Be Like Pope Francis: Bury Your Talent, Oppose Capitalism as We Know It!

Francis

Readings for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: PRV 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31, PS 128: 1-5; I THES 5: 1-8; MT 25: 14-30.

Today’s gospel story, the familiar “Parable of the Talents,” is about economics. It’s about the world of investment and profit-taking without real work. It’s also about dropping out and refusing to cooperate with the dynamics of finance, interest and exploitation of the working class.

The parable contrasts obedient conformists with a counter-cultural rebel. The former invest in an economic system embodied in their boss – “a demanding person harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter.” In other words, like the system of capitalism itself, the boss is a hard-ass S.O.B. who lives off the work of others. The conformists go along with that system which to them has no acceptable alternative.

Meanwhile, the non-conformist hero of the parable refuses to go along. And he suffers the predictable consequences for doing so. Like Jesus and his mentor, John the Baptist, the non-conformist is marginalized into an exterior darkness which the rich see as bleak and tearful (a place of “weeping and grinding of teeth”). However, Jesus promises that exile from the system represents the very kingdom of God. It is filled with light and joy.

In contemporary terms, today’s gospel selection could hardly be more pertinent. It contrasts two current understandings of the contested terrain that is today’s Christianity. One understanding endorses our polarized economic system where “everyone who has is given more so that they grow rich, while the have-nots are robbed even of what they have.”

That concept is embodied today in President Trump and his Republican cohorts. The other finds its personification in Pope Francis.

In sharp contrast to Trump’s faith in the capitalist system, Pope Francis himself is trying mightily to distance himself from it. He’s like the servant in today’s parable who buried his talent in the ground refusing to invest it in a corrupt system that invariably widens the gap between the rich, like Trump, and the poor the pope is attempting to champion.

Francis couldn’t be clearer about rejecting the elements of capitalism celebrated by the U.S. president. The pope has repeatedly urged action to secure the basic entitlements the poor deserve. These include rights to land, housing and work as well as to higher wages, unions and social security – all of which are abhorrent to Republicans.

Francis even connected being Catholic with communism. “It’s strange,” the pope said, that “if I talk about this, there are those who think that the Pope is Communist. . . The fact that the love for the poor is in the center of the gospel is misunderstood.” Fighting for the poor, he added, doesn’t make me a communist; it makes me Catholic.

(Did you really hear what the pope just said: “THE LOVE FOR THE POOR IS IN THE CENTER OF THE GOSPEL.” THE CENTER OF THE GOSPEL!)

Obviously, the statement suggests significant overlap between Marx’s critique of free market capitalism and the social teachings of the church. The pope’s words certainly don’t sound like a ringing endorsement of the free market.

And how should Catholics express their love for the poor? Clearly not by endorsing the dynamics of the free market Trump and his allies lionize. In the “Joy of the Gospel” (JG) – published in 2014 – the pope identifies the unfettered markets so dear to Republicans’ hearts (along with their “trickle-down” ideologies) as homicidal (JG 53), ineffective (54) and unjust at their roots (59). He sees “each and every human right” (including education, health care, and “above all” employment and a just wage (192) as intimately connected with “defense of unborn life” (213).

And it gets worse for the Republicans’ position. Their party, of course, loves the free trade agreements that are at the heart of the corporate globalization the pope deplores. One wonders how Catholic members of the GOP reconcile advocacy of free trade agreements with the pope’s uncompromising words “We don’t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm.”

Clearly, the debate about unfettered capitalism is settled in the pope’s mind. He has condemned the system without equivocation. And in doing so, Pope Francis has established himself  as the foremost moral leader of our time. Virtually alone among world leaders, he has the courage to call us away from the worship of Market and Money.

The alternative, he assures us, is not a world of darkness, weeping and grinding of teeth. It is a kingdom of light and joy.

It is time for Jesus’ would-be followers to join that conversation – about getting from here to there in the name of the gospel.

Trump’s Border Wall: It’s Land Theft, Exploitation & Murder Solidified in Concrete & Steel

Reagan wall

President Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border raises two interesting questions about borders themselves and about border crossings:

  1. Why do the rich consider borders sacred when poor people cross them without permission?
  2. And why do those same rich not consider national boundaries sacred when they cross them even against international law?

