“In a world where faith has been defined as facts and arriving at a destination, Josh Hopping gives us the option to pursue truth and stay on a journey with the Triune God. If you are tired of easy answers and want to learn how to live in the mystery of walking with Jesus, then this is the book for you.”
“There has been, in the last few decades, a growing restlessness and unease within the conservative evangelical tribe with the excessive simplicity of how the faith journey is understood and interpreted, and the corresponding and addictive need for absolute certainty that is constrictive and suffocating. Many of the more curious, thoughtful, and creative people within such a small womb are feeling the birth pangs and emerging into a fuller vision of life–such is the maturing beauty of Joshua Hopping. . . . It is best when reading a good book to step beyond merely reading for information and allow the book to be a midwife of transformation. Certainly, Joshua’s book can do this if read in the spirit in which it was written. I highly recommend multiple meditative reads of this pure diamond of a book.”
–Ron Dart, Department of Political Studies, Philosophy, and Religious Studies, University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia
Despite the Cross being central to the Way of Jesus, it is also one of the most misunderstood parts of Christianity. We all know that Jesus of Nazareth died upon the Cross, was buried, and then was resurrected three days later. But why? What was the purpose of the Cross? How does Jesus’ death fit within the story of Israel and how does that death and resurrection affect us today? These are the questions Stephen Burnhope seeks to answer in his book Atonement and the New Perspective: The God of Israel, Covenant, and the Cross.
Starting with the doctrine of the atonement, Stephen shows how the various atonement theories normally tossed around (e.g. ransom, Christus Victor, penal substitutionary, etc.) within the Evangelicalism carry within them a thread of supersessionist in which the story of Israel is effectively removed from the Cross. In response to this trend, Stephen proposes a view of the atonement in which “Israel’s story is both the context in which God’s covenantal work in Christ is situated and the means by which it can best be understood” (pg xxx).
It is this framework that makes Stephen’s book worth buying as he helps us remember the story of Israel and the importance of the Torah – which, contrary to popular option, isn’t about ‘works’ or ‘earning one’s salvation.’ Rather the Torah helped guide Israel in their response to God’s saving race. As Stephen puts it, “Just as the covenant ‘in Torah’ brings about and maintains an atoned relationship, so too does the covenant ‘in Christ’” (pg 235). The Cross isn’t about a legal transaction in which we gain a relationship with God but rather the way in which we are to live within that relationship. Our relationship with the Creator has always been there, it was just fractured and damaged due to the death, sin, and pain present within the world.
To return to Stephen’s book, “Atonement ‘in Christ’ defined in this manner does not start at the cross, any more than ‘in Torah’ it starts with a sin offering. In each case, it begins with a decision in the heart of God to enter into a covenant with humanity…The covenant provides the framework and terms according to which an at-one relationship is firstly established and secondly maintained” (pg 235). Though this may strike many within Evangelicalism as being out there, this framework and conclusion is actually more Scriptural than most atonement theories – especially penal substitutionary atonement which relies on 16th century European culture more than Scriptures.
In addition to grounding the atonement in the story of Israel, Stephen’s view of the atonement opens a fairly powerful decolonial and missiological door. “By reconceiving the relationship of the gospel to Torah in this non-competitive way, accepting each way of relating to God – ‘in Torah’ and ‘in Christ’ – as valid, but different” (pg 226) allows us to think missiological about the ways in which God worked in and through other cultures and people. Consider the story of Jonah, for a moment. You have a Israelite prophet who goes to a foreign country and preaches a message of repentance to a bunch of people who don’t know a thing about the Mosaic covenant. There are no priests, temple, altars, Levities, etc. Nothing. And yet, the Creator honors their heart and breathes his mercy and grace upon them without having them abandoned their culture (i.e. they repented in accordance with their customs and culture). “Human life,” as Stephen notes, “has always been lived under the blessing of a covenant promise of God that offered relationship with him through a covenantal nomism” (pg 243).
