Testimony for National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — END DRAFT REGISTRATION

I prepared the below testimony to present at a public meeting in Chicago before the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, a commission created by Congress to deal with questions of draft registration, most specifically, whether to end draft registration or expand it to women. The Commission designed the format for this meeting with severely restricted opportunities for general public input. I intend to submit this testimony in written form, but I do not anticipate that I will be able to present it in person. At the end of this testimony is a much shorter statement that I intend to present to the media in Chicago, and directly to the Commission, if possible.

FULL TESTIMONY

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, to be here today. I have come from 250 miles away to testify to you about service. I am volunteering my time to testify about that which is involuntary: conscience. I have come much further than 250 miles to be here today…

My testimony is rooted in family history predating the existence of the United States of America.  I am 12th generation in this land now known as the United States of America. In the early 1700’s, my ancestors settled on land given to them by William Penn, on what would come to be known as Pennsylvania. My Mennonite ancestors fled Germany to escape conscription and war.

With that wave of German immigrants and refugees, those that occupied the land had much fear about them ruining life as they new it. Newly-arrived German males age 16 and older were forced to take a loyalty oath to the British crown. The English oath was administered roughshod over the newly arriving boys and men, most of whom spoke only German upon their arrival. Apparently, a nominal and blind oath provided some comfort to those fearful residents already occupying the land.

As the Philadelphia harbor bells rang, signaling new arrivals, people gathered to greet them. Many gathered to welcome family or provide strangers with much needed assistance, knowing what it is like to leave one’s home and arrive in a strange land with little or nothing. Others gathered to enlist indentured servants. Here is my most important question regarding service. Serving freely or serving under coercion — which is the greater service? I submit that serving freely is greater. In this particular case, the free service of hospitality and welcoming outsiders is greater than enlisting indentured servants. In the shared scripture of The People of The Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — a similar exhortation is repeated multiple times: “You must love foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt.” This service of what may be considered radical hospitality is a time-honored practice of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The humble practice is at the heart of every great faith worldwide. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love because you were first loved. My ancestors, yearning to be free, wanted neither to be the cause of war as soldiers nor the tragic effects of war in its wanton destruction. This was at the heart of my ancestors’ journeys in life. This is my heritage.

More recently, in relation to war and peace, my great-grandfather, during World War II, ran an alternative service camp for conscientious objectors. As for me, I was literally born into service. I was born in 1961 in Haiti, while my parents were serving as medical missionaries, a doctor and nurse, with Mennonite Central Committee. Mennonite Central Committee has long encouraged and empowered years-long terms of service, often overseas. For my Dad, this was also as an alternative service to military service.

In 1979, the year I graduated from high school, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In response to this, President Jimmy Carter instituted draft registration of young men my age, ostensibly to send a message of military preparedness to Soviet leaders. I was in the first batch of young men required by U.S. law to register for the draft. However, the prospect of draft registration conflicted with a higher law, my conscience and ultimate commitments. I could not and cannot, in good conscience, participate in war-making. As the clarity of my conscience emerged, I could find no way to register for the military draft, whose sole purpose is preparedness for war. My conscience also dictated that if I was to disobey an unconscionable law, then I was to openly take full responsibly for my actions while I worked to change such a law. I began by writing letters to Selective Service and my elected representatives. I may not have had been well-schooled — yet, anyways — on the politics of waging war or peace, but I was intimately familiar with my conscience and the legal duty that my young male peers and I faced. I was a teenager facing obedience to my conscience. This obedience came at the legal threat of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

I quickly learned that my war resistance is not dependent on geopolitical circumstances, political pendulums, or legal threats. I am already opposed to the next war. Unlike in the pragmatism of war, my enemy’s enemy is not my friend. For me, war is the enemy. Nonetheless, the nearly 40 years since my initial confrontation with draft registration affords me a certain perspective as I have lived through a full cycle of history.  While I was a skinny teenager facing taking on the United States government, the U.S. government was backing the soon-enough-to-be-notorious Osama bin Laden as a so-called “freedom fighter,” leading the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation.  Of course, our support of Osama bin Laden, our enemy’s enemy, turned out to be a deadly lessen in the futility of weaponizing violent radicals in the vain hope that it won’t blowback in further violence on virtually all fronts. Today’s “freedom fighter” is tomorrow’s terrorist. Today’s war seeds tomorrow’s terrorist. Gandhi spoke frequently of the seamless connection of means and ends. War IS terrorism. How can we expect it to produce anything else — with it many “means” and “ends”? In the end, I cannot view warmaking as service to this country, or any country for that madder, certainly not to humanity as a hole. I find warmaking incompatible with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and to be peacemakers, the children of God.

In speaking with hundreds of Americans over the years about draft registration resistance, I have found that people’s objections to my objections are of two basic types. One type of response is basically that draft registration is such a minimal requirement that it isn’t worth much fuss. If this is the case, then why don’t we just get rid of draft registration, without much fuss? The other type of response is about the utter graveness of our warmaking, and usually something about our national doody. If war is so grave, perhaps the concerns around someone refusing to go postal should receive more thoughtful and consequential consideration. To add insult to injury, in a surreal show of moral farce, war apologists routinely cite “necessary evil” as their moral foundation. This is not the God I serve. Straddling these two poles of minimal and supreme concern, are the tired questions that are asked pacifists, such as: “What would you do if someone was raping your grandmother in the ally?” I learned to answer such questions with: “I’d register for the draft.” If their perplexity persisted, they might suggest that I go back to Russia (where I’ve never been) or indicated their inclination to see me face time in jail; presumably, so I am not around to not protect them.

Mean wile, back in 1980, soon after winning the presidential election, Ronald Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration. His campaign rhetoric about getting the government off the backs of people rang hollow, like a hollow bullet to my heart. The media wanted to do a story on this broken promise and how it affected the young men subject to the law, particularly those opposed to it. As it turned out, while there were millions of nonregistrants quietly in violation of the law, I was the only local public nonregistrant that they could track down, and I soon found myself highlighted in various media for years to come.

To make a long story shorter, in 1983, I was indicted for failure to register — I prefer refusal to register. In 1986, I was tried and convicted. My indiscriminate honesty more than compensated for their lack of investigatory skills. I served 107 days in the federal Community Corrections Center in Detroit, served two years probation, and served 200 hours of community service. I can’t help but note, today, since the theme is “service,” that the solution to my singular failure was to rip me from my community in order to integrate me back into my community. Plus, the court had to bean-count community service that you couldn’t have stopped me from serving anyway.

Of course, there were larger forces at work. I, and a select few others, had to be made examples of. I, for One, am proud of the example I served. In the case of The United States of America vs. Daniel A. Rutt, there was a focus on my failure/refusal. In the meantime, I had finished college, got married, finished graduate school, had a son, and got a job. I went on to serve in a public health career of almost two decades. I even got a national award from the feds for my work in health promotion — thanks for noticing, U.S. of A. For the last 16 years, I have run my own business promoting social justice.

I do not consider my time imprisoned or countless hours engaging in war resistance as any great burden. In fact, I consider this as service to my country and humanity. I do suspect that most any person who did a tour of active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan has suffered more than I.  Unfortunately, war is replete with suffering. Of course, suffering is of no great inherent value. Nonetheless, whatever we willingly suffer for is a good measure of what we truly value. I hope that more Americans, whether male or female, young or old, will volunteer to put more skin in the game and resist war in any way they can. I believe that the cost of freedom is found in not killing, rather than killing. As General Patton so infamously stated, “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”

It is impossible for me to separate my service from my conscience. Conscience is that small still voice that emanates from the foundation of our existence, that calls us, at the risk of trademark infringement, to be all that we can be. My war resistance is deeply rooted in following Jesus, The Prince of Peace. The Jesus I follow was executed as an enemy of the state. He was executed at the behest of the religious elite. Today, the religious elite dutifully save themselves and their clan, more faithfully blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war, more conveniently blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war. The first wave of martyrs in early Christendom were men who refused military service. The broader wave of martyrs were Jesus followers who refused idolatry, the literal and figurative “pinch of incense on the altar” to Caesar.

For me, draft registration is that “pinch of incense on the altar” of the state. When it comes to military service, in the great U.S.A., there is no “one nation under God.” When it comes to military service, The United States of America is God. Specifically, The United States of America, does not recognize ANY Constitutional right to refuse military service for ANY reason, including conscience or freedom of religion. As we all know, the U.S. Constitution provides for many rights, rights that cannot be infringed upon by the state. There are many constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to petition for redress of grievances, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to equal protection under the law, among others. These are often referred to as natural rights or God-given rights. Such rights define the character of a state, and place limits on its sovereignty, recognizing a power greater than itself. The United States of America, does not recognize ANY natural or God-given right to refuse military service for ANY reason. If you are surprised by this, so was I. I count this as the singular lesson that I learned in my draft registration resistance. This sad and idolatrous reality was unmasked only by a federal judge citing a Supreme Court case in a legal opinion rejecting my motion for dismissal on the basis of religious freedom. Fortunately, I have found that God’s grace extends further than legislative grace or constitutional provision of this republic. I strongly suspect that tens of millions of Americans of faith recognize that holy obedience sometimes requires civil disobedience.

My male ancestors age 16 plus who arrived to this land so many years ago were forced to swear a loyalty oath to the government, even though most didn’t even speak the language in which the oath was administered. This didn’t even seem to matter to government officials. Why is this? I suspect that the nominal and incomprehensible oath was a “pinch of incense on the altar,” a ritual form of national worship needed by a resident populace afraid of strangers. The minimal content of the oath served as a safe and surefire way to maximize compliance and minimize resistance. Who would get back on the boat and return across the sea because they had to mouth or sign an incomprehensible swearing. Who would not submit their name and basic information to the Selective Service System? Well, most young men do not register when they first become legally required. Most young men, hoping to go somewhere, register when they need to secure a driver’s license, or when they reach the shore of an education, needing a student loan.

I suspect that the ritual obedience of a “pinch of incense on the altar” may be more important than an actually functioning, fair and equitable system of potential conscription. Conspicuously absent from the Selective Service annual report is the noncompliance rate with the requirement for registrants to update their address (within 10 days) every time they move. Every observant person knows that 18-25 year-old men move a lot. How many address updates do they get? How many address updates don’t they get? Surely, this can be estimated, and certainly it matters if one actually cares about being able to effectively and fairly enlist young men in a potential draft. The noncompliance rate for initial registration is 8% for all 18-25 year-old men. I strongly suspect that the noncompliance with current address is much higher than noncompliance with initial registration; probably, in combination, high enough to blow a hole in any contention that draft registration is effective and fair. By the way, those young men not complying with address updates are subject to the same legal penalties of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. In FY 2017, 184,051 names and addresses of suspected violators to initial registration were provided to the Department of Justice. Does it strike anyone else as odd that the names and addresses of suspected violators are forwarded? If the Selective Service System has the names and addresses of potential enlistees, what else do they need?

I contend that what Selective Service is largely after is your assent to civil obedience, participation in a national religion of warmaking, your “pinch of incense on the altar,” if you will. This seems to be a better characterization of Selective Service’s function than, in the case of a military draft, to “rapidly provide personnel in a fair and equitable manner.” Oddly, if you find yourself a male age 26 or older, beyond the age requirement to register, and you failed to register, you could still run into trouble by being denied eligibility for federal student financial aid, federal job training, federal employment, or U.S. citizenship; yet, you may be in the clear if your can “show by a preponderance of evidence” that your failure to register was not knowing and willful. Just don’t be too conscientious; that is, until you have to prove that you were not conscientious. Apparently, the true crime is conscientiousness in not registering, more so than simply not registering. The selective prosecution of a few conscientious and public resisters while millions are noncompliant speaks volumes to this.  Certainly, a system where obliviousness is excusable and objecting conscientiously is a crime is a system that distorts our nation’s highest values.  I don’t object to Selective Service being shot full of holes regarding compliance. I do object to Selective Service dishonoring or punishing conscientiousness. As there is no way for a registrant to officially indicate any intent at conscientious objection, I would be very curious to see what would happen if conscientious objector status were a checkbox in the registration process. We might learn a lot about the state of conscientious objection in America. Of course, if Selective Service noncompliance is largely about non-conscientiousness, then I have to ask: What would such a level of non-conscientiousness say about what we might be fighting for and who might be fighting for it?

