A Spiritual Autobiography

I wrote the below spiritual autobiography a dozen years ago as part of a servant leadership study group.  While it definitely needs updating, it serves well as a brief overview of my spiritual history and development over much of my life, particularly my early years.  Fortuitously, my humor remains righteously irreverent and my faith grows.

RUTTS
by Alex Haley
(that’s just my pun name)

The year was 1961. Preceded by John, a child was conceived, fathered by a closeted gay man, in Bethlehem, on the outskirts of the city of brotherly love. In my mother’s womb, I was transported to Haiti, where my parents, as doctor and nurse, were beginning their service as medical missionaries with the Mennonite Central Committee. A dozen (and a half) generations ago my ancestors had fled religious persecution and military conscription in Germany to settle in America. For a new beginning, they were gifted with land from William Penn. This land was some of the most fertile in the world; so fertile, in fact, that even gay men father children there! Though now in Haiti, they were soon to be counted again among the privileged of the world. I was born. And on this journey, Joseph followed. Continuing my heritage as a sojourner in a foreign land, I was born a true child of the 60s.

I have no specific memories of those first couple of years in Haiti. However, only in recent years have I realized my ideal vision of serenity as sleeping without a care late in the morning in a mountain cabin while the rain pounds on the tin roof likely came from memories as a baby (now, if only I can figure out why I have a pleasant association with the smell of skunk!). Also, I am told that I was scared of most white people. Strangely, I am still haunted by white people on occasion.

After a brief stint in Detroit, perhaps explaining my love of urban life, I grew up in a small town in Michigan. The town was Mennonite-free, so I was raised a United Methodist. My childhood was strikingly trauma-free (only striking in retrospect). I knew safety. I knew predictability and caring. Our family always ate meals together, beginning with a prayer too short not to recount here: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen.” A lot more theology in that prayer than I usually give credit. Our family participated in worship and church functions regularly. Worship was generally boring. One of my few memories was a teenager with a guitar, singing “Blowing in the wind.” I guess that would have been contemporary music, huh? And that was before Bob Dylan was a Christian. I attended Sunday school, vacation Bible school, and youth group. I only vaguely remember confirmation. I remember good times. Except for a desperately poor matching of gifts by placing me in a children’s choir – my first, and really only, experience with “playing hooky.” I loved summer camp. First there were church camps, then Boy Scout camps. My younger brother and I earned Eagle Scout ranking (the highest in Boy Scouts) in record time. Our scoutmaster was easygoing and playful. Perhaps paradoxically, it was easy to achieve in that environment. If “achievement” had been required of me, I probably wouldn’t have done it, or at least wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much. When we later moved and joined another scout troop, which was probably better organized and certainly more rigid, we dropped out after a while.

My understanding of diversity was child-like. I knew that Catholic families were the ones with five or six kids. Good families to play with. My best friend’s dad was Cuban. He also had two older half-siblings. In retrospect, this was the only somewhat non-traditional family I recall; though I don’t recall giving it much thought.

I was baptized at age eleven. Apparently, I was out of the country at the time such events usually occur. Fortunately, my understanding of baptism was still pretty much that of an infant, so it worked out well. I was confirmed a year later. About this same time, I was in little league baseball. In an attempt to deal with performance anxiety, I kept a pocket-sized New Testament in my back pocket. This crude attempt at spiritual osmosis was discovered by my brothers who with little affection labeled me “Bible boy.” I didn’t like this. I remember that my parent rebuked them.

When we moved to Dearborn, Michigan, before my ninth grade, my parents looked for a church nearby, but had little success – “too suburban” I think. Not surprising, considering we lived in a nice home with a pool, only 100 feet from a golf course. They decided to return to their church from earlier years, Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit, 20 minutes away. Central is the oldest Protest-ant church in Michigan, and has been called “the conscience of the city.” Always a leader in social justice, their most widely known pastor preached pacifism before, during and after World War II. I was soon to be raised on 45+ minute sermons, truly epic sermons. A turning point happened to me sometime during my high school years when my mom took me to a peace conference at church. My eyes were opened and my heart would soon follow.

I went to Hope College, a small, private, liberal arts school. It was a Christian College, as were most of its staff and students, mostly Reformed and Christian Reformed. However, it was unlikely that I would ever be Reformed; conservatively speaking that is. My college years began with my father lightly warning me of these Calvinists. I didn’t know what he was talking about. My first roommate and I, who were boyhood friends, unknowingly were matched because we were both Methodists – apparently, a rare breed thereabouts. Early on, I must have been an easy target for an overabundance of evangelism. A friend invited me to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. I went to what turned out to be a practically diversity-free zone; even ALL of the other persons in my small group were named “Kathy” (though probably a diversity of spellings). Later, when I saw out my dorm room window the friend who invited me, I said, “hello.” She asked me what I thought of the meeting. I shouted from the second floor window something to the effect that it was “too religious.” I did like church, and I went willingly. I even went to chapel services three times a week – religiously. I was also on part-time staff of the campus ministry. Though a biology major, I was frequently mistaken for a political science or philosophy major. Apparently, I was succeeding at the liberal arts (or at least the art of being liberal).

I very soon got involved with a small group of students known as the World Hunger Committee. Being a United Methodist, I must have known that there would be a committee for that! This formally launched my work in social justice, and my personal interest in stewardship, vegetarianism and nutrition. That first year, God brought together this son of a Mennonite with a Hope graduate who was a Mennonite (perhaps the only one). I told him that I was concerned about President Carter re-instituting draft registration. He said, “Why don’t you start a peace group?” I said, “Yes.” Fortunately, I didn’t now what I was doing. So, I helped found “Hope for Peace.”

