Rene Girard getting a big voice

I am not one of the firsts on the Rene Girard bandwagon, in fact I was introduced to him in undergrad in one course for one reading and then I never read him again.  Then in 2002 or 2003, my wife and I took a class which focused on Girardian thought and it was that course that changed my life and views of Jesus. 

Girard helped me see something that Jesus originally pointed out and since then I have been teaching and writing and preaching about cycles of violence as much as I can.  I have lead Bible studies at church helping Christians see the Bible and the world through "spirals, circles and cones" which, according to the feedback, has been very helpful for people.  

I have been lucky to be have been at a Seminary that was forward thinking enough to offer such a class on Girard and I am forever indebted to Brite Divinity School and Dr. Charles Bellinger.  

This morning I was hit in the face with a bit of news that I loved.  

Brian McLaren is going to use Girardian thought in his next book!  

Even if you disagree with McLaren, you have to admit that he is widely read and will get the Girardian thought out there in ways that Rene Girard as a Frenchman could not.  

Here is a little video if you want to see a bit more of Girard (this is also posted on Mclaren's post):

Way of Jesus - Engaging the world differently

The last post I touched on the need for all of us to repent, that is the need for us to return to our source our beginning and rediscover who we are and how interconnected we are.  When we repent we acknowledge that there is more to the world than just what we want to do in it, but that our life is connected to the lives around us and, in the words of MLK, "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”  

Repenting is, at its core, returning to this interrelated and interconnected reality.  (And sometimes that means we have to seek forgiveness or reconciliation or penance or a number of other things we associate with repentance.)

Once we begin on this process of repentance and return to this original understanding of reality, we can begin to engage the world differently - we can engage the world like Jesus does.

When Jesus saw the powerful systems which allow groups to blame victims for problems and then allow victims to blame the group for other problems, Jesus realizes that he cannot continue to engage the world and act this way.  He could have easily blamed the Romans and/or Pharisees for destroying individuals which is what some would say they were trying to do to Jesus - identify him as a heretic and destroy him.  Jesus could have then taken the role of the sacred victim and rallied people to his cause and rise up against the Romans and/or Pharisees.  Which is apparently what some of his followers wanted and expected him to do.

But he does not.

Instead of creating a group of his own that would then blame a larger group for their problems, Jesus engages these powerful groups with non-violent resistance.

Jesus stands before the powers that be and does not try to defend himself or even try to expose the blame game that the authorities are playing.  He stands quietly by as they hurl insults and accusations at him dehumanizing him as best as they possibly could.

Jesus just takes it.

Jesus believes that if were to engage the powers in the typical way, the way others expected him to then he would have not been any different from anyone else.  That is to say, if Jesus fought fire with fire, he would have nothing but morals to teach us and nice parables to share with us.

Rather Jesus lets them kill him in order to expose a system that will kill innocent people all for the sake of calming a mob.

When others saw what happened to Jesus, that the system that they thought was the right way to solve problems would go to the extreme of killing innocent people, their eyes were opened.  They saw a corrupt system and a corrupt world that they no longer wanted to be a part of.

And in a very real way, Jesus died for the salvation and healing of the world.

Because of Jesus' willingness to engage in the way he did and not in the way we expected him to, we now see that it is not right to kill innocent people.  We now care for the victims of the world.

We do not sacrifice children.
We do not have gladiator competitions.
We now build wheelchair ramps.
We now know it is not right that the wealth of a few comes at the poverty of the masses.
We have an awareness of creation care.

We now see the world in a dramatically different way than human beings did pre-Jesus.  As such, Christians ought to engage the world differently.

"Enemy Twins" - Individuals and Groups

James Alison has a little book that is one of my favorites entitled Faith Beyond Resentment in which he shares a bit of his story through the lens of Rene Girard (readers of this blog may recall I am a bit of a Girard fan).

In the second chapter of this book, Alison writes about how we are trapped in a pattern of creating distance between ourselves and others.  There are two parts and the first part goes like this:

The "we" deems any "I" that is a threat to the "we". The "I is turned into 
"one of them" and is seen as an enemy.  

What he is getting at is that in a group there are things that make the collection of people a "group".  For instance, religion is something that makes a group of people a "we".  When a "we" encounter someone who defines themselves in a way that is even slightly different to the "we" that person becomes an "I".  When there is an "I" in the middle of a "we" that means there is a threat to the status quo, the "we" deem the "I" as dangerous/rebel/heretic/conservative/liberal or some other label that makes the "I" seem like "one of them".  So in religion when you hear someone talk about creationism, depending on what group you are in (that is what "we" you identify with) you may identify that creationist as part of your group (part of your "we") you will identify that creationist as "one of them" (an "I").