The draft registration system cannot account for true conscientiousness. The draft registration system cannot muster enough compliance, conscientious or not, to claim fairness and equitability. The honorable course of action, in both cases, is to end draft registration.

In truth, the actual practice of draft registration ignores conscientious objection. While there is no apparent constitutional right to refuse military conscription, there are some legislative provisions for what are called conscientious objectors. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to indicate conscientious objection during the current draft registration process. This is objectionable to many conscientiously opposed to war. Somewhat oddly, the only legal way to make such a claim is to submit to a system, the Selective Service System, whose sole purpose is preparing for war, which you must reject completely. Plus, conscientious objector status is only possible as a military service classification, if and when a draft may occur. The longer a registrant is unrecognized as conscientiously opposed to war, the further the objection. Further, conscientious objector status can only be recognized for those who are opposed to all wars. If you in good conscience object to whatever current war in which you are subject to serve, this is oddly irrelevant. You could, in fact, turn out to conscientiously object to every actual war that comes down the pike in your lifetime and this is deemed irrelevant if you are not opposed to every theoretical war (or past war). This renders conscientious objection to a meaningless idea for what is perhaps the vast bulk of being conscientiously opposed to war. Finally, there is no real mechanism to truly count or officially value the service of conscientious objectors, meaning that men will be drafted until the military need is met, whether ten or ten million men have conscientious objection. The service of a conscientious objector is superfluous to the determining aim of the Selective Service System. This itself is offensive to many persons of conscience opposed to war-making. Let’s end the criminalization of conscience.

In truth, the actual practice of warmaking habitually runs roughshod over international law and human rights. The promise of some possible future alternative service as a noncombatant is little comfort to my conscience, and of many others. In a warring world, the distinction between combatants and noncombatants offers fantastical sanitization rather than actual sanity. The fact is that across time and across a myriad of modern armed conflicts, over ten so-called “noncombatants” are killed for every “combatant.” The first casualty of war is the truth; most of the rest are noncombatants. My duty is to oppose war, not escape military service. This is my service to humanity. This service is regardless of combatant status. Plus, the best way to serve warriors happens to be ending war.

In the age of terrorism, some will claim that we live in new era of war, not subject to the old rules of war. We do live in a different time than in the 1980’s, the decade when draft registration was initiated. I can testify to a profound shift toward anti-war sentiment since then. During the first Gulf war, in the early 1990’s, I never felt so isolated as an American, confronting palpable resistance even from liberals. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, our local peace network, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition, initiated weekly Sunday demonstrations at busy intersections around town. These demonstrations for peace and against war occurred weekly for 15 years (and continue twice each month). In the early years, most of the feedback we had from passing motorists was angry yelling, middle fingers, and expletives flying. Over the years, this angry response has become rare, perhaps a couple a week, and the overwhelming positive responses are represented by hundreds of “honks for peace,” peace signs and thumbs up. Americans in the heartland of Ohio are tired of war and welcome peace. Draft registration is a relic of ages past. Why have draft registration when even the military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft?

One issue at the heart of draft registration and military conscription is what is the proper role of women in warmaking and peacemaking. I am delighted to see that women serve as 5 of the 11 commissioners. Surely, it is women who should determine what is the proper role of women, in this case, concerning warmaking and peacemaking. In my lifelong work across a wide range of social justice movements, I have found women to be the most reliable and most inspiring leaders and laborers for social justice. I strongly suspect that women will take up the mantle of even greater war resistance if they become subject to military conscription. I take inspiration to serve as a war resister from Julia Ward Howe. She, most famously known as the composer of the Battle Hymn of The Republic, was the founder of Mother’s Day, originally a day of war resistance. She issued this Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm! Disarm!” The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

As men have forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his time the sacred impress not of Caesar, but of God.

 In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

I would much prefer entrusting my conscience and fate to such “a general congress of women without limit of nationality,” rather than the currently constituted National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

Perhaps somewhat ironic, given my heritage, Germany now has a constitutional right to conscientious objection while the United States does not. When Germany ended conscription in 2011, the majority of those serving were conscientious objectors, and the debate had shifted from conscience to whether they should give up a huge pool of cheap labor. I believe that forced national service is incongruent with our nation’s highest ideals. I believe that volunteerism is at the core of authentic service. I suspect that lowering our ideals by forcing service is a poor way to nurture true service. Let us lead by example. This is why I am here today. If you want to gauge both the heart and the cutting edge of service in this country and for this country, look to those who volunteer, willingly, without pay, to live out their deepest values. This is the clearest view of our highest ideals incarnate, that service, that work, which cannot be bought and sold.

I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Commission. From your bios, I can see that you are exemplary leaders in service. Unfortunately, I think that you may have an impossible job. I appreciate that Selective Service is technically considered under civilian control. Still, I can’t help but notice that both Selective Service and this Commission are heavily represented by persons from the military or traditional national security apparatus. This does not fairly represent America in the civilian service necessary to make for peace in the world. Also, about 4 in 10 Americans are persons of color, including many of those in the military. Why is this Commission even whiter than the overly white Congress who appointed it? This is not a service to America, and raises the question of whether white supremacy is part and parcel to your work. In tandem, the Commission’s overwhelmingly militarized representation and unduly whiteness, inspires little confidence that your recommendations can represent America. Perhaps it would be more honest to call this Commission an Omission. I suspect that this failure is rooted in the failure and cowardice of Congress to deal with draft registration in a changing world, that is, a world that recognizes women as equals. Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Instead, Congress kicked the can down the road for a couple of years by creating a Commission to address this question for them. Unfortunately, This Congress-created Commission is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, any hopes of sparking a national conversation on service will be sparks falling on damp firewood.  Further complicating the credibility of the Commission is the tightly controlled and choreographed public meetings in conjunction with severely limited open public testimony. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then using this input to shape additional “invited” testimony. This may already be too late to remedy. The chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic or representative. In my years of public service, both as a community planner and as a citizen participant in many public forums, I think that it is fairer to characterize the Commission’s public meetings to date more as “dog and pony shows” than as an open and responsive democratic process. For this Commission’s work to claim legitimacy, there is a lot of changes that need to be made. Lastly, having to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission. I hope that you have found worthwhile input in my testimony to move toward a peace-loving democracy in which every one of us finds ample opportunities, free of compulsion, for self-sacrificial service for the good of all.

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PRESS STATEMENT

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, about 250 miles away, to be here today. I am one of the select few prosecuted and imprisoned for refusing to register for the draft, back in the 1980’s. We are here today for one reason, and one reason alone: Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Congress punted by appointing a Commission to provide recommendations regarding draft registration a couple years down the road. That Commission is the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Unfortunately, This Commission’s work is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to honestly and openly addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, the Commission will be a failure. Draft registration continues to have no mechanism to accommodate conscientious objection. Draft registration is fraught with noncompliance by young men either not registering at all, registering late, or not updating their addresses. The military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft. This is no time to expand draft registration, whether to women or persons with select skills the military might want. Now is the time to end draft registration. Voluntary service is true service. Let’s keep it that way.

Today’s public meeting in particular highlights the failing credibility of the Commission. Previous public meetings around the country have had very limited opportunity for open testimony from the general public. Today’s meeting has even less opportunity. Previous public meetings have been billed as having opportunities to speak directly to the Commission; and when people get there they find out that there is a scheduled two minutes per citizen. This meeting is being billed as an opportunity for Q&A, not even to the Commission but to their invited speakers. Furthermore, the overall time for the public to even participate in this insular Q&A has been cut down to “20 or 30 minutes.” From the experience of previous public meetings, the chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic. The Commission is moving in the wrong direction. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then used this input to shape additional “invited” testimony as needed. This may already be too late to remedy.

Unfortunately, the Commission has other credibility problems that may very well make their job impossible. This Commission is dominated by members from the military or traditional national security apparatus, all the while trying to couch their work in a broader, more generic view of service. This Commission is extremely white, in a nation where people of color are about 4 of 10 Americans. This Commission is poorly designed to represent America. To make matters worse, the Commission has chosen to conduct its business in such a manner that citizens have had to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission. This does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission.

Originally, I planned my trip from Toledo to Chicago, for this public meeting, to deliver testimony to the Commission, offering a story of conscience and how draft registration fails to meet a broad range of America’s ideals. Because this public meeting cannot accommodate such open testimony, I stand before you, hoping that a free press will shine a light on the ill-conceived and poorly executed work of The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

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POLITICAL POEM: The Bus of Times, The Worst of Times

His political career
Hung in the balance
Throw a certain number under the bus
Or see bus production drop precipitously

This short poem recognizes a brutal utilitarianism in politics, which is present at most any level.  Using people as means to another end is the Achilles heel of a utilitarian ethic so popular in Western so-called civilization and particularly in its politics. People Before Profits POLITICAL BUTTONThe sacred worth of people, in which human rights are secured, is anathema to the commonplace horse-trading that politicians participate in as business as usual.  Universal respect for human rights would grind the meat and potatoes of politics to a halt, and cripple the usual business interests which are better suited for corporate persons than actual human persons.  A deep appreciation for human rights that are not subject to some currency exchange is at the core of an anarchist radical critique of capitalism or any other large scale human endeavors willing to trade humans for cash or securities.  The economy and economies of scale (meaning large scale efficiency) serve as the gods of modern America, or simply as idols in owed time religion.  The impersonal and distant relationships present in global capitalism provide convenient cover for amoral/immoral behavior, all the wile habitually greasing the wheels of commerce with the lifeblood of humanity.  Money is the Root of All Politics - POLITICAL BUTTONThis disconnect between humanity and economic production is directly related to inhumane politics, as economics and politics both serve as fool for the same engine.  In the bus of times, the worst of times, career politicians can even manage to do miracles, by throwing people under the bus AND opposing public transportation.  Perhaps it’s time to travel another way, recognizing that such politicians don’t behave as if we are in the same boat, and, as a rule, don’t even ride the bus.

Feel free to browse more anti-capitalist and anarchist designs:

 GLOBALISM Pits Workers Around The World Against Each Other In A Race To The Bottom POLITICAL BUTTONI'd Boycott Everything Wall Street Made, IF They Made Anything POLITICAL BUTTONAnarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others. Edward Abbey quote POLITICAL BUTTON

POLITICAL POEM: Buy Partisan Ship

If you knot for me
You agin
Me
Oh my
They would halve US
Believe
In a New York minute
Weather 60 second ads
Or master debating in public
For ours
To won party
Or buy partisan ship
That teeming lode
When in realty
Wee are left harboring
To a T
Our weariness
In the wake
Of the dearth of trust
And in the daze
Long after
The election
Has Petered out
There are know
More mock promises
And crock tears
Until hour rejects
Sow board their ship
And bring about
See change

This poem is about partisanship and weather we should take any partisanship from anyone.  The is nothing like — nothing like — a presidential election campaign to stir up partisan emotions and partisan posturing.  As someone who is chronically politically active, and someone who has frequently experienced the short end of long partisan sticks, I have become increasingly aware of my deep distaste for partisanship.  In America, the conventional wisdom would have you believe that political activity and partisanship are the same thing.  This is not true, and the seemingly inescapable enmeshment of politics and partisanship is distinctly dysfunctional for humanity.  In my view, both the spiritual and political project of life is to ever expand our consciousness and participation in our collective life.  Our spiritual enlightenment is necessarily communal, and political freedom is only authentic when our participation in our collective life is shared equitably.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. so aptly observed, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere--Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONPartisan in-groups, that parcel out power based on membership in anything other than our shared humanity, is a barrier to our spiritual and political evolution.  This mine-blowing realty is the ground for radical politics as necessarily counter-cultural and, as a rule, marginalized by the status quo and powers that be.  Nobody likes to be marginalized, which is precisely the shared basis for such a radical politics!  A paradoxical corollary to this is that marginalization, by happenstance or design, is the engine for radical politics.  It is no accident that marginalized people are typically the leaders of radical political activity, just as it is no accident that inasmuch as anyone stands in solidarity with marginalized people, they too will be marginalized.  Working through our own marginalization is synchronous with working through all of humanity’s marginalization.  The consciousness of intersectionality, that all areas of marginalization and injustice are inescapably linked, forms the antithesis and antidote to partisanship.

