Did Jesus Justify Armed Resistance to Roman Imperialism? What about Insurgent Resistance to U.S. Imperialism? (Sunday Homily)

Readings for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: JER 38: 4-10; PS 40: 2-4, 18; HEB 12:1-4; LK 12: 49-53

Today’s gospel excerpt presents problems for any serious homilist. That’s because it introduces us to an apparently violent Jesus. It makes one wonder; why does the Church select such problematic passages for Sunday reading? What’s a pastor to make of them?

On the other hand, perhaps it’s all providential. I say that because, today’s gospel might unwittingly help us understand that even the best of imperialism’s victims (perhaps even Jesus) are drawn towards reactive, revolutionary, or self-defensive violence. After all, Jesus and his audiences were impoverished victims of Roman plunder. By the standards most Christians today accept, they had the right to defend themselves “by any means necessary.”

Here’s what I mean. Without apology, today’s reading from Luke has the ‘Prince of Peace” saying, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”

In a parallel passage, Matthew’s version is even more direct. He has Jesus saying, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Is that provocative enough for you?

What’s going on here? What happened to “Turn the other cheek,” and “Love your enemy?”

There are two main answers to the question. One is offered by Muslim New Testament scholar, Reza Aslan, the other by Jesus researcher, John Dominic Crossan. Aslan associates the shocking words attributed to Jesus in this morning’s gospel directly with Jesus himself. Crossan connects them with the evangelists, Luke and Matthew who evidently found Jesus’ nonviolent resistance (loving enemies, turning the other cheek) too difficult to swallow for people living under the jackboot of Roman imperialism.

For his part, Aslan points out that the only God Jesus knew and the sole God he worshipped was the God of Jewish scripture. That God was a “man of war” (Exodus 15:3). He repeatedly commands the wholesale slaughter of every foreign man, woman, and child who occupies the land of the Jews. He’s the “blood-spattered God of Abraham, and Moses, and Jacob, and Joshua (Isaiah 63:3). He is the God who “shatters the heads of his enemies” and who bids his warriors to bathe their feet in their blood and leave their corpses to be eaten by dogs (Psalms 68: 21-23). This is a God every bit as violent as any the Holy Koran has to offer.

For Aslan, Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek and loving enemies pertained only to members of the Jewish community. They had nothing to do with the presence of hated foreigners occupying and laying claim to ownership of Israel, which in Jewish eyes belonged only to God. Accordingly, Jesus words about his commitment to “the sword” expressed the hatred he shared with his compatriots for the Roman occupiers.

In other words, when it came to Roman imperialists, Jesus was not a pacifist. He issued no call for nonviolence or nonresistance. Quite the opposite.

John Dominic Crossan disagrees. For him the earliest layers of tradition (even the “Q” source in Matthew and Luke) reveal a champion of non-violent resistance. In fact, the Master’s earliest instructions to his disciples tell them to travel freely from town to town. But in doing so, they are to wear no sandals, carry no backpack, and no staff. He instructs: “Take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt” (LK 9:3).

Crossan finds the prohibition against carrying a staff highly significant. The staff, of course, was a walking stick. However, it was also a defensive weapon against wild animals – and robbers.

So, with this proscription Jesus seems to prohibit carrying any weapon – even a purely defensive one like the staff all travelers used.

Apparently, that was too much for the evangelist, Mark. Recall that he wrote the earliest of the canonical gospels we have – during or slightly before the Great Jewish Rebellion against Rome (66-70 CE). Matthew and Luke later copied and adapted his text for their own audiences – one Jewish (in the case of Matthew), the other gentile (in the case of Luke). Mark remembers Jesus’ directions like this: “He instructed them to take nothing but a staff for the journey–no bread, no bag, no money in their belts” (MK 6:8).

Notice that Mark differs from what Crossan identifies as the earliest Jesus traditions upon which Matthew and Luke depended. Instead of prohibiting carrying a staff, Mark’s Jesus identifies the staff as the only thing Jesus’ disciples are allowed to carry. Evidently, that seemed more sensible to a pragmatic Mark than the words Jesus probably spoke. I mean, everyone needs to at least protect themselves from violent others.

Matthew and Luke prove even more pragmatic. By the time we get to them (almost two generations after Jesus’ death and fifteen or twenty years after Mark), we find their Jesus commanding that his disciples carry, not just a staff, but a sword – an offensive, lethal weapon. Matthew even portrays Jesus’ right-hand-man, Peter, actually armed with a sword the night Jesus was arrested. Jesus has to tell him: “Put away your sword. Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword” (MT 26:52). (It makes one wonder if Peter was absent the day Jesus gave instruction about turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies. Or is Aslan correct about Jesus’ militancy?)

In other words, on Crossan’s reading, it is the gospel authors, not Jesus himself, who subscribe to belief in the blood-spattered God of the Jewish Testament. Jesus’ God was the Forgiving One who recognized no one as enemy, and who (as his later actions showed) refused to defend himself. His dying words were about forgiving his executioners.

Crossan reasons that this more pacifist Jesus is probably the authentic one, precisely because his words (and actions) contradict so radically the Jewish tradition’s violent God.

So, whose words do we encounter in today’s gospel? Can we attribute them to the historical Jesus or to his disciples who found themselves unable to accept the Master’s radical non-violence?

Whatever our answer, the shocking words we encounter today remind us that even people of great faith (Mark, Matthew, Luke – or perhaps even Jesus himself) despise imperial invaders. Their arming themselves and fighting revolutionary wars (like the 66-70 Uprising) are completely understandable.

In any case, by gospel (and Koranic?) standards such rebellion is more justified than the entirely unacceptable violence of imperial invasion.

