nixon declared a War on Drugs.

John Ehrlichman was Nixon’s domestic policy advisor. In 1994 he said in an interview that the administration “…had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

The story came out in 2016. Here is the link: https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/

It has been widely documented how this War on Drugs led to America being the incarceration capital of the world. The State of Alabama has the fifth highest incarceration rate in the world.

While most of the people we lock up are white, incarceration disproportionately affects black people. According to Alabama Appleseed, black folks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white folks, even though we know drug use is the same across race, class, etc. There’s just as much, or more, drug use in Mountain Brook as in West End.

And while pro-prison legislators in Alabama will point out most long-term prisoners are in for violent crimes, we need to ask about how our awful drug and mental health policies LED to those violent crimes. Alabama prisons are the largest provider of mental health care in the state!

As people begin to turn from protest to thinking “What Now?” I want to say again that POLICY needs to change. There is bipartisan support for prison reform, but I want to ask you to look at some of the arguments for prison ABOLITION. You don’t have to sign on. Just LISTEN.

(Even the American Enterprise Institute, who produced the graphic attached, supports changes in policy. The AEI is a conservative capitalist institution.)

Incarceration has add-on effects: many convicted persons can no longer vote. While in prison, census data records them as residents of the (mostly white, rural) counties where they are serving their time. Both of these effects create taxation without representation, and decimate the political power of black citizens. 15% of African-American adults in Alabama cannot vote.

All of the wasted money in prisons could be funneled into things that actually improve people’s lives. Treat addiction as a public and mental health problem. Move cannabis to lowest enforcement priority. Take psychedelics that show therapeutic promise off Schedule 1. Invest in harm reduction programs. Reduce economic inequality, make the world less awful, and people will spend less energy trying to escape it.

Remember, the Nixon administration knew there was a link between white supremacy and perpetual war. They made a strategic 50-year investment in subjugating our nation, creating a permanent carceral state and modern plantation system. We are now seeing the war machine being used on us in our own cities, as police with military hardware treat protesters like a prison population.

June 17 is coming up. We should mark the date by calling for an end to the failed, racist, militarized War on Drugs. Two days later is Juneteenth: a fitting day to celebrate freedom, and recognize that slavery and white supremacy are still very much with us.

The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 26: The City of Nine Gates

 
1280px-Tessaloniki_BW_2017-10-05_17-12-47

Thessaloniki, by Berthold Werner. From Wikimedia Commons

 

Those who renounce attachment in all their deeds live content in the “city of nine gates,” the body, as its master. They are not driven to act, nor do they involve others in action.  (BG, 5:13)

Krishna has been talking about the way the wise person, by understanding and identifying with the Self, can act without being attached to the results. Today I want to spend a moment on this descriptive metaphor for the human body: “the city of nine gates.” There is a fascinating allegory in another scripture, the Srimad Bhagavatam, that goes along with this metaphor, about a king (the Self), his queen (intelligence), their many bodyguards (the senses), and all the bodyguards’ wives (the desires) who inhabit the city of nine gates (the body).

There’s some ambiguity in how humans understand the body and our relationship to it. Are we a soul in a body, like a ghost in a machine? Are we our body, with our consciousness created simply by chemical reactions in our brains? Are we a “psychosomatic unity,” with body and consciousness intertwined?

I love the notion of the body as a city, with traffic constantly coming and going, with many symbiotic and competing processes going on inside. The “gates” are the places traffic comes and goes: sensory data, food, waste, reproduction. It is so much different than the “machine” metaphor which arose during the European Enlightenment, that looks at the body as simply a collection of parts. A city, by contrast, is only a city because there are many living creatures in it. It is hub of ceaseless activity, even when it appears to be still.

I’m reminded of another metaphor used in the Bible: “…don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves?” (1 Corinthians 6:19, CEB). We who never saw the Temple in Jerusalem might think of the temple as a simply a beautiful place of worship, but it was likewise a hub of activity, with gates, a courtyard, and different kinds of holy spaces for different kinds of tasks.

In both the Gita and the Bible, the question is this: do we really inhabit our bodies and treat them appropriately, or do we allow our desires and passions to rule us? Do we mis-identify the Self with the body, ruled by the notion that every desire must be gratified, allowing just any traffic in and out of its gates? Or do we manage our bodies as if they are whole ecosystems, treating them with reverence and love?

