Berlin and Zionism: A Reflection
The Fall of the Berlin wall happened 20 years ago this year, in what was to become the fall of the Soviet Union, and the cultural liberation of Eastern Europe. I want to touch on just a few points in short.
As Christians, we believe that God has been involved in any true act of establishing justice and peace. Our metaphysics is verified by this event, people who bear crosses, not weapons are working with the grain of the universe. The Berlin revolution shows us what a Christian revolution looks like. While we do not say that this revolution was a Christian one we know what God’s peace looks like in our midst with this event as a sign. This revolution is religiously interested with Pope John Paul II at the public helm of a peaceful disorder against communist oppression. Though we must remember that this revolution came not through speeches, though they helped, and not through demands, but through the enduring patience of a people committed to asking for freedom peacefully. It is not through the force of arms, or through the violence of humans that peace is established, but through prayer, and peaceful resistance, that is in itself a non-resistance.
It is a resistance that takes form in turning the other cheek, in accepting the suffering that unjust societies wish to force on us, it looks like the suffering of Jesus. Discipleship changes the world, and history is measured in peace not wars, because we believe in a world history that is guided by the Lord of all peace. This belief inspires us to live peacefully as a testimony to a world at war, it calls us to share in the way of Jesus, which is a way of peace, yet cannot be reduced to this. He draws peace into Himself, and redefines it, it is something that is gained not through swords or force of arms, but through crosses, because in God’s world, the world that Jesus shows us, crosses are thrones and sufferings are glory.
As I think about Zionism, secular, Jewish and Christian, I am led to think that the nation of Israel is a category mistake in many protestant circles, most pronouncedly in dispensationalist circles. That a secular nation state should go unchallenged in its political existence because of a religious belief is fascism. A gross abomination, and underlying all Zionism has been and is the implicit idea of the relocation or genocide of Palestinians. Israel puts down even peaceful demonstrations by Palestinians hoping to quell the outcry with force of arms, relocation camps, and people that are refugees within the lands that used to be their homes. The Palestinian people have becomes those of whom it may be said “Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to aliens. We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows…With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven; we are weary we are given no rest…” (Lamentations 5:3,5)
I don’t think that there is an easy answer to the Jewish-Palestinian problem, but it has to be one that is going to seek to make space for both to live in harmony, or at least as much harmony as possible. Our faith challenges us to think that there is a world where peace is possible, and that that world is the one we inhabit here and now. While nothing will be completely whole until that final day, it does not preclude us to work towards that end. While we know that God is the Lord of History, we work peacefully as disciples in the world that He has given to us, and that means living as a community that shows that peace is possible, that unity is not just an ideal, and that charity is the only way to live. This is not idealism, it is the rigorous and demanding life that Jesus demands, it’s not impossible, merely more difficult than an apathetic and inflated, lazy Christianized culture would like it to be. Yet this social justice is not the end, it is a just ends, and one we seek, even at the cost of persecution, because we know what is right, and we know we are blessed when acting in behalf of any righteous cause. Yet these in themselves are not our goals, but these are subsumed underneath the right worship of God through Christ in their Spirit because this is the only way we will find true justice. We cannot separate our desire for justice from the right worship of God, or else we will fail before we have begun, and our justice will be another manifestation of arbitrary and grotesque power.
Israel has silenced peaceful demonstrations against her domestic policies and largely ignores the international community seeking to find peace for both sides of the conflict. I think that both Palestinians and Jews have a lot to learn from Berlin. Palestinians can learn that peaceful endurance, patience and hope, protest with love and peace will overcome evil, because that is the way that the universe was established. Jews can learn that even though some are intimately tied to a secular national identity, Jewishness and Jewish culture are not forms that are truly separable from what it means to be Jewish unto the law of Moses. Israel is inseparable from her call to be a witness, a witness who keeps Torah, a witness who exists not in a land, but in a people. Judaism does not consecrate places, as much as it consecrates time. And For Christians, this means that we too must remember that time is holy. God has made time, real time. He has affirmed through the existence of Israel as a people that He is Lord, and His faithfulness endures. While the secularists have sought to legitimate their program with religious fervor, the crucified Christ stands in judgment of all nationalisms, and all murders from His cross.
Christians should remember that discipleship is our revolution, not because we need to seek to be revolutionary. It is in itself a revolution because choosing to follow a crucified messiah is so counter-intuitive that when we follow Him onto that cross we lose ourselves and become subversive because that is the only things that the Lordship of Jesus can do when faced with the powers that be. In a culture of self-discovery we choose to discard ourselves, that we may truly find ourselves all over again. We forsake our identity, we forsake our lives, our philosophies, our nationalities, and are reborn into the beginning of new creation, creatures created for the goal that is Christ. We invite Him take form among us through following Him faithfully as we do this very thing we offer the world a new humanity. When we follow Jesus onto the cross.
As disciples of Christ we show the world again and again that there is a God in this world and that He reigns not from Washington, but from Golgotha. By bearing suffering with patience as people who have come to trust who God says He is, we know that His faithfulness will overcome even our unfaithfulness, and that He will establish justice, precisely because His Love requires it. Berlin shows us what Christians can do in a world bathed in blood. That the seat of worldwide bloodshed and hatred only two generations before should silence an oppressive regime by peaceful resistance is a sign of God at work in our world.
The segregation of the Jewish people from among the nations is not a reparation, neither is it repentance at the hands of guilty nations. That Christians feel they should endorse nationalism of any kind is failure to understand the people that Jesus has called into being. Supporting even Jewish nationalism, is an affront to the Lordship of Jesus, and all things are subject to His loving reign. His reign is established throughout the world in the metaphysic that His life as very God and very man represent to us. He Himself is the goal of our politics, our critical praxis, our theology, our liturgy and our lives. Theology is critical praxis, but what is at stake is that we must be mindful of what is subject to criticism, and what our praxis looks like.