First consider borders themselves. They are completely arbitrary.

I mean, in historical perspective, current demarcation lines dividing countries are totally artificial and changeable. Many of them, for instance in Africa and the Middle East, were drawn up in a field tent by basically ignorant imperial generals.

The colonial outsiders’ overriding interest was stealing the resources of the areas in question. So they formed alliances with local chiefs, called them “kings” of their new “nations,” and drew those lines I mentioned describing the area the nouveau royalty would govern.

But the colonial conquerors did so without knowledge of traditional tribal habitats, shared languages, or blood connections between families their random lines separated. As a result, from the viewpoint of the groups divided, the problem with borders is not that people cross them, but that the borders cross peoples.

Closer to home, that ironic crossing phenomenon is best illustrated in the cases of Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Before 1848, all those states were part of Mexico. Then following the Mexican-American War (1846-’48), the U.S. border crossed Mexicans in those new states and they suddenly became foreigners in what previously had been their own country.

In 1848, ordinary Mexicans viewed the entire process as highway robbery. So their descendants often speak of contemporary Mexican migration to “America” as a Reconquista – a justified re-conquest of lands stolen from their forebears.

Nevertheless, 170 years later President Trump wants to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by building a wall along this relatively new line of separation. His argument is that borders are sacred, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about his rich confreres’ attitude towards borders.

So let’s consider that second point.

Fact is: The rich disrespect borders in two principal ways, one “legal” and the other completely otherwise.

So-called legal border crossings are claimed as a right by international corporations. According to its free enterprise principles, Wal-Mart, for example, has the right to set up shop wherever it wishes, regardless of any resulting impact on local merchants, farmers, or suppliers. Thus capitalists claim license to cross into Mexico in pursuit of profit. They legalize their border crossing by signing agreements like NAFTA with their rich Mexican counterparts.

Meanwhile, workers (the second key factor in the capitalist equation) who are impoverished by “free trade” enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be sacrosanct, even though the boundaries prevent them from imitating the rich by serving their own economic interests – in their case, by emigrating to wherever the availability of good wages dictates.

Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard at work here. So they defiantly cross borders without permission.

The other disrespect for borders on the part of the rich is more insidious. It takes the form of their own defiant transgression of international law by crossing borders to drop bombs on poor people wherever and whenever they wish, without formal declaration of war. (Imagine if poor countries claimed that right vis a vis their wealthy counterparts!) In the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless.

The point is that we “Americans” need to re-examine our attitudes towards borders and border walls. Borders, after all, are not sacred to the rich. Never have been. So why should rich corporatists expect workers and refugees from the wealthy’s destructive and illegal border-crossings to respect boundaries the elite have drawn so arbitrarily and violated so cavalierly?

Mr. Trump, tear down that wall!

Are You a “Had-It” Catholic? Are Retro-Priests Responsible?

Biretta.JPG

Readings for 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: MAL 1-14B-2:2B, 8-10; PS 131:1-3; I THES 2-7B-9, 13; MT 23: 11-12

Today’s readings should make today’s retro-priests very uncomfortable.  I’m referring to members of the Catholic Clergy who long for the “good old days” before Vatican II.

In any case, both the first selection from Malachi and the third from Matthew take clergy in general to task. They’re not teaching the right things, Malachi charges. They’re too concerned with clothes and titles, says Jesus.  Meanwhile today’s second reading from Paul’s letter to his community in Thessalonia suggests remedies for such failings. Paul even gestures towards a female clergy and worker priests. See if you agree.

Begin with the prophet, Malachi. He threatens the priests in his time with a curse. Probably writing about 500 years before Jesus, the prophet says “You have turned aside from the way and caused many to falter by your instructions . . . I have therefore made you contemptible and base before all the people.”

“Contemptible?” “Base?” Pretty strong words for priests, wouldn’t you say?

Then in today’s Gospel selection, Jesus criticizes the religious leaders of his own day for attachment to distinctive religious dress and for insisting on special titles like “father.”

Reading those passages, do retro-priests feel their faces turning red?

