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The vessel final

The Vessel: God Wears a Pink Dress

She sat in the emergency waiting room, hoping that the doctor would come with some good news. Her husband just suffered a massive stroke. And I stood outside the waiting room door, trying to think of the perfect thing to say to this wife in the midst of her pain.

I was the hospital chaplain that evening. In my brief time as a chaplain, I learned that nothing can prepare you for such moments. What’s the right thing to say during such an unexpected tragedy? Sometimes there’s nothing you can say. Sometimes the most important thing you can do is listen.

When I opened the door, I was greeted by the woman and her teenage daughter. After building some rapport with them, I asked how they were doing. The woman’s response was odd, but it also amazed me. She told me a story about a time she was at a local amusement park.

She was walking through a haunted house when a toddler started screaming in fear of the darkness. The child’s mother looked around for a way out, but she couldn’t find an exit. She started to move back towards the entrance, but the park employee managing the house stopped her. “Ma’am,” the employee began. “You can’t go back. The only way out is through.”

The only way out is through.

The woman whose husband just had a stroke repeated that phrase. She told me that everyone has options during times of tragedy. We can seek to blame someone else. We can hide in the dark corners of the “haunted house.” We can numb the pain with drugs or alcohol. But she told me that she only had one option in the face of her tragedy: the only way out is through.

That’s good wisdom and it’s reflected in the move The Vessel, starring Martin Sheen, who plays a priest named Father Douglas. To be released in theaters later this year, The Vessel is about a tragedy that strikes a small coastal town in South America. A tsunami sends an enormous wave that engulfs the town’s school, tragically killing all the town’s children.

The Vessel is a story about the different ways this community moves through the darkness of their tragedy. It begins with a classic example of scapegoating. The women manage their pain by creating a prohibition that none of the women are allowed to wear color; they must wear black and they must refuse to have children. The main character, a young man named Leo, explains the situation like this,

They all agreed that the first woman to wear color again is the worst mother in town. Well, my mother wears pink.

Pink is a sign of hope in the darkness of tragedy. It’s a sign that they can move through their tragedy, but the women largely ignore Leo’s mother. Since the wave killed the children, she no longer talked and she isolated herself from the other women. It’s Leo’s new girlfriend, Sorayah, who receives the wrath of the crowd. After finding love with Leo, she decides to wear a bright blue dress. The women and men of the town manage their pain by uniting against her, attacking her at night with torches. Fortunately, Leo comes to her rescue.

The people were stuck in their pain. They were victims without a path toward healing. So they inflicted their pain on a scapegoat. And soon, they would blame God. A woman cries out to Father Douglas,

If a man murders a child, we sentence him to death. But when God kills 46 children we are told to praise him. Sometimes it does feel like God has abandoned this place. If we only had a sign. Just the tiniest glimpse that He still cares…

Where is God in such tragedies? Did God cause the tsunami? Does God cause strokes? Where is God in the darkness? Theologians call these kinds of questions the problem of theodicy – if God is all powerful and good, then why do bad things happen?

The Vessel’s answer to that question is partly found in a vessel. Leo creates a boat from the wood that remains from the school. Father Douglas thinks the vessel could be a sign of hope for the community, but after Leo saved Soraya from the crowd, the crowd marched to the boat and set it ablaze. Just then, Father Douglas ran to the boat, attempted to save it, but he was too late. He reprimanded the crowd. The people then witnessed their destruction of the harmless vessel that could have given them so much hope. They repented of the violent destruction that they caused.

God is like that vessel, but God is also like Leo’s silent mother who wears pink. Why is God silent? Why doesn’t God answer our questions? Maybe God’s answers wouldn’t be helpful. Maybe the most helpful thing God can do is show up through a mother who doesn’t talk, but who listens. Maybe God is like a mother who wears a pink dress – pointing us to a more colorful world.

Eventually, the people do move through their pain together, not by uniting against a woman who wears pink or blue, or against a vessel. Rather, they move through their pain by uniting for a common purpose. Their new form of unity includes all the people of the town.

The Vessel symbolizes hope in the darkness. The boat holds us together in community, not united in scapegoating, but united in reconciliation. That’s where we find God in the midst of our darkness. We also find God in one who is like a mother wearing a pink dress in the midst of dark times, and moves with us through the darkness of tragedy into a more colorful world of hope.

For more on The Vessel, read Jason Jones’s article A Resurrection Movie: The Vessel. Jason is the president of Movies to Movement, a nonprofit that seeks to promote “a culture of life, love and beauty through the power of film.”

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Jesus Was Killed For National Security Reasons: Good Friday, Fear, and Muslim Surveillance

Why was Jesus killed?

There is no more important question to ask on this Good Friday. Christians have come up with many answers throughout the last 2,000 years. Some of those answers claim that Jesus was killed by the Father to assuage His wrath or reclaim His honor in the face of human sin.

But that’s the wrong answer. Jesus wasn’t killed to appease God. Jesus was killed because he was a threat to national security.

That’s the answer that the Gospels give. The great religious and political leader of the day, the high priest Caiaphas, explained why Jesus had to die. During a debate among other leaders, Caiaphas said,

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.

Caiaphas was right about one thing – Jesus was a national security threat. That’s why the political and religious elite killed him.

But let’s be clear – Jesus was not a threat to Israel’s national security because he was a violent revolutionary. No, Jesus was a threat because he challenged the whole political system of violence and death. Jesus preached a different way of life that he called the Kingdom of God. It wasn’t based on fear, death, or violence. Rather, it was based on faith, hope, and nonviolent love.

Caiaphas was a keen politician. Politics has always been based on the expediency of keeping people safe for national security. That’s their primary job. But in order to keep us safe, there has to be a threat, some enemy that has to be exiled or killed in order for us to be safe – lest the whole nation be destroyed!

Caiaphas wasn’t particularly evil. He was simply doing what humans have always done. He was channeling national fears and anxieties against a scapegoat. Two thousand years ago it was Jesus, but we continue the practice of political scapegoating today. Currently in the United States, we have presidential candidates who are channeling our cultural fears and anxieties against Muslims. In the wake of the Jihadist terror attacks in Brussels, leading candidates are suggesting that police need to patrol “Muslim neighborhoods,” because, you know, all Muslims are a threat to our national security…

Did you know that during the 15 years since 9/11, Jihadists have attacked the United States nine times, killing 45 people? My Muslims friends agree that those terrorist attacks are tragedies that never should have happened. But do those statistics reveal that Jihadists, let alone peaceful, law abiding Muslims citizens, are such a massive threat to our safety and security that police need to spend extra time and resources patrolling Muslim neighborhoods?