For my own concerns, I hooked up with a Viet Nam war-era draft counselor. To make a long story short, when President Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration, I was identified in the Detroit News as a non-registrant. Being the only publicly-identified non-registrant in Michigan, I garnered much media attention. Eventually, the Reagan ‘get the government off your back’ regime and his Attorney General, Edwin ‘people are only hungry by choice’ Meese III, saw that out of millions of non-registrants, I was number 13 to be prosecuted. In the end, six years later, after heroically losing half a dozen pre-trial motions (with the help of a volunteer team of legal experts), my older brother dying, graduating from college, getting married, having a son, graduating from graduate school, and getting a job, I defended myself before a jury of my peers (though none of them were subject to the law I was defending myself from). I lost. But what did I win? (that is, beside three months room and board at the taxpayers’ expense) I learned to live in good conscience. I learned to refine my beliefs, even amidst great public scrutiny. I learned about civil disobedience, or as A.J. Muste, a great American pacifist and Hope College graduate would have said, “holy obedience” (in my write mind I say, “wholly obedience). I learned that the U.S. government has the absolute authority to draft any citizen regardless of conscientious objection. Any exception to this is due only to “legislative grace.” I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my government. Actually, I presented my case at the Detroit Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, in conjunction with a resolution to support young men’s consciences who were subject to draft registration laws, whether their conscience led them to register or not. The resolution failed. So, I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my denomination.

During college, after guest preaching at my home church in Detroit, someone came up afterwards and said, “I didn’t know that you were in seminary.” Nonetheless, I consider myself a theological mutt. I have drawn from many Christian traditions. I have studied Asian religions, and I am drawn to Buddhism. I am an amateur philosopher (that is, until someone pays me) and I am intrigued by the angst of existentialism. I have experienced a spiritual re-awakening in Alanon, which has given me things that my church could not. I believe that “religionism” may be the ultimate “-ism,” preventing us from experiencing the oneness of God. I may be a leading candidate to be voted, “most likely to be heretical,” by the powers that be. This is my orthodoxy. I believe that paradox lives in the neighbor of truth; and we should love our neighbors. In true Zen-like fashion, I find that irreverence is often the highest form of reverence. Among my heresies is my unabashed appreciation of “The Simpsons” (but, as the Hindus would say, “Don’t have a cow.”).

After an intense summer working for Bread for the World as an organizer, and days before my senior year began, my brother John was killed in an avalanche in Western Canada; but only after dropping out of college while on foreign study, wandering, rock-climbing and working (pretty much in that order) for a couple of years in Africa and the Western U.S. His death has given me a much greater sense of mortality and the preciousness of life each day. I actually find funerals as fruitful opportunities for reflection and renewing my sense of “living in the moment.” I have undervalued such opportunities. One of the few regrets in my life was missing three of four funerals of my grandparents.

My paternal grandparents were particularly religious. Only upon the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary (and doing the math) did I realize that my father was a near-bastard child to a teen mom. Years later, when my sister was pregnant and out-of-wedlock at age 19, my grandfather said, “The sins of the grandfather are being visited upon the granddaughter.” My thought: get over it! Well, at least, I can now understand why my gay father was closeted until his parents were either dead or demented. While I didn’t see healing in my grandparents, I saw that having an understanding of God under construction is a good thing, and sometimes demolition work is required.

That brings me to my marriage. To make a long, and usually happy, story short, my marriage of 11+ years ended 10 years ago. Nonetheless, we were blessed with two wonderful children, Joshua and Kathryn. I love being a parent. It may be the closest I’ve been able to experience what God must feel in His/Her unconditional love for us. Kate’s life is an ongoing miracle since she was born with multiple heart defects. She underwent two heart surgeries, and at one point with surgical complications, a doctor, trying to be optimistic, said, she has at least a 50/50 chance of living. A brush with death. There’s that mortality thing again. Not unlike death, I thought I had no problem with divorce – as long as it was happening to other people. Accepting our divorce was the most difficult thing I have ever dealt with.

Being out of a “relationship” for a number of years helped my re-develop my relationship with myself and with God. This came more through Alanon than church. Now, being in a relationship for eight years with a wise and beautiful woman has taught me to appreciate life as it comes, one day at a time – with both of us half single, half single parent; no longer with in-laws but ex’s. I’ve learned that God makes all things new, and often faster than I want. God never gives me what I want; God always gives me something better!

My career. God brought me to a career in public health, as I savored its roots in social justice. God brought me out of public health, re-naming me “Top Pun,” and appointing me as a jester for peace, where the pun is mightier than the sword, and justice is no yoke. My canvasses are buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and the World Wide Web. My business, by definition, is good – that is, maximizing prophets. My business is exactly on schedule; though I don’t know what the schedule is.

God brought me to Central’s neighborhood, and a few hours later, to Central. Centralites were my kind of people. Some happened to be Christians who were gay. Through my social justice work, not my public health work, God brought me to work in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This opened further opportunities to work with persons who happened to be gay. My dad “came out.” My parents divorced. God had prepared me.

I have issues with money. I aspire to live simply, gracefully facilitated by my recent poverty-level earnings. Living with less financial security has inspired me to give today because I may not be able to give later. Whatever old car I’m driving facilitates my prayer life (of course, no “auto”-biography would be complete without a mention of my car).

I am a mystic at heart, journeying as a gifted rationalist, Caucasian, male, father, lover, businessman, American, etc., etc., yada, yada, yada. While embracing the enigmatic, I hope these few words will offer you a clue as to who I am. Hopefully, these few words will offer you a clue as to who we are. One of my favorite poems is from Muhammad Ali: “Me. We.”