Does any of this shed light on ISIS response to U.S. Middle Eastern invasions, bombings, torture centers and dronings? As a Christian, what would be your response if foreigners did in our country what U.S. soldiers and pilots are doing in Arabia? Would you be a non-violent resister as Crossan says Jesus was? Or would you take up arms – the way violent insurgents have done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia, and elsewhere?

Which Jesus do you follow? Can you understand religious people who in the face of United States imperialism say: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Epstein Conspiracy Theories Are Inevitable Good and Necessary

Sunday’s New York Times carried a thought-provoking editorial by opinion writer at large, Charles Warzel. It was entitled, “Epstein Suicide Conspiracies Show How Our Information System Is Poisoned.” The article lamented the power of Twitter and other social media to spread toxic conspiracy theories reflecting our current culture’s worst “choose your own reality” tendencies.

According to Warzel, Twitter and other versions of social media have actually “outmatched” the power of the mainstream media (MSM). And this to such an extent that an FBI field office recently identified fringe conspiracy theories as a domestic terror threat.

Warzel illustrated his point by focusing on Twitter speculation regarding the Clinton’s involvement in the Jeffrey Epstein “suicide” and on President Trump’s role in advancing the theory. The editorial complained about resulting “dueling hashtags” with their viral accusations of foul play.

The unexpressed message of the whole exercise seemed to be that conspiracy theories are bad in themselves and that one would do better to simply accept the more reasonable official story emanating from the CIA, FBI, and prison officials that Epstein actually did commit suicide as explained by those official sources. Fevered accusations of foul play are ipso facto unreasonable.

Others whose opinions have appeared in sources such as OpEdNews have made that point more explicitly. Forget exciting conspiracies, they cautioned, simply accept the boring reality that Epstein killed himself just as we’ve been told.

The point I wish to make here strongly disagrees. I contend that in cases like Epstein’s mysterious death, conspiracy theories are not only good; they are inevitable and necessary. Additionally, the overwhelming power of Twitter and other social media to “outmatch” that of mainstream media represents the public’s healthy recognition of the fact that the government officials and the MSM (like The New York Times) are no longer reliable. Their “official stories” must be presumed false unless otherwise demonstrated by irrefutable evidence. Such evidence will come to light not by internal investigations, but by full legal process involving (yes!) conspiracy theories, discovery and trial.  

“Conspiracy” Is A Legal Category

My first point is to recognize the fact that the term “conspiracy” is not synonymous with fiction or paranoid fantasy. It is a legal term referring to the crime that occurs when two or more people plan actions forbidden by law. In other words, criminal conspiracies happen all the time. People go to jail for them.

In fact, “conspiracy theories” are routinely employed by prosecutors who use them to initiate investigations when such crime is suspected. Without lawyers’ conspiracy theories, there would never be any criminal trials involving two or more suspects.

With such theories in mind, prosecutors gather evidence. Some of it is circumstantial or inferential (it’s usually what sparks legal inquiry). Other evidence constitutes direct or “smoking gun verification. Juries and judges evaluate evidence of both kinds. When it is convincing beyond reasonable doubt (based on direct and/or circumstantial evidence), the legal system convicts conspirators and sentences them accordingly.

The bottom line here: It does not discredit a theory to call it “conspiratorial.”

Official Stories Are Suspect

My second point is that the public has not merely good, but excellent reason to discount official theories about, well, EVERYTHING! Think about:

  • Iraq and Colin Powell’s testimony before the United Nations about the certainty of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction
  • The New York Times’ endorsement of his testimony as “masterful and compelling”
  • The literally thousands of obvious lies that our current chief executive has uttered – and how he adds to them each day
  • Secretary of State (and former CIA chief), Mike Pompeo’s boastful admission that he and the agency he formerly headed lie, cheat, and steal on a routine basis. In fact, he said, the CIA sponsors whole courses for its agents on how to do so effectively. (Imagine a witness at trial admitting on stand that he is an inveterate liar. Would his testimony be taken seriously?)
  • The testimony of numerous CIA defectors revealing that the CIA has routinely conspired to assassinate heads of state and others considered enemies or persons who know too much

Epstein’s Death Is Welcome

My third point is that there exists reasonable circumstantial and direct motive for suspecting that important people had good cause to want Jeffrey Epstein dead and that he was murdered accordingly. All of them are related in Whitney Webb’s comprehensive historical account of government-sanctioned sex enterprises like Epstein’s. In fact, Webb’s four-part series ends up detailing motives for Epstein’s murder on the part of the powerful including the following:

  • Epstein was a convicted pedophile who preyed on underage girls. (He even called his private plane “the Lolita Express.”)
  • Bill Clinton with his checkered sexual history traveled on Epstein’s plane at least two dozen times.
  • Donald Trump admired Epstein for his taste in younger women.
  • Trump has been described (e.g. in Webb’s series) as “mentored” by Roy Cohn, another pedophile who used tape recordings and videos for purposes of blackmail.
  • Alexander Acosta was told to back off prosecution of Epstein because of the latter’s association with “Intelligence.”
  • It is standard operating procedure for “Intelligence” to film and record sexual deviance for purposes of blackmail and evidence-gathering.
  • Epstein sponsored frequent parties involving a virtual Who’s Who of world leaders and other celebrities.
  • The parties were also said to be attended by “call boys” and “call girls.”
  • Epstein had tapes of sexual deviance, some of them locked in a safe indicating their special content.

Reasons for suspecting that Epstein was killed or purposely allowed to commit suicide include the following:

  • Epstein was an extraordinarily important federal prisoner.
  • After his arrest, he was placed on suicide watch – at least for a time following his apparent suicide attempt last month.
  • He was sequestered in a highly secure federal prison presumably with special capacities for monitoring inmates on such watch, including video cameras and guards trained for such duties.
  • Nonetheless, Epstein somehow found himself with a rope, a belt, with sheets or some other material sufficient to hang himself.
  • He was inexplicably given unmonitored time to accomplish the task.