For those getting nervous, I must point out that accepting the legitimacy of the Torah (or the repentance of Nineveh within their culture) doesn’t lessen the work of Jesus. Isn’t about the “efficacy or permanence of one [Torah] versus the other [Jesus]” (pg 226). Rather it is about knowing the Creator directly through Jesus or indirectly through the Torah (pg 219). Though Stephen doesn’t go there, I would say that just like God showed himself indirectly through the Torah to the Israelites, we can look for echoes of the Creator within the culture, stories, and customs of people groups around the globe. In finding these echoes, we can use them to introduce people to Jesus of Nazareth, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15, NET). Powerful ramifications to say the least!!!
In the book of Ephesians, St. Paul encourages two vastly different cultural groups to come together as one body. Though it is easy to skim over, this encouragement was – and is – HUGE! Think about it: Paul isn’t saying that the Greek-Romans have to give up their culture to become like the Jews; nor does he say that the Jews have to give up their culture to be like the Greek-Romans. Rather he is calling for both groups to embrace the discomfort that comes with having two cultures intermingled as one. Powerful teaching that is need today more than ever before! Learn more about this topic in the below video as we look to become one body with multiple cultures.
Guess what? I started a podcast!! 😎 Like my life, it is going to be a bit odd with a variety of content from Indigenous spirituality, book reviews, theological conversations, historical studies, decolonization, and commentary on recent events. Check it out on Spotify!
The ‘good news’ of Jesus is one that embraces all cultures and ethnicities. Sadly, however, Christianity as a religion has been used to harm people of color to the point that some are now looking at dismissing the Faith as simply a ‘white man’s religion.’ It is against this false narrative of Christianity being a European invention that my friend Ramon Mayo wrote his book Reclaiming Diversity: Destroying the Myth of the White Man’s Religion.
Written in a conversation tone, Ramon does a phenomenal job at tracing the roots of Christianity from its Middle Eastern beginnings to growing up within North Africa. As Ramon so eloquently writes:
“The Christian faith was blossoming and flourishing in African and Asian soil way before Islam overpowered Egypt and the rest of North Africa. The major doctrines of the faith were hammered out in Alexandria and Antioch before the tribes of Europe wholeheartedly embraced them. To believe Christianity is the white man’s religion is to ignore the truth of its origins.”
And in learning the truth, we shall be set free as Jesus of Nazareth once said (Jn 8:32). How so? Well, in dismantling the colonial whitewashing of Christianity we do two things:
We allow those of us who are of a white-European heritage to embrace the multi-cultural multi-ethnicity nature of the Faith, which, in turn, will take us deeper into the love of the Creator which is poured out for all of creation (human and non-human).
We open the door for those of us who are Indigenous and people of color (IPOC) so that we can embrace Jesus of Nazareth while remaining true to who we are within our own ethnicity and culture.
If I may return to Ramon once again as he summarizes things beautifully:
“There are enormous benefits to following Jesus, and it’s credible regardless of the baggage you get with it. But if you can drop the baggage then it makes it more bearable. Then you don’t have to defend something that doesn’t need defending or make apologies for it. The unnecessary baggage is what gets ridiculed and insulted by well-meaning atheists and armchair philosophers. Only a bigot full of hatred wants to be a part of a belief system put in place to help one group oppress another group.
“There’s a certain cognitive dissonance when it comes to Christianity if you are a person of color. Christianity came along on the boat as a tool and goal for colonization. Who would want to be a part of something used for that agenda? And this is where you get the talk about how the Black man’s original religion was taken from him. This is where you get the talk about how Christianity was used to justify slavery and keep slaves in line.
“This is not the Christianity I’ve outlined and explored in this book. And this is why this book had to be written. For the first thousand years, Christianity was a global religion. It stretched from China all the way to the western coasts of Spain. It was not just the property of Europe. It navigated its way to Nubia and modern-day Afghanistan. It was as much at home on the coasts of India as the coasts of Greece.”
