Saturday, September 25, 2010

Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf: Excerpts from My Review

I recently read Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf for a course on Missional Theology.  A great text that refreshes and provokes the Christian theological and missional imagination related to giving and forgiving.  Here are portions of a review I wrote for this course...

The tendency within contemporary Christian literature is to draft and publish a text that is either theologically rich and spiritually disengaged or spiritually engaged and theologically naïve. In Miroslav Volf’s work, Free of Charge, he reminds the reader that it is not only possible, but also necessary to dismiss this dichotomy and generate reflections that enter into the sacred hybrid of the heart, soul, and mind of Christian spirituality. Free of Charge illuminates two of the central disciplines of the Christian faith, giving and forgiving, and calls both Christian individuals and communities to live into their related vocations, firmly rooted in the giving and forgiving nature of the Triune God. Miroslav Volf interweaves biblical texts, orthodox and reformed traditions, cultural illustrations, and personal anecdotes in efforts to lead the reader into the redemptive and reconciliatory work of God. In so doing, the reader, be they Christian or skeptic, is invited to enter into a fresh spiritual exercise that challenges a culture hesitant about grace.

Free of Charge explores the uniqueness of the Christian faith through the lens of two focal disciplines: giving and forgiving. In a culture obsessed with self-gratification, personal success, and individual achievement, no two ethical behaviors are more subversive. Volf writes:

Far too often, power- not fairness and certainly not generosity- is the name of the game. We assert ourselves and our own interests through raw physical strength, political connections, or loads of cash; through sexual prowess, sarcastic comments, lies and half-truths; through anything that can serve as a weapon in this low-grade war called life. We fight, and we often take spoils or go away defeated” (14).
This begs the questions, how does the gospel speak to a culture saturated in the self and unconcerned about the other? What is to be said about contemporary ideals that treat the other as a commodity to be expended versus as an attestation to the imago Dei? Moreover, how should God’s people live into their call to give and forgive in a culture stripped of grace? ....

Volf furthers his discussion on Christian giving through developed reflections related to how Christians should pursue generosity. Free of Charge’s discourse hinges on the contributions of Martin Luther who noted that God’s people are not only receivers of God’s good gifts, but also channels of God’s gifts to our neighbors (50). The new self inaugurated in Christian baptism underscores the higher calling of both individuals and communities who are to hold neighbors in need at the forefront of their hearts and minds:

To the extent that we are channels of gifts, however, we can’t just do with them as we please. They come to us with an ultimate name and address other than our own. Though in our hands, they are on their way elsewhere (60).
Furthermore, Christian giving is pursued in dialectic tension between the freedom and real obligation of individuals and communities. As Volf suggests, Christians are “rubbed” by the paradoxical nature of giving as both a free act of gratitude and an obligatory response to God’s free gift in Christ (65). Moreover, Volf illustrates Christian generosity as an exercise in realized eschatology whereby believers anticipate the “perfect exchange of gifts” between God and one another that characterizes the hoped-for world to come (70). The incarnation of this new humanity for the new creation targets the establishment of parity within “pervasive” manifestations of inequality (82), all motivated and shaped by the God whose “love spills over the rim of the Trinitarian circle of reciprocity” (73). In essence, Christians are to give as participants in the Triune God’s on-going work of redemption in the present creation in anticipation of the new creation yet to come....

While Volf’s approach to Christian giving is to be commended, his portrait of forgiveness is even more insightful.  He prefaces his discourse with an indictment on contemporary, Western culture, “If we could, we’d sue God, it seems, for having created a world in which bad things happen” (125).   That is to say, we live in a “kick-ass culture” (126) whereby our index fingers are pointed in accusation and our fists raised in pursuit of vengeance and retaliation.  This makes forgiveness a subversive and somewhat offensive discipline.  Nonetheless, Volf reinforces forgiveness as the only hope for a world in desperate need of reconciliation and peace, “to keep liberty we need grace. To live humanely we must learn to forgive” (125).  This forgiveness maintains a dialectic tension that, yes, names and condemns wrongdoing, but also and especially refuses to hold wrong-doings against wrong-doers for all eternity (129-130).  It is this dialectic that moves beyond vengeance and towards reconciliation...

