Suddenly again, we are at that part of the church year, that time when & where Jesus gets popped by the cops, ditched by his friends, & lynched by a mob. No matter how many chocolate eggs we consume, that true Holy Week there is some nasty crap.
No matter how many times you read the Holy Week stories, this is some terrifying medicine. How they ever made this messy legend into religion still baffles me. Even God abandons God.
Much of this last year, I have wanted to abandon theology. But I keep coming back, & in the midst of anger & alienation, & instead of abandoning theology, I have found an abandoned theology.
Abandoned theology is Holy Saturday stuff. Where we are honest about where God has left us, alone with the murdered corpse of Christ, just taken down from the tree.
That is, this is another way of living with the embodied Jesus, where we don’t shield our eyes from the shitty reality of imperial murders, & cops still killing random people for just being black, not to mention a world murdering actual rebels from Bonhoeffer to King to Romero, all like our contemporary Jesus, bleeding cold in the street.
Abandoned theology is also anti-authoritarian theology.
Hierarchies are no longer holy for us, if they ever were. Indeed, the construct of holiness as being nice, polite, civil, or pious has been exposed for the two-faced other-worldy conflict-avoidance bunk that it probably has always been. Today’s unchurched will not find their way back to the feet of the cross with toxic positivity.
Some spirited mystics & misfits have dismissed themselves from or have been cut off from the ecclesial framework of the established churches. That’s my journey, anyways.
Terms of leadership for the unchurched might be moments of rhetorical affection, assigned anointings in the playful service of the upside-down kingdom, where we are all jesters & tricksters at the margins of religion & revolution.
Abandoned anti-authoritarian theology is an open-ended process theology, honest about climate change, about hetero-cis-patriarchy & all constricting political systems, about the profound absence of some supernatural magical quick fix to all that is fucked up in our world.
In subtle & not-so-subtle ways, when church doctrine is overcome by cheesy decorum, social expectations transcend the most subversive exegesis. Put plainly, in the humanitarian vocations of church & academy, codes of nice are rules that splice the soul of revolution into a revolting submission to white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
In-yer-face truth-telling is so uncomfortable & disconcerting that I, too, avoided it for so long. When doing professional church work, I drank from the dopey downers in the drugged cup of always doing things the nice & polite ways, always sneaking in the subtle subversion without an ounce of snark, hidden under clerical robes like a flask of something strong. Fact is, nobody noticed the sneaky subversion because it was so safe, so soft, so not actually subversive. As a singer once taught me, “If you don’t offend someone, then nothing has been done.”
But it is too easy to get drunk-on-status. The pulpit is as pacifying as it is potentially prophetic, & as I learned & as so many preachers learned, the most faithful among the frozen chosen don’t want to get their worldviews questioned, much less their comfort zones punctured.
In my case, it was my folks’ literal clinging to the lie of the confederacy that finally sent me packing from my temporary pastorate.
Trumpism made white supremacists feel safe again, & the truth since Charlottesville unlocked & unleashed the racist core of the south, revealing deeply abiding racist values that so many simply refuse to even admit exist, so much that even talking about racism so openly is much worse than racism itself.
Dirtbag theology emerged for me last summer, from some punk-rock cussing gospel songs I found on the Spotify. But it was this new desperate dirtbag theology that kept me from turning my face from the cross.
Of course this is a dirtbag theology for the anti-authoritarian left, because as the we know the civility suckers & piety police are the same people who embraced a foul-mouthed p-word-grabbing sexist racist dictator as their leader. Dirtbag theology is my impolite response to the immense immoderation of the latest imperialism of the mind.
They really don’t care for the niceness that they only impose on us in certain sectors. The fraternity style fandom (filled with lots of fascist females, too) for their Putin-asset spoiled punk-ass former president was founded, in part, on shit-posting basement-dwelling meme-magicians & so much more suckasss sorcery; it’s actually hilarious that I sort of feel the need to define my descent into dirtbag doctrine as morally necessary.
Censorship was never & will never be the way to liberation. Sad to say, tone-policing on the left is as dangerous a temptation as it is on the right. The first time I encountered the idea of a dirty gospel, of a dirty God, of the real riff-raff aspect of Jesus & the disciples as ragtag rebels, it came from an evangelical.
Say it: we don’t need to concede risk-taking to the religious right. As we on the left continue to talk about all our necessary rejections of the conspirituality of Q-Anon & all its attendant aberrations, we can also talk about the need that all we humans have for the weird & the wonderful.
In the last summer of America on fire in my own dark summer of soul searching, in the weeks & months from George Floyd’s crucifixion to the November election, from a particular small-town June 6th protest to the well known January 6th insurrection, dirtbag theology kept my hands dirty & my heart hungry, renewing my commitment to work for the unhoused & for the incarcerated.
If we love the marginalized Christ of these people on our world’s margins, that love requires a deep well of tenacity & imagination to resist the utter horror of our current realities.
Not-truth-telling, not reacting, not finding friendship & solidarity among the young, not fanning the spirit of revolt, that only seems to feed back into the mouth of the self-perpetuating beast that brought us here. We are in some kind of fucked up late capitalist Babylon moment, friends.
Maybe some of my more humanist-atheist-secular friends decided to read this & are laughing out loud, like why bother. They might even be worried about why their old pal Sunfrog is still insisting on his religion & spirituality trip, that has truth be told, taken oh-so-many many forms since those earnest misty-eyed church camp-singalongs in the late- 70s through the mid-80s -- from Presbyterian to psychedelic neopagan & back to Presbyterian again & now some kind of eclectic married monk, interspiritual tree-hugging anarchist ecumenical-Jesus-freak.
Here’s the thing, as a sober drunk who has also been an angry unstable ADHD dry-drunk a-lot-lately, my need for spiritual practice is my need for water, for air.
If I get drunk again, I die.
The direct experience of a higher-power that I call God & that I experience so real & so raw in the person of Jesus & even more tangibly in wild unkempt nature, even in my current unchurched exile place, that mysterious mystical maybe, that profound mythopoetic possibility, that is ground & comfort in the chaotic comforter who made the really random real. God is my known unknown.
Also, my church friends might be worried too. I know I have made some of my older conversation partners & mentors uncomfortable with my insistence on including eff-bombs in my current poetic & theological vernacular.
But I take comfort because I can hear my Lord whispering in my ear along with the street-fighting youth of today’s movements, fuck the white supremacist church, fuck racism, & fuck these fuckers who are so afraid to fucking talk about these issues that they would exile & ostracize any who dare call them out.
Lest anyone think this dirty theology is all dark & dire for this time of global reckoning, we only need the dirt outside to remind us that the dirt in the ground contains multitudes of mycelium magic, that even the trees talk to each other down there. No this irreverent revolution is at its end a playful prankster prance of joyfully dirty defiance. The wild wonder of the world is worth saving, dirt & all. Especially dirt & all us dirtbag theologians.
-- Holy Week 2021
somewhere in middle “Tanasi,” on the traditional land of the Cherokee people & the Yuchi tribe, also used or occupied by the Shawnee, Chickasaw, & Muscogee Creek people