POEM: Hope Inflamed

Hope Inflamed

Hope inflamed
That which cannot be
Put out
Will consume every individual
Testing their mettle
Forging in feeleds
Just discovered
From a crucible witch lies unknown
Alloys forever
Stronger than any metal
Purely a loan
No matter
How precious
Our faith
In one
Another
Together
With standing
The fiercest heat
Or the harshest in difference

This poem about hope rests on my trust and faith that together humans will rise to any problem that we can experience in this world.  I like the Amelia Earhart quote, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  I think that courage, while sometimes rare, is contagious.  I think that once one truly experiences peace and freedom, there is little going back.  I cite the Arab Spring as an example of a quantum leap forward that may be resisted but cannot be defeated.  Human consciousness or awareness is the nexus and seed of all good that springs forth from humankind.  Ignorance is the dark side and enemy of such enlightenment.  Ignorance and denial are powerful forces in human life, but, I believe, that they are less powerful than human mindfulness and the human spirit unleashed.  I see the human spirit as rooted and emanating from a place that is outside, transcendent of worldly power structures.  Further, an enlightened soul does not retreat into some other-worldly place, but engages the powers that be in this world, modeling better ways, those rooted in the deepest realities of human experience and being.  I am impressed by the sheer existential choice of Buddha to remain in the world to help others rather than blow out into nirvana.  This speaks to a state of higher consciousness, transcending self.  Similarly, Jesus did not shy away or retreat from the powers that be.  Jesus put all of his skin in the game, to the point of death, being crucified as an enemy of the Roman state.  Jesus modeled a reality of Pax Christi versus Pax Romana, the difference between shalom and détente, a higher expectation/hope for the state of human existence on this earth.  As Gandhi proclaimed, “Peace is possible” — a revolutionary statement in a world where conventional wisdom is that détente is the highest possible state; or perhaps some dystopia of trying to kill all of your enemies, giving rise to more enemies, resulting in endless war with some perverse patriotism demonizing one another.  I will cast my lot with one another together with standing the fiercest heat or the harshest difference.  What say you?

POEM: Poetic License

One day I went to get my poetic license
I drove them crazy with their test
at the DMV
Perhaps next time I’ll try NASA

This poem reminds me of the scene in the movie, “Dead Poets Society,” where the teacher at an exclusive boy’s prep school, on the first day of class begins:

The teacher, Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) sits at his desk at the front of the classroom and opens up one of his books.

KEATING
Gentlemen, open your text to page
twenty-one of the introduction. Mr.
Perry, will you read the opening
paragraph of the preface, entitled
“Understanding Poetry”?

NEIL
Understanding Poetry, by Dr. J. Evans
Pritchard, Ph.D. To fully understand
poetry, we must first be fluent with
its meter, rhyme, and figures of speech.
Then ask two questions: One, how artfully
has the objective of the poem been
rendered, and two, how important is that
objective. Question one rates the poem’s
perfection, question two rates its
importance. And once these questions have
been answered, determining a poem’s
greatest becomes a relatively simple
matter.

Keating gets up from his desk and prepares to draw on the chalk board.

NEIL
If the poem’s score for perfection is
plotted along the horizontal of a graph,
and its importance is plotted on the
vertical, then calculating the total
area of the poem yields the measure of
its greatness.

Keating draws a corresponding graph on the board and the students
dutifully copy it down.

NEIL
A sonnet by Byron may score high on the
vertical, but only average on the
horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on
the other hand, would score high both
horizontally and vertically, yielding a
massive total area, thereby revealing the
poem to be truly great. As you proceed
through the poetry in this book, practice
this rating method. As your ability to
evaluate poems in this matter grows, so
will – so will your enjoyment and
understanding of poetry.

Neil sets the book down and takes off his glasses. The student sitting
across from him is discretely trying to eat. Keating turns away from
the chalkboard with a smile.

KEATING
Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J.
Evans Pritchard. We’re not laying pipe,
we’re talking about poetry.

Mr. Keating then proceeds to instruct the students to tear the whole introductory chapter out of the book.  This peaks the interest of some of the students (and a little horror in others).