Where Do We Go from Here?

There is no claim here that the details presented above somehow “prove” foul play regarding the “suicide” of Jeffrey Epstein. However, they do provide basis for reasonable conspiracy theories sufficient (and necessary) to warrant legal indictments – perhaps of Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s reputed procurer of unsuspecting girls. The conspiracy theories in question warrant discovery processes, trials, presentation of evidence, deliberation by juries of peers, verdicts, and eventual clarification of the whole Jeffrey Epstein saga.

Only such legal processes will yield truthful conclusions. Internal investigations by proven and admitted liars will not do. Neither will out-of-hand dismissal of “conspiracy theories” as though the phrase exclusively describes fictional fantasies or paranoid imaginings. As presented by Charles Warzel and others such dismissals simply mean that the theories in question are socially, culturally, and politically unacceptable – too threatening to consider. So, rational analysts should back off.

Actually, as shown above, the theories are good and necessary. And so are the vilified social media through which The People thankfully counteract MSM disinformation and its defense of the given order and the official stories undergirding its undeserved legitimacy.

Why Jeffrey Epstein’s “Suicide” Is So Suspicious

I could hardly believe my eyes Saturday morning, when I read in Alternet that Jeffery Epstein was found dead in his jail cell of apparent suicide. And I find it hard to believe that he killed himself, especially since he’s been on “suicide watch” since the discovery of apparently self-inflicted bruises on his neck last month. Instead, I suspect he was killed by the CIA. My suspicion is based on my close reading for the past few days of muckraker, Whitney Webb‘s three-part expose´, “The Jeffery Epstein Scandal: Too Big to Fail.”

Webb’s series makes the point that the Epstein pedophilia scandal threatened to blow apart the entire U.S. government house of cards. It opened up a potentially devastating window not only on the sordid lives of Epstein and his close friends, Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, but on the profound corruption of the entire U.S. government and of international politics as a whole. Though connected with the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church, the scale of the Epstein branch of institutionalized child abuse absolutely dwarfs the shameful hypocrisy of justly vilified ecclesiastical criminals.

Epstein’s federal trial was scheduled to begin next summer. This means that the details of his crimes (and, more importantly, those of his high-placed patrons’) would steal headlines at the height of the general election of 2020. The evidence to be presented there is said to comprise more than one million pages.

In the light of what I’ll detail below, one can only imagine the surprises contained therein and whom those pages implicate. And given Epstein’s close association with Donald Trump and the Clintons (not to mention the other billionaire residents of Palm Beach Island in Florida), the trial and evidence presented at that crucial moment would likely have had an impact of the presidential election. Wayne Madsen for one,  speculates that it may have already influenced the resignations of several Republicans from the House of Representatives.

Epstein, of course, is the alleged hedge fund tycoon whose central role in a pedophilia network came to light when he was arrested last July on Federal charges of sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. Previously, he had been convicted of molesting an underage girl, but had mysteriously served what’s been described as the most lenient sentence in history for crimes like his — 13 months in a county jail during which he was free to leave during the day.

Alexander Acosta, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Labor was responsible for securing the ludicrous sentence, when Acosta served as Attorney General for the Southern District of Florida. On Epstein’s arrest last July, the FBI found hundreds of photos, videos, and recordings of child molestations some of them allegedly involving prominent public figures.

According to Webb’s expose´ , the Epstein story is merely the tip of a dark iceberg much bigger than most of us realize. The darkness below the surface stretches back more than 75 years. It involves not only Epstein, but the CIA, its Israeli counterpart the Mossad, the Mafia as a CIA asset, the mysterious MEGA Group of influential billionaires, many government officials, and other high rollers with familiar names.

Webb’s series unveils what she terms “Government by Blackmail” an all-encompassing political strategy that began at least as far back as the conclusion of the Second Inter-Capitalist War. As the phrase suggests, Government by Blackmail consists in luring heads of state and other powerful world figures into compromising situations (often with underage “prostitutes” of both sexes), filming them in the process, and then using such evidence as leverage to extort huge sums of money, to extract favors and actually shape the world’s political economy. It extended to the Mafia, for instance, a virtual license to kill without legal repercussion.

As an alleged intelligence asset himself (of either the CIA, Mossad, or both) Epstein’s job was to gather the required evidence. To that end, he placed in compromising and seductive situations government officials from across the world. His mansions, private islands, and fleet of jet planes provided the venues. They were the sites of fabulous parties featuring alcohol, drugs, and underage “call boys” and “call girls.” All the locales were equipped with sophisticated recording devices, both audio and video, and two-way mirrors for recording acts of criminal pedophilia and other crimes or embarrassments on the parts of Epstein’s “friends” and acquaintances. Invitees included heads of state from across the planet Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, of course, among them.

But, Webb reveals, Epstein is only the latest iteration of Government by Blackmail. He’s the clone of figures like the Mafia kingpin Myer Lansky, and Lew Rosenstiel (of Schenley distilleries). During the ’70s and ’80s Rosenstiel, Lansky’s close friend, regularly threw what his fourth wife (of five) called “blackmail parties.” According to Webb, the photos and recordings gathered there long kept Lansky out of trouble from the federal government. They also delivered entire cities to Mafia control in the post WWII era. In fact, Lansky entrapped for blackmail purposes, numerous top politicians, army officers, diplomats and police officials. He had photos of FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover in drag and performing homosexual acts.

