ANTI-VIOLENCE POEM: Sisyphean Tax

He was steeped in the slippery slope of violence
An idol escalator
Heedlessly powered by gravity and gravitas
A climb it denier
Of the worst breed
Not giving won ascent
A bout others
In spite of the accost
Whatever
It takes
Dispensing that too summit madders
Impoverishing awe
With Sisyphean tacts

Our animal instincts present us with the “natural” reaction to hit someone else when they hit us.  Fortunately, we are not limited to responding mirrorly as animals.  Violence First Refuge of Incompetent -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONSuch reactionary responses, unchecked by higher human functioning, quite easily escalate into wildly disproportionate harms to parties involved and routinely inflict harm to nearby parties.  Creative and humane responses to violence help limit the worst effects of violence before it is too escalate.  This poem is a metaphor for the interplay of the reactionary nature of violence and the creative human spirit yearning to be free of domination.  Hate is the Utter Lack of Creativity -- PEACE BUTTONLike Sisyphus, violence rocks this world so palpably feudal.  Nobody likes to suffer hurt.  Of coarse, meting hurt with hurt only brings a bout hurtful means and ends.  The truism of hurt people hurt people is a starting place to understand such hurtful cycles and connect us to one another’s dislike of suffering hurt.  Unfortunately, the only way out of vicious cycles of violence is to experience hurt without inflicting further hurt.  The accost of experiencing violence without returning violence is how a nonviolence world is necessarily and legitimately built.  Other wise, gravity and gravitas will perpetually, endlessly, forever, unceasingly, repeatedly, in perpetuum, till hell frees us over, lock us into violence as a weigh of life.  The creative human spirit willing to put skin in the game is the antidote to the least creative, least human reaction of violence for violence.  Nonviolence isn’t easy.  Of coarse, violence isn’t easy either, except in that we may be able to put the accost on an other.  Nothing enduring can be built on violence. Gandhi quote PEACE BUTTONIf nonviolence was easy, everybody would be doing it.  In fact, most of us practice nonviolence much of the time.  Nonviolence could be argued to be our natural state.  However, when violence and nonviolence meet, violence temps a seemingly easier solution — the cause AND solution to all of our problems.  Violence challenges the creativity of nonviolence with its well-warring familiarity.  Grooving to a mesmerizing Sisyphean chant, violence offers a bizarre, homie comfort to tribe and clan, with a kin do attitude wrapped up in moral doody.  Violence Is A Bout Means And Ends ANTI-WAR BUTTONIn both means and ends, violence is the antithesis of creativity.  Choosing nonviolence may not be easy, but nonviolence does offer an infinite abundance of alternatives other than “they made me do it.”  Yep, those proprietors of violence have it made, made for them, the creative human spirit lying fallow.  The human spirit exists for more than an infinite chain of sow called necessity, made to yearn its way to freedom and higher consciousness.  Non Violent Revolutionaries Raze Hell--POLITICAL BUTTONThe human spirit most fully manifests itself when it creatively draws from the wonderfully precarious reservoir of possibility.  This udder cistern is void of Sisyphean guarantees, yet those daring to surf its prospects may just find the truly fare life a mist a world of suffering.  May our spirits renounce domination over others through sheer force and patiently invite others into the high stakes game of fare play.

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Look Ma No Arms (Peace Dove picture)--FUNNY PEACE BUTTONNon Violent Revolution--POLITICAL BUTTONPractice Nonviolence PEACE BUTTON

got creativity? SPIRITUAL BUTTON

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

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

Comedian Jesus Pax Romana Killing Me

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

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

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

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POEM: Technicolored Jesus

Is it time for one of those
Come to Jesus moments
Wear there is skin in the game
Beyond black and white
Word
And what surrounds
Words
Becoming flesh
Another flood
In a see of
Red between the lyin’s
More than throwing the book
At smacking
Of the full lips of won’s savor
A forgiving fodder
All the wile preying too
Knowing not what due
Holy discriminating
No the color of blood
Know more
Technicolored Jesus
A mine blowing Palestinian Jew
Borne and razed
As soul
Property of another religion
Slaves to shedding
That which is
Indistinguishable from their own
Pooring into the world
Seedlings multifariously soiled
Converted to a cross
Saved fore Christ
Only knot
Apprehending
With due convictions
Buy red letter Christians
Drinking from rose colored glasses
As white as know
Giving him hail
King of the Jews
As a sign of the tines
In tongues speaking
Reportedly above cross
As fallower remains
Intent disciples
Paving the highway to hell
Trod by poor soles
Back in black
And who
Suspects
In America
As when roamin’ umpire
If a man is hung from a tree
He’s black
N conceivably
Some thing other

This poem is about a Jesus for all, black and white, boringly straight and fabulously technicolor.  This poem is about the violence and racism present in American Christianity.  If Christians must be black and white, the evidence points more to a Black Jesus than a White Jesus.  A nation built on slavery still undergirds contemporary lynching, parently paling in comparison in present-day whitewashed White supremacy.  Of course, America has ambitious rule beyond its boarders.  The imperial American rule of the world and its concomitant violence has been condoned, even blessed, by American Christianity.  A Palestinian Jew is inconceivable to most.  Perhaps this explains the prevalence of virgin birth doctrine.  We are all pink inside, and for some strange reason, the fruit of this seems to only be conceive Abel by shedding won an other’s blood.  May we reach a stage of enlightenment where we can live together as one humanity, or at least not use the crucifixion of one as rationale for the crucifixion of an other.

