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Mike Silenced by the AIPAC: A Case Study of Zionist Control of Media and “Peace Groups”

AIPAC

Peggy and I are in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We’re here to give papers at the “Moving beyond Capitalism” conference of the Center for Global Justice (CGJ). I’m honored to be part of a panel with Rabbi Michael Lerner (editor of Tikkun Magazine, the Jewish left-progressive quarterly). My job will be to present the Palestinian viewpoint on the conflict with Israel.

Frankly, there’s only one reason I’ve been invited. It’s because of a crisis I created in San Miguel eight years ago when I spoke on the same topic. It nearly brought the end of the Center for Global Justice. It even threatened my job at Berea College.

The whole incident illustrates the way even small-time publications and good-willed advocates of social justice can be intimidated and silenced by champions of Zionism. The incident represents a summons to such agents to break the silence and speak the truth regardless of Zionist bullying and threats.

You see in 2006, Peggy and I were working with the CGJ directing a summer intern project for students from the U.S., Mexico and Cuba. Out of the blue, one week the program chair of the local Unitarian Universalist (U.U.) meeting asked me to speak at their Sunday gathering. I had done that in several places before and accepted without a second thought. The invitation came specifically because of my connection with the Center for Global Justice.

“Why do you want me to speak about?” I asked the organizer.

“Anything you want,” she replied.

“Well, I speak on conflicting understandings of Jesus,” I said. “As a liberation theologian, I like that topic.”

“Oh no,” came the immediate reply. “The last time someone spoke on Jesus we were all bored to tears. Can you talk about something else?”

That gave me pause. . . . But I had just returned from a three week trip to Israel sponsored by Berea College where I taught for 36 years. So I said, “How about sharing observations from my recent trip to Israel?”

“That sounds great,” the program chair said. “Let’s call your talk, ‘A Report from Israel.’”

I agreed, prepared my remarks, and delivered them the next Sunday. My thesis was clear and unambiguous. “The real terrorists in Israel, I said, “are the Jewish Zionists who run the country.” I didn’t consider my basically historical argument particularly original or shocking. Chomsky and others had been making it for years.

What I didn’t realize was that almost everyone in my audience was Jewish. (I didn’t even know about San Miguel’s large Jewish population – mostly “snowbirds” from New York City.) Nonetheless, my remarks that Sunday stimulated an engrossing extended discussion. Everyone was respectful, and the enthusiastic conversation even spilled over beyond the allotted time.

Immediately afterwards, during breakfast in the U.U. center, one of the founders of the CGJ said, “That was great, Mike. You really ought to put all of that down on paper. You can publish it as an article in San Miguel’s weekly English newspaper, Atencion. They give us column space there each week.”

“Great,” I said. (I already had the talk written out.) I sent it into Atencion and it was published about a month later. By then I was back in the states teaching at Berea.

I’ll never forget what followed: all hell broke loose:

• A barrage of angry letters flooded the Atencion pages for the next two weeks and more.
• As a result, Atencion threatened to cancel the CGJ’s weekly column.
• San Miguel’s Bibliotheca talked about ending the CGJ’s access to meeting space there.
• My article was removed from Atencion’s archives and (I think) from the archives of the Center for Global Justice.
• Someone from the AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee) phoned my provost at Berea College reporting me for my inflammatory article, asking whether I really taught there and if my credentials were genuine.
• The CGJ’s leadership was forced to do some back-pedaling distancing itself from me and my remarks.
• They lit candles of reconciliation at a subsequent U.U. meeting begging forgiveness from the community and absolution for that mad man from Berea.
• The guiding assumption in all of this was that my argument was patently false.

In other words, an article that should have stimulated discussion of its thesis (with CGJ activists leading the way as a voice for the voiceless) was met instead with denial and apology.

However, the ongoing slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza only confirms my original thesis. So let me repeat it here: the real terrorists in Israel are the Jewish Zionists. I’ll go even further and say that in the present phase of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians, the Jews have little or no right to claim they are acting in self-defense. They are clearly the aggressors guilty of extreme war crimes.

This time I base that argument on helpful analytic distinctions concerning “violence” commonly made be liberation theologians in general and by Palestinian liberation theologians in particular. I interviewed the latter back in 2006 at the Sabeel
Ecumenical Center for Liberation Theology in Jerusalem.

I’ll explain the relevant distinctions in the second part of this posting. For now my points are these:

• Zionist defenders are afraid of open discussion of the conflict in Palestine.
• Zionist media control extends far beyond The New York Times.
• It even blacks out Palestinian viewpoints in small-time publications like San Miguel de Allende’s Atencion.
• It threatens academic integrity as well attempting to reach into classrooms like my own at Berea College.
• It even intimidates well-meaning and highly informed activists like those at the CGJ.

My conclusion for now: the media and even would-be “radicals” need to own their power in fearlessly denouncing the war crimes of Israel’s Zionists which will be discussed in the article following this one: “The Conflict in Israel: the Perspective of Palestinian Liberation Theology.”

(Sunday Homily) Liberation Theology, BRICS and the Untelevised Global Revolution

BRICS 2014

Readings for Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: I KGS 3: 5, 7-12; PS 119: 57, 72, 76-77, 127-130; ROM 8: 28-30; MT 13: 44-52; http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072714.cfm

The whole world was surprised when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1989. The dissolution represented an earth shaking paradigm shift to say the least. However, virtually no one claims foreknowledge on that one. One wonders how such oversight was possible.