Of course, the heart of my poem pivots on the dual meaning and paradox of getting a “poetic license.”  A license is typically some form of certification or accreditation indicating that the applicant (they don’t just pass out licenses!) has successfully demonstrated adherence to prescribed rules based on the conventional wisdom of the era.  In contrast, “poetic license” refers to the freedom a poet takes in order create an artistic expression.

I view poetry as first art, and second science.  Now, to be fair, a fluency in linguistics can greatly aid one’s expression.  Nonetheless, if you put random words on a piece of paper and meditated upon them, strangely poetic relationships, phrases and themes would likely emerge (in the mind of someone).  In fact, this is one method to my madness.  Usually a poem is first born of a phrase or two that strikes me out of the ether of my life.  Then with a general theme, I associate related words, phrases and concepts.  Mining the infinite juxtapositions of puns, alliterations, metaphors and irony, characterizes my basic style of writing.  In my longer poems, I typically develop parallel narratives that are in tension, sometimes paradoxical.  Often there are several different ways to read a set of words or phrases, depending on punctuation and where one begins and/or ends the phrase/sentence.  This is why I often avoid punctuation and put short phrases or single words on a separate line.  This allows the reader to more freely experience the dance of associations and multiple meanings.  While my own basic point of view usually emerges with some clarity, sometimes by simply ending on a particular note, I definitely see truth as living in the neighborhood of paradox, and the struggle for and the balance of these tensions is at the heart of most of my poetry.  Poetry is less “laying pipe,” than flooding the reader with images and ideas, thoughts and feelings, that expand our consciousness and enrich our experience.  Of course, you are free to live by your own rules… 

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER: A Christian Perspective on Justice

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

Speaking Truth to Power

Power, Truth, Accountability, and Politics

What is Power?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The engagement of political powers transcends individual people:

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

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

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

Truth and Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Politics?

Speaking truth to power deals with politics.

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “politics” as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worldly Politics versus Jesus’ Politics

The “Powers that be” and Domination

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

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

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

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

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

Wink contrasts Godly versus worldly values:

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

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

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

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

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

A. “Follow the money” versus Biblical economics

Follow God or Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. Servant Leadership versus Status

Not Lord over others

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

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

C. Authority versus Control

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

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

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

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

Prophets commonly criticized kings:

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

D. Obeying God’s Laws versus Human Laws

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

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

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

E. Expecting persecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vision/God’s Dream

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

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

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

TAM’s Mission

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

Meeting Human Need

Primary TAM Core Value: Value the Vulnerable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Community

Primary TAM Core Value: Value Reconciliation

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

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

Love leads us to live as a community of equals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Civility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working for Justice

Primary TAM Core Values: Value leadership and creativity.

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

Doing Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persistence and boldness are characteristics of leadership.

Persistence:

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

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

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

Boldness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESTABLISHING POLICY

What are the issues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on Power, Leadership, and Decision-making

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

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

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

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

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

Areas of privilege:

God has given us all variety of gifts.

In what areas do I have advantage over others?

Servant leadership

Areas of vulnerability:

Intimacy

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

What am I afraid of losing?

compassion

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

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

Offering all to God:

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

Taking a stand.

Prophetic voice in tension with consensus and majority rule

Cost of Discipleship

One of the costs of discipleship is enduring this persecution.

cost high but the reward much greater than the cost

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

Recommended reading:

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

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Decision-making Around Issues

What factors should be considered in addressing an issue?

How important is the issue?

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

Does the issue impact meeting human need?

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

Does the issue impact creating community?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does the issue impact working for justice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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POEM: Slow Boat to China

Some days
I feel like
I’m on
A slow boat
To China
Then it hits me
More like
Being water boarded
In America