POEM: Commander-in-chief

Just
Say it
Three times fast
He/she/it
Commander-in-chief
Presiding over
No unwounded soldiers
As sum kind
Of used scars salesman
Master of what we auto do
Protector of awe we car about
As if
Some amored vehicle
Good grief
Shock and all
Giving won’s right harm
As pumped up append age
And sport scar
As buy gone youth
The fodder of proclamations
And canonizing
A bout
How offal sorry
Know longer jumping
Through hooplas
Green to pain for grave deeds
As herein now
Head stoned
Or even
Missing inaction
That piece that passes
Awe
Under standing
An immeasurable ruler
Of the highest
Nay heavenly
Rank

Wars Don't Kill People Presidents Do--ANTI-WAR BUTTONOwed to the Commander-in-chief.  He/she/it.  Weather a man, a woman, or merely a cog in the office of the President, war is hell.  All else is propaganda.  The commander-in-chief serves as the high priest of nationalism, offering up blood and idol words, mocking the sovereign goodness of God.  Selling evil as necessary is affront enough to a loving God.  GOD: The Mother Of All Soldiers (and civilians) PEACE BUTTONOverselling military service as a sacred duty cements our feat in an ocean of hurt.  Trust in the power of war, military might, is the fodder of much of the Old Testament.  This is nothing new.  However, the power and workings of God are ever anew.  There was a time when people believed that he earth was flat.  There was a time when people believed that monarchy, the rule of royal elites, was an absolute and unchangeable reality.  I DON'T ALWAYS KILL PEOPLE, BUT WHEN I DO, I WRAP IT IN MY HIGHEST IDEALS ANTI-WAR BUTTONThere was a time when people accepted slavery as a normal, desirable, even God-sanctioned, fact of life.  God created us free.  Free to do evil.  Free to do good.  We don’t need to kill to be free.  We may need to kill to mold creation into our image, of a world free for those closest to us, and a world of shit for those far from us.  We worship a god chopped up into little peaces, and we have the body parts to prove it.  May we cast off the vicious cycles of violence and war, and dedicate, even sacrifice, our lives for a world where one side fits all.  This is awe that God asks of US.  Make it sow.

Anything War Can Do Peace Can Do Better PEACE BUTTON If we were willing to pay the same price for peace that we pay for war, we'd have peace today PEACE BUTTONI Want You To Work for Peace [Uncle Sam] PEACE BUTTON

Our Grief Is Not A Cry For War PEACE BUTTONPACIFIST - Someone With The Nutty Idea That Killing People Is Bad PEACE BUTTONNothing enduring can be built on violence. Gandhi quote PEACE BUTTON BUTTONS-Peace-Q-NECB

Peace hath higher tests of manhood than battle ever knew. John Greenleaf Whittier quote PEACE BUTTONWeapons are like money; no one knows the meaning of enough. Martin Amis quote PEACE BUTTONSupport As Few Troops As Possible PEACE BUTTON

Violence - The Cause and Solution to All of Our Problems PEACE BUTTONYou Can Bomb The World To Pieces But You Can't Bomb It To Peace PEACE BUTTONgot militarism? PEACE BUTTON

I Support Everyone's Troops [Grim Reaper] ANTI-WAR BUTTONThere Is No Such Thing As An Unwounded Soldier ANTI-WAR BUTTONWAR - Your Doody To Humankind ANTI-WAR BUTTON

 When You Fight Evil With Evil, Evil Wins ANTI-WAR BUTTONStop Taking Life Literally--ANTI-WAR BUTTONPeace is Patriotic ANTI-WAR BUTTON

Truth is the First Casualty of War - Most of the Rest Are Civilians--ANTI-WAR BUTTON I Want You To Die a Meaningless Death To Sustain a Lifestyle that Will Ultimately Destroy the Earth-ANTI-WAR BUTTON

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POEM: Chains of Command

A juggernaut of freedom
He proudly served
As the weakest link
In the chain of command
And above
Awe
Due no harm

This poem juxtaposes the contrasting notions of freedom achieved through tight, even militaristic, ventures versus embodying freedom through default nonviolence and decentralized decision-making.  This is a command and control model versus fostering non-hierarchical and autonomous action.  Free Range Human Being - POLITICAL BUTTONMy experience is that directly practicing freedom and modeling this for others is the best means for manifesting increasing freedom.  Most succinctly put, this is a matter of means and ends — or rather a madder of means and end for the militarist or militant fundamentalist.  Subcontracting out freedom by wholesale consenting to others’ directives strikes me as a fundamental bastardization of freedom, particularly in large militaristic bureaucracies dedicated to the end of freedom — through ever-escalating means.  This is part and parcel to anarchist practice and philosophy.   Anarchists value direct, unmediated experience as both a way to live and learn, in contrast to imputing authority (via consent, and ultimately responsibility) into impersonal human organizations or other impersonal social arrangements.  Humanity is best experienced and served through smaller-scale, personal relationships, where the creative expressions of voluntary association and the personally uplifting experiences of mutual aid flourish.  The most common way people give up power is by thinking they don't have any -- Alice Walker quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe title of this poem, “Chains of command,”  is a pun — a double meaning — directly linking the shackling of freedom to systems of command and control.  Anarchists are renown for their issues with authority.  Less well appreciated is their fundamental critique of large, impersonal ventures which are viewed as the primary threat to our individual and collective humanity.  Anarchists seek to live on what is considered a human scale, which is necessarily smaller-scale — you can only relate personally to a finite number of people — and decentralized in that your set of relationships is an organic, even alive, entity that is guided by free association and mutual aid.  While anarchists are often portrayed as dangerous (perhaps to many forms of social order) and cavalier (perhaps revealing how foreboding freedom can be), there is a certain humility built into the anarchist worldview; there is a profound lack of ambition to control others (and be controlled) through the bulk of social arrangements in modern, so-called civilization.  The hubris necessary for violence is for me the best example.  Now, the brand of anarchist practice that I would ascribe to might be referred to as green anarchism, where violence is not understood to be an integral and necessary part of being human.  So-called black anarchists might view the violence inherent in the present social order as necessitating violent responses.  My view of freedom does not consider violence as necessary to being human, though the choice to be subject to violence as opposed to inflicting it remains a difficult and necessarily challenging one.  Clearly the current world order considers violence as merely the order of the day, a necessity, outside the realm of free choice. The last lines of the poem are a tribute to a pacifist green anarchism, and the deep humility it engenders: And above/Awe/Due no harm.  Of course, this is a take on the Hippocratic Oath: Above all, do no harm.  Plus, the “Due no harm” alludes to the vision of a world where the cycles of violence are broken and there is no longer the cruel divide of victim and perpetrator.  To go full circle, we must cast off the chains of command.  May you find the freedom and courage to pay the cost of boldly adding your beautiful human life to the mix of humanity where fear and misunderstandings and inertial privilege stand in the way of our individual and collective humanity.