There are many overlapping in-groups and out-groups jockeying for power.  This is interest-based politics, and often identity politics.  For better or worse, each of us is marginalized in one way or another.  Hopefully, this can serve as leverage to increasing consciousness to the marginalization of others, especially those currently in an out-group.  The tricky part is that empathizing with out-group members is decidedly more dangerous than making any variety of internal criticisms intended to make an in-group a better in-group.  Making better in-groups is the lifeblood of partisan politics, though the seemingly easier job of undercutting out-groups, often scapegoating or even demonizing them, is what truly makes politics a bloodsport.  Haters hating haters is cause for plenty of bloodshed.  Nevertheless, to add insult to injury, and injury to non-violence, love of enemy prompts much bloodshed as well, though it is the lovers who are crucified, their own blood spilled.  Transcending narrow self-interests and in-group privileges is a costly endeavor exceeded only by the pricelessness of justice for all.

Beyond Democratic and Republican partisanship, is a unifying in-groupism, that corrosive beast called nationalism.  Nationalism Infantile Disease Measles of Mankind--PEACE QUOTE BUTTONThat ever-popular divide between Team America and Team Non-America (or Un-American).  As a nation, we are blind to the hubris-ridden assertion that what’s good for America is good for the world.  On occasion we may see clearly, yet we are at least as likely to fall for similar hubris-ridden assertions that are in fact against even our narrow national interests, such as “what is good for General Motors is good for America.”  Such endemic blindness is what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of the blind leading the blind, caught in a bind of our lack of awareness or consciousness.  Only higher consciousness of our shared humanity can overcome such lower ordered thinking and partisan warring, which is doomed to eternal, unsolvable conflict between “competing” interests.

Partisans inevitably think that anyone not for them is against them.  This is not the secret of the spirit of unity.  Interestingly, welcoming as, with, and for the least (those marginalized) is the greatest — “For whoever is the least among all of you, he is the greatest.” and “for whoever is not against you is for you.” [Luke 9:48,50]Jesus: What Happened to Least of These - Christian POLITICAL BUTTON

May we be willing to pay the price for unity among all of God’s children, which is breaking free of being beholden to in-group power and privileges, and fervently welcoming all good things for the least among us.

POEM: Pirate Queen

Wile the sands of time
Make some wail and blubber
In the aye of the storm
You could sea it
In the wides of her eyes
Shown as bright as a thousand stars
Her pupils
As deep and rapturous
As awe
The sorrow in the whirled
Helled in a black pearl
Living
Well
Off
The grid
And passing lifeless commerce
On to
They’re game
For her
The sky her hood
And at her feat
Scintillating gems
To the world’s end
And yon unknown
Beyond where the sleepy wrest

This poem is a tribute to a wild and free anarchist spirit anchored in nature and at home around kindred spirits, with little use for civilization’s offerings of money, status and power.  Free range human beings surf present reality and choose their own adventures a mist life’s boundless bounty.  Choose Your Own Adventure [anarchism symbol as A] POLITICAL BUTTONThe metaphor of a pirate may stretch for sum the sensibilities of pondered — and often ponderous — proprieties.  The deep harmonies of free spirits in touch with nature run far deeper than superficial constraints of law and order.  Free spirits acting outside the bounds of one or another’s tribal laws would be hard pressed to do more damage to the human soul than the many machinations of so-called civilization, harboring dark unconscious farces in the tallest of social orders.  The metaphor of royalty — a queen — may seem queer as a descriptor of an anarchist, even a rank description.  Free Range Human Being - POLITICAL BUTTONStill, throne to the wind, such captains of destiny are happy presiding over surfboards rather than commanding Titanics.  Such a precarious existence may be too exhilarating for many, but may very well be better suited to the human spirit than the many comfortable cages and designer chains so fashionable buy civilization.  May we each wake to our incalculable futures and sail far beyond whatever fears we may be harboring.

Feel free to browse anarchism and radical freedom designs:

Anarchy is Not What You See on TV - POLITICAL BUTTONWALK Around Like You Own Yourself, It's YOUR Life, Take Control Of It POLITICAL BUTTONThis is What an Anarchist Looks Like POLITICAL BUTTON

I Think, Therefore I Am Dangerous POLITICAL BUTTONhe only way to deal with an unfree world is to become is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion -- Albert Camus quote POLITICAL BUTTONI Want A Future That Can't Be Bought (Heart Cloud) - POLITICAL BUTTON

Got Dogma SPIRITUAL BUTTONBigger Cages, Longer Chains - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

POLITICAL POEM: Pick You’re Genocide

Pick
You’re genocide
Won side or the other
Gun to head
Ahead to gun
Aliens pervade our atmosphere
As whirled wore thee
Restless natives no so slight
Wear homieland security rules
Redcoats and bluecoats
Everyday cover ups
Of fuzz overruling
Wile privates everywhere
As wee divine
A bomb in nation
Knot our own
As they get
Our scapegoat
As if too give
Pour excuses
Tired pleas
And huddled asses
Wretchedly refuse
Their teaming shore
Up walls
In efface of stranger contentions
Reproving those
Fresh off the bout
Or slaves too buy gone ways
The wiled West
And marshal law
For sum of the people
OK, corral most of the people
Distantly droning on
Pining a bout boots on the ground
As pay no tension to boots on the neck
Of silenced know bodies
Fueled into thinking
It’s awe we Cain do
As we might be Abel
Too win with a faction of the vote
Seduced by sects
Of phallus choices
And foe alternatives

This poem sticks to my recent theme of radical change needed to the U.S. electoral system posing as democracy.  More specifically, the national or federal elections system needs a complete overhaul.  Ranked choice voting would be revolutionary.  We the people should end money as free speech, with its tsunami of money from the rich and corporate “persons” overwhelming voters and voters’ choice of candidates. The electoral college should graduate finally to something else.  An actual representative congress, akin to many European parliaments, would better assure diversity and fuel true coalition building rather than simple domination of one party over the other.  Still, this poems strikes a deeper and immediate chord.  Voters could benefit much in the long run by refusing to negotiate with terrorists.  The two-party duopoly holds voters hostage to lethal choices for the planet and humanity.  Believe it or not, billions of non-voters around the planet have a stake in the health of American empire — that stake is often through their heart!  Plus, the growing internal inequalities and ghettoizing of America could use some serious care and attention.  It’s time to demand freedom to choose sustainable, life-compatible candidates and political parties.  More directly, voters could exercise power more productively by demonstrating such freedom rather than simply wishing for freedom to be granted to them from above by the powers that be.  How many cycles of abuse do we the people need to endure to muster the courage and fortitude to demand nothing less than fair elections and candidates that both represent and are responsive to the people?  Corporate persons selecting corporate candidates is unacceptable.  But, alas, we teach people how to treat us.  Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you've found out the exact measure of injustice which will be imposed on them. Frederick DouglassAs Frederick Douglass so shrewdly pointed out, “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you’ve found out the exact measure of injustice which will be imposed on them.”  Actually, the powers that be don’t really mind if we put on a good show with whiny grievances or articulate analyses, as long as we don’t change our behavior.  In this context, that means our voting behavior and the long, disciplined work of non-electoral political action.  Change takes time.  Healthy behaviors often take years, decades, sometimes generations, to manifest themselves visibly in the body politic.  If we don’t have the patience, the fortitude, the vision, and the faith that we CAN do better, then we will end up with the same old crap over and over again.  This crap may have improved packaging.  This crap may contain 25% more crap.  Butt, in the end, if we take it, it is ours — all for the price of a mortgaged future!  May we vote without fear.  May we vote FOR love.  May we vote with a hope that transcends tried and true naive optimism of the same-old, same-old delivering the same-old, same-old.  Let’s make it so.

Anti-Trump AND Anti-Hillary: What’s a Voter To Do?

Anti-Trump AND anti-Hillary: What’s a voter to do?  This seems to be an endemic quandary in the current presidential campaign.  I have my own views, which I have blogged, ranted and wrote poems about.  My views are considered too radical and too scary by many, and perhaps even somewhat crazy by more than a few.  What might professional philosophers, trained in the rigors of logic and systematic thought, think about this palpable, contemporary quandary?  One famous philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre, an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, gives his esteemed analysis in Can’t stand Hillary or Trump? Here’s what you must do, an article from Intellectual Takeout, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to feed minds, foster discussion, and inspire action:

I can’t recall an election in which the two leading candidates were more reviled in both breadth and depth. The rejoinder I keep hearing is that 2016 is the Lesser of Two Evils Election.

The data bears this out. A poll conducted in May by the Washington Post found that 57 percent of people had an unfavorable view of Donald Trump; 45 percent of those polled had a highly favorable view of him. Hillary Clinton, believe it or not, had even higher unfavorables.

Both candidates, of course, somehow were officially nominated by their respective parties last month.

Thus, many Americans find themselves in an ethical quandary. Finding both candidate X and candidate Y utterly repellent, they are left with the following choice: 1) Vote for the candidate they find less repellent. 2) Vote for neither candidate (by either not voting or voting for a third party candidate who has essentially no chance of winning).

What should one do?

Alasdair MacIntyre, an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, is on the record on what voters should do in such a situation. He is unequivocal: Voters should reject both candidates.

Here is what he wrote:

When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives.

Such a suggestion—coming from a moral philosopher no less—might seem jarring to the civic-minded citizen. MacIntyre concedes this, noting that it has been ingrained in our fiber to view not voting as irresponsible.

So how does he justify not voting in an important election? In MacIntyre’s view, voting for “the lesser of two evils” is a tacit vote for the system that put the two candidates in place, a system that “presents us only with unacceptable alternatives.” By not casting a ballot, voters are, in effect, casting a vote against the system.

“The way to vote against the system is not to vote,” he writes.

Do you find MacIntyre’s argument persuasive? Will it persuade you to not vote or vote for one of the also-rans?

I agree wholeheartedly that the logical and sensible solution is to withdraw from the boundaries of a seemingly forced false choice.  This would simply be healthy boundary setting from a healthy electorate. However, positing the only other touted alternative as not voting at all seems to me like just another false choice, or, perhaps even more egregiously, a non-choice.  Shame on you, terribly uncreative moral philosopher (or reporter?).  There are third, and fourth, and fifth party presidential candidates running, for whom you can cast your ballot, that will profoundly more clearly register one’s rejection of the two-party duopoly and rigged choices of candidates.  The amorphous category of nonvoter is especially un-instructive since longstanding low voter turnout is comprised of a large portion of apathy not well characterized as politically enlightened or active.  With our purported democracy in crisis, voting may be of limited importance.  Nonetheless, voting does have importance.  Voting is a relatively easy, and I believe cost-effective, way to move democracy forward.  However, in the end, electoral politics alone will not be enough to forge a positive political revolution.  Let US reject false and rigged choices foisted upon US and vote for a candidate outside the two-party duopoly.  Then, immediately — that is even before the election — join in non-electoral, movement political actions to change the larger system not worthy of our vote.

