The Disappointing First Debate: The Best We Can Do Is Damage-Control

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Like everyone else I know, I watched the first presidential debate last night. I tuned in to “Democracy Now” (DN) to witness the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Afterwards I kept my dial set right there for the après debate discussion.

Then just this morning, I returned to DN to view debate highlights and the space host, Amy Goodman, gave to Jill Stein to answer the questions posed the night before by NBC News anchor, Lester Holt. Ms. Goodman had also invited Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, to participate in her two hour “Expanding the Debate” special. However, Mr. Johnson claimed he was otherwise occupied.

Despite polls that show most Americans would like their participation, both Dr. Stein and Mr. Johnson had been excluded from the previous evening’s debate by the Commission on Presidential Debates entirely controlled by the Democrat and Republican parties.

This morning I was relieved to find the Washington Post supporting my own judgment. It detailed a nearly unanimous verdict that Secretary Clinton had trounced Mr. Trump even according to conservative media outlets.

For me, the debate’s most important question addressed to both candidates was “If you happen to lose the election on November 8th, will you support your opponent as President of the United States?” Of course, both candidates answered in the affirmative.

If the question were posed to me – will I support either candidate? – my answer would be negative.

As many have pointed out, Donald Trump is entirely unqualified to be POTUS. Last night he came off like some guy you’d meet in a bar –  or your nutty uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, who after one too many, rants on in broad generalizations without any rational argument or factual support. At times he seemed completely incoherent.  He definitely generated more heat than light.

Meanwhile, Ms. Clinton had the opposite problem.  Yes, she was coherent. And yes, she had done her homework.

But she promises nothing more than continuation of the status quo. That in turn means perpetual war, more bombing, drone attacks, and regime change fueled by nostalgia for the 1990 Clinton years where “My husband did a pretty good job.”

That’s a reference to the same Bill Clinton who betrayed his working class base by ramming through what Mr. Trump correctly called the “worst trade deal in history” – the North American Free Trade Agreement. It’s the same president who sponsored the Omnibus Crime Bill that filled U.S. prisons with (largely black and Hispanic) perpetrators of victimless crimes. Mr. Clinton’s the one who gutted “Welfare as We Know It” eliminating Aid to Families with Dependent Children and replacing it with the punitive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. The Clintons are responsible for lowering the minimum wage in Haiti from 60 cents an hour to 40 cents.

What I’m saying is that Mrs. Clinton represents a depressing continuation of the status quo that millennials and other progressives have largely repudiated.

Forgotten in all of this is the fact that the alternative to business as usual was stymied by Hillary and her minion, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Under Shultz, the Democratic National Committee worked in concert with the Clinton campaign to discredit Bernie Sanders and, it seems, to prevent accurate vote tallies. In other words, Hillary is very likely where she is because of election fraud – one of the causes of voter apathy in relation to this Democratic candidate – and to elections in general.

With all of this in mind, I’m voting for Jill Stein, just as I did in the last election.  That’s because as a citizen of Kentucky, I’m disenfranchised by our current dysfunctional electoral system. So in my irredeemably Red State, my vote carries no weight at all, except as a protest. My protest vote then will be for the Green Party candidate.

As she showed this morning on DN and in other interviews I’ve seen, Dr. Stein is on top of issues and offers a truly progressive agenda largely ignored last night. That agenda includes:

  • A Green New Deal that amounts to a huge jobs program that will turn the tide on climate change.
  • For debt-ridden students (43 million of them), a bail-out analogous to the Bush-Obama 2008 $1.3 trillion Wall Street bail-out.
  • Tax increases on the 1% and on corporations to fund such programs.
  • The end of foreign policies whose guiding principle entails global dominance, imperialism, and regime change. (That policy, in turn, generates and feeds the problem of terrorism.)
  • Corresponding and substantial cut-backs in military spending that currently consumes nearly half of the U.S. budget.
  • Community-controlled policing with Citizen Review Boards for U.S. police departments. These boards would have investigative and subpoena power and authority to fire and hire police chiefs.
  • The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address racism, its causes and remedies including reparations for slavery.
  • Halting the Obama $1 trillion plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and replacing it with world-wide nuclear disarmament negotiations.
  • Dismantling nuclear power plants which with the likelihood of a 9-foot rise in sea levels by 2050 are in line to “go Fukushima” by then.

