I haven’t posted much on the current election, but I really enjoyed these comments from the civil rights advocate and writer, Michelle Alexander. This is an excerpt from a longer recent Facebook post, but this was the part that resonated the most with me:
The conversation that I most want to have right now doesn’t have to do with Bernie or Hillary [or this election]. What I most want to talk about is this: What kind of revolution do we think we want and need? And what, exactly, are we willing to do to bring it to life?
I am grateful that Bernie Sanders has called for a political revolution, and that millions are responding with energy, enthusiasm and a genuine desire to build a movement that will give our nation a chance at having a real democracy where people actually count more than corporate dollars. But the truth is that the political revolution did not begin with Bernie Sanders and it certainly will not end with him — whether or not he is elected. And it’s also true that we need much more than a political revolution; we also need a moral, cultural, and spiritual revolution — an awakening to the dignity and value of each and every one of us no matter who we are, where we came from, or what we’ve done. Continue Reading..
Pope Francis is being widely hailed for his historic appearance before a joint session of Congress yesterday. But some are taking him to task for one glaring omission: he didn’t say the name of Jesus.
A professor of moral theology at Calvin Theological Seminary noted the “pope did not find it necessary to name the name of Jesus when he addressed Congress yesterday.” Perhaps an oversight? Like, hey, I’m the vicar of you-know-who on earth. Did I forget to mention him?
Perhaps such an oversight is forgivable, right? I mean, what with all the focus on caring for the poor, embracing the stranger, denouncing violence, caring for creation, and reverencing all human life—in other words, some of the very teachings of Jesus—can we not overlook such a small omission?
This professor goes on to write: “Now the whole country is talking about the pope and the pope’s politics, but no one is talking about Jesus or the gospel. What a sad day. What a wasted opportunity.”Continue Reading..
20 years ago I would have been among those who believe today’s SCOTUS ruling signals the moral and spiritual decay of American society – a sign of the end times.
15 years ago I still thought homosexuality was a sin, but no worse than any others, and didn’t think Christians should be making such a big deal about it. Also, my political views had shifted and I no longer believed it was right for religious people to impose our morality on society by opposing equal rights for gay people.Continue Reading..
The above picture, and many variations of it, have been floating around the internet. It is both helpful and unhelpful.
Yes, many (or even most) of the protestors are in good position relative to many others in our world. But it must be asked – why are people in developing nations in the position they are in?
Many poor farmers around the world have been doomed to poverty by the trade policies of the US and other Western nations. Four West African countries–Burkina Faso, Mall, Chad, and Benin–have called on the United States to cut the $1-3 billion it spends each year subsidizing American cotton growers, which then allows them to undercut the market for the rest of the world’s cotton farmers.
The protectionist policies of rich countries are indeed a serious issue for Africa, where farming accounts for about 70 percent of total employment and is the main source of income for the vast majority of those living in or near poverty. The 30 member countries of the OECD spend a combined $235 billion per year to support their agricultural producers, but only about $60 billion on foreign aid (about one-fifth of which goes to Africa). Subsidies, tariffs, and nontariff barriers distort global prices and restrict access to rich-country markets.
The global trading system discriminates against the world’s poorest nations, making their products less competitive and undermining opportunities for growth, employment, and, ultimately, economic and social development. Additionally, intransigence on the part of rich countries over agricultural reform also indirectly harms poor countries due to its effects on broader trade negotiations. According to one estimate, unimpeded global trade would boost developing country income by about $200 billion a year in the long term.
The New York Times, for example, argues that African farmers are “rightfully outraged that a nation [the United States] that enjoys all the benefits of open markets for its industrial products keeps putting up walls around its farmers.”
Many people say again and again the free market system is the best there is. Perhaps. But it is interesting that the market is actually free only when it benefits us. If it appears otherwise, we are quick to make it a closed market, or rig the system in our favor.