Rosenstiel’s protegee and successor as blackmailer-in-chief was Roy Cohn, who at the age of 23 was a close adviser of Senator Joseph McCarthy. More importantly, he was also associated with Mafia bosses, J. Edgar Hoover, the Reagan White House and has been described as a mentor of Donald Trump. His mentor!

Simultaneously, Cohn took on the central role in the blackmail pedophile racket Lansky and Rosenstiel had started. As usual, its main targets were politicians often interacting with child prostitutes. That was the source of Cohn’s power. So were his dear friends in high places including (besides Clinton and Trump) Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, Barbara Walters, Rupert Murdoch, Alan Dershowitz, Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein, Chuck Schumer, William Safire, William Buckley, William Casey, and top figures in the Catholic Church.

It’s those latter figures that connect Cohn’s pedophile ring as inherited by Jeffery Epstein with the Church’s scandal. It directly involved “the American pope,” Francis Cardinal “Mary” Spellman, and Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Teddy” McCarrick. Father Bruce Ritter’s Covenant House (a multi-million-dollar charity for homeless and run-away boys and girls) was also deeply implicated. In fact, when Ritter’s involvement in sex acts with his underage protegees came to light, it was secular powers more than ecclesiastical forces that rallied to his defense.

Another pre-Epstein blackmail king was Craig Spence, a former ABC News correspondent who became a prominent DC lobbyist and CIA agent. All during the 1980s he provided child prostitutes and cocaine for Washington’s power elite. For purposes of blackmail, Spence used the now-familiar devices of video cameras, tape recordings, and two-way mirrors. His little black book and “favor bank” records have been described as involving a Who’s Who of Washington’s government and journalistic elite, this time including Richard Nixon, William Casey, John Mitchell, Eric Sevareid, John Glenn, and key officials of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, as well as media celebrities and military officers. According to the Washington Times, during the Bush administration, Spence had permission to enter the White House late at night to supply “call boys” to top level officials there.

Significantly, in the light of Epstein’s demise, just shortly before his death (also quickly ruled a suicide) Spence expressed fears that the CIA might kill him — apparently for knowing too much about connections between Nicaragua’s Contras and CIA cocaine smuggling to support them. But according to Spence himself, his knowledge went much deeper. Shortly before his similarly alleged suicide, he told Washington Times reporters: “All this stuff you’ve uncovered (involving call boys, bribery and the White House tours), to be honest with you, is insignificant compared to other things I’ve done. But I’m not going to tell you those things, and somehow the world will carry on.”

The Contra connection shows how in all of this, the Great Enemy of the hidden powers described here (involving the White House, CIA, FBI, Mafia, Mossad, powerful lobbyists, “fixers,” and billionaire political donors) was socialism and communism. The latter’s world project was 180 degrees opposed to governance by the moneyed elite as represented by the blackmail project of Epstein and his predecessors.

And so, it was important for blackmailers to support the prosecution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, back McCarthyism and J. Edgar Hoover, to undermine the Soviet Union, attack Cuba and Fidel Castro, protect organized crime bosses, and to make sure that projects like the Sandinista Revolution of 1979-90 failed. To those ends, it was even more important to inveigle left-wing politicians and officials from socialist countries into the international blackmail dynamic described here.

As for Epstein himself, following Cohn’s death (from AIDS) in 1986, he quickly took up his mentor’s mantle. As described earlier, Epstein became an FBI informant in 2008 — yet more evidence of the agency’s long-standing involvement with and protection of pedophile rings for purposes of blackmail.

In summary, the Epstein scandal has finally made public a decades-long pedophilic blackmail operation at the highest level. Ultimately run by the FBI and CIA, (i.e. with the knowledge, approval and participation of law enforcement), it has involved prominent politicians, businessmen, police and military officials, celebrities, and ecclesiastical officials. The scandal has touched the current U.S. president and may still bring him down.

In the meantime, it has left behind a trail of broken lives in the persons of the children exploited for the pleasure of old white men whose debauched proclivities have been parlayed into economic and political power. On Epstein’s watch, the operation has spread to Central America and beyond, becoming truly international in the process.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Pizzagate fascinated right-wing conspiracy theorists. It alleged that the Clintons were somehow involved in a child prostitution operation run out of the Comet Ping Pong restaurant and pizzeria in Washington, D.C.

If an allegedly debunked (?) Pizzagate theory caused such stir, and if an epidemic pedophilia expose´ within the Catholic Church has brought it to its knees, one can only imagine the revolutionary potential of the documented disclosures that would inevitably have come to light in a Jeffrey Epstein trial. It had potential to reveal pedophilic involvement by public figures far surpassing the scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. It could still bring down not only the Trump administration, but the whole international House of Cards.

One can only hope . . . 

Faith Is Belief in What the World Cannot See – In What the Mainstream Denies

Readings for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: WIS 18:6-9; PS 33 1,12, 18-19, 20-22; HEB 11: 1-2, 8-19; MT 24:42A, 44; LK 12: 32-48

Despite their apparent obscurity, this week’s readings should be powerful and encouraging for people of faith. They are about faith that enables followers of Jesus to see what remains opaque to a purblind world.

By definition faith cannot adjust to what the world takes for granted. It is commitment to what materialists cannot see – to what the mainstream denies. After all, the world’s normalcy exalts individualism, money-grubbing, meaningless entertainment, oppression of “the othered,” endless war, and the never-satisfied quest for pleasure, power, profit, and prestige.

Faith, on the other hand, believes in a world that remains unseen by the dominant culture. It’s the world as it comes from the hand of God: beautiful, simple, loving, forgiving, and belonging to everyone.

As a result, people of faith are called to stand with those our dominant culture rejects. In “America,” that means standing with the poor and homeless, with immigrants, Muslims, people of color, LGBTTQQIAAP humans, socialists, communists, environmentalists, and social justice warriors. . .  That’s the short list, today’s readings suggest, of those who are favored by God.