In all, God has never left me; except for an instant in 1981, but that’s another story…

POEM: A World Without Boarders

Mother earth bids us
What rend must we pay
For such fear in dwelling
In apprehending tenets
In discriminating borne
Giving no quarter
To mother and child
And presumed fodder
Taking the place
Of wear every won re-sides
Drawing lyin’s in the sand
And hiking up shields of water
In a tsunami of divine just us
As fences of steal
Wherever we land
Keeping out nothing worth wile
As per sever demeanor
From our guarded kind
As all is wall
In the confines of what is ours a loan
Yet in efface of
The largesse attract of common ground
Enjoining to gather
What is the lease we can do
Inter or gate
Only wanton to ax
How to occupy that territory sow dear
Between haves and halves not
As humanity cleaves
To that intrepid hope
Of a world without boarders
In habit awe
As kin to won sky
Our only limit

This poem addresses the theme of borders and the human propensity to divide us up into cliques, clans, classes, and territories.  Such divisions are often to the detriment of the common good.  While often under the guise of security, such social stratifications unjust as often reinforce lazy conveniences and guarded advantages.  No Human Being is Illegal / No Ser Human Es Ilegal POLITICAL BUTTONIn this great nation of immigrants — and conquistadors to indigenous peoples — there has been much political rhetoric about building walls.  Xenophobia and scapegoating seem to have found more openly vulgar expressions in contemporary politics.  The peeling back of the veneer of civilization may simply be a necessary process to move from unconsciousness to consciousness of institutionalized racism, first-worldism, the seeming necessity of permanent war, and xenophobic fears of all sorts.  As our ways of life reveal themselves as ways of death, the choice for life becomes more clear — perhaps not any easier, but clearer.  This poem begins with the context of Mother Earth and human mother and child.  We are all children of Mother Earth, who only considers walls and borders as scars on her beauty.  Each of us is a child, daughter or son.  We are all brothers and sisters, cousins and kin.  We are one humanity.  We either realize that blood is thicker than water or our water will be thickened with blood.  We are all boarders on planet earth.  Activism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quote POLITICAL BUTTONNo human being is illegal.  Nation states only deserve to exist inasmuch as they serve humanity and Mother Earth.  Without such stewardship, we just might find out the hard weigh what a world without boarders looks like.  May we rekindle a deep affection and connection to awe of our sisters and brothers near and far, for the healing of the world.

POEM: Bell of the Bawl: Owed To Gaia

An ocean of salty water rises
From the cries unheard
Submerging from the wounds of the body politic
Stupefied in the face of enduring smarts
Delugings egressing from a tsunami of 100% proof
And in the offing
Will we sea
A plan it unreckoned
A monumental reporting for doody
And an epic title wave
As if
Ridden in code
Our winter of dis content
Enough
Too roil Dicks
And a voiding watery epitaphs
How long for remediation
Four sea hoarse men
Of the epoch lips
A further fresh water solution in a pickle
Thirsting for sustainable heirs a bout them
In short order to be like fish out of water
As mo’ be whaling S.O.B.’s
As fat cats wading for their last supper
And blubbering like some baby
Seal their fete with country clubs swinging
As sow many leagues under the see
As polar bares
Their paws just warming up
As care free
As just having
A terrestrial bawl
Spurned on buy
Another species argument
And another round of desert
A butting such dry humor
As the dead panned
Hitherto buy too
Into the arc of just us
So bent
And unto awe reins
Those divining the rapturous
Belles wringing
Wet
Until sonar us
In due coarse
Anchor age becomes Atlantis
Unless Abel to question
For whom does the bell troll
Weight for it
It trolls for you

Ah yes, yet another poem about climate change and climate change deniers.  It seems that more and more reports of ongoing and impending climate disasters impel me to puke up another poem in awe of Mother earth and disdain for climate change deniers and other such fools.  The image of a deluge of tears flooding Mother Earth struck me as a poetic metaphor for the actual flooding due to climate change.  Of course, the tears are an unenviable result of our all-too-casual destruction of Mother Earth and all of the concomitant suicidal implications.  Weather these are human tears or Mother Earth’s tears, the S.O.B.s are real.  May we embrace the threats and challenges of climate instability with bold stewardship of our only planet and lucid actions to hold humanity accountable for any disrespecting of our Momma.

POEM: Surfing The Heat Wave

Surfing The Heat Wave

While surfing the heat wave
I peer into my horror scope
Is life a beach?
What is there to sea?
The age of Aquarius in retrograde
Mercury rising
Is it all a mirage?
Whew, is this global warming
Or am I really this hot?!
The err conditioning on the fritz
Nature conspiring with scientists
Channeling the whether
Those men in white coats
Will get me carried away
What do we need?
For everybody to “NO”
You don’t throw stones in greenhouses
Just by entering our atmosphere
You’d get all burned up too
It’s only meteor logical
Yet they persist
Whining and dying
Crying out, “The sky is not falling”
End this “Oh zone” thing
Well, I’ve taken my last chill pill
Popped in my mouth
Too many times
Their clenched fists
Counting their green
To save them
Wile the rest of us
Patronized
“Don’t sweat the small stuff, sunny”
Well, I’m not buying it!
And all I get
Is this evil gaze thing
At this point I’d settle
For icy stares
And climb it
Skeptics
You can bank on it
Until you lose your balance
And fine yourself
With polar caps
In your ass
Having iced them
Wading for
A rising tide
To raze your shit

This one is for all of you out there withstanding the latest heat wave, and, of course, for those climate skeptics who occasionally lose their cool too.

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)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

BP Tar Sands Refinery Expansion – PEOPLE’S HEARING Testimony

Below is my testimony at the PEOPLE’S HEARING to respond to the Ohio EPA’s sham public hearing on BP-Husky’ Draft Air Pollution Permit as part of their Oregon Ohio refinery re-tooling to process oil tar sands, the dirtiest oil on the planet.  This People’s Hearing was sponsored by the Toledo Coalition for Safe Energy.  I was speaking on behalf of Occupy Toledo and planetary citizens everywhere:

Welcome to Oregon, Ohio — now with 50% less stench!