Additionally, Organizations like the IMF and the World Bank conspire to get developing nations so deep in debt that they are in a hole they can never get out of, while we then condescendingly show up with charitable aid to help them, while never working to change the system which impoverished them in the first place.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, millions of people have died in brutal civil wars led by warlords who are fighting over resources they can sell to Western corporations to make our iPhones and what-have-you. We do nothing, because it benefits us to have them fight over who gets to sell us their minerals (and other resources).
Places where we do get involved militarily are often because our access to such resources (particularly oil) are jeopardized. (Let alone the fact that war itself is an incredible profit-making system for Western companies who lobby for rich government contracts).
We have a system which feeds off the resources and people around the world so that we can live in the society we do. A system in which wealthy elites manipulate the laws at the expense of the majority of this country as well as the rest of the world.
Even a brief review of history makes it clear that so-called Christian nations have never had a great track record when it comes to ministering to the “least of these,” whether they were colonial subjects in Indonesia or India, or the slaves they traded in the Atlantic triangle, or the poor farmers around the world that Western nations have doomed to poverty by their protectionist agricultural trade policies.
…Western nations that have militarily occupied Haiti for generations, that have robbed Haiti of its wealth while protecting the interests of their Western corporations, that supported repressive dictators in the interest of stability while self-righteously and hypocritically declaring allegiance to human rights and democracy – these Western nations are delivering massive amounts of disaster relief to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Unfortunately, it is a case of far too little, too late, to effect the lasting change that might one day help Haiti achieve even a modicum of prosperity and peace. When it comes to the least of these, Western nations seem to have a habit of beating them to within an inch of their lives, and then shaking their heads in disbelief and disgust while binding their wounds.
The fallacy that this photo perpetuates is that protesters are out there only because of their own situation. The protest is not primarily about any one single person’s situation! It is about a system – the system that helps create the starving realities in many nations – the same system that perpetuates corruption in our own. People are protesting on behalf of people like the hungry people in the above photo, as well as the people living at subsistence level (or worse) in our own.
It is absurd to suggest that we should not protest these abuses until we are as poor as the rest of the world. In fact, speaking out might even be the Christ-like thing to do.
I’m pretty sure Jesus’s principles were anything but common sense. In fact, in my recollection, they were the complete opposite. The story of the Gospel is Jesus openly challenging the prevailing norms, social structures, and power dynamics of his day and turning them on their heads with a radical message of humility, non-violence, selflessness and faith in the seemingly impossible.
But what do I know? I have been accused of lacking common sense myself.
I never would have chosen the name “Occupy” to brand a movement. “The 99 Percent Movement” works a lot better for me. But I’m glad I didn’t get to choose, because I notice the term “occupy” is kind of growing on me.
What I don’t like about it: it sounds aggressive, like the (to me) ugly and unacceptable language of “taking back the country.” For a movement to avoid violent actions, it needs to avoid violent rhetoric as well, as Jesus made clear in the Sermon on the Mount. And deeper than rhetoric, it needs to be careful with the narratives it taps into. A case in point: “taking back” (to me) walks the line of a revenge narrative, implying that the country used to be “ours” and “they” took it away. That scenario is problematic for a number of reasons, so I’d rather steer clear of that kind of thinking—and language—entirely.
A term like “occupy,” then, must not be employed unadvisedly or lightly. Its strength must be tempered and its potential downsides managed. And so far, that seems to be happening (here in the U.S., at least).
I was thinking about all this last Saturday while I was participating in the local occupation. About 300 of us walked down the sidewalk on both sides of our little town’s main street (we wouldn’t all fit on one side). Occasionally some chanting broke out, but for most of the time, we marched in silence; I would use words like reverent and pregnant to describe it. (One observer described it as “charged with secret extremity and transcendence.”)
As we walked along, I kept thinking about Jesus’ use of the term “kingdom of God.” I’ve been fascinated by the term for a while now, devoting a whole book to it in 2006 (and then revisiting it in a 2008 release). Like “occupy,” kingdom of God was a dangerous term for a nonviolent movement. It borrowed the language of the Roman empire whose pax was maintained by slavery, militarism, public torture, and frequent executions (i.e., crucifixion). It was overtly provocative—bursting out of the private sphere of spirituality into the public world of kings, lords, and laws. It threw down a gauntlet before the powers that be, challenging their legitimacy with a higher authority.
