A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar

Christmas, Empire, and Context: Discussing Advent with Kelley Nikondeha

December 16, 2022 Randy Knie & Kyle Whitaker Season 3 Episode 11
A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
Christmas, Empire, and Context: Discussing Advent with Kelley Nikondeha
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Merry Christmas! In this episode, we talk with Kelley Nikondeha about her book The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope. Kelley helps us reimagine the meaning of Advent by taking us into the complex political, religious, and ethnic landscape that forms the backdrop of the Christmas story, and encourages us to trade our often whitewashed, Americanized, empire-friendly understanding of the story for something grittier, more authentic, and more moving. How does the conflict between Israel and Palestine affect the typical American Christian's understanding of incarnation? What do most people get wrong about the story of Jesus's birth? What's up with those angels? Get the book and listen to this conversation for insights on these and many other timely topics.

The resources mentioned in this episode are:

Also, check out the Philosophy vs. Improv podcast, hosted by The Partially Examined Life.

The beverage we tasted in this episode is Christmas Ale by Anchor Brewing Company.

The tasting is at 0:36. To skip to the interview, go to 3:19.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

Content note: this episode contains discussion of violence, rape, trauma, and some mild profanity.


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NOTE: This transcript was auto-generated by an artificial intelligence and has not been reviewed by a human. Please forgive and disregard any inaccuracies, misattributions, or misspellings.

Elliot  00:00

Merry Christmas guys. Hey, you too.

Kyle  00:03

Merry Christmas friends. We have never done a Christmas episode. But here we are. It's the middle of December and we're talking about a book that is about Advent. Yeah, it's about the incarnation. And it's a beautiful piece of work. It's called the first advent in Palestine by Kelly nikam de Haan. We are gonna have a great conversation with Kelly, I'm excited about it. It's a powerful it is. Yeah, you have really, really beautiful take on incarnation in ways that I'm going to. I'm going to walk away from here tonight, think about and same. We're excited to kind of just fill in the gaps of the story to let Kelly do that for us. She that the book is really good. And we also since it's a Christmas episode, we have a Christmas drink here to test. If you're new to the podcast, we do tastings of alcoholic beverages because it's a pastor and a philosopher walk into a bar. And we want it to feel like that. So our friends at store he'll be Casey in Milwaukee, Wisconsin supplied us with this brilliant Christmas Ale from Anchor Brewing Company. Yeah, actually gave us two years. So we got to do a fun side by side of a beer from 2021. And then the same beer from 2022. And actually apparently the recipe changes every year. So those are entirely different beers completely different yet entirely different and I don't know if store he'll be Casey is selling both of them right now. I know they're selling 2022 version. But if they are selling the 2021 Do yourself a favor. Get both and see what you think. And it's also super fun because the 2022 I don't know if this is standard, but for us it came in a Magnum size. This thing is enormous. Which sounds like PG 13 That just means it's in a huge champagne bottle. You bring this to a party, you'll feel like the bus if you're watching on YouTube, you can see this thing sitting in front of us. I mean, it's it's

Elliot  01:34

almost blocking Kyle

Kyle  01:37

on my face. Yeah. And it's it's it's great. I mean, it's really light drinking the the 2021 tasted kind of like an IPA domain didn't have as much of the Christmas spice as I expect from this stuff. But this one is totally different as the spice when we opened it my first thought was the smells like gin. It really does. Like strong Juniper forward in this every time I put my glass close to my face. It smells like gin and juniper berries. So it's got that fresh, bright, kind of spicy character to it. And I've always associated that smell with Christmas. Gin for me from the beginning was a Christmas drink. Interesting. Yeah, most people drink in the summer, but I always think that's a that's a holiday beverage. This tastes like a holiday beverage. It's a good it's not heavy. When I think of Christmas ales, I think of really, really heavy loaded. I can only drink half of this beer because it's going to be too much for me. It's not overloaded with spices because a lot of breweries go too far in that it's not overly heavy. It's just it's a good sipper.

Elliot  02:31

Yeah, I taste the cloves and all spice and like the the wintry baking spices. That's really good. And I'm trying to remember, I had ginseng growing up, we would find it in the forest. And I think I'm remembering that flavor in here too. And interesting. Yeah, it's it's complex. And it's almost almost tea like in the depths of complexity flavors it has. Yeah, it does

Kyle  02:53

have a hoppy bitterness that I'm kind of liking cuts through some of the spice, which I enjoy Anchor Steam beer a lot. Like as far as like a go to beer. That's that's an easy one that I enjoy. So I'm not surprised I enjoy this is what I'm trying to say. So Anchor Brewing Company. If you find it. You can probably find this in any liquor store, wherever you are. If you're in Milwaukee, go to store he'll be KC, get this and tell them the podcast since you cheers. Yeah, cheers. Kelly NECA thank you so much for joining us. Welcome to pastor and philosopher. Welcome to bar.

Kelley  03:29

Well, thank you. I just wish I could have walked into a bar with you.

Kyle  03:32

I know we'll have to do that sometime. We truly will. Yeah. Is there any like we usually ask our guests if they have an adult beverage or any kind of beverage really that they want to tell us about anything like that?