Absent the Electoral College nonsense, I’d hold my nose and vote for Hillary. But that would only be a “damage control” measure on my part. This time around we have no choice – just two highly defective corporate candidates. And Trump is clearly unqualified for Dog Catcher.

Between now and 2020, we have to work with Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and others to implement a program with features like the ones just listed.

What do you think?

Dives & Lazarus: a liberation theology catechism (Sunday Homily)

Lazarus

Readings for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time: AM 6: 1A, 4-7; PS 146: 7-10; ITM 6: 11-16; LK 16: 19-31

Today’s liturgy of the word provides us with a catechism of liberation theology – Christianity’s most important theological development in the last 1500 years, and the West’s most important social movement of the last 150 years.

I have come to those conclusions over a period of more than forty years studying liberation theology. My interest began in Rome during my graduate studies there, 1967 through 1972. There I first heard Peru’sGustavo Gutierrez speak. (Fr. Gutierrez is considered the father of liberation theology.)

Subsequently I read Gutierrez’s book, A Theology of Liberation (1971) and was completely taken by it. Reading the book gave me the feeling that I was hearing Jesus’ Gospel for the very first time.

You might ask, what is liberation theology? To answer that question fully, please look at my blog entries under the “liberation theology” button. I’ve written a series on the question. In my blogs, you’ll find that I always define it in a single sentence. Liberation theology is reflection on the following of Christ from the viewpoint of the world’s poor and oppressed. That’s the class of people to which Jesus himself belonged. They constituted the majority of his first followers.

When read from their viewpoint, accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds – the entire Bible for that matter – take on depths of meaning and relevance to our contemporary world that are otherwise inaccessible to people like us who live in the heart of the wealthy world. From the viewpoint of the poor, God passes from being a neutral observer of earth’s injustices to an active participant with the poor as they struggle for justice here on earth. Jesus becomes the personification of that divine commitment to the oppressed. After all, he was poor and oppressed himself. The Roman Empire and its Temple priest collaborators saw to that.

My interest in liberation theology deepened as my teaching career developed at Berea College in Kentucky from 1974 to 2010. There I was encouraged to continue my study of liberation theology. So I spent extended periods in Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Cuba, Mexico, Zimbabwe, South Africa, India and elsewhere studying under liberation theologians, dialoging and publishing with them. The poor in all of those countries were suffering from the aggression the United States directed against them.

Meanwhile at Berea, I found the conclusions of liberation theologians validated by the college’s very fine scripture scholars. They had almost no acquaintance with liberation theology, and yet what they were teaching perfectly harmonized with its central tenets. It’s just that they stopped short of drawing what seemed to me the obvious political conclusions from their work.

More specifically, Berea’s scholars identified the Exodus (Yahweh’s liberation of slaves from Egypt) as God’s original and paradigmatic revelation. The whole tradition began there, not in the Garden of Eden. Moreover, the Jewish prophetic tradition emphasized what we now call “social justice.” Even more, Jesus of Nazareth appeared in the prophetic tradition, not as a priest or king. Jesus directed his “ministry” to the poor and outcasts. The Gospel of Luke (4: 18-19) has Jesus describing his program in the following words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After his death, Jesus’ followers continued along those lines. They lived communally, having sold all their worldly possessions and distributed the proceeds to the poor.

All of that finds vivid expression in today’s liturgy of the word. As I said, it’s a kind of catechism of liberation theology. The reading from Amos the prophet describes the sin that most offends God – wealth disparity in the face of extreme poverty. Amos decries a “wanton revelry” on the part of the wealthy that sounds like the “American Way of Life” or the “Lives of the Rich and Famous” that we Americans find so fascinating. The prophet describes a rich class that lives like King David himself – in luxurious houses, overeating, drinking wine by the bowlful, and generally ignoring “the collapse of Joseph,” i.e. the poverty of their country’s most destitute. For that, Amos says, the rich will ultimately suffer. All their wealth will be confiscated and they will be driven into shameful exile.

