POEM: Enlightenment Not Worth Beings

Conversing in the street
At a protest
We had a very enlightening pow wow
As too in form me
He stated with qualm assurance
“Protest before enlightenment, protest after enlightenment”
A parity of action
Like I had never seen
To which I yack knowledged
You mean like
“Child abuse before enlightenment, child abuse after enlightenment”
And parently flailing attest
Of means
And states not worth beings
As well as dis coarse
With know end incite

This poem was inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow protester on the street.  As not subject to small talk, we touched upon the nature of enlightenment.  The undiscerning tautology of “[insert action] before enlightenment, [repeat same action] after enlightenment,” struck me as a perfect representation of New Age gobbledygook.  Hopefully, the palpable absurdity felt in one’s soul with my succinct parody: “Child abuse before enlightenment, child abuse after enlightenment,” should be enough to dismiss such nonsense.

New Age philosophy and other forms of “immaterialism” view life as simply a spiritual process where specific ends literally don’t matter, and one meaning is as good or bad as the next meaning — and what meanings might follow from such inanity and insanity!  While such a whirled view may seem an intriguing balance, or even antidote, to postmodern materialism, the reactionary amoral forces of materialism are mirrorly replaced with eerily similar nonreactionary amoral farces, conveniently well-suited to First-World privilege and god-like individualism.  Such absurd amorality rejects any set of collected knowledge about good and evil, leaving society with no landmarks to navigate progress in manifesting goodness over and above evil. There is no right and wrong, only differences.  And while this may lead to a certain profoundly uncommitted form of tolerance, it leaves human rights awash, and human wrongs unaccounted for.  Such a perverse viewpoint is only inviting inasmuch as we trust in our own godness alone.  New Age spirituality’s OCD lock on “life as process” does reflect an incomplete truth related to the redemptive nature of essentially every world religion or perennial philosophy; that is, good can emerge from evil.  Fortunately, these esteemed traditions do not collapse good into evil.  These age-old spiritual traditions value transformation in society and of society, not simply the fate of one soul divorced from all others — a lonely god fore better or worse.  In fact, if personal transformation means nothing in particular, then such spiritual progress is limited to oxymorons, and no one else.  Further, if there is no accountability to others, no legitimate demand of others on us, then even the sparsest just us is untenable and unattainable.  I have long been intrigued by Buddha’s choice to remain present in this world to help others rather than blow out into nirvana, as he was do.  The good news of a social gospel should not be tossed into a fiery dustbin from which nothing is retrievable — leaving only nothing as retrievable.  The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict MLK BUTTONWhile there is much wile in discerning good and evil, to reject such efforts out of hand is far more dangerous.  I will gladly give a pass to my fellow protester, who may have simply been a victim of fuzzy thinking.  Of course, we can meditate on such unprophetable ruminations until the cows come home.  Still, it is passable to do the right thing for the wrong reason; just as doing the wrong thing for the right reason is culpable of mends to the othercide of a fence.  Intentions and actions are two sides of the same flipping coin.  Means and ends are inseparable as attested to by anyone subject to any given mean or any fatal end.  To harmonize is the objective, not to monotonize the subjective. May we all benefit from both good intentions and right action.

POEM: Arousing Spirit

She had a profoundly rousing spirit
Unfortunately, he did not believe in spirits
And lack of belief
Will only
Carry you so far

I like this short poem because it plays with the notions of spirit and disbelief.  There are very few people who would welcome reducing their most intimate friends or significant others to a machine, even a fabulously complex, particularly useful, and/or entertaining machine.  At the same time, postmodern society is crippled in its thinking about spirit.  Even those who are religious or intentionally spiritual often have a low level of literacy when it comes to the metaphysical.  When push comes to shove, there are many, if not most, who feel uncomfortable in an apologetics of spiritual matters.  Skepticism as a predominant mode of being makes trust more difficult than it has to be.  Not surprisingly, materialists may experience a great deal of awkwardness in relating to ghosts in machines, formerly known as humans.

I view postmodern society as addicted to certainty or “security.”  Most children of postmodern society experience tremors when they can’t get their fix of certainty.  The materialism of postmodern society, at first glance, seems to offer more reliable solutions to issues of uncertainty.  Predictability is at a premium.  Unfortunately, since humans aren’t machines, human problems will remain stubbornly unsolved if limited to materialist solutions. Materialists cannot escape viewing messy freedom as a problem, not the solution.  Most simply put, materialism is a negation of the better portion of being human.  Stuff like faith, hope, courage, and love — let alone freedom — simply don’t make much sense from a materialist perspective.  Reductionist approaches rip the heart out of higher ordered realities.