Kelley  03:42

Well, when I am in Burundi, East Africa, which is where I live half of my life. I love Amarula which is similar to Bailey's it's a creamed kind of a beverage made from the marula fruit in South Africa. But it's a it's something I only allow myself to enjoy when I'm in Burundi. So if I was in Burundi, I would be having some Amarula on ice. Sometimes over here, I just go for the simple gin and tonic.

Kyle  04:11

Awesome. So Kelly, you wrote the first advent in Palestine? Fantastic book specially this time of year. Merry Christmas, by the way. And could you just tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, but your family and then really about this book and where the book came from Kelly.

Kelley  04:26

I am an author, obviously, liberation theologian, and community development practitioner. So my husband who is Burundian and I do work, community development work in Burundi. My husband takes the lead on a field work and I do more of the kind of the the theology of development, our theological understanding that underpins our work, and then I do a lot of communication pieces for what we do. But it took me it took me quite a long time to own liberation theology. origin. There's a lot of freight that comes with that I'm sure you're aware. So I used to just say I was a practical theologian, but I think there's a little more to it than that. We live between Arizona and Burundi. We have two children that we adopted that are also Burundian. So that's part of our story as well. Why Advent, I have grown up, I started my story in the Catholic Church. And then my parents migrated to Protestant circles, and I followed them as a kid. So I have a lot of tenure in evangelical spaces as well. And so I was in those two spaces. I came to love Advent. I know, obviously, from a Catholic tradition that is part of the church calendar. But I was in Protestant spaces that also embraced the practice of Advent. And so that was always my favorite season in the church calendar. So I have that just that kind of connection to it just from experiencing it growing up time where you're thinking about hope and anticipation and light. That was always my preference, as opposed to let the darker themes. But as I got older, and I'd say, especially in the last seven to 10 years, I started to feel a heaviness, as we would shift towards Advent, I would be acutely aware of the injustices that were happening around me. And I would feel this sense of darkness or even foreboding as we were moving into Advent. And at some point, yeah, I felt like an anomaly. Everybody else was getting ready for the season of brightness. And I was feeling the opposite. So I turned to these texts. Most people would call them the Infancy Narratives or the birth narratives. I call them the Advent narratives, because I believe they're about much more than just birth or infancy. I think they Advent narratives to me as a more expansive term. But I turned to Luke and Matthew, basically to recalibrate me, like realign me, because somewhere along the way, I've lost that Advent sparkle, and I need some realignment to be recalibrated. And actually, when I went into the text, I found that what I was feeling that frustration that that angst about injustice was not in congruent with the first advent and the season that led into it, what predicates, those Advent narratives. So this book is a bit of all of those things, my love for Advent, my, the way that the texts calibrated me in surprising ways. And I have a, a deep love for Israel, Palestine and have a lot of Palestinian friends. And I also wanted them to be part of the story. I wanted them to be seen as stewards of some of our holy places, and people that are present in the land alongside their Jewish brothers and sisters. And so that became an important part of writing this book as well.

Kyle  08:15

Yeah. And that comes through loud and clear. This book reminds me Kelly of the Jewish ancient Jewish practice of Midrash. This practice of reading between the lines and kind of telling the story that's not their write on the paper, but just imagining and getting ourselves into that world. Would you agree with that? Is that kind of how you went into this endeavor?

Kelley  08:35

It has become part of the way that I interact with scripture. Willa Gaffney in her, in her work calls this sanctified imagination. And I loved reading her description, because that's what it feels like is that, you know, coming from my Protestant, a lot of my Protestant tradition, we're taught to meditate on Scripture. And I think when you get that close, when you're you're doing the exegetical work, right, the scholarship piece, you're doing the meditation and reflection, inviting the spirit into that process. You get so close to the text that sometimes I feel like you can start to hear it and see it and hear things that are happening in and around it. And I'd I'd love to believe like will Gaffney says that it is there is some presence of the Spirit in that not that it's canon, of course, but that, that there is something that the Spirit allows us to enter into an intimacy with the texts that allows us to see things. So this is when I wrote about the women of Exodus I definitely felt that helped me see and understand these amazing women in the Exodus story. But it was no surprise that the more deeply acquainted I became with the characters in our Advent stories that that happened as well. Matter of fact, sometimes I get so close that I have nicknames for them. So I you know, it's not Zachariah and Elizabeth it's It's Zack and Eliza it's You know, it's not Joseph, it's Jeff, I can't that I get so familiar that they end up, we end up having this shorthand for how I think and communicate about them. But yes, I would say that Midrash would be pretty close to what happened.

Kyle  10:13

So Joseph is Jeff for you. Hmm.