Relative to titles and dress, I’m alluding to the fact that we still call our priests “father,” despite Jesus’ clear words. And then there’s this reversion on the part of many priests to pre-Vatican II garb. Some are now wearing dress-like cassocks again (I saw one in the airport the other day), and even birettas. (Birettas are these odd square caps with three or four peaks or horns, sometimes topped with a black tuft.)

Before Vatican II, priests used to dress like that. Now in 2017, retro-priests are doing the same. It makes you wonder what they’ve been learning in the seminary over the last 50 years.

And as for Malachi’s words about faulty instruction . . . Why are we still listening to pre-Vatican II sermons?

Just a few days ago, I was talking to a fellow parishioner about exclusion of non-Catholics receiving communion while attending Catholic Mass. My friend was defending the exclusivity. And his reasons were like something from my childhood – more than 70 years ago! It was as if the ecumenical movement had never taken place – as though Jesus were somehow contained inside the communion wafer, as though he still believed that Catholics have an inside track in “getting into heaven,” – you know: up there.

The point here is not to criticize my fellow parishioner; it’s not at all his fault. The fault lies with (in Malachi’s words) the “instruction” given by our priests – and, I guess, to our priests in the seminary.  What they’re telling us from the pulpit doesn’t nearly extend to us the benefits of inter-denominational dialog, the insights of the last 150 years of biblical study, or even the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

What’s up with all of that?

Again, in Malachi’s words, it’s causing people to “falter,” to see the meaninglessness and irrelevance of it all, and to “turn aside” from everything churchy as contemptible and base – or at least irrelevant to their lives as thinking people. No wonder “had-it” Catholics constitute the second largest denomination in the United States.

Priests today are not even following the instruction of the pope who gives every evidence of being a had-it Catholic himself.

Remember four years ago, when Pope Francis published his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel? Throughout the document, you could almost feel Francis’ frustration with the situation I’ve been describing here. Recall what he said. It’s amazing in its content. But what’s even more amazing is the failure of priests and bishops to implement its directives.

Recall that Pope Francis called explicitly for a “new chapter” in the history of the Catholic Church. Things cannot be left as they presently are, he asserted, but must include new ways of relating to God, new narratives and new paradigms (74). Changes should entail new customs and ways of doing things, with new times, schedules, and language (27). In short, Catholics must find, a new path in our world (JG 1, 25).

What part of “new” are priests and bishops not getting?  Why, has NOTHING changed? NOTHING AT ALL!

Pope Francis got more particular. Homilies, he said, have to be better prepared and delivered (135-159). (The pope devoted a whole section of his exhortation to this topic.) Women need more prominence. He referred to them as generally more sensitive than men – more intuitive, and otherwise more skilled (103, 104). In recognition that other denominations share many points of faith and practice with Catholics, there needs to be more outreach towards those communities (246).

Even more importantly, Francis called the church to be more involved in political life, joining people of all faiths and none in the struggle for social justice. He specifically identified that struggle as “a moral obligation” that is “inescapable” (220, 258). Here horizons must be widened, the pope urged, beyond simple concern for the “defense of unborn life” (213) to “each and every human right” including education, health care, and “above all” employment and a just wage (192). Catholics must completely reject war as incapable of combatting violence which is caused by “exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples” (59). Wars are caused by devotion to unfettered markets with their “trickle-down” ideologies which are homicidal (53), ineffective (54), and unjust at their roots (59).

That emphasis on social justice shows why today’s retro-priests and bishops are not merely quaint and irrelevant, but positively harmful – even deserving of that curse Malachi threatened. I say that because they’ve ignored Francis’ desperate calls for social justice – not to mention his warnings about climate change in his eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’. I might even go so far as to say that neglectful priests and bishops are responsible for the election of Donald Trump and Republicans in general, whom (because of their position on climate change)Noam Chomsky has called the most dangerous organization in the history of the world.

After all, so many Catholic voters, possibly even a majority, chose Trump who in contradiction to the pope’s exhortation:

  • Denies human-caused climate change
  • Espouses trickle-down economics
  • Opposes living wages
  • Restricts access to health care
  • Loves the military
  • Threatens to annihilate an entire nation of 25 million people

What to do about all of this?