If I had been around, I would have counseled Jesus’ against using the term.
Once again, I’m glad I wasn’t consulted. It’s rather obvious now that Jesus knew what he was doing. “The occupation of God has begun” might inspire the same fear and hope among people today as “the Kingdom of God is at hand” inspired in the first century.
The term “occupy” is winning me over because it puts an ironic spin on one of our most questionable national habits—occupying other nations: occupying Iraq, occupying Afghanistan, supporting Israel in occupying Palestine. Like kingdom of God, it turns that familiar language on its head.
The term “occupy” is also winning me over because it’s about presence, making our presence known and felt in public spaces. These public spaces—from economic markets to political processes—have been colonized by powerful corporate elites (the 1 percent, or maybe the 10 percent), elites driven not by an ethical vision but by the relentless demand to maximize shareholder return. The 99 percent are realizing how destructive this colonization of public spaces has become, and by simply coming back—by re-inhabiting public spaces—we are demonstrating that we see what’s happening and we are not going to tacitly comply with its continuing.
After our local occupation last Saturday, a smaller group of us stayed around to hold an informal planning meeting. It was a good process . . . and reminded me of how different grassroots democracy looks when compared to public politics. Demonizing and vilifying the person you’re sitting next to—it won’t play. Neither will dominating and filibustering or attempting a “live” impromptu version of political attack ads. Learning to differ firmly and graciously, acknowledging the concerns of an alternate viewpoint, searching for common ground, asking for clarification rather than assuming the worst possible interpretation, agreeing to seek greater understanding through honest private conversation after the public gathering . . . these are among the skills and virtues needed to make grassroots democracy work. They are seldom demonstrated or even valued among our political elites. Could that tell us something about why the Occupy movement is needed?
Nobody knows how the movement will play out. Lots of folks will wait on the sidelines and maybe dip their toes in later on. But I’m in, and I would encourage others to join the occupation. I’d especially encourage Christian leaders to do so . . . not as a representative of your church or denomination, but as a human being . . . not to co-opt or control, but to contribute and to learn. As someone who’s had a lot of control (more than I realized) for a lot of years, I’m finding it a wonderful gift to simply be a participant, one voice among many, learning and listening and learning some more.
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders. Among McLaren’s more prominent writings areA New Kind of Christian (2001), A Generous Orthodoxy (2006), Everything Must Change (2009), andA New Kind of Christianity (2010). His lastest book, Naked Spirituality, offers “simple, doable, and durable” practices to help people deepen their life with God.
(Article by Lisa Miller, reposted from the Washington Post’s On Faith section)
“What would Jesus think of Occupy Wall Street?” I asked myself earlier this week, as I wandered the makeshift, blue-tarp village in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. Born with little means into a first-century world, the historical Jesus might feel right at home with the very aspects of the occupation that so many 21st century observers consider gross: the tents, the damp sleeping bags, the communal kitchen. Jesus would have sympathy, I think, with the campers’ efforts to keep a small space sanitary in the absence of modern plumbing.
It was about nine in the morning, and some of the park’s inhabitants were just waking up. Scruffy, tattooed, abundantly bearded, these protesters looked not at all like the bright, shiny vanguard of a new, idealistic American left. What would Jesus think of the occupiers themselves, who have been derided by their opponents as a ragtag group of tax evaders, interested only in sex, drugs, and rock and roll? In the flesh, their unsavory appearance can make the heart of even the most convicted lefty hesitate before embracing their cause.
The Jesus of history would love them all. What Jesus really said, and what he meant, are the subjects of culture’s greatest controversies, but one thing is sure. Jesus gave preferential treatment to society’s outcasts. Lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes — all would attain heaven before the ordained elites. Jesus believed that God was about to right the world’s wrongs with a great upheaval – soon – and at that time, a radical reversal of the social order would occur. As he says in the gospels, “the meek will inherit the earth.”