My name is Dan Rutt.  I am a long-time resident of Toledo, a citizen of Ohio and these United States of America.  However, I have an over-arching allegiance; that allegiance is to our planet, which sustains our life and the life of all living beings from all nations and ecosystems.  I am a planetary citizen.  I am calling on all planetary citizens to rise above lesser allegiances and protect our planet from British Petroleum and other transnational corporations who stand against the interests of humanity and life on our planet.

I am standing outside the formal EPA hearing, so we the people can have our own hearing, a people’s hearing, that is not limited to narrow, technical matters, while BP and others are literally mining our planet in order to burn it.  BP wants to re-tool their refining to process tar sands, the dirtiest oil on the planet, the bottom of the barrel.  This is exactly the wrong direction we should be headed.  Spending billions on an infrastructure to process the most polluting, least economically viable and least sustainable fossil fuel will only lock us onto the wrong path for years — years that we and our planet cannot afford.  We need to switch to safe and renewable energy NOW — not next year, not next decade, not next generation, but TODAY, June 5th, 2013!

How about investing billions of dollars to switch to clean, safe, renewable, and sustainable energy?  Where is your plan for that BP?

Unfortunately, the Ohio EPA is powerless to stop BP from destroying Mother Earth.  The EPA may be able to regulate the lethal injection of Mother Earth while BP euthanizes her.  But I am here to say, that that is not good enough!  Merely deciding how we are going to destroy the planet is insanity of the highest order.  We need to end our addiction to fossil fuels or we will become fossils ourselves.  BP is a pusher, profiting from this deadly addiction, and should be treated as such. 

Real people suffer environmental destruction while corporate persons like BP are insulated from their crimes.   Three years ago, BP caused the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.  This was not an “accident.”  It was a criminal act.  Now, they want us to entrust Mother Earth to them, again.  As the U.S. Department of Justice put it, “The explosion of the rig was a disaster that resulted from BP’s culture of privileging profit over prudence.”  BP has pled guilty of felony manslaughter, environmental crimes, and obstruction of Congress.  While no BP executives have gone to jail, planetary citizens resist their criminal behavior and fuelish business practices and these planetary citizens go to jail.

Inside, there will be a parade of people on the payroll of British Petroleum, some literally on the payroll, some just hoping to get some of the economic scraps from refining our planet into money.  This is on the heels of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, which in 2010 cited Oregon’s BP-Husky refinery for 62 safety violations and fined the company nearly $3 million for “exposing workers to a variety of hazards.”  Then, this year, on March 10th, the BP-Husky refinery malfunctioned and released extremely dangerous hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide pollution into the air.

Should we trust BP?  Is BP a good corporate citizen?  In the years leading up to the BP gulf oil spill, on about an annual basis, BP pled guilty to criminal acts, each time saying that they were going to change their ways.  Mother Earth is a battered women, BP is a batterer, and it’s time to end the cycle of criminal abuse.  Buying her flowers and offering her gushing words have not stopped BP’s gushing oil in the past.  We don’t want your sweet talk.  We want you to stop raping the earth!

The only real question here today is whether or not we can avoid the Native American prophecy that “When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”

BP will you fundamentally change your fossilized business practices and switch to clean, safe, renewable, and sustainable energy? 

I have in my hands 38 pages of documents from Ohio EPA regarding the draft Air Pollution Permit-to-Install for BP-Husky Refining, Limited Liability Corporation, with an accent on the “Limited Liability”!  I have a Bachelor’s Degree in biology, a Master’s Degree in Public Health; I’ve even had a graduate level course in environmental genetic toxicology.  I’ve spent years working in and with government bureaucracies.  How can one adequately address the issues raised in a few minutes?  What I conclude from this draft permit and tonight’s so-called public hearing is that they are a smokescreen.  Buried in this smokescreen of technocratic minutiae is our planet being buried; or perhaps more accurately: unburied and burned — literally, the cremation of our planet.  This Ohio EPA sham hearing today is lethal to democracy, thwarting the larger will of the people, as it stands by, impotent to protect our environment, the very environment it is sworn to protect.  Meanwhile, BP and others are destroying our planet.

Anybody who lives or passes through Oregon, Ohio, knows that BP doesn’t pass the stink test.  You don’t need a doctoral degree to know that our fossil fuels addiction threatens our planet and the life it sustains.  We can’t depend on British Petroleum or other fossilized corporations to protect our planet.  We can’t depend on politicians or bureaucrats to protect our planet.  If the planet is to be saved, then it depends on you and me, we the people.  Thank you for coming out to this people’s hearing.  Thank you for listening.

I will now conclude by reading a poem, entitled, O Children of Mother Earth, Arise!

Listen, O children of Mother Earth!
Hear, those who have ears
Hear the streams of clean water, our tributaries of life
Hear the streams of cars and trucks dirtying the air we breathe
See, O children of Mother Earth!
See, those who have eyes
See the beauty of fields and forests, mountains and meadows
See the scars of strip mines and cesspools of toxins
Smell, O children of Mother Earth!
Smell, those who have noses
Smell the fragrance of wildflowers and gardens
Smell the stench of oil and coal combustion, and chemical cocktails concocted
Reach out and touch, O children of Mother Earth!
Reach out and touch, those who have hands
Reach out and touch the soil and sun which fuels nature’s bounty
Reach out and touch the concrete and landfills, the Alpha and Omega of so-called “progress”
Taste, O children of Mother Earth!
Taste, those who have mouths
Taste the fruits of her plenty, enough for all
Taste the bitterness of her children’s petty scarcity, robbing brother and sister
Feel, O children of Mother Earth!
Feel, those who have hearts
Feel the call of nature
Feel the greed of those who would of nature relieve themselves
Speak, O children of Mother Earth!
Speak, those who have tongues
Speak of the splendor of a Mother’s care
Speak of the horror of an orphaned race
Arise, every living creature, O children of Mother Earth!
Return to her lap, and breast, and arms
Turn away from her desecration
Take your rightful place, to neither rule from above nor rule from below
Work side by side
Play together
Live neighborly
For we share the same fate
Whether we share or not
O children of Mother Earth

NOTE: There were an estimate 18 to 18,000 people at the People’s Hearing.  THANKS to all who showed up!