Something similar is happening today. The poor of the world are asserting themselves against U.S. hegemony. Yet, virtually no one in the mainstream seems to notice. Once again, the revolution is not being televised.

Not even followers of Jesus’ Way are commenting. And this despite the fact that before all others, we should be attuned to paradigmatic shifts in world order connected with what Jesus termed the Kingdom of God.

Such paradigm contrast is suggested by today’s liturgy of the word. It juxtaposes the dream of Solomon, Israel’s would-be empire builder, and Jesus’ words about the contrasting nature of God’s Kingdom.

Let me show you what I mean by connecting the three elements I’ve just mentioned: (1) today’s untelevised revolution, (2) Solomon’s imperial ambitions, and (3) Jesus’ contrasting Kingdom of God.

Begin by noting that the current world order is dissolving before our very eyes. That became apparent two weeks ago at the Sixth Summit of Heads of State and of Governments of BRICS which took place in Fortaleza, Brasilia. Besides leaders from the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the presidents of UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, all participated including Kirchner (Argentina), Bachelet (Chile), Santos (Colombia), Morales (Bolivia), Correa (Ecuador), Mujica (Uruguay), Maduro (Venezuela), and Umala (Peru).

Those present at the conference represent more than half the people in the world and fully 25% of its gross domestic product. That’s more economic power than the United States which controls 20% of the world’s GDP with 5% of the planet’s population.

And what did the BRICS Conference participants discuss? Not bombings, sanctions, debt ceilings, presidential impeachments, or lawsuits against heads of state – not birth control, abortion, gay marriage or border security. Instead they actually confronted the shared problems of the world – all the situations our provincial U.S. Congress systematically avoids, denies, and/or manipulates for political purposes.

Even more importantly, BRICS Conference attendees specifically planned the de-Americanization of the global economy and the creation of a multilateral, multipolar world prioritizing the needs of the Global South. Deliberation topics included:

 * Third World development in general
 * The industrialization of Africa in particular
 * The Creation of a BRICS development bank to replace the World Bank and the IMF
 * New international currencies to supplant the U.S. dollar as the world reserve
 * Sustainable responses to climate change
 * Building a railway from the Pacific Ocean in Peru to the Atlantic in Brazil
 * Installation of an IT cable from Vladivostok to Shantou, Chennai, Cape Town and Fortaleza (bypassing the United States).
* BRICS collaboration with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which binds Russia and China into a common security policy with Central Asia.

Such matters are world-transforming.

In fact, they represent practical steps towards something like the global wealth tax suggested by Thomas Picketty in Capital in the 21st Century – a tax dismissed by U.S. mainstream media as excessively idealistic, impractical and never-to-be implemented.

The thing is: those willing to impose such tax for the benefit of the developing world belong to the developing nations themselves. They are going their own way free from the hegemony of the United States.

All of this is relevant to today’s liturgical readings.

The selections implicitly compare the paradigm shift heralded by Jesus and his proclamation of God’s Kingdom to replace the imperial order not only of Rome, but of Israel itself. Israel’s leaders a thousand years earlier had hijacked the Mosaic Covenant favoring God’s poor.

In today’s first reading Solomon’s court historians mask the hijacking by predictably identifying their employer as “the wisest man ever,” just as before him they had identified Solomon’s cruel and womanizing father, David, as “a man after God’s own heart.” In this royally hijacked form, the Covenant connected God and the royal family. It assured a royal dynasty that would last “forever.” It guaranteed God’s blessings on Solomon’s expansionistic policies. (That’s like the clap-trap we have to endure from American Exceptionalists and from those anticipating a New American Century.)

The covenantal truth was much different. In its original Mosaic form (as opposed to the Davidic bastardization), the Covenant joined Yahweh (Israel’s only King) and escaped slaves – poor people all – threatened by royalty and their rich cronies.

The Covenant’s laws celebrated in today’s responsorial psalm protected the poor from their perennial antagonists, Israel’s court and its cronies. For instance, “Thou shalt not steal,” was originally addressed to large landowners intent on appropriating the garden plots belonging to subsistence agriculturalists.

Despite such prohibitions, those who established Israel’s basic laws knew the power of money. The rich would inevitably absorb the holdings of the poor. So Israel’s leaders established the world’s oldest “confiscatory tax.” It was called the “Jubilee Year” which mandated that every 50 years all debts would be forgiven and land would be returned to its original (poor) owners.

Like the BRICS Conference, the Mosaic Covenant prioritized the needs of the poor.

The advent of a Jubilee Year represented the substance of Jesus’ basic proclamation. No wonder the poor loved him. No wonder the refrain we sang together this morning repeated again and again, “Lord I love your commands.” That’s the refrain of the 99% in struggle with the rich 1% represented by Solomon and his court.

In today’s Gospel selection, Jesus indicates the radical swerve necessary for establishing God’s kingdom understood in Jubilee terms. It involves “selling all you have” and buying into the Kingdom concept as if it were buried treasure or a pearl of great price.

I’m not saying that the Kingdom has arrived with the BRICS Conference. I’m not claiming that Jubilee is about to dawn. However a power has emerged which actually prioritizes benefitting the poor instead of the 1%. And followers of Jesus’ Way should buy into it. We need to celebrate it and anticipate it in our own lives.

The New World Order anticipated by BRICS is certainly not perfect. However it’s far from the imperial order which protects the given order, constantly threatens sanctions if you disobey, and whose policies inevitably target the poor and most vulnerable.

