As we come into the holiday season, one of our QVS Alum from the inaugural Minneapolis house, kt glusac, sent a piece of writing from her QVS year. It’s a piece of reflection about Christmas, liberation theology, and spiritual openings she explored in community and with local Friends. She asks us to consider, among other questions; what does it look like to be their [jesus’] true follower? how can we incorporate radical generosity into our everyday lives, during and beyond christmastime? what role must we play in the struggle for economic justice and wealth redistribution? what could disruption and subversion look like for each of us?
on the side of the rebel jesus
as the holiday season rolls around once again, i find myself compelled to share a message that has stirred within me. it probably has a lot to do with the fact that i am embarking on a spiritual service year through quaker voluntary service; through this program and the community that has welcomed me, i am finding myself becoming much more interested in jesus’ message and how it relates to other facets of my life that once seemed separate [i.e. my activism]. specifically, learning about liberation theology has opened up a new window through which i look at the world.
today i find myself halfway across the country from where i grew up; my childhood self would be surprised to know that i am living in an intentional community focused on a more spiritual vision of social justice and working as a social worker for those experiencing long-term houselessness. i feel eons away from that self, and yet i am brought back to a song from a christmas album that i have listened to during this time of year for my entire life: “the rebel jesus”, written and performed by jackson browne as featured on the chieftains’ 1991 album “the bells of dublin”. until now, i had not listened carefully to the lyrics of this song amongst the shuffle of the other more traditional christmas songs on that album. i cannot help but now hear the convictions of liberation theology ringing through this song.
for those unfamiliar with the term, liberation theology has latinx christian socialist roots and speaks to the interpretation of the bible as a tool of resistance and revolution. it points to the abundance of text in the bible that insists that god [the collective spirit] is known wherever human beings are experiencing oppression and suffering. in that vein, jesus can be seen as an enlightened being and community organizer who subverted empire, putting his body in the way whenever he could. christianity back then meant questioning the rule, taking care of one another [including the poor], and sharing the land. it is only once christianity becomes decriminalized by the roman empire [and, ironically, named as the state religion] that the state appropriates and dilutes jesus’ teachings, usurping the collective power and original, contextualized meaning from them.
when i was younger, christmas inspired images of consumption, capitalism, and santa clause bringing presents. it is so easy to forget that this holiday is about celebrating the birth and life of one who brought inspiration and hope to those who had felt despair, who saw people as worth more than their income or circumstance into which they were born, who knew the power and potential of the collective to dismantle oppressive state practices. this song does well to remind us that who we are celebrating on this day is the rebel that was jesus. browne mentions some noteworthy biblical references in the song, one of which is 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, he speaks to the hypocrisy of the accumulation of wealth that can only come through exploitation by those who call themselves people of god. he continues this thought with “and we guard our fine posessions” mocking the belief that one has a right to wealth while others suffer. meanwhile, jesus taught his followers to claim no posesssions as one’s own [acts 4:32]. browne is not finished: “and perhaps we give a little to the poor / if the generosity should seize us” during this one time of the year. does this do justice to celebrating the life of a child born poor and without real shelter who vowed to share all things in common? the final reference i shall mention is to hélder câmara, a brazilian roman catholic archbishop who 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 this 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”. i see this as a message from society that charity work is acceptable, but radical solidarity work is seen as a threat to the wealthy.
this song inspires me to think about my own complicity in the exploitative system in which i live. it asks me to reflect on all the privilege with which i was arbitrarily born, the white generational wealth in my family, and the reparations i owe. it makes me think about my work during this service year as a permanent supportive housing case manager and how i can alchemize this charity work into solidarity work. i problematize the abundance i live in and how i can better practice radical generosity and hospitality.
i hope this song gives you pause, too, whoever you are. i invite you to think about the ways in which you can live more attuned to the teachings of jesus. what does it look like to be their true follower? does it allow for the accumulation of wealth? does it ask us to denounce our privilege or use it to put our bodies in the way of empire? how can we incorporate radical generosity into our everyday lives, during and beyond christmastime? what role must we play in the struggle for economic justice and wealth redistribution? what could disruption and subversion look like for each of us?
on the side of the rebel jesus,
(see lyrics, bio, and photos from kt’s year below)
the rebel jesus
all the streets are filled with laughter and light
and the music of the season
and the merchants windows are all bright
with the faces of the children
and the families hurrying to their homes
as the sky darkens and freezes
they’ll be gathering around the hearths and tales
giving thanks for all god’s graces
and the birth of the rebel jesus
well they call him by the prince of peace
and they call him by the savior
and they pray to him upon the seas
and in every bold endeavor
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
in the words of the rebel jesus
we guard our world with locks and guns
and we guard our fine possessions
and once a year when christmas comes
we give to our relations
and perhaps we give a little to the poor
if the generosity should seize us
but if any one of us should interfere
in the business of why they are poor
they get the same as the rebel jesus
but please forgive me if I seem
to take the tone of judgement
for I’ve no wish to come between
this day and your enjoyment
in this life of hardship and of earthly toil
we have need for anything that frees us
so I bid you pleasure
and I bid you cheer
from a heathen and a pagan
on the side of the rebel jesus
kt glusac (she / her / hers) is a QVS alum who lived in the minneapolis house, fondly referred to as hell yes house, from 2018-19. as a fellow, she worked as a permanent supportive housing case manager with our saviour’s housing, an organization with which she continues to work as a shelter staff member. she is currently still living in minneapolis, in community [known as the polis bound by mutual affection, or polis] with six friends and four delightful cats. along with shelter work, she is also a birth doula and working in food service. originally from the east coast, she grew up in connecticut and went to school at hamilton college in new york state. she graduated in 2017 and then moved to a community called bread and roses collective in syracuse, ny. kt is passionate about building community, engaging in activism, creating art, movement in its multitudes, and the ways in which spirituality is found within all of the above. she hopes to attend graduate school next fall to pursue a career as a therapist.