A discussion on forgiveness would be incomplete unless it engaged the biblical theme of God’s wrath. However, we more often than not fear the wrath of God and related theology, unaware that without God’s wrath we are left with a world bathing in its own devastation and demise. In other words, God’s wrath is redemptive in that it condemns the evil of the world and then holds the wrong-doing not against the world, rather, in the death and resurrection of Christ, liberates it from such oppressive and evil realities. Volf offers insight to his personal reformation:

Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love (139).
This brings us full circle to Volf’s initial definition of forgiveness as that which condemns wrong-doing and refuses to hold wrong-doing against the wrong-doer. In other words, forgiveness demands the condemnation of evil and injustice, but it does not rest there. Instead, God’s forgiveness, which God’s people are replicate, moves out of wrathful condemnation and towards redemptive reconciliation. Unfortunately, this is where we stray as human beings, struggling to move beyond the “vengeful imagination” (159) and, in our quest for redemptive justice, find ourselves overcome by the evil we once opposed (Romans 12:21). In that vein, Volf reminds the reader that God’s forgiveness and grace is for even our worst of enemies.

As a whole, I found Free of Charge to be an excellent reflection on the Christian disciplines of giving and forgiving.  Furthermore, I appreciated Volf’s shameless approach that went beyond the spiritual kitsch[1]  offered in local bookstores. Volf explored God’s unfolding drama of redemption and reconciliation as not only future anticipations, but also present incarnations to be pursued by individuals and communities alike.  Furthermore, Volf’s work reminds the Christian that our emphasis on giving and forgiving stems neither from cultural idealism nor trendy altruism, rather from the nature and character of the Triune God whom we worship and proclaim with our lives and our lips.  Unfortunately, pop-theology has distorted the ethical and pragmatic postures of the Church and confused our motivations for witness and mission in and for the world.[2] That being said, the Church is indebted to Volf for his contribution to Christian literature and his service as a channel for God’s revelatory grace.

One final musing related to Volf’s Free of Charge regards the potential inferences for universal redemption. I should confess, I dare to hope that all of humanity might be saved [3] and continue to explore the biblical witness’ dialectic related to the matter. However, I could not help but assume that Volf shares a similar theological posture as he explores the implications of forgiveness. He writes:
There are no unforgiveable sins…There are no unforgiveable people…God’s forgiveness is not reactive- dependent on our repentance. It’s original, preceded and conditioned by absolutely nothing on our part…One died for all. Absolutely no one is excluded (179-180).
But the Scriptures are clear, I can hear my evangelical friends mutter. I would agree. The Scriptures are clear: limited and universal redemption are both possible readings of Scripture. However, Volf reminds the reader that regardless of one’s conviction on the matter, forgiveness comes neither through the faith of a converted believer, nor the merits of committed Christian. That is, God’s forgiveness is not reactive (179). Instead, forgiveness originates in the nature and character of God who is Trinity and the giving and forgiving that comes to the whole world “free of charge” (180). That being the case, the question remains, should the unrepentant be forgiven:
Forgiving the unrepentant is not an optional extra in the Christian way of life: it’s the heart of the thing. Why? Because God is such a forgiver and Christ forgave in such a way (209).
Said differently, the real victory in Christ comes in that neither death nor life, angels nor demons, principalities nor powers, the unrepentant nor ungracious, can be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). This should serve not as a threat to our theological systems. Instead, this should be our greatest hope and anticipation for even the worst of offenders, transformed participation in the new humanity and new creation that is already here and yet-to-come.

As I survey both my synopsis and related musings in response to Free of Charge, I am affirmed in my assessment that this text should be read by more congregations in journeys through Lent.  Volf’s thorough reflections on the giving and forgiving disciplines of Christian faith are fresh reminders to individuals and communities of our free obligations and missional vocations to replicate these gifts that originate in God as Trinity.  Free of Charge is neither lofty theology nor naïve spirituality.  Instead, the brilliance of this work comes in Volf’s ability to sojourn along with us in a theologically rich and spiritually engaged adventure.  Along the way, with Volf as our guide, we are encouraged to rest often as we not only digest the content, but also reform our character as participants within God’s unfolding drama of redemption and reconciliation. That being said, I look forward to future re-readings of this text, only next time within the context of a community, maybe during Lent.