Part two is just the inverse of part one:

The "I" deems the "we" as a dangerous group that destroys individuals.  
The "we" is turned into a "they".  

What he is getting at here is that when a person is seen as an individual that is counter and dangerous to the group, the individual will then deem the group to be counter and dangerous to individuals.  

This two part way of seeing the world traps us in a pattern of behavior that leads to people being scapegoated from groups and at the same time leads to scapegoats claiming a position of a "sacred victim" in order to rally people to their cause and create a new group that is counter to the original group that deemed the individual as a danger.  

Enemy Twins?
Both the group and the individual are blaming the other for the tension in the world.  Alison calls this way of working in the world "enemy twins".  They are twins in that they are the same cycle.  They are enemies in that one is dealing with group dynamics and one is dealing with individual dynamics.

Why this is important is because Christianity teaches a way of living life so that these "enemy twins" are no longer dominate in our world and in our lives.  There is a way of living and being in the world that overturns these twins and offers up a new life.

This way of living life is critical to the message of Jesus.  It is something that changed the world and continues to change lives.  However, for a number of reasons, many of us Christians are unaware of this way of Life that Jesus teaches about and relegate the teachings of Jesus to be about "getting to heaven" seasoned with a few moral teachings.

If we begin to grasp the depth of Jesus' teachings we begin to see that the "Way" Jesus talks about is by living the way that is beyond the enemy twin.  To be born again (or born from above) is to begin to see that the way of the enemy twin is not the way to salvation and wholeness.  To be a Christian is to be willing to embrace a life that is no longer willing to participate in scapegoating and blaming AND is no longer willing to take up the position of a victim in order to blame another group.

The Way of Jesus is a different posture in life, and that Way indeed leads to life and life abundant.

Future posts will address this alternate way of Jesus that we ought to rediscover as Christians in order to rediscover a Jesus that revolutionized the world.  

Cain and Abel: Bible and Game theory

Gifts are those things we give to another that are really symbols of ourselves. When someone gives a ring to another person that ring is more than just precious metal, but it carries with it a deep part of the giver for the receiver to hold and care for.  Gifts are expressions of our very "selves".

So if gifts are symbols of the self, then in the story of Cain and Abel, is Cain jealous of Abel not at the quality of the gift Abel gives God, but the quality of Abel's character?

Regardless of what causes God to regard Abel's offering, Cain believed that God's grace and blessing was a zero sum game.  In his day there would be only one birthright given (see the story of Jacob and Esau).  There is only one blessing offered up.  If you think of the Greek stories of special people getting blessed by the gods, such as Hercules or Achilles, then you can see how early humans might believe that if someone has special blessing of God, then that means others do not have that blessing.  Cain believes that Abel gets this special blessing and thus he believes that he cannot get it.  Cain sees God as a zero-sum game.  

This happens around us still today.  There are people who believe they have been "blessed" by God as a result of doing something (saying a prayer or giving money or thinking positive). There are people who believe others do not have the blessings of God because they are not of the right religion.  There are many around us who still hold fast to the idea that God is a zero-sum game in which you either have the blessing of God or you don't.  

Cain believes that the only way to get the blessing of God would be to dispatch of his brother and take him out of the equation.  You see if Abel is not around to get the blessing, the Cain has a better shot at getting the blessing.  So Cain kills Abel.  

Cain then has an encounter with God in which God reveals in verse 11 that Cain is cursed from the ground.  Notice that God is not the one who does the cursing in this story.  Rather, the curse of Cain is a direct result of his actions.  

When you kill someone, people get angry.  Some believe the only way to have justice when you kill someone is to "kill you back".  You know, eye for an eye.  So there will be people who hear about what Cain did and will want to kill him so Cain becomes a "fugitive and a wanderer on the earth" (v.12).

In case you missed it, Cain is a farmer.  And while I do not know much about farming I do know that it is difficult to be a farmer and a wandering fugitive at the same time.  You cannot stay around long enough to see your crops mature and thus you must eat of the early fruits and you will not longer see the ground give you its' strength and mature fruits.  

Cain's curse is not from God but as a direct result of his actions.  His actions are rooted in understanding God as a zero-sum game in which you either have it or you don't.  Then God does something to overturn the ideas of Cain's zero-sum.  

God protects Cain.

In fact God's protection (blessing???) is so much so that Cain is no longer a wandering fugitive as he goes toward the land of Nod because as we read in chapter 5, Cain builds the first city!  

I don't know much about city building, but I do believe that you cannot build a city and be a wandering fugitive at the same time.  

Even though Cain never repents of or seeks forgiveness for murder, Cain still receives the blessing from God!  

God is not a zero-sum game.  

We are all blessed by God.  

Even the unrepentant murderer in all of us.