In railing against the rich and defending the poor, Amos was calling Judah back to the worship of Yahweh whose attributes are described in today’s responsorial psalm. There God is depicted as loving the just and thwarting the ways of the wicked. The psalm describes Yahweh as securing justice for the oppressed, giving food to the hungry, and setting captives free. He gives sight to the blind and protects resident aliens, single mothers and their children.

Then today’s excerpt from 1st Timothy outlines the characteristics of those who worship that God by following in Jesus’ footsteps. They keepthe commandment which is to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. According to St. Paul, that means pursuing justice and living with devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.

Finally, the gospel selection from Luke chapter 16 dramatizes the sinful relationship between rich and poor and the destinies awaiting both. Luke tells the story of the rich man and “St. Lazarus” who is honored by the poor throughout Latin America.

It is significant that Lazarus is given a name in Jesus’ parable. Usually we know the names of the rich, while it is the poor that remain anonymous. Here matters are reversed. To remedy this anomaly, tradition has assigned the wealthy man a name. He’s called Dives, which is simply the Latin word for rich man.

For his part, Lazarus is quintessentially poor, hungry, and lacking medical care. His sores are open and the only attention they receive are from dogs that lick his wounds. Meanwhile, Dives seems completely unaware of Lazarus’ presence, though the beggar is standing at his very doorstep. Within the sight of Lazarus, the wealthy one stuffs himself with food to such a degree that the scraps falling from his table would be enough to nourish the poor beggar. But not even those crumbs are shared. How could Dives share? He doesn’t even know that Lazarus exists.

So the two men die, and things are evened out. The rich man goes to hell. We’re not told why. Within the limits of the story, it seems simply for the crime of being rich and unconsciously blind to the presence of the poor. For his part, Lazarus goes to the “bosom of Abraham,” the original Hebrew patriarch.

Lazarus is rewarded. Again, we’re not told why. Within the story, it seems simply because he was poor and Yahweh is partial to the poor, just as he was to the slaves God intervened to save when they were starving in Egypt.

Seated with Abraham, Lazarus feasts and feasts at the eternal banquet hungry people imagine heaven to be. Dives however is consumed by flame in the afterlife. Fire, of course, is the traditional symbol of God’s presence, or purification, and of punishment. This seems to suggest that after death, both Dives and Lazarus find themselves in the presence of God. However what Lazarus experiences as joyful, Dives experiences as tormenting.

And why? Simply, it seems, because Dives was rich, and Lazarus was poor.

Does the parable tell us that what awaits us all after death is a reversal of the economic conditions in which we now find ourselves? The first will be last; the last first. The rich will be poor, and the poor will be rich. That in itself is highly thought-provoking.

In any case, Yahweh is presented as champion of the poor in this parable, just as in the reading from Amos, in today’s responsorial psalm, and in Paul’s letter to Timothy. And according to liberation theologians, that’s the central characteristic of God throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition. God is on the side of the poor and hates obscene wealth disparity.

You can well imagine how such insight inspired the poor and oppressed throughout the world when it emerged as “liberation theology” following the Second Vatican Council. Poor people everywhere (and especially in Latin America) took courage and were inspired to demand social justice from the rich who had been ignoring them in the New World since the arrival of Columbus 500 years earlier. In fact, Liberation theology motivated social movements more powerfully than any thought current since the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848.

And that’s why the reigning empire, the United States of America took action against liberation theology. It initiated what Noam Chomsky calls “the first religious war of the 21st century.” It was a war of the United States against the Catholic Church in Latin America – yes against the Catholic Church. The war killed hundreds of thousands of priests, nuns, lay catechists, social workers, union organizers, students, teachers, and journalists along with ordinary farmers and workers.

Today’s liturgy of the word reminds us not to let the United States have the final word. We are called to divest ourselves of our wealth and to take notice of St. Lazarus at our gates. God is on the side of the poor, not of the rich.

