Alternatives to Empire panel

I was asked to speak at an Alternatives to Empire event…here’s what I said:

I’ve been asked to speak briefly about how Christianity leads me to live and work for alternatives to empire. I want to begin with some ideas for which I am indebted to the theologian Walter Brueggemann.

Everybody has a script or story by which they live. The script may be implicit or explicit, recognized or unrecognized, but everybody, religious or not, has a script.

We get scripted. All of us get scripted through the process of nurture and formation and socialization, and it happens to us without our knowing it.

The dominant scripting in our society is that of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socializes us all.  Perhaps a more simple overarching term for this script is: empire or domination.

Enacted partly through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television, that script promises to keep us safe and to make us happy.  That script has failed. It cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy.

I believe that the best alternative script is rooted in the Bible and is enacted through the best traditions of the Christian Church. It provides a counter-narrative, counter to the script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism, the script of empire. Whereas the dominant script is all about certitude, privilege, and entitlement this counter-script is not about certitude, privilege, and entitlement.

Rather its central stories involve oppressed peoples being liberated, unjust regimes being exiled, and societies of just economic distribution and redistribution being set up.  At its centre stands the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, who is born in obscurity, does his work at the margins with those considered the least, who confronts unjust systems and who is killed by empire.  This is a God who rules not with a sword but with the humble towel of a servant, who conquers not by destroying his enemies but by loving them, and who overcomes evil not by retaliating in kind but with nonviolent suffering love.  And this way is vindicated in resurrection.  Since we live in the light of resurrection, we are also called to live this way now.

Hence the task of being a disciple or follower of Jesus is the task of not merely liking or admiring Jesus or his teachings, nor even of merely being forgiven by him, but of fitting our life stories into his life story as Daniel Berrigan has put it, in other words being scripted by the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and in doing so, continuing the work of subverting and replacing empire – in the world, and in ourselves.  This task is enabled by the Spirit of God, which animates us and draws us towards life.

As we begin to live these stories they are no longer merely stories that can be dismissed as mythical,  nor irrelevant due to their age, they become our story.  Not because we merely chose to read them, nor even identify with them, but because they have become one with our life, we find ourselves inside them and bear witness to their truth in concrete ways.  That is, our lives bear witness to an alternative imagination and creativity in the midst of a world which still responds in the same old ways.

And so we try to do the things Jesus did – for example, sharing meals with strangers and those rejected by society at large.  I work at Urban Seed in Melbourne’s CBD.  Its work is centred around Credo Cafe, a free lunch at which anyone is welcome.  Our connections are primarily with those on the margins, who lack other support networks, and who often have turned to gambling or heroin or other addictions.  Here is a space of mutual healing, where rich people have the chance to share their wealth, and street people a chance to share their wisdom, where privileged people begin to have our eyes opened to how distorted our view of the world is, and where those without privilege can be honoured and find their place.

I’m also part of a Christian community in Brunswick called inspiral.  Here in relationship with one another we learn not to avoid conflict nor to perpetuate it, but to see it transformed by forgiveness and reconciliation.  We try to grow our own food organically, and in so doing learn not to exploit the earth for its resources but to cooperate in its processes and yield to its limits.  We try to be hospitable to strangers by having them stay with us, and in doing so learn generosity and trust, or at least how selfish and grabby we are.

And by nonviolent resistance to war we embody an alternative to the ways of domination which make claims to be able to save us, even as we’ve seen in many of the Anzac services this past weekend.  We do this in three ways: one, by protest and persuasion, appealing to decision makers to change their policies, two, by noncooperation or withdrawing our own consent and participation in such systems, and three, by active intervention and nonviolent direct action.

So I have participated in three acts of civil disobedience as well as countless public actions against the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, primarily at the biennial Talisman Saber exercises in Shoalwater Bay Queensland.  This involves the armies, navies and air forces of Australia and the U.S. engaging in interoperability exercises, fusing the two forces together.  Resisting these exercises is just one way to resist the imperial wars being fought in our name.

And finally, I do all of these things imperfectly, disjointedly, and disappointingly rarely, because while I try to live the alternative, I am simultaneously being socialised by this society into the way of empire.  Therefore I need you, we need each other, to be not just telling one another how bad things are but embodying alternative practices which reject domination, and instead invite participation, respect and mutual service.

3 thoughts on “Alternatives to Empire panel

  1. I love this sentence. I was saying the Apostles’ Creed the other day with some Anglican colleagues “…born of the virgin mary he suffered under Pontius Pilate was crucified dead and buried…” – leaves something out, doesn’t it? I asked, like his life and mission?
    That sparked a worthwhile ongoing discussion – so much of our theological talk only wants him dead. When he’s dead, there is no challenge to Empire.

    • Absolutely – by leaving out his life not only does his death mean there is no challenge to empire, but the significance of his death is suddenly lost…not surprising that we domesticate Jesus when we love our empires and want to keep them.

  2. Hi, I am from Melbourne too.

    Unfortunately for all of us Christianity became an integral part of (and a key player in) the Western imperial project, and its drive for total power and control over every one and every thing, when it was co-opted by the Roman state.

    This one stark image sums up the situation perfectly–it is featured in The Pentagon of Power by Lewis Mumford.

    Plus the contents of this blog elaborate on the above image.

    The imperial conquest continues!

    Plus please check out these references which give a very sobering assessment of the state of the world altogether—how we got to here, and what we have to do to turn the situation around.

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