This short poem succinctly portrays what is lost by disbelief.  A full appreciation of a rousing spirit becomes impossible because a materialist perspective inevitably “understands” such unique manifestations as mere statistical anomalies, at best arising out of “randomness.”  Lack of belief will only carry you so far.  I have to shake my head in disbelief every time a scientist includes randomness in their equation, hypothesis/theory, or worldview.  These seems like a modern equivalent of “insert miracle here.”  Though such a miracle is of the lowest possible order!  I find it much harder to believe in randomness than that the free choice of the metaphysical world responds within a framework of reality that often, even predictably, elicits higher ordered functioning, a tip of the hat if you will to an experienced higher order.  Randomness and determinism are strange bedfellows.  What type of worldview relies on randomness to explain order?!  Wouldn’t it be much more coherent to posit a form of order from which order arises?  The logical conclusion of those addicted to this bizarre, false idol of certainty is actually that there is no order, that it only seems like there is order.  When determinism is hybridized with randomness, should we be surprised that it produces an absurd bastard child?  In any case, what follows from such a worldview is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Choice, human freedom, IS a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And, if you don’t believe in choice, then…well, that’s your choice…

POEM: Seriously?!

The Zen master was nearly
Finished with his instruction
When he got to non-seriousness
I was greatly relieved
For I was taking nothing
He was saying
Seriously

This short poem gets at one of the great paradoxes of enlightened spirituality: serious playfulness.  Zen Buddhists have a rare reputation among spiritual-religious folks as having a sense of humor inherent in their spiritual practice.  They refer to this as nonseriousness.  Theologians and philosophers are poorly equipped to adequately describe humor in their systems of thought.  This is not an accident.  First of all, there is a seemingly built in seriousness and rigorousness in philosophy and theology that doesn’t play well with humor.  Trying to capture humor in a system of thought leads to our own imprisonment in humor-free zones.  This is analogous to the self-limiting trap of trying to capture spirituality through materialistic methods.  Materialism is literally no joke.  Taking things literally is the limit of science and the beginning of theft, stealing from ourselves as well as others.  Fundamentalism is a disease that routinely infects any ideological project, whether claiming a materialist or spiritual aim.  I have a great respect for the brevity and poetry of the Tao Te Ching as a sacred text. Taoists and Zen Buddhists have a lot in common.  First, the Tao Te Ching begins by stating its fundamental limit — and, in some sense, its blessed futility — by stating that any way which can be described is not the Way, the Tao.  Then, quite laughably, and with utter seriousness, gives its best shot at manifesting the Tao through words.  The Tao Te Ching’s singularly poetic approach to the sacred is unparalleled among major faith traditions.  Surely, other faith traditions have poetic elements, but poetry or obvious metaphor are often relegated to “mystic” subcultures within a dominant and domineering tradition.  The powerful drift toward fundamentalism or militant ideology makes a cruel joke of mystics.  Through the centuries, fundamentalists have taken the lives of mystics literally.

I view mysticism as the heart of spirituality.  Mysticism is simply a view of transcendence, seeing beyond what can be merely grasped by our hands or minds.  This is inherently dangerous to fundamentalism, and virtually any ideology.  That is, dangerous to anything which tries to put the human heart or God in a box and declare “I’ve got it!”  Humor and nonseriousness is perhaps the best way the deflate such puffed up claims.  Of course, humor is infinitely more useful than merely deflating another’s unrightful claims; humor is fun!  Fun is good in and of itself. I think it is safe to say that a life devoid of humor is a life far from fully lived. Humor is a fundamental spiritual experience, playing off the oft experienced reality that paradoxes, apparent contradictions, coexist in everyday human life.  We can wring our hands, rack our brains, and even cry at the vexing nature of this reality; or, we can laugh, recognizing that oneness underlies such fractious appearances.  This lightness of being is consonant with enlightenment and peace or wholeness of mind.  Seemingly paradoxical with such peace is its unmatched counter-cultural power.  The experience and recognition of oneness stirs into any given culture, with its myriad of rules and customs, something that it cannot fully take in.  This is mind-busting and heart expanding.  A sense of arbitrariness of any given culture’s rules can trigger a new-found freedom to exist both within and beyond those rules without being bound by those rules.  This nonseriousness about any given set of rules sets up any culture at any given moment as the “but” of a joke.  What such a transcendent attitude infuses into any human culture at any given time is nothing but life itself, the Tao if you will.