In comparison, “There are nearly 12,000 gun murders a year in the US.” American gun violence is a far bigger threat to us than Jihadists. But there’s an even bigger threat to our safety and security than guns. More than 30,000 people killed every year by car accidents.

If something killed 30,000 Americans a year, would we call it a national security threat? Of course we would! We would demand that police spend more time and resources patrolling neighborhoods, making sure people were safe from such a threat.

So, are Jihadist the great threat we are making them out to be? If so, the Obama Administration is doing a damn good job keeping us safe! But personally, I don’t think they are. After all, you have far more reason to fear the car coming down the street than any Jihadist, let alone peaceful Muslims.

Of course, it would be irrational for you to fear every car that came down the street. And it is just as irrational for you to fear your Muslim neighbor.

What do Caiaphas and our political leaders have in common? They attempt to channel our fears against a common enemy in the name of national security. But ultimately, they distract us from bigger problems. Our biggest problem is the cycle of scapegoating. Caiaphas blamed Jesus. Our politicians are blaming Muslims. And Christians should know better than to fall for the fearful suspicion directed against Muslims. Good Friday teaches us that when we live by fear, even fearing for our national security, we end up channeling our fear, anxiety, and violence against a scapegoat. In other words, we participate in the violent logic that killed Jesus.

On Good Friday, Jesus reveals that we don’t have to live by the politics of fear. In fact, he frees us from fear, even the fear of death. Faith in Jesus means that we no longer have to kill or exclude others for the sake of national security. Rather, faith means trusting in Jesus, the one who calls us to love and forgive our neighbors, including those we call our enemies.

Photo: Flick: Patrick Keller, Crucifixion INRI – St. Peter’s Cemetery, St. Charles, MO, Creative Commons Licence, some changes made

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Recovering From Militarism

Editor’s Note: Chicago-based journalist Robert Koehler’s articles are intuitively Girardian. While he may not write specifically about mimetic theory, his articles demonstrate the contagious nature of violence, and more importantly, inspire hope in the contagious power of compassion. We are honored to feature his articles every Thursday.

The pols cry glory and revenge. They cry security. They cry greatness.

Then they stick in the needle, or the missile or the rifle shell, or the nuclear bomb. Or at least they imagine doing so. This will fix the world. And they approve more funding for war.

U.S. militarism, and the funding — and the fearmongering — that sustain it are out of control . . . in the same way, perhaps, that stage 4 cancer is out of control.

We talk about “the Pentagon” as though it were a rational entity, hierarchically in control of what it does, dispensable as needed to trouble spots around the world: a tool of America’s commander in chief and, therefore, of the American people. The reality, undiscussed on the evening news or the presidential debates, is something a little different. The American military is an unceasing hemorrhage of cash and aggression, committed — perhaps only at the unconscious level — to nothing more than its own perpetuation, which is to say, endless war.

As Ralph Nader has noted recently: “. . . the military — this huge expanse of bureaucracy, which owns 25 million acres (over seven times the size of Connecticut) and owns over 500,000 buildings in the U.S. and around the world — is beyond anybody’s control, including that of the secretaries of defense, their own internal auditors, the president, tons of GAO audits publicly available, and the Congress. How can this be?”

The Department of Defense, which consumes over half the nation’s annual discretionary funding, has never been audited. The money disappears into a black hole and much of it is simply never heard from again. The situation is so outrageous that a congressional coalition of progressives and conservatives have launched an initiative, H.R. 5126, called the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014.

According to the legislation’s sponsors: “The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 requires every federal agency to pass a routine financial audit each year. The Pentagon is the only cabinet agency that is ‘unauditable,’ according to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office. In the last dozen years, the Pentagon has broken every promise to Congress about when DoD would pass an audit. Meanwhile, Congress doubled Pentagon spending.”

But this is only a small part of the hemorrhaging, metastasizing mess. We need to heal ourselves from, not simply audit, U.S. militarism.

“And no, the military doesn’t win wars anymore. It hasn’t won one of note in 70 years.” Gregory Foster, a West Point graduate and professor at National Defense University in Washington, D.C., wrote recently at TomDispatch. “The dirty wars in the shadows it now regularly fights are intrinsically unwinnable, especially given our preferred American Way of War: killing people and breaking things as lethally, destructively, and overwhelmingly as possible. . . .

“Instead of a strategically effective military,” he adds, “what we have is quite the opposite: heavy, disproportionately destructive, indiscriminately lethal, single-mindedly combat-oriented, technology-dominant, exorbitantly expensive, unsustainably consumptive, and increasingly alienated from the rest of society. Just as important, wherever it goes, it provokes and antagonizes where it should reassure and thereby invariably fathers the mirror image of itself in others.”

No, this is not the military the presidential candidates invoke so recklessly, but this is the military we have. And it is not stagnant. It’s growing, growing, growing — eating up the American budget and most members of Congress and most of the media, which at most are tepidly critical of the excesses of military spending ($640 toilet seats, $137 million F-35 Joint Strike Fighters) and the occasional moral lapses that reach public attention (rape, murder, Marines urinating on enemy corpses).

Despite the lost wars and the endless consumption of money, despite the failures of security and horrific growth of global terrorism since the U.S. began its war on terror, the country continues to militarize, both internationally and domestically.

Indeed, every outbreak of terror feeds the cancer, e.g.: “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” presidential candidate Ted Cruz declared in the wake of this week’s Brussels bombings, stoking the fears of his potential supporters and heedlessly tossing them a scapegoat.

Fear consumes intelligence. And militarism is all about simplistic solutions: Identify an enemy and kill him. Problem solved!

The more people militarize their thinking, the stupider they get.

But the world is extraordinarily complex. Simon Jenkins, writing this week in the Guardian, talked about “seeking to alleviate, or not aggravate, the rage that gives rise to acts of terror,” which can only happen by seriously de-escalating our own aggression.

Maybe, as Foster put it, our only alternative is to “reconsider the very purpose and function of the military and to reorient it accordingly. That would mean transforming a cumbersome, stagnant, obsolescent, irrelevant warfighting force — with its own inbuilt self-corrupting qualities — into a peacekeeping, nation-building, humanitarian-assistance, disaster-response force far more attuned to a future it helps shape and far more strategically effective than what we now have.

“. . . this would mean seeking to demilitarize the military.”

I call this trans-military thinking: a take on personal and national security that is not centered on aggression and dominance, but on diplomacy and, my God, understanding. Is such a level of social reorganization impossible? Only if we concede that we have no future.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Image: “The Pentagon, January 2008” Photo by David B. Gleason. Available on Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic license.