My life is generally at a pretty relaxed pace, and with this I have no complaints.  However, when I look at the state of the world, it seems that we are amidst an excruciatingly long process characterized by a big dose of denial and a shockingly resilient lack of self-awareness on the way to a place I’m sure that not very many people actually want to go.  I like the China reference in the slow boat to China phrase, because the conventional wisdom seems to be that the Chinese culture and economy is a juggernaut, not a particularly desirable one, but probably one that has to be emulated in the race to the bottom.  And, as they say: “If you keep going the same direction, you’ll end up where you’re headed.”  In the battle to maintain a positive consciousness in what seems to be a herd of lemmings heading toward a cliff, occasionally this experience fits the old war adage: hours of boredom punctuated by sheer terror.  However, when the terror and torture hits, it is increasingly in the states, both blue and red (also states of mind), as opposed to overseas.  For what we send out into the world eventually comes home to roost.  Unfortunately, terror is a brother to fascism (though I am not sure which one is the big brother).  So, how does one cope when waterboarding comes to America?  I’m guessing that the answer involves more than just surfing the internet…

POEM: I am

The other day I got kicked out
Of an atheist’s club
Told in no uncertain terms
There is science
And no other!
And I am left
To wonder
Wow, where did that come from?!
I was raised
A Christian
A long story (some may say tall)
Which makes some short
Red chapters
Heavenly verse
To love
One, an other
To bless
Not curse
A Palestinian Jew
Named Jesus
We could do much worse!
I once heard a Muslim
Of five pillars he spoke
Coming down to One
And as a Muslim
I woke
Then along came Buddha
Who said: “Don’t follow me,
Experience it first!”
Which made me want to follow
This unslakable thirst
To find compassion and justice
A home
Here on this suffering Earth
A little man
Named Gandhi
To kingdoms united
He spoke
I am
A Hindu
A Christian
A Muslim
A Jew
And undoubtedly a Sikh he
So many will accuse
Well
Me too!

I have considered myself a theological mutt as long as I can remember.  While I have never found a home in atheism, I have a deep appreciation for those who have rejected theism when they experience theistic followers as extremely unwelcoming and exclusive.  Probably one of my most basic theological beliefs is that God is love, and that God’s love is unconditional.  I find it difficult to imagine such a “condition” that is any more inclusive!  This wreaks havoc on virtually every conventional way of thinking.  This is one of the major reasons why I consider spirituality as countercultural.  A healthy spirituality is constantly turning up statist views of reality and human conditions.  I see spirituality as basically a struggle of life over death.  How does one enliven, incarnate, the inanimate matter that is the object of science (there is no subject in science!)?  I don’t see differences of opinion around spirituality primarily as theists versus atheist, but rather as fundamentalists versus welcoming dynamicists.      In the myriad world of either/or propositions, the dynamicists welcome the answer of “YES!”, as opposed to “this, “that,” or “yes, but.”  Or, more simply put, does it enhance living?  Unfortunately, living in this both/and world can be quite disconcerting for those demanding hard endpoints or absolute certainty — which are dangerous to coming to healthy terms with the irreducible uncertainties of life.  In theological terms, this would probably be called process theology, where: “it is an essential attribute of God to be fully involved in and affected by temporal processes, an idea that conflicts with traditional forms of theism that hold God to be in all respects non-temporal (eternal), unchanging (immutable), and unaffected by the world (impassible). Process theology does not deny that God is in some respects eternal, immutable, and impassible, but it contradicts the classical view by insisting that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible.”  But enough theology, suffice it to say that I believe that fundamentalism is a death knell for healthy spirituality and a living religion.  Perhaps ironically, I don’t see that atheism has done any better of a job than theism of minimizing fundamentalism.  I don’t see much difference between militant atheists and fundamentalist religionists.

But, alas, such debate has being going on for millennia, and with much dissatisfaction; so I would propose that the dividing line can be summed up by the attitudes represented in one’s response to this statement by Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Or, to frame it somewhat differently, when Einstein was asked what the most important question that a human being could ask is, he answered: “Is the universe friendly?”  I don’t know if this question is answerable in some ultimate, final sense, but I do know that I can vote for the universe being friendly, and make the universe a little more friendly, by practicing kindness.  And the gratitude manifest by seeing everything as a miracle helps empower me to behave kindly.  But, you be the judge…or not.