As a student of human culture, I see widespread contradictions and hypocrisy, even amidst our more sane enterprises.  I find an ability to laugh at such realities profoundly therapeutic, especially given that the leading alternative is crying.  In a tip of the hat to seriousness, crying can be a profound emotional manifestation of compassion in a broken world.  Yet, there are other ways.  Freedom is not trapped by seriousness.  Non-seriousness offers a form of salvation to both redeem our experience into something more whole, and to manifest this more whole being attained into the workings of the everyday world.

My poetry is driven by a passionate exploration of human contradictions and unfulfilled humanity.  While the veneer of my poems may seem strikingly cynical at moments, relentlessly pointing out weak spots in humanity, my intent is to juxtapose apparent hopelessness with authentic hopefulness.  To survive such an epic project, I try to remember that we are already won, a wholly laughable proposition!

POEM: Less Than Eternal Question

The Rev. Medley
Had risen
To the highest position
He would ever
It was only down from there
An awe too common
Occupational hazard
Of moderate irony
And accumulating lessens
Just falling short
Of making one cross
Facing that less than eternal question
If only Jesus
Had bothered to develop
Better retirement plans

Here is a poem that I wrote before the Lenten season, and now that we are in Lent, I realize that it is an appropriate Lenten poem.  I have always admired Jesus for being “all in” this thing called life.  While Jesus’ way of being in the world raises difficult questions, his life powerfully juxtaposes finding meaning in life with finding meaning in death.  Lent is a time for Christians to reflect on such things.  For years I have often joked that I have given up Lent for Lent.  More to the truth, my ascetic tendencies and frank goals of living simply leave me in a sort of permanent Lent.  In practice, I see that Buddhists seems to model better than Christians simple living and prudently avoiding attachments to material goods. Materialism has such a powerful and normative presence in Western civilization, that Christianity, at least as practiced in Westernized communities, seems to have accommodated rampant materialism quite well.  I see the divide between serving God or wealth (worldly power) as primary in my understanding of the message of Jesus’ life and death.  The conventional wisdom of sensible retirement planning, as alluded to in this poem, seems second nature to what is considered the good life in modern times. I have witnessed way too many fear-filled discussions in church settings about more financially secure appointments, health coverage, and retirement benefits for clergy.  In sharp contrast, I have found little traction for providing a living wage to janitors, secretaries, and many other employees of churches or faith-based organizations.  Church folks are too polite to crucify you for suggesting providing a living wage to low-wage church employees, but the resounding silence kills nonetheless.

In reflecting on the often lukewarm leadership of professional Christians, often called clergy, outsiders are at little risk of ever guessing that the founder of their movement was publicly executed by the state for his revolutionary, uncompromising life.  In sharp contrast, outsiders have little difficulty understanding that religious elites were complicit in Jesus’ murder.

I admire the Buddhist spiritual practice of meditating on your own death.  This practice seems like a powerful way to elicit the value and importance of life in the context of death.  Followers of Jesus have a profound leader who made such meditations an incarnate reality.  Jesus is the way.  But the retirement plan is a killer.

POEM: Picket Fences

More people are imprisoned
By picket fences
Than steel bars
Sometimes by splinters
Sometimes by stakes
Through the heart
Lonely in the end
To come home

Dreams of white picket fences have waylayed many more lives than prisons or jails.  The temptations of desperation and criminality that lead to prison are much more easily identified, and such temptations have obvious negative societal reactions that help keep them in check.  The temptations of materialism and comfort are much more subtle, and even more pervasive.  The structure and mores of Western civilization reinforce, even laud, such temptations.  The fact that the worldview where “greed is good” can persist at all is the best evidence for the backwardness of modern, capitalistic society.  Religious folks have commented that the greatest accomplishment of the devil is to convince you that he doesn’t exist.  This is a stunning metaphor for recognizing the powerful human tendency to downplay, ignore, or even lift to the highest value, our dark side.  Only by a steady awareness of our dark side, and a commitment to an equal compassion for ourselves and others, can we hold in check our baser instincts.  Of course, wrapping our most base instincts in dreams of white picket fences may pass for civilization, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. The sadness and disillusionment reflected in this poem is about the all-too-common reality that chasing our dreams may leave us feeling alone, even in our dream house.  May you set your eyes and heart upon the finest things in life, and wherever this leads you, may you feel at home.