“Sausage Party”: A Surprising Anti-Capitalist Call to Revolution

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What do you call an economic system where:

  • Everything is sexualized?
  • But sexuality is repressed?
  • Products are treated as people?
  • People are treated as commodities?
  • Theory promises the greatest happiness possible
  • But in reality devours those who believe it?

Of course, that system is the patriarchal sausage party called capitalism. And that’s exactly what’s satirized in the film by the same name. The computer-generated animated comedy is raunchy, sophomoric, scatological, irreverent, suggestive and filled with non-stop double entendre. At the same time, it is artistic in its imagery and creative in terms of its star-studded voice cast. Above all, “Sausage Party” is trenchantly critical of capitalism’s ideology and practice.

Here’s how its plot is summarized on-line by Violet LeVoit:

“A happy-go-lucky sausage (voiced by Seth Rogen) and his supermarket buddies including a hot dog bun (Kristen Wiig), a bagel (Edward Norton), a sausage (Michael Cera) and a taco (Salma Hayek) learn about the horror that awaits them when humans bring them home to chow down. Despite the hostility they get from other supermarket items . . . they embark on an existential adventure to escape from their edible fate. This raunchy animated comedy . . . holds the distinction of being the first R-rated computer animated feature.”

That’s the apparent tale. However, as it unfolds, the comedy reveals itself as an elaborate send up of capitalist theory that crumbles upon its entry into the real world.

Literally (and revealingly) set in a “Market,” “Sausage Party” cleverly presents products as people – or is it people as products?  Like characters reminiscent of Plato’s “Parable of the Cave,” hot dogs, buns, honey mustard, a damaged douche container, and every other super market product you can think of, have all been seduced by a theologized theory that promises a marvelous utopia awaiting them in the “real world” outside the realm where market’s theory is constantly celebrated as a gift from God.

However, like enthusiastic commodified workers hired by employers, the “chosen” soon realize a reality harshly at odds with the theory they’ve learned so well. What was supposed to fulfill actually devours them along with people from all over the world. Meanwhile the commodities’ all-white directors are stupid, dirty, unconscious, and unthinking materialists with no clue about the havoc they’re actually wreaking across the globe.

With all of this in mind, “Sausage Party” becomes a rich satire redolent not only of Plato’s Cave, but of other classic themes including The Journey, The Quest for Truth and Meaning, the Power of Popular Revolution, and the Supremacy of Love and Hope over Blame and Guilt.

It becomes the story of how commodified people come to the realization that their rulers are restricting, exploiting, and destroying them. They become conscious that the entire market system is necrophilic, because it is based on death itself. It employs highly theologized propaganda to induce guilt about perfectly natural impulses (like love and sex) that might otherwise encourage fellow-feeling and awaken rebellious tendencies.

Despite overwhelming obstacles and odds, the conscientized overcome the divide-and-rule distinctions their keepers have imposed. Men join forces with women, blacks with whites, Hispanics with Anglos, Jews with Arabs, gays with straights, and atheists with believers. They take up arms against their oppressors, overthrow the establishment replacing its chaos with an order based on free love and joy. (Sausage Party’s concluding sexual orgy is remarkable.)

In short, “Sausage Party” is about the power of love and natural instincts to destroy an artificial capitalist system based on deception, repression, guilt and tribalism.

For those reasons, the film is worth seeing. But leave the kids at home for this one.

 

 

Jesus again Makes Fun of The Silly Rich (Sunday Homily)

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Readings for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: AM 8:4-7; PS 113: 1-2, 4-8; I TM 2:1-8; LK 16: 1-13

Jesus loved telling stories that made fun of rich people. He’s at it again in this morning’s gospel.

You can imagine the delight such parables brought Jesus’ audiences of poor peasants, fishermen, beggars, prostitutes, and unemployed day laborers. They surely chuckled as he spun tales about “stewards” who couldn’t dig a hole in the ground if their life depended on it or who were mortified at the very thought of begging. They’d laugh about rich landowners storing up grain and dying before they had a chance to enjoy their profits. They knew what Jesus meant when he mocked pathetically avaricious landlords getting angry when their money managers failed to increase their bank accounts while the boss was away attending parties. They’d shake their heads knowingly when Jesus mocked heartless employers who reaped where they didn’t sow.