Put more simply, faith realizes that all of us are one. All are children of God. All creatures from smallest to greatest are loved by God. It’s that simple. It cannot be said too often. That’s why some of us formally celebrate creation’s oneness each week with others who share our simple outlook. That’s why the world’s spiritual teachers of all faiths insist that each day must begin with some spiritual discipline (such as meditation or centering prayer). Such quiet time reminds practitioners that we do not belong to this world. That’s why Jesus told us to “pray always.”

There is nothing more important than living from the truth that all creation is one. NOTHING! That faith alone can save our world from the impending disaster sadly looming on our near horizon in the form of nuclear war and climate disaster.

But it is so hard to swim against the stream, isn’t it? It’s exhausting. After all, we’re surrounded by daily events that contradict it at every turn. Everything in our world conspires to tell us that we’re atomized individuals hostile to everyone unlike us. Think of the daily mass shootings, endless sanctions of designated enemies, obvious public lies, redefinitions of truth, police brutality, worship of money, resources absolutely wasted on war, and the distortions of God and religion for selfish purposes. Think of our belief that our country, the principal cause of the world’s problems, is somehow special, exceptional, and favored by God. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Thank God for Sacred Scripture that calls us back to Center. (That’s the beautiful thing about the Bible – almost alone in ancient western tradition it represents the consciousness and voice of the poor, rather than those of kings, generals, and court prophets.)  

In any case, and for what they’re worth, here are my “translations” of this week’s readings as they’d be understood by their authors who were themselves marginalized people surrounded by Great Powers intent on exploiting and even obliterating them. Please read them for yourself here. At first, and in their original form, they might strike you as obscure. However, read thoughtfully, they are powerful. So, here’s what I take them to say in these dark times. See if you agree.

 WIS 18:6-9 (A reflection on Israel’s Exodus)
 
Our tradition is that of
An enslaved people
Exhibiting the meaning
Of faith
As courageous commitment
To an unseen glorious future
Where the mighty
Are dethroned
And brought to justice
While the exploited
Are exalted
As God’s own people.
 
PS 33: 1, 12, 18-19, 20-22 (Blessed are the people God has chosen to be his own)
 
Yes, God’s Chosen People
Are the famished
And those threated
By death.
They are driven by
A divine Life Force
Calling them
To struggle for justice.
The Force is kind
And protective
Of the oppressed.
 
HEB 11: 1-2, 8-19 (Follow the example of our forebears)
 
In fact,
Faith is a verb,
An active commitment
By the hopeless poor
To a just future
That the world
Cannot even see.
It’s what our ancient ancestors
Lived by
Giving them hope
Even when they were
Only a few immigrants
Among a hostile
Foreign people
Fearful that the poor
Unbelievably fertile “invaders”
Would eventually outnumber
And replace them.
 
MT 24: 42A, 44 (Don’t give up the fight)
 
So, wake up!
God’s future will dawn
Just when the World’s saying
“That can never happen.”
 
LK 12: 32-48 (These readings are meant for everyone)
 
Yes, we might be small in number
And it might take a long time,
But we are the agents
God has chosen
To bring about
Our Master’s future
Where money’s not important,
The rich serve the poor,
The thieves are thwarted,
And empires overthrown
By true humanists,
Yes, humanists
Like Jesus
And us!

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: An Epic Masterpiece

Last night Peggy and I accompanied Peggy’s brother to a local theater to see Quentin Tarantino’s “Once upon a Time in Hollywood.” All of us came away disappointed and wondering why we didn’t leave the theater about half an hour into this two-hour-forty-five-minute marathon, even though it featured A-list actors including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Al Pacino. We all agreed the film was too long, too slow, too violent, and on the whole seemed pointless.

I’m glad we didn’t leave. After-thought has made me realize that we would have missed a thought-provoking and revealing parable about entertainment-fantasy and its influence on our lives. Even more, the film had the epic quality of all the great classics, Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses. It was about our lives’ journeys, their purpose, about love and friendship.

After all, the film’s very title alerts the viewer to Tarantino’s larger intent. “Once upon a time” is the way all fairy tales, myths, legends, and fables begin. They are vehicles for teaching larger truths — for rewriting history. Typically, they feature:

  • A main character (all of us) facing decline and death
  • A long, twisted journey
  • Its quest for meaning in the second half of life
  • The character’s double who is more grounded and wiser
  • A child who inspires and teaches
  • An alternative community representing the story’s readers
  • And mirroring the condition of the main characters
  • Class struggle between the communities
  • A blind man who more clearly sees life’s true purpose
  • A dog who saves the day
  • All resulting in insight about how our lives might be different

Significantly, “Once upon a Time in Hollywood” is set in 1969, the year of the bloody murder of actress, Sharon Tate, her unborn child, and four of Tate’s friends at the hands of the infamous Charles Manson family of hippie stoners. In fact, the whole story can be understood as a commentary on that tragic event as encapsulating American life with its senseless violence specifically provoked by the art of directors such as Quintin Tarantino. As such Tarantino’s own film is a kind of self-parody – yet another feature often characterizing the great literature just referenced.    

“Once upon a Time in Hollywood” is about a washed-up TV actor, Tom Dalton and his stunt-man double, Cliff Booth. Tom’s an actor whose identity has been fixed by the success of his past role as an old West bounty hunter. Everybody knows him that way. But in mid-life, he suddenly finds himself jobless, filled with self-doubt and lacking clear direction. He wants to maintain his Hollywood image and lifestyle and is terrified with the prospect of losing them. Who is he without his on-screen role? He’s afraid of death and life’s inevitable call to enter its second half.