I have to note that the phrase “your body is a temple” is often used to shame people. There is enough body dysphoria in the world! Fat-shaming and slut-shaming are two particularly pernicious ways this metaphor gets used in our society. But there are so many different kinds of temples and cities in the world, and if they were all the same there would be no point in tourism! The metaphor is intended to help us: you get to live in this city, with all its quirks and beautiful spaces, its unique characters and particular spirit. Learning to love our city and manage it well is part of becoming a mature and wise human.

Revering the body as a temple, or a city, also means that we must do justice to other bodies. Incarceration, police brutality, violence enacted against other bodies is violence against God.

Prayer: This body is the container, the vehicle, the temple, and the city of my human experience. God bless my body!


NOTE: Because of the protests around the murder of George Floyd and the heightened consciousness of systemic racism, I’m going to take a brief intermission from the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita next week. I will spend a few days talking about Drug policy and the Church. Drug policy and criminal justice are some of the main vectors of systemic racism in the United States.

I hope you will stick with these devotionals for this intermission. We’ll return to the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita on June 15.

The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 25: Interlude: Non-dualism, Non-attachment, and Social Justic

 
Screen Shot 2020-05-27 at 8.30.49 AM

As we go through this study on the Bhagavad-Gita and the Bible, I’m struck by how applicable some of the lessons are to our current moment. We are living during a mass extinction due to climate change, in a global pandemic, in Depression-era unemployment, with non-existent federal leadership, in the midst of civil unrest over systemic racism, police brutality, and surging racial and economic inequality.

An exploration of consciousness may seem abstract and metaphysical, but remember: all of the dialogue in the Bhagavad-Gita takes place in the moments before a great battle. This is all preparation for a fight. Awakening and enlightenment are not about escape from the world, but about engagement with it. Krishna tells Arjuna to “act without attachment to the results,” to practice “non-duality and non-attachment.”

When we feel helpless and don’t know what to do, this is what the Bhagavad-Gita says to return to: see the Lord of Love present in every creature; recognize that we all come from God and all return to God; marvel at the mystery of life; reject simplistic binaries of right and wrong or black and white; understand that even your enemies are on a journey; and finally, without selfish desire, act courageously for the sake of life and the world.

For me, that means standing up to bullies and showing up for the oppressed. It means addressing white supremacy and systemic injustice. I may lose the fight. I may win, but at enormous cost. I may win, and still do harm I regret. I may make mistakes. I may sometimes feel that no good deed goes unpunished. I may be criticized and publicly shamed. I may get accolades and feel hollow.

None of that is the point. Overcoming our timidity about love and justice is. We need not act with a divided mind if we are not attached to the outcomes. Winning or losing is not the point. We shouldn’t even be too attached to “being right!”

Martin Luther, in his letter to Philip Melanchthon, wrote “God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but let your trust in Christ be stronger.” He was not exhorting people to sin, but to recognize that we do not earn rewards by picking the “right” behaviors. We may sin, intentionally or unintentionally, but it is better to own it and trust God’s mercy than to tiptoe through life.

In the movie Princess Mononoke, the main character, Ashitaka, is cursed and forced to leave his home. He can only be cured by finding the source of the pollution, a war with many competing factions that is destroying the forest. In order to discover the cure, he has to “see with eyes unclouded by hate.” He stoically accepts his fate and wades into the conflict, showing all the virtues of a Buddhist warrior-monk.

Knowing the “Self” helps us to act. And by acting, we come to know the “Self.”

Prayer:
Let my contemplation lead to action. Let my action lead to contemplation.


NOTE: Because of the protests around the murder of George Floyd and the heightened consciousness of systemic racism, I’m going to take a brief intermission from the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita next week. I will spend a few days talking about Drug policy and the Church. Drug policy and criminal justice are some of the main vectors of systemic racism in the United States.

I hope you will stick with these devotionals for this intermission. We’ll return to the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita on June 15.

Violence and Nonviolence

How quickly Christians forget Holy Week!

“They were trying to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, who thought he was a prophet.” (Matthew 21:46).

They
Feared
The
Crowds.

Do you remember Jesus’ words to the Temple Police?

“Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me, like a thief? Day after day, I sat in the temple teaching, but you didn’t arrest me.” (Matthew 26:55)

So this is for Christians who moralize about violent protest, who invoke Jesus in order to shame freedom fighters:

It wasn’t fear of nonviolence that kept the Temple Police from arresting Jesus for a whole week.

The only reason they nabbed our man was that, after several days of “disturbing the peace,” he went out of the city to wait for them, where no one would be hurt in a violent uprising, and gave himself up. And they still came out to arrest him with swords and clubs, dressed in riot gear!

So while Jesus deplored the use of violence, he definitely used the authorities’ fear of mob violence to his ever-loving advantage. If he hadn’t, they would have killed him ON PALM SUNDAY.

Nonviolence only has the potential to change things if violence is a possible option. That’s why we call it “non-violence” instead of “helplessness.” Earthly power understands nothing but violent power.

We also have to distinguish between “violence,” which is directed toward human bodies, and “property destruction.” Jesus apparently had no problem flipping tables and destroying merchants’ property in the Temple. He considered property destruction and trade disruption more acceptable that the economic exploitation of the poor. Have no doubt that the Roman authorities would be sympathetic to the statement, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Had they not “feared the crowds,” they would have killed him on the spot.

As he’s being led to his death, Jesus warns the women of Jerusalem about what will happen in a violent uprising: “If they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31)

Jesus was the green way—he was the nonviolent path. And they were still killing him. No, Jesus did not “condone violence.” He recognized its inability to directly cause change. But never for a minute pretend that he didn’t recognize its strategic value in his own ministry in his last week. And in his final warning you need to hear, not a blanket condemnation of violent uprising, but his pessimism about earthly power—about US—ever understanding what it is losing when it rejects the green way.

His pessimism is directed toward those with power, and he speaks this heartbreaking truth to oppressed women and their children—the most vulnerable. Will we who reject kneeling at ball games and the simple assertion that “Black Lives Matter” understand violent protest? Probably not. We crucify prophets EITHER WAY.

If you’re going to moralize about the value of nonviolent protest, please understand what role you are playing in the Holy Week drama. You are not the oppressed women Jesus is speaking to. Do you support the Romans? The Temple Police? Do you even understand when a green way is being offered to you?

Because unless you are fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable, you sure as hell ain’t on the side of Jesus.

Today is only Pentecost. Have we already forgotten Holy Week?

Be Specific! (Dismantling White Supremacy)

White colleagues:

Dismantling white supremacy requires more than soul-searching. We also need to talk about policy. Specifically these three:

1) Criminal justice reform: end the disastrous, racially-motivated, failed war on drugs. Treat addiction like a public health problem. Reduce the number of people in prison and on probation.
2) End voter suppression, especially the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated persons; but also gerrymandering, voter ID, and other forms of suppression.
3) Make reparations. I am partial to Cory Booker’s “baby bonds” policy, but would certainly go for others. The goal here is to reduce inequality, and does not necessarily require proving enslaved, displaced, or other oppressed ancestry.

These three represent the community organizing principle of bodies, ballots, and bucks. White supremacy is manifest in the way violence is inflicted on bodies, political power is drained, and economic power is reduced.

There is certainly personal, relational, spiritual work that needs to be done by people with whiteness, and that gets hashed out on social media a lot. Most of it can be distilled into people shouting “TRY HARDER!” which may feel good to say but is ultimately unspecific and demotivating. But these are concrete *policy* issues that we need to talk about and support to dismantle white supremacy. Some are actual bills in front of your state legislature this year.

Why these particular three?
A) There are *only* three because three is easy to remember when you talk to your white friends and family.
B) There is already bipartisan support and momentum for some of them (specific bills for the first two).
C) They affect the material conditions of people’s lives, and disproportionately affect black folks. But they *also* affect a lot of white folks.
D) Victory can be leveraged for more power in the future,
E) You might even convince your racist friends and family to support them.
F) I’ve placed them in what I believe is an ascending order of difficulty, but YMMV.
G) There could certainly be others and I will gladly accept correction by either black folks or experts on policy.

White allies need to get well-versed in policy. I don’t actually care* if someone agrees with me about the sources and abstract mental models of what racism is. Don’t bother trying to get them to admit or recognize privilege, because a) it only makes them defensive and b) those things don’t necessarily affect the material conditions of people’s lives.