Kelley  10:16

In Burundi, somebody named Joseph. It's abbreviated to Jeff. Okay, there we go. And so that's kind of that, you know, it's not an American abbreviation. But in Burundi. We have a lot of Josef's. And they're Jeff's

Kyle  10:28

I'll never think of Joseph the same. Yeah. Now, I mean, either I actually just finished with Gaffney his book like two days ago. So it's funny that you mentioned that because I can definitely see the imprint of it in your book, and in a very good way. Yeah, both very compelling. I want to read a quote from the beginning of your book and get you to comment on it, if that's okay. So you say pretty early on, we cannot grasp the fullness of the Advent narratives to come without attending to the brokenness of our world. Lament is how we name and honor what has been lost or taken from us by one Empire or another. Can you explain that?

Kelley  11:04

One of the things that happened early in, in the discovery process, as I was working on these texts, was I always am looking for the context where where do these stories come in, in history? Where do they come in, in the place and their place in the canon where, you know, I want to locate them. And it was in the process of seeing the texts, seeing the Advent, especially that first advent, that I realized, well, there, there was so much Jewish suffering, that preceded the first advent. And it felt like a blind spot from my, from my upbringing, I didn't always know didn't always recognize just the generations of of suffering under one Empire or another. And so for me, recognizing what we would now call generational trauma, that that was part of what was in the, I want to say, like the DNA of, of the family of Jesus as soon to be family, right that this would have been passed on from generation to generation and then part of the people part of Zachariah, part of Elizabeth, part of Joseph and Mary, this, this deep sense of having been traumatized. But that kind of loss is almost like you know, a call and response if you have that kind of loss, the response is lament is to feel that sadness and to grieve it, and to express it right. This is where we have the book of Lamentations, which Brueggemann will say is the grief work of the Old Testament, right? The response to the captivity of Babylonian captivity and the destruction of the temple. And I felt that when I read these texts, especially when I went into the Apocrypha, and read Maccabees, and you see some language that really echoes lamentation is that there's a deep grief expressed about the loss of religious practice the loss of national sovereignty, these things that were being experienced under the SaLuSa Empire at that time. But I think that is part of what I personally was feeling right in response to the justice in our world was what was called out in me, I mean, I say heaviness or darkness, but it was lament, it was an invitation to lament, and feel that sadness and express my grief. And that is part of what I saw as the predicate to the first advocate that made me feel like okay, what I feel is not unfaithful to what was happening in the first advent. And I think part of the story that I'd like us to reclaim as we move into Advent,

Kyle  13:49

brilliant. In the very beginning of the book, as you're reading Kelly, you kind of paint this picture that we Protestants have received, that is this intertestamental period, the the 400 years of silence, where we like to romantically think that God just kind of withheld God's self, you know, for 400 years because Jesus is about to arrive. And you say that change that narrative change for you when you reengaged with the Apocrypha, I've been engaging with Apocrypha pretty consistently for the last six or so months. And it's been really fun, really interesting. But clearly, you said that it seems like the Apocrypha in the stories in the Apocrypha changed and enriched and helped your vision of the Advent grow and evolve. So can you just take us into that world and what your thoughts are on the apocrypha?

Kelley  14:36

Well, I think that you when you have a Bible like most of us, Protestants do that moves from Molokai right into the Gospels, with nothing in between. It's easy to think that nothing of significance happen then. And that may not be what you know, if you were studying canon, people would say, well, that's not what we mean. But that's functionally what it feels like? Well, nothing important happened because nothing was recorded. We don't have any sacred texts from that time. At least that is kind of what you think if you if you don't know, and you don't study, right, and I grew up thinking, you know, nothing significant must have happened then. And later I learned, you know, well, those were the years that God was silent. And now I'm like, well, then God was the only one who had the prerogative to be silent, because now you're looking at history, like that time was full of violence and loss and pain, and would have been loud with agony and mourning and weeping. And, you know, God might have been the only person who got to be silent during those years. And so I think the story is, the story of the Maccabees, to me was an interesting one to explore, right? Because that's one of the vampire that comes before the Romans is we're having the SaLuSa kids who are oppressing Israel. They weren't even be Judea and Galilee and Samaria at the time. And this family, a priest and his sons, the Maccabees pushed back. It's like a David and Goliath story, right, they push back against this massive empire. And I thought there was something about reading that story. And it's like, this is like, this is like, right on the doorstep of Advent. This is like this very immediate, immediate in terms of biblical terms, you know, couple 100 years right before these stories, this is what people were experiencing, you know, this kind of violence and economic hardship and loss and, and that even when the Maccabees have their victory, and re rededicated the temple, right, which is what Hanukkah celebrates, you know, our Jewish brothers and sisters, when they celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah, they are remembering when the Maccabees pushed that empire back, it was actually a nationalistic holiday, as well as reclaiming the temple and rededicating it. But it just to me, it reminds us there were things happening at that time. And we get a few names and faces and stories when we read the Apocrypha and can kind of see oh, there were things happening. And this would have been part of the Jewish story of Jewish imagination that would have been present, you know.

Kyle  17:19

And that right there, I think, is why it's so important to know those stories and to be engaged in them, because it's the world that Jesus was born into. And it's kind of what informed everybody's imagination and worldview in chapter four jumping forward, you speak of the mother's of Advent, and you envision Marian and Elizabeth as a new kind of matriarch, as opposed to some of the female leaders more familiar within the Hebrew scriptures such as Deborah or jail or even Judith in the apocrypha. Can you tell us why you see Mary and Elizabeth as a different kind of Matriarch for our faith?