Here is the testimony of Kristina Moazed, Chair, Western Lake Erie Sierra Club:

The proposal that BP has revealed to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and to us, the public, has been improperly piecemealed and made to appear as if it will be just fine for this refinery to accept tar sands.
We must begin at the very source of these oil bearing sands. Canada’s government, and the province of Alberta are massively destroying Alberta’s pristine, northern ancient forests, poisoning the water sources of their native wildlife, and natives and other Albertans for one generation’s profit and greed. The desecration of this form of extraction is seriously forever.

   >  This permitting decision is being made in ignorance of recognized scientific principles that do predict increasingly worse consequences of global warming.

   >  The decision to go forward with tar sands as a source of petroleum rejects the scientifically-grounded conclusion that to even begin to slow down the global warming and that our over-use of fossil fuels has put into motion, we must keep as much of the remaining carbon fuels as possible in the ground: they must never be extracted and burned!

   >  There is no consideration in this decision process of public health effects on human populations in our Toledo-Oregon-Lake Erie shore region as a consequence of the higher volumes of known carcinogenic and other pollutants which will be emitted!

    >  There is no consideration given to otheralternate mitigation activities, such as the building and promotion of mass transit, which would consume less petroleum, create far more permanent jobs, and cause much less pollution than perpetuating North America’s one-car, one-driver folly.

    >  There is no certainty that high volumes of petroleum coke will actually be generated by the proposed altered refinement process.   And if it is, that coke will not be sheltered from the elements and will accumulate less than a mile from Lake Erie and one of its estuaries.
Have any emergency plans been put in place in case of explosion or fire while processing these dirty bitumen fuels so close to our source of drinking water?
Have possible impacts to tourism and the maritime and fishing industries been considered?
I’m sure if we contact the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, the birding crowd will have plenty of objections to the increased pollution in and desecration of the surrounding habitat!

Just one example of tar sands refining immediately to our north, in Detroit will give us an example of what happens. Emissions of sulfur dioxide did decrease, but emissions of hydrogen sulfide increased as they do everywhere bitumen is refined. Hydrogen sulfide is known for its rotten egg odor and is potentially fatal in sufficient concentrations. Residents near this Marathon Refinery in Detroit participated in Air Sampling which was overseen by Global Community Monitor, an environmental group based in California. In 2010 they found high levels of benzene, a carcinogen, and hydrogen sulfide near the refinery. IN one case, more than 20 chemicals, including benzene were detected in a resident’s basement. An EPA investigation traced the contamination to Marathon’s dumping of wastewater into the city sewer system! “We were shocked to learn they did not have their own discharge pipe into a body of water like, I believe, every other refinery in the United States ,” said Denny Larson, Global Community Monitor’s executive director. How convenient that the BP Refinery is right on the shore of Lake Erie! I think we will need to watch their discharges very carefully!

   >  These production changes are being undertaken by a global corporation which has seriously poisoned the Gulf of Mexico through crass, careless and dangerous negligence and deliberately ignoring safety regulations causing the oil spill in 2010, and its still incomplete remediation.
Now that we know BP has gamed the regulators and the public into bring tar sands cracking here to Oregon, Ohio, exactly what basis is there for any trust that consideration of public health and avoidance of environmental destruction hold any priority for BP?

We must promote green, renewable and sustainable energy! We must conserve and become more efficient our usage!

THANKS Kristina!

Just Eating For Life: New Web Site

I have been interested in nutrition pretty much my whole adult life.  This started out from a concern for world hunger and stewardship of our natural resources, as well has an interest in nutrition and health.  I became a vegetarian and took a nutrition class as a freshman in college in 1980.

I eventually went on to get a bachelors of science degree in biology from Hope College in 1983.  I also earned a Master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in 1985.  I first worked as a nutritionist in a health and nutrition center operated by a progressive physician as a business and an adjunct to his private practice.  Then, I work as a health educator in a community health center, utilizing my skills in public health and nutrition quite actively.  Then,  I spent a decade working on HIV/AIDS through a local health department, not utilizing my nutrition knowledge very actively.  After this, I spent several years working as a health planner, covering a whole host of public health issues, nutrition only been part of this.  Then, for something completely different, I started my own business, Top Pun.com, which I have done for the last decade, which has virtually nothing to do with public health nutrition.

It’s time to get back into the nutrition game.  I’ve always maintained my interest in nutrition, and I have done a fair job of keeping up with nutritional science advances over the years.  The idea of teaching a community nutrition class has been brewing in my mind for several years now.  However, recently, with a series of awarenesses related to nutrition, as well as a number of significant changes in my own nutritional practices, I have decided to create a website, Just Eating for Life, and actively pursue creating a series of community nutrition courses, ranging from simple one-time lectures to longer more involved courses which entail active behavior change strategies as well as the steroidal increase in nutrition knowledge.

Hopefully, the gift of me being seriously under-employed will benefit the world.  Of course, I will enjoy it immensely, either way.  So, let the games begin!