POEM: Spiritual Economy

The other day I went to my spiritual economist
She had already been in receipt of my stack of papers
I spoke at some length and detail
She noted that I have much that I can not afford
She advised that I do the things that I can’t afford not to do
Perhaps I’ll make a note of that

The world has a glut of financial advisors.  And most of the field of financial advising is awash in the stale conventional wisdom of materialism.  This short poem alludes to going to a somewhat different type of advisor.  Though not necessarily the life coaches of the day that can only be afforded by the wealthy.  Instead, in addressing one’s spiritual economy, the adviser shifts the focus from those things which one cannot afford to those things which one can’t afford not to do.  Given the busy lives that most of us leave, the urgent favors the important. Of course, the most important things in our lives are those that if we don’t do them, then we would either experience substantial harm or miss out on substantial benefit.  What exactly those things are can be very personal — not usually something related to making a buck, or something that requires a lot of money.  It may be writing that poetry that you always wanted to write.  It may be looking up an old friend and reconnecting. It’s a question that you alone can answer.  And there are precious few people who get paid to even ask such questions, let alone answer them.  But, if you’re fortunate enough to identify some of the things you can’t afford not to do, and these things bring a smile of anticipation, you are definitely on the right track.

In Politics Stupidity Is Not a Handicap

In Politics Stupidity Is Not a Handicap–FUNNY PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

In Politics Stupidity Is Not a Handicap--FUNNY PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

In Politics Stupidity Is Not a Handicap–FUNNY PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

This cool design is linked to a button, but other great Top Pun products like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, caps, key chains, magnets, posters, and sticker sheets can be accessed by scrolling down the product page.

View more Peace Quote Buttons.

This funny quote from Napoleon Bonaparte  is particularly funny since Napoleon certainly had many encounters with all types of politicians, so he should know.  While I don’t think that intelligence is necessarily associated with politics, I think that a deficiency of certain types of wisdom is widespread.  Politics is fraught with expediency and compromise.  This marginalizes other ways of living and relating to one another.  Ironically, the quest to triangulate thousands of expedient compromises, even with the intent to preserve and enhance human life, invariably degrades our collective humanity and individual worth in relation to the body politic.   This is another case of vainly seeking to achieve certain ends by means incompatible with those ends.  This necessarily disconnects the natural order of things, that means and ends are connected; and when the connection between means and ends is severed, the meta-message is that life (or politics) doesn’t make sense and that sensible solutions to community problems are irrelevant.  This state of affairs continues because sensibility is not the primary concern, rather, it is power.  Power can be wielded sensibly, but power has the “privilege” of operating insensibly, according to its own whim or interest.  One does not have to have intelligence to wield power, therefore stupidity is not a handicap in politics, the wielding of power in relation to others.  A wisdom that views means and ends as inseparable needs to face the difficult work of forging a way that is far less expedient.  If we didn’t negotiate away (compromise) human rights regularly, then large-scale human endeavors would require an even larger scale of work necessary to preserve human rights.  This is a primary reason why I see anarchism and its critique of large-scale enterprises as so important to understanding the large-scale dehumanizing forces in Western civilization.  If we were committed to healthy human relationships, we would not engage in large-scale enterprises which run over human rights.  Of course, this is seen as impracticable or unattainable; thus, the pervasive sense that individuals or small groups cannot make a difference.  This fatalism is a logical read of the logic inherent in these larger systems.  The systems do NOT value you.  That’s because valuing you has been so compromised out of the system.  People become means, not ends.  Invariably, when people are treated as means rather than ends, they are treated meanly, like so much building material in the dreams of others who wield more power.  For better or worse, the only way out of this seems to be the masses rising up with their own inherent power derived from their will and consent and overthrow the dehumanizing powers that be.  Now, this takes more than wisdom; this requires courage!  I encourage you to rage against the machine.  I encourage you to live in ways that inspire others to fully live and not compromise themselves as they internalize and model so well the compromising of others inherent in modern politics.  To live free is not a guarantee that you “win” (as in the conventional wisdom), but to center your living around the fact that being free is winning.  Live free or die.  The second comes to all of us.  The first is optional.