Kelley  17:51

Well, there's this beautiful intertextual refrain, right when we hear you know, Mary blessed among women. I always thought that that was a unique thing that Elizabeth said to her young relative, you were, you know, Hail Mary, you're blessed among women. But actually, this is a phrase that we hear Deborah, we hear said in the story about Judith and and Jael. And so you Oh, there's somehow what Elizabeth is seeing in Mary and speaking into her and over her is meant to connect to these other stories of these other warrior women in Israel's history. But those stories were about women who used violence to be part of achieving peace. Right, they were lopping off the head of their enemy, or, you know, they were using violent means to push back. But here we have these two women, Elizabeth and and Mary, who are going to participate in God's liberation story, not on the battlefield, but on the birthing stool. It was through the sons they were birthing, and the way in which those sons would create a different kind of understanding about what peace looked like. They were birthing a completely different kind of liberation story in a non violent one, I believe. So I think it really is looking at the old matriarchs, who use the violence, which was what was available to them. And now we have these new mothers of Advent who are going to birth a completely new way to understand God's peace. Similarly

Kyle  19:31

to that one of my favorite points in the book, your take on the Magnificat is this beautiful thing where we see no vindictiveness or vengeance, which is very common in some of these Hebrew Scriptures songs, and you make the connection of how similar Jesus is to that when he reads from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue and nothing Jubilee in the book of Luke. And he seemingly omits intentionally maybe even the words about wrath. Can you tease that up for us a little bit?

Kelley  19:56

Well, the Jubilee texts have long I mean, they are my favorite. I I love Jubilee. The stories of Jubilee really have been integral to the work that my husband and I do overseas, we do a lot of economic work. And so Jubilee economics has been really important to us. And so I, one of the things I recognized when we studied Luke, and the way in which Luke tells us that Jesus stands in that synagogue, and basically quotes Isaiah, about what the year of the Lord's favorite would look like, its economic policy. But well, as he's quoting Isaiah, he leaves out the phrase, that part of the year of the Lord's favor would involve wrath, God's wrath. And I do believe it was intentional, because I do believe right, he was raised by his mother, who knew it who was beginning already to disarm the hostilities in her own way. And I believe that that is what he was doing, even in that moment, in saying that, we are going to address the problems around us. I'm surrounded by poor folks here in the synagogue, we are all poor. I mean, they were economically poor. He's going to talk about this amazing economic policy that he pulls from the Hebrew Bible, but it's not going to be with vengeance. And, again, it's pointing us towards a different way of understanding the world and the economics of the world where we are dismantling those things.

Kyle  21:22

Yeah. So let's get into the more specifically Christmas Story aspect of the book if we can. So in chapter five and following, you tell the story of Jesus's birth, but you tell it quite differently from the one most of us grew up with most of us, who grew up in white Anglo Saxon Protestant ism at least. So can you relay some of the details of the Christmas story from your perspective? And specifically, like, what are some of the aspects of it that maybe Americanized traditions get wrong you think? And why do you think thinking of them differently, should make a difference to us?

Kelley  21:57

Well, I think the Protestant stories that I was handed and I mean, Catholic, too, but I spent so much time at Protestantism, I think, first of all, I was given a very harmonized picture of what write the story looked like. And I think pulling apart Matthew and Luke and hearing them on their in their own right, was really helpful for me to hear the stories afresh. And so in chapter five, I'm looking at the way that Luke describes the birth of Jesus. And, you know, he tells us that Joseph and Mary are coming from Nazareth, they're coming down to Bethlehem, because why they have to register for a census. And a census is never good news. In this context, we tend to think that a census is about counting people for representation in a democracy. But that was not the case here. You were only ever counted by the Empire when they were getting ready to exact more taxes from you more money from you. And so I think about the economic duress, it wasn't just that she was pregnant and the precariousness of this journey while she was with child, but I'm sure Joseph had a lot of economic weight on his shoulders as he was thinking through what is about to happen, you know, our tax burden is gonna go up, and things are already really hard. And I, to me, Wow, doesn't that sound so familiar? How many of us worry about taxes increasing, carry the weight of our own indebtedness and what we owe and to whom we owe it? Well, that that was part of actually the Christmas story, as Luke tells us carrying that kind of economic Whoa, and worry. But I would imagine that Joseph and Mary came into town and he would have had his extended ancestral family, right? It would, there would have been family down there in Bethlehem to greet him and to bring him and marry in to the family compound. Now, this is where I think we have misunderstood that, you know, somehow they were knocking on doors looking for a place to stay at various ins, like little motels and being you know, put away said, No, there's no room here. But that's just not in the text. Where we got that, but that's not in the story that they were knocking and being denied.