Wow! What a powerful statement full of life and truth! I highly recommend and endorse Ramon Mayo’s book Reclaiming Diversity. Do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy. =)
Let us contemplate with faith the mystery of the divine incarnation and in all simplicity let us simply praise Him who in His great generosity became man for us. For who, relying on the power of rational demonstration, can explain how the conception of the divine Logos took place? How was flesh generated without seed? How was there an engendering without loss of maidenhood? How did a mother after giving birth remain a virgin? How did He who was supremely perfect develop as He grew up (cf. Luke 2:52)? How was He who was pure baptized? How did He who was hungry give sustenance (cf Matt. 4: 2; 14:14-21)? How did He who was weary impart strength (cf. John 4:6)? How did He who suffered dispense healing? How did He who was dying bestow life?
And, to put the most important last, how did God become man? And – what is even more mysterious – how did the Logos, while subsisting wholly, essentially and hypostatically in the Father, also exist essentially and hypostatically in the flesh? How did He who is wholly God by nature become wholly man by nature, not renouncing either nature in any way at all, neither the divine, through which He is God, nor ours, through which He became man? Faith alone can embrace these mysteries, for it is faith that makes real for us things beyond intellect and reason (cf. Heb. 11:1).
-St. Maximos the Confessor (580-662 C.E), “Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice”
Osiyo!! Take a look at my Librars Donum workshop with this short video! It is a behind the scene look at my hollow book safes along with a glimpse of my new book letters and clocks. All the new inventory has been added to my Etsy shop so please go over and take a look!! Wado!
For the past few years I have been sitting with the Cherokee concepts of seven directions. I knew that I wanted to create something to physically represent the concepts held within these seven directions. However I couldn’t quite figure out how to do this….then during a Labor Day backpacking trip, things just fell into place with a picture of what could be. Though the final result was a bit different, the concepts and points given to me by the Creator on that trip stayed the same. And with that, I would like to share the seven directions with you all. =)
The Seven Directions
Like a lot of Indigenous people across Tuttle Island (i.e. North America), the Cherokees assigned a color and a meaning to each the four cardinal directions:
East -> red -> success; triumph
North -> blue -> defeat; trouble
West -> black -> death
South -> white -> peace; happiness
What is unique (at least as far as I’ve been able to determine) is that the Cherokees recognize three other directions:
Above -> yellow -> the sky above
Below -> brown -> the earth below
Center -> green -> where we are right now
Though I’m still researching the symbolism of the latter three, I do know that ‘above’ doesn’t represent ‘heaven’ nor does ‘below’ represent ‘hell.’ Heaven and hell are Greco Roman concepts that were combined with Hebraic thought through the move of Christianity into Europe. Cherokee cosmology has a different outlook on those directions of which I have barely scratched. Hopefully I will be able to understand more about them as time goes on…but for now just know that ‘above’ and ‘below’ are separate from the modern cultural concepts of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell.’
Praying to the Directions
For a lot of Indigenous people prayers physical in nature. We will commonly turn to the four directions (east, west, north, & south) while praying to the Creator. It is a way to physically connect with our surroundings while lifting our voice to the Lord. I would connect this to the ancient Hebraic practice of sacrifices or the offering of incenses at the Temple. Both practices include a physical action in conjunction with prayers to the Creator. Modern Christian practices along these lines include prayer walking, pacing during prayer meetings, dancing, flag waving, clapping, etc. The primary difference being, of course, that these latter actions aren’t necessarily done in a specific order whereas praying to the directions includes turning to face a certain direction before saying a prayer.
In pondering the seven directions of the Cherokees, there have been times when I have physically faced each of the directions while giving thanks to the Creator. Though it seemed strange at first, there is something refreshing about having a physical response to act out while praying. It is also a good reminder that Jesus surrounds and protects us from harm in all directions. I would liken it to Saint Patrick’s Breastplate:
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
The 8th section of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate
As you all no doubt noticed from the title and below picture, the end result of my art project was a seven direction dreamcatcher. This was because the circular structure of the dreamcatcher just seemed to fit with the theme and concepts I wanted to convey. Historically dreamcatchers are from the Ojibwe people of the Great Lake region and southern Canada. They were adopted as a generic symbol of identification for Native Americans/First Nations cultures during the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s/70s. The mainstream public also started seeing them around this time with dreamcatchers being a craft item in the 80s and 90s.