 

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Advent Meditation 2: The Way to Peace, or Seeing Muslims Through Advent Eyes

Editor’s Note: This Advent meditation is based on the Gospel text for the second week of Advent, Luke 3:1-6. Although I applied the text specifically to seeing Muslims through Advent eyes, as Muslims are targets of foreign policy violence and aggression by politicians, media, and even Christian leaders, the Gospel message of seeing God in victims and enemies could apply to any person or group used by another as a scapegoat.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” I hear the cry go up through the wilderness of barren souls, souls laid bare of compassion by a spirit of fear rushing like an evil wind harshly biting ‘neath the skin.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” I hear, as people prepare their armaments, as gun sales soar and more and more we see nation after nation heading for war.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” I whisper, “Prepare me, prepare we, prepare the way of the Lord.” I take a breath to inhale the Spirit of Love that utters these words and exhale the spirit of the age that prepares for every kind of violence but never for reconciliation. I let the decree fill me, focus me, open me, urge me, guide me. In a wilderness of fear and hatred, where the howling voices of politicians and generals and profiteers demonize some and call others to arms, I contemplate what it means to prepare now, in the midst of jingoistic bells tolling for battle, the way of the Prince of Peace.

Because to prepare the way of the Lord is to prepare our hearts and minds and whole selves to live into what was revealed 2000 years ago, a revelation that is obscured by calls to arms and theologies of glory. God comes among us not in the form of the powerful, not with wealth and weapons, but humbly, meekly, mildly. God is found in the servant, the outcast, the vilified. God is in those whom we reject, those whom we abandon, those we mock, those we scapegoat, those we kill.

And in 2015 – when bombs and missiles fall in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen, when people cower under threat of flying robotic weapons of death, when they are made to flee their broken countries, homes destroyed, family members murdered, cramming themselves into boats and camps to escape a living hell only to get doors slammed in their faces, and when the land of the free has become the belly of the imperial beast and citizens must endure the hatred and distrust of their neighbors – we must see the face of God in our Muslim sisters and brothers.

We can’t make a highway for Peace by leveling land with bombs. The mountains that must be made low are the blockades around our hearts, the towering egos and pillars of pride that block our vision. We can’t pave the way for Love by filling the valleys and ditches and missile-made craters with dead bodies. The low places that must be filled with hope and joy and welcome reside in the hearts of those who have been forgotten in the rush to destroy an enemy that can only be strengthened by violence, because violence itself is the true enemy. The collateral families, those who weep and mourn cradling their beloved – weak and war-weary, injured, deceased, in their arms – these are the people who must be uplifted, embraced, comforted with the assurance that they and their loved ones are cherished. The men and women who privately weep in silence after enduring one more insult, one more injury, these are they who must be enfolded in our friendship.

Victims of missiles abroad and malice at home prostrate themselves on the ashes of land blown apart or fire-bombed mosques while we dare to wonder if the god they worship is too violent.

How the log in our eye blinds us!

Triumphalist Christianity is a hall of distorted mirrors, a discordant echo chamber, cheering American aggression. As we make roads on land for legions of soldiers and turn skies into aerial pathways for drones, we steer ourselves through a dark and narrow world that shuts out the light of Christ. We know not who we are or what we do. Our way of violence makes way for vengeance. Moving in circles on this crooked path, entrapped within the walls that shut others out but cannot box Christ in, we are blinded by our fears to the terrors we inflict.

The way of the Lord must lead away from our skewed and narrow perspectives. If we prepare a highway by paving over others, we are our own stumbling blocks and it is our hearts that must be cleared of thorns and brambles. He is with those we have deemed enemies and it is our own hearts he still must reach.

We open the door to the Prince of Peace when the truth of our victims’ humanity pierces our hearts with unbearable light that shatters the fragile façade of sacred violence on which we build our lives. As he walks and the light illumines the darkness within us, our hearts are washed in tears of repentance. It is then we recognize that whatever name we use for the Holy One, however we pray, we are united in worship to the true God when we love one another, and united in idolatry to the false gods of violence and fear when we condemn each other with hate. When we let the Lord of Love pave a way through our hearts, we will embrace our sisters and brothers in Islam and every creed. We will lay down our arms, taking our security in the Love that reconciles us and our enemies into Love’s own self. We leave ourselves vulnerable to those who do not understand, but God’s love will eventually pierce their hearts too, and in our non-retaliation and offering of love we become instruments of God’s peace.

The way of the Lord cuts through barriers and labels, paved by instruments of peace who come from all religions and no religion at all. All who show mercy, compassion, generosity and love across barriers of human divisions bear the fruit of a new world ushered in by the Prince of Peace. When others taste and see the goodness of this fruit they bear it in themselves too, until the old world of violence is drowned and reborn again in the waters of Love’s womb. And all shall see the salvation of God.

Image: Copyright Jorbasa Fotografie via Flickr. Available via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerives 2.0 Generic license

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Girardian Wisdom For Turning Veteran’s Day Back Into Armistice Day

Yesterday was Armistice Day, but most of the nation celebrated it as Veteran’s Day. It was also the 1-week anniversary of the death of René Girard. I spent the day thinking about how appropriate it is to remember Girard on a day that we think about matters of peace and violence and ritualized patriotism. It is also appropriate to remember Girard on a day that we traditionally ignore our scapegoats and victims (as we do every day, but egregiously so on a day that we honor the valor of our own soldiers).

How do we recognize a day commemorating the end of World War I in an era when wars no longer end?

Many no longer do. Many no longer recognize the day as a day to honor peace, reconciliation, and laying aside of arms. Instead, we honor soldiers and veterans, thanking them for their service. And even most committed pacifists hesitate to say anything to question the mood of patriotism and honor that permeates the air. I personally fantasize about the day when conscientious objectors and civil servants who cross the line for peace will be recognized as veterans are in school assemblies, but I don’t yet dare advocate for such things at PTA meetings.

We are caught up in the mimetic phenomenon of triumphal militarism that has engulfed our nation. We have been at war for 14 years and counting, with no end in sight. Yet we are largely removed from our wars, removed from the land and bodies blown apart, the weeping and wailing, the orphaned, the parents clutching the maimed or dead bodies of their children. We watch refugee crises from afar with an ocean to buffer us, allowing us to watch long enough for pangs of humanity to remind us that we are good people, sensitive to suffering, before we turn away again. In this context of war that never ends but never touches most of us (at least, not in ways we usually perceive) we celebrate soldiers without feeling the palpable yearning for peace that might compel us to join the voices around the world shouting “Enough!” We celebrate the soldiers without understanding their missions or the effects they have on the world. To question war would be to question our soldiers and the myth of righteous violence that, theoretically, makes us safe, gives us freedom, and defeats evil.