Feel free to check out Top Pun’s election and third party politics designs.

COMEDIAN JESUS: Pax Romana — You’re Killing Me!

This Comedian Jesus political cartoon highlights the shallow liberalism and false choices of Pax Romana, the metaphorical stand-in for Pax Americana, peace through so-called enlightened domination.

Comedian Jesus Pax Romana Killing Me

This Comedian Jesus cartoon also ties the all-too-convenient collaboration of political and religious elites in the less-than-enlightened shared interest of self-preservation and the status quo.  Prophets, making radical calls for accountability, and modeling self-sacrifice, make the powers that be grate agin and agin.  Many American Christians oddly reframe Jesus execution as simply some sort of metaphysical accounting adjustment, minimizing his direct challenge to political and religious elites.  Jesus was a threat to Roman political rule, brutally enforced by military rule in its extended territories, the colonies of the age.  Racism, xenophobia, and straightforward domination was part and parcel to the Roman order, cynically referred to as Pax Romana.  Non Violent Revolutionaries Raze Hell--POLITICAL BUTTONJesus’ creative nonviolence suited the oppressed Jews (and others) with amor of hope, and provided bold tools to disarm Roman rule.   Non Violent Revolution--POLITICAL BUTTONJesus was a threat to religious elites due to his profound challenges to the authority and legitimacy of religious elites and his surging popularity.  Also, Jesus was seen as indirectly stoking the possibilities of a violent insurrection (Judas, from the Zealots who believed in violent insurrection, may have betrayed Jesus in hopes that his martyrdom would trigger revolutionary actions among the populace).  The religious elites had much to lose as their collaboration with the occupying Roman powers had bought them special privileges, a classic technique of dominating powers to buy so-called peace, in this case the brutal-for-most Pax Romana.  PEACE QUOTE: Peaceful Revolution--PEACE SIGN BUTTONPilate, in questioning Jesus employs another classic technique of ultimately evading accountability with his infamous “What is truth?” interrogative.  This now infamous questioning, would eventually become an iconic emblem of what is now central to postmodern thought: the relativity of truth.  For the worse, such an easy liberalism provides great smokescreens for the powers that be to evade accountability with feigned intellectual and ideological credence.  The modern day Roman empire of Western civilization has assured full employment of this shallow liberalism.  This Comedian Jesus political cartoon parodies this with the brutal liberality of getting to choose your method of death, the too-close-too-home reality for millions under Pax Americana.

America Is NOT At War, The Military Is At War, America Is At The Mall POLITICAL BUTTONTo bring all of this home in contemporary fashion, the choice of Roman/American citizens choosing which shade of empire they want to enrich its citizenry, casts a long shadow, and essentially false choice from the perspective of those not benefiting from Roman/American citizenship. End The Warfare State ANTI-WAR BUTTON While the votes of citizens are bought with many denominations, and presented in contrasting shades of liberality, the church of American privilege is built on a foundation of military might and awe that money can buy.  For those whose world is colonized by America, or who live and die as nominal citizens relegated to apartheid-like ghettos, the so-called choice of their brand of ruler remains of profoundly grate consequence.  People Before Profits POLITICAL BUTTONPlanetary citizens are hoping for prophets over profits.  It's A Planet Not An Empire POLITICAL BUTTONMother Earth is quiet udderly sweating this election.  I witness the desperate fighting for our own scraps of privilege as sadly pathetic in the light of America’s finest ideals.  May we rise up in another American revolution, this time for the benefit all God’s children and beauteous creation.

rEVOLution is the Solution (LOVE) - POLITICAL BUTTONIn Times of Universal Deceit Telling Truth a Revolutionary Act--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

Feel free to browse more of Top Pun’s anti-imperialism designs designed to end global domination.

POEM: A Brother Lying

Prey fore the dead
In the name of Jesus
In resurrection of those soully asleep
Getting a phallus rise
Out of Christianity
That is, US
More sow then radical Islam
In violate fundamental lists
Dissembling faith, hope, and love
As our trinity project
Our won God triumph a writ
With a Cain due attitude
Over awe that is Abel
To spill the good word
Buy blood crying out
Too me
From the ground
A brother lying
Knot knowing
The hollowed meaning
Of I am
One’s keeper

I often write about stuff triggered when I hear the news.  I listen faithfully to Democracy Now on weekdays.  It’s not unusual to stop in the middle of a show, or even a news story, to write a poem about something that touched me: a phrase worthy of seeding a poem, an issue baffling human kind, or simply a heartfelt emotion.

The literal life and death issues of war and peace, militarism and pacifism, have been close to my heart my whole adult life.  The latest flavor of this is the unending war on terrorism, which easily commiserates with virulent patriotism, nasty nationalism, presumptive racism, and irreconcilable religious bigotries.  Our unconscious privilege, convenient distance, and well-earned ignorance of world affairs is complicit with any easy alliance of violence as a lazy alternative to costly self-sacrifice as the true weigh of incarnating justice for all.  Nominal Christianity and its state-sponsored sheep, hawk a cheap grace bound only by an unequaled military budget and unquestioned reverence for a mercenary class.

I have a more generous perception of a frightened citizenry in deed resorting to violence in an increasingly secular, postmodern worldview.  Violence seems inevitable, certainly unendurable, without a resilient weigh to measure the sacred worth of an other, a brother human, who peers threatening.  I have a less generous view of normalizing violence by those aspiring to be religious, deeply commuted to any of the major faith-based worldviews represented by the world’s religions.  In the case of the U.S., the purported rock of our moral lives is Christianity.  I assert that an honest appraisal of American Christianity regarding its world military domination is that it is ruggedly cross.  War and Peace - What Would Jesus Do? FUNNY PEACE BUTTONAmerican Christians quiet reliably in efface of violence, instead of bearing the rugged cross, demand the blood sacrifice of “others” as their savior.  To this I can only say, “Jesus Christ!”  Whose image due we bear?!  What about state violence has to do with the heart, life and death of Jesus — other than the fact that it was state violence that executed Jesus.

To add insult to injury, the budget-sized war we christen as terrorism, we blame on Muslims, or worse yet, on the sacred tenets of Islam.  The real competition may be about who has the shallowest understanding of their religion: nominal Muslim terrorists or nominal Christian war apologists.  I strongly suspect that the farces of Christianity have killed more people than the farces of Islam.  Regardless, the age-old story of Cain and Abel, shared in the sacred texts of both Christianity and Islam, plays out over and over: brother kills brother and denies the essential nature of their kin relationship and how family should care for one another.  May people of faith lead the way in ending violence between all peoples.  This goes triple for “People of The Book” (Jews, Christians, and Muslims).

Browse anti-terrorism designs.

Is Killing In The Name Of The Prophet Worse Than Killing In The Name Of Profit? ANTI-WAR BUTTONTerrorism War of Poor War Terrorism of Rich--ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONWar Is Terrorism With A Bigger Budget ANTI-WAR BUTTON

 

POEM: Slow Mo’ Bettor Blues

Is it awe
A gambol
Sometimes you git
Their faster
In slow motion
More rarefied
Then a tortoise and its hair
Relegated to children
Of God
Knowing nothing
In the phase of fabled
Head weigh
Breeding like
Rabbits
Countering undeniable cullings
Sow cruel
Hour nature spurning perpetuity
As if
Life is
Allegory mess
And too the victors
Come the spoileds
Certifiable
That the hole
Whirled
Plodding against them
Wading for ascendancy
As not see
Wee are just
Critters in the for us
Peering as equals
On the wrong aside
Of hasty formulas
And breakneck algorithms
As mirrorly xenophobic creeps
Seeing what
Formerly cannot be
Seeing
And hearing what
In the passed
Was beyond what was winced imagined
And in deed
Awe
The more
As silence speaks
Volumes
To those slow enough
To listen

This poem is an ode to the adage that sometimes you get there faster in slow motion.  It is a sad lot who careen through life hanging on to the notion that you succeed by getting there faster than the next guy — and yes, it’s usually a guy.  As Gandhi so aptly noted, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

Speed is close kin to efficiency, that typically impersonal and depersonalizing practice that produces alienation with grate efficiency.  Modern, capitalistic, consumer culture cons us into trading manufactured goods for the perennial goods understood and revered by most cultures through most of human history.  Xenophobic nationalism icons us into perpetual war.  You can’t buy authentic, healthy human relationships.  Alienation from our own human nature and one another arise from buying the better part of employees lives and buying off minions and masses to bolster won’s usurious interests.  Earning friendship and offering radical hospitality to all has little kin to urning enemies and sending radicals to the hospital.

Overrunning natural boundaries is almost the definition of modern civilization.  There are natural processes that can only be ignored at one’s own peril.  Things take time.  If we don’t take time, then things will take us.  Buy weigh of example, baking a loaf of bread or growing a seedling takes a certain amount of time and follows a distinct order.  Baking a loaf of bread by only letting it rise half the time or baking it at twice the temperature does not result in either a speedier or even satisfactory outcome.  The final state of a seedling is more related to the nature of the seed than even the earth in which it is planted.  A seed may die prematurely, but a tomato seed will never grow into a rose bush.  Western civilization seems in deep denial about a natural pace of human life or a prudent ordering of manufactured goods over perennial goods.  SLAVERY Is The Legal Fiction That A Person Is Property - CORPORATE PERSONHOOD Is The Legal Fiction That Property Is A Person POLITICAL BUTTONPerhaps the most illustrious example of this is our equating, or even favoring, corporate persons over actual human persons.  When things are of equal or greater importance than people then the sphere of human life will be locked into the equivalent of a flat earthers worldview, or worse yet, relegated to subterranean living, with social sanctions for humanity raising its beautiful head.

Deeply listening and keenly observing are hallmarks of both the material sciences and the spiritual sciences.  Such noble ventures, discovering truths about the natural world and human nature, take both time as well as respect for the guidance of the accumulated wisdom of the ages.  Silence itself is considered by many as the language of God, reality experienced directly and unmediated by the handicaps of human language.  Words will always fail to completely embody such experience.  Material sciences have the advantage of studying a sum-what less-elusive “dead” world of things and impersonal (objective) forces.  Spiritual sciences aren’t sow lucky, tempting to elucidate the nature of humans (subjective) and even more daring to mumble of God (Subjective, with a capital S), that most precarious of places, where awe may be said and knot holy done.

May you find a pace of life that gives you a supple foundation for participating fully in the perennial goods of humanity and the awesome world in which we live.

This poem’s title includes a reference to mo’ better, a slang term for making passionate love to the point of exhaustion with someone who wants you as badly as you want them.  Of course, the better is transformed to the pun bettor to allude to the precarious reality that passionate love for another person, a loving creation, or loving God, will entail risks that the risk managers will most certainly recommend that you manage.  Perhaps the only mortal sin in postmodern existence is to be out of control — as if we are in control of much anyway!  Are you willing to bet on the seductiveness and elusiveness of love, to live a life beyond others’ sensibility of control?