Among the Ojibwe people, dreamcatchers were associated with Asibikaashi (Spider Women) who would protect them from harm by weaving a spider web around them. Hence the spider web design of the dreamcatchers. Noting, of course, that the Ojibwe concept was less about dreams and more about protection from harm in general. The dream component became attached to the object as it went out from the Ojibwe to the rest of the country.
Though I’m not one for charms, I do like the symbolism of the dreamcatcher with protection. It goes back to Saint Patrick’s Breastplate and the prayers to the seven directions for Christ to surround us with his protection. Psalm 91 would be a good example of prayers of this type as would Psalm 139. This latter psalm, by the way, includes several of the seven directions as King David declares the presence of the Creator around himself:
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Psalm 139:2-5, NIV
I have often said that the way in which you do something is just as important as what you do. In this case, I sought out seven different biological materials to form the foundations of my seven direction dreamcatcher. Circles were used as a primary design motif due to the symbolism of circles in the cycle of the seasons, life, time, and nature itself. I initially wanted seven circles (one per direction) but in the end I went with six circles due to the ease of construction and overall look.
The rings themselves are made of the following materials:
East -> pine -> One of the few trees who stayed awake throughout the seven days of the Cherokee creation story. Since the east is the direction of creation, I placed the pine ring in that direction.
North -> aspen -> When I think of the north, aspen trees come to mind as they are native to the colder regions of North America. Hence the placement of this wood.
West -> sage -> Sage is a ceremonial plant for many Native Americans and is burned when praying as a way to purify oneself. I figured that since the west was the direction of death, it could use some extra prayer and purity.
South -> corn -> South is the place of happiness and peace to the Cherokee. Hence I used the leaves of the corn plant as the foundation under the white leather in remembrance of Selu the Corn Mother.
Up Above and Down Below -> willow -> Running through and surrounding the other directions is a large ring of willow which represents Jesus of Nazareth through whom all things that were, are, and will be made (e.g. John 1:3, Col 1:16). The weeping nature of the willow played a part in choosing this wood as Jesus wept over Jerusalem when the people failed to respond to his call to walk with him in peace and love (Luke 19:41-44). Furthermore, willows need a lot of water to survive hence why they are normally found near creeks and rivers. Hence the connection (at least in my mind) with the living water of the Holy Spirit that flows throughout Creation (Revelation 22:1-5).
Center -> oak -> The oak tree was an important part of Cherokee life with acorns being ground up to make bread, the inner bark used in baskets, and the wood itself used to keep the Sacred Fire alive. Hence the usage of this wood to create the center ring of where each us stands. This is the place where we are; where we live and breathe.
In addition to the six rings, there is a collection of other material used within this dreamcatcher. Below are some thoughts on these items:
The Weave – At first I wasn’t sure about the weave as dreamcatchers aren’t really my style. However as I thought about it, I like the concept of the Holy Spirit weaving his way throughout the seven directions and within our lives. He is the one, after all, who calls us toward the Cross which is in the center of life (John 14:15-17).
The Cross – Inside the center ring is a small cross made of spruce. Similar to the pine, the spruce tree stayed awake throughout creation and therefore was blessed with the gift of staying green year-round. The Cross, though bloodied with death and pain, forms the genesis of a new life in and through Jesus. It is a symbol of what was and what is to come.
Beads – There are seven small beads within the three center circles (west, center, and east). The three larger gray ones are jasper while the four smaller ones are mahogany obsidian. The mahogany obsidian bead represents the blood of Christ that saves us (east), is saving us (center), and one day will save us (west). There are four obsidian beads in each of the three groups of seven for the four gospel letters which tell us the story of Jesus while the total of 12 is for the twelve apostles who walked with Christ. The three jaspers in each group of seven are for the Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit). Surrounding the center ring within the weave itself are four jasper beads for the four winds that blow across the earth carrying with them the Spirit of the Living Creator (John 3:8).
Feathers – The feathers are more for me than to share as some things are better left a mystery. Just know that they have a personal meaning that are not connected to the seven directions. =)
A few days ago I attending a Black Lives Matter prayer vigil in front of the Idaho State capital building. There were close to 5,000, if not more, people at the vigil which was very peaceful and well organized. The central part of the vigil was the moment in which we paused in silent in remembrance of the black lives killed at the hands of the police. Every 15 seconds during this time a name was read out loud with the crowd repeating it. To say that this was a holy and powerful experience would be an understatement.