The irony of Veteran’s Day, however, beyond the way it came to overshadow Armistice Day, is that in glorifying our veterans we largely overlook the fact that our culture of militarism lies about the horrors of war and sacrifices soldiers and veterans on the altar of this lie. While flags wave and hearts beat to the sound of patriotic drums, it is easy to let rhetoric about “honor” and “duty” mask the true causes of war — greed, lust for power, ego – to which soldiers and countless civilians are sacrificed. We may know that war is hell, but our identity as good and noble depends on honoring it as justified and necessary, even compassionate. It is a force for liberation and justice, we convince ourselves. Thus many soldiers enlist with the noblest of intentions: to serve, to protect, to honor the country they love and bring freedom to less-fortunate countries. And then they go to fight “terrorists” with no uniforms, who look just like the people they are trying to liberate, and the dehumanization of the “enemy” becomes the dehumanization of the whole population.

One cannot dehumanize another without losing a part of one’s own humanity. But this applies not only to soldiers but to all of us who cheer on a culture of war that masks the most horrific and wide-spread destruction behind a veneer of valor. Many veterans and the families who love them have seen past this veneer in a way that the rest of us, myself included, have not. Many veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are putting their broken selves back together with pain and suffering. We “honor” them without acknowledging the full depth of their suffering, because our culture refuses to acknowledge the full horrors of war.

And the veterans we glorify number among the unseen victims of our wars. According to statistics, at least 18 veterans commit suicide every day.

As many as that number is, it is a tiny fraction of those whose lives are destroyed by war.

We don’t think of our veterans as scapegoats, though. We glorify them; we don’t demonize them. Yet in failing to tell the truth about war, we do to soldiers what we do to scapegoats – we destroy them. In sending them out to fight our scapegoats, in redeploying them over and over to kill an enemy that can never die because it is not a person but an idea (“terrorism”), in shielding ourselves from the horrors that they have to see and experience, we are guilty of their blood. As we are guilty of the blood of all the people we send our soldiers to kill.

Yet in an era in which drones in the sky are increasingly replacing boots on the ground, it might be argued that we are honoring the lives of our soldiers by keeping more of them out of harm’s way. Although we have special operations forces deployed in 135 countries, warfare is increasingly becoming depersonalized. Yet drone pilots, like soldiers on the ground, feel in their souls the consequences of taking life, and many commit suicide. While those of us far from any battlefield, whether actual or virtual, may go about our days ignoring the victims of our empire building, the soldiers who pull the triggers and press the buttons must either shut down a part of their humanity or bear the pain of killing. While we can ignore the egregious lie that any military-aged male is automatically an enemy if he happens to be killed, while we can ignore evidence that the vast majority of those killed in strikes are not the intended targets, soldiers must either internalize such a gross dehumanization or face the horrible truth. We do no one any favors by ignoring that truth and thus perpetuating the deaths of innocents and the erosion of all of our souls.

The ritualized patriotism that washes our culture in an irresistible flood of self-righteousness, convincing so many of us of our “exceptionalism,” drowns conscience and cries of pain. Those who have studied Girard should not fail to see echoes of his prophetic warnings about the depth of human violence and our capacity to hide it from ourselves. Girard also warns us about our blindness to our victims. When wars are kept out of site and largely out of mind, except to glorify those who do the actual work of killing that a majority of our tax dollars pay for, we are blind not only to the victims we create abroad, but also to the victimization of our soldiers here at home. Girardian wisdom reveals to us the terrible violence our war culture does to everyone. And it warns us that the wars we create are destined to continue indefinitely until they destroy us all, unless we repent and turn ourselves completely around.

We must turn Veteran’s Day back into Armistice Day, and celebrate a permanent armistice, a cessation of war once and for all. To do so, we must face and tell the truth about war. To kill is not to serve and protect; it is to create enemies and destroy one’s soul. We should continue to honor the courage and discipline of soldiers who put their lives on the line, but we must convert the mission from conquest and violence to reconciliation and peacemaking, and we must lift the burden of the few by stepping up and taking our part. Beating swords into plowshares, transforming weapons into tools of cultivation, means transforming our whole culture with mercy and compassion. This crucial work starts in each of our hearts, and it must start now. As Girard says, “Either we are going to love each other, or we are going to die.”

Image: Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich, available on Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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Satan on the Throne: A Parable about Heaven and Hell

You have lived a long and faithful life. You have done your best to follow Jesus in working for justice. Most importantly, you have just learned that faith isn’t so much something you try really hard to have, but is something you relax into. Faith, you have discovered, is relaxing into the love that God has for you, and sharing that love with those you meet.

Now you find yourself here, on the other side. You walk on clouds, which are softer than any pillows you ever felt on earth. You walk toward the Pearly Gates and you see St. Peter. He looks at you and then down at the “Book of Life.” Peter nods his head and with a warm, gentle smile, he calls you by name. “Welcome to Heaven,” he says. “You are a Good One. We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Thank you, Peter,” you reply as you gaze through the gates. You’ve never thought of yourself as particularly good, but you’re flattered by the complement. You see streets of gold, large buildings, and a beautiful garden in the middle of the city. People smile and laugh. This is Heaven. It’s the happiest place you’ve ever seen.

Another man approaches. He has a long white beard and walks with a staff. “This is Moses,” Peter says. “He will take you where you need to go.”

With Moses as your guide, you walk through the city to its center. Moses is friendly and enjoys hearing about your life. You take a minute to close your eyes and breathe deeply. You let the wonders of Heaven enter your body. As you open your eyes, you notice that everyone is strikingly beautiful. The streets, paved in gold, are surrounded by the finest restaurants you’ve ever seen. People are eating rich, succulent food, smiling and laughing as they enjoy their dinner. And then you start to notice something strange that makes you feel a bit uneasy.

When the customers at the restaurant are done eating, they give credit cards to the wait staff in exchange for their services. You think it’s odd that people have to pay for food in Heaven. But you feel even more troubled as you notice that the wait staff has a darker skin complexion than the customers. And as you continue to walk with Moses, you notice, off in the distance, beyond the city gates, a group of the same darker skinned people making bricks and carrying them to the entrance of the city gate. It is clearly hard and backbreaking work. Moses tells you that the Holy One wants a new and bigger temple.

As you try to make sense of this experience, Moses suddenly stops in front of the temple. He interrupts your thoughts and says, “We’re here. You will meet the Holy One inside. He’s been expecting you. Enter through this door and follow the river. You will find the Throne Room. There will be Saints singing. Boldly walk through the Throne Room. He wants to see you.”