Kyle  24:11

So you're telling me the play that I was in and in middle school was incorrect. It's all

Kelley  24:17

fiction. It was all fiction. I'm so sorry. But yes, they were. Yeah, my friend when I stayed in Bethlehem. I stayed at a little inn at that, that the top of star Street and the innkeeper was telling me that is such an injustice that was done to his Palestinian, you know, the people there is this idea of inhospitable innkeepers. He's like, none of us Christian Muslim, because that's what Bethlehem is right? Now he goes, there is not a single innkeeper who would turn away, you know, a pregnant woman or a woman in duress, that that's just not who we are. That's not what the Abrahamic tradition given to our cultures would have allowed. So you when you're down there, you realize oh, yeah, This doesn't see this part of the story doesn't even jive with just what you experience when you are down in Bethlehem now. And he certainly says it has done a disservice to do innkeepers in his region, but they actually would have been welcomed by family. And this is where a little bit in my experience in Burundi with my husband comes in handy because they in East Africa, they still live in family compounds. And so you have a big compound, you have the main house, maybe there's a few little apartments attached, like mother in law apartments, maybe you have some buildings out back where maybe some of the workers live, maybe even some additional little buildings, you know, where you have for other people to stay, or people who come and work and leave. In a similar way, Mary and Joseph would have been invited into the family compound. Now, they may not have had a room covered, you know, with a little mat and bed, but they would have been in the family compound safe and protected and surrounded by family. And actually, Kenneth Bailey writes wonderfully about this in his book, as he talks about these texts that that's a better way to understand what's happening here is that they didn't have their own private room, but they were certainly in the family compound. And so they would have been having meals with their family they would have Mary would have been, you know, in the kitchen with all of her, you know, new aunties and cousins, etc. And I imagine that, you know, this is the context where Jesus was born in the thick of family with the women leaving the kitchen and quickly washing their hands to becoming midwives and helping welcome this little baby into the world. That's how I understand the birth story.

Kyle  26:42

Yeah, yeah, it's much richer, I think much more beautiful. I found always found the story as it was told to me kind of lonely and maybe unnecessarily so after reading your book, and so that is gonna change how I think about it going forward, every time I see a nativity, I'm gonna think about everything that's wrong with that. So thanks for

Kelley  27:01

more people in there more women are now I even think Elizabeth probably, you know, I'm Karen is not that far from Bethlehem. And so my guess is, wouldn't she travelled to be with her young relative after the bonding time that they had? Wouldn't she travelled to be there with those her family too? So Wouldn't she want to be there? And so in my imagination in that sanctified, imaginative space, I think that Elizabeth was probably there holding her hand.

Kyle  27:29

Do you want to ask your question about the Magi while we're on this subject? Sure. Sure. Further along, Kelly, you paint a picture of the Magi in Chapter Eight as a kind of group of Persian relics holding on to their ancient culture, which was stripped away by the Greek Empire hoping for liberation of their own land. And perhaps the birth of Christ doesn't just give hope for the oppressed people of Palestine, but for all people in all lands. Can you tell us about your perspective on the interesting addition of the Magi into the Advent narrative, probably the most misunderstood people in the whole Advent narrative, I would say,

Kelley  28:02

I agree. And it was one of the surprises working with these narratives was seeing them in a way that I've never heard anybody else really talked about them this way. So when I kind of found some scholarship that kind of cracked open a different understanding of who Magi were in the Persian landscape, it's like, oh, my, this actually makes sense to me. And it makes them much more intriguing people in the story. So, you know, Persia was, you know, obviously to the east, but they were also under, they were also being oppressed by the Greeks. So they were being subjugated as well. And some people were okay with it, as long as they they had learned how to make their peace. But there were people who really wanted their national sovereignty back and who wanted to reclaim their their religious practices. And the Magi represented kind of that strain. I don't know if I call them relics, so much as like these embedded resistors, you know, that they had never given up hope that that they would be able to come back or that there would be a reemergence of, of true Persian culture, that they'd be able to throw off their overlords as it were. And so they see this star in the sky and they follow it, which, you know, you could understand it as a bit. Kind of being traitors, right. We're gonna go travel into enemy territory, and, but they were I see them as people, men who were, and they would in this story, they would have been men who were desperate for hope. And if something was happening, and stars always indicated in this time, that there was something happening celestial bodies in motion always signified something that was afoot, that they would have followed with this sense of hope that if something is how happening, you know, and as they would have been, you know, scholars or at least learned people would have figured out where they're headed and oh my gosh, we're on the brink of entering into this territory, Herod's territory. And the stories from this time would have, obviously, they would have known that, oh, they some people expect a Messiah, a different Messiah to come here. And the sense I have is that they recognized if a new king could be born in Judah, in Judea, and could kind of give hope that they could throw off the Roman Empire and have a new season of sovereignty. Maybe it could happen in Persia, too. And so if we can come and bear witness to this new thing happening here, you know, in Bethlehem, that it gave them hope for what could happen back home. So one of the things they took back with them, I think, was some contraband hope to keep them doing the subversive work of resisting the Empire back in in their home country. At least that's the sense I get.