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POEM: Until Hell Frees Us

Be very frayed
Terrorism comes
From know where
Deep in the recesses
Of kindergarten bullying
Capital vocations
And martial lawlessness
Awe rapped up in won’s highest I deal
Those unspeakable prophets
In security
Detained indefinitely
Until hell frees us
Ever more reckoning
The other
Who war like
A mirror reflection
Knot of won self
But a puerile of grate wisdom
Selling all
Having bought it
With bigger barns
Taking life easy

This is my third published poem in a row on the theme of terrorism.  You might say that I’m on a role in combating hypocritical fearmongering and conveniently overlooked accountability for vicious cycles of violence plaguing our whirled.  War: What Are We Frayed of? ANTI-WAR BUTTONThe prison of necessary evil is the bedrock upon which militarism is built.  Of coarse, the jailbirds sing oft-repeated jingles of in-group unmistakable righteousness and the presumptively incomprehensible evil descending upon their already worrisome state.  Fear is the only effective tool to fuel such jingoism and blind obedience to longstanding systems of oppression that conveniently turn justice into just us.  That such fear can swirl in a sea of privilege is the fundamental disconnect that makes chronic injustice passable.  Pointing out profound privilege and hyperbolic fears is heretical to the god of war.  Not surprisingly, the god of war, Nike, is well characterized by the slogan, “Just do it!” which has a singular ring to rule all idioms.  The inescapable prison of the permanent war on terrorism, with violence begetting violence begetting violence, based on the damnable logic of necessary evil, can only end with the absurdity “When hell frees us.” As Dante, in Inferno, signaled in his sign at the entrance of hell, “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.”  How can we free ourselves from this parent prison of necessary evil that infantilizes our moral development, and stultifies children of God into spawn of the devil?  How burden some is at the crux of this issue.  What must we sacrifice?  What must we cede?  What must we feed?

Bringing about peace and justice to the whirled is formidable work that takes a lot of time to cede itself and seed itself.  In the mean time, there is a need to endure sum violence, as an existing reality with its own inertia.  This brakes the cycle of violence.  As well, we need to address the causes and grievances powering violence and dis-empowering nonviolence.  This is required to prevent violence from seeding itself, and to feed nonviolent alternatives.  This breaks the cycle of violence.  This is not easy.

That violence can save us is as owed as life and death itself.  The myth of redemptive violence is deep-seated in human history and culture.  Walter Wink put it best: “The myth of redemptive violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has even known.”

This poem ends with a tip of the hat to two of Jesus’ parables.  First, the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) who has so much that he tears down his barns to build even bigger barns, only to have his “eat, drink, and be merry” life on earth end precipitously.  Next, the parable of the hidden treasure, a pearl of great value, for which we will trade all we possess for it (Mathew 13:44-45).  That pearl of great price is peace.  May each of us be barnstormers for peace, not barn-storers fore violence.

Our lives can begin the long weigh to peace when we get beyond the myth of redemptive violence.  May we each critically examine our own privilege and personal hurts that prompt us to take the low road of violence.  May we each meditate and daily work on awe the things that make for peace and a whole, new world.

POEM: The Yeast Of These

Wile there is much bred
Daily preyed for
Ample for awe concerned
That seemingly still
Fomenting swell times
A mist repleting agin and agin
In dubitable motifs
Giving ascent to
That for most ingredient
A telling signature of homme
The yeast of these
Which will provide
That effervescent up
Rising
Without flail
Soully as flower and water
Well grounded
Flourishing in a rest
And taking the heat
Toward its full realization
Satiating more than just us
And peace meal gain

This poem is about hope springing eternal, utilizing the metaphor of yeast responsible for the rising of bread.  Hope often strikes me as a reality grounded firmly in both necessity and possibility.  The faith that hope is comprised of the stuff that makes for a juggernaut gives me profound comfort.  This fuels a much more joyful social activism. The subtle and permeating workings of hope inspire the artist in me.

The metaphor of yeast rising, the smallest portion of the bread — the yeast of these — responsible for the very nature of a successful outcome, speaks to the infective and catalytic role that hope plays in social transformation, in social uprisings giving results often surprisingly larger than the sum of the mere parts.  That the uplifting power of yeast is invisible to the eye is far from insignificant.  Even the penetrating scientific mind will likely lead to a disgust to our human sensibilities: the gas released by yeast that expands to rise the dough is the waste product of microbial fermentation, yeast farts if you will. To add insult to injury to some, the pockets of dough that successfully capture these farts so well is attributable to the much demonized foodstuff called gluten — be afraid, very afraid!

Beyond the world of bread-making, in the human world, the downtrodden, dispossessed, and disenfranchised are the necessary ingredient and driver in social justice movements.  The sanitized conventional wisdom that it is an elite class of intelligentsia or highly formally educated “managers” who guide social transformation is simply wrong.  In truth, such conventional forces are typically beholden to making a different kind of “bread” — or bred.  Bread Not Bombs Flour Power Its the Yeast We Can Do-FUNNY PEACE BUTTONThe lessens learned in the school of hard knocks are fertile fodder for street smarts and a built-in “skin in the game” that powers authentic personal and social transformation.  The primary purpose of so-called social success and “middle-class” living may very well be to erect a firewall between one’s own success (and kin or clan) and the milieu of the messy, grungy, and sometimes vulgar “lower” classes.  This firewall is the very barrier that creates and perpetuates social injustice.  The sanitized, impersonal, distant injustices of the board room and bedroom communities are normalized as “civilized,” even though they are responsible for far more human lost potential and suffering than the “barbaric” physical acting out of street crime and “bad” neighborhoods.  White collar crimes go unpunished or perhaps dealt with “as a cost of doing business ” — on occasion there is a slap on the wrist, more like going into the penalty box within a blood sport.  Almost without saying, waging war is a patriot duty, not a human tragedy.  “Street” crimes involving actual people — as opposed to corporate people — are an almost exclusive focus, to protect property and mostly respectable people.  People of color, those lowest on the social ladder — or any “other” — get the book thrown at them by erudite, costumed judges and enforced by less-erudite, armed, uniformed police.