In other words the emphasis of the BRICS Conference is not on policies causing Matthew’s “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Instead it’s on cooperation, mutual respect and common good.

Now that’s a move Jesus’ followers can endorse. It’s moving us towards global change even more significant than the unforeseen fall of the Soviet Union.

That’s reason for hope.

(Sunday Homily) Zionists Are Weeds in the Garden of Palestine

Zionists

The entire world stands aghast at the cruelty of Israel’s vicious and illegal collective punishment of Palestinian civilians for the perceived “crimes” of Hamas – the group of Palestinian resisters committed to the expulsion of illegal Zionist occupiers from the Palestinian homeland.

Today’s liturgy of the word implores the Zionists to abandon their butchery.

It also challenges Christians to denounce such ethnic cleansing and to withdraw the last vestiges of support for a group that more resembles their former Nazi persecutors than the “People of God” celebrated in the Hebrew Bible.

At the same time, today’s readings support rabbi Michael Lerner in cautioning Hamas against its policy of violent resistance. Though many of us would agree that Hamas’ tactics are understandable and often justified by principles of self-defense, today’s Gospel reading identifies them as counterproductive and ultimately harmful to the very people Hamas seeks to defend.

Instead, Jesus suggests that violent resistance should be replaced by greater reliance on more subtle and patient strategies. Such strategies are reflected in the three basic themes of today’s readings. They emphasize (1) the power of God expressed in leniency and forgiveness, (2) the futility of violent response to unwanted foreign presence, and (3) resistance that takes the form of patient trust that God’s forgiving power will prevail. In succession, the themes suggest challenges for Jewish Zionists, Palestinians, and Christians.

Begin with the first reading from the Jewish Testament’s Book of Wisdom. It is particularly relevant to Zionist Jews. The reading says explicitly that God’s power is not expressed in violence but in leniency to all, Jew and non-Jew alike.

That theme is repeated in today’s responsorial psalm with equal relevance to Zionists. There God is described as belonging to all nations. The divine Spirit, as Paul insists in today’s second reading, dwells within all humans regardless of nationality. It is slow to anger, good, forgiving, abounding in kindness.

From this, Jewish wisdom insists that the “People of God” must in turn be kind, lenient and forgiving to all – presumably even to their worst enemies. There is no room here for exceptions involving the indigenous tribal people of Palestine.

The second theme of today’s liturgy enjoys direct relevance to contemporary Palestinians. Whether they are Muslims or Christians (and many are Christians), they also recognize the Bible as the Word of God. I point to Palestinian relevance because this second theme addresses the question of resisting illegal occupation.

That is, Jesus’ parable of the weeds planted by an enemy in a landlord’s field can be read as addressing the Roman occupation forces encumbering Israel during Jesus’ lifetime. [According to John Dominic Crossan, Matthew’s allegorizing of Jesus’ parable – making it about the end of the world – is more reflective of the situation of the Jewish diaspora (following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE) than of the actual revolutionary situation of Jesus’ own day.]

In occupied Israel, the suffocating Roman presence was as unwelcome, alien, and destructive as weeds in a garden or field. It was like the presence of basically European Zionist colonizers who have encumbered Palestinian land since their colonial invasion in 1948.

The question was how to deal with such odious foreign presence. Zealot revolutionaries had their answer: Uproot the weeds here and now. Take up arms; assassinate Romans and their collaborators; drive them out mercilessly. Be as cruel and vicious as the Romans.

Jesus’ response was different. As a non-violent revolutionary, he could surely understand the more apocalyptic strategy. After all, much of his teaching expressed sympathy to the Zealot cause which included land reform, debt forgiveness, and expulsion of the hated Roman occupation forces. Many scripture scholars even identify possibly five members of Jesus’ inner circle as Zealots themselves.

But Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds is more prudent and sensitive to civilian casualties than the strategy of the impatient Zealots – or that of Hamas.

When the landlord’s workers ask, “Should we uproot the weeds?” Jesus’ landlord answers: “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”

In other words, Jesus agrees with El Salvador’s Oscar Romero and with Brazil’s Dom Helder Camara that revolutionary violence, though understandable (and justifiable on the grounds of just war theory), is imprudent at the very least.

This is because when faced with a vicious, overwhelmingly armed oppressor (like the Zionist state) resistance inevitably leads to state terrorism – to the war crime of collective punishment impacting women, children, the elderly and disabled. At the very least, that’s why Jesus eschews Zealot violence.

How then respond to illegal occupation like Rome’s in the 1st century or Israel’s over the last more than 60 years?

Jesus’ response? Be like mustard plant, he says. Be like yeast in flour. Both puzzling recommendations are relevant not only to Palestinians, but to Christians who wish to help their brothers and sisters in Palestine against the Zionists-turned-Nazis.

First of all think of the puzzlement that must have struck Jesus’ listeners. Jews didn’t have much use for yeast. They preferred unleavened bread. Neither would any farmer sow mustard seeds in her field or garden. The mustard plant was like kudzu – itself a kind of weed that eventually can take over entire fields and mountainsides while choking out other plants weeds or not. The mustard plant was unstoppable.

So Jesus is saying:

 * The Romans are weeds in your garden.
 * Don’t try to uproot them.
 * That will only lead to slaughter of the innocent.
 * Rather become weeds yourselves – like the mustard plant which is much more powerful than simple Roman (or Zionist) weeds.
 * Resist the Romans by embodying the Spirit of God that is slow to anger, good, forgiving, abounding in kindness.
 * Only imitation of Wisdom’s God can defeat the evil of imperialism.

