Jim Perkinson: The Social Movements of Jesus

catsJim Perkinson is a long-time activist and educator from inner city Detroit, where he has a history of involvement in various community development initiatives and low-income housing projects. He holds a PhD in theology from the University of Chicago and is in demand as a speaker on a wide variety of topics (especially race, class & colonialism). Our friends over at Radical Discipleship interviewed Jim on his 2014 work Messianism Against Christology: Resistance Movements, Folk Arts and Empire.

One could spend all of the season of Lent praying deeply with Jim’s first response:

Radical Discipleship: What’s the difference between “messianism” and “christology?”

Jim Perkinson: Messianism Against Christology: Resistance Movements, Folk Arts and Empire is a work committed to re-thinking the Christian tradition from the point of view of social movements rather than magnified individuals. Jesus was a movement man—as were Moses and Elijah before him, and John the Baptist alongside him. “Messianism” is a word drafted into service as a movement term. Rather than focus on a great individual called “Jesus” comprehended as “the Christ,” the book examines his effort as part of a broader resistance initiative. The social movement launched by John was already in motion when Jesus first opts to begin public action. Baptism under John’s hands meant plunging into a project centered on recovery of living relationship to the lower Jordan watershed. His movement “initiated” one into a new relationship with the land, based on much older traditions and skills of doing so, dating back to Israel’s “birth” as a maroon movement of slaves, walking out of imperial Egypt and being re-schooled for 40 years in the Sinai desert, under Moses. Re-imagined as “messianism,” “christo-logy”—the “logic” of the christos—is then profiled as referring to any initiative of courageous folk, who partially or fully step outside of an imperial domination system to begin recovery of a more just and sustainable way of dwelling in a local ecology or watershed. The focus is not on a “great man” idea of “salvation” (or “being made whole”), but on catching sight of the ways popular resistance can “open up” embodied memory of more indigenous ways of living in symbiotic reciprocity with a particular bioregion. “Salvation” or wholeness here is not aimed at some fraction of the person called a “soul,’ but an entire way of dwelling in a given locale. The emphasis is not on individual traits, but community relations between human beings and on that community’s return to a living relationship to local plants and animals, soils and waters, seasons and cycles. Any movement managing to invoke and partially embody that older ability (which we all shared at some point way back in our evolutionary history as hunter-gatherer peoples) is “read” as partially “incarnating” what we mean by “Christology.” I simply call it “messianism” to emphasize its movement character. …

Read the whole interview.

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