Here is where Paul provides direction. He suggests that priests are out-of-touch.

They need to get a job. Paul brags about how he worked day and night (as a tent-maker) so he wouldn’t represent a financial burden on his people. Can you imagine priests working at McDonalds and leading the campaign for $15 dollars an hour wages — and bringing that struggle into their sermons?

Like Pope Francis with his words about women’s unique gifts, Paul’s words even suggest a female clergy. He does that by comparing his dedication to his community in terms of “a nursing mother’s care for her children.”

Worker priests? Women priests? Now those changes truly represent a new path. That “New” no one could misunderstand. No more “father.” No raised eyebrows at clergy wearing dresses and fancy hats.

“Got-it” Catholics might replace the “Had-its.”

It’d work for me!  How about you?

And how might we get from here to there? (Discussion follows.)

What Have We Become? Pompeo and Pence Cause Us to Look in the Mirror

CIA

Who are we as a nation? What have we become? The answer to those questions should scare the hell out of us. Evidently, we’ve become an absolutely brutal, soulless people – frightening beyond belief.

This time I’m not referring to our “leaders’” moronic denial of climate chaos that menaces the lives and futures of our children, grandchildren, and the entire planet. I’m referencing instead our status as a blatantly terrorist nation that on religious principle (in North Korea) casually threatens to wipe more than 25 million people off the map in a single instant as early as tomorrow. TOMORROW!

Three recent revelations evoke my alarm. One was a statement on October 26th by Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA. The second issued the next day from the mouth of vice president Pence. The third came the same week with the release of the 50-year-old Kennedy Assassination Papers that put flesh on both statements making them mind-numbingly terrifying.

Consider Pompeo and the assassination revelations first.

At a forum convoked by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Pompeo who has proudly supported torture, and who heads an agency that has sponsored coups, assassinations, and omnipresent black-hole prisons declared that the CIA has to become “a much more vicious agency.”

Those were his exact words! And shockingly, they represent acknowledgment on Pompeo’s part that the CIA has always been vicious. (If it has to become “more vicious,” I guess, in Pompeo’s eyes, it was merely less vicious previously.)

According to Webster, Pompeo’s term means “dangerously aggressive.” Its synonyms are brutal, ferocious, savage, violent, dangerous, ruthless, remorseless, merciless, heartless, callous, cruel, harsh, cold-blooded, inhuman, fierce, barbarous, barbaric, brutish, bloodthirsty, fiendish, sadistic, monstrous, murderous and homicidal.

As descriptors of an extremely prominent agency of the U.S. government, those adjectives could apply to our entire D.C. apparatus, couldn’t they?  They could describe us!

Is that what we want to be in the world?

And just how vicious has the CIA been? It’s here that the assassination disclosures come in. They clearly show that from its birth in 1947, THE CIA HAS BEEN A FULL-FLEDGED TERRORIST ORGANIZATION that could hardly be more vicious. In fact, because of its reach and resources, it clearly surpasses the vice of any terrorist group or crime syndicate in the world – including ISIS.

The papers show that in the past the agency has stood ready to kill indiscriminately by sinking ships, setting off bombs, using chemical weapons, and murdering heads of state as its routine modus operandi – all the while covering its tracks and leaving clues that implicate designated enemies like Russia and Cuba.

If the CIA has stood ready to engage in such mass false flag atrocities 50 years ago, and if now Pompeo wants its cadres to step it up, where do you think they will set their limits? Will they fly airplanes into tall buildings? Will they assassinate presidents? Have they?

In other words, Pompeo’s assertions and the assassination papers lend credence to conspiracy theories of all kinds. Fact is the CIA is a conspiracy factory!

That there are no limits to the brutality housed in Langley, the White House or in American souls was made clear by the earlier-referenced statement of Vice President Pence. This self-proclaimed man of God, who had previously identified himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican – in that order,” recently disclosed the true object of his faith. And it’s certainly not God, love, or the Prince of Peace. It’s nuclear weapons! Speaking at Minot Airforce Base in North Dakota, Pence declared “. . . there’s no greater force for peace in the world than the United States nuclear arsenal.”

What have we become as a people? What have Christians become?