 

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Blessed Are the Peacemakers – Jesus Quote–BUTTON

Blessed Are the Peacemakers--BUTTON

Blessed Are the Peacemakers – Matthew 5:9 – Jesus–BUTTON

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This quote from Jesus from Matthew 5:9 is probably one of the most famous and well-known Jesus quotes from the Bible.  Though, however common the phrase blessed are the peacemakers is, you’d be hard-pressed to figure that Christians took this seriously, given how many Christians are in the military, in many a nation (often opposing nations), and how much counsel and comfort is given to those manning, and occasionally womaning, military enterprises.  Of course, many Christians would argue that war-making is a form of peacemaking.  I think that this was a popular argument in 1984.  Or, well, it’s a real job creator for theologians to figure a way out of loving our enemies, and allowing us to kill those that we hate.  This is one of those areas where I find that Christianity gets seriously in the way of following Jesus.  Many people do not realize that in the early Christian church, pacifism was the prevailing norm.  Refusing military conscription was a common form of martyrdom in the early Christian church.  Of course, later, when Christianity cozied up to the state, particularly in the fourth century when Constantine made Christianity the state religion, Christianity mysteriously came up with new ways to justify warring on its enemies.  This co-option into the ways of the world is as common as it is unjustified.  Just reflect on Jesus’ words for a moment.  Really, what blessings do we see reaped by the peacemakers?  In worldly wisdom, these so-called blessings are secondhand fodder for the weak, the lowly pacifist.  I don’t think that it was a mistake that Jesus’ words recorded here as part of the beatitudes, added for emphasis that peacemakers would be called the children of God!  he was trying to make a point!  This is a title reserved for the blessed peacemakers in Jesus’ list of who is blessed.  Most people stop reading the beatitudes soon after this because they are insane enough to suggest that those who are persecuted for righteousness sake are also blessed.  I also like to Luke version which mentions as one of the woes as all people speaking well of you, for this is what our ancestors did in speaking of the false prophets.  It seems that a common thread of the many rationalizations I believe stray from Jesus true message concerns avoiding a cost for our actions.  Some days I just wish that we had a courageous Messiah that spoke boldly and prophetically to the powers that be in this world, and they wouldn’t back down, even to the point of death by the cruelest means.  I can tell you one thing: they didn’t need to torture Jesus to get the truth from him.  However, the fact that Jesus was willing to put some skin in the game, all of his skin, speaks truth deeply.  Like they say, talk is cheap.  What would you be willing to sacrifice for peace?  And what blessings would you reap from this?

Every Revolutionary Ends Up Oppressor or Heretic

Every Revolutionary Ends Up Oppressor or Heretic–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

Every Revolutionary Ends Up Oppressor or Heretic--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

Every Revolutionary Ends Up Oppressor or Heretic–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

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For those of you who aspire to being a revolutionary, or wake up one day and learn that you are revolutionary, this Albert Camus quote is for you.  Camus presages the results of revolutionary means by pointing out that all revolutionaries either end up as oppressors or heretics.  I don’t know about you but I’m a proud member of the national heretics society.  In terms of means and ends, I believe that this quote speaks to the issue of violence versus nonviolence.  Violent revolutionaries may change or even upgrade the oppressors, but ultimately, they do not defeat oppression, just other oppressors.  I believe that violence is inherently oppressive.  Now, I am willing to argue what constitutes violence, particularly since I define violence and nonviolence quite broadly.  In fact, it may be better to say that I believe that oppression is violence and that nonviolence is liberation.  In the end, I see violence is reinforcing the status quo, the powers that be.  Thus, violence is not really revolutionary, even though it may bring a lot of outward change.  To be truly revolutionary I believe that there must be an inward change that is consistent with any outward change.  I think that this is where the heretics come in.  Most people will settle for an outward world that advantages themselves, even if it means disadvantaging others.  For violent revolutionaries, this typically means disadvantaging one’s defeated foes as some sort of punishment or retributive justice. This is generally accepted as a practical reality, the conventional wisdom and practice of our world.  I believe that this type of approach is extremely dangerous since history seems to prove that the turning of the tables simply means new oppressors.  However, if one wishes to overthrow conventional wisdom, it is likely necessary to practice unconventional wisdom.  If the endgame is equality, an egalitarian society for all of its members, then treating former oppressors punitively becomes a poor foundation for egalitarianism.  I think that this gets to the heretical nature of nonviolence.  Nonviolence is a way of life, not just a tactic or a means.  It means and the ends are inextricably intertwined.  More simply put, the means determine the ends.  How could it be otherwise?  I find it quite ironic that hard-nosed revolutionaries advocating violence somehow think that violence will lead to nonviolence, or perhaps more depressingly, cynically accept that violence is unavoidable.  Perhaps Camus recognized the intractable nature of the struggle between violence and nonviolence, thus he laid out the dichotomy of either becoming an oppressor or becoming a heretic.  I find myself attracted to the iconoclastic, because it seems the most apt attitude to create revolutionary change.  This may be simply tied to the definition of what revolution is: a paradigm shift from the status quo, a change in the nature of the powers that be.  You can’t defeat the status quo by the means of the status quo.  You can’t defeat the powers that be, by simply wielding authority over others in some better fashion.  I think the point is that we should not even be wielding authority over others, and this never quite seems fashionable.  As long as people want to lord over one another, then nonviolence will be unfashionable.  So, join the unfashionable heretics.  Be free to ignore conventional wisdom when it seeks to enslave us, and when it asks us to enslave others.  Be free, because being free is the best way to teach others about being free.  Be the change.  This is a revolutionary.