This poem alludes to nonviolence, Rising/Without flail, but this is not simply a comfortable nonviolence of safe pacifists.  On the receiving end of violence by the state and the powers that be, its victims eventually realize that you can’t beat the state at its own game.  Besides being outgunned, “non-sanctioned” violence is used to discredit social movements and serves as a convenient excuse to violently suppress — in a “civilized” way of course — social revolutionaries.  When rising tides of resistance reach critical masses, violence is what the state knows best to put down resistance.  The usually unbroken veneer of civility is deeply threatened when persistent nonviolent resistance bares the brutish, overwhelming power of the state.  This is a highly effective weapon in manifesting true civility.  The solidarity needed for such a daring and dangerous venture is rooted in the shared experiences of the many disenfranchisements that the powers that be yield.  The equation of having more to gain than lose in such a venture presents the palpable opportunity and deep root for real social change.  Privilege works against such opportunity, when the status quo favors one’s own personal interests.  Plus, beyond any simple equation, the humanity gained by living in solidarity restores some measure of the humanity robbed by injustices.  Long the weigh, many realize that peace is the way, and such folks offer another way of living that doesn’t re-lie on the dehumanization of others.

May you find peace long the weigh and bare its many fruits…

POSTSCRIPT: On a somewhat more vulgar, and perhaps somewhat embarrassing, note, this poem can be red quite well as a sexual poem.  This was not my original intent.  If you read it that way, you are probably a man!  This is a fine example of how it is possible, particularly for a man, to sexual eyes most anything, any metaphor.  Hopefully, this multiple meaning will harm no one.  Enjoy!  I hope to never lose my touch…

POEM: Weepin of Choice

His unwillingness to be a victim
Soully exceeded
Buy his willfulness to be a perpetrator
Better to have
Willed a gun
Than mirrorly get
A ballad in ahead
That imminently natural selection
Of hapless pray
Re: in force
Such patriotic cant
And simp-ly a parent of chorus you can
Too the tear of awe
Weepin’s helled in our hands
Sow a verse
That thin red line
In the thick of
The deference
In the seaminess
Of oppressor and oppressed
The enigmatic quest in
Of weather you can
Have won
Without the other
To shed more hate than light
In discriminating prism
Only to con serve
Cell preservation
Or wherever egos
Fallowing death
A firm life
In mortality
A test too
They’re weepin of choice

This poem is a dramatic ode to the thin line between victim and perpetrator.  There is a horror in both estates of being.  The truism that hurt people hurt people begs for a broken chain, often presenting itself to beat the hell out of others or take it as unjust a beating.  Is there a fare-mined weigh to go on, strike?

The horrific picture in my mind is that of children in war zones enforced into soldiering, specifically by being forced to kill someone else, typically someone they know, as an initiation into the invading forces.  Or be killed themselves.  The ensuing trauma, and the desperate promise of survival as a perpetrator rather than death or indigency as a victim, often seals one’s fate in a choice beyond most adults, let alone children.  Such a display of soul murder is perhaps the most dramatic, even as an epic cautionary tale far removed from the real or contemplated lives of most adults in this world.  Nonetheless, the daily bred of the victim-perpetrator cycle is mostly much more subtle and insidious.  The routinized bargains most of us make are well fed by seamless self-serving rationalizations and hermetically sealed worldviews safely partitioning good and evil.  We are grateful, even thank God, that we happen to be, well, on the good side. Our own cultural in-groups are neatly washed in the wringer of what we typically call civilization, a convenient euphemism for “us” — now, even 25% cleaner; progress you know!  Our dark sides are projected on others, safely sequestered in “them” — the looming barbarous hordes, who mostly want to take our way of life (or jobs) — equally progressive and precarious — but will take the life of our hired mercenaries, peace officers, or even ourselves if we let our guard down.

What I hope this poem inspires is some contemplation about what might be that thin chalk line around your soul that defines what you would not do to save your bodily life.  What would you not do, even if a gun was pointed at your head?  Such a boundary quite starkly outlines that which you re-guard as sacred, worthy of the sacrifice of your bodily life.  If your skin in the game is only to protect your own skin (or kin), then the cycle of perpetrator-victim will be incarnated perpetually.  Protect your own or sell your kind?  What kind of quest in is that?  Won of kindness — your own kind and every other kind.  Dramatic examples can be highly instructive in contemplating the demarcations of our soul.  Still, my hope is to provoke a more thorough deconstruction of our lives, as our lives are sow much more than bodily existence.  What in your life would you be willing to lose for a higher purpose?  My favorite definition of sacrifice is giving up something of value for something of greater value.  I view this trading up as the primary vehicle for living up to our highest values.  What material/bodily stuff are you willing to trade up for that which is higher?  What parts of your life are you willing to sacrifice for a greater whole?  We all end up in a hole; not all become whole or make their fare share of the whole.  Of course, the hierarchy of goodness is not simply some binary division of material and spiritual.  Our bodies and material goods are gifts to be purposed and re-purposed in the progressive filling and fulfilling of our souls, shared humanity, and awe of creation.  If there is anything that all spiritual and religious traditions lift up, it is that our purpose wrests in that beyond our self.  Next in line would probably be that we each have a soul responsibility that cannot be contracted to others.  As you confront the many weepins in life, may your soul purpose find itself bigger and better, not simply at a loss.

POEM: Liberal Mined Violent

Some liberal mined violent
Call up on pacifists
To condemn a brand of violence
To wit
They object
Ultimately subjected
To accost
Without benefit analysis
Coming efface to efface
With realty
And a sorted loved wons
Unwilling to accede where others have flailed
The brand they hide
Singularly fingered
Buy pacifists
Calling a tension two
A third weigh
Of the largesse possible
An unwelcome piece
When wanting more than have
Of everything fourth with
Ironying details
Ever beyond that which is a greed
How to saddle for less
Than being cowed
And truth be tolled
The violent
As a madder of practice
Get their weigh
A tempting feudal steer
Milking it for all a veil
In udder disbelief
As much as we can
Due better
Keeping nothing bottled up
Unleashing everything even remotely herd
Know longer listening
Too the artless
Like sum stock ticker
An engine only for the vain
Abase symbol for awe to hear
As the lover of awe kinds
Relinquishes the bully pulpit
In respect to those assembling
Not dissembling

Pacifists such as myself are sometimes called upon by those who are selectively violent to roundly and reliably condemn some violence that is repugnant to their preferred modes of violence.  PACIFIST - Someone With The Nutty Idea That Killing People Is Bad PEACE BUTTONThis convenient opportunism by “liberal mined” violent can hopefully serve as an opportunity for pacifist to draw connections and expose biased interests in enterprises that vainly wish to promote some kinds of violence and condemn other forms of violence, yet miraculously divorce means and ends and somehow produce a nonviolent state.  The situation that came to mind for me in this poem harkens back to the early 1980’s as a peacemongering student at Hope College.  I was asked by a conservative political science professor to serve as an expert witness in the campus’ mock United Nations proceedings.  Specifically, he was asking me to address violence by Palestinians against Israelis.  Much to his chagrin, I spoke about violence in the Israeli occupation of Palestine proportional to the violence present, that is, overwhelmingly committed by Israel and backed by the political and financial patronage of the United States.