Meanwhile, Tom’s stunt-man double (his real self) is a doer. He’s entirely capable of accomplishing in real life, what Tom does only in film. Whereas Tom pretends to be brave, take chances, fall off horses, fight and prevail, Cliff actually does those things. What’s more, Cliff’s not worried about his image or living large. He’s content to be in effect Tom’s butler and chauffeur. His home is a beat-up Airstream trailer; he eats Kraft Macaroni, and his only companion is his fierce and obedient pit bull, Brandy. The dog is actually Cliff’s better half; like his master, he’s simple, faithful, loving, and valiant. Brandy is to Cliff what Cliff is to Tom.

So, shadowed by his double and better-self, Tom sets off on his journey. Tarantino drives the theme home by introducing virtually every character in terms of their footwear – cowboy boots, sandals, go-go boots, and bare feet.  Everybody’s on a journey. Tom’s own has him advised by standard Hollywood types – always telling him how to cope with life’s changes by adopting new roles, different costumes, makeup, facial hair, and public image. For them, everything is image and performance.

However, Tom’s best professional advice comes from an eight-year-old girl far wiser than her years. Trudi Fraser tells Dalton to sober up, pay attention to his craft, be true to himself in the roles he plays, and never break character. As a result of listening to her, Tom delivers his greatest performance in a film called Lancer. For him, it’s the turning point in his professional journey. Yet, we find, there’s much more for him to learn. Life’s not merely about professional success.

It’s his better self, Cliff Booth, who makes the deeper discovery.  And ironically, it’s the Manson Family who conveys that truth. Led on by a flirtatious Siren, Cliff suddenly finds himself in the midst of the Manson family. Significantly, they live in an abandoned movie lot owned by a declined movie mogul, George Spahn.  

Over the objections of the Manson Family members, Cliff insists on consulting his former colleague who turns out to be a blind oracle revealing life’s true meaning. He’s Booth’s interior voice who’s deeply asleep and must be shaken back into awareness. Sightless, old George can’t even remember his former meaningless life. He doesn’t recognize Booth or remember who Tom Dalton is. He only knows that Squeaky Fromme (Manson’s best-known disciple) loves him and that he wants to please her. Loving her is what’s truly important to him, nothing else.

Moreover, the Manson community itself teaches Booth. It proves to be deeper and more loving than the Hollywood assemblage of self-seeking individuals that the Manson Clan mirrors. Yes, they spend their lives in exactly the same way of their better-off counterparts. They even live on an abandoned movie lot and spend their days watching old movies on TV. For them, it’s all sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  

However, overwhelmingly composed of women, the Mansons have abandoned the Culver City rat race. They dumpster-dive for food. But more importantly, they exhibit solidarity, sympathy and support for members who suffer or are in danger.

The contrast leads them on the one hand to resent the actual self-centered lives of Hollywood personalities, and on the other to imitate their on-screen violence. (Here’s where the class-struggle comes in.) They reason: The films we’ve watched from childhood have taught us lessons. The actors we’ve admired have advocated senseless violence, and they live like selfish pigs. So, let’s get our revenge and do some violence on them.”

And that brings us to Tarantino’s ironic, over-the top, cleansing and healing climax. (Spoiler alert!) In a riot of shooting, stabbing, beating and burning, Hollywood’s fantasy triumphs over real life. The heroic dog, Brandy comes to the rescue; the Mansons are decimated; Sharon Tate, her child and her friends are saved. History is re-written.

But more importantly, in terms of Tarantino’s fabulous intent, Tom Dalton and Cliff Booth discover their actual identity with one another. The two halves of Tom’s personality are united in expressions of their deep friendship. Tom gets over himself and joins a larger community of literally resurrected souls.

As a result, all of us are called to resurrection, love, and friendship. We’re called to own our True Selves.

I’m glad we stayed to watch it all.

Marianne Williamson and the “Dark Psychic Forces” of Capitalism (Sunday Homily)

Readings for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time: ECC 1:2; 2:21-23; PS 90: 3-6; 12-14; 17; COL 3: 1-5; 9-11; MT 5:3; LK 12: 13-21

Marianne Williamson shone brightly again during the first night of the second Democratic debate. This time, with only nine minutes of exposure, she had the whole country talking.

As with her first appearance, her name was the most Google-searched among her nine debate rivals. And afterwards, the Washington Post, for instance, noted her contributions with headlines like “Marianne Williamson Had A Big Night in the Democratic Debate,” “Marianne Williamson Made the Most of Her Limited Time . . .,” “Marianne Williamson Makes the Case for Reparations in her Breakout Debate Moment,” and “I’ve Worked for Marianne Williamson. She’s No Kook.”

Additionally, “Democracy Now,” the following day gave more time than ever to Marianne’s remarks about the Flint water crisis, and about reparations, though, in the process, Intercept columnist, Mehdi Hasan felt compelled to dismiss her (without explanation) as “a little bit kooky, let’s be honest.”

Meanwhile Cody Fenwick writing for AlterNet favorably included Marianne’s comments about reparations among his “Nine Best Moments” of the primary debate. However (significantly for our focus here) his article, “Here Are 9 of the Best Moments and 7 of the Worst from the 2020 Democratic Primary Debate,” created a special category for what her campaign considers her most significant remark. Fenwick classified the following as a “Moment that Defied Category.” He wrote, “In the course of a rousing speech about the shameful government-triggered water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the author’s speech took a bizarre turn: ‘If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.’” Without further comment, that statement concluded his article.