[1] I love N.T. Wright’s tongue-and-cheek remark, “The church doesn’t have a monopoly on kitsch or sentimentalism, but if you want to find it, the church may well be the easiest place to start” (223).
[2] For example, the church has often pursued altruism instead of the gospel, leaning on the crutch of legislation instead of the incarnation of reciprocal giving mandated by the gospel. The law should be neither a prohibitory or motivating force behind the Church’s incarnation of the Triune God’s generosity. This is not to say that the church should not play a pivotal and prophetic role in unjust politics and social change; instead, it should pursue these very things as it moves towards the reign of God and in rhythm with the missional character of God.
[3]  I borrow this phrase in anticipation of reading Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved (1988).  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lectionary Reflections: Luke 16:19-31

This is a very perplexing, and for some, offensive parable. So I ask you to imagine sitting at the feet of Jesus, or more probable, standing around Jesus as he sat in our midst- how would you hear this story? If you are like me, this parable comes as an affront to grace-filled imaginations and expectations. This parable even appears void of the love and compassion of God that I have grown accustom to while seated in padded chairs or wooden pews every Sunday morning. I even hesitate to preach or teach this passage, especially with youth (as I am doing this Sunday), as the parable’s loaded description of Hades, torment, flame-induced agony, and an impossible chasm may serve as an affront to the therapeutic gospel that drips from the pages of our suburban homilies. [1] Why not dodge the cumbersome illustrations? Why not choose another parable? Would it really be wise to enter into dialogue about this cold and dreadful montage that Jesus offered to the Pharisees? Then I begin to hear myself ask these questions out loud as yet another one begins to develop, who is this fellow that speaks such a dark and difficult parable? [2] And then it hits me, I have only heard this parable, I have only exegeted this narrative, I have only avoided this allegory from my Pharisaical and scribal contexts of luxury and comfort. I have read it with the eyes of the rich man, unconcerned about Lazarus.  As I wrestled through this text, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the quote on my office wall:
Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with a full belly. If it is read in the light of the experience and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible’s revolutionary themes- promise, exodus, resurrection, and spirit- come alive.
                                       ---Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 17
So I reread Luke 16:19-31 and for the first time embraced this parable as a fountain of God’s grace. If I only had the eyes to see and the ears to hear, for the poor and the oppressed one had been liberated from sinful conditions of exploitation, poverty, marginalization, and disease. Lazarus, whose name means “the one whom God has helped,” [3] had been resurrected from systemic and cultural oppression and received into the kingdom of God. So I wonder, what would the Lazaruses of this world say if they overheard my off-color comments, this text is void of God’s grace. I can only imagine the reaction of those who dwell in and on the streets of my community and beg for the scraps from my table upon hearing me question the viability of teaching or preaching from this parable.  Dare I rob Lazarus not only of my discarded leftovers, but also the liberating gospel?  It is to that end that Luke 16 has forcefully adjusted my full-belly posture, at least for the time being, in order to see and hear the cries for justice and the hopes for renewal in the faces of people like Lazarus. Yes, this is a parable of judgment; I should be concerned and aware. Yet, it is also a brilliant portrait of grace; I hope to have the audacity to not only preach it, but also extend it to another. As Clark Pinnock once wrote, this parable “ought to explode in our hands when we read it sitting at our well-covered tables while the third world stands outside.” [4] May such explosion launch all of us to live into the good news of God’s grace with Lazarus, and others just like him, whom we encounter every day- if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

[1] I love that this parable's notion of "hell" has nothing to do with common evangelical assumptions.  If we want to talk hell, and who really does, why don't we begin here?  My guess is because it is not the illustration we want, rather the one we fear.  So instead, we bypass it, spiritualize it, or refuse it altogether.
[2] Hear the echoes of Luke 15:2 that serves as the preface to the Lukan parables.
[3] See Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1997. p.55. What better name than Lazarus to point towards God's grace.
[4] As referenced in Sider, p. 55.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Almost Christian and Google Christology