Jesus would have sympathy, too, with the occupiers’ first complaint: that in America, the poorest have too little and the richest, too much.In first-century Judea, a powerful ruling class held nearly all the wealth and most people lived at subsistence levels.“Jesus believed the whole system was corrupt,” says Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina. “The people who ran things were empowered by the evil forces of the world and his followers had to work against these powers by feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and caring for the sick.” Jesus had a fit when he saw the money changers in the Temple, and turned over their tables – a dramatization, Ehrman says, of the reversal that was imminent.
If he settled for a while in Zuccotti Park, Jesus might find himself disappointed in the fractious, secular nature of it all. For Jesus, the first thing – the only thing, really — was God. His ministry was an effort to help guide people toward a kind of moral perfection before the coming of the Kingdom of God.Thus, he might have sympathy for the various causes espoused by the campers (health care for all, no more bailouts, tax the rich, get the money out of politics, cap executive pay). But he would be frustrated by the protesters’ inability to name America’s much bigger dysfunction: our inability to get our moral priorities straight and care for our neighbors who need our help.
The protesters don’t talk much about Jesus or God. Nor do they offer explicit guidance on transcendent, higher principles. It’s easy, therefore, to complain, as the Iranian writer Sohrab Ahmari did in the Huffington Post earlier this month, that they’re morally unserious. The protesters can come across as childish whiners screaming “It’s not fair,” without offering a unified or collective moral vision.
A lesson from Jesus might show them that they have moral authority within their grasp – only it won’t be conveyed through banners or sound bites. Their most radical act is the company they keep. Jesus instructed his followers to be like little children. Only by emulating and caring for the “least of these” would they inherit heaven.
In Zuccotti Park and other Occupy sites, the temporarily unemployed stand shoulder to shoulder with the truly homeless; the media-savvy organizers lie down with the whacked-out babblers. The unsavory aspect of this group is its greatest asset. Every time a powerful person denigrates the occupiers; every time a member of the established elite takes a swipe at them from on high (as George Will did in this newspaper), the occupiers’ moral authority is re-affirmed when they stand together.
If the Jesus of history could wander the precincts held by the occupiers, “he’d see his people,” says Marisa Egerstrom, a graduate student at Harvard who organized a posse of chaplains to volunteer at Occupy sites. “I think he would be pretty pleased.”
One of the curiously powerful aspects of the gospels in general that stands out for readers familiar at all with other ancient literature is the social context in which their stories are told. Whereas almost all other national epics and myths speak of the important events and struggles in the lives of gods, kings, or other nobles, the gospels’ concern is almost exclusively with the lives of the poor and marginalized.
Even literature after the New Testament, up until the Romantics’ discovery of the tragic narrative power of stories of street urchins and other outcasts, primarily focused on the trials and tribulations of people of wealth and authority. Lives existing amidst material splendor and social power have always intrigued those who look longingly on what they imagine to be the “good life.” In contrast, the lives of the poor have generally seemed banal and trivial, devoid of interest because of the supposed monochromatic pattern of hard work and routine demands.
If we have relatively lately learned to “enjoy” the stories of the poor and have come to accept the harsh beauty of emotions and minds living on the tense edge of daily despair, such a perspective would have been virtually unthinkable to those of biblical times. The biblical patriarchs were wealthy herdsmen who, with their families, became landowners of distinction in their local communities. If the exodus portrays the desperate struggle of an enslaved people, it is only to show that their imprisonment first in Egypt and then in the desert is but a temporary obstruction on their way to the Promised Land where they will eat their fill and gather abundant land and cattle. The longest continuous biblical narrative is the saga of Israel’s poignantly ironic marriage to monarchy, in which the main characters literally stand head and shoulders above their peers (e.g. 1 Sam 10:23). Even the prophetic promise/threat of exile was of concern primarily to Israel’s elite, as the majority of poor people remained in Palestine even after the Babylonian conquest. And the postexilic narratives of rebuilding are the stories of priests and scribes, the intellectual and cultural leaders of the Persian colonial territory that had once been a great nation.