Jesus’ listeners would have found today’s story especially entertaining. After all it featured an accountant who cheated his wealthy employer. And then the rich guy ends up appreciating the accountant’s dishonesty. Men and women in Jesus’ audience would have nudged each other and smiled knowingly at the tale.

“That’s the way those people are,” they’d laugh. “They’re so dishonest; they can’t help appreciating corruption in others, even when it means they’re getting screwed themselves!

“Yeah, the rich stick together,” the crowds would agree. “Their greed and dishonesty is the glue. They know: today it’s you getting caught with your hand in the till. Tomorrow it might be me. So let’s not be too hard on one another.

“Ha, ha, what a joke they are!”

In today’s first reading, the prophet Amos uses a different tactic to decry the rich. Instead of humor, Amos straight out lambasts them for “trampling on the needy,” and exploiting poor farmers. They’re so eager to make money, Amos charged; they can’t wait till the Sabbath ends so they can resume their dirty work. Then first chance they get, the crooks manipulate currencies and rig scales in their favor and short-change the buyer. They sell shoddy products and underpay workers. God will never forget such crimes, Amos angrily declares.

Our responsorial psalm agrees with the prophet. The psalmist reminds us that God is not on the side of the rich, but of the poor. In fact God so honors the lowly that (S)he considers them royalty. “He seats them with princes” the psalmist says. Yahweh rescues the lowly from their greedy exploiters.

So Jesus ridicules the rich with humor, while Amos wrings his hands over their crimes with righteous indignation. Both approaches highlight the basic truth put so memorably by Jesus when he says in today’s reading from Luke that we have to choose between money and the biblical God who champions the poor. It’s one or the other. We can’t serve two masters.

“So be like the rich guys in today’s story,” Jesus adds with a twinkle in his eye. He searches the crowd for the pickpockets, the “lame” and “blind” beggars. He looks for the hookers and tax collectors.

“Stick together,” he says. Then he winks. “And that dishonest money you depend on . . . Spread it around and help us all out.

“Better yet, give it to the Resistance Movement and you’ll get one of those rich guys’ houses when the Romans are gone and the Kingdom comes.”

Everyone laughs.

The November Elections, Pope Francis, and the Catholic Vote

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On September 6th, the Washington Post published a report called “White Catholics Struggle to Get on Board the Trump Train.” The article’s assumption was that obviously Caucasian Catholics are expected to vote Republican. However, the report noted, some are having second thoughts in the light of the Trump candidacy – presumably because of his waffling on the issue of abortion.

Unexplainably, the Post article completely ignored the overall progressive thrust of Pope Francis’ teaching and the un-Republican influence it might be having on Catholic voters. Instead, it bolstered its “of course” assumption about Catholics voting Republican by puzzling over the fact that four years ago Catholics who attended Mass at least once a month favored Mitt Romney by 38 points. This year, Donald Trump’s lead among such Catholics has shrunk to 17 points..

True, the WaPo article did suggest that Pope Francis might have something to do with the trends it described. After all, Francis had explicitly intimated that Mr. Trump was unchristian for intending to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Followers of Jesus, Francis said, build bridges, not walls. In response Trump dismissed the pope as “very political.”

However, the Post completely ignored the issues of climate change, a world economy based on arms manufacture, capital punishment, and world-wide income disparities – Pope Francis’ signature issues that he himself highlighted in his speech last year to the U.S. Congress.

The Post carried on as if that speech and the pope’s landmark encyclical on climate change had never occurred. It was as though the Church were still mired in the reactionary era of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, when Catholics seemed obsessed with one issue alone: abortion without connecting it (as Francis has done) to problems of poverty, war, environmental destruction, and an overwhelmingly punitive “justice” system.