On both counts, we have not only lost direction. Blood-thirsty, brutal, fiendish and monstrous, we have lost our souls.

And remember, those adjectives aren’t my invention. They represent the boastful, carefully-chosen sentiments of the leaders we have somehow allowed to represent us.

God help us!

Puerto Ricans Pray “Forgive Us Our Debts:” The U.S. Says “Go to Hell!”

hurricane-maria-puerto-rico

Readings for 30th Sunday in ordinary time: EX 22: 20-26; PS 18: 2-4, 47, 51, I THES 1:5C-10; MT 22: 36-40.

Have you been following Puerto Rico’s recent crisis? I’m talking about the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the apocalyptic damage the island has suffered.

On September 7th Irma just missed a direct hit on the U.S. colony, but it knocked out power for almost a third of its 3.5 million people. Then less than two weeks later, Maria finished the job. The whole country went dark.

And now after more than a month, 50% of the island still lacks electricity, and over a million people have no clean drinking water. Overflow from toxic Superfund sites is contaminating available water sources producing widespread gastrointestinal diseases. One in three sewage plants are still inoperable, and there is no cellphone service for 40% of the island.

Imagine yourself living there with our fellow Americans! (Remember, all Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.)

So, how do you think our government has responded to the crisis? The response is five billion dollars IN LOANS! We’re not talking grants here, but LOANS! And the $5 billion comes on top of the island’s previously existing $74 billion debt that all agree is completely unpayable – without even mentioning unfunded pension obligations that amount to an additional $49 billion.

Everyone in Puerto Rico knows that increasing the island’s debt does not spell relief. Instead, it represents a heartless tool for further enriching the already super-wealthy, and for exercising control of poor people while further impoverishing a colony that has served ever since its annexation as a source of valuable minerals including gold. As well, the island has provided a major production center for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, a source of cheap labor, a dump for chemical waste, and a bombing range testing ground.

Puerto Rico has been effectively indemnified for none of this. Instead, rich U.S. banks and hedge funds are demanding austerity. They want islanders to sacrifice health, education, and social services including pensions, to pay back their creditors. This means that moneybags on Wall Street see misery in Puerto Rico as a business opportunity to further fill their coffers and perpetually control its destiny.

I bring all of this up, because it’s relevant to today’s liturgy of the word, which addresses the question of lending, debt and treatment of the poor.

Begin with a consideration of today’s gospel.

There Jesus is asked a question consistently addressed to rabbis and to wise persons in all traditions. “Which is the greatest of God’s commandments?”

The question is reminiscent of the familiar cartoon where the bedraggled seeker climbs up that mountain, confronts the guru sitting in front of his cave and asks him, “What’s the purpose of life?” That’s really the gist of the question presented to Jesus. What is life’s purpose?

Jesus’ response is not humorous as we’re always led to expect from those cartoons. His answer is not even surprising. Instead, it’s the standard one usually given by rabbis and wise people: “Look within,” he advises. “Find Ultimate Reality and devote yourself entirely to it. And then love that Reality’s every manifestation beginning with the people closest to you and finishing with the trees, soil, rocks, and cockroaches.”

That’s the meaning of Jesus’ response in today’s gospel. It mirrored perfectly the answer, for instance, of Rabbi Hillel, one of Jesus’ near contemporaries. Both of them said, “Love God with all your heart, mind, and spirit – and your neighbor as yourself. That’s the greatest commandment,” they agreed. “That’s the purpose of life. That summarizes all the content of humanity’s Holy Books. All the rest is commentary.”

We get a snippet of that commentary in today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus, which supplies practical content to the general answer about life’s purpose invariably given by the wise. (And it’s here that the business of debt enters the picture.) Today’s 16-line excerpt from Exodus focuses on two issues: (1) treatment of the most vulnerable in the community, and (2) prohibition of taking interest on loans. Obviously, the two matters are intimately connected to the situation in Puerto Rico.

The reading says that loving God and neighbor means taking care of society’s most vulnerable – beginning with immigrants and including single mothers and street children. Reality decrees that mistreatment of people like that will bring very negative karmic consequences.

The reading goes on. When dealing with immigrants, remember you were once in their position. So treat them the way you would have liked your great-grandmother to have been treated when she arrived at Ellis Island from the Old Sod.