A few years ago I read an article in Relevant Magazine by Jason Boyett titled, “O Jesus, Who Art Thou?” [1] The article illustrated the cultural and ecclesial confusions related to the person of Jesus as proclaimed, embraced, and pursued by Western Christians. The article was somewhat sparked by the “Jesus is my homeboy” fad that inspired the mass production of over-priced retro t-shirts. While it was funny for a while, the trend and Relevant article offered important commentary that confronted the Christological schizophrenia plaguing the church and its members. Said differently, while we may laugh at the 45 million-plus images that appear within less than a second when Jesus is “Googled,” the church and Western Christianity is not all that different when the same search is pursued in our congregations. Yes- there is a plurality of truth. I agree- diversity is a gift to the church and Christian theology. Certainly we must not think for a second that any of our attestations to the person and work of Christ are complete and absolute. As Karl Barth said, all theology is modest theology. [2] However, concern needs to surface when Jesus is cast in the image of pop-culture and oppressive and empirical narratives that have less to do with the biblical witness and everything to do with the free and consumer-driven market of the West. [3] Even worse, red flags are to be waved when those within the church are both ignorant of and naïve to this idolatrous trend.

As a youth pastor passionate about both spiritual formation and missional vocation, I am extremely grateful for the recent work of Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian (2010). In this book she builds on similar observations made by Boyett by claiming that much of the theology of not only Christian teenagers, but also the wider American church is less rooted in Scripture and more akin to “moralistic therapeutic deism.” This cultural theology illustrates the gospel as follows:
• God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
• The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself.
• God is not involved in my life except when I need God to solve a problem.
• Good people go to heaven when they die. [4]
As should be evident, Jesus is nowhere to be found, “O Jesus, where art thou?"  Furthermore, I also appreciate Dean’s strong conviction that the responsibility and, better said, fault, lay not solely in the spiritual habits or (im)maturity of Christian youth.[5]  Instead, the prominence of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in the spiritual convictions of youth is more of a “moral indictment of American congregations.” [6] That is to say, we cannot expect the faith language and Christian theology of the Church’s youth to be formed faithfully aside from parallel adjustments made within the adult education programs and academies of the larger congregation and the incarnation of these truths in the life and witness of all of God's people.

This is where I have particularly enjoyed the recent conversations had in my current seminary course with John Franke. With the aid of a white board, we more or less confessed the plethora of cultural images of Jesus that are touted by both individuals and Christian communities. The class then sifted the wheat from the chaff of these images in light of the biblical witness, seeking to recover some sort of redemptive truth from even the most heinous of Christologies. Finally, we were reminded that flexibility and grace must be embraced as God’s people engage theology as a “second-order discipline” that bears witness to versus claims possession of the Jesus illustrated within the pages of Scripture. This is cause for the Church to be an always-reforming community normed by the biblical witness, engaged with the diverse traditions of the faith, and conversant with contemporary culture, which can be both a help and hindrance to theological reflection. In this way, the church is further charged to move into its missional vocation that is to and for the whole world. However, unless the church engages in this honest sifting, guided by God's Spirit, its witness will be confused at best, oppressive at worst. Furthermore, without a willingness to be always reforming faith language, congregations will continue to mentor youth into a Christ-less faith and rob them of the joy found in a Christocentric gospel that spurs them into their baptismal vocation and Eucharistic mission in and for the world. In essence, it is possible for the Church to be efficient in the development of model American citizens yet fruitless in its call to make disciples.

[1] Boyett, Jason. "O Jesus, Who Art Thou?" Relevant Magazine.  July/August 2005. pp. 40-43.
[2] Barth, Karl. Evangelical Theology: An Introduction. Translated by Grover Foley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1963. p. 7.
[3] Brian McLaren's newest book, A New Kind of Christianity (2010) refers to common (mis)understandings and biblical hermenutics as manifestations of the ancient Greco-Roman narrative.
[4] This comes from Kenda Creasy Dean's recent article, "Faith: Nice and Easy," published in Christian Century:  3 Aug 2010.
[5] I will defend youth to the grave on this point.  Maybe I am bias, but I believe youth are some of the more creative, intuitive, and prophetic witnesses to the gospel. That's my little shout out to the Imago Dei Youth of WPC ;)  The larger question remains in terms of the faith that is handed down to them from generation to generation.
[6] Also cited from article above.