In this context of national journey from the perspective of the leaders and other powerful figures, the gospels sound a harshly discordant note. Their tales of lepers, blind people, bleeding women, and landless peasants searching desperately for hope are a shocking contrast to their biblical predecessors. For as we know, the New Testament was originally a collection of writings aimed at providing a message of divine love and healing for people who could not hear such a word in the established religious institutions. Although the Christian “Way” amazingly quickly swept across social classes and national boundaries in its first centuries of proclamation, the stories themselves are most easily understood by people who have experienced for themselves the failure of governments and clergy to relieve either physical or spiritual hunger.
John’s gospel, in contrast with Mark and Luke in particular, has little to say about poverty and God’s promise to provide good things for those who have gone without because of injustice. The fourth gospel proclaims not that the poor are “blessed” but that they are “always with you” (Jn 12:8) – although the Johannine perspective is not the cynical acceptance of the permanent presence of an underclass that it might seem to be when heard out of context. In the fourth gospel, characterization and plot focus not so much on economic exclusion as on the social barriers of ethnicity, ritual impurity, and lack of “proper” belief. Those who have been denied privilege in the dominant culture because of their “wrong” birth (e.g., the Samaritan woman and the one born blind) are the ones upon whom Jesus’ compassion centers. At the same time, those who are willing to be reborn, regardless of original birthplace (e.g., Nicodemus and the “Judeans”), are invited into the community to which the gospel calls its readers.
And this reality leads directly to the negative and positive poles of my own reading stance. As a “white” male citizen of the United States at the end of the twentieth century, I must engage in strenuous acts of imaginative projection and concrete insertion in order to begin to hear the power of this gospel’s word to those on the margins. It is a twofold task that cannot be done exclusively from the comforts of my warm home.
Each experience I have had in which I have, albeit hesitatingly and feebly, touched the actual lives of the poor in our culture has been a hermeneutical gift of immeasurable proportions. An hour with street people in downtown Seattle metamorphoses the abstraction of “the homeless” into the broken yet still human lives of Junior, Charles, and Althea. A few days in jail transforms one’s vague notion of “criminals” into a perception of ordinary people whose lives have either gone sour along the way or existed on a road of shattered glass from the moment of their births. Many of us are, regardless of our good will, faith, or love, at a huge distance from those in our inner cities or in the Third World to whom the gospels speak clear and almost obvious truths. Only by pushing out from our easy chairs and into the cold darkness of the streets, prisons, public hospitals, and other havens for outcasts can we begin to catch the radicality of the gospel’s word.
If this is true at the level of our personal zone of daily life, it is all the more the case with regard to our political and social privilege. I come to recognize more and more each day how the wealth of our nation has been systemically taken from the mouths of others. Indigenous peoples of North America, Africa, Latin America, and Asia all cry out as just prophets condemning our theft, indifference, and brutality as a nation. The increasing clamor for immigration limits and border patrols bears powerful testimony against our claim of being a just and free land, open to accepting the world’s poor. And, more to the point of the fourth gospel, we have again increased the sickening acceptance of racial and ethnic scapegoating, whether against poor African-Americans or wealthy Japanese and other Asians.
All this puts us as a people squarely on the opposite side from the Johannine Jesus and the community of the fourth gospel. But this brings us to the positive pole in my own prerelationship with the text. Despite my personal and national privilege and responsibility for massive injustice, I believe in a God who invites peoples such as myself to work and pray with others for the liberation of all peoples. While acknowledging my participation in unjust structures and in enjoying the fruit of rotting trees, I trust in the God of all life, who constantly calls me to focus on God alone and the way of shalom. Without attempting to express a complete personal philosophy in this space, it is important to proclaim my commitment to helping to shape a future in which all creation will sing joyously of the God of nonviolent and interdependent love.