The second part of the Exodus reading addresses the most common instrument oppressors employ for mistreating society’s vulnerable. You’ve guessed it: it’s debt.

When you heard it read this morning, you might have been surprised that God’s Covenantal Law as recorded in the Bible prohibits the taking of interest at all. The Law indicates that God considers interest sinful! It’s a form of “extortion,” says the book of Exodus. As the dictionary explains, extortion is the “criminal offense of obtaining money, property, or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion.” The definition goes on to say that extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime.

For more than a millennium, moral theologians within the Church agreed with our dictionary. Under pain of sin (as they put it), no interest could be charged on loans.

But then modern economists discovered the wonders of compound interest. That changed everything. Suddenly, charging interest became not only moral, but virtuous – including for Christians! Even the Vatican owns a bank whose underlying foundation is interest!

So times have indeed changed. Currently, moralists explain that the modern science of economics now understands what was not grasped in the ancient world of Exodus. So, morality had to change to keep up with the times and the advances of science. It’s a new world.

(Hmm . . .  Does that same reasoning apply to matters such as homosexuality in relation to the insights of the modern science of psychology? And what about abortion and what modern medicine has disclosed about the beginnings of specifically personal life? After all, the Bible has this clear and strong teaching about prohibiting interest and is silent about abortion. It also says nothing unambiguous about homosexuality.)

The suggestion here is that if we were truly a humanitarian nation and kept The Commandments as explained by Jesus and all the world’s great spiritual teachers:

  • We’d give grants, not loans, to our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.
  • We’d forgive entirely the country’s unpayable debt, forcing banks to eat their bad loans – just as prescribed by Adam Smith’s capitalist theory.
  • We’d force U.S. polluters, not the U.S. government – much less Puerto Ricans – to clean up the mess they’ve made on the island.
  • We’d pay reparations for the gold and other minerals extracted (stolen!) since the U.S. colonial system was imposed.
  • Reparations would also be made for the destruction caused on those bombing ranges.

And more generally:

  • We’d demand that student loans be forgiven or refinanced at the prime rate.
  • We probably wouldn’t support “capitalism” as we know it.
  • We’d make usury as important a “Christian issue” as some make abortion.
  • We’d hear about that from the pulpit, at least occasionally.

We’d vote accordingly.

Poor Jerry Jones: Worker Protests Threaten His Billions!

Jerry Jones

Poor Jerry Jones! The owner of the Dallas Cowboys complains that his NFL football business is being hurt by his workers’ non-violent protests. So he and other white billionaires respond as only capitalists can and typically do. “Either stop threatening our huge fortunes,” they bully, “or we’ll deprive you and your dependents of your livelihood — forever. We’ll fire you!” (This, of course, is what capitalism empowers bosses everywhere to do against all of us.)

Simultaneously, from their ivory towers, the same rich whites attempt to change the subject. Sheltering in the last refuge of scoundrels, they patriotically wrap themselves in the flag claiming that protests against poverty and police violence somehow dishonor country, flag, and the military.

Note to Mr. Jones: THIS ISN’T ABOUT PATRIOTISM; IT’S ABOUT POLICE BRUTALITY!! IT’S ABOUT POVERTY!!

Let’s talk specifics. The underlying cause of player protests is the huge difference between law enforcement in rich and poor communities respectively. As recently described by Christ Hedges, the difference is exemplified in the infamous “broken windows” policy first implemented in New York City. It enabled law enforcement to send young, mostly black and Hispanic men and women to jail for relatively minor infractions mostly connected with a failed “War on Drugs.” Despite its 40-years of effort, that war leaves narcotics today more widely available, cheaper, and of higher quality than ever before. All of our high school children know where to get them.

Meanwhile, across the tracks, bankers, hedge fund speculators, real estate moguls, and their political enablers remain above the law. And this, despite the fact that their fraudulent practices were responsible for crashing the entire world economy and the financial, personal, and social ruin of millions across the planet. Yet virtually none of them has gone to jail, have they? Instead, many have reaped huge profits from the crash. Moreover, their unconscionable practices are again being deregulated by the legislators they’ve purchased through the legalized system of bribery called “campaign financing.”