What does that mean for Christians wishing to express solidarity with Palestinians against their cruel oppressors? At least the following:

 * Reject U.S. militarism in general as counterproductive, since fully 90% of the casualties it inflicts in war are civilians.
 * To bring about change, be instead like the yeast a homemaker puts into 60 pounds of flour, “infecting” the greater culture by non-violent resistance rather than seeking to destroy enemies.
 * Recognize the Zionists for what they are: an outlaw European “settler society” illegally occupying Palestinian land.
 * Take sides with Palestine’s indigenous tribal People.
 * Recognize them for what they are: “the Jews’ Jews” – treated by Zionists in the same way the Nazis treated Jews in Germany.
 * Petition the U.S. government to withdraw its support of Israel (more than one million dollars per day) unless the Zionists obey UN Resolution 242 and abandon the occupied territory while tearing down the odious Wall of Shame protecting the illegal Zionist settlements.
 * Support boycotts of Israel’s products by not buying them and by urging our churches and places of business to do the same.

Surely Jesus’ Way of non-violent resistance, forgiveness and love of enemies will strike many (non-believers and believers alike) as unrealistic. But according to the faith we Christians pretend to embrace, Jesus’ Way is God’s way.

But then perhaps we think we’re smarter and more realistic than Jesus — or God?

Jesus’ Parable of the Sower: Pete Seeger on Seeds and Sand

Pete Seeger

Readings for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 55:10-11; PS 65:10-14; ROM 8:15-23; MT 13: 1-23; http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071314.cfm

Last week, on the 4th of July, Amy Goodman replayed an interview with the legendary folk singer, Pete Seeger. In the course of the interview, Pete commented on today’s Gospel reading – the familiar parable of the Sower. His words are simple, unpretentious and powerful. They’re reminders that the stories Jesus made up were intended for ordinary people – for peasants and unschooled farmers. They were meant to encourage such people to believe that simple farmers could change the world – could bring in God’s Kingdom. Doing so was as simple as sowing seeds.

Seeger said:

“Realize that little things lead to bigger things. That’s what Seeds is all about. And there’s a wonderful parable in the New Testament: The sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousand fold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of?”

Farmers in Jesus’ day needed encouragement like that. They were up against the Roman Empire which considered them terrorists. We need encouragement too as we face Rome’s counterpart headed by the U.S.

The obstacles we face are overwhelming. I even hate to mention them. But the short list includes the following – all connected to seeds, and farming, and to cynically controlling the natural abundance which is celebrated in today’s readings as God’s gift to all. Our problems include:

• Creation of artificial food scarcity by corporate giants such as Cargill who patent seeds for profit while prosecuting farmers for the crime of saving Nature’s free production from one harvest to the following year’s planting.
• Climate change denial by the rich and powerful who use the Jesus tradition to persuade the naïve that control of natural processes and the resulting ecocide are somehow God’s will.
• Resulting wealth concentration in the hands of the 85 men who currently own as much as half the world’s (largely agrarian) population.
• Suppression of that population’s inevitable resistance by terming it “terrorism” and devoting more than half of U.S. discretionary spending to military campaigns against farmers and tribal Peoples scattering seed and reaping pitiful harvests in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine.
• Ignoring what the UN has pointed out for years (and Thomas Picketty has recently confirmed): that a 4% tax on the world’s richest 225 individuals would produce the $40 billion dollars or so necessary to provide adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, education and health care for the entire world where more than 40% still earn livings by sowing seeds.
• Blind insistence by our politicians on moving in the opposite direction – reducing taxes for the rich and cutting programs for the poor and protection of our planet’s water and soil.

It’s the tired story of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. In today’s Gospel, Jesus quotes the 1st century version of that old saw. In Jesus’ day it ran: “. . . to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

Today’s liturgy of the word reminds us that such cynical “wisdom” does not represent God’s way. Instead the divine order favors abundance of life for all – not just for the 1%. as our culture would have it. For instance, today’s responsorial psalm proclaims that even without human intervention, the rains and wind plow the ground. As a result, we’re surrounded with abundance belonging to all:

“You have crowned the year with your bounty,
and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;
The untilled meadows overflow with it,
and rejoicing clothes the hills.
The fields are garmented with flocks
and the valleys blanketed with grain.
They shout and sing for joy.”

Because of God’s generosity, there is room for everyone in the Kingdom. The poor have enough; so poverty disappears. Meanwhile, the formerly super-rich have only their due share of the 1/7 billionth part of the world’s product that rightfully belongs to everyone.

To repeat: abundance for all is the way of Nature – the way of God.

Only a syndrome of denial – willful blindness and deafness – enables the rich and powerful to continue their exploitation. Jesus describes the process clearly in today’s final reading. He says:

“They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.”

Those of us striving to follow Jesus’ Way hear his call to open our eyes and ears. Conversion – deep change at the personal and social levels – is our shared vocation. That’s the only way to bring in God’s Kingdom. Individually our efforts might be as small and insignificant as tiny seeds. But those seeds can be powerful if aligned with the forces of Nature and the Kingdom of God. That’s true even if much of what we sow falls on rocky ground, are trampled underfoot, eaten by birds or are choked by thorns. We never know which seeds will come to fruition.

Such realization means:

• Lowering expectations about results from our individual acts in favor of the Kingdom.
• Nonetheless deepening our faith and hope in the inevitability of the Kingdom’s coming as the result of innumerable small acts that coalesce with similar acts performed by others.