Thinking it somehow “bizarre,” Fenwick was evidently confused by the reference to a “dark psychic force,” even though Williamson immediately explained its meaning. She was referring to “the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country.” His confusion resulted, I think, from Williamson’s entry into unexplored debate terrain as she attempted to drive the conversation deeper than the clichés and normalized insanity that characterized many of Tuesday’s exchanges (like Steve Bullock’s disagreement with Elizabeth Warren about first use of nuclear weapons).

What “dark psychic forces” did Williamson have in mind? Judging from her books Healing the Soul of America, and The Politics of Love, they are habits of mind and spirit inculcated by a culture that tolerates, if not celebrates:

  • The collectivized hatred she specifically referenced
  • The mind-set that actually considers first (or any!) use of nuclear weapons as acceptable
  • White supremacy and white nationalism
  • American exceptionalism
  • Imperialism and neo-colonialism
  • Child abuse at our borders
  • Regime change wars
  • An all-encompassing gun culture reflected not only in law, but in our films, novels, newspapers, and magazines – and especially in military policy

That’s just the short list of the dark forces in question. But for Williamson, all of them can be synopsized in the single term “fear.” Systemically, they can be summarized in the term “capitalism” and the terror-filled interlocking systems of individualism, competition, and greed that system inspires.

And that brings us to the theme of the liturgy of the word for today’s 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. On my reading, all of them present a light-hearted critique and rejection of the underlying spirit of capitalism. But see if they speak to you in that way. Take a look at them here.

In any case, what follows are my “translations”:

ECC 1:2; 2:21-23 (A Book of Hebrew Wisdom)
 
Accumulating property
And money
Working hard to get it
Worrying about it
Losing sleep over it . . .
Is all foolishness.
And in the end,
You can’t take it with you.
How silly to fret
About possessions!
 
PS 90: 3-6; 12-14; 17
 
So, soften your heart.
Life is short
It passes
Like the seasons
Like grass.
You might even die
In your sleep tonight.
Instead, enjoy life NOW.
Be happy and kind
And careful
In whatever you do.
That’s true prosperity.
 
 
COL 3: 1-5; 9-11
 
As St. Paul says,
Use your Christ consciousness
To look beyond
The material
To discover
True wealth –
Your invisible life
Within.
After all,
Happiness
Has nothing to do
With idolizing money
Or pleasure, or deceit.
It’s all about
Living with
The consciousness of Jesus
That all humans
(wherever they come from)
Are sisters and brothers.
 
 
MT 5:3 (Blessed are the poor in spirit)
 
In fact,
Christ’s values
Are the exact opposite
Of the world’s.
 
 
LK 12: 13-21 (Parable of the wealth-obsessed rich man who dies in his sleep)
 
So, don’t be foolish
Worrying about
Inheritance and money
You didn’t even work for.
After all,
Life’s not about
How much you have.
Instead,
Laugh with Jesus
At fools who spend
Entire lives
Focused on mammon
Only to die
Before they’ve had time
To enjoy the rich Life
God has given
To everyone
Equally.
Notice how the readings lament and make fun of lives based on greed and focus on material accumulation. Such goals produce anxiety, sleeplessness, jealousy, and frustration. They end with a completely wasted life and early death. 

As opposed to the Prosperity Gospel, this is what Jewish Wisdom Literature, the prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, and leaders like Marianne Williamson have to say about excessive material wealth. It's not the point of life. Instead, love, justice, and the inner peace and community they produce is what fullness of life is about. 

Readings like today's remind us of the gloomy and literally unspeakable (i.e. off-limits for discussion) forces that drive our culture. They are encapsulated in our economic system that emphasizes individualism, competition, violence and fear. The system is capitalism-as-we-know-it.

By bringing that up and in terms of "dark psychic forces," Williamson places herself beyond normal political discourse. To mainstream commentators, that makes her puzzling, bizarre, weird, and "kooky," even kookier than those advocating the omnicide of nuclear war.

However, to those of us seeking escape from business as usual, it made her the best candidate on last Tuesday's stage.
 
The favorable reaction to Williamson's statements there shows that increasing numbers are recognizing her truth.

	

The Profound Miracle a Marianne Williamson Presidency Would Bring About (Sunday Homily)

Readings for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: GN 18:20-32; PS 138: 1-8; COL 2:12-14; LK 11:1-13

Today’s readings are about the role of prayer in changing consciousness. On this topic, they share with us the understandings of Abraham, the Psalmist (sometimes called David), Paul of Tarsus, John the Baptist, and Jesus himself.

As you’ll see immediately below, all of the readings address changing our ideas about God from the One who punishes and kills to a merciful Father who wants us to be happy. The readings are about God’s mercy towards enemies and kindness to strangers. They’re about persistence, generosity, abundance, about sharing bread, eggs, and fish – and about debt forgiveness. As always, in a Christian context, they explain the New World Order that Jesus called the Kingdom of God.

In this (over-long) election season, I can’t help but make the connection between those readings about prayer and its mind-changing power on the one hand, and the candidacy of Marianne Williamson on the other. That’s because Marianne is the most prayerful spiritual leader I’ve come across in my lifetime of engagement with theology and with people attempting to connect with the Reality that some still call “God.” As such, Marianne’s candidacy credibly promises to change world consciousness from one dominated by fear and necrophilia to one characterized by forgiveness and reverence for life. I’ll explain how in a minute.

Today’s Readings

However, before I get to that, here are my “translations” of today’s readings about the miraculous power of prayer even as exemplified by Ms. Williamson and the great biblical figures just mentioned. Please check here to see if they coincide with your own understandings:


GN 18: 20-32
 
Sheik Abraham,
The product
Of bedouin violence,
Comes gradually to understand
That Yahweh listens
To prayers
On behalf of innocents
Otherwise lost
As collateral damage
In mayhem
Inspired by
Tribal lust
For war.
 