Towards the end of the vigil during the singing of a spiritual, a chain of trucks and cars drove around the crowd with Trump and USA flags flying high. Verbal comments were thrown out of the vehicles towards the people peacefully remembering and praying for those lost.
In watching this display, I was struck by the context of a symbol can affect how it is perceive and received. An American flag by itself can bring to the forefront a fairly neutral memory of a nation. Flying this same flag on a vehicle driving around a Black Lives Matter prayer vigil change it to one of horror and pain. You see, it was under the American flag that African women and men were taken from Africa and sold into slavery within this country. And it is under this same flag that modern black women and men are oppressed and killed.
In a similar way, it was those under the USA flag who sought to wipe out the indigenous nations of this land. This includes members of my family who lived and died as Cherokee Indians. The memory of these relatives remain strong despite the years that have gone by.
Before attending the Black Lives Matter prayer vigil, I watched a video by one of the organizers. In this video, the comment was made that they did not trust the police because of the centuries of abuse at the hands of the people in power. This was because the police, National Guard, and USA Military have been used to harm communities of color (black, brown and red) for hundreds of years. Trust, once lost, is extremely hard to regain.
It wasn’t that long ago that the FBI was worked against the Civil Rights and American Indian Movements through their Counterintelligence Program by discrediting organizations the government didn’t like. It wasn’t that long ago that police forces tried to stop Marin Luther King Jr. and the peaceful nonviolent protests of the Civil Right era.
Sheriffs and US Marshals were used by the government to arrest Cherokee citizens living in their land without a warrant and haul them across the national border to prison without a trial. It was the police and other law enforcement members who forcefully took Cherokee children away from their homes to be raised in government sponsored boarding school. “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man” as USA Brigadier General Richard H. Pratt said in 1892.
What we are seeing today is the result of hundreds of years of community trauma and built up rage. People can only be oppressed for so long before they rise up. Shoot, the USA nation itself was founded by people who rioted and looted (e.g. Boston tea party) after been oppressed by a government who didn’t seem to care about them.
Being a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, I can’t help but go back and look at him.
Jesus of Nazareth was born in the 1st century to a Jewish family living under the rule of the Roman Empire. The people of Israel had at that time spent hundreds of years living under various oppressive regimes (Babylon, Greek, Roman). Yes, they had a brief time of independence under the Hasmonean dynasty, but that just sought to strength their resolve to be free.
Each of these regimes sought to wipe out the Jewish culture/religion/language (not unlike how the USA treated the Native Americans). In response to this, many of the Jews turned to riots and violence in hopes of finding justice. Jesus himself lived through multiple of these upraising.
Interestingly enough, we don’t have record of Jesus condemning these uprisings beyond the simple statement that those who live by the sword die by the sword. In contrast to this we have TONS of records of him condemning the religious leaders who supported the status quo (Sadducees and Pharisees). We also see Jesus recurring one of the nationalist rebels (Simon the Zealot) along with someone who could be considered a traitor to the nation of Israel (Matthew the tax collector) and making them part of his inner group. Through love and reconciliation, Jesus brought them together as a family who loved and carried for each other.
Building from this place of reconciliation, Jesus added in members of the occupying military force (i.e. various Roman army leaders) along with some Sadducees, Pharisees, regular folks, and, most likely, other Zealots. The unifying point was love and justice as seen in and through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Noting, of course, that Jesus led multiple peaceful protests and at least one violence protest (i.e. turning over the money tables in the temple) against the powers that be. It was these actions that got him killed.
Bring this back to modern times, I strongly feel that true leadership is one that acknowledges and works to heal the historical trauma experienced by African-Americans, Latinos, Indigenous, and other minority groups within the USA by the government and dominant culture of the USA. We need a national dialogue on race, gender and class through a Truth and Conciliation Commission similar to what happened in South Africa, Canada, and other countries. Without such a commission, we will never be able to truly heal our country and our people.