Probably the largest complaint that apologists for violence have against pacifists is that they are “passivists,” complicit and enabling of injustices, specifically, and perhaps presumptuously, injustices that seem only solvable through violence, or at least the right “kind” of violence.  Complicity to violence and injustice is a profoundly true charge to both pacifists and apologists for violence.  Pacifism sets the bar high and regularly fails at fully fulfilling its high calling.  Feel free to contrast this limit of idealism (and its harms?) with the cynical acceptance (realism?) that killing others is necessary for justice (usually just us). If the notion and practice of necessary evil doesn’t make your head explode, it will quite assuredly shrink your heart, particularly if aspiring to follow a God of love.  I see Gandhi’s simple taxonomy of roles in the necessarily epic struggles for justice as insightful. Gandhi spoke of nonviolent “warriors,” violent warriors, and cowards.  I'm not a pacifist. I'm not that brave. Phil Donahue quote PEACE BUTTONHe saw these ordered in terms of moral achievement; the pacifist activist, then soldiers, and lastly, cowards. Of course, poorly performing pacifists can fall into the pit of fear and cowardice, unsuccessfully bridging the gap between talking the talk and walking the walk.  Soldiers have an inherent advantage in that a significant proportion can be expected to face death in combat situations.  This engenders a palpable sense of courage for facing such situations, whether, in fact, these situations are just or not.  Willingly facing being killed or severely harmed is the definition of courage. We can learn a lot from soldiers (not the least of which is that the most vehement anti-war activists are often veterans of military combat, sometimes simply slaughter). Courage is commendable.  Having skin in the game is the necessary good.  Any pacifist worth their salt will embody courage and skin in the game.  Evil, and its even uglier companion, necessary evil, can only thrive amidst cowardice and not having skin in the game.  Without courage, cowardice will rule the day (and night).  Without skin in the game, the privileged will continue to keep their foot on the neck of the disenfranchised, usually through a complex system of subcontracting not requiring their actual foot to do the dirty work.  A cowardly, distracted and narcotized public will earn an assist in maintaining their somewhat more advantageous state in the hierarchy of privilege and disenfranchisement.

Of course, the difference between a pacifist and a soldier is not the willingness to die for a cause, but the (un)willingness to kill for a cause.  The willingness to kill is the preeminent prerequisite of a soldier.  Object of War Not to Die for Your Country But Make Other Bastard Die for His -- General George Patton ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONIn regard to willingly dying and willingly killing, perhaps the infamous WWII General George Patton said it best, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”  Further, in the calculus of soldiering, we must remember that in modern times (the last 100+ years), military combat has frighteningly consistently killed over ten noncombatants/civilians for every soldier killed.  By what stretch of imagination do “realists” consider this courageous and honorable?  The cowardice inherent in the proposition of necessary evil is the root of much evil in this world.  The fantasy of necessary evil is nothing short of an abnegation of responsibility, an idol worship of something other than the free will and moral agency of which we are endowed.

As a spiritual practice, I find pacifism, ruling out the killing of others, as a profoundly creative practice.  You may be surprised at the depths of creativity accessible by dispatching the human perversion called necessary evil and the barbaric practice of killing others.  Without presupposing limits on human goodness, you can unleash new experiments, pioneer new ground (sometimes observed as common ground), raise the heights to which humans may aspire, and make the world friendlier to love.  Nonviolence is Organized Love -- Joan Baez PEACE QUOTEAs Joan Baez so elegantly and succinctly said, “That’s all nonviolence is — organized love.”  Of course, my paraphrase would be: nonviolence is just, organized love…

 

POEM: Making a Fuel of My Self

In the cold night
That darkest time
When dawns forgotten
My heart burns
With fear and pain
My home aflame
To an unaltarable offering
And fiery furnish
Of wanton change
Of hammering out or deal
For scanty respite
From that
I hate
Combusting
Up the world
With care less balms
And succors for bid
Sow overdo
And with such gall
I light
All things tinder
Overlooking the infernal warming
Of making a fuel of my self
In whatever eye wood do
Only just
In the mean time
Slamming on
The day brakes
I find myself
In the mourning
Executing catharsis
I come to
Grasping for breath
Only fearing what thou wilt due
I under stand
My shudders unbolted
Udderly apprehended
As in canned essence
Set free
Revealing my son ship
Brethren to awe
And cistern of tears
Still, don’t pine for me
For what
I have got
My ash kicked
By whatever might
Remain
As I urn my weigh
And when moan comes
My hearth is rekindled
Out shining
That which can never be
Holy defeated
Burnishing everything I knead