All of this amounts to a two-tiered legal system supporting a two-tiered economy. It criminalizes poverty unremedied by government whose main domestic function has become the imprisonment of the poor, and the extra-judicial execution of “criminals” accused of petty offenses like Eric Garner’s selling loose cigarettes, or of Sandra Bland’s failure to signal a lane change. That’s what’s ticking off black heroes like Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett.

Again, as Hedges points out, the scale of the resulting police lynchings is no exaggeration. So far in the U.S. this year, there have been 782 police killings of mostly poor people – many shot in the back while offering no immediate threat to cops involved. (By contrast, police in England and Wales have killed 62 people over the last 27 years!) Still, such legalized thuggery is granted near-universal impunity. Badge-wearing murders almost never go to jail.

In fact, far from being punished, local police forces are routinely rewarded by government grants of tanks and grenade launchers which further militarize their cadres. The unspoken intention of such armaments is to enable cops to quash rebellions of citizens incensed by the disparities just described. For instance, here in Kentucky, legislators want to empower motorists to run over protestors exercising their First Amendment rights on public thoroughfares. They want to extend impunity to white supremacists like the killer of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville last August. They want to militarily suppress the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

But the footballers on their knees and the marchers in the street are only demanding sensible economic reform. The want well-paying jobs, affordable housing; safe and inspiring public schools; Medicare for all; and community-based policing where most officials are unarmed.

Imagine if Jerry Jones, the billionaire, forgot petty financial losses, and used the bully pulpit his status affords to campaign for such humane measures instead of misrepresenting his workers’ demands.

Don’t hold your breath though. That’s not the way our super-rich bosses operate.

 

 

 

Jesus’ Teaching about Paying Taxes: It’s about “Slow Money,” Not What Your Pastor Says!

Slow Money

Readings for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 45: 1, 4-6; PS 96: 1-5, 7-10; I THES 1: 1-5B; MT 22: 15-21.

Well, it’s time for your pastor to trot out those well-worn platitudes around Jesus’ famous “Render” riddle. So after reading this morning’s gospel about payment of taxes to Caesar, your priest or minister will say something about separation of church and state. Ho-hum. Caesar’s realm is the political, he’ll say; God’s is the religious. Caesar’s is less important than God’s, of course. But be sure to vote (Republican)  anyway – just to make sure that the anti-abortionists win. Never mind that their policies are pro-war, anti-life (apart, I suppose, from their single issue) and suicidal in terms of climate change. Those are merely political concerns. See ya next week.

Problem is: all that has nothing to do with today’s reading. In fact, it entirely misses the point of Jesus outwitting his questioners in their attempt to entrap him with a question about taxation that had no good answer – except the unforeseen one that Jesus gave.

Jesus is smarter than his opponents. That’s the obvious point.

The less obvious one is that Jesus’ response attacks the Roman Empire itself. It undercuts its economic base by rejecting Rome’s “fast money” in favor of the Jewish insurgency’s “slow money.”

Have you heard of that concept – I mean slow money? It’s explained in Woody Tasch’s book, Slow Money: Investing as if food, farms, and fertility mattered (White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing 2008).

Building off Carlo Petrini’s idea of Slow Food, Tasch’s book presents the case for divesting from the haste of the global economy whose lightning fast computerized operations are necessarily devoid of thought about things that really matter. “Fast money,” as Tasch calls such transactions thinks of nothing but the corporate bottom line.

The outcomes of such inattention are evident for all to see. They include climate chaos, topsoil loss, water waste and pollution, as well as loss of jobs at home in favor of low labor costs abroad. Fast money causes inequalities which give 35 men as much wealth as half the world’s population. Fast money is like “fast food” which fills bellies but destroys health.

Slow money, on the other hand, invests locally, thoughtfully, and at a pace that imitates the very leisurely processes of nature. So Tasch’s book calls for a correspondingly paced economy. The slow money approach preserves family farms, encourages the growth of organic foods, and prevents waste of soil and water, while eliminating the contradiction of widespread hunger existing alongside fast-food induced obesity.

