Ched Myers: Watershed Discipleship and ‘Catechism of Place’

Ched Myers is an activist theologian, biblical scholar, popular educator, organizer and advocate who has spent the past 40 years working in movements for social change, and empowering Christians in the life and work of peace, justice, and radical discipleship. He is the author of more than 100 articles and over a half dozen books, including Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics, and Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice. Most recently, he is the editor and contributing author to Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional faith and practice. He lives in the Ventura River watershed in southern California where he carries out his work through Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries. In this episode of RePlacing Church, he joins Ben Katt to discuss:

  • What is a watershed?
  • How two-dimensional political maps harm our imaginations?
  • The triple entendre of Watershed Discipleship
  • Why church needs to move beyond creation care
  • His personal journey of re-place-ment
  • How to undergo a “catechism of place”
  • Why it’s a great time to be a disciple of Jesus and trying to figure out how to be church

Elaine Enns: Martin King, Vietnam, Iraq

Today is marks 14 years since the U.S. reinitiated bombing Iraq as part of the second Gulf War, now called “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” We are also approaching the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “Beyond Silence” speech, one of the most significant speeches in American history.

Over at Radical Discipleship, they’ve been hosting a series of short essays on sections of King’s speech. Today’s by Elaine Enns focuses on the section where Dr. King says, “Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy.”

Below is an excerpt from Elaine’s essay:

In 1990, shortly after I arrived in California from my home place of Saskatoon, SK I got to witness firsthand the lies and propaganda of the first Gulf War. But 13 years later, during the second Gulf War, was my baptism by fire into this reality. In the spring of 2003, Ched [Myers] and I were visiting professors at Memphis Theological Seminary and Christian Brothers University.  We learned quickly that many folks in the “Bible belt” South didn’t like to hear U.S. policy criticized or a war effort questioned.   I was teaching a class at Christian Brothers University; half of the students were African American women. In January our class began by looking at basic Restorative Justice theory and practice, which set the context for difficult but meaningful discussions during the days leading up to the second Bush invasion of Iraq in March. It was during this time that Ched and I first started using the King sermon to speak truth to this new chapter in American duplicity – the relentless fabrication of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Up until that time, my experience in teaching Restorative Justice had been that once students wrestled with more complex narratives of violation, and mapped them on the “spiral of violence” model they tended to question the dominant paradigm of retributive justice (see Ambassadors Vol 11). However, in the early days of this second Gulf War, the majority of my white students remained stuck in the prevailing war propaganda. Each class became more difficult for me, and I only survived because of the Black students who privately thanked me, saying “we never have conversations like this here.” In one poignant exchange, a Black mother of two small children revealed with fear and frustration that she was being deployed to Iraq; we cried together. (The fact that there is still a disproportionate number of people of color in the “volunteer” military underlines the persistence of the “economic conscription” King called out in this sermon.)–Elaine Enns

Read Elaine’s whole essay.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday_n

“We need to undomesticated Palm Sunday in our churches. Jesus was staging a kind of counter-demonstration. While Pilate rode into the city on a military stallion, Jesus entered on a borrowed donkey, symbolized sovereignty—but also Zechariah’s promise that Yahweh would one day banish the war horse forever! The procurator claimed the Pax Romana, the Nazarene a ‘Pax Christi.’ Pretty subversive stuff—and our churches have the habit of recreating that ‘demonstration’ in our Palm Sunday liturgies. But to really represent this gospel story in our world, we need to re-contextualize its symbols into our political moment, and re-place our witness back into public space.”–Ched Myers

 

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Ched Myers: Jesus’ ‘Second Call’ to Discipleship

supermancrossThanks to our kinfolk over at Radical Discipleship blog for running the amazing biblical commentary by Ched Myers on the Mark gospel readings this Lent.

Ched Myers writes:

The midpoint of Mark’s narrative poses two questions, aimed both at the disciples in, and the readers of, the story:

“Do you not yet understand?” (Mk 8:21).

“Who do you say that I am?” (8:29a).

The latter provokes what I call the “confessional crisis” (8:30-33), which this Sunday’s reading inexplicably jumps into the middle of (we get the whole text on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 13th). This is followed by Jesus’ second call to discipleship (8:34ff), deepening the journey begun in 1:16-20.