Our practice must always be the right worship of God found within the overarching Christian narrative, which is the only way to begin to see what the world is asking us to assume about the places we find ourselves and the histories we participate in. The only thing that can keep us truly Christian in this narrative is embracing the Christian mythos, because it is normative for the Christian life. Theology is indeed critical, but it is inherently critical of anything that is not Christ, and not concerned with the formation of this image in the good creation that is His alone. While liberation theology is right to critique the purely existential dimensions of the Christian faith, replacing these with historical revolution as a spiritual program is no more Christian than pure existentialism, while it may have effects upon history, it is no less immoral or sinful because its concern is with people, even liberation and love can be idolatrous if not done rightly. What is needed is a proper balance of the universal and the particular, holding these in perichoretic union is far more productive than going to the hegelian project time and again in a back and forth synthesis of this and that assertion about the universal history or the particular life being touched by the gospel.
Indeed our task is the formation of theological truth among us first, as the church, because changing the world is only possible when we ourselves are changed. The first task of the Christian church is to be truly the church and not another thing, for where the church works in visible community, gathered around operative sacrament, audible preaching and in a charismatic unity that seeks to engage the world Christianly, liberation will take place. But it will be a liberation not determined of flesh and blood, not determined by the powers of the world or the violence that these systems promote.
It is not that this is used to legitimate an absence of history from the gospel message but that Christian liberation will be a liberation determined by the theological content of the gospel that is itself political in nature, and not by any other thing. The church is a politic, it must only be taken seriously as such, for it to have real socio-political as well as existential effects, but the only way for this to happen is through the theological formation of a community offering itself as an alternative to the violent narratives and powers the world has to offer.
The only way that such a community shall come into being is by sharing a common story, the story of Jesus Christ as the determinative narrative that in its historical objectivity not only as an object remembered but as an object present to us in the practice of the Eucharist. The Christian task is not to describe the world, but to change it, yet this change happens not in revolutions as the world has styled them, but through communities that bear crosses, that work with the grain of the universe, that grain being the path of Jesus Himself. The task of changing the world happens not by political revolutions and assumptions of power, but by gathering as a changed community, as a community able to communicate the message of Jesus Christ in all times and places. These revolutions happen more precisely trough a community dispossessed of power, having forsaken all, they turn to Christ who calls all people to be disciples.
For Christians to overlook the sins of Israel in the way it treats Palestinians is to invite a new historical reparation in subsequent generations, or to bring about the extinction of both through endless war. We must engage Israel, but as the church, we must ask for peace, but as a community dedicated to the Lordship of Jesus, not the existence of this or that nation-state. We are in every nation, yet dedicated to none but the lordship of Christ.
There is no taking back of America, or Israel for God. America is not a Christian nation, and overarching nationalism can only damage the church, the church can serve only one of two masters, the cross or the sword. Nationalism is inherently violent, the church is inherently a community mandated to peace, and while there are exceptions to both of these statements, they are few and far between on the side of peaceful nationalism, and false representations of what the church means on the side of Christian failures.
Israel among the nations is called as are all nations into the lordship of Jesus Christ as their head. The church is witness to this, and presents Christ as the servant-Lord of the nations, and judges all injustice, and always has, from the inception of Israel, justice has been the concern of the lord. Yet this justice finds its primary expression in the people known as church, who must be a visible sign to the world that an alternative to its violence exists.
Berlin has shown us that individual sainthood is not the only possible sainthood, and that holy community is possible also. Community dedicated to peaceful revolution is possible, and historically tangible. While I do not call the whole of Europe or even east Germany that holy community, the commitment of that community both Christian and non Christians has obviously shown us what it looks like to revolt Christianly in the modern world. The peaceful revolt that demands that a door be opened is the faith in the God of History to make it so.
Knock and the door shall be opened, they waited, and acted in accordance with the Christian metaphysic,and bore a cross trusting in the God Who Has Entered History to deliver them from the death of beauty that their oppressors were promulgating. They did not take power into their own hands in violence, but did so Christianly, and that made all the difference. As Andre Trocme said “All who affirm the use of violence admit it is only a means to achieve justice and peace. But peace and justice are nonviolence…the final end of history. Those who abandon nonviolence have no sense of history. Rather they are bypassing history, freezing history, betraying history.”
Christians do not worship the land, or history, or the acquisition of power, Israel is a people and a time, Church is a people and a time, these culminate in a future not-yet-here. Yet precisely because we know who this Jesus is, because we see His glorified body in our midst both through our brothers and sisters and the eucharist, we know that that future is already present.
We are not the lords of History, but must trust patiently in the Lord, that He will accomplish His will through our bearing crosses and making Golgotha a place in the present that He might reign among the dead. For in the death we undergo He is Lord, and where there is the scent of decay, the kingdom is already exploding forth to overtake it. For where the Christians hang on crosses, it is there that they are truly alive through the Life of Him who becomes them.
The Church needs to take the form of powerless weakness, of absolute dependence on God, because without this formative virtue, it quickly becomes another source for the powers that be to abuse the good creation of God and acquire power for themselves. When we are a weak people, we are able to rightly remember what being Christian means. I am not saying that we embrace a psychologically abusive self-hatred, but a necessary Christian practice of self-emptying. It is only in that type of weakness that we shall truly discover what it means to have life, and to have it more abundantly.
also, on a side note, my podcast will be up and running this week, so stay tuned.