A sense of fear comes over you. Moses intuits your trepidation and says, “Remember what our friend John said in one of his letters, perfect love casts out fear. The Holy One is for you. You are one of the Good Ones. You belong here and you have nothing to fear. Now go!”

You follow the river, just as Moses instructed. You hear the Saints singing. It’s faint at first, but as you continue following the river their voices become louder. It’s the most beautiful sound you’ve ever heard. You come to the door of the Throne Room. As you put your hand on the doorknob, you remind yourself that “Perfect love casts out fear.” You boldly walk through the doorway.

The singing stops and the Saints look directly at you as you walk toward the Throne. The Holy One calls you by name. Love bubbles up inside of you. He sits on the Throne, looking like a Lion. “Come forward, Good One.” His deep voice reverberates across the Throne Room.

“Welcome to Heaven, my good and faithful servant. You have shown yourself to be one of the Good People of the Earth. You fought for justice. You deserve to be here. Unlike them!

The Holy One points to His left. Suddenly a portal that leads to Hell emerges. You look through it and see what appears to be people suffering eternal conscious torment.

“They are the Evil People of Earth,” the Holy One continues. “They get all the punishment that they deserve! And you should know this: The fuel of Heaven comes from the fires of Hell. And what fuels the fires of Hell? Those Evil People! We need them to suffer so that we may live in the joyful magnificence that we call Heaven!”

You take a step back. “Wait a minute,” you think to yourself. “This isn’t right. This isn’t just. This isn’t how Heaven is supposed to be.”

The Holy One scowls at you. “Your thoughts betray you,” He bellows. “Maybe you would like to join them,” He says with a sinister smile. “The choice is yours. You can stay here for eternity and enjoy the richness Heaven offers, or you can throw Heaven away and join them in suffering eternal conscious torment in Hell! Choose wisely. Your eternal soul hangs in the balance!”

You stand there, sensing the thousands of eyes from the Saints that are piercing through you. The pressure is almost too much for you to stand, but then you remember to relax – that whoever God is, God loves you and all people. You know, deep down in your bones, that you can’t stay here. If Heaven is like this, then you don’t want any part of it. You’ve made your choice. You will join the Evil Ones in Hell.

“You fool! Go then!” bellows the Holy One as He points to portal for Hell. “You don’t deserve to be here! Join the Evil Ones suffering eternal conscious torment!”

The Saints who were singing now taunt you as you walk toward the portal. Before stepping through, you take a deep breath. “Perfect love casts out fear,” you say to yourself as you put one foot through and then the next.

It is dark on the other side, but in the distance you see something that looks like a Lamb walking towards you, along with a man with wounds on his feet, hands, and side. “Welcome to Heaven,” the man says. “My name is Jesus. This is my Father,” he says as he points to the Lamb. A woman suddenly emerges beside them. But you notice that she’s more than just beside them. She’s around them and through them. It’s as if she’s connecting the three of them together. “And this is Sophia, the Holy Spirit. We are happy to see you.”

“The Trinity?” you think to yourself. “How could this be?” But at the moment you feel a bit silly asking theological questions. Besides, you always thought the doctrine of the Trinity was a bit irrelevant. So, you point to the portal and blurt out, “But I thought Heaven was back there.”

“Oh. That wasn’t Heaven,” the Lamb replies. “This is Heaven.”

“But what about the people suffering here, in eternal conscious torment?” you ask.

“Ahh, eternal conscious torment,” Sophia sighs, shaking her head. “It’s one of Satan’s tricks. It doesn’t exist. It’s a myth meant to make us look like we are involved in scapegoating. That myth justifies human scapegoating and blames us for it. We have nothing to do with it. We desire merciful love, not sacrificial scapegoating. Nobody here is suffering, but everyone here does care for each other. We do love one another.”

You look around and see people with different skin complexions walking together and laughing. There is no exchange for food and no one is making bricks to make bigger buildings. Everyone here has enough.

“Wait a minute. I’m confused,” you say. “What about Peter and Moses?”

“They were imposters, imitators of the true Peter and Moses meant to trick you,” answers the Lamb. “The false Peter decides who is included and who is excluded in the false version of Heaven. That Book of Life he carries around is really a book of death because it’s based on exclusion. Jesus holds the key to the true Book of Life. And get this! Everyone’s name is written in it! Everyone, from the beginning of human history, is invited to join us. The true Peter is over there, making sure everyone here has enough to eat and drink. It’s all free here. And the real Moses is over there, taking our newest group on a tour.”

“When Moses takes you on the tour, be sure he parts the river that runs through the middle of the city,” Jesus says with a twinkle in his eye. “It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen!”

“Sounds great!” you reply. “But what about the Lion sitting on the Throne of Heaven?”

“That was Satan,” the Lamb replied. “I love him so much. He wanted to sit on the Throne and he threatened a rebellion if I didn’t give it to him. He wanted everything that I had. But as long as I’m with Jesus, Sophia, and those who choose to be down here, I have everything that I want. Besides,” he says motioning toward the portal, “the people over there are happy enough. And if they become unhappy, they are free to come here whenever they want. They know this intuitively. But most of them are blind to Satan’s evil ways of creating order, so they maintain with the status quo.”

“But there is hope,” Jesus continues. “After all, Satan’s kingdom is founded on the principle of accusation, exchange, rivalry, and oppression. It can’t last forever. His kingdom is inherently divisive. And a kingdom divided against itself will soon fall. When it does, we will be there to pick him up. It may take a while longer, but even Satan will find redemption. There is still goodness in him. Our love will win him over.”

“But until then, we have work to do,” Sophia says. “There’s a garden that needs some watering and bushes that need pruning. And then we need to serve dinner at the shelter. Would you like to join us?”

“Sure!” you say with excitement as a sudden sense of warmth fills your soul. “I’m so glad I came here.”

“So are we,” Jesus responds, as he puts his arm across your shoulders. “You know, the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to eternal life, and there are few who find it. But you found it. Well done, my faithful servant.”

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American Christianity’s Great Scapegoat (Part II)

In Part I of this series, I discussed how many within “mainstream” Western Christianity believe the LGBT community—more specifically, the recent SCOTUS decision on marriage equality—is to blame for the imminent judgment on America. In this entry, I would like to mention how those in the Muslim faith appear to be included among those charged with causing the “fall of America.”