May you find loving passions that spill out uncontrollably over the whole world.  And as in any great lovemaking, may it be long and slow…

POLITICAL CARTOON: CEO Jesus Retirement Plan

CEO Jesus: You Had Me At The Retirement Plan

CEO Jesus Retirement PlanAfter a long hiatus, CEO Jesus is back.  This comic was inspired by a poem I wrote recently:

At Jesus, Inc.
I came for the love and mutuality
I stayed for the retirement plan

This poem and political cartoon is a parody of the often namby-pamby, first-world Christianity that passes for following Jesus these days.  I sometimes joke that I wish there was a religion where the founder was a nonviolent rabble-rouser crucified by the state, perhaps even as their fellow clansmen stood complicit.  That’s a leader to which I could relate.   I occasionally wonder what Christianity would look like if we amped it up so that, say, 1% of Christians were killed as a direct result of their radical love challenging the powers that be of this world.  What if Christians seriously risked destitution or death for the cause of love more commonly than building “secure” retirement plans?  These are the kinds of questions that haunt me and in which I find little traction or resonance within the walls of American Christianity.  Ahhh, for a Church that boldly embraces such questions; this is the Church I long for…

Peruse more political cartoons featuring CEO Jesus, General Jesus, Comedian Jesus, Dr. Jesus, and Palestinian Jew Jesus

FREE CHRISTMAS POSTER: Homeless Refugee Nativity

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…with all of those homeless Middle Eastern families.  This free poster offers my take on the hypocrisy of Christians in a co-called “Christian” nation worshiping xenophobia and fear rather than the radical hospitality and unconditional love that Jesus modeled from his birth.  The widespread and sniveling calls to limit refugee immigration and brand all Muslims as a threat to national security is a national shame and a profound shrinking of our humanity.

Homeless Refugee Nativity Christmas -- FREE POSTERPlease feel free to download and/or share widely this Christmas poster to help launch conversations about what it truly means to have love and compassion for all of our neighbors around the world.  We might want to stop arming and bombing the Middle East for a start…

POEM: Won Race

He ran his won race
Not around other men’s tracks
But in open fields
Into sunsets and sunrises
Never looking back
As no one affront
And know time
Where mostly losers must collect
Outside
The whiner’s circle
And still
Fodder time
Will only
Weather win place or show
Every champ yon door
Will not cry out
As sum hoarse race
Only to whinny
But one race
In riding a loan
And won for awe
Jockeying honor
In steed
Bye only crossing
The finish line
In unison
As a singular knows
Tide for thirst

This poem plays with the tensions between the importance of both our inner experience and compass and our collective outer experience.  Self-knowledge and self-awareness are prerequisites for healthy functioning in the world.  Otherwise we will be doomed to project our ignorance and misunderstanding onto others, confounding communication and degrading joint enterprises.  We must know ourselves and trust our inner experience and instincts, if we are to live our own lives.  This recognizes a radical aspect of our own inner subjective experience: that part of our lives is uniquely our own, both in terms of being only indirectly verifiable by others (what’s going on inside) and that our own agency gives us responsibility that cannot be pawned off on others.  To some inescapable degree, we must run our own race.  Recognizing this freedom and responsibility is the key to winning our own race: Not around other men’s tracks/But in open fields/Into sunsets and sunrises.  If we gauge our own lives too much by others’ behavior and the various cascading situations in the world, we risk living lives as mere reaction formations of our environment.  While this is a profoundly sad loss for ourselves, it also robs the world of the gift of another real live actor in the play of life.  Of course, human life is an ensemble role; we share a collective stage and have intertwining stories.  Life is not a horse race, with the inevitable winner and losers — though that may be part of the narrative we act out.  In sharing both a collective stage and the power of each to contribute their own role to the play,  life is pretty much guaranteed to be dramatic, perhaps somewhat chaotic, and hopefully interesting and fun.  Human life begs both individual creative response-ability and a deeply collective attitude and respect for our shared enterprise.  A wise ensemble of actors, recognizing the varied roles of protagonists and antagonists, gladly plays their role, not another’s.  And as passions rise, the story unfolds.  The story is not won by who is present in the last scene, but who are present at awe, wherever they peer.  If there is a larger winning in life, it may very well be the solidarity of comrades sharing passions, but not necessarily playing the same roles: In unison/As a singular knows/Tide for thirst.  As for that horse race: break a leg…

POEM: Corn Fed Politicians

We are surrounded
By corn fed politicians
Who don’t eat corn
But slaughter the herd
Fed only corn
In a round a bout weigh
In realty
And capitol punishment
Their hire power
Contracts executioners
To deal with every unwieldy beef
If one is to get to the bottom
Of their food chain
In locking up votes
With cheap gruel
And patronizing jobs
It is enough
To give you gas
But I’ll pass on
The magic
Of any half dozen
Of such human beans
So called
With their meat and greet
As giant he goes
Stalk, stalk, stalk
Chop, chop, chop
Nothing left to ax
Accept the sky falling
And the eminent crash
Hour only comfort
In the succor borne this minute
That they don’t know Jack
As we get out of
Dodge

Politicians make at least one thing easy; that is, to be cynical about politics.  This poem melds an ecological and vegetarian theme topped off with a Jack and the beanstalk climax.  Politicians often contract out their dirty work so they can maintain a veneer of respectability and civility.  Of course, they may be lazy-ass cowards too.  Radical politics often has two somewhat divergent strategies: 1) expose, confront, and bring down elitist and corrupt politicians and political systems, and 2) dodge the disastrous social consequences of power and money hungry politicians — along with nurturing humane and sustainable alternatives.  Mainstream politics is largely about securing specific interests, better crumbs from the flesh-eating politicians.  Usually its a lower level political crony handling the corn and crumb distribution.  The System Was Never Broken It Was BUILT That Way - POLITICAL BUTTONRadical politics is a more wholesale and holistic approach, recognizing that reforming a system that is fixed, not broken, needs to be fundamentally replaced.  Thus, there is plenty of work for all, bringing down corrupt systems and building up new sets of human relationships and community that serve all, not simply an elite.  Radicals are hold outs, rejecting the wholesale social contract that imprisons most people and holding out alternatives that can provide humane work and meaning for all.  Rather than simply hoping that we don’t crash or waiting for a crash, radical politics erodes the power and authority of dehumanizing systems as a way of life.  Please Pardon Our Peaceful Chaos As We Reboot Our Country's Operating System - OCCUPY WALL STREET POLITICAL BUTTONPlus, rather than simply trying to not be the next one to get the boot, radicals prepare for the reboot.  May you live your life in such a way that when the flesh-eating politicians come for you, you can happily retort, “Eat me!” — ever working for that day when we won’t be food again.

Double Oh No: The Name’s Cadabra, Abra Cadabra

God’s
Name is knot
Abracadabra
Too be unloosed
Unwhirled
As owed man
Putting on
Some kind
Of spectacle
Who’s genesis
Giving
No quarter
To years
Behind
In a sense
Out right hostility
And udder a version
Sow called
Crater of the whirled
And awe wanting
Clear too see
Not a wood be casket
Drowning in a box
That must
Not hold water
As wee might reckon
Only too be
Delivered
In the final seeing
As figure out
By no means
Self evident
Pulling rabid
From won’s hat
Empty
Sored in passable caskets
Wee suspect
As a parent harms
As sure as there are no teeth
In taking
A bullet to the head
Wear the art
Matter’s not
And yet
Who is
The one
Cutting people in
Have
Awe that is given
Taking it
To the blank
As grater than
A loathe of bred
From nothing
Excepting freely
Wile rooting fore the nix
In a New York minute
As some goaled in goose egg
In disposed
Of whatever
Ladder day judge meant
Too due no wrung
As diff a cult
To under stand
As re-bounding
Back to the show
Is caping
Behind curtains
For the wrest of us
Only too be duped
In mere images
Peering real
Mirrorly a muse
Meant for inspiration
Knot too be swallowed
Hole in won
Or fish tails sow bred
Subject to
Dis tract
As divine accessory
And slight offhand
In vane miss direction
On the eve of knowledge
As simply a trick
Convinced one no’s
How it is
Done
Nothing
Too see
Hear
More than wee in vision
In blinding silence fallow
In a tacit urn hoarse
And yack knowledge
A bit fancy
Meager too please
As inn sufficient
Comforted buy con jury
In the worst kind
Of source err he
As if
Got hour
Back
To slots plain
As abettor
Be helled
No good
For make believe
When cloaked in daggers

This poem strikes a familiar theme of mine, the parent elusiveness of God and the unsophisticated ways of even daring to speak of such things from most any perspective brought to bear.  The dark side of religion has wreaked hellish trauma, bludgeoning both real people and tender hope for sublime understanding.  Militants, that is fundamentalists, from both theist and atheist perspectives routinely bash each other.  Religionists often infantalize atheists, and atheists are often eager to throw the baby out with the bathwater.   My guess is that if theists and atheists got together and compiled all of the gods they don’t believe in, that there would be a pantheon of common ground.  I view militancy, that is fundamentalism, as the primary divide, not theism and atheism.  There are plenty of poor intentions and chronic misunderstandings to go around.  As I see it, militancy bespeaks violence, that is a commitment to winning by creating losers, forever separated buy uncrossable divides in human life, terminally fighting over uncommon ground.  Fundamentalism of all types reduces perpetual paradoxes and the centrality of metaphorical ways of seeing the higher aspects of life to small-minded literalism stuck arguing facts rather than truth and stiff-hearted relationships valuing right ideology over harmonious community.  The siblings of truth and harmony, which are deep quests of theists and atheists, religion and science, or of anyone seeking to work out the seems of their worldview, knead less judgment and a sober patience unwilling to bury others in uncommon ground.

As in most conflicts, power and trust are the ultimate issues, or perhaps more to the point, abuses of power and trust.  Personally, I am increasingly convinced that absolute power absolutely corrupts.  Hell, I even believe God shares power in order to create a better overall world, that is not merely more benevolent and fair, but creates the very foundations for the highest human aspirations and shatters the ceiling of cosmological and worldly puppetry (and the inevitable puppet tiers).  I experience my most human living on a small-scale, in community, where direct accountability to one another breeds well proportioned living.  This brings humanity to power and builds trust seamlessly into the process.  Such human-scaled enterprises are far more sane, represented by the encouraging movements to local — not loco.  Large-scale enterprises are typically suited and tied in hubris, albeit the the finest hubris civilization can offer.  Only such large-scale undertakings can globalize insanity alongside the endemic learned helplessness paralyzed in the reality of “how did we get here?!”  In human community, power resides in people.  Power in human community requires consent.  Complicated — often called “civilized” — nonhuman mechanisms to consolidate power, typically under the auspices of creating “bigger and better” things, ultimately rely on people’s consent.  This often does succeed in producing bigger things; though the better part, our humanity, commensurately suffers in the accelerating smallness and relative unimportance of people in such enterprises.  Not surprisingly, people, not built for such inhumanity, become viewed as the problem, gumming up the efficient workings of the machine.  Depressingly sow, our views of human nature are then tempted to align with the misanthropic view that people are less important than things — see corporate personhood.  Withdraw consent and these nonhuman and inhuman structures and mechanism whither.  This speaks to the importance of protest and noncooperation/resistance to appointed authorities of all unkinds.  Opting out of institutional and corporate enterprises starves the beast and  frees up time and life energies for building alternative human communities.  Active noncooperation and resistance naturally arise as the dominant and dominating culture (sic) inevitably will clash with any growing culture (hopefully viral) that questions the sick assumptions and unearned trust of its immeasurable victims.  In such a project, Jesus radicals, atheist anarchists, and sordid kinds of others can find common ground, fertile for reclaiming our humanity in a whirled of profit tiers.  Let us not be distracted by our differences, but rather unite  in disavowing all things undermining the human heart.

POEM: A Thoreau Reading — Owed To Awe That Sucks

Some say
That he sucked
The marrow from life
And resin ate
Down to my bones
Blood brothers
In what is
Not a race
To judge knot
In won slice of life
Or as-certain fine truth
From lowly metaphor
And in due coarse
Don’t wait
For meaning found
In dried bones

This poem is a tip of the hat to Henry David Thoreau and the value of raw experience and overflowing passions over disembodied philosophizing and moral asceticism.  Thoreau’s famous mission statement for his life in the woods is recorded in his book, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods, as follows:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

Life is to be delved into, dived into, not dispassionately observed from the sidelines.  The passions embodied in following our bliss are great teachers of both the extravagantly abundant and radically simple facets of life.  The greater sin in life is to be bound to material and moral finery at the expense of an uncertain coarseness and careening zest for life.  Mistakes will be made, but few greater than resignation or trepidation yielding that which is narrow rather than marrow.  May you suck at life and on the marrow find life sturdier.