Once again, I bring that up because Jesus’ response to his interlocutors in today’s gospel represents rejection of Rome’s fast money. At the same time, it implicitly endorses a local form of slow money that almost everyone overlooks.

Recall the story’s pivotal question. “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

If Jesus answered the way your pastor says, the Great Teacher would have fallen into the trap set by an unlikely alliance of Herodians (pro-Rome lackeys) and Pharisees (anti-Rome populists).

Saying “Yes, pay taxes to Caesar,” would have discredited Jesus in the eyes of the poor who comprised his main audience hanging on his every word. The hated Roman tax system cost them as much as 50% of their yearly income.

On the other hand, if Jesus had said “No,” that would be reason enough to have him arrested and turned over to the imperial authorities on charges of subversion. [In fact, that did become one of the charges at Jesus’ trial: “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ . . . (LK 23:2)] Does that sound like Jesus ever said “Pay your taxes?”

So instead of saying “yes” or “no,” Jesus turns the tables on his questioners in a way that convicts them instead of himself.

“Show me an imperial coin,” Jesus asks; “I, of course, don’t carry any.”

One of the interrogators (probably from among Rome’s collaborating Herodians) obligingly reaches into his pocket and pulls out a shiny denarius. By that very act, he’s already fallen into Jesus’ trap. All bystanders can hear the cage door slam, as the insincerity of the Pharisees and Herodians stands exposed for all to see. Jesus’ follow-up question makes clear why.

“Whose image and inscription is on that coin, he asks?

“Caesar’s” his antagonists reply.

“Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” Jesus says, “and to God what is God’s.”

Case closed.

You see, no good Jew would carry Roman money. (And here comes the part about slow money.) Instead, Jewish nationalists did business using coins minted by Jerusalem’s Revolutionary Provisional Government. On its face was the image of a palm branch – the Provisionals’ “flag.” Such money was of no use to the Romans and could only be used locally to support the Jewish economy.

In fact, the insurgents forbade using Roman currency at all. That’s because doing so benefitted the Romans by giving them control over the Jewish economy.

And besides, carrying Roman coin recognized Caesar’s claim to own Judea which in Jewish eyes belonged only to God. In fact for good Jews (as today’s first reading and responsorial make clear), EVERYTHING belongs to God. That leaves absolutely NOTHING for Caesar – except his own idolatrous servants clutching his pathetic coins in their bloated hands.

Even more, the face of Roman coins displayed a forbidden image – that of Augustus himself with the inscription surrounding the image identifying the emperor as “the Son of God.” The image and inscription made carrying the coin not only unpatriotic, but an act of idolatry. That in turn meant that the bearers of the coin themselves belonged to Caesar not Israel’s God, Yahweh.

Again, case closed.

All of this should remind us that our attitude towards money and its connection with imperialism is a spiritual matter of deep concern to those wishing to follow the Way of Jesus. As today’s readings remind us, everything belongs to God who (as Isaiah puts it in today’s first reading) is concerned about the welfare of “all nations” and not about the 1% or any abstract corporate bottom line. Empire’s God (as in “in God we trust”) is the God of fast money and not the God of Jesus who stood with those resisting the wholesale robbery that empire always represents.

So how do we avoid empire’s fast money when our wallets’ contents and those of our closets and garages convict us of idolatry? Here are a few of Tasch’s suggestions:

  • Imitate Nature and her pace.
    • Slow down everything – from your thinking processes to the way you walk and wash dishes.
    • Change thinking patterns from fast money’s quarter and years to slow money’s seasons and eons.
    • Where available (as with “Ithacash” in Ithaca, New York) use local currencies instead of greenbacks for local purchases.
    • Adopt role models like poet, Wendell Berry, and Amish farmer, Scott Savage, rather than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.
    • Change allegiances from institutions and organizations (like “America” and members of its military-industrial complex) to land, household, community and place.
    • Grow a garden and eat its produce.
    • Stay away from fast food and out of Wal-Mart’s and Lowes’ Big Boxes.
    • If you must invest in the stock market, “create a portfolio of venture investments in early-stage sustainability-promoting food companies.”

Like Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Herodians, such practices undercut empire and its destructive haste.

What other strategies can you think of to subvert fast money structures and practices?