So how should Catholics vote who are tuned into Pope Francis’ more comprehensive moral concerns? According to the pope’s eco-encyclical, his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, and his address to the U.S. Congress, Catholics should vote:

  • Against climate change deniers and for those who share the pope’s climate concerns.
  • Against champions of dirty fossil fuels and in favor of those supporting alternative, renewable energy sources.
  • Against those who would exclude refugees from finding shelter in the United States and in favor of those advocating sanctuary.
  • Against those who favor arms sales abroad and in favor of proponents of divestment from the arms industry.
  • Against champions of capital punishment and in favor of those calling for its abolition.
  • Against those proposing tax cuts for the wealthy and in favor of increased redistributive taxes on their incomes.
  • Against those whose answers to global terrorism are war, bombing, and drone assassinations, and in favor of those who offer legal and diplomatic solutions to the problem of national security.
  • Against those who are selective in their “pro-life” advocacy, and for those who connect respect for life not just with abortion, but with providing care for unwanted children brought to term, with clean energy, environmental protection, universal health care, investment in public education, and opposition to capital punishment and war.

In the run-up to the elections, these are the issues Catholics should quiz Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump about – as well as candidates for other public offices.

Colin Kaepernick as Heretical Prodigal Son (a Sunday Homily)

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, shocked us all recently by refusing to stand up for the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before football games. His bold action seems intimately connected with Andre Gide’s daring reinterpretation of Jesus’ parable of The Prodigal Son which is centralized in today’s liturgy of the word.

To begin with, think about the reasons for Kaepernick’s action and the response it has evoked. Explaining himself, the Pro Bowl quarterback said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

In effect Kaepernick was supporting the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM). He was pointing out the fact that from the African-American point of view we don’t actually live in anything like “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Instead our homeland is a place where African-Americans are still not as free as white people, and where most of us are scared out of our wits. White people walk around frightened of terrorists, black men, immigrants, Muslims, and a whole host of ailments whose remedies Big Pharma hawks to us incessantly through our computers and flat screens. Free and Brave? Not so much.

By sitting down during the singing of the National Anthem Kaepernick was symbolically calling attention to that contradiction. He was separating himself from the comfort of his patriarchal home dominated by the false consciousness of American exceptionalism, machismo, militarism, and knee-jerk jingoism.

All of reminds me of the hero of The Prodigal Son story retold in today’s liturgy of the word. (We’ll return to Kaepernick in a moment.) No, I’m not talking about the father of the so-called prodigal. Instead, I’m referring to the central character in Andre Gide’s version of today’s over-familiar tale.

Here’ I’m taking my cue from John Dominic Crossan’s book The Power of Parable: how fiction by Jesus became fiction about JesusThere Crossan suggests challenging Luke’s parable as excessively patriarchal. After all, the story is about a bad boy who realizes the error of his ways and returns home to daddy and daddy’s patriarchy with its familiar rules, prohibitions, and tried and true ways of doing things.

But what if the story were about escaping the confines of a falsely-secure patriarchal reality. What if prodigal left home and never looked back? Would he have been better off? Would we be better off by not following his example as described today by Luke – by instead separating from the patriarchy, its worship of power, violence, and patriotism and never looking back? Would we be freer and braver by following the example of Colin Kaepernick?

The French intellectual Andre Gide actually asked such questions back in 1907 when he wrote “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” In his version, Gide expands the cast of the parable’s characters to five, instead of the usual three. Gide adds the father’s wife and a younger son. The latter, bookish and introspective, becomes the story’s central figure who escapes his father’s walled estate never to return.

According to Crossan, Gide tells his version of Jesus’ parable through a series of dialogs between the returned prodigal and his father, his older brother, his mother, and lastly, his younger brother. In his dialog, the father reveals that the older brother is really in charge of the father’s household. According to daddy, the brother is extremely conservative. He’s convinced that there is no life outside the walls of the family compound. This is the way most people live.

Then the mother comes forward. She tells the prodigal about his younger brother. “He reads too much,” she says, and . . . often perches on the highest tree in the garden from which, you remember, the country can be seen above the walls.” One can’t help detect in the mother’s words a foreboding (or is it a suppressed hope) that her youngest son might go over the wall and never come back.