Monday, September 13, 2010

David Bazan: Curse Your Branches

Some of the more prophetic and insightful artists are those poets who possess within them a certain amount of earned cynicism. Their raw reflections are sung or written not as naïve spectators, but as individuals who have wrestled in their own way, sometimes quite painfully, with reality, faith, God, community and the paradoxes that stem from all these and more. In that vein, I have found myself increasingly intrigued by and engaged with the depth and breadth of David Bazan’s (former member of Pedro the Lion) album, Curse Your Branches. Bazan writes about his doubts, frustrations, beliefs, and criticisms with infinite doses of clever imagery that illuminates emerging cultural angst related to the biblical narrative, people of faith, his family, and related upbringing, etc. As I listen to his album over and again I find my ears perked by particular lines that have drawn to the forefront of my mind everything from Jesus’ beatitudes to the poetic musings of Job (“In Stitches"); even Karl Barth has a slight nod in one of the songs (“Bearing Witness”). In essence, this album is sure to provide you with hours of honest reflection, cultural hermeneutics, affirmation of your own cynicism, and even pure delight in good music both instrumentally and lyrically. Here are some of my musings:

Hard to Be  (Track 1)
There is no better way than to start this sort of album than with Bazan’s own confessional montage. The reductionism of the creation and fall narratives promoted by many-o-evangelicals fails to quench the theological and existential thirst of this cynic (and others, including myself on occasion) who longs for a better rationale related to the difficulty of being “a decent human being” and the reality of a world in distress and exile. Even worse, Bazan notes that the moment he begins to question pat answers and cheap clichés he is cast as a lost child whose family fasts and prays for his return to their claim of truth. Apparently there is no room for dialogue, no hope for questions, no excuse for critique, and certainly no congratulation for speculation. That said, I wonder if this song is less of a personal anecdote and more of an ecclesial parable.

Bless This Mess (Track 2)
This is probably my favorite of all. My initial thought was, if only this was how the church preached the beatitudes. Bazan crafts a beautiful mosaic of sort that parallels those elevated and embraced by the revolutionary Rabbi and hospitable Messiah as he spoke while seated on the rural hill somewhere near Galilee. I love this song because, unlike most sermons or church teachings, Bless This Mess serves as an announcement versus how-to steps climbed for entrance into some sort of spiritual nirvana or heavenly and eternal kingdom. I wrote this in the winter as I wrestled with Jesus’ teachings and announcement and dialogued about them with the youth in our congregation:
Blessed are the religious doubters, seekers, and those who have more questions than answers, for God’s dreams for the world include you
Blessed are those who grieve the loss of loved ones, whose parents have split-up, whose relationships are strained, for God’s love, peace, and presence extends to you
Blessed are those whose voices go unheard, whose self-worth has crumbled, and those who no longer feel comfortable in their own skin, you are made in God’s beautiful image and welcomed members of God’s new world that is already here and yet-to-come
Blessed are you who long for the world to be made right, who seek the end of poverty, homelessness, disease, hunger, and all forms of injustice, for you will find hope and freedom in the good news that God is putting the world to rights
Blessed are you who offer second-chances and forgiveness, even to your worst of enemies, for in the same way has God offered you new beginnings and fresh starts
Blessed are you who choose peace over violence, love over vengeance, and grace over retaliation, for you have indeed understood what it means to be called God’s people in the world
Blessed are you who have been cut from sports teams, excluded from clubs, isolated from crowds, rejected by supposed friends, abused by those claiming to love you, misunderstood and gossiped about, even for your commitment to the way of Jesus, for you are not alone and will find joy in the resurrection parade of the Messiah and the movement of the gospel.
When We Fell (Track 6)
“With the threat of hell hanging/ over my head like a halo/ i was made to believe in a/ couple of beautiful truths/ that eventually had the/ effect of completely unraveling/ the powerful curse put on me by you”

Unfortunately, this is the prolegomena of many theological conversations and evangelistic tricks. A God of compassion, the relational and communal Trinity, dreams of new creation, a kingdom of liberation and peace, incarnations of love and grace, and the central narrative of the Messiah who endured the “curse” for all for the salvation of all, are preferred starting points yet relegated to footnotes, if mentioned at all, within many conversations of faith and Christian witness. What would it mean for the Christian Church and for individual believers to evangelize with phrases like “come and see” and then invite others to follow Jesus into faith, albeit stumbling along the way? What would happen if people of faith asked “can I tell you a story” and then proceeded to illustrate the kingdom of God alive and well in the here and now as God’s people practice the resurrection, often in connection with the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the downcast, and those isolated from community? What would occur if the church was open to questions and, not necessarily as quick to answer, but humble enough to begin a dialogue and journey together with those frustrated and bored by cheap, reduced, and detached answers?