These difficult episodes together represent the fulcrum upon which the whole gospel balances. Mark’s thesis is most clearly revealed here: Discipleship is not about theological orthodoxy but about the Way of the cross. It would seem that our churches do “not yet understand” this!

We pick up the thread in the first of three “portents,” in which Jesus speaks of his impending arrest, trial and execution by the authorities (8:31; see 9:31 and 10:33f). This “reality check” has been provoked by Peter’s identification of Jesus as “Messiah” (8:29). To our chagrin, it is immediately silenced by Jesus (8:30), as if Peter were just another demon trying to “name” Jesus (see 1:25; 3:12)! Then, with the phrase “Jesus began to teach them that it was necessary that the Human One must suffer,” the story departs in a new and troubling direction (8:31).

By “necessity” Mark means that those who pursue Jubilary justice will inevitably clash with the Powers. Jesus is serving notice that he will not enter Jerusalem as a triumphant military leader, but instead be executed by the authorities. This subverts the expected “Messianic script,” replacing it with what we might call a “prophetic script.” At key points in the second half of the gospel Mark will appeal to this script: John followed it, so will Jesus (9:12f), and so must faithful disciples (13:9-13).

Read the full commentary here.

Ched Myers: The Power of Symbolic Action

Staffers raise their hands, gesturing "Hands Up, Don't Shoot."
Staffers raise their hands, gesturing “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.”

What acts are you seeing today that symbolize a much greater change?

“In Mark 1:21-28, implied social conflict characterizes Jesus’ first public action, a dramatic exorcism in a Capernaum synagogue. Here we encounter for the first time a “miracle story.” The modern debate over whether or not we can “believe” such stories is not only misplaced, it fails to address the function of this kind of narrative. The possibility of extraordinary manipulations of the physical (or spirit) world was never questioned in antiquity. Nevertheless, the “miracle” lay not there, but in what the act symbolized in terms of the wider scope of Jesus’ mission. Mark goes to great lengths to discourage us from seeing Jesus as a mere popular healer or magician (such were common in ancient society). Not only does Jesus constantly discourage people from fixating upon his acts of healing or exorcism (see 1:44; 3:12; 5:18f, 43; 7:36); he actually exhorts his disciples (and the reader) to look into the deeper meaning of his actions (8:17-21).”

Read Ched Myers entire reflection over at Radical Discipleship.

Ched Myers: What Prophetic Tradition Will You Apprentice To?

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“Wade in the Water.” Postcard of a river baptism in New Bern, N.C., around 1900.

“Mark’s prologue portrays the world of Roman-occupied Palestine in political, social, economic and religious crisis. Historically we know that in this context, tensions stemming from imperial forces of domination and “globalization” gave rise to prophets who called their people to radical change. John took his cue from the wilderness tradition, and Jesus from John. If we are to be followers of that Jesus, we must also make choices in the conflicted terrain of our world about what prophetic traditions we apprentice to and what social movements of liberation we help build as individuals and as church. However controversial or consequential such choices may be, such is what it means to be a disciple of the Great Disciple of God’s Kingdom.”–Ched Myers

Wall Street and Wealth Addiction: Driving the Economy While Under the Affluence

19MONEYjp-superJumbo-v2Read former hedge-fund manager Sam Polk’s excellent article on Wealth Addiction:

“I see Wall Street’s mantra — “We’re smarter and work harder than everyone else, so we deserve all this money” — for what it is: the rationalization of addicts. From a distance I can see what I couldn’t see then — that Wall Street is a toxic culture that encourages the grandiosity of people who are desperately trying to feel powerful.”–Sam Polk, For the Love of Money

Then listen to Ched Myers’ “Who then can be saved?“: Jesus and the Rich Man as a Text of Terror and Liberation.

Mural at Christ in the Desert Monastery

The mural above is found in the refectory at Christ in the Desert Benedictine monastery near Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Rubilev's Trinity

Based on Rubilev’s famous Trinity icon, it depicts the Sarah and Abraham welcoming the three angel guests at the Oak of Mamre.

“The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day”–Genesis 18:1

In the center of the Christ in the Desert mural is a large scale version of the Rubilev’s icon of the Trinity, represented by three angels, seated at table.