Once again, Pete Seeger expressed it best:

“Imagine a big seesaw. One end of the seesaw is on the ground because it has a big basket half full of rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air because it’s got a basket one quarter full of sand. Some of us have teaspoons and we are trying to fill it up. Most people are scoffing at us. They say, “People like you have been trying for thousands of years, but it is leaking out of that basket as fast as you are putting it in.” Our answer is that we are getting more people with teaspoons every day. And we believe that one of these days or years — who knows — that basket of sand is going to be so full that you are going to see that whole seesaw going zoop! in the other direction. Then people are going to say, “How did it happen so suddenly?” And we answer, “Us and our little teaspoons over thousands of years.”

A July 4th Sunday Homily: “I Stood Up” (Inspired by Readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Door Kicks

Readings for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: ZEC 9:9-10; PS 145: 1-2, 8-11, 13-14; ROM 8:9, 11-13; MT 11:25-30; http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070614.cfm

Two weeks ago
Between innings
Of a Cubs-Pirates game
At Wrigley Field,
They celebrated a Marine from Iraq –
A local boy
Who emerged from the Cubs’ dugout
Waving
To a hero’s welcome
From a crowd on its feet
Cheering
Between swigs of PBR
As if the poor kid had hit
A game-winning dinger.

Reluctantly I stood up with the rest.

I now regret my applause.
I should have remembered shaved-headed
Brain-washed innocents
Kicking in front doors
Petrifying children
Calling their parents “mother f_ _kers”
And binding tender wrists
With plastic handcuffs.
To rid the world of evil.

Pitiful brainwashed innocents,
They are
Driven to war by poverty
And debt
To Haditha, Fallujah, Abu Grahib,
To weddings transformed in a flash and bang
Into funerals
Leaving mourners shocked and awed –
Collateral Murder,”
By what King called
“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world”
And what the Sandinista hymn identified as
“The enemy of mankind.”

I should have remembered
Iraq (and Afghanistan btw)
Were wars of choice,
Of aggression,
The supreme international crime.”

Why did I not recall Zechariah?
(And here come my references to the readings for this Sunday)
And the peace-making Messiah
Christians claim he prophesied.
The prophet’s Promised One would be
Gentle and meek
Riding an ass
Rather than a war horse
Or Humvee
And banishing chariots, cross-bows
And drones raining hell-fire
From the skies.
His kingdom disarmed
Would encompass the entire world.
Refusing to call
Any of God’s “little ones”
(To use our military’s terms of art)
Rag-heads” or “Sand ni_ ggers

Paul called such imperial hate-speech “flesh.”
(Judging by appearances like skin color, nationality, religion)
“Live according to Christ’s Spirit,” Paul urged.
(Compassion for all, works of mercy)
No room for door-kickers there.

I should have remembered Jesus
And his yoke.
So good and light
He said
Compared with
The heavy burdens
The Roman War-makers
Laid on their subjects
Who kicked in Nazareth’s doors
And called parents like Joseph and Mary
“Mother f_cking Jews.”

Their imperial generals were “learned” and “wise”
In the ways of the world
But they piled crushing burdens
On the shoulders
Of those “little ones”
Jesus preferred –
In places far from the imperial center
Like Palestine (or Iraq today).
Victims there might be out of sight
And mind
For those enjoying bread, circuses
Cubs and Pirates,
But not for the All Parent
Described by the Psalmist today
As gracious, merciful, slow to anger, hugely kind, benevolent to all, compassionate, faithful, holy, and lifting up (rather than crushing) those who have fallen under the weight of the burdens Jesus decries.

I should have asked,
If following that Messiah
If worshipping that All Parent
Allowed standing and applauding
A robot returned
From a war
Where over a million civilians have been slaughtered
To rid the world of violence.
(In 1942 would I have joined the crowd
Applauding an S.S. “hero” in a Munich stadium
Just back from the front –or Auschwitz?
Or a pilot who had bombed Pearl Harbor
At a “Wrigley Field” in Tokyo?)

No: I should have had the courage
To remain seated.
And so should we all
Instead of
• Celebrating the military
• Waving flags on the 4th of July
• Paying war taxes
• And wondering with Fox newscasters
What makes America great?

Sunday Homily: Pope Francis & St. Peter – Throwing Rocks at Empire Then and Now

Stone thrower

Readings for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul: Acts 12: 1-11; PS 34: 2-9; 2TM 4: 6-8, 17-18; MT 16: 13-19, http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062914-day-mass.cfm

Pope Francis is at it again. He’s throwing stones at the U.S. Empire. (Details to follow.) Today’s liturgy of the word tells us that in doing so Francis is following in the footsteps of St. Peter, the” rock-thrower” of whom tradition tells us Pope Francis the successor.

The liturgy promises that joining Francis and Peter in their resistance to empire, while accepting the mysterious keys to God’s kingdom can release us from even the most impregnable imperial prison. This should give all of us encouragement as we struggle against the powerful “beast” whose policies would rather see behind bars people like Francis, Peter and many reading this homily.

To begin with, think about our prophet-pope. Three weeks ago, he reaffirmed what has become a theme of his papacy. Without mentioning the United States by name, he condemned the economic system “America” and its European partners champion.

He also condemned the wars the U.S. prosecutes and weaponizes. According to the pope, far from advancing freedom or democracy, the purpose of such war is to maintain a system of greed based on the worship of money. As such, that system is the cause of scandalous inequalities and unemployment across the globe – even as exposed by French economist, Thomas Picketty in his best-selling Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century.

