Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Resisting the Empire

There is an interesting tradition within Jewish biblical interpretation call the Targum. This phrase, originally taken from the Aramaic translations of the Jewish scriptures and still used in this way, came to mean the blending of interpretation, translation and application of scripture.

In their book Colossians Remixed Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat apply this principle to various passages of the book of Colossians. Their main thesis in the book is that Paul wrote this letter to encourage believers to not be seduced by the values of the Roman empire and all it stood for, and that we should also do the same now with whatever worldly 'empire' dominates the ideas and practices today.

Their argument is that the empire we live under is that of global consumerism, and that the imperial nature can be seen through the oppression, commodotization and brutalization of people and the world. From this starting point they create a targum from Colossians 2:8 – 3:4. Here is a selection from that, bearing in mind that this is a blend of translation, interpretation and application:

Make sure that no one takes your imaginations captive through a vacuous vision of life rooted in an oppresive regime of truth that parades itself as something other than mere human tradition, as if it somehow had access to final and universal truth about the world apart from Christ.


In him you find your legitimacy, your entrance into the covenantal community, because in relation to himyour real problem – a deeply rooted sinfulness manifest in violence and self-protective exclusion – is addressed and healed.


Don't forget that you were once dead too – dead in the dead-end way of life that characterizes our cannibalistic and predatory culture. But now you are dead to that way of life, and God has made you alive with Christ by dealing with the real problem through radical forgiveness. You see, when the idolatrous power structures that bolster this oppressive regime nailed Jesus to the cross and poured out their fury on him, all of your debts were nailed there too. All of the ways the empire of death held you captive and robbed you of life – the exhausting and insatiable imperative to consume, the bewildering cacophony of voices calling out to us in the post-modern carnival ... the masturbatory self-indulgence of linguistic and societal games .. all of this is nailed to the cross.

Let's not beat around the bush here. What is at stake in this conflict at the cross is indeed a power struggle. And Jesus takes precisely the principalities and powers that placed him on the cross – the idols of militarism, nationalism, racism, technicism, economism – and on that very cross disarms, dethrones, conquers, and makes public example of them.


If all of this is true then, don't allow the front-men of these vanquished powers to tell you what to eat and drink. Don't buy into the simulated grocery stores made to remind shoppers of an era when shopping was more integral to community life. Don't be duped by advertising that tells you that various products are indispensable to constructing certain images and personas. This is all crap. They are still trying to captivate your imagination, to suck you into a globalistic regime of homogeneous consumption. Resist this McWorld nightmare with all the strength you have! Avoid the Disneyization of your consciousness. This stuff has no substance to it, no being ... but in Christ we find substance


If with Christ you died in your baptism to the principles of autonomous consumerism that still hold the world captive, then why do you live in a way that suggests that you are still in iron grip of its ideological vision? Why do you submit yourselves to its regulations to consume as if there were no tomorrow, to live as if community were an impediment to personal fulfillment, to live as if everything were disposable, including relationships, the unborn and the environment? ... Don't you know that copulating with the idols of this culture is like climbing into bed with a corpse that is already decomposing?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Rejecting the Empire

Having ignored my blog for a couple of months whilst seriously working through some of the issues that the community conversation has provoked (more on that later!), I am back.

I went to the Faithworks Conference last week, and got to spend some time with Shane Claiborne and Brooke Sexton from the Simple Way community - always a great time (I hadn't seen them since we shared a grotty chalet at the Skegness Spring Harvest 18 months ago). Shane led a great seminar as well, which he concluded with this great prayer that he encourage people there to join in with:

With governments that Kill…we will not comply.
With the theology of Empire…we will not comply.
With the business of Militarism…we will not comply.
With the hoarding of Riches…we will not comply.
With the dissemination of Fear…we will not comply.

But today, we pledge our ultimate allegiance to the Kingdom of God…we pledge allegiance.

To the peace that is not like Rome’s…we pledge allegiance.
To the gospel of enemy love…we pledge allegiance.
To the kingdom of the poor and the broken…we pledge allegiance.
To the king who loved his enemies so much He died for them…we pledge allegiance.
To the least of these, with whom Christ dwells…we pledge allegiance.
To the transnational Church that transcends that artificial borders of nations…we pledge allegiance.
To the Refugee of Nazareth…we pledge allegiance.
To the homeless Rabbi who had no place to lay His head…we pledge allegiance.
To the Cross rather than the Sword…we pledge allegiance.
To the Banner of Love above any flag…we pledge allegiance.
To the One who rules with a towel rather than an iron fist…we pledge allegiance.
To the One who rides a donkey rather than a war horse…we pledge allegiance.
To the Revolution that sets both oppressed and oppressors free…we pledge allegiance.
To the Way that leads to Life…we pledge allegiance.
To the Slaughtered Lamb…we pledge allegiance.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…Amen.

What are we here for?