I am not going to explore all the songs on this album, as even the ones above are raw and incomplete. Furthermore, I have found that as much as I love this album, I can only swim in cynicism for so long before I find myself drained, although temporarily, of any sense of hope and optimism. That being said, it is fitting to listen to Bazan with the lyrics of another great artist, Ben Harper, echoing in the heart and mind, “What good is a man who won’t take a stand? What good is a cynic with no better plan, I believe in a better way.” (“Better Way,” Both Sides of the Gun, 2006). There is a better way. There is an alternative to reductionism and evangelical scare tactics. It is the way of Jesus. And this Jesus gathers the fallen leaves from the cursed branches and resurrects something new and beautiful out of them both. This is good news for all the world, even for the rawest of cynics.

For Further Reading see an older Christianity Today Review

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Response to Relevant Magazine's Article: "Glenn Beck's False Gospel"

"If the churches are not forming consciences, consciences will be formed by the status quo, including whatever demagogues can yell the loudest or cry the hardest" (Dr. Russell D. Moore)
I am not very familiar with the works and writings of Dr. Moore; however, I am very familiar with the institution he represents and the denomination he promotes [1]. That being said, I found this statement, as well as his strong critique of the recent Beck-stock event held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last Sunday [2] to be surprisingly insightful and worth the Sunday morning read as I killed time before Sunday worship (see here for full article).  As I have stated in previous posts, I believe the Christian conscience has more often than not been co-opted by a wide variety of agents, the storied memory and gospel tradition intercepted by contemporary pop-icons and ideals, and God's people continually influenced to live in light of well-marketed political and consumer-driven rhythms rather than the cruciform narrative of Jesus and the peaceable (or peacemaking) kingdom he innaugurated in his life, death, and resurrection.  We are surely in need, whether we consider ourselves conservative evangelicals or progressive liberals, of a kick that wakes us up from the distorted dreams and corrupted imaginations that have been incepted by a long list of talking heads who believe they have been appointed as our country's theologians and pastors. [3]

I laughed this past week as I heard many folks, including those typically opposed to particular political figures, celebrate the "apolitical" nature of recent "religious" festivals and rallies. However, anytime a "religious" event couples the "unapologetic" support [4] of the work and mission of the American military with an address of a nation "turning back to God," the event is surely political, and favors a particular party's agenda no less. In other words, this was a classic display of passive agressive political agendas, reoccurant political and generalized theism, and manipulative scare tactics in which those who oppose these particular figure heads are led to believe that they then are also opposed to faith and God, even Christianity.  I beg to differ.

I also am confused about how Liberation Theology is being portrayed within this debate, including within the article above mentioned [5]. I do not consider myself to be an expert in this particular field; however, I do find myself enjoying these waters and so swim in them with regularity.  That being said, Liberation Theology is surely misrepresented and in need of fresh witness.  However, I will confess, when you are in a particular position of power, of a particular ethnicity, and ,even more so, a particular gender, it may be hard to read liberation theologians (as it once was for me) because it calls the very consciences Dr. Moore mentions above into question and demands a different sort of repentence and freedom so often proclaimed from our pulpits.  In that light, maybe I am not so confused about the particular angles and approaches to Liberation Theology made by certain critics and (un)informed officials.  Nonetheless, I highly recommend reading some of my favorite authors for yourself:

A Theology of Liberation  by Gustavo Gutierrez
On Job by Gustavo Gutierrez
Theology fo Hope by Jurgen Moltmann
A Black Theology of Liberation by James Cone [6]

One of the more brilliant components of this wing of theology is that it actually looks for not only the salvation and liberation of victims of sin, but also for the same for those who are in bondage to sin.  In other words, Liberation Theology looks for the redemption of both the oppressed and the oppressor, albeit beginning with the oppressed [7].  What a novel idea- universal redemption of even our worst of enemies as well as those so often shunned by people, systems, and (religious) traditions.  In this light, I am reminded that no matter how much I may struggle, debate, and disagree with the voices, behaviors, and agendas of certain political figures, God's redemption is also for them as much as it is for me and the poor and oppressed that we both often exploit and ignore.