POEM: Incompetent Evil

I don’t care much for evil
I don’t care much for incompetence
Though when present together
Incompetence becomes a blessing

As in math, sometimes in morality, multiplying two negatives can produce some positive results.  There is at times some hope to be taken at the all too frequent observation that many stupid things happen in the world.  Specifically, there is hope to be drawn from evil actions accompanied by incompetence.  In this case, incompetence is an ally of the good, truncating evil, preventing it from manifesting its complete intent.  If you are an optimist such as I, you might even dare call this a blessing.

I like this short poem mostly because it illuminates perhaps the most fundamental division in human reality — physics and metaphysics, the mundane and the transcendent.  Physics is basically the realm of modern science, the sometimes uber-successful reductionistic approach characteristic of Western civilization.  Great advances have been made in understanding how the physical world works, the means of controlling the “outer” world, the so-called objectively real.  Modern science breaks things down to understand each of its constituent parts behaves (cause and effect) and how they interact with one another. Unfortunately, this is only the crudest form of how things work, and only “half” of the picture (in the sense of balance, not quantitatively).  At its worst scientific reductionism kills the whole to study the dead parts.  Dissecting a frog may produce a lot of knowledge but it does kill the frog.  Similarly, our quest for knowledge can kill life to study its lesser constituent parts.  Metaphysics is the opposite, the complement to reductionism, which studies life from the perspective of the relationship of the whole to the part, not the relationship of parts to each other.  Most people recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — due to humans’ metaphysical faculties.  Sadly, an overfocus on scientific reductionism has allowed our higher faculties to atrophy (use it or lose it!), and we literally cannot tell apart life from death.  My favorite example of the manifestation of this is our apparent inability to distinguish between human persons and corporate persons (which are famously said to be made up of human persons — well they got the “made up” part correct!).  When we can’t differentiate a human worker from a brick — reducing them both to “expenses” — we are in deep trouble as a human race!  We seem to be able to produce a lot of things, and cool stuff, but the art of human happiness seems resistant to such machinations — perhaps because we are not machines.  We need to strike a healthier, life-affirming balance between physics and metaphysics.  As often happens, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has said much of this much more succinctly:

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.  The two are not rivals. They are complementary.  Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

POEM: Arguing with Atheists

Arguing with atheists is like panning for gold in a bathtub.

This one line poem is certainly provocative, and probably dangerous.  First I would like to concede that I cannot prove that God exists.  Secondly, and equally, I don’t think that is a proper understanding of reality to conclude that God cannot exist.  Thus the chasm between theists and atheists.  Actually, the term “God” is so loaded for people I would like to suggest a different tack.  I think the issue boils down to an argument between subjectivity and objectivity.  I find that the predominant view of atheists that I have met or read about seem to take an objectivist view, what I would call scientific reductionism.  While this view can be very helpful for understanding part of reality, it specifically rules out any subjective reality.  While this seems eminently reasonable to most modern people of a scientific bent, it ignores the most basic experience of human life: that humans are subjects, subjective.  If folks would argue that people are not subjects or subjective, then we don’t have much to talk about, and perhaps all that we do have to talk about has been predetermined in the infinite cascade of objective cause-and-effect.  The philosophy or arguments that preclude or exclude subjects or subjectivity destroys both humans and God in a single stroke.  Now, while it seems quite easy in terms of simplicity or Occam’s razor, to just eliminate God, the “Subject”, from the equation, eliminating oneself and all other subjects seems much more dangerous, even foolish.  I can probably appreciate absurdity as much of the next person, probably more.  However, scientific reductionism comes to a nice clean and neat end when it reaches absurdity, which perhaps ironically, it inevitably does.  It can go no further.  I wish to go further.  This requires uncertainty, even absurdity.  However, I think that this is where the gold is found.  Panning for gold can be a long and tedious process, and it may not even pay off for many, maybe even most.  Nonetheless, such gold cannot be found in a bathtub, the proverbial scientific reductionist billiard ball world.

One last note, on the concept of arguing.  Arguing is often seen as an intellectual exercise.  Unfortunately, the intellect has its limits, and there are places for which it is not an adequate instrument to explore.  These are the matters of the heart, of subjectivity, of life itself, which cannot be reduced to a machine, at least not with the unintended consequences of killing life.  Residing in the heart, centering our experience around the heart, living a wholehearted life, is a way existential enterprise.  There is meaning, and we discover that meaning through our subjective faculties.  I must surpass or transcends mere intellect.  I must literally vote with my life, my life force, the subjectivity that is mine.  Ultimately, talking about or arguing about things is inadequate.  What we do matters.  How we live our life matters.  Ultimately, our life is our message.  If someone else’s life seems argumentative with our own message, then so be it.  A certain amount of conflict and absurdity is necessary in life.  I don’t think many would argue with that.  Though feel free to pan my views…

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.