POEM: The Autobiography of Tao Rex

The opening lines
Of the autobiography
Of Tao Rex
Alias Not Neil:
Neil was a man of substance
Who was not waiting
For it to come into style
If in the course of life
He should cross
Kingmakers
And Job creators
He would not settle
For being a part
As sum illumine knotty
Though some might
Say naughty
Whatever could be said
Of such calamities
Or calumnies
It is not about kneel
Or similar conventions
The rest
Rights itself

This poem is a tip of the hat to the Tao, and a hybridization of the eternally one Tao with social activism.  An appreciation of the wisdom of the Tao recognizes the unique, ineffable, and dynamic way of life.  This way does not mistake mere style with deep truth of the Tao’s reality.  Living into the unity of the Tao does not settle for being a mere part of the whole of reality, but dynamically seeks harmony of the part and whole.  The Tao’s connection to social activism springs from this unity, giving rise to human rights shared by all.  Those who would parcel out reality for their own individual gain may be clever, and even powerful in their own right, but such behavior impugns the shared character of humanity.  Kneeling, or bowing, to such powers is often considered simple, conventional wisdom.  Nonetheless, the Tao is not about kneeling to convention, but seeking the deeper spring from which all life arises in harmony, even perfection.  And from The rest/Rights itself.”  Not surprisingly, The rest is a pun, meaning both “all else” and “the state of resting.”

The rest begs a spiritual perspective, a transcendent perspective, because reality can never be fully tapped by the mind and/or heart.  This endless reserve, The rest, can be viewed as the source of all being, a higher power, or God.  East and West meet with The rest of the Tao and the sabbath of Jewish and Christian spiritual practice.  Honoring the Sabbath is the fourth of the infamous ten commandments.  The sabbath commandment is the culmination of the three commandments; they go together.  The first three commandments are about a proper relationship with the one true God, the highest and most sacred reality.  Beyond the “I am” of the first commandment, we are instructed in the second commandment to not reduce the sacred to mere images, “graven images,” daring to reduce the whole truth to a partial truth.  The third commandment is similar in that it warns of taking God’s name/character in vain, to impugn the very power of God, the sacred source of all being and moving.  Trusting, putting your faith, in this sacred source, parallel to the Tao in Taoism, is demonstrated behaviorally by respecting/honoring rest, recognizing that there are far greater powers than ourselves from which life’s bounty rests and springs forth.  To disrespect the Sabbath by trying to rely exclusively on our own power is idolatry, putting ourselves above God, The rest.  Translating the Sabbath day commandment to modern-day capitalism and its relevance to social activism is basically God calling for a work-stoppage every week.  Honoring the Sabbath witnesses to the primacy of God, The rest.  This radical act, an apparent non-act to some, is a powerful threat to capitalism’s constant assertion of perpetual busyness to grow and thrive.  Capitalism’s worldview, basic operating assumptions are idolatrous.  Capitalism is idolatrous because it regularly discounts the sacred act of honoring The rest.  In capitalism’s equation, The rest, is a barrier to maximizing profits and productivity.  Even the more sophisticated view of recognizing that rest may be needed to maximize worker productivity reduces The rest to mere utility, a means to an end, not a honoring The rest as good in itself, a gift from God.

Related to the modern fixation on utility, the practical, secularized mindset of postmodern culture usually skips to the last six commandments which deal with more easily recognizable behavioral elements (though “honoring mother and father” seems a transitional commandment for moving from a proper understanding of the order of things in heaven to earth).  The remaining commandments deal with murder, adultery, theft, lying, and greed.  Of course, focusing even only on these commandments leaves plenty of critique for capitalism, with its inevitable warring over creation’s bounty, siphoning wealth from the weak, lying to self and others to cover one’s dishonorable tracks, and perhaps most infamously and audaciously arguing that greed is good!

May you find rest in the sacred source of all being.  And may you fight restively for justice from such a bounteous place.

Terminal Terminology: Redefining CANCER

A recent news story about redefining cancer raises the issue of how powerful something becomes depending on what we call it.  In this case, I call it “terminal terminology.”  Cancer diagnosis and treatment is literally a growth industry.  About half of us will get a cancer diagnosis during our lifetime.  A cancer diagnosis raises the fear of death. Unfortunately, with increasingly detailed diagnostic technologies, many of the “cell abnormalities” detected have little, if any, clinical significance — except that it leads to patient stress and overtreatment, a major threat to well-being.

As CBS news reports it:

There has been a “dramatic increase in certain kinds of cancer like thyroid cancer [and] melanoma,” Dr. Agus said on “CBS This Morning,” “Almost a 200 percent increase over the last 35 years.”

The increase is due in part with new technology that is “allowing us diagnose many more cancers,” he explained. “The problem is many of these cancers are not ever going to cause a problem.”

“It’s like if you told a firefighter, ‘Go put out every fire, they’d be blowing water on tiki torches and candles when they don’t need to. It’s the same thing [with cancer]. Many of these cancers are so slow-growing, we need to redefine them.”

The risk of aggressive treatment of slow-growing cancers include unnecessarily undergoing “radical therapy” including surgery and radiation, treatments that could cause “lots of side effects when it’s not needed,” according to Agus.

“Lots of cancers…we don’t need to treat,” he said, citing certain types of thyroid and breast cancers among them, “The key is to treat the cancers we need to treat, so we need a new definition.”

Agus advises doctors to educate their patients about the range of treatment options available, so that patients fully understand potential side effects and ramifications and can weigh them against the risks of living with a slow-growing cancer.

Hopefully, reasonable clinical care will win the day over easy profits and hyperbolic reactions.  Of course, rationality often escapes the human experience.  Technically, the term for unexplained irrationality in the medical care system is “idiopathic idiopathy.”

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER: A Christian Perspective on Justice

Here is a portion of a document that I drafted a couple of years ago while I was a board member of Toledo Area Ministries (TAM).  It was never adopted in any form, but I put a lot of work into, so I wanted to make this work available to others. If you are interested in a Christian perspective on justice, try this one on for size:

Speaking Truth to Power

Power, Truth, Accountability, and Politics

What is Power?

All power and glory is God’s.  Power originates in God’s sovereignty.  From God’s sovereignty, comes TAM’s core value of the Church as “the most powerful certainty on the planet.”  God will work God’s will in God’s own way:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.

‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

 We are called to exercise power responsibly, and not lord over one another:

“You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

“But Gideon told them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you.  The LORD will rule over you.’” (Judges 8:23)

Whatever power we possess is a gift from God.  However, with power comes the temptation to use it for our own purposes instead of God’s purposes.

Responsibility and accountability are proportional to the amount of power possessed:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b)

Power and power differentials are an inescapable fact of human life.  Power and power differentials exist within families.  Power and power differentials exist within community and governmental organizations.  Power and power differentials exist within faith communities.  Power and power differentials exist between nations.  Power and power differentials exist between all of these.  In fact, power and power differentials exist within any form of community.

The engagement of political powers transcends individual people:

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12, King James 21st Century Version)

God in Christ, shares power and authority with us through authentic community:

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

Truth and Accountability

Injustice is rooted in evading accountability to God and one another.  “What is truth?” (John 18:38)  This rhetorical question as posed by Pilate to Jesus is the classical evasion of accountability made by the “powers that be.”  Of course, this evasiveness is not restricted to powerful political leaders.  Cain, while his brother’s blood cries to God from the ground, attempts to evade God’s accountability by saying, “I don’t know…Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9-10).  Nor is evasiveness of accountability restricted to murderers.  An expert in religious law, in testing Jesus, himself confirmed that loving your neighbor as one’s self is necessary to inherit eternal life: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ ” (Luke 10:29). Of course, this leads to the parable of the good Samaritan, where the hated enemy is judged righteous because he took effort and risk to help one in need.

“Distracting and conquering” is the conventional first line of defense in evading accountability.  What these three Biblical accounts have in common, besides a big dose of simple denial, are questions implying doubt that the truth can ascertained.  In attempts to deflect accountability, we have all encountered many versions of, “I don’t know.  Who can really say?  It’s all so complicated.” or “This is so important that we should study it (to no end).”  The key problem this raises when dealing with power differentials, is that this takes the “powers that be” off the hook, so they can maintain their power without being called into accountability, and injustice can reign.

“Distracting and conquering” results from being trapped within a misunderstanding of Truth.  As already noted, the evasive “What is truth?” question by Pilate was used to evade accountability to the Truth incarnate right in front of him.  The assumption implied in this question is rooted in the belief that ultimate truth cannot be determined by objectively studying all the facts in the world — which is a fact, though not the truth.  Believing this state of affairs to be the ultimate truth is relativism.  Unfortunately, relativism is only half of the dualistic confusion called materialism, brought about by worshipping creation rather than the Creator.  In fact, many secularists believe that you can determine ultimate truth from the many facts of the scientific world.  This form of idolatry employs the vain hope that if we only look at all the facts, Truth will be determined.  This is the conundrum of modern science without God.  In fact, secularists inevitably must vacillate between these two facets of materialism simply because each is inadequate to answer life’s deepest and most important questions.  Not surprisingly, when this confused world view can’t bring peace, violence is employed.  Ironically, this conundrum leads to both Pilate’s “tolerance” of Jesus and the brutal Pax Romana he ruled within.

The living God offers a way out of the dualistic confusion of materialism:

“For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

and Jesus’ words eliciting Pilate’s evasion: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

“Make sure no one captures you. They will try to capture you by using false reasoning that has no meaning. Their ideas depend on human teachings. They also depend on the basic things the people of this world believe. They don’t depend on Christ.”  (Colossians 2:8, NIV Reader’s Version)

“Objectively” studying all the facts from all of the different views of the world cannot reveal the One Subject, the great “I am.”  There is more than Nature, the created world.  There is a Creator.  God reveals truth to us through the Holy Spirit, the person of Jesus Christ, Scripture, the traditions of the Church, and peoples’ experiences.  Reason confirms these means of grace, but cannot access life’s deepest truths alone.  Conventional wisdom is not enough:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25)

The living God offers a way to out of life taking a beating with a “dead” philosophy where “the powers that be” can “manage” avoiding accountability to their unjust benefit.  The living God offers a way beyond the false neutrality of the secular world which declares God’s Lordship over all as off-limits, or irrelevant at best.

Of course, being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), humans have an innate conscience, inescapable sense of morality, and desire to have a relationship with God.  So, distracting and conquering will eventually reach its limits.

“Dividing and conquering” is the next line of defense in politics in evading accountability. 

When the “powers that be” cannot quell or manage the moral demands made upon them, they turn to what they know best: self-interests.  Welcome to the world of “divide and conquer.”  When you can’t “distract and conquer,” pit the self-interests of individuals and groups against one another.  Again, this serves the purpose of reinforcing and maintaining the status quo and the power differentials enjoyed by the “powers that be.”

Pilate’s moral reasoning was reduced to managing self-interests [“…he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.  But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover.  Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” (John 18:38-39)].  Pacifying constituent interests to meet one’s own interests falls far short of accountability to God and one another.  Beyond Pilate’s ill-equipped moral reasoning, Cain and the expert in religious law sought to evade accountability to “my brother” or “my neighbor” by questioning the great commandments to love God and the second, like unto the first, love your neighbor as yourself, from which all the Law and the Prophets hang (Matthew 22:37-40).  Beyond obvious self-interest which short-circuits right relationships, in the end, we can no more focus on just our neighbor — to the exclusion of God — than we can focus only on God –to the exclusion of our neighbor.  Neighbor without God results in secular interest-based politics, an endless clashing of unfulfilled interests. God without neighbor results in a vain search for piety unsullied by engagement of worldly politics and transforming “the powers that be.”  