Kyle  31:12

What happens when two great minds armed with profound ideas go toe to toe and pitched if generally polite battle, you get a revolution in podcasting, philosophy versus improv. Philosopher Mark Lindsay and Meyer and improviser bill are net each try to teach each other their crafts via conversation scenes, and what can only be called performance art. They're often joined by a guest or two from the philosophy or entertainment worlds. Philosophy versus improv is a show where anything can happen. filled with drama, creativity, humor, and connection. This is a show you definitely want to tune into philosophical concepts are grounded with real and fantastic situations. Forget anything you know about improv games. This is what's called long form improv where you spin out a world right there in the moment, the combination of these two is like nothing you've ever experienced. Add philosophy versus improv to your listen cue wherever you listen to podcasts, or find them at philosophy improv.com. Want to switch gears here a little bit? If that's okay, I think we'll come back to some of the Christmas story stuff a little bit later, though. So a recurring theme in the book is Israeli Palestinian relations, both modern and historic. And it's something I know you have a lot of personal experience with and are very passionate about. So I asked this question to parts, I want to ask about incarnation. Because that's what I had been is really all about. And I want to know how your experience with and study of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine has informed your understanding of incarnation and your experience of it during the Advent season.

Kelley  32:49

Well, the way that I will respond about incarnation I mean, it may or may not go directly in the in the vein of your question, but I but what I yeah, I've always thought of incarnation, in connection with Holy Week with a, you know, a total, I've always thought of it more in terms of atonement, you know, that he, we had to have this pure, yeah, we had Jesus had to come and do some things on earth so that we could be saved. And that's what I inherited theologically, when I was younger. And as I delve deep into the Palestinian narrative, both then, you know, ancient Palestine. And now I realize, now my understanding of advent of incarnation is so much more shaped by these narratives. Because what I now see is that, you know, God coming, taking on flesh, at this time, and in this place, God was stepping into a place of being under the thumb of an empire of being oppressed, the being colonized in the body of Jesus is generational trauma. That's the, that is the DNA that he that Jesus took on bright, being born to marry and being raised by Joseph that this was this kind of trauma, this understanding of economic duress, this living among people who are always losing land and losing their livelihood. This was in the in the body and the experience of, of Jesus. I even think about, you know, when Jesus was born, and of course, Matthew will tell us that Jesus was born and quickly has to leave the country as a political refugee. Because Herod puts a target on his back. He's afraid of a of a usurper, right for his throne. And you never hear again about Jesus go into Bethlehem. Now, there could be other reasons. But my sense is, wouldn't Jesus have grown up with survivor's guilt, because people in his family system people in his region didn't get an angelic heads up, right? They didn't get to leave the country, they were there when Herod's armies came through, and we're looking for a baby and killing and, and I just imagine that even in the body of Jesus was, you know the reality of having survived when others didn't. So I think all of this is in the body of God. You know this the eternal memory, the eternal body of God now has in it, this deep knowledge and experience of trauma and loss and survivor's guilt, and still surviving stigma, you know, being raised by Mary and questions around his paternity, like, all of that is in the eternal memory of God. And that, that is an understanding of incarnation I never had before, but it is the people in the place of Palestine both then and now that kind of helped me to get the texture of it to see that that is really what incarnation is, at least for me.

Kyle  36:04

So good. Kelly, you know, the charismatic in me is wanting to be like, come on, amen. Let's go. That's that's beautiful stuff. Ya know, it's really great. I want to ask, this isn't on the outline, but I'm curious what you make of the angels. So in the book, you you kind of just go with it, you don't really necessarily question this. Not all of the supernatural elements, I think you do question a couple of them, but that one, you don't. And the angels are just a natural part of the story as you would read it. So I'm curious. What do you think's going on there?

Kelley  36:36

Well, I mean, yeah, I guess my my thought about the angels as I was doing the work was more that they were, I guess the word that I thought of, was the word host. And again, growing up, I just always thought, you know, host of angels was a group of angels, you know, like a school of fish or, you know, like, it was, like, you know, I had never really thought about what that word was what it really meant. The group of angels, they're up there, they're singing, they're the choir, you know, yay, enjoyed the world. But actually, you know, host it. In the text, it's actually a military term. You know, it was like a, you know, these were the angelic, they would have been the Warriors, you know, they were not the choir, so to speak, they they would have been known to be or that word, that language that Luke used or had connotations of more of warrior angels, really. But what that spurred for me, was the thought that here are the shepherds out in the field, you know, they're the lowest of the low, they want to be out of the limelight, they don't want to be seen, because to be seen by the Empire is to be in trouble. They're just doing their thing at night, watching the flocks, the last thing they want is to have, you know, to be to have a spotlight on them. And yet here, who do we get they the angelic host? You know, yes, they're warriors. But there, there are different there. Again, it's this little reversal. They're not the warriors that there used to being afraid of the Roman warriors that would come and be a menace to them. It was a different kind of host, it was a different kind of militia that was coming their direction and shining on them and inviting them into this different story. So I mean, that was where my kind of my imagination went, when I thought of the angels as well. They were expecting a certain kind of army and they got a completely different kind. And boy, did that change their perspective and of who they were and how they could be part of God's story.