To the viewer’s right is Sarah and to the viewer’s left is Abraham. Behind Abraham is St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Juan Diego, Mary, and the Burning Bush.

Behind Sarah is St. Scholastica, St. Clare, Blessed Kateri Tekatwitha, St. John the Baptist, and an “Agnus Dei” representation.

California activist-theologian reflects on “Abraham under the ‘teaching oak’” saying:

The real plot of the Bible is about the liberation of both humanity and nature from our folly. God’s voice does not come through the centre of civil power but from an imperial defector in Moses, through a burning bush and from a dissident prophet Elijah in the wilderness. These ancient traditions portray a God who needs to be encountered through nature. The Bible also offers numerous peons to creation as a mirror of the creator’s glory. There is a lot of talk these days about our need to rediscover enchantment in nature. Let us take Abraham’s first encounter
with God which occurred under the oak tree of Moreh, an “oracle giver” which taps into an apparently universal tradition of the Tree of Life. Then God appears to Abraham as certain strangers under the oaks of Mamre; and later in Judges, the warrior Gideon is given courage by an angel under the oak at Ophrah.

At Christ in the Desert monastery the electricity and water-pumping at the monastery is solar-powered, as sunshine is plentiful throughout the year.

The mural art reflects a tradition now set in the context of the Chama Canyon wilderness in northwestern New Mexico, but the monks whose quiet cenobitic lives are shaped daily by the art also vitalize the mural through their own daily desert encounters with angels, trees, rivers, saints, bread, wine, work, and surprise.

Bedouin Desert Tricks and Exodus 17

Ched Myers is the best “Bible animator” I know. Here’s a short reflection from him on Exodus 17 that combines attentive listening to the text and deep earth wisdom.

Exodus 17:8-13 is a venerable old tale, if not a nonviolent one. Freshly liberated by YHWH (with an assist from nature) from Pharaoh’s imperial straightjacket, Moses and his refugee community have commenced their wilderness sojourn. They are having to re-learn primal lessons of subsistence gathering and dependence upon God’s creation (the “bread and water miracles” of Ex. 16-17 are old Bedouin tricks). Amidst this comes the very first resistance to their journey, as they are attacked by Amalekites, a contemporaneous nomadic tribe of raiders that was presumably far more adept at desert skirmishing than the Israelites. So commences the first of what will be innumerable battles with various inhospitable groups in the course of Israel’s liberation struggle.–Ched Myers

See more of Ched’s work at www.chedmyers.org.

Faith-Based Organic Farm in Central California Sets Table of Abundance

Ched Myers is one of my gospeler mentors. A gospeler is someone who sings the gospel – and Ched and Elaine do that with the way they live their lives. In their recent Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries‘ newsletter that Ched and Elaine are working with a local faith-based organic farm in the Oxnard Plain in Ventura County, California. It’s called the Abundant Table Farm Project. (I’m posting a couple of the Abundant Table’s inspiring videos below.

I thought the book introduction that Ched wrote for The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life by Ross and Gloria Kinsler was a nice set up for the Abundant Table story. He wrote:

“We read the gospel as if we had no money,” laments American Jesuit theologian John Haughey, “and we spend our money as if we know nothing of the Gospel.” Indeed, the topic of economics is exceedingly difficult to talk about in most First World churches, more taboo than politics or even sex. Yet no aspect of our individual and corporate lives is more determinative of our welfare. And few subjects are more frequently addressed in our scriptures.

The standard of economic and social justice is woven into the warp and weft of the Bible. Pull this strand and the whole fabric unravels. At the heart of this witness is the call to Sabbath and Jubilee, a tradition we might summarize in three axioms: The world as created by God is abundant, with enough for everyone— provided that human communities restrain their appetites and live within limits …

Here’s a 2-minute video about the Abundant Table Farm Project:

“We are a young intentional community of five interns (sisterfriends) living and working on a 10-acre family farm on the Oxnard Plain. Though we come from far and near, our internship grew out of the campus ministry founded by the Episcopal Church at California State University Channel Islands. To learn more about our organic farm and Community Supported Agriculture program, please visit www.jointhefarm.com.”

Senior producer Jim Melchiorre at Anglican Stories visited The Abundant Table Farmhouse Project, a young adult internship program of the Episcopal Service Corps. Below is his excellent 10-minute video.