Here are the pope’s actual words:

“We discard a whole generation to maintain an economic system that no longer endures – a system that to survive has to make war, as the big empires have always done. But since we cannot wage the Third World War, we make regional wars. And what does that mean? That we make and sell arms. And with that the balance sheets of the idolatrous economies — the big world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money — are obviously cleaned up.”

As indicated earlier, those words can be understood as following the anti-imperial rock-throwing tradition of Simon the apostle. After all the nom de guerre of that particular insurgent was “Peter,” a name some say meant “rock-thrower” – probably a reference to his prowess at hurling stones at Roman soldiers who occupied his homeland of Galilee. Peter was an insurgent not unlike those who have plagued U.S. misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. In today’s gospel, Matthew turns rock-throwing into an anti-imperial metaphor describing the foundation of the Jesus Movement.

The evangelist does so by having Jesus raise three Socratic questions about God’s reign contrasted with Caesar’s – always the focus of Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus’ first question sets an “apocalyptic” tone for the other two. The question represents a marker telling us that what follows will be highly political – a criticism of the imperial order Jesus and his friends found it so painful to live under. (The literary form “apocalypse” always entailed critique of empire.)

So seemingly out of the blue, the carpenter-rabbi asks, “Who do people say the ‘Son of Man’ is?” The question refers us, not to Jesus, but to a revolutionary character introduced in the Book of Daniel – written during the occupation of Palestine under the Greek emperor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Daniel’s character was “the Human One.” The book’s author sets that figure in sharp contrast to “the Beasts” (including a lion, a leopard and an iron-toothed dragon) who represent the imperial oppressors of Israel from the Egyptians through the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks. In Jesus’ context, the Roman occupiers were the latest bestial incarnation. Everyone knew that.

According to Daniel’s author, the Human One would establish God’s compassionate (humanistic) order destined to replace all savage imperial arrangements. The resulting Kingdom would be friendly not to the royalty, the generals, “our troops,” or the 1%, but to those the biblical tradition identifies as God’s favorites – the widows, orphans, and undocumented foreigners. (This Sunday’s responsorial psalm calls such people the poor, the lowly, fearful, ashamed and distressed. They are the ones, the responsorial says, whom God can be counted on to rescue.)

In answer to Jesus’ question about the Son of Man’s identity, his disciples answer, “Some say he was John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Then Jesus asks, “what about me? Who do you think I am in the apocalyptic context I’ve just set – at this particularly pregnant moment when all of us are breathlessly expecting a change in World Order? That’s Jesus’ second question this morning.

Not surprisingly, Peter takes the bait. “You are the messiah,” he responds, “the Son of God.” With these words, the Jewish fisherman is not making a scholar’s metaphysical statement about Jesus’ “consubstantiality” with “the Father.” Rather, he’s distinguishing Jesus from the Roman emperor – the most prominent claimant to the titles, “Messiah” and “Son of God.” Yes, both “Messiah” and “Son of God” were imperial titles. Everyone knew that too.

This makes Peter’s statement highly political. It identifies Jesus as the true head of the New Order which prophets like John the Baptist, Elijah and Jeremiah painted as the Dream of God. In words more relevant to our own time, Peter’s “confession of faith” is like saying “You, Jesus, are the real President, and your order has nothing to do with the United States or ‘America.’ In fact, it turns the values of empires – be they Rome or the United States – completely on their heads.”

Jesus’ response? (And this is the implied third question raised by Jesus – about Peter’s identity.) “You’re right, Simon. They don’t call you ‘Rock Thrower’ for nothing. And you’ve just thrown the most devastating rock of your life – this time at the Roman Empire itself. God’s kingdom puts the last first, the poor above the rich, and prostitutes and tax collectors ahead of priests and rabbis.

Jesus’ further comment shows that Peter has not merely thrown a rock; his understanding of God’s “preferential option for the poor” has moved a mountain. Recognizing Jesus and his priorities as the alternative to empire’s bestial order provides the foundation for the entire Jesus Movement.

It provides the KEY to the very kingdom of heaven. And the key is this: all human acts, whether they bind others (as empires always do) or free them (as Jesus’ followers are called to do) have cosmic significance. “What you bind on earth,” Jesus says, is bound in heaven. What you loose upon earth is loosed in heaven.” To repeat: empire’s nature is to bind the poor. In contrast, Jesus’ followers are called to loosen the bonds of those the empire identifies as “the least.” No effort on behalf of human liberation is insignificant. Despite appearances, they are stronger than those of empire.

As if to illustrate the overwhelming power of God’s loosening over imperial bondage, today’s opening reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts the miraculous release of Peter from prison. (Prisoners, of course, are also prominent among God’s favorites.) Like our situation today as we attempt to oppose the beast of empire, Peter’s seemed particularly hopeless to say the least. Rome’s puppet, Herod, was waging a major persecution of Jesus’ followers – for their Christ-like opposition to his patron, Caesar. In the process, prominent community leaders have been killed.

Peter himself has been arrested and is awaiting trial. He’s guarded by 16 heavily armed soldiers. He’s restrained by twice as many chains as normal. As he sleeps, one guard stands vigilant to Peter’s right, another to his left. Guards are also posted outside the prison door. The entire city is locked by an iron gate.

And yet Peter escapes. An “angel” (a representative of the cosmic power Jesus referred to) comes to Peter’s rescue. Almost as in a dream, he passes through one obstacle after another. And suddenly the “powers of heaven” set him free.