Injustice ultimately rests on violence, the end result of worldly politics, relying on simply conquering when other more “civilized” means fail.

Eventually, God’s justice must be confronted, and violence remains the only option left to maintain or force injustice upon others. This can take brazen forms such as the Roman Empire crucifying Jesus or waging war.  Though simply conquering often takes less brutish forms such as power grabs and punishing of political enemies. 

What is Politics?

Speaking truth to power deals with politics.

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “politics” as:

1) the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy;

2) competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership; and

3) the total complex of relations between people living in society.

The first definition is “Politics with a capital P.”  The second and third definitions are “politics with a small p.”

God, as the Lord of all, is also the Lord of politics, of all varieties.  This includes legislative and policy issues.  This includes advocacy with community groups, including churches.  Ultimately, this is about how we work out our common life together as God’s children.

Our primary concern is where power differentials exist and the potential for “Lording over” one another is greatest.

Worldly Politics versus Jesus’ Politics

The “Powers that be” and Domination

The “powers that be” has been the subject of study of Walter Wink, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary, and author of a seminal trilogy of books addressing the issues of power.  Dr. Wink defines the “powers” as “the impersonal spiritual realities at the center of institutional life” (Wink, p. 28), “… the ‘corporate personality’ or ethos of an institution or epoch…” (Wink, p. 27), and “… the soul of systems…” (Wink, p. 29).  As such, the powers are not necessarily evil.  This “ethos” or “soul” of an institution, system, nation or epoch can move us positively or negatively.  It can motivate us to extraordinary unselfishness and service for good or it can be manipulated in the service of evil.   The powers are at the same time good, fallen, and redeemable.  In viewing an institution only as good blinds us to injustice and we reinforce an unjust status quo.  In viewing an institution only as fallen sinks us into despair or rage where we see no hope for change.  In viewing only an institution’s redeemability we end up just tinkering around the edges.  In any institution, we need awareness of its goodness, fallenness and redeemability to discern effective steps towards change.

In working for justice, we often confront the powers as one of the many “-isms,” such as racism, sexism, materialism, consumerism, militarism, nationalism, or patriotism.  As Dr. Wink puts it, “This overarching network of Powers is what we are calling the Domination System.  It is characterized by unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, hierarchical power relations, and the use of violence to maintain them all…from the ancient Near Eastern states to the Pax Romana to feudal Europe to communist state capitalism to modern market capitalism” (Wink, p. 39).

from When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations by Walter Wink (Fortress Press, 1998):

Wink points out that a world-wide system of domination is the problem, not just occasional expressions of it, like Rome in Jesus’ time:

“Jesus’ message has traditionally been treated as timeless, eternal, contextless teaching proclaimed in a sociopolitical vacuum, but his teaching and deeds are directed at a specific context: the Domination System.  Jesus’ message is a context-specific remedy for the evils of domination.  God is not simply attempting to rescue individuals from their sufferings at the hands of an unjust system, but to transform the system so as to make and keep human life more human.”

Wink contrasts Godly versus worldly values:

“Jesus does not condemn ambition or aspiration; he merely changes the values to which they are attached: ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’  He does not reject power, but only its use to dominate others. He does not reject greatness, but finds it in identification and solidarity with the needy at the bottom of society (Matt. 5:3-12/Luke 6:20-23).  He does not renounce heroism, but expresses it by repudiating the powers of death and confronting the entrenched might of the authorities, unarmed.”  Jesus’ words and deeds “repudiate the very premises on which domination is based: the right of some to lord it over others by means of power, wealth, shaming, or titles.”

Wink notes Jesus’ pivotal call to end economic exploitation and nonviolently overthrow evil:

“Economic inequalities are the basis of domination.  Domination hierarchies, ranking, and classism are all built on power provided by accumulated wealth.  Thus Jesus’ gospel is founded on economic justice.  Breaking with domination means ending the economic exploitation of the many by the few.  His followers were to begin living now ‘as if’ the new order had already come, seeking first God’s reign and God’s justice.  It is not described as coming from on high down to earth; it rises quietly and imperceptibly out of the land.  It is established, not by aristocrats and military might, but by ineluctable process of growth from below, among the common people…An egalitarian society presupposes nonviolence, for violence is the way some are able to deprive others of what is justly theirs. Inequality can only be maintained by violence. The root of violence, moreover, is domination. Turning the other cheek to a ‘superior’ who has backhanded an ‘inferior’ is an act of defiance, not submission; stripping naked when a creditor demands one’s outer garment brings down shame on the head of the creditor causing the poor debtor’s nakedness; carrying a soldier’s pack a second mile would put him in violation of military law (Matt. 5:39-41). These acts do not at all mean acquiescing passively to evil, but are studied and deliberate ways of seizing the initiative and overthrowing evil by the force of its own momentum.”

DOMINATION AND THE CHURCH. “The failure of churches to continue Jesus’ struggle to overcome domination is one of the most damning apostasies in its history. With some thrilling exceptions, the churches of the world have never yet decided that domination is wrong.  Even in countries where the churches have been deeply identified with revolution, there has been a tendency to focus on only one aspect of domination, such as political freedom, and to ignore economic injustices, authoritarianism, the immorality of war, domestic violence, gender inequality, hierarchicalism, patriarchy, and the physical and sexual abuse of children.  We have tried to take on evil piecemeal.”

SEEING A SINGLE FRONT. “While it is true that we cannot take on everything, we have not always located our struggles within Jesus’ total project: the overcoming of the Domination System itself. Jesus’ vision of a domination-free order enables us to see every struggle against injustice, illness, and greed as part of a single front, and gives us a perspective that links us to everyone engaged in similar struggles.”

A. “Follow the money” versus Biblical economics

Follow God or Money

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

“All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:32-34a)

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’ ” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor.  Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 18-32-34)

Surely, budgets are moral documents revealing where our treasure, and our hearts, are found.

God decreed the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) to prevent large concentrations of wealth and persons from being permanently dispossessed from their land and/or forced into servitude.

B. Servant Leadership versus Status

Not Lord over others

Hierarchy reinforced by “shaming” – false moralism, enslaving us to legalistic categories, using unjust social norms to reinforce an unjust status quo

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

C. Authority versus Control

Jesus ran no formal organization, had little money, and no great worldly titles

In the world closely related to status (which is closely related to money),

“Who is this man who speaks with such authority?  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22)

Prophets commonly criticized kings:

In 1 and 2 Kings alone, prophets proclaimed that no less than two dozen kings “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” (1 Kings 11:6, Solomon; 15:26, Nadab; 15:34, Baasha and Jeroboam;  16:25, Omri;  22:52, Ahaziah;  2 Kings 8:18, Jehoram; 3:2, Joram; 8:27, Ahaziah and Ahaz; 13:2, Jehoahaz; 13:11, Jehoash; 14:24, Amaziah; 15:9, Zechariah;  15:18, Menahem; 15:24, Pekahiah; 15:28, Pekah; 17:2, Hoshea; 21:2, Manasseh; 21:20, Amon; 23:32, Jehoahaz; 23:37, Jehoiakim; 24:9, Jehoichin; 24:19, Zedekiah).  Also, the Bible records judgment on the entire nations of Israel and Judah (e.g., Judges 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1, 2 Chronicles 29:6, Isaiah 65:12, 66:4 and 1 Kings 14:22).

D. Obeying God’s Laws versus Human Laws

“Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ ” (Acts 4:18-20).  And later in Acts, Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29)  The daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah pointedly violated the Pharaoh’s edict to kill all male Hebrew children (Exodus 1:17). Even after he was ordered to be silent, Jeremiah continued to preach that Jerusalem was doomed unless its leaders repented and submitted to the Babylonians.  Jesus broke Sabbath laws (John 5:16-18) and carried out a public witness by cleansing the Jerusalem temple (Mark 11:15–19, Matthew 21:12, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13–16) for which the authorities crucified him.

“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

God commanded Israel not to treat widows, orphans, and foreigners the way the Egyptians had treated them (Ex. 22:21–24).

E. Expecting persecution

Persecution is a natural consequence of challenging the “powers that be” — in fact, it is a sign of success, a blessing!

“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult youand reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.  But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.  Woe to you who are well fed now,  for you will go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:22-26)

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21-22)

 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)

“Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?  They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.  And now you have betrayed and murdered him.” (Acts 7:52)

Prophets are invariably infuriating to their own people, and God often turns to outsiders to do God’s work:

“ ‘Truly I tell you,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.  Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.  And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.’  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.” (Luke 4:24-28)

 Jesus was a prophet, killed because he challenged powerful religious and political elites.  The seductive logic of the world is to save our church, our people, our nation — which means giving up Christ:

” ‘If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.’  Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ ” (John 11:48-50)

 Our church, our people, our nation already have a Savior who has shown us the way:

 “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

 In prophetic witness, we are in good company, a “great cloud of witnesses”:

 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Is it any wonder that complicity with the “powers that be,” which offers rewards of money and control, greater status, and ‘security,’ is such a tempting alternative to guaranteed persecution?

The Vision/God’s Dream

The God of all, including the future, holds for us blessings greater than we dare imagine.  Nonetheless, the prophet Isaiah boldly declares this vision:

“ ‘Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.  They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.  For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.  They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.  Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD.” (Isaiah 65:20-25)

God’s vision for his children is real and powerful, calling out to be manifest in the world, to transform the world.

TAM’s Mission

To help the Church meet God’s vision, TAM’s mission encompasses three broad areas: meeting human need, creating community and working for justice.

Meeting Human Need

Primary TAM Core Value: Value the Vulnerable

The greatest commandments are hinged by connecting love of neighbor as self with loving God:

” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

 Meeting basic human needs is part of loving God and neighbor:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

” ‘The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’  ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.  John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ ” (Luke 3:9-11)

 ” ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

God’s mercy to us is the model for our behavior toward others.  Relying upon ‘deserving’ is ultimately a denial of God’s basic character, unconditional love.  “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45b)  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), yet God is merciful.  We are on the short end of this fundamental power differential and God shows us mercy:

“I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’  I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” (Hosea 2:23)

God reminds us often of where we have been and what God has already done for us, that which we could not do ourselves:

“I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Leviticus 11:45, 19:36, 22:33, 23:43, 25:38, 25:42, 25:55, 26;13, 26:45; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 4:37, 5:6, 5:15, 6:12, 6:21, 7:8, 8:14, 13:10, 20:1: Judges 2:1, 2:12, 6:9; 1 Samuel 10:18, 12:16;  1 Kings 9:9; 2 Kings 17:36; 2 Chronicles 7:22; Nehemiah 9:18; Psalm 81:10; Jeremiah 16:14; Daniel 9:15)

Humility is the opposite of self-sufficiency.  Expecting God to provide for us and forgive us undeservedly while insisting that only ‘deserving’ neighbors have their human needs met is unjust and denies our complete dependency on God for forgiveness and ‘our daily bread’:

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13b)

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48)

Creating Community

Primary TAM Core Value: Value Reconciliation

Our reconciliation with God makes us new creations, ambassadors of reconciliation to our neighbors:

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20a)

Love leads us to live as a community of equals:

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:11-14)

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

We can engage in respectful conversation with those with whom we differ.  We can humbly explore the sources of our differences.  We can honor the sacred worth of all persons.  In prayerfully seeking the mind of Christ, we can work out our life together in love.