This poem is about both hope and the striking temptation of violence.  Violence begets violence.  Hate begets hate.  Likewise, love can overcome hate and violence.  Hope is embodied in nonviolent resistance to violence and injustice.  If we succumb to merely returning violence for violence, then we reinforce the cycle we supposedly resist.  If we don’t recognize and accept that at the deepest level of reality my enemy and I are one, then discord will be borne again…and again.  Violence is very hardy because it so predictably riles our most base instincts, the basic structure of our bodies and rudimentary psychology; that is, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Practicing the discipline of nonviolence is the way to break free from this self/other destructive chain of causal events.  Human will is transcendent, naturally rebellious, to this destructive lock-down of reactionary existence.  This inescapable rebellion against being trapped in seemingly perpetual violence is the birth of hope and the path of peace and justice for all.  An undefeatable aspect of human will always stands outside the seductive snare of merely reactionary behavior.  Choosing a higher path is possible.  As Gandhi so simply and boldly declared in word and deed, “Peace is possible.”  We can choose to dishonor this higher aspect of human existence by choosing to settle for reactionary participation in a seemingly inescapable chain of crap that nobody really wants but someone else “makes” me do, as if I am some soulless machine, voting in a rigged game.  This dishonors our true maker, mysterious and gracious.  Perpetrators, those who are most deeply embedded in the illusion that violence will give them the long end of the stick that is one humanity, erroneously believe that they possess some superior will in manipulating the machinations of the day to their advantage (at the expense of others).  Rather, their self-serving complicity with reactionary destructive violence is a denial of creative human will and hope for peace and justice for all.  To escape their own self-dehumanization they pompously attribute their apparent success in navigating the status quo of reactionary existence to a superior will, somehow free from others’ claims on them.  These so-called winners look to themselves apart, seeing themselves as self-made men — in a palpably peculiar insult to their mothers.  And as I like to say: if you are a self-made man, you have a fool for a maker.  Victims residing down the chain of injustice can mirror their perpetrators’ weighs by rattling the chain up or down, either giving the master curators of violence another specimen for their museum of humanity, or perhaps honing one’s hurt on someone even less able or willing to react commensurately.  The predictability of violence is captured in the insularity, unaccountability, and disconnect from humanity (their own and others’) that perpetrators of the powers that be experience in wanting mastery over their own lives.  The predictability of violence among victims is rooted in the reactionary reality that hurt people hurt people.  People tend to do what they know.  Can we know peace and justice, or at least cultivate its possibility?  While experiencing the hurt of violence and injustice can be a powerful impetus to respond unkind, it can also be a profound invitation to solidarity, empathizing, connecting and standing with others, each of who have experiences of hurt and injustice.  This is an aspect of God’s mysterious “preferential option for the poor” whereby reality is constructed in such a way that the poor have better access to their humanity than the rich.  As Brethren to awe/And cistern of tears we are better equipped to join together and bring peace and justice into the whirled.  May it be so.

POEM: A Ghastly Alchemy

For just
Some
Dam
Weepin’s permit
I protect and serve
Up my enemies
Like
Cold
Turkey
Shoot
Only to rifle
But growing ode
In a ghastly alchemy
Silver bullets turning to lead
Down the wrong path
Instantly poisoned
Hearts and minds
In the cruelest democracy
Community going
For broke
The simplest solution
Drunk
With wons
Britches down
In a flash
A bad moon rising
Eclipsing gumption
In the forced
And bye-ways
Camouflaging knights
And daze
Seeing evil
Through darkness
And narrow sites
Seeing in for red
Aimed for more heat than light
As mirror man
Shutters a mist
The in side out
As awe the rage
For their own
Good
I mean
Bad

Here is yet another poem against gun violence.  When it comes to ballads not bullets, I have plenty of ammunition.  Besides just being cruel, violence is inherently anti-democratic.  There are inescapable conundrums in eliminating, or threatening to eliminate, other people as a form of building community.  Of coarse, many people are willing to sacrifice another than do the hard work of making high ideals manifest.  Even the concept of “self” defense razes issues of human rights, inclusiveness, and the sacredness of life.  There is little doubt that practicing nonviolence takes great discipline and sacrifice.  This is in sharp contrast to the so-called “last-resort” of violence that so lazily creeps up to number one.

At what price do we give up our freedom to practice nonviolence?  The Faustian bargain of violence offers an escape from the rigors of morality and authentic community by claiming, “They made me do it,” a convenient denial of one’s freedom — and another’s!  Of course, the enforcement of might makes right extracts the bulk of the price from others, the opposite of self-discipline and sacrifice.  Creating community is costly, just as destroying community is costly.  The real question is: Who pays the cost and who reaps the benefits (in the case of destruction, of what remains)?  As in the dysfunction of capitalism, where greed and selfishness are raised up as virtues necessary to “progress”, violence is about getting the most benefit for oneself (and one’s kin) at the lowest cost to oneself.  Not surprisingly, when the lowest common denominator is oneself, and greed is a virtue, community, which prospers on the common good, suffers. The fundamental problem is that the destruction of violence extracts a cost from the whole (community) that can only be rationalized in piecemeal, selfish fashion.  Violence is an attempt to shift a cost to others.  This works in part when you force others to experience loss due to your violence, and the cost of this is disproportionately shared by your victims.  However, there is no substitute for your own moral agency.  Your responsibility cannot be “cost shifted” to others (only the effects of your irresponsibility can).  This is the irrevocable loss of moral failings. Morality is simply exercising your freedom in a responsible way.  Saying you don’t have a choice, e.g, “They made me do it,” is a cop out.  Morality isn’t easy; if it was, everybody would be doing it!  In short, wielding lethal weapons is perhaps the worst way to demonstrate personal responsibility.  Guns are the lowest form of community.  Even if guns are the last resort, this is not a resort in which I want to live.

POEM: Eulogizing Fort Hood

Eulogizing Fort Hood

It is not ours to ask
Why those so schooled
In violence
Should act violently
On a vocation so seriously
Taking
Won too many weepings
Lead so quickly
Penetrating human hearts
Our own flesh
Not at home
In alien nation
And returning veterans upon veterans
What doors have been shut
What calm
Might be expected
It is
Not enough
Guns to keep us safe
But arms withheld
Once again

Today were the funeral ceremonies for the victims of the recent Fort Hood shootings.  Such tragedies are probably not well prevented by doing violence better.  Perhaps we should try to do nonviolence better.  Let’s give peace a chance.  Maybe some day we can eulogize Fort Hood.