May Day Street Theater – Corporate Zombies vs. Village People

This is the script for the street theater production that was performed tonight to kick off Occupy Toledo‘s May Day Fest week’s worth of events:

May Day Eve Celebration

Occupy Toledo

April 30, 2012

“The Corporate Zombies vs. The Village People”

Gather around, friends, and hear a story as old as humankind; or rather, hear a story as old as human unkind.  The story is of the many versus the few.  The players names may change, but the plot is the same.  The few have grabbed power for themselves, while the many suffer.  Sometimes it is the peasants versus the Lords of the land.  Other times it is simply the 99% versus the 1%.

In today’s scene, in this land called the United States of America, once again, the land is divided, and power is not shared equally.  The few, the 1%, have shielded themselves from accountability, by hiding behind non-living corporate entities, a phantom called “corporate personhood.”  The few, the 1%, have become corporate zombies themselves, disconnected from humanity, unable to act justly and with compassion.  In this pathetic state, the corporate zombies have managed to distract, divide, and simply overrun the will of the people.  The corporate zombies have even managed to infect many of the people into believing that rampant injustice, economic slavery, and environmental destruction is the best that we can do.  The corporate zombies have convinced many that corporate rule is too big to fail.  The corporate zombies have convinced many that we the people are too small to make a difference.

The corporate zombies mock economic fairness.

The corporate zombies mock democracy.

The corporate zombies mock equal justice.

The corporate zombies mock environmental stewardship.

The corporate zombies mock human rights of all kinds.

The corporate zombies mock accountability, responsibility for their own actions.

But, alas, there is always a plot twist.  Every time that the few, the 1%, grab power for themselves and bring suffering to the many, people arise to expose the absurdities of rampant injustice, to throw off the chains of economic slavery, and reclaim the earth as the home of all, not a place to be raped for the wealth of a few.  In today’s scene, a group of villagers arise (that would be us).  This group of villagers can see past the propaganda of the few, and boldly declare, “The Emperor has no clothes!”

The corporate zombies may mock economic fairness; they may mock democracy; they may mock equal justice; they may mock environmental stewardship; they may mock human rights of all kinds; they may mock accountability.  BUT, the people of this village, Toledo, Ohio; the people of this village, the United States of America; the people of this village, planet Earth, will arise and declare, at first softly, but then, louder and louder:

 

We will, we will mock you.  Mock you.

We will, we will mock you.

We will, we will mock you!

 

Let the games begin!

But first, a message from our un-corporate sponsors:

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from Corporatitis, an inflammation of corporate power in your life?  Do you, or someone you know, suffer from low wages, poor working conditions, and crappy benefits?  If so, you may have Corporatitis.

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from lack of health insurance, access to needed health care, and an over-exposure to for-profit health care?  If so, you may have Corporatitis.

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from trillion dollar corporate bailouts, costing trillions of dollars, destroying the economy and mortgaging your future?  If so, you may have Corporatitis.

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from greedy money changers, taking kick-backs on every economic transaction you make, and then reducing your life to a credit score?  If so, you may have Corporatitis.

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from greed-induced environmental destruction, having to live with poisoned air, water, land, homes and bodies?  If so, you may have Corporatitis.

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from dependency on energy and utility companies who are the most profitable companies in human history, yet cry poverty when asked to invest in alternative and renewable energy sources?  If so, you may have Corporatitis.

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from greed-induced wars destroying countless lives around the globe?  If so, you may have Corporatitis.

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from an industrial agricultural food system that produces less and less nutritious foods, while destroying local farmers and our environment?  If so, you may have Corporatitis.

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from a political system where so-called democracy is bought and sold to the highest bidder, and you are left with false choices, where true change is not an option.  If so, you may have Corporatitis.

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from a small cabal of media conglomerates who spoon-feed you crap, hoping to convince you, or at least scare you, that you can’t afford justice, economic fairness, or a livable planet, so you had better just get yours while you can?  If so, you may have Corporatitis.

Corporatitis, an inflammation of corporate power, affects tens of millions of people, and it can be debilitating.  However, most people suffer from Corporatitis Minor.  While Corporatitis Minor is a serious condition, and should never be left untreated, Corporatitis Minor is much more treatable than the dreaded Corporatitis Major.   Corporatitis in its worst form, Corporatitis Major, can consume one’s very soul, leaving only a shell of a human being, unable to accept accountability for one’s actions, or to demonstrate compassion to others.  These ghoulish creatures become known by many titles, sometimes “CEO”, “Public Relations Manager”, or “Security Trader.”

These ghoulish creatures are doomed to walk the earth in a non-living state, like zombies, walking the earth, mindlessly and heartlessly feeding on the flesh of the living, in their vain attempts to satisfy their endless need for more and more profits.  Entombed within the phantom of “corporate personhood”, their only hope is to be stripped of the mythical powers that imprison them, which are typically represented by “Logos.”  We the people will strip these corporate “logos,” these “marks of the beast,” from these corporate zombies.  By stripping these corporate logos, we will help free those suffering from Corporatitis Minor, and offer some hope, some possibility, that those suffering from Corporatitis Major can return to the land of the living, and reclaim their place in humanity.

To all those suffering from Corporatitis, there is something we can do about it.  First, we start with a week of daily occupy movements, to purge ourselves of these corporate parasites and phantom persons.  Occupy Toledo’s May Day Fest is just such a remedy.  Though, be warned: treatment for Corporatitis may result in an increase in economic fairness, blossoming democracy, a return to equal justice, a reclamation of environmental health, burgeoning human rights, and a natural inclination to take responsibility for one’s own actions.

Do not be afraid, surround these corporate zombies with the power of the people.  Without their corporate bank accounts; without their league of lawyers and lobbyists; without their private security and control over the security state, they are really quite helpless — even pathetic.

Feel free to run circles around them if you like!

And what do we say in response to the Corporate Zombies mocking justice and democracy for real persons:

We will, we will mock you.  Mock you.

We will, we will mock you.