The hyperbolic rhetoric used to talk about over 1.6 billion Muslims is just as head-scratching as that which is used to describe the roughly 9 million LGBT Americans. Radio host Rick Wiles recently stated that “millions of Americans will die in one day in this country” at the hands of Muslim-Americans, whose only goal is “to slaughter the people who do not convert to Islam.” We hear statements like this over and over, predominantly by those on the Christian right. I do not wish to demonize those who make such claims, but what I do want to do is shed light on the fact that this is nothing more than extreme hyperbole. Sure, there are those for whom that statement would be true. However, as I will point out in the following paragraph, this is not the goal of the Muslim faith. Furthermore, a statement like Wiles’ is a double-edged sword. Given his logic, one could point to recent Lafayette shooter, John Russell Houser, who, in 2013 tweeted, “The Westboro Baptist Church may be the last real church in America (members not brainwashed [sic])” and conclude, “the goal of Christianity is to slaughter the people who do not accept Christ.” Both claims are nonsense.

The goal of any religion, broadly speaking, will depend upon how one interprets matters. Some religions have sacred texts. Some don’t agree on what is supposed to be “sacred text.” Some religions have varying views of God, or gods, if the case may be. The Muslim faith, then, is no different. Sure, on one extreme, is ISIS (and groups similar). They have a specific goal in mind, which involves radical violence. On the other hand, however, you have a group like the Sufi Muslims. One such Sufi is Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, whom I mention in my forthcoming book, All Set Free. His understanding of Islam is beautifully summed up in the following:

Peace, unity, equality . . . when we are in one place, when we live in one place, eat in one place, sleep in one place, and when we finally join together in heaven in one place, that is unity. Even when we go to that (final) place, we all live together in freedom as one family, one group. In this world and in the next world we live together in freedom, as one family of peace. This is Islam. If we find this way of peace, this is Islam. – (Muhaiyaddeen, God’s Psychology, 218)

There should be no denying the plain truth that within various faiths, there are debates among adherents as to what constitutes “correct theology.” Just because a Christian makes an ethical, moral, or theological claim or performs a “God-mandated” action, does not mean all Christians are in agreement. Likewise, just because a Muslim makes an ethical, moral, or theological claim or performs an “Allah-mandated” action, does not mean all Muslims are in agreement either. (“Allah,” it must be noted, is an Arabic word simply meaning “the One God,” and is used by Arab Christians as well as Muslims). There seems to be a more accurate common denominator for the violence.

It does not matter if God is named YHWH or Allah, Zeus or Athena, if s/he is believed to be violent, then those who follow will likely be more tolerant of violence. In fact, in more extreme cases, followers of that god will eagerly engage in violence themselves. One problem with this belief is that when violence is justified—when an eye for an eye is how those religious interpretations operate for individuals and nations—they will, in reality, often ramp up the violence. (See the studies done by the University of Texas—sourced from Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life, 142–43).

This leads to all manners of madness!

This also seems to be the case with the perpetual conflict in the Middle East.

So, what is the answer to this conflict that seems to never end? Well, I believe Jesus gives us the answer to that question—do not engage in retributive violence. Or, directly in his words: “Do not resist an evildoer” (Matthew 5:39).

Although the blame for the violence should be equally shared with all who engage in the violence, the supposed “Christian nation” should at least model what a Christ-like foreign policy looks like. Should it not? Yet, the United States seems to be right in the middle of the violence—not “set apart” from others who are involved. If leaders truly want the United States to be known as a “Christian nation,” should they not “turn the other cheek?” Should the United States not love those labeled “enemy?”

I realize the relationships between nations are not simple. But, shouldn’t nations who claim to desire peace not at least consider that one’s belief in God literally will be a matter of “peace” and “war?” If we can recognize there is a correlation between violence and our theology, shouldn’t we begin to take more seriously the idea that God is not violent? It seems that belief might then lead to more peaceful interactions between nations. I think there is enough experiential evidence that one’s faith dictates one’s ethics. We witness it over and over—history seemingly repeating herself ad infinitum.

One should not blame the entire Muslim faith in the same way one should not blame the entire Christian or Jewish faith for the violence and acts of terrorism. The common link between the violence is the belief in a violent God—one who vanquishes enemies and blesses those willing to die for the cause. At some point, someone is going to have to end the cycle of violence. My hope is that it will be those who claim to have the very model to do just that. Jesus had legions of angels to unleash on the Romans, yet he kept them at bay (Matthew 26:53). A “Christian nation” should follow suit.

Don’t we see where perpetual war has taken us?

Can’t we try peace yet?

I pray daily for that.

Shalom. Salam. Peace.

Image Credit: Stock vector of world religions connected by international peace symbol. By casejustin via 123rf.com.

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President Obama, Christianity, and the Truth about American Exceptionalism

President Obama just laid to rest all the speculation that he isn’t a Christian.

During his speech in Kenya, he said one of the most Christian things any U.S. president has ever said. No, he didn’t shove Jesus down anyone’s throat. He did something much more important. He definitively pointed to what makes the United States a “Judeo-Christian Nation.”

“What makes America exceptional is not the fact that we are perfect. It’s the fact that we struggle to improve. We’re self-critical. We work to live up to our highest values and ideals, knowing that we’re not always going to achieve them perfectly, but we keep on trying to perfect our union. And what’s true for America is also true for Kenya. You can’t be complacent and accept the world just for what it is. You have to imagine what the world might be. And then push and work toward that future. Progress requires that you honestly confront the dark corners of our own past. Extend rights and opportunities to more of your citizens. See the differences and diversity of this country as a strength, just as we in America try to see the diversity of our country as a strength, not a weakness.”

What’s so Christian about that statement? Many will disagree with the President. They will say that his emphasis on self-criticism is actually anti-American. But the freedom to be self-critical is an important freedom that the United States models to other nations. Just as important, that self-criticism is based on America’s Judeo-Christian roots.

I tend to bristle whenever politicians talks about American “exceptionalism,” but self-criticism is actually exceptional in human history. Throughout history, very few nations ever attempted to be self-critical, certainly not in a way that confronts “the dark corners of our past” or is concerned about extending “rights and opportunities” to those who are marginalized by society.

René Girard calls this the “modern concern for victims” in his book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. He writes,

“Examine ancient sources, inquire everywhere, dig up the corners of the planet, and you will not find anything anywhere that even remotely resembles our modern concern for victims. The China of the Mandarins, the Japan of the Samaria, the Hindus, the pre-Columbian societies, Athens, republican or imperial Rome—none of these were worried in the least little bit about victims, whom they sacrificed without number to their gods, to the honor of the homeland, to the ambition of conquerors, small or great.”