POLITICAL CARTOON: Free Market Jesus – Blessed Are The Amoral

Free Market Jesus Speaks!

Jesus Cartoon: Free Market Jesus - Blessed Are Those Who Let The Market Decide Your Morals

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

This week’s comic captures the amorality and sociopathy of the free market.  People are moral agents, or least people should be moral agents.  Free markets are not moral agents.  Unfortunately, though, people who function with the amoral boundaries of the so-called free market relinquish their moral agency to other human beings, or worse yet, to inert matter.  Further, moral agents really don’t get the choice of being amoral.  The vain hope of amorality distinctly falls into the category of immorality.  I see the near religious attachment to the idea of a free market primarily as a way to avoid personal responsibility for one’s actions and how they may affect others.  Part of being a human being is taking responsibility for one’s actions.  You can’t outsource your personal responsibility, no matter how hard you try, or how little you try, as the case may be.  This lack of free choice in whether we are responsible for our own actions, is what Jean-Paul Sartre termed “condemned to be free.”  Free will is a part of human existence; though, free will is subject to much debate, mostly running along the lines of either how mysterious free will is, or how absurd free will is.  Either way we seem to be stuck with free will, however ironic that maybe.  Of course, you run across the occasional person who doesn’t believe in free will.  Though, apparently, they are forced to believe this, so don’t be too hard on them.  Some days it’s difficult to be complicated dirt, especially when another mistakes us for human!

The Jesus graphic is modified from the famous Sacred Heart painting that will be recognized by many, particularly those who are Roman Catholic.  Please note that the inscription on Jesus’ heart, “Greed is God,” is a slight takeoff on the proverbial “greed is good.”  While this is technically a pun, the root word for God and good are so close that it barely counts.  Hopefully, this elicits what I would consider a simple definition of God which would be that which is of the good.  This doesn’t necessarily require a traditional view of God, but may provide some common ground between more traditionally religious people and those who have trouble with the word or concept of God.  I hope that those readers who are more traditionally religious will not find my parodying of Jesus offensive.  My parodies are actually intended to cut through the bull shit of what passes for conventional wisdom, morality, or religious truth these days, and reveal the seed of truth that is often overlooked or under-appreciated.  I think Jesus would approve.  Any honest reading of what words are attributed to Jesus, and you have to admit that Jesus had a sense of humor.  For those of you who aren’t really big on God, I hope that these Jesus parodies make some truths more accessible.

We can’t afford the free market!  The free market is the bane of Western Civilization and the nadir of scientific reductionism.

So, until next Sunday, with the next edition of Free Market Jesus, talk amongst yourselves or let me know what you think.

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!

