On the Side of the Rebel Jesus

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During my year of spiritual service with Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS), Jesus’s teachings became much more relevant to my life. I began to notice how his message relates to facets of my life that once seemed separate from my spirituality – in particular, my activism. Being introduced to the topic of liberation theology during my time in this program opened up a new window through which I could look at the world.

Living in our QVS house, I found myself halfway across the country from where I grew up. My childhood self would have been surprised to see me living in an intentional community, studying a spiritual vision of social justice, and employed in social work with people experiencing long-term houselessness. I felt eons away from my childhood self, and yet, throughout my year with QVS, a song from my childhood kept returning to my mind. This was “The Rebel Jesus,” written and performed by Jackson Browne in the version on the Chieftains’ 1991 album, The Bells of Dublin, which I have known from early childhood. Yet only in the ripe moment of today do I find I can truly understand the lyrics of this song and can hear the convictions of liberation theology ringing through it.

“Liberation theology” is a term with Latinx Christian Socialist roots. It interprets the Bible as a tool of resistance and revolution. It points to the abundance of texts in the Bible that insist that God (the Collective Spirit) is known wherever human beings are experiencing oppression and suffering. In that vein, Jesus is seen as an enlightened being and community organizer who subverted empire. Originally, Christianity focused on questioning the status quo, taking care of one another (including the poor), and sharing the land. Only later, once it became decriminalized by the Roman Empire (and, ironically, named the state religion) did Christianity dilute Jesus’s message, strip his teachings of their contextualized meaning (a context of oppression), and usurp the power of egalitarian collectives.

Honoring the life of Jesus means remembering one who brought inspiration and hope to others in despair, who saw people as worth more than their incomes or the circumstances of their births, and who knew the power and potential of the collective to dismantle oppressive state practices. Jackson Browne does well to remind us to celebrate the rebel who was Jesus. He alludes to Jeremiah 7:11 when he sings, “As they fill his churches with their pride and gold / and their faith in him increases / but they’ve turned the nature that I worshipped in / from a temple to a robber’s den.” Here, Brown describes Jesus’s rebellion against the hypocrisy of those who would call themselves people of God, yet flaunt their accumulation of wealth, which can only come from the exploitation of others.

Jesus taught his followers to claim no possessions as their own (Acts 4:32). Mainstream Christianity today seems far removed from honoring the life of a child born poor and without real shelter, a life that called Christians to share all things in common. Liberation theologist Hélder Câmara, a Roman Catholic archbishop from Brazil, is known for having said, “When I give to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist.” Browne echoes that sentiment: “But if any one of us should interfere / in the business of why they are poor / they get the same as the rebel Jesus.” Charity work is acceptable to the status quo, but radical solidarity work is seen as a threat to empire.

Browne’s song inspires me to think about my own complicity in the exploitive system in which we live. It asks me to reflect on all the privilege I was arbitrarily born with and the reparations I owe. It makes me curious to discover whether I can alchemize the sort of charity work that I did in QVS and turn that into solidarity work.

I invite you to listen to “The Rebel Jesus” (which you can do by following this link: tinyurl.com/Rebel-Jesus). I also invite you to join me in thinking of ways that our lives might become more attuned to the teachings of Jesus. Let us consider the hoarding of wealth. Let us consider whether we are called to denounce our privilege or put our bodies in the way of empire. Let us imagine how we might incorporate radical generosity into our everyday lives and what roles we might play in the struggle for economic justice and wealth redistribution. Let us discern what it could mean to actually live on the side of the rebel Jesus.  ~~~

KT Glusac (she/her/hers) is a QVS alum who lived in the Minneapolis house 2018-2019. KT is passionate about building community, engaging in activism, creating art, movement in its multitudes, and the spirituality is found within all of the above. She plans to attend graduate school in the Fall at the California Institute of Integral Studies to pursue a vocation as a therapist. too.

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