For example, take ancient Rome, one of the greatest empires in human history. Rome promised peace to its citizens, but the Pax Romana was waged with a sword. Because Rome benefited from that violence, there was no Roman self-criticism of its political system. When Rome conquered another nation, there was no self-critical discussion about “human rights.” Nor did Rome have anything like the modern impetus for “social justice” that sought to change unjust political and economic structures. As theologian James Alison writes, in ancient Rome, “the defeated would be killed or enslaved without further ado. They had no rights: that’s what being defeated meant.”

The exception in the ancient world were the Jews. Unlike other nations, the Jews were self-critical and that self-criticism stemmed from their experience of oppression in Egypt. The Egyptian Empire enslaved the ancient Israelites. Like in ancient Rome, there was no self-critical voice in ancient Egypt. No Egyptian prophet would ever say to Pharaoh, “You know, maybe we should treat those Israelites with a little more compassion and respect.”

But Moses set the course for the transformation of the human understanding of God. The Judeo-Christian tradition primarily begins with the Exodus. The God of the Exodus doesn’t identify with the powerful, but with the victims of human culture.

Exodus reveals that God breaks into our world as One who is with the scapegoats of human society. The prophetic word from this God doesn’t justify political action that leads to oppression, injustice, and poverty like the ancient gods of Rome or Egypt. Rather, this God, the God of the Hebrews, sides with the oppressed.

For ancient Israel, the political message was clear: God sides with the oppressed, so don’t become an oppressor. Whenever Israel’s political establishment neglected to care for the poor, the widows, the marginalized, there was a self-critical message that demanded the nation care for the poor and marginalized:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:9)

Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow. (Deuteronomy 27:19)

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. (I Samuel 2:8)

Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise, says the Lord, I will protect them from those who malign them. (Psalm 12:5)

A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops. (Proverbs 28:3)

The reason the Bible was so insistent that the good people of Israel care for the weak, poor, and scapegoated victims of Israel is because good people often fail to question their own goodness. Because good people can be so pleased with their goodness, they simply cannot believe that they have become oppressors and so they cannot be self-critical about their oppressive ways. The prophet Ezekiel spoke directly to and about people who refused to doubt their own goodness when he said, “The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice.”

Jesus continued to highlight the particularly Jewish concern for victims of culture. For Jesus, to participate in the Kingdom of God was to structure our lives in a way that cares for those in need. He stated his mission in his first sermon, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed.”

Jesus took this a step further near the end of his life. He explicitly identified himself with the poor and needy, the very ones that good people ignored without remorse:

“‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.’” Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you to drink, a stranger and welcome you, naked and clothe you, sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the last of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

President Obama has never been more Christian than when he emphasized America’s exceptional ability to be self-critical. Amidst human history, that ability to doubt our own goodness for the sake of victims we have created is exceptional. If the U.S. has any claim to Judeo-Christian roots, it’s because of that ethical concern.

 

Photo: President Obama speaking in Kenya (Screenshot from YouTube, KTN News Kenya)

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American Christianity’s Great Scapegoat (Part I)

All cultures scapegoat others. It is just something we do, unfortunately. Our religions are founded on scapegoating—Christianity included. The scapegoating that is currently taking place in America, much of it from within the church, is astounding. Just take a look at some of the recent rhetoric regarding the LGBT community from some self-declared Christians.

You’re going to see gunfire . . . “ Preacher Rick Wiles, comparing the recent SCOTUS decision to the institution of slavery.

When homosexuals begin lining up to adopt those children, they will literally disciple them into an early grave called Hell.” – Baptist pastor Rick Scarborough

Personally, I believe from a perspective of reading Romans 1, that this nation is under judgment from God ( . . . ) The wrath of God revealed against those who rebel against him in Romans 1. And one of the signs of even God judging a nation and withdrawing the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit, one of the signs is the sign of homosexual behavior, as it says in Romans 1. And I believe we’re seeing that in this nation, I believe this nation is under judgment.”Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum (I will save my comments on how to exegete Romans 1:18 – 32 for another time.)

So, in the minds of these men and countless others, because of the LGBT community and our compliance with their desire to share in the same rights heterosexual couples enjoy, judgment and wrath will befall this “Christian” nation. I would like to make a few comments regarding this type of thinking.

First, for sake of argument, let’s assume that homosexual behavior is sin (I do not believe that, but hear me out.) Even if the citizens of this nation allow this “rampant sin” to enter her borders, is this the first time? Is this the first instance within the past 50 years where the United States of America enacted laws that many would find immoral? Well, let’s take a look…

“Jim Crow” laws (1890 – 1965) stated that black and white segregation is a mandate when it comes to public schools, transportation, restrooms and water fountains, and even restaurants. And no judgment befell this” great” nation.

Interracial marriage was only legalized in 1967. Prior to that, blacks and whites could not marry. Yet, no judgment came . . .

How about current drug laws? In a piece from July 1, 2015, I discussed the current drug laws in American and how racially biased they are. However, we see no one thumping a bible from a pulpit, warning of some terrible judgment. I know, I know: drugs are bad so God is okay with these laws.

I could drone (pardon the pun) on and on about which laws I find “biblically objectionable” but I think you see my point—and I didn’t even go far back in history. I need not remind anyone of the institution of slavery. The fact is: the laws of this nation have little to do with Christian values. Never have, never will.

My second point is this: if you want to use the bible as an authority on how to enact law, at least begin with Jesus Christ. If someone wants to view homosexual behavior as “sin,” then are they not to view that “sin” as a speck, and their own sin as a “plank”? (Matt. 7:3 – 5) Jesus also tells his disciples to not declare themselves above the other, but in order to be “great,” they must be servants. (Matt. 20: 25 – 28) Jesus himself did not come to be served, but to serve. How is using the political process to enact marriage law based on “biblical values” not “lording over another?” In this passage, Jesus invites his disciples to imitate him in serving—putting others ahead of themselves. How can Christians be called to serve all, while at the same time using the political process to interfere with thousands of loving couples (even if they think it is ‘icky’)? How can a follower of Jesus place him or herself over and above anyone, for any reason?

I cannot help but cringe when I hear the justifications for stopping the oft-used pejorative, “homosexual agenda.” All too often, “protecting the sanctity of marriage” seems more important than living “at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18)—“voting for God” more important than being “last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

If the bible makes anything clear, it is that we are called to love—called to serve others as Christ loved and served. Those who take a Christocentric worldview will not wage war with the LGBT community. Rather, we will follow Jesus and treat all with love, kindness, and compassion—just as we want to be treated. Christians who take Jesus seriously will work diligently toward ceasing scapegoating others. The LGBT community will not be to blame for the wars and rumors of wars brought about by an “over and above” foreign policy. They will not be to blame for the blowback due to rampant nationalism. They will not be to blame for future terrorist attacks that are exacerbated by the expanded drone program or our propensity toward “nation building”. The scapegoat never is to blame for the problems of the community, the culture, the nation. Our violence is.