POEM: Those who take things literally are often thieves.

ONE-LINE POEM:

Those who take things literally are often thieves.

Here it is folks, my first one-line poem!  Quite appropriately, this short poem is a poem about poems, as well as a poem dealing directly and simply with social and political philosophy.  Not surprisingly, even this short poem contains a pun.

Oddly, the phrase “take things literally” means taking something at its most obvious face value, without presuming or exploring any deeper or metaphorical meaning.  I would take the phrase “take things literally” to mean something to do with literature and literature’s aspirations to communicate at levels much deeper and richer than considering language to be something that just matches a particular symbol with a particular thing like a rock or a box.

I would submit that meaning itself is something that transcends particular things like a rock or a box.  If literature is ever to rock, or if we are ever to think outside the box, we need to have a rich and robust appreciation for metaphors.  In fact, we should rely on them.  Anything less would not even qualifying as an aspiration.  And we dare to wonder why we find it difficult to find inspiration in such an aspiration-free world. This is another version of a common theme that I deal with in my life and how I see the world, that there is much more to life than the scientific reductionist, materialistic world.  This is a key factor in why I increasingly see the world as surreal.  We are human beings, subjects not objects, that seem intent on reducing the world to things, such as rubble.  It seems that the modus operandi of Western civilization is to take things literally, thus accounting for imperialism and capitalism. It seems that taking such a way of being to its logical and cruel conclusion is to conspire, as opposed to aspire, to the pirate motto of ”  Take all that you can and give nothing back.” And worse yet, our co-conspirators are only of use to us in as much as they assist us in taking things literally.  Therefore, we are literally at war with one another.  Further, we are literally at war with our self, since the subjective realm is inaccessible or denied when we are held captive by taking things literally.  Well, enough political philosophy, let’s get back to the poem.

We all know what a thief is.  A thief is a robber, someone who steals things.  However, this short, one-line poem begs the question of what exactly is being stolen.  With the above philosophical discourse on objects and subjects, I hope that you can guess that I am not wanting the reader to lock their doors for fear of their stuff being stolen.  Rather, I’m hoping that the reader will open their mind, and better yet, their heart, to infinitely more important things that can be stolen from us, if we are not careful and paying attention.  What could be infinitely more important than my stuff?!  What I’m referring to is something that is qualitatively different than stuff, or things.  Qualitatively different means that it cannot be substituted for.  The most obvious and even trite example is “money can’t buy you love.”  Money is clearly, and literally, the currency the modern Western civilization uses for virtually everything.  Not surprisingly, this explains why neglect more important matters, matters of the soul.  It qualifies as sheer vanity and insanity to engage in a commerce of the soul that attempts to exchange stuff for our humanity, the essence of what separates us from dirt, our soul if you will.  Of course, I believe that people, human beings, are more than complicated dirt.  If you believe that you are just complicated dirt, then there is much more remedial work that needs to be done for our minds and hearts to connect, to communicate.  Of course, ironically, if we are just complicated dirt, a wild statistical outlier from most of the rest of the barren material that we can identify in the known universe, and we are  just billiard balls in a mechanistic, cause-and-effect universe, then all that we do is fated, determined, a grand illusion of free will.  If you’d like to go to even one more level of irony, I find myself compelled to believe this!  Ah, the places such spiritual musings take you!

There is one word in this eight-word poem that could easily be overlooked and its significance missed.  That word is: often. Taking things literally is certainly not always a mistake.  Usually when we say “rock” we mean a rock.  Usually when we say “box” we mean a box.  Now, I chose the word “often” to access what I think the reality is, that the deeper metaphorical meanings are ignored or even stolen from us with great regularity (know shit!).  In speaking about subjectivity and objectivity, things and transcendence, dirt versus souls, and the like (and love), people often mistake me for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. More truthfully, in my own dyslexic fashion, it might be more apt to say, “throwing the bathwater out for the baby.”  To be clear, for the literalists in the crowd, I am not opposed to bathwater.  Bathwater is great!  My underlying point is that babies are more important than bathwater.

Okay, there is another word in this poem that probably needs to be mentioned for its significance.  Note that I use the word “those” rather than the word “people”.  This is intentionally meant to be ironic, since devoted literalists seem to be living in a world that denies the very fact that they are people.  Hey, aren’t you glad that this is only an eight-word poem!