So, let us begin by stripping these corporate zombies of their corporate logos.

Let us line up and take turns, one by one, take a logo, strip it from the corporate zombie, and place the logo in the dustbin of history.

First up, we have The Banking and Finance Industry, aka, “The Money Changers”

The Money Changers mock economic fairness.

The Money Changers insist on reaping huge profits on financial transactions while producing little of real value.

The Money Changers have created a casino economy where they are the house that doesn’t lose, taking their cut whether their gambles with other people’s money wins or loses.

The Money Changers drain off hundreds of billions of tax dollars as a reward for crashing our economy and creating the largest recession since the Great Depression.

The Money Changers then have the nerve to try to reduce the meaning of human life down to a credit score.

And what do we say in response to the Money Changers mocking economic fairness:

We will, we will mock you, mock you.

We will, we will mock you.

Strip a logo, read the corporate name, place it in the dustbin of history, and declare:

We the people will take back our economy.

Next up, we have the Military-Industrial Complex, aka “The War Profiteers”

The War Profiteers represent one of the most profitable businesses on Earth.

The War Profiteers literally make a killing, and people are dying for their business.

In our most recent wars, tens of thousands of Americans have been killed and maimed; and over one million Iraqis and Afghanis have been killed.

This corporate zombie feeds off the flesh of the dead.

The War Profiteers mock the value of human life.

And what do we say in response to The War Profiteers mocking the value of human life:

We will, we will mock you.

We will, we will mock you.

 

Strip a logo, read the corporate name, place it in the dustbin of history, and declare:

We will inspire human life, not kill it.

 

Next up, we have the Energy Industry Profiteers, a.k.a., The Billionaire Polluters

The Billionaire Polluters are addicted to petroleum, coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy sources which cannot be sustained, and are destroying the planet.

The Billionaire Polluters resist alternative and renewable energy sources, willing to sell their Mother Earth for a buck.

And what do we say in response to The Billionaire Polluters who mock Mother Earth:

We will, we will mock you.

We will, we will mock you.

Strip a logo, read the corporate name, place it in the dustbin of history, and declare:

You may have the energy, but we have the power!

 

Next up, we have the Media and Communications Moguls, aka “The Propaganda Profiteers”

The Propaganda Profiteers dominate the news industry, silencing diverse voices, and silencing dissent.

The Propaganda Profiteers sellout democracy by pandering to unlimited corporate campaign contributions.

The Propaganda Profiteers dominate our entertainment industry, distracting us with inane entertainment, and cramming advertisements down our throats any time and any place they can, gladly taking the hugely profitable role of shill for consumerism.

The Propaganda Profiteers sell a cheap imitation of the truth while justice is denied.

And what do we say in response to The Propaganda Profiteers mocking truth and justice:

We will, we will mock you.

We will, we will mock you.

 

Strip a logo, read the corporate name, place it in the dustbin of history, and declare:

We the people are the medium for change.

Next up, we have the Industrial Food Profiteers

The Industrial Food Profiteers are much more interested in producing food products that can be genetically modified, recombined, packaged, and marketed for maximum profit than they are interested in nourishing humankind.

The Industrial Food Profiteers destroy the livelihoods of small, local, and family-owned farms.

The Industrial Food Profiteers erode topsoil like crack from a crack pipe, and pollute our environment and food with toxins.

And what do we say in response to the Industrial Food Profiteers for making a mockery of one of the most basic human needs — the need for nutritious food:

We will, we will mock you.

We will, we will mock you.

 

Strip a logo, read the corporate name, place it in the dustbin of history, and declare:

We will nourish a food system that nourishes people.

Next up, we have The Health Care Profiteers

The Health Care Profiteers purport to run a health-care system.  However, we know that this so-called health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.

Each year The Health Care Profiteers kill over 20,000 Americans each year because of the lack of health insurance.

This Corporate Zombie literally feeds on the sick and injured, the most vulnerable in society.

The Health Care Profiteers mock health care as a human right, denying sick and injured people help that they need, all in the name of profit.

And what do we say in response to The Health Care Profiteers mocking health care as a human right:

We will, we will mock you.

We will, we will mock you.

 

Strip a logo, read the corporate name, place it in the dustbin of history, and declare:

We the people demand universal health care now.

 

Last but not least, we have a potpourri of purveyors of personhood of corporations over human personhood — enough corporate misrule to piss off real persons of most any variety.  This is a cabal of Sweat Shop Operators, Environment Destroyers, Labor Rights abusers.

These corporate mis-rulers mock labor rights.

These corporate mis-rulers mock making a decent, honest living.

These corporate mis-rulers mock environmental responsibility.

These corporate mis-rulers mock human values, in order to make a buck.

And what do we say in response to these Corporate Mis-Rulers mocking laborers and mocking the planet in which we all must all live:

We will, we will mock you.

We will, we will mock you.

 

Strip a logo, read the corporate name, place it in the dustbin of history, and declare:

We the people will end corporate mis-rule.

 

Now that we have stripped these corporate zombies of their “logos” and placed them in the dustbin of history, we offer these logos up as symbols of the oppression of the people.

[Take DUSTBIN OF HISTORY and place in front of wall (with flame symbols)]

During May Day Fest Week, we will add to this wall symbols representing oppression and barriers to justice and democracy.

[Phoenix egg piñata arises from behind wall.]

We the people, though beaten down, will rise from the ashes, like a phoenix.

We the people will rise above the forces of oppression and the barriers to justice and democracy.

We the people, will end corporate mis-rule!

Let us break open the Phoenix egg piñata to launch Occupy Toledo’s May Day Fest, as we join millions of people around the world in celebrating where true value comes from in our economy, that is, from the honest labors of real people, not from corporate shenanigans, accounting tricks, money changing, or raping Mother Earth.  Let the people rule!  Let May Day Fest begin!