The way of Jesus is one of radical hospitality.  Radical hospitality is a sacred process of transforming a stranger into a guest, or even family.  It witnesses to the reality that God entered the “world” to reconcile us to God and neighbor.  Jesus was the incarnation of radical hospitality: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34)

Where radical hospitality is practiced God’s realm flourishes.  Examples of these include:  Abraham receiving the three strangers — angels (Genesis 18), the Midian priest taking in Moses (Exodus 2), Rahab allowing Joshua’s spies to stay with her (Joshua 2), the widow at Zarephath offering Elijah her last bit of food (1 Kings 17:8-24), and the Samaritan woman inviting Jesus the stranger to stay with her community, which he does (John 4).

Where radical hospitality is not practiced, God’s judgment waits:

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Matthew 10:14-15)

Beyond Civility

The golden rule provides guidance in how to live in community with one another: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)  Nonetheless, God requires even more than human love that returns its own:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.  On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)

Jesus did not avoid harsh words for those in positions of authority.  In fact, Jesus saved his harshest words for religious elites who avoided accountability to those they were to serve.  After calling the teachers of the law and Pharisees “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:23, 25, 27, 29) and “whitewashed tombs” (v. 27), Jesus says, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (v. 33) (see also Luke 11:37-54)  Jesus boldly overturned tables in the temple, declaring “but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ ” (Matthew 21:13b) in response to an affront of the religious establishment to the Lord’s declaration that “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7b)

True worship in authentic community produces justice.  God despises religious practices that do not produce justice:

 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24)

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.  (Isaiah 58:6-9)

Calling one another into account with God and one another, i.e., working for justice, is an essential part of creating authentic community.

Working for Justice

Primary TAM Core Values: Value leadership and creativity.

Love leading us to live as a community of equals starkly highlights the many injustices in the world.

Doing Justice

“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

“Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Proverbs 29:7)

“Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.  He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’  So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.  Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?  Did not your father have food and drink?  He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.  He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.  Is that not what it means to know me?  declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 22:13-16

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2)

Advocacy, prophetic witness, social witness are all related expressions dealing with working for justice

Persistence and boldness are characteristics of leadership.

Persistence:

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’  And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?  Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:1-7)

“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’  And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” (Luke 11:5-8)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Boldness:

[In response to rulers conspiring against Jesus…] “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4: 29)

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” (2 Corinthians 3:12)

“So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelations 3:16-17)

“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent” (Acts 18:9)

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” ( 2 Tim 1:7)

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)

Leadership requires a balanced view of the “powers that be” as being at the same time good, fallen, and redeemable.  In viewing an institution only as good blinds us to injustice and we reinforce an unjust status quo.  In viewing an institution only as fallen sinks us into despair or rage where we see no hope for change.  In viewing only an institution’s redeemability we end up just tinkering around the edges.

ESTABLISHING POLICY

What are the issues?

Our Biblical values manifest themselves in the world in many ways; many of these issues are encompassed by these categories:

1.  Being stewards of the natural world that sustains life on earth.

2.  Building up families and our nurturing communities, which underlie the

potential for each to live into the fullness of their humanity.

3.  Support our social communities and human rights that affirm our equal value in God’s eyes.

4.  Upholding an economic community that benefits all people and provides our “daily bread.”

5.  Engaging the political community and government to assure a just ordering of the larger society.

6.  Recognizing the oneness of God’s world and world community and seeking our particular role in it.

Reflections on Power, Leadership, and Decision-making

The status quo is.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:31)

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

Money.  Status.  Control.  These are the ways of the world.  Falling back into these ways offers many temptations, for the world rewards these ways, and punishes those who challenge these ways.

God judges us as nations according to how we treat “the least of these.”

Areas of privilege:

God has given us all variety of gifts.

In what areas do I have advantage over others?

Servant leadership

Areas of vulnerability:

Intimacy

In what areas do I depend upon the mercy of God and others?

What am I afraid of losing?

compassion

From a spiritual perspective, we are all indigent.  We cannot be made whole by ourselves.  We depend upon God and others for our very life.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Offering all to God:

God makes us whole.  God works through our areas of giftedness and advantage and our areas of vulnerability

Taking a stand.

Prophetic voice in tension with consensus and majority rule

Cost of Discipleship

One of the costs of discipleship is enduring this persecution.

cost high but the reward much greater than the cost

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Recommended reading:

The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium, by Walter Wink, Doubleday, 4/98, ISBN: 0-385-48740-1

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Decision-making Around Issues

What factors should be considered in addressing an issue?

How important is the issue?

How significant is the impact on human need, justice, and authentic community? (importance test)

Does the issue impact meeting human need?

Will people be deprived of meeting a human need that will directly and significantly harm individuals or families (human suffering test)

Does the issue impact creating community?

Is a partner organization or local faith community involved and/or affected? (good neighbor test).

Does an issue affect our local community (the local test)

Do many Christian faith traditions have statements supporting such advocacy and/or very few, if any, faith traditions have statements that may contradict such advocacy? (tradition test).

Does dealing positively with a controversial issue offers an opportunity to model a Biblical alternative of authentic community to worldly politics (Biblical alternative test).

Are families and/or our nurturing communities undercut in a way that threatens community members in living into the fullness of their humanity (nurturing communities test).

Is “civility’ violated and/or opponents are demonized and offering a faith-based perspective could be of substantial benefit (civility test)

Is the common good threatened or diminished, where short term gain creates long term loss (seven generations test)

Does the issue impact working for justice?

Does an issue threaten the poor and vulnerable (“least of these” test)

Does an issue weaken an economic community that benefits all people and provides our “daily bread” (shared benefits test)

Does an issue threaten human rights/civil rights that affirm our equal value in God’s eyes (children of God test)

Does an issue threaten the ability of people to engage the political community and government to assure a just ordering of the larger society (fair representation test).

Does an issue threaten public safety, peace and non-violence (non-violence test)

Are power differentials so large that it precludes a fair hearing of the issues (fair hearing test)

Does an issue threaten stewardship of God’s creation (creation stewardship test)

Does an issue deny the oneness of God’s world and world community (one world test).

Is there no other local faith body addressing an issue of Biblical justice (voice in the wilderness test)

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POLITICAL CARTOON: General Jesus – Blessed Are Those Who Kill People Who Kill People

General Jesus Speaks!

Jesus Cartoon: General Jesus - Blessed Are Those Who Kill People Who Kill People

Welcome to Gen. Jesus!  This is the third installment a new Top Pun series of comics that will run on Sundays, featuring CEO Jesus, Free Market Jesus, Country Club Jesus, General Jesus, Comedian Jesus, and who knows what other incarnations!

This week’s Gen. Jesus is an over-the-top parody of the pacifist Jesus.  As you can see, Jesus is quite at home in his oil-rich desert that we know as the Middle East.  This is a top assignment which he probably garnered by being able to speak both English and Aramaic.  Notice that Jesus’ cap is slightly askew, as a tip of the hat to the little people, and perhaps a subtle clue to his truly radical nature hidden behind an unstoppable war machine.  As he humbly points to his “killing people” medals, he is quick to point out that he did not actually do the killing, but he has people who do this for him; it is simply his great leadership and command of billions of dollars of killing technology that justifies such colorful, ostentatious displays.

General Jesus’ lesson for today is a kick ass, shock and awe moral principle: killing people is a very effective way of showing people that killing people is wrong.  If this moral lesson seems somewhat screwed up to you, it must be because you are unable to grasp the many subtleties that spring forth from the moral pillars of brute force and impersonal killing that drone on and on.  Of course, General Jesus knows certain things that we don’t.  Perhaps this is why we are asked to trust him.

The longer version of this moral lesson is that killing people who kill people shows people that killing people is bad, and this is a sure guarantee that we will never get out of the job of killing people.  Remember, it’s all about jobs: snow jobs, con jobs, and the occasional sweatshop job (somebody has to make all that crap).

On a more serious note, it is interesting to note that Jesus was a powerful opponent of Roman imperialism, which played well with the masses since he was part of one of the many groups that were put down by Roman imperialism.  In fact, the book of Revelation in the Bible is considered an allegory speaking against imperial Rome.  Apparently, sometimes you need to couch what you say in terms that your intended audience will understand, but not so obvious that the powers that be will come and take you away.  However, Jesus apparently did not master this ability completely, as he was taken away and executed by Rome and its complicit cronies.   Those of us who are into the power of humor will appreciate that many of Jesus’ titles are actually intended to mock the worldly and political powers of the day.  Calling someone “Lord” in the Roman Empire would be seen as an infringement upon Caesar’s god-given rights.  This would be similar to calling Jesus “Commander-in-Chief” in modern-day United States.  Not surprisingly, religion and the state often do battle over claims to ultimate allegiance.  This is the way it should be, or perhaps, must be.  How these particular battles turn out probably depend upon your view of ultimate power.  If you think that fear, control, and domination are the most deciding factors in human life, then I would say side with the state.  However, if you think that love, solidarity, and service to one another are the most deciding factors in human life, then I would say side in a higher power, sometimes in the guise of religion.  In the end, it seems to come down to voting with one’s feet, voting with the existential force that is our life.  I choose to vote for love, solidarity, and service to one another.  What say you?

Anarchism: Cooperation, Decentralization, Social Cohesion

David Morris writes in On the Commons, regarding the anniversary of the death of the Russian Peter  Kropotkin, an article: Anarchism Is Not What You Think It Is — And There’s a Whole Lot We Can Learn from It:  The word anarchism has been so stripped of substance that it has come to be equated with chaos and nihilism. That’s not what it means:

I am astonished Hollywood has yet to discover Kropotkin. For his life is the stuff of great movies.  Born to privilege he spent his life fighting poverty and injustice.  A lifelong revolutionary, he was also a world-renowned geographer and zoologist.  Indeed, the intersection of politics and science characterized much of his life.

His struggles against tyranny resulted in years in Russian and French jails.  The first time he was imprisoned in Russia an outcry by many of the world’s best-known scholars led to his release.  The second time he engineered a spectacular escape and fled the country.  At the end of his life, back in his native Russia, he enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the Tsar but equally strongly condemned Lenin’s increasingly authoritarian and violent methods.      

In the 1920s Roger N. Baldwin summed up Kropotkin this way.

“Kropotkin is referred to by scores of people who knew him in all walks of life as “the noblest man” they ever knew. Oscar Wilde called him one of the two really happy men he had ever met…In the anarchist movement he was held in the deepest affection by thousands–“notre Pierre” the French workers called him. Never assuming position of leadership, he nevertheless led by the moral force of his personality and the breadth of his intellect. He combined in extraordinary measure high qualities of character with a fine mind and passionate social feeling. His life made a deep impression on a great range of classes–the whole scientific world, the Russian revolutionary movement, the radical movements of all schools, and in the literary world which cared little or nothing for science or revolution.” 

Kropotkin took on the social Darwinists of the day.  As a leading scientist, he countered the often accepted notion that competition is the primary driving force in nature and natural selection.  We need spokesmen like this today as the social Darwinists of our day tear at the fabric of society with the destructive notions that inequality and concentrations of wealth are somehow ordained or inevitable.  Kropotkin enlightened those of his day on the advantages of cooperation, decentralization, and social cohesion.  The evidence from his scientific study showed that these factors drove natural selection.  Furthermore, these factors actually enhance not degrade what most people would accept as behaving humanely.  Darwinism is one of the nominally understood religions of our day.  Unfortunately, Darwin’s groundbreaking work has been co-opted, ironically, by statist forces, who have little interest in the elevation or evolution of humanity.

David Morris’ article is a clarion call for all to learn more or revisit what anarchism means.  Anarchism is not about chaos.  Anarchism is about order, a humane order. Kropotkin was a leading advocate of how we must relate to one another in order to achieve a humane order.  I’ll give my proverbial vote to this leaderless leader!

Feel free to browse anarchist designs.