Maybe There’s a Reason It’s Straight to Hell Not Gay to Hell

Maybe There’s a Reason It’s Straight to Hell Not Gay to Hell FUNNY BUTTON

Maybe Theres a Reason Its Straight to Hell Not Gay to Hell FUNNY BUTTONMaybe There’s a Reason It’s Straight to Hell Not Gay to Hell FUNNY BUTTON

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I like this design for many reasons.  First, it uses a pun that maximizes the meaning of both meanings.  By utilizing the ancient phrase “straight to hell”, it captures both the clarity of judgment and the eternal significance or importance of such a judgment.  Of course, then comes the pun!  The pun on “straight” is not actually made clear until the new phrase “gay to hell” is read.  Then, the full force of the pun on “straight” takes effect!  Since anti-gay judgmentalism is so deeply rooted in religious bigotry, a complete reversal of this judgment upon the judgmental homophobe is particularly delicious.  I humbly submit that this is more than enough to classify this design as an instant classic.  Nonetheless, there is more than one layer to this hell.  Using the freshly minted phrase, “gay to hell”, or more specifically, “NOT gay to hell”, besides laying waste to the classic ‘straight to hell’ phrase, offers a couple more layers to reflect upon.  Most people recognize the pun on gay, meaning both homosexual or queer in contemporary usage, and meaning happy in more colloquial usage.  This play on words has been used in many ways and it is quite familiar.  Juxtaposing “gay”, eliciting both of these meanings, with the concept of hell, can pose some interesting reflections and can get pretty deep pretty fast.  The most obvious meaning is supposed to be the simple assertion that being gay has nothing to do with going to hell, and, in fact, the commonly accepted homophobia in our society puts us at risk for damnation.  The secondary and tertiary meanings get more complicated with the relationship of happiness to hell.  Evil people are often portrayed as miserly and unhappy people.  People who take the time and effort to align themselves with the good are generally understood to experience joy and happiness, at least for those of us who see reality as beneficent.  I think that when gays truly accept the reality for who they are, there is very often a playful joy that is manifest.  This is true in the arts, heavily populated by queers, and generally correlated with flamboyancy.  Joy is Most Infallible Sign Presence of God--PEACE QUOTE BUTTONPlus, there is a much more bearable lightness of being represented by joy as opposed to the connotations of happiness with moral goodness and right behavior.  It is this playful and more bearable lightness of being that I can identify with and by which I even consider myself “queer” as a straight man who happens to be funny (what could be more queer!).  There is a quote that I can really relate to: “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God,” which is one of the quotes I have on a peace sign design.  What could be more of the opposite of hell than the presence of God!  I suspect that it’s more likely that moral goodness and right behavior emanates from deeply experienced joy than the other way around.  While this may be viewed as a radical and mystical concept, that is simply because it is a radical and mystical concept.  However, it’s not completely incomprehensible.  To truly be in the presence of God is a joyful experience.  To be in the presence of God greatly increases our probability of behaving in sync with the nature of God, and honoring the joy that comes from experiencing that nature.  On the other hand, the conventional wisdom of the world is usually reduced to the notion that if we argue about what is morally good and what is right behavior that all will be well.  Unfortunately, this plays into our ungodly nature; that would be when we live out of fear and focus on controlling others.  Religion has led the way in oppressing and repressing sex and sexuality.  Sex and sexuality are very powerful realities in our lives.  Sex and sexuality requires a mature level of respect and responsibility.  Healthy sex and sexuality is not simple or easy.  This is probably exactly the reason why religion has been so concerned, quite appropriately, with sex and sexuality.  Nonetheless, fear and our desire to control one another has seriously polluted religion’s ability to effectively deal with sex and sexuality.  While I’m a big fan of the social Gospel, which implies a responsibility for one another, the good news that is the Gospel, is predicated upon our own healing and achieving some balance in her own life so that we can be healthy enough to help others.  We can’t give people something that we don’t have.  Yet, perhaps mysteriously, we can be more together than we can alone; thus, we must recognize the reality that we are social creatures in the same boat together, and some isolated piety disconnected from the real needs of others is of little value to God or others.  Hey, I told you that there were a lot of layers and that it would get pretty deep.  In the end, in regard to this design, I think it puts right side up something that religion has gotten upside down for so long, and the irony is that religion at its best is supposed to turn things right side up.  Let’s make it so.  Amen!

P.S. in case there is any confusion, I don’t believe in hell, at least not in any way that construes God as wanting to hurt people.