The following is meant to provide a minimal context to highlight what is one of the most succinct and demanding criticisms of orthodox theology I have recently come across. Linn Marie Tonstad’s God and Difference is a critical examination and constructive proposal of trinitarian theology (see here for an extended book event).
“Search Scripture, for you seem to think, you presume to imagine, that you will gain your salvation there” (Jn 5:39). Words cannot tell how cruelly this defrauds the poor and needy folk. For all their words and deeds ensure that the poor man is too worried about getting his food to have time to learn to read; moreover they have the nerve to preach that the poor man should let himself be flayed and fleeced by the tyrants. How on earth is he to learn to read the Scripture? Yes, yes, my dear Thomas, but you are getting too fanatical! The biblical scholars should read their fine books and the peasant should listen to them, for faith comes by listening. O yes, that was a fine trick they discovered! It would replace the priests and monks with worse rascals than have been since the very beginning of the world. . . . Christ speaks to these pious people, the biblical scholars: ‘My word will not remain with you’ (Jn 5:38).
– Thomas Müntzer, ‘A Manifest Exposé of False Faith
I am just supposed to let this all overwhelm me? – Thomas Müntzer
I don’t typically enjoy reading Reformation authors (not that I have read many). Unless I really want to spend the time tracking their logic I find the content has not aged well and reads like bad worn out pietism. Thomas Müntzer’s writings have largely evaded that experience. I really did not know much about him other than he is more or less shunned in mainstream Mennonite thought and history because of his involvement in violent revolts. In this post I just want to note a couple observations as I am about half finished his collected works (minus much of the liturgical pieces unfortunately).
Increasingly I can only understand the Gospel story, to the extent that I can understand it all, as the story of the Indigenous people that surround me. For a more general survey of what this can mean see Dan Oudshoorn’s blog posts A Blog Commentary on Luke’s Gospel, written for Settlers in the Occupied Territories called Canada (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).
For me this has culminated in the resistance at Standing Rock particularly as the Advent season begins. The elders and water protectors at Standing Rock have declared a spiritual act of resistance in protection of the land and the waters. The events surrounding these acts have an uncanny resonance with Advent.
Advent begins with apocalyptic imagery. In the prophets there are images of longing that seemingly unstoppable powers can be overcome.
Oh come, oh come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel.
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Mark 13:24-25
There are visions of the nations and wealth that will stream to God’s holy mountain in which the people will gather that they might learn war no more.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. – Isaiah 2:2-4
And the nations have come to Standing Rock, the nations of the world represented by various tribes, religions, cultures, and causes (with military veterans being the latest to join putting down their guns with a commitment to ‘fight’ in the nonviolent ways led by the water protectors). The prophets say that the wealth of nations will flow to this mountain in that time as well, and it has with millions in monetary support as well as gifts of various sorts coming in.
Advent is marked by signs. At Bethlehem they followed a start at to Standing Rock they have followed a river and the Black Snake (from the Sacred Stone website: When we refer to the pipeline as a black snake, we are referencing an old Lakota prophecy that speaks of a black snake (zuzeca sape) crossing the land, bringing with it destruction and devastation.). And to be clear stars in the Ancient Near East were political symbols and a shift or sign in the heavens reflected a shift in the powers of the earth.
Around the world we watched as a buffalo herd came to show strength and support to the water protectors. We watched as the US empire doubled down in its power electing Donald Trump who heralded the ‘good old days’ of law and order (for white people). As Adrian Jacobs tweeted,
The signs were given.
And then we heard news of the birth of a child.
We heard good news. A woman with child came to the camp to make a supportive space for other women there. She gave birth alone to which she later testified that the spirits of her ancestors surrounding her; this cloud of women calling her blessed. And she has named her child Mni Winconi, Water is Life.
I do not claim anything profound or original in these observations only to say that if ever I have felt the weight and presence of signs and wonders it is now. If ever I have got a sense of what it means to have the privilege of overhearing the Gospel, even at a distance, it is now. It is hopeful, deeply hopeful. But it is frightful because the Gospel is clear about the how the powers of this world will respond [as Adrian Jacobs reminded after posting this many ‘Rachels’ will no doubt continue to weep in the events to come]. God have grace and God have mercy this holy Advent. Protect our Water Protectors and protect Mni Winconi.
Chantal and I rarely make a point of going to art exhibit openings but on occasion we pass by them and end up wandering in. We recently walked through a photo exhibit with massive images measuring around 4×8 feet or so. They were in black and white and included a single human figure ‘blended’ into some aspect of nature, mostly wood if I remember correctly. The theme was straightforward enough particularly in relation to the artist statement. What I remember from the statement was some comment about the artist’s connection to nature and how they could ‘feel it in their bones’. This sort of statement is common and I remember mentioning to Chantal that I have never understood this sentiment. I cannot relate to this experience but I am beginning to relate this inexperience to my faith tradition.
[The following is a sermon preached on Sunday October 2, 2016; World Communion Sunday]
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Last summer I attended Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, PA. The event proved to be a very mixed experience for me. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I listened to encouraging stories of various women’s groups developing theological associations in South America. I was challenged by the questions of faith expressed by a young adult from Ethiopia. I was concerned and troubling by some missionary practices in Indonesia. I argued theology with a guy from Niverville (out of all the small groups I had to be placed in!).
[The following is a sermon preached at First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg on Sunday August 14.]
Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’
– Genesis 32:24-28
“We are looking for vision.”
This or a similar sentiment was expressed from the delegate floor several times in the course Mennonite Church Canada’s 2016 Assembly in Saskatoon. The people, the constituency, the faithful gathered and many asked for a vision.
What does this mean?