Kyle  38:37

Yeah, I really liked that. I've always found the idea compelling that if, if you're expecting God to be a warrior, or to do some overthrowing or do some defeating of your enemies, Christianity puts a weird spin on that. But it's not that he didn't, it's that we had the wrong idea of what that would look like. That this is what it looks like.

Kelley  38:56

They saying, right? I mean, that's the story that we get that they, they had pronouncements of joy and good tidings or, you know, Mary singing her song, it was a song of defiance, but it was a song, not a sword that she wielded, right, there's this, again, this the sense of, it's the way that God, the way that God's peace comes is not a way that we expend that kind,

Kyle  39:19

of course, carries all the way through Jesus's teaching and the whole thing. Yeah, we could talk a lot about that. But I want to I want to read a another chunk here from the book. This is from chapter nine, brings the whole thing home for Americans, I think, and this is about Empire, and its relation to Advent. And just get you to riff on it if that's okay. So you say this is on page 152. Advent is the subversion of imperial power. As such Advent will always confront earthly empires bringing God's disarmed peace, which arrives like a baby to an ordinary people in an insignificant town on the edge of the Empire, and the cycle of Advent and atrocities and its aftermath. Continue As we opt for familiar modes of human power, the Pax Persica, the Pax Romana, and now the Pax Americana, have all purported to be substitutes for God's peace. Only when Advent is the final word will empires in their economies cease, and the meek at last inherit the land? Only when we find ourselves summoned by God alongside ordinary priests, barren or abused women, shepherds, tradesmen, and foreigners participating in God's subversive peace campaign. Can we incarnate another kind of peace? Can we inherit the land?

Kelley  40:32

I think this really is the challenge of the Advent narratives to us. And it's sadly a challenge I don't hear very often from pulpits during Advent. I mean, if I were to say the thing that I want to say, after that paragraph, that my editor told me to be a little careful about saying, you know, it's that when we look at the world and wonder, will Jesus came and why hasn't the world changed? Now? I mean, I hope you see what I mean. It's not like Jesus came in everything turned out perfectly, right. I mean, Matthew is gonna tell us No, Jesus was born. And you know, he had to become a political refugee. And there was still a bloodbath in Bethlehem, like that atrocities kept happening. And why do they still? Why do we still have empire and violence and shootings? Why? Why is the world still this way? And I think it's because we still have not taken seriously the Advent admonition, which is if you keep believing in Caesars kind of peace, you will keep getting Caesars kind of world, until you really believe that peace comes at the birth stool and not on the battlefield till you really believe it and start behaving in different ways. And subverting the Empire, you are going to keep getting more and more empires. And I just think we haven't yet taken the message seriously enough to see the substantive change that we hoped for. But I hope for so good.

Kyle  42:06

It's really powerful. Yeah, that's a, I've had that thought while you're saying that piece. How did you put it piece begins on the birth stool and not the battlefield. It's a deeply feminist insight. It's just so congruent with the whole tradition of feminist ethics of the last 50 years. It's remarkable. Yeah. At the at the pretty much the end of the your book in chapter 10, you talk about Joseph and how Joseph, it's fairly likely he would have been working in a neighboring city, where there was a really violent revolt in an insurrection that happened with a devastating response and a violent response from the Roman Empire masters fictions of men and enslavement of children and worse, and you speculate that Joseph Jesus Father might have been killed in the slaughter? And just can you speak to that reality, that possibility? And what that might mean for Jesus as a boy, a youth, the, you know, growing into a man,

Kelley  43:00

right? Well, here, I'm following the scholarship of John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, who can people to follow me to this idea in their book, The First Christmas, which I highly recommend, by the way, so sephorus is just across a shallow, very shallow valley from Nazareth. And I was the oddball who wanted to go to suffer us, you know, my friend in Jerusalem was like, I'll take you anywhere you want to go, I'm like, I want to go to Sephora. This. Nobody has ever in 20 years asked me to go suffer this. But I wanted to see for myself and it sure enough, across this very shallow Valley, you could see Nazareth. And, you know, it was very likely that this would be a place where Joseph would have worked, there was a lot of building going on in sephorus at the time. And so as whether you believe he was a carpenter, or a stonemason, he was some kind of worker, this would have been a place where he could have found employment, but it was also the place sephorus was the administrative head for the region. So there was there was a huge cache of weapons there. There were I mean, there was all the there was bank records, and there's all these kinds of things that would be in an administrative center. And so they also had a lot of activity around sephorus not just building activity, but skirmishes with rebels and bandits and militias from the Empire, etc. And, and so, History says that there was a particular rebellion that, you know, Rome decided they were going to come in with a punishing force was I think, how Josephus described it with a punishing force, so that we don't have to do this again. And or at least not anytime soon. And so they massacre they say about 2000 Men, Josephus says about 2000 men were crucified. Children or enslaved women were raped and it's very likely that this is when Did you know that Joseph would have fallen prey, that he would have been one of the men working in sephorus? Who got caught kind of in the crossfire? And so, you know, you have to think what was it like for Mary and Jesus, you know, they would have probably lost more than just Joseph that day, right? Lots of neighbors and extended family, etc. But that they would have been part of that collective mourning, they would have lost, you know, they're in that culture to lose, the male breadwinner was unfit to be, she would have then been right, the single woman, the single mom, Jesus would have and of course, we see this in the gospels, so many questions about the paternity of Jesus. And, you know, when they would say, you know, where's the son of Mary, it's, it was a way of saying, because he doesn't have a daddy, there's no, there's no guy around. So there was a lot of stigma that Jesus would have had to grown up with not having his father around. And I don't know, I just think that that would be part of the loss. Again, when we come back to incarnation, you know, that Jesus even knew what it was to lose a parent to be that vulnerable in society. I, I just imagined that is part of again, what is in the body of God.