 

POEM: Whimsically Beat

You may beat me physically
But I’ll beat you whimsically

The unbearable lightness of being calls for whimsy, not brute force.  Violence is appealing to persons of low character.  Whimsy is an invitation to the finer things in life.  For instance, humor and generosity are much more powerful forces than terminal seriousness and Scrooge-osity.  The lighter, finer things in life are inviting, wooing others to join in something larger and better.  Brute force is the purview of unimaginative minds and withered spirits.  Of course, the divide between violence and nonviolence is in one’s perspective.  I like the analogy of weak and strong forces in physics and their reach across larger regions.  The “strong” forces like electromagnetism are very powerful over very short distances, but negligible at larger scales.  The “weak” forces such as gravity are negligible at atomic scales, but reign supreme at scales comprising the overwhelming majority of reality.  Humans live at a scale where both of these forces are important.  In this analogy, I view violence as the so-called “strong” force dominating smaller contexts and negligible at greater human scales and beyond.  I view love as the so-called “weak” force, which seems to be helpless in limited contexts, but ultimately rules the fate of the universe!  I seek to harmonize my being more with the fate of the universe than brutish turf wars.  Of course, we could just whip out our perspectives and see which is bigger…

POEM: A Rude Invitation

Violence is an invitation
To more violence
And a rude invitation at that
Such invitations need not be returned
As you might have guest

Violence begets violence.  Means produce ends.  How can we escape this vicious cycle?  Must we accept every invitation offered to us?  Do we possess the freedom to decline an invitation?  Or, does violence rob us of any possibility of responding nonviolently?  There is little question that violence demands a response!  Returning violence for violence seems to be the first responder, but rather than healing only creates more victims and a cascade of crises.  We need to look beyond our first, most base, response.  Otherwise, violence becomes enacted in our lives as a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If Gandhi was wrong, and peace is not possible, then war defines both our means and our ends.  I believe peace is possible.  To practice making this a reality I simply rule out violence as a legitimate means.  Once violence is ruled out, then creation begins.  By setting a boundary disallowing violence on my part, I create the conditions where I must find alternatives, creative alternatives.  Many are uncomfortable with such a pacifist practice because they don’t want to sacrifice what might possibly be a legitimate practice of violence.  Though perhaps most importantly, disarming oneself may be way too dangerous too oneself and much too much work for most.  Nonetheless, my experience is that a working assumption of violence as a last resort, is largely a wholesale acceptance of invitations to violence.  As a classic example, the so-called Just War Theory, in practice better resembles the It’s Just a War Theory!  In fact, no nation has ever declared its assent to the just war principles, let alone that they have met them.  The powerful emotional response to violence is too closely linked to a similar, if not more-so, violent response.  Rage is simply too often too difficult to reign back in once violence is chosen.  Nonviolence is the prudent path.  As far as violence goes, which is routinely too far, we shouldn’t even go down that path — don’t even go there!  War, the grossest manifestation of violence on our planet, requires demonizing entire populations and groups of people to be “successfully” waged.  Preying on the epic human weaknesses of xenophobia, parochial patriotism, and unjust gain fuel the engines of war.  Channeling the outrageousness of violence into long-term, creative nonviolent responses strikes me as the way, and the goal, out of unending violence.  Channeling the emotions stirred when confronting outrageous injustices should stir a deep commitment to human rights, as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which the United States of America has never ratified).  Such a commitment to universal human rights propels the nonviolent to challenge nations to higher standards than the wholesale violation of human rights that is war.  If we fail at this challenge, and refuse to return the invitations to war, then war will persist, as you will have guest.

POEM: Chapter 58 – Isaiah

Chapter 58 – Isaiah

Isaiah was a man
A kind of a man
More generous than his wealth
Untouchable by another’s profits
With a frugality beyond any poverty
He was a gentle man
With a purposefulness typically beyond words
Speaking with a clarity too spirited for some
In jail for disturbing the peace
Though he would have said
“I am disturbing the war”
He was a headstrong man
Though less determined than unshakable
His single-mindedness
Exceeded only by a purity of heart
In that instant where mourning breaks
In the face of a rising dawn
Awaking
Following that first night
With an irrepressible smile
On his face
Realizing he is the freest person
He knows
Simply saying
“I really need to get out more”
Fast becoming hungry
Thirst things thirst
In spite of being
Like naked
For I’s guarded
Surrounded by men of this stripe
Wholly innumerable
Ever-present in the passed
His work was before him
A long line of just us
All the same, some lost
Some merely on their way
To share some food with his mates
Then off to work
For there is
No such thing as
Free room and board
From some anonymous uncle
After all the feds
Reckon the rest
As what will follow
When expecting to be herd
As well as something more

This poem is a tribute and extremely loose paraphrase or interpretation of Isaiah 58 in the Bible.  This Old Testament chapter is a classic among lovers of justice.  In this poem, the title alludes to a chapter in the biography of a man.  This modern-day take is inspired by those faithful and devoted workers for justice who commit civil disobedience in the course of their work for social justice.  The setting is a free man who finds himself in prison.  Barring all irony, he is still free!

The only truly obscure reference that I would elucidate springs from the lines: In spite being/Like naked/For I’s guarded.  It’s more easily accessible meaning is a reference to being vulnerable, particularly when at the hands of someone who, like a prison guard, literally oversees your every movement, peering into the bowels of your very being!  The obscurity is in that “Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen 9:20-27).”  In Matthew 5:40, Jesus says, “if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” The theologian and author Walter Wink explains how Jesus instructed his audience, the poor, how to fight back using creative nonviolence, taking advantage of the cultural fact that viewing nakedness is more shameful than being naked:

“…so the debtor parades his nakedness in prophetic protest against a system that has deliberately rendered him destitute.  Imagine him leaving the court, naked: his friends and neighbors, aghast, inquire what happened.  He explains.  They join his growing procession, which now resembles a victory parade.  The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been publicly unmasked.  The creditor is revealed to be not a legitimate moneylender but a party to the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness, destitution, and abasement.  This unmasking is not simply punitive, therefore; it offers the creditor a chance to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, what his practices cause, and to repent.
     The Powers That Be literally stand on their dignity.  Nothing depotentiates them faster than deft lampooning.  By refusing to be awed by their power, the powerless are emboldened to seize the initiative, even where structural change is not immediately possible.  This message, far from being a counsel to perfection unattainable in this life, is a practical, strategic measure for empowering the oppressed, and it is being lived out all over the world today by powerless people ready to take their history into their own hands.
     Jesus provides here a hint of how to take on the entire system by unmasking its essential cruelty and burlesquing its pretensions to justice.  Here is a poor man who will no longer be treated as a sponge to be squeezed dry by the rich.  He accepts the laws as they stand, pushes them to absurdity, and reveals them for what they have become.  He strips naked, walks out before his fellows, and leaves this creditor, and the whole economic edifice which he represents, stark naked.”