You can’t convince crazy Uncle Roy that he suffers from white privilege, so ask him instead if it makes sense to pay $30K a year to keep people in prison instead of paying $3K a year on a drug recovery program. Ask him if he thinks it’s good that “The Land of the Free” incarcerates more people than any nation on earth. Appeal to his values.

These are topics we know white people will budge on if framed the right way.

Root out implicit bias, do the internal work, deal with white fragility, yes, sure, absolutely. But when we talk about white folks talking to white folks, we need to avoid the rhetorical conversion fallacy: I don’t actually need to get people to *agree* with me. And it may be easier to get traction with some folks talking about policy rather than feelings and attitudes.

Also, people don’t actually tend to change from the inside out. They don’t have a conversion experience and then change behavior. They change from the outside in. (I’m a preacher, and I’m VERY skeptical of the power of internal conversion.)

So talk about concrete things: 1) criminal justice reform, 2) ending voter suppression, and 3) reparations. Those are way more important than getting Uncle Roy to stop saying “All Lives Matter.”

*(Okay, I DO care about how white people understand racism, and I WANT them to do the spiritual work, but I also know not to throw pearls before swine. I need to think about the intended outcome of a conversation when we enter it, and if it’s to make people agree with me, I’ve probably already lost.**)

**(Once you abandon the conversion fallacy, you are more free both to listen and to speak. Creating disruption and discomfort are also legit rhetorical goals. You do not have to “win.”)

That is all.

The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 5: Understanding Time

512px-Geological_time_spiral

Geological Time Spiral, from United States Geological Survey

 

Arjuna recognizes that he will have to fight his own family, and he despairs. Krishna responds:

You speak sincerely, but your sorrow has no cause. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. There has never been a time when you and I and the kings gathered here have not existed, nor will there be a time when we cease to exist.

…Every creature is unmanifested at first, and then attains manifestation. When its end has come, it once again become unmanifested. What is there to lament in this? (BG 2:11, 28)

I’ve often heard that the greatest difference in Eastern and Western cultures, or between Abrahamic religions and most of the world, is the conception of time. Does time march forward, like a digital clock? Or does it move cyclically, and everything that has happened will happen again?

Time doesn’t only move forward in the Hebrew scriptures. We get a minority opinion in the book of Ecclesiastes. The author of Eccelsiastes is referred to as Qoheleth, “The Teacher.” Listen to how much Qoholeth sounds like Krishna:

Whatever has happened—that’s what will happen again;
    whatever has occurred—that’s what will occur again. There’s nothing new under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Einstein informed us that time is relative—it behaves differently depending on how fast we are moving, or how much gravity we are experiencing. Time is part of the created order, so much so that we cannot “see” back before the Big Bang. What existed “before” time got its house in order in those first few milliseconds of the universe?

C.S. Lewis pointed out that God is outside of time, and doesn’t measure time by the clock. God “has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.” We experience one moment after another, but from the perspective of eternity, our moments are spread out like a sheet of paper. All moments are NOW to God.

While I think this is a powerful perspective and I believe its theological truth, let’s not ascribe the same worldview to the ancient Hebrews. In the Bible, while God has an eternal perspective, there is still the notion that God experiences time:

You return people to dust,
    saying, “Go back, humans,”
because in your perspective a thousand years
    are like yesterday past, like a short period during the night watch.
(Psalm 90:3-4)

The ancient Hebrews understood God as a liberating God who acts in history: Tell [your children]: We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. But the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand (Deuteronomy 6:21). Creation has a start and an end, and both are held in the hands of God as time moves in one direction.

But there is a place where Jesus turns this notion inside-out. When he is debating with Sadducees about the resurrection, he says: “…haven’t you read what God told you, I’m the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?  He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Of course, everyone listening had always thought that God really meant “I was the God of Abraham.” Jesus puts the weight on I AM.

So to understand our relationship to time and to God, Jesus tells us that either a) we are resurrected—or “manifested” in the words of the BG—again at some point in the linear future, or b) all times are present to God as now, because the advance of time is simply an illusion we are bound up in. Eternity and eternal life is either on the horizon, or it is present even now.

Either way, in both traditions, this thing we call “death” does not have the last word.

Prayer:
God, my world is full of moments. Help me to experience them all as now. Bring eternity into our time.