 

Image Credit: The Scapegoat, by William Holman Hunt. Public Domain. Available through Wikipedia.

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A Whole New World

Editor’s Note: This article was written by guest author Matthew Distefano.

Disney’s Aladdin is my daughter’s favorite “princess” movie…well currently…she always changes her mind. I also hear it is Adam Ericksen’s as well. And who can blame them, really? The film features Princess Jasmine, arguably the most gorgeous fictional animated character of all time (although I fancy her attire would not have been permitted given her cultural context). Plus, she is one courageous girl. She boldly stands up to the power structures; challenging the laws and mandates set forth by her father, the Sultan. She does not care about money or fortune, status or fame; but seeks true love, eventually even from a down and out “street-rat” named Aladdin. And speaking of Aladdin: how can one not root for an underdog like him? He has nobody and nothing—scraping together what he can just to survive. He is easy-pickings to be scapegoated by the people—unknown, poor, parent-less and downtrodden.

Agrabah, the Middle-Eastern setting for the film, is ruled with an iron fist. Commit petty theft and it’s “off with your hand”—literally! Sinister Jafar oversees police operations and has his cronies intimidatingly patrolling the streets looking to shake people down. Moreover, poor children roam the alleys, thankful even if they only get a few scrapes of bread. Certainly the Sultan—the “one-percent”—could kick down some of the lavish riches he has. Yet, he chooses to live in what appears to be a temple erected for self-worship. Because of this kind of society, struggling Aladdin finds himself in trouble with the law on more than one occasion. His trouble, however, will also include an unlikely encounter with royalty.

After prophetically releasing a group of white doves from her Father’s courtyard, Jasmine sneaks out of her palace home—clearing the walls for the very first time. Because of her ignorance to common society, she soon finds herself in a bit of trouble while at a bazaar, forcing street-wandering Aladdin to come to her rescue. In doing so, the two develop trust in each other; recognizing the shared desire to be free to be themselves—free from their current situation.

Aladdin—to be free from the oppressive socio-economic situation he is in.

Jasmine—to be free from the system of law she is under.

However, any budding relationship gets cut short by Jafar’s minions and Aladdin is arrested under the false charges of “kidnapping”. As we would find out, because of a prophecy that Aladdin was a “diamond in the rough”, and thus, worthy to acquire the lamp, this is all part of Jafar’s evil plan.

As a sorcerer, Jafar manifests himself as an elderly prisoner and slips Aladdin out a secret tunnel of the jail and toward a “cave of wonders” where this lamp is to be found. In exchange, Aladdin is promised riches beyond his wildest imagination. After turmoil in the cave, Aladdin is able to get the lamp to Jafar but Jafar does not live up to his end of the deal and shoves Aladdin into the cave and thus, trapping him inside. However, Aladdin’s side-kick Abu sneakily swipes the lamp from Jafar which leads to the introduction of “the Genie”.

While the Genie is able to use his magical powers to free Aladdin and his friends from the cave, they are also used to turn Aladdin into a “prince”, something Jasmine does not desire. Aladdin may have had good intentions in doing this—as he knew the law stated “the princess must marry a prince”—but his plan backfires when his false status goes to his head and Jasmine witnesses herself being treated as some “prize to be won”(Philippians 2:6). The Aladdin from the marketplace—the “nobody” in the eyes of society—is what Jasmine desired. He was humble and sincere: a romantic at heart. This “Prince Ali”, as he went by, was arrogant, flashy, and everything Jasmine despised in a man. This status Aladdin thought Jasmine desired was the very thing that initially kept them apart. It is not until some of Aladdin’s humility shines through later that night when Jasmine begins to show some trust in him (although he still is not fully honest with her as of yet).

After the two sail on a romantic magic carpet ride, all is looking up…for around 10 seconds. Shortly after Aladdin kisses Jasmine goodnight, Jafar captures Aladdin; nearly drowning him before the Genie can save his life. Shortly after, Aladdin exposes Jafar’s corruption to the Sultan and it seems like the case is closed. Jafar is guilty and headed for prison, maybe worse. However, being the sorcerer that he is, Jafar is able to break free from the guard’s restraints. Later that evening, Jafar’s right-hand parrot, Iago, is able to steal the Genie’s lamp—making the Genie subject to his new master, Jafar.

Jafar spends wish 1 & 2 on becoming sultan and “the most powerful sorcerer on earth”, using this new power to crush our hero’s hope. However, because of mimetic desire and Aladdin’s quick wit, Jafar is tricked into engaging into mimetic rivalry with the Genie…the very one he is manipulating for his evil plans. Aladdin’s plan to taunt Jafar—claiming he is second to the Genie in power—works brilliantly. Upon Jafar’s third wish; the wish to be the most powerful genie in the world, Jafar enslaves himself in his own “magic lamp” until someone should come along and free him. Jafar’s own desire to be the most powerful genie the world is the very cause of his enslavement.

When we enter into mimetic rivalry—when we desire power and to be over and above others—our fate is enslavement. In contrast, we discover freedom when we give of ourselves and lift others up. After Jafar is defeated, Aladdin uses his final wish to give the Genie his freedom. In doing so, Aladdin risked his chance at marrying Jasmine as they were still under the same archaic marriage law as before. However, because the Sultan witnesses the power of true love, he gives his daughter the gift of freedom—the freedom to love whom she pleases.

I applaud Disney for contrasting these two fates. Mimetic rivalry will always lead to conflict, violence, enslavement, and ultimately, death of some kind. However, the self-giving love of others is what sets us free—free to desire the same type of love our Papa has for us. This theme is prevalent throughout scripture. Jesus, in only doing what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19), was given up for us all (Romans 8:32). There is no greater gift than to be given freedom through Jesus Christ. Without it, our own desires, borrowed from the desires of others, will lead to our own enslavement. Thank God for the perfect Model out of this.

MattMatthew Distefano is writing his first book on universal reconciliation and advocate for non-violence. He lives in Northern California and is married with one daughter.

Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.”

 

 

For more in Matthew’s Disney Princess series, see:

Cinderella: Happily Ever After

Beauty and the Beast: Tale As Old As Time

The Little Mermaid: Under the Sea

Alladin: A Whole New World

Frozen: Love Will Thaw a Frozen Heart

Tangled: Let Down Your Hair