And that’s exactly what the younger son decides to do. In his own dialog with the returned prodigal, he shares his plan to leave home that very night. But he will do so, he says, penniless – without an inheritance like the one his now-returned brother so famously squandered.

“It’s better that way,” the prodigal tells his younger sibling. “Yes leave. Forget your family, and never come back.” He adds wistfully, “You are taking with you all my hopes.”

Gide’s version of Jesus’ parable returns us to Colin Kaepernick, and how in these pivotal times he has followed the youngest son in Gide’s parable as he goes over the wall into the unfamiliar realm of uncertainty, danger, and creative possibility.

Echoing the younger son’s lack of material concern, Kaepernick has said, “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

In response to Kaepernick’s audacity, patriarchal authority figures came out of the woodwork not only to denounce his point about cops killing unarmed black people, but to connect his protest with patriotism and the military.

“Many have given their lives defending the freedom and justice the flag stands for,” they all repeated. “Kaepernick is slapping all those brave service men and women in the face. If he doesn’t like it here, let him move to Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea or Russia. Then he’ll come to his senses.”

The shrillness of such reaction, suggests that the powers that be might be deathly afraid themselves – afraid that the rest of us might see Kaepernick’s point and start following his example.

What if we all suddenly grasped the BLM message. What if we realized that our military isn’t really defending us from anything, but instead is at the service of international corporations intent on stealing the resources of poor countries especially these days in the Middle East?  What if we started reading and discussing General Smedley Butler’s War Is a Racket? What if we drew obvious conclusions from Fallujah, Haditha, Abu Ghraib, and the fact that the Pentagon can’t account for $6.5 trillion of our tax money?

Such realizations might force many of us to remain seated during the pre-game rituals that reek so much of patriarchal machismo and pure propaganda. And that might lead to political rebellion, refusal to pay taxes, and formation of parties representing alternatives to Democrats and Republicans.

In other words, Colin Kaepernick has taken a small step. But because of his courage we’re all better off, and our country’s false reality is correspondingly weakened.

Imagine football fans all over the country wearing their Kaepernick jerseys and refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That would be a start towards those other more radical measures I mentioned

The Day I Chickened Out on My Colin Kaepernick Moment

kaepernick-poem

This morning the Lexington Herald-Leader published an essay I wrote about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the ritual singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner before games involving his San Francisco 49ers. I had published a longer version of the piece on my blog and on OpEdNews.

Turns out that the Herald-Leader op-ed received more response from Lexingtonians than any of the other editorials I have published in that venue. Most of the comments were quite critical of Kaepernick – and of me.

That doesn’t really bother me. As a matter of fact, it makes me hopeful. It shows that Kaepernick has touched a nerve. Perhaps he has even started a movement. What if all progressives sympathetic to Black Lives Matter (BLM) and unsympathetic to post 9/11Permanent Warfare decided to follow his example? Other sports figures have already begun to do so.

Mind you, it’s not so easy to follow their example. It takes a lot of courage for fans to remain seated during the National Anthem and endure the remarks, taunts, denunciations, and even threats of unthinking “patriots” who (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) still identify the United States as the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The evidence I’m thinking of involves not only out-of-control police executions of unarmed African-Americans, but unending wars against impoverished Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. I’m thinking of Fallujah, Haditha, Abu Ghraib – and before that of Vietnam, Laos, Grenada, and Panama. Even before any of that, I’m referring to “War Is a Racket” written  by General Smedley Butler way back in 1935.

With all of that in mind, I am no stranger to the impulse to remain seated during the singing of the National Anthem. I hate the ritual. What does such patriotic display have to do with sporting events? And as I have just suggested, I object to honoring a nation that Martin Luther King identified as the“greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

Yet (to my embarrassment) I still cave in to group pressure at sporting events.

The following piece published as a Sunday Homily on my blog a couple of years ago describes the conflict between my higher Christ-inspired impulses and the craven behavior I hope to change in the future thanks to the courageous example of Colin Kaepernick. Can you join me in this aspiration?

As I say, we could start a movement of principled people against hypocrisy.

“I Stood Up”

Recently, 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 HadithaFallujahAbu 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?