[The Village People take turns hitting piñata until it breaks open, spilling goodies for all]

Valentine’s Day: Show The World Your Love of Justice

Hannah Levintova of Mother Jones magazine has a wake-up call for Valentine’s Day celebrants:  Think You’re a Virtuous Valentine? Think Again.  She writes:

Cut flowers: That bouquet you may be planning to gift today was most likely not grown in the United States. The floriculture industry taps out at $32.8 billion, and about $14 billion of that comes from the sale of fresh flowers. Around 63 percent of those blooms are imports from Colombia, and another 23 percent from Ecuador.

The labor rights facts of this industry are truly depressing. In 2005, the International Labor Rights Forum found that 55 percent of women working in the Ecuadorian flower production trade (they constitute half the flower workforce) had been victim to sexual harassment in the workplace. Nineteen percent were forced to have sex with a supervisor or coworker. Compulsory pregnancy testing is also a serious industry issue. In Colombia, where women make up about 65 percent of flower workers, a survey conducted by the nation’s flower industry union, Untraflores, found that about 80 percent of companies required women to take a pregnancy test as part of their job application process—presumably because they’d like to avoid providing paid maternity leave (required in Colombia). Another problem: In 2000, upwards of 48,000 children were found working in Ecuador’s flower industry. Colombia wasn’t much better. There have since been a number of hefty efforts at reform, and while Colombia’s been improving, the US Department of Labor still confirms extensive child labor use in Ecuador.

So, is the $17.6 billion that we will spend in the United States this year on Valentine’s Day a boon for love?  Ms. Lentinova goes on to outline other issues related to environmental impacts and other labor issues related to flowers, chocolate, and greeting cards.  I doubt that there is a conspiracy to make Valentines day an anti-love venture.  Unfortunately, this is a particularly ironic example of how our economy is deeply intertwined with poor environmental stewardship and poor treatment of labor. I would suggest that the first line of defense would be to consume no more than needed, to live simply.  The next line of defense, a close second, would be to educate oneself about how what we buy affects the rest of the world; then, to act responsibly based on that information.

Buy the way, happy Valentine’s Day!

Birth Control as a Human Right – Toledo Protest

On Friday, February 6, about a dozen protesters gathered outside St. Anne’s Hospital on Secor Road in Toledo, Ohio.  This protest was organized by the Toledo Chapter of the National Organization for Women (see Toledo NOW facebook page), it also supported by Occupy Toledo.  The purpose of this protest was to advocate for birth control is a human right.  This was triggered by the recent decision by the Obama administration to require that organizations owned by religious groups must provide birth control as part of their health insurance plans.  This rule does not require that religious groups themselves must provide birth control as part of group health insurance plans to their employees, only to those employees that work in organizations owned by religious groups, such as a Catholic hospital.Birth Control is a Human Right - Toledo Protest

Anita Rios, President of Toledo chapter of N.O.W., demonstrating for birth control as a human right (photo courtesy of The Toledo Blade).

I went to this protest.  When I pulled into the massive empty parking lot of St. Anne’s Hospital, I was greeted by two of their security guards.  They immediately asked, “Are you from Occupy Toledo?” Indicating that I was there for the protest, they told me that I could not park there.  Now, that’s what I call radical hospitality!  I recognize the right of private property, but I can’t help but find it ironic, that respecting the right of a woman to be the steward of her own body and her own life is trumped by a claim of religious freedom.  Personally, I consider conscience and religious freedom, the stewardship of one’s soul, the most sacred thing in which we are entrusted.  Also, I recognize that conscience and the functions of the state will inevitably come into conflict at certain points. The only question I would ask, that when religion and the state comes into conflict, can one tell the difference between a religion and the state.  I find nationalism as a religion is completely repugnant and patently idolatrous.  I will stand against such idolatry every opportunity I am afforded.  In the same vein, when I find that religion functions largely as just another interest in society, it profoundly diminishes its sacred role in society. So, how does one tell the difference between a religion and the state?  I would submit that a willingness to sacrifice one’s own interests for a larger good, and ever larger good, is a way of sacred living that points to the ever “more” that God is. Of course, with nationalism, that ever larger good comes to an abrupt end at our geopolitical borders and a rather crass commitment to our national interest ( as opposed to a global interest, or an interest in protecting creation).  With religion, the demarcation of giving up on an ever larger good is usually at the boundary of that religion’s institution.  This is where conventional wisdom takes over.  In the case of Christianity, the gospel becomes foolishness.  The profound and mystical sacred texts that speak about dying in order to be born anew are too large to be held within the boundaries of an institution.  In more practical terms, this is seen as sacrifice, self-sacrifice, giving up something of lesser value for something of greater value.  I am eagerly waiting to see the Roman Catholic Church’s response to this conflict between church and state.  If, in fact, the reality for the Roman Catholic Church is that its doctrine is sacred, then I would expect that they would be willing to pay a large price in order to see that its doctrine becomes manifest in the world.  Let me be clear.  When I say being willing to pay a large price, I mean that they themselves are willing to pay a large price, not forcing others to pay a large price.  The latter is simply the ways of the world, conventional wisdom, bad news.  If the Roman Catholic Church is willing to take on huge fines to witness to the importance and value of this doctrine that they hold to be true, then they will earn a commensurate measure of respect from me.

Birth Control as Human Right Protesters in Toledo, Ohio

Toledo Protesters Demonstrating for Birth Control as a Human Right

Defending and promoting one’s values is costly, typically in direct proportion to the value of those values.  I was delighted to join a dozen or so protesters who were willing to put a little skin in the game, invest a little time, enter the fray, risk ridicule and misunderstanding, etc. to demonstrate how much they value birth control as a human right. May many more join the fight for this and other human rights!