PS 138: 1-8

Yahweh, then,
Is not vengeful
But kind and truthful,
Close to the lowly
And far from the proud
Protecting his petitioners
And saving them
From those who
Would do them harm.
 
Col 2: 12-14

Thank you, Jesus,
For freeing us from
The world’s lie
That we are condemned
By a necrophilic God
And morbid legal system
Instead of freed
By One
Who forgives
And offers us
An entirely new
Way of Life."
 
 
LK 11: 1-13

To get there,
Jesus taught his friends
The prayer of his mentor,
John the Baptist:
“May God’s Kingdom
Come soon
With its abundant daily bread
And the same mercy
(And debt forgiveness!)
That Abraham
Came to understand.”
In God’s New Order,
And despite human reluctance
(And the midnight hour)
Bread, eggs and fish
Will be shared
Even with inconvenient
And rudely persistent visitors
In God’s Holy Spirit
That enables it all.

The Marianne Connection

Those readings about prayer evoke reflections on the candidacy of Marianne Williamson. As I was saying, I’ve never come across a person who so naturally, easily, and comfortably prays. Unabashedly, she invokes miracles one after another – just what we need in these troubled times.

But please note this: for Marianne Williamson, “miracles” do not refer to woo-woo magic events “out there” contrary to the laws of nature. Instead, they are profound interior changes in consciousness just like the one experienced by Abraham in that reading from Genesis.

And change in consciousness is precisely what we need in these times of overriding threat from systems-induced climate chaos, from nuclear war, and from the underlying fears and insecurities fostered by “leaders” such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Manuel Duterte, Jair Bolsonaro and the other fascist heads of state.

With those monsters in mind, I’m driven to imagine how a Marianne Williamson presidency would change planetary (yes planetary!) thinking from processes governed by fear embodied in those men, by (mostly state) terrorism – a specifically fear-inducing tactic – to one governed by love and reverence for life.

The miraculous change intimately connected to today’s topic of prayer, would go something like this: 

  • On Marianne’s accession to the presidency (actually, long before), the entire world would scour her books for clues to her real identity – just as they did with President Obama’s Dreams from My Father and with Mr. Trump’s The Art of the Deal.
  • Some would read Marianne’s spiritual guidebook, A Course in Miracles (ACIM) or (more likely) what Marianne describes as her ACIM CliffsNotes, A Return to Love.
  • Others would even take up the daily discipline described in ACIM’s volume II, A Workbook for Students.
  • In any case, the resulting analysis, commentary and direct experience would get people everywhere discussing ACIM’s basic ideas with the same fervor currently given to Mr. Trump’s “fake news” and “alternative fact.”  Those ACIM ideas hold that:  
  1. Our world of fear-induced violence is a completely human fabrication making Americans in particular (as Chris Hedges puts it) “the most illusioned people on earth.”
  2. No one is actually attacking us. Instead, according to Marianne’s analysis, most of the world’s violence is induced by an economic system that financially rewards human destruction fostered by the Military Industrial Complex, Big Pharma, and Big Oil. In other words, capitalism-as-we-know-it is our enemy including its ideological defenses.
  3. The way out of the resulting morass is forgiveness. That is, we must realize that the ones our culture habitually blames are actually innocent. Our problems are not caused by immigrants, non-whites, LGBTQQIAs, not by the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, Syrians, Libyans, Somalis, Iraqis, Iranians, Yemenis . . . Forgiveness means accepting the fact that all of those just mentioned are not only our sisters and brothers. THEY ARE OURSELVES. Or as ACIM puts it, “There is really only one of us here.”
  4. Such forgiveness leads to atonement – to At-One-Ment, i.e. to specific policies reflecting the unity that exists between human beings and between humans and nature. Policies include reparations to the descendants of African slaves, to Native Americans, and to countries whose economies and cultures have been destroyed by imperialist wars encouraged by capitalism-as-we-know-it. Atonement with Mother Nature includes a Green New Deal.   

Conclusion

When Marianne Williamson is asked about her inexperience as a politician, she invariably invokes Franklin Roosevelt who said that the primary role of the presidency is not governmental management, but moral leadership. In fact, once elected, presidents can turn over day-to-day policy management to carefully chosen experts in each relevant field.

Moreover, the policies in question will end up virtually the same under any of the Democratic candidates all of whom claim to be “progressive.” They’ll all hire similar technocrats to implement Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, $15.00 minimum wage, and forgiveness of college loans. Except for Marianne and Tulsi Gabbard, with their emphasis on peace-building and military disengagement, all the candidates promise to support the same tired U.S. foreign policy.

Besides such crucial peace-building emphasis, what really separates the twenty or so candidates are their character, credibility, and personal values that will enable them to change the national and international conversation.

In a perverse way, Donald Trump has actually demonstrated the importance of character traits in the oval office. Think about it. In Trump we have a nihilist of questionable intellectual competence, completely without moral principle and with virtually no understanding of policy, how Washington runs, or even of basic history or geography.

And yet, Trump has changed the tenor of the national and international conversation more profoundly than any formally educated nihilist philosopher possibly could. He has literally reshaped the world by giving courage to fascists, racists, homophobes and misogynists of all stripes everywhere in the world.

What our liturgical readings for the day suggest (at least to me) is that Marianne Williamson’s life-long commitment to prayerful change in consciousness equips her better than anyone else not simply to return the world to normality after the Trump disaster. She can do more than that. She can move the entire world to the unprecedentedly deeper level of consciousness that our times and impending disasters require.

Marianne’s mindset represents what’s really required to implement the values of love, forgiveness, generosity and at-one-ment that we’ve read about today. They are precisely the values required by our desperate times. Implementing those values world-wide is the profound miracle a Williamson presidency could bring about.