I encourage you read the full article by Walter Wink, Beyond Just War and Pacifism: Jesus’ Nonviolent Way, where Dr. Wink outlines three of methods of creative nonviolent disobedience that Jesus taught, from Mathew 5:38-41 (NIV): “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”  One of the truly magnificent revelations in this article is how it illustrates the extent to which Jesus’ teachings are commonly misunderstood; or perhaps more to the point, often understood as the exact opposite of what Jesus meant!

The spirit of Jesus is manifest in the scripture inspiring this poem, Isaiah 58 (NIV).  It is no accident that Jesus quotes Isaiah to kick off his public ministry!  The heading for this chapter is usually rendered, “True Fasting;”

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
“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.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

POEM: Barbarian Hordes

Only after building the wall
To keep the barbarian hordes out
Did I realize
That we are the barbarian hordes

Exclusion is the most barbarian practice.  Inclusion is the most enlightened practice.  To evolve in our humanity we need to move beyond our self.  Xenophobia, and its companion egocentricity, is a stubborn barrier to enlightenment.  Recognizing the oneness of all things is a spiritual practice that moves us out of an ego perspective.  As the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All persons are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

I am fascinated with meditating upon what I see as the most fundamental paradox of human reality, the juxtaposition of the oneness of reality with the “myriad of things.”  Of course, this apparent paradox is most pronounced, perhaps paradoxically, if one accepts no difference between anything.  My most clear and palpable retort to folks who assert that there is no difference between anything is to ponder a hypothetical punch in the nose — I avoid the actual punch in the nose because I believe that there is a difference between violence and nonviolence!  It seems that the post-enlightenment, modern scientific reductionism characterizing Western civilization lies silent, levelled if you will, stubbornly incapable of granting legitimacy (authority) to any difference or hierarchy, even though differences and hierarchies are omnipresent.  How do we move or evolve beyond the self-mutilation of scientific reductionism to a self-transcendence?  I am partial to E. F. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed, which I would highly recommend if you are perplexed in most any way.  On nugget in this regard:

There are physical facts which the bodily senses pick up, but there are also nonphysical facts which remain unnoticed unless the work of the senses is controlled and completed by certain “higher” faculties of the mind. Some of these nonphysical facts represent “grades of significance,” to use a term coined by G. N. M. Tyrrell, who gives the following illustration:

Take a book, for example. To an animal a book is merely a coloured shape. Any higher significance a book may hold lies above the level of its thought. And the book is a coloured shape; the animal is not wrong. To go a step higher, an uneducated savage may regard a book as a series of marks on paper. This is the book as seen on a higher level of significance than the animal’s, and one which corresponds to the savage’s level of thought. Again it is not wrong, only the book can mean more. It may mean a series of letters arranged according to certain rules. This is the book on a higher level of significance than the savage’s . . . . Or finally, on a still higher level, the book may be an expression of meaning…

In all these cases the “sense data” are the same; the facts given to the eye are identical. Not the eye, only the mind, can determine the “grade of significance.”

To make the grade and avoid continually devolving our humanity into some nihilistic cynicism where meaning can find no root in our being we might benefit from looking up to a higher power, living in an ever-higher perspective — and thousands of years of meditation on such things informs us that this should not involve looking down on our fellow beings.

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: Hypothetical Questions

Your hypothetical questions
Have prevailed
I will no longer oppose violence
Except in the real world

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?

Driveby Conversation: No War in Iran

Every Sunday in Toledo Ohio, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition has a demonstration at a major intersection to protest current wars and potential future wars.  The Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition has been doing this every Sunday since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003.

This Sunday we were at the intersection of Talmadge and Sylvania roads near the mall.  I was holding up my sign, “NO WAR in Iran,” amidst about a dozen other peace and anti-war demonstrators holding up various signs for passing traffic to witness.  It is common for passing motorists to beep their horns in support of our peace and anti-war messages.  Occasionally, we get an angry rebuke, epitaph, or middle finger.  On more rare occasions, someone will roll down their window, stop for a minute and have a quick conversation.  Usually these conversations are supportive and encouraging, though certainly not always.

I had a drive-by conversations with a passing motorist, a middle-aged white man, in which respect he was probably not too unlike me.  It went something like this:

Motorist: (sarcastically) I know what we should do.  We should all become Muslims.

Me: You mean Islam, the religion of peace?

Motorist:  That’s a lie!

Me:  Do you mean religion or peace?

Motorist:  I follow Jesus Christ.

Me:  My understanding is that Jesus was a pacifist.

Motorist:  Jesus was on the edge.

Me:  Yes, and his way was nonviolent.

Motorist:  [stumbling for words, shakes his head, and drives off]

Given the very short time-frames of these drive-by conversations, there is usually very little chance for resolution.  While there certainly wasn’t closure in this particular conversation, I’m not sure the point or purpose is for people to necessarily come to some hard endpoint.  I was satisfied that a self-declared follower of Jesus Christ who seemed to be advocating going to war against a predominantly Islamic nation, found himself perplexed and unable to respond, at least in a knee-jerk fashion, to the proposition that Jesus was nonviolent.  Hopefully, he gave this some greater reflection later.

I am struck by the initial framing of the conversation by the motorist, in that not going to war with Iran, or Islam, somehow implies that we would eventually all be Muslims.  The assumption that different religions have to war with one another is a lie that has been perpetuated for centuries.  At the heart of every great religion, at least every religion large enough to potentially start a war, there is compassion, grace, and peace.  It seems to me that hijacking religion for violent purposes is the bastardization of any true religion.  I don’t know if the passing motorists caught my reference to Islam, which in Arabic literally means “peace.”  There are many layers of irony here.

I like the line of thinking that the motorist posited, that Jesus was on the edge.  Like a former pastor of mine likes to say, “If you’re not on the edge, you are taking up too much room.”  I strongly suspect that Jesus’ being on the edge had way more to do with peacemaking than warmongering.  I follow Jesus, but I don’t think it’s Jesus that’s leading us into war.  Praise be to Allah!  By the way, Allah is simply the Arabic word for “God.”  I hope that people are open-minded enough to not insist that the world be English only.  Of course, for good Christians this might present a problem, not knowing Aramaic, since this was the language Jesus spoke.  Hmm…maybe that explains a few things that are apparently lost in translation…