Joseph Stalin once famously belittled papal power by asking, “And how many divisions does the pope have?” The answer in today’s gospel –“innumerable.” Pope Francis’ words will have their effect, because their point is to loosen the bonds restraining the world’s poor. In the long run, empire’s power is doomed.

Be like Francis then. Resist neo-liberalism and the wars that force its policies on the world. Speak the truth. Work for justice.

History, the cosmos – God is on our side!

That’s the message of today’s liturgy of the word.

Cuba: the Most Important Country in the World!

Malecon

Early in my just-ended three-week visit to Cuba, my wife and I were strolling along Havana’s stunning Malecon walkway which stretches for miles along Havana’s northern coast. It was mid-afternoon on a Friday. We couldn’t help noticing how the seafront was more gorgeous than ever.

Both Peggy and I had been to Cuba many times, but it had been seven years since our last visit. In the meantime, buildings along the Malecon had taken on new coats of paint. Greens and whites, reds, golds, oranges, and blues sparkled in the sunlight alongside as yet unpainted decrepit apartment buildings. As ever, clotheslines of bed sheets, shirts, blouses and underwear flapped from balconies in the sea breeze.

Yes, we couldn’t help noticing, things had changed drastically since our last visit. And it wasn’t only the paint and scaffolding outside the buildings under reconstruction.

Tourists were everywhere. Even those “Hop-on, Hop-off” double-deck tour busses which we had seen in Europe passed at regular intervals. Havana’s atmosphere wordlessly conveyed an optimism we had not witnessed since we began visiting Cuba in 1997.

Sharing observations like that, we suddenly heard someone call out to us.

“Hey, where are you from?” The young man addressing us was Cuban, tall, black and smartly dressed in jeans, Nike T-shirt and sneakers. His wife was lighter skinned and similarly dressed. Both were friendly and smiling. Seeing the couple reminded us that Cuba has a largely Afro-descendent population.

“We’re from the United States,” I replied.

“Oh, the U.S.!” The young man smiled broadly. “We love the United States; the U.S. is the greatest country in the world!” His wife shook her head In agreement.

“No,” I contradicted, “Cuba is the greatest country in the world.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, my friend,” the young man said still smiling. “Cuba is the greatest country in Latin America. The United States is the greatest country in the world!”

The encounter spoke volumes about the new Cuba that impressed us so as we walked the Malecon. The exchange offered a snapshot of an economy that is rebounding from a deep depression, of a people who are friendly, proud and patriotic, and of Cuban aspirations to U.S. levels of consumption. That aspiration contains both promise and threat.

But before I get to that, let me tell you more about our visit. . . .

This time we were in Cuba as part of a Berea College summer school course. We called the course “Cuba: Resilience and Renovation.” Ours was a fact-finding study. What has Cuba been? What will it become? Those were our questions. Thirteen students engaged the conversation along with my daughter and her husband, and several friends. It was great fun.

Our course took us from Havana eastward to Varadero, Santa Clara, Matazanas, Camaguey, and Santiago de Cuba. We filled our days with conferences involving academics and government officials including a representative of the U.S. Interests Section (the U.S. quasi-embassy in Havana).

We found ourselves chatting with people on the street; some of us went into their homes. We met students, social activists, feminists, representatives of the LGBT community, farmers, co-op representatives, merchants, Santeria practitioners, Baptist ministers, medical personnel, hospital patients, children and the elderly in a day-care centers, and members of a Committee in Defense of the Revolution.

On a couple of occasions, I spoke with a fellow OpEdNews contributor – “Guillermo Tell,” a Russian ex-pat who has lived in Havana for 27 years. He reminded me of Cuba’s on-going problems with bureaucracy and of the dangers of “reforms” that could end up selling-out the hard won gains of the Revolution. (More on that later.)

Then there were those casual conversations with Cubans on the street, in night clubs and along the Malecon where Habaneros crowd each evening and especially on weekends for music, dance, love, conversation and arguments about baseball and politics.

We even found our way to a ringside table at the Tropicana nightclub, to a performance of the Buena Vista Social Club, and a children’s theater presentation on the Cuban Five that rivaled anything we’ve seen on Broadway.

Usually however our focus was the Revolution, socialism, and Cuba’s prospects for the future.

And what did we find out? Simply this: Cuba is the most important country in the world. Ernesto Cardenal said that of Nicaragua in the 1980s. And he was right. Nicaragua was then the most prominent center of resistance to U.S. imperialism. Today (and for the past 55 years) Cuba fills that role like none other. Alone in the world, it is demonstrating that Third World Countries can accomplish so much with so little even in the face of pitiless opposition from the most powerful country in the world. Cuba is showing the world a way into a future that accommodates itself to the new globalization – but on its own terms. In doing so, it has already surpassed Latin American darlings of development such as Costa Rica. It has already surpassed the United States in quality of life.

Are you surprised by that? Let me tell you what I mean – and here I address Cuban patriotism and the revolutionary gains evoked by our sidewalk encounter. Those elements are what make Cuba so important even in the face of the seduction by “the greatest country in the world.”

First think about Costa Rica. Peggy and I have lived there on and off for the last 25 years. To begin with, Havana is much more beautiful than Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. Havana’s seafront, colonial structures, its comparative cleanliness and hospitality far exceed what we’ve found in San Jose which is dirty and bleak by comparison. The latter has nothing like Havana Vieja – the old city whose restorations, museums and newly proliferated restaurants have created a tourist center that rivals anything we have seen in Europe.