That being said, I would be remissed if I did not critique those on the left along with those on the right.  I am grateful for Dr. Moore's article that reminds us that the culprits of the co-option of Christian conscience come from both parties, and all news stations for that matter. The proper response to the silly theology and naive religion of Beck-stock is not to hop off your elephant, leave the tea party, and pledge allegiance to a donkey or yellow dog.  All too often we hear the American-flag draped pulpits of republican preachers redressed with liberal, democratic agendas and left-winged ideaologies.  This is not to say that as Christians we cannot side with one argument or the other on particular issues; rather, we are reminded that neither Glenn Beck nor Keith Olbermann, Sarah Palin nor Barack Obama, Fox News nor MSNBC are our prophets, priests, or kings.  Instead, we pledge allegiance to a different party, a new kind of parade, that incorporates a circus of characters (dressed neither in red, blue, or even green, but in soaking wet baptimsal clothes), all who follow the Lamb in faithful conversation and humble dialogue around a beautiful Eucharistic table.  May this then be the pledge we rally around, neither at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial nor on the lawn of the White House (or maybe precisely at both), but at the foot of the cross:
I pledge allegiance to the Lamb, the Only Son of God;
And to his kingdom, for which he died;
Lived into by One people, loved and called by God;
Indivisible, proclaiming liberation, justice, and salvation for all. Amen.
May we make this pledge and then live into it for the sake of the world, and yes, especially for the poor and the oppressed.

[1] Dr. Russell D. Moore is an author and Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  If interested on my particular inclinations, feel free to ask me off-the-record.  However, I have come to learn the value of a pluralistic understanding of the Church and its witness, which has also, in turn, led me to recover some of the important contributions of this denomination and its members (not without critique, as I welcome upon my own tradition, PCUSA).
[2] Really? You chose this date because your calendar just so happened to be free and open? Come on.  Be real.  You knew exactly what you were doing and were surely trying to claim Dr. King as yet another proponent of your agenda.  Again, manipulation and pinning one group against the other...
[3] I also find it interesting that Conservative Evangelicals are taking their political and religious cues from a Mormon politician who they would condemn for his theological convictions.  He said in a recent interview that Liberation Theologians proclaim individual salvation only as a part of the salvation of the world (is this really such a tragic concept?), whereas "his Jesus" died for "personal salvation."  Well, Mr. Beck, your Christology says a lot of things, my friend, and this is only the tip of the iceberg of where we may disagree (and so would many of those at your rally).
[4] Sarah Palin said the following in her address, "Now, in honoring these giants, who were linked by a solid rock foundation of faith in the one true God of justice, we must not forget the ordinary men and women on whose shoulders they stood. The ordinary called for extraordinary bravery. I am speaking, of course, of America’s finest – our men and women in uniform, a force for good in this country, and that is nothing to apologize for." We would never want to apologize for any injustices we may commit, ignorance we may possess, or oppression we may promote? Also, if this is an "apolitical" rally, how is it that the military is a "force for good" built on the foundation of the "one true God of justice"?  That seems pretty political. Even more, how would you then define justice?  You sound like a Liberation Theologian ;)
[4] I also recommend reading another article from the Huffington Post.  A friend sent me this article which incorporates some helpful clarifications. However, nothing can replace reading the actual texts themselves...
[5] Unfortunately I do not have listed any female authors; however, this would lead to another wing of theology, Feminist and Womanist Theology.  These are both important traditions that need to be read...
[6] Jesus seemed to alude to the same concept, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last" (Mt. 20:16).  Luke is also helpful in his rendition of the beattitudes (which the wealthy tax collector Matthew spiritualizes, maybe for similar reasons wealthy Christians do the same with a lot of Jesus' statements), "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God, etc." (6:20).