Thus, I come to my own reading of John with a dual awareness. My birthplace veils the gospel from me in certain ways, leading me to find new experiences that help penetrate into the place from which the text seems to speak. At the same time, my commitment to a God who breaks down injustice and generates true love and freedom for all people opens me in other ways to hear the text speak its challenges to the status quo.
TRAVERSE CITY – A high-energy night at the pub, highlighted by good conversation about the death of Osama bin Laden, an excellent selection of beers, and monkeys on the loose – all covered extensively by the paparazzi, who got wind of our topic. Also, the world is ending in 2036.
The evening began with a send off for Rebecca, who left early to catch a flight to Madrid. A week after recovering from her big thirtieth birthday party, she was ready to leave the country. So she bid us all sayonara, lugging her suitcase from the Warehouse district all the way to S. Airport Road.
After recently being blacklisted by the Record-Eagle, we were pleasantly surprised to find they still like us, and we welcomed in Jan-Michael Stump, photographer extraordinaire, who captured the highlight of the evening as first-time guest Sharon Moller explained to her husband Pete and the rest of us her own response to the news of bin Laden’s death. She echoed sentiments carried by many of us, that she was relieved in a way, but a bit troubled by the gratuitous celebrations carried out in the immediate aftermath.
Steve noted that he *would* celebrate if his death meant we could finally wrap up our ‘war on terror’, and realize that having a war against terror is a bit of a ridiculous concept. There was agreement around the table that that would indeed be a good thing.
Others fear that the killing of bin Laden would create more reprisals and backlash than it would actually accomplish any sort of diminishing of terrorism. Does fighting violence with violence really work? The Dalai Lama noted his own sadness at the event, though he said he understood why it happened. He wondered whether killing one man would bring more peace, or just new opportunities for more to step in and fill the void.
It was also asked whether or not this would turn bin Laden into some sort of martyr. Would he now become even more of a hero in death than he was in life for those who followed him?
The second major topic of the night was this: If the human race is wiped out, what will be the reason?
Keith D. felt it would be some sort of pandemic – a medical/disease scenario like a virus of some sort that would wipe us all out. Some felt it would be self-inflicted, such as a nuclear reality, or a longer-term environmental disaster making the planet unsustainable for human life. Brian with an ‘i’ was back and he felt it would be something like a comet or asteroid that would cause a dinosaur-like extinction, and that in fact there may be one already on its way. This caused us all to get another round. I couldn’t find anything on the one Brian mentioned – Xerxes, but did find a story on one named Apophis after the Egyptian god of death and destruction (how comforting!).
Here’s what I found: “There is a large asteroid, made entirely of iron, currently speeding toward earth. Discovered in 2004, it’s called “Apophis,” after the Greek-Egyptian god of death and destruction. And the asteroid named after a god of death will be the largest and closest thing to come near Earth than any other object in recorded history. It will come so close, in fact, that it will actually be closer to the ground than orbiting communications satellites. It will be seeable with the naked eye as a point of intense light burning across the sky.
When will it pass near Earth? April 13, 2029. A Friday.
But that’s not even the scariest part.
Scientists are nearly certain that the asteroid won’t hit when it swings by in 2029. But there’s a possibility that, if Earth’s gravity affects the asteroid’s path enough, it will swing back around the Sun and strike the Earth on April 13, 2036.
So, if Apophis does hit Earth in 2036, where, exactly, will it hit?”
Good question – you’ll have to link to the article to read the rest, though it did note that an impact could ‘start a massive fire that would burn millions of acres, spilling tons of ash and debris into the air and plunging the Northern Hemisphere into darkness’. Also comforting.
The final topic of the night was a doozy – ‘Can God make a breakfast so big he can’t eat it?’ No one jumped on it, so we left the pub with visions of extra large omelets, king-size pancakes, and, to quote Obi Wan, feeling “a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.”