Cuba’s Varadero seacoast is cleaner, more orderly, more extensive and luxurious than Costa Rica’s famed Manuel Antonio or Guanacaste’s Flamingo Beach resorts. Cuba’s highways are better than Costa Rica’s pot-holed thruways.

Yet, on the basis of independent surveys and assessments, Costa Rica bills itself as the “happiest country in the world.” I suspect Cubans are happier still.

And that brings me to the reasons why and to my claim about the U.S. and comparative qualities of life. Am I really saying that Cuba has surpassed not only Costa Rica but the U.S. in those terms? Yes – despite the impressions of that young man accosting us on the street.

Or let me put it this way: what do we value most in life? Few, I think, would respond: money, competition, meaningless work with increasing hours with fast-diminishing rewards. Few would list fast food, shopping malls, movies, luxury cars and vast homes at the head of our must-have lists.

Even abstractions like U.S. “freedom” (in our system that imprisons and executes more than any other country in the industrialized world), “democracy” (where voter-suppression is the order of the day), “free speech” (where the mainstream media ignores issues important to the poor and middle class), and “rule of law” (where universal surveillance, torture, police-impunity and extrajudicial killings are common) have become increasingly meaningless.

Instead most of us would say: “What I care most about are my children and grandchildren. I care about my health and that of my family. I care about the well-being of the planet we’ll leave to our descendants. Education is important. And I want safety in the streets. I’d even like to have some years of retirement toward the end of my life.”

In all of those terms – addressing what most humans truly care about – Cuba far outstrips the United States. Consider the following:

 * Education in Cuba is free through the university and graduate degree levels.
 * Health care and medicine are free.
 * Cuban agriculture is largely organic.
 * 80% of Cubans are home-owners.
 * Cuban elections are free of money and negative campaigning. (Yes, there are elections in Cuba – at all levels. Please see my last blog entry.)
 * Nearly half of government officials are women in what some have called “the most feminist country in Latin America.”
 * Drug dealing in Cuba has been eliminated.
 * Homelessness is absent from Cuban streets.
 * Streets are generally safe in Cuba
 * Gun violence is non-existent.

But what about Cuba’s notoriously low incomes for professional classes? They have doctors and teachers earning significantly less than hotel maids and taxi drivers who have access to tourist dollars. Professionals, it is often said, earn between $20 and $60 per month. Taxi drivers can earn as much in a single day.

There’s no denying, the growing income gap is a problem. It’s one of the most vexing issues currently under discussion by the Renewal Commission that is now shaping Cuba’s future after years of consultation with ordinary Cubans nation-wide.

And yet the income gap has to be put into perspective. That’s supplied by noting that Cubans do not live in a dollar economy, but in a peso arrangement where prices are much lower than they are for tourists. One also attains perspective by taking the usually cited $20 monthly wage and adding to it the “social wage” all Cubans routinely receive. And here I’m not just talking about the basket of goods insured by the country’s (inadequate) ration system. I’m referring to the expenses for which “Americans” must budget, but which Cubans don’t have. That is, if we insist on gaging Cuban income by U.S. dollar standards, add to the $20 Cubans receive each month the costs “Americans” incur monthly for such items as

 * Health insurance
 * Medicines
 * Home mortgages or rent
 * Electricity and water
 * School supplies and uniforms
 * College tuition and debt
 * Credit card interest
 * Insurances: home, auto, life
 * Taxes: federal, state, sales
 * Unsubsidized food costs

The point is that those and other charges obviated by Cuba’s socialist system significantly raise the wages Cubans receive far above the level normally decried by Cuba’s critics – far above, I would say, most Third World countries.

None of this, however, is to say that Cuba (like our own country) does not have serious problems. Its wealth-gap though infinitely less severe than in the United States holds potential for social unrest. And hunger (as in the U.S.) is still a problem for many.

To address such challenges and to responsibly integrate itself into today’s globalized economy, Cuba seems to be embracing:

 * A reduction of the government bureaucracy that my friend Guillermo Tell so despises.
 * Changing the state’s role from that of owner of the means of production to manager of the same.
 * Increasing the role of cooperatives in all sectors of the economy.
 * Connecting wages with productivity.
 * Expanding the private sector in an economy based on the general principle, “As much market as possible, and as much planning as necessary” (to insure a dignified life for all Cubans).
 * Elimination of subsidies to those who don’t actually need them.
 * Establishing income “floors” and “ceilings” rendering it impossible for Cubans to become excessively rich or poor.
 * Introducing an income tax system in a country that has no culture of taxation – itself a tremendous challenge. (So tremendous, a friend told me, that a tax system is “impossible” for Cubans even to contemplate.)
 * Perhaps even more difficult: establishing some kind of “wealth tax” a la Thomas Picketty (whom, I’ve been assured, the Economic Planning Body is studying).
 * Incentives to repopulate the countryside with a view to ensuring Cuba’s food sovereignty.

Those are the general directions. Actual decisions will be “transcendent” more than one person at the heart of the process told me. They will be made according to a world vision that is “entirely new.”

Breathlessly, we await the results. They will determine whether Cuba continues to be the change which our deepest concerns indicate most would like to see in the world.

What I’m saying is that Cuba’s resistance to imperialism, its willingness to address real problems (like climate change and income inequalities) rather than ignore or deny them – all of these are what make Cuba “most important.”

They are the reason Cuba might well be poised to become “the greatest country in the world.”

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