Let me try to keep it simple.  Here are some of the things that I think are qualitatively different from stuff, the barren building blocks of our material universe: compassion, hope, gratitude and mercy.  Feel free to talk among yourselves.  Let me know what you think. My hope for you, and my hope for us, is that the trials and tribulations of this billiard ball world will neither destroy nor defeat you, nor steal from you the most important matters in life, and that you will live wholeheartedly in that place infinitely greater than the mere stuff around us.  May it be so.

POEM: Toddling Western Civilization

Have you ever seen a toddler who can barely walk
Stumbling forward, running to not fall
Deliriously proud of oneself
This may be Western civilization

This short poem is a metaphor for Western civilization.  For any of us who have been around toddlers at that age when they are just learning how to walk, it is quite a sight to see how they look like they’re almost going to fall down, stumbling forward, and moving their feet faster and faster, eagerly hoping that they don’t fall down.  Interestingly, these toddlers just learning how to walk typically don’t show fear; they may show mild anxiety but the overall experience seems to be one of excitement at learning something new.  This could even be seen as deliriously proud (though this may be more of an adult anthropomorphization than the toddler’s experience).  I want the reader to experience that sense of anticipation and excitement.  Then, of course, comes the turn around.  Making this whole experience a metaphor for Western civilization rips the fresh innocence of a toddler into the immature delirium of the world rift with arrogant adults.  While this state of existence as a toddler is natural and commendable, this state of existence as an adult is horrifically developmentally delayed and dangerous.  The third line about being deliriously proud of one’s self could just as well have been omitted and the poem would’ve made perfect sense.  However, this line serves as a transition in comparison of the toddler and adult states.  As alluded to before, the  experience of the toddler is probably not accurately described as proud, since the self-awareness of a toddler is probably not that well developed.  Thus, I took the liberty of anthropomorphizing a bit.  The statement is intended to be prescient of the metaphor for Western civilization, a set-up.  Also, the anthropomorphizing can actually be viewed as projecting adults’ experience onto the toddler, which is a conceptual pun, meaning that projecting our own experience onto the world is part and parcel of the the arrogance present in Western civilization.

Now, back to the second line.  The running to not fall strikes me as a very apt image of our culture which values ever-increasing speed.  Mahatma Gandhi once said that there is more to life than increasing its speed.  I agree wholeheartedly.  In fact, the conundrum we seem to find ourselves in most of the time is substituting speed for almost anything else of value.  We may not know where we are going but dammit we are getting there fast.  This reminds me of one of my own sayings which I’ll probably blog about at some other time, “Sometimes you get there faster in slow motion.”  As a one-size-fits-all solution, increasing speed not only leads us to do the same things over and over again, perhaps expecting different results, but leads us to doing those same things even more so; that is, more efficiently, more crap in less time.  I have a lot to say about blessed inefficiency and how this better resembles life, rather than the cogs in some robotic machine as modern Western civilization would have it.  But back to the poem.  For a toddler, not falling down is a simple pragmatic desire not to hurt oneself.  For adults in Western civilization, not falling down often represents a perfectionism and fear of failure that ironically is often self-defeating.  This immature perfectionism and fear of failure can be a powerful underlying emotional state that drives our anxiety-ridden, fast-paced race to make life better.  Ironically, this fast-paced way of living serves quite well as a coping mechanism for avoiding dealing with our underlying anxiety.

The basic error that leads to applying speed to any and all problems, seems to be rooted in a confusion of means and ends.  It’s probably trite to say that life is a process, a means, but it is true.  People are not things, ends.  In the end, it’s the difference between living and having our lives lived for us (as a means for something else). Yet, our modern Western civilization seems to be persistently incapable of distinguishing between people and things:  “Employees aren’t people, they are expenses.”  This is the kind of prevalent, ignorant crap that dehumanizes us all.  Although, if you don’t mind treating people as things, means to an end, you can really make and consume an amazing amount of stuff (including people) through the miracles of efficiency (see eugenics).  This is pretty much a capitalist’s wet dream.  Unfortunately, dehumanization is a two-way street, and the capitalists dehumanize themselves in the process.  While in some sense, in some impersonal karmic way, this may seem like poetic justice, it really just sucks!  We can do better!  We need not (and should not) rely on the cause-and-effect, every-action- has-an-equal-and-opposite-reaction, materialistic world to do our business for us.  That’s why we have humanity.  Try it, you’ll like it!