Kyle  46:18

Yeah. Let me kind of close our time, with a quote from page 170. That just stopped me in my tracks, Kelly, and if you want to after I read this, you can just refine it a little bit of put a little punctuation on it, but you say so for at least part of his childhood. Jesus grew up without Joseph and landscape littered with reminders of men lost his own father, likely among them, he didn't escape the heartbreak or the haunting presence of empire, he was not spared the personal trauma of loss or the difficult learning of how to live without a loved one. Jesus not only inhabited a traumatized landscape, he was a victim of Imperial trauma from a young age. Before he carried the cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, his body carried loss in Nazareth. This is incarnation, not inhabiting a body of privilege exempt from poverty and violence. But living in a body thick with the trauma common to most in Galilee and Judea. God incarnated this pain in his own human body, it became a part of his human experience and is now woven into God's eternal memory. Jesus had a lifelong relationship with Roman soldiers, and those who colluded with the empire that killed so many of his neighbors and relatives, and perhaps even his own father, consider the deeper power than of Jesus words of love, forgiveness, and mercy, in light of his own trauma, to love those who rot suffering on his family, and himself is divine love, His human grief Pierce straight into the heart of God, and God's love came in response. How about that?

Kelley  47:51

Oh, it makes me cry, because I remember, I remember writing that part. Actually, it was pretty visceral. When I wrote it. I wrote that part through tears on my computer. I just think like, doing this, exploring these texts, and thinking for the last two and a half years, and coming to understand Jesus and his family, biological family in a new way, I just can't see any part of Jesus's story that isn't somehow now deeper, or shaded differently, because I see him as that man who bore that trauma. And that deep pain and himself was bereft. And it makes the way that he responded to the people around him. All the more stunning to me, all the more holy, all the more divine. I mean, just, how could you now I read stories about how he, you know, helped a century in or how he responded, and I just think, how, knowing what that man represents, for him in his own, not just his people, but his own personal story, knowing what some of these people would have represented. And this is some this this is a Savior who did his own work, right. I think of people like Richard Rohr, who talked about what you don't allow to be transformed, you end up transmitting, right? And I think, what kind of deep transformation because we hear that Jesus had to learn obedience, Jesus had to learn and grow the way we humans learn and grow, right? Part of that had to be Jesus Himself. And I say himself being that he presented in a male body in when it came to Earth. But think about all the inner work that had to happen in the person of Jesus, to not transmute to not, you know, respond with violence or anger or bitterness, but to actually be able to respond with love and non violence and I think that that is divine. That's the picture of incarnation that I that I now have that it's deeper and reverberates in a way that I just never did before for me.

Kyle  50:08

Yeah. Well, if you're looking for an Advent read or post Advent read Christmas read this is the one for you the first advent and Palestine Kellyanne Ekundayo. Thank you so much for joining us on a pastor philosopher. Welcome to bar it's been really just a fun chat.

Kelley  50:23

Thank you for having me.

Kyle  50:31

Well, that's it for this episode of A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. We hope you're enjoying the show as much as we are. Help us continue to create compelling content and reach a wider audience by supporting us at patreon.com/apastorandaphilosopher, where you can get bonus content, extra perks, and a general feeling of being a good person.

Randy  50:50

Also, please rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, and Spotify. These help new people discover the show, and we may even read your review in a future episode. If it's good enough.

Kyle  51:02

If anything we said really pissed you off or if you just have a question you'd like us to answer, or if you'd just like to send us booze, send us an email at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com.

Randy  51:12

Catch all of our hot takes on Twitter at @PPWBPodcast, @RandyKnie, and @robertkwhitaker, and find transcripts and links to all of our episodes at pastorandphilosopher.buzzsprout.com. See you next time.

Kyle  51:26

Cheers! And just in time for the holidays, Kyle, you don't sound like yourself. Now. I've got a little bit of a cold going on here folks. So if I sound a little more masculine than usual, that's why it's actually funny being sick because my voice always lowers and it's like I can hit notes I can't usually hit so I've been singing national songs to myself. So you haven't been really singing you've been mumbling national song? No, no, I've been singing I was home alone working today. I just took a shot at the National if you couldn't tell Yeah. Oh, I see. I see. Yes. Yeah, yeah, no, the album version, not the live version. Well, hope you get better and I look forward to getting whatever shit you got. Appreciate it. Yeah, happy to share. Merry Christmas.

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