Ted Yoho & Small God Christians vs. AOC

Readings for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 55: 1-3; Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-18; Romans 8: 35-39; Matthew 14: 13-21

Nearly everyone is celebrating New York City Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s (AOC) brilliant speech last week in response to two attacks by her colleague, Ted Yoho, a Congressional representative from Florida. Some are calling her speech the best statement of feminist (and even specifically Catholic) values in generations.

Both attacks on AOC occurred on the Capitol steps where Yoho first accosted her directly, calling her “disgusting” for suggesting a connection between poverty and NYC’s rising crime rate. He then turned from his flabbergasted colleague and within earshot of a reporter called her a “f_cking b_tch.”

Ocasio Cortez delivered her now famous response after Yoho offered what everyone described as a “non-apology.” It’s that pretense that I want to focus on here.

That’s because this week’s Sunday readings highlight the issue of hunger and poverty – the issue that precipitated Yoho’s anger. And following his disingenuous remarks the congressman was asked to resign from a position he held on the board of directors of Bread for the World (BftW), a Christian organization focused (according to its literature) on “working to make hunger, poverty, and opportunity a priority for candidates. We are moved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ to work for justice for hungry people in our country and around the world.”

Yoho’s words also deserve attention this Sunday, because of his self-identification with a type of Christianity that sharply contrasts with the Bread for the World approach.  Adherents to Yoho’s brand of faith might be called “small god Christians” – at least when compared with the immensely generous God depicted in today’s readings and embraced by BftW.

Yoho’s Non-Apology

Let’s start by recalling Mr. Yoho’s non-apology. Although his brief statement’s ambiguities and irrelevancies reveal an evidently hasty composition, Congressman Yoho’s self-defensive remarks might be fairly summarized in about a dozen points. Taken together, they unrepentantly underline his supposed respectfulness, innocence, heroism, and devotion to family, country, and God.

His Commitment to Respect  

  1. I apologize for my abruptness with Representative Ocasio Cortez.
  2. Political differences should not lead to disrespect.
  3. My 45-year marriage and fathering 2 daughters have made me aware of my language.

His Innocence

  • What I said to others about Rep. Ocasio Cortez was misreported and misinterpreted by the press.
  • And I apologize for the media’s error.

His Heroism

  • I am passionate about the poor.
  • My wife and I were once poor ourselves.
  • However, we pulled ourselves up by sheer hard work.
  • That proves that any else can do the same without breaking the law.

His Admirable Devotion

  1. Such passion and bootstrap convictions will continue to inform my positions in policy debate.  
  2. They also express my love for my family, my country, and God.
  3. There is no need to apologize for any of that.

Readers should note that in his “apology,” Mr. Yoho uses that key word three different times. With the first, he expresses remorse for his abruptness (not for actually calling his colleague a “f_cking b_tch”). He is also sorry for the errors of the press in reporting his words (i.e., for the alleged mistakes of others, not his own.) Thirdly, without helping his listeners understand the connections, Mr. Yoho actually refuses apology, as he says, for his passion, loving his family, his country, and God.

Small god Christians

It’s that reference to God at the end of his remarks that deserves special comment. In these Sunday remarks, the allusion contextualizes everything else. It also illustrates the tininess of the god worshipped by what I’m calling here, “small god Christians.” (Today’s readings call us to something infinitely grander.)

Notice that Mr. Yoho’s focus is on law, self-justification, family, his own district’s constituents, his nation, and even (with his dog-whistle disconnections between poverty and crime) on his race and class. Presumably, that too is the focus of the god the congressman and his faith community worship.

That’s what I mean by small god Christians and their sharp contrast with the biblical God described below in today’s biblical selections. Small-godders are ethnocentric. Unlike Jesus [who said law was made for human beings, not the reverse (Mark 2:27)] they are law-and-order people. The object of their faith is essentially concerned with “Americans,” and has little or no concern for others, especially if those foreigners belong to other religions – let alone if they are Muslims.  

Little-godders are also (according e.g., to the self-identification of Catholic Attorney General William Barr) “micro-moralists.” They are convinced that the Christian Gospel is limited to matters of personal morality and has nothing to do with social justice. Even more narrowly, they focus on the single issue of abortion as overriding every other moral concern.

Accordingly, small-godders find themselves able to support a candidate like Mr. Trump despite his lifelong problems with marital fidelity, his self-identification as a sexual predator, his association with and sympathy for convicted pedophiles, and his appointment of a Secretary of State who brags about lying, cheating, and stealing. All is forgiven, as long as any candidate is anti-abortion, which is nowhere in the Bible even identified as a moral issue.

That’s the small and morally challenged nature of small god Christianity.

The Generous Biblical God

Now compare all of that with the infinite reality some (as in the Judeo-Christian tradition) call “God.” Immediately below you’ll find his her/his description in this Sunday’s readings. I’ve “translated” them as usual but recommend that everyone read the originals here to see if I’ve got them right.

Note how that God has constructed what some have called a Gift Economy. In that arrangement, everything is free for everyone – with special emphasis on the poor, widows, orphans, and immigrants. Yes immigrants! Biblically speaking, they (the poor) are the special focus of God’s attention and Yeshua’s preaching of Yahweh’s Kingdom (Luke 4: 18). Those who justify themselves as self-made and self-sufficient are ridiculed (Luke 18:9-14).

Isaiah 55: 1-3: In God’s order everything is free for the poor and exploited. Our Mother’s is a gift economy prioritizing the needs of the destitute (not the rich) and insured through laws enforced by government. Water, bread, milk and even the finest wines are provided to everyone without charge.

Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-18: Yes, because She is gracious, merciful and kind, our Divine Mother feeds us and answers all our needs without charge, exactly as She does for the birds, animals, trees and grass. Free food is a matter of God’s generosity, justice and truth. We are all so grateful.

Romans 8: 35, 37-39: Yeshua embodied our Great Mother’s Gift Imperative. We love him for that; we love our Mother for that. So, even though the world’s contradictory ways impose anguish, distress, famine, nakedness, danger and violence, we refuse to abandon the ideal of free food and drink for everyone.      

Matthew 14: 13-21: You say it’s impossible? Recall Yeshua’s “miracle of enough.” When everyone was hungry in the desert, his example of sharing five loaves and two fish caused the provident Jewish mamas there to follow suit by sharing the food they brought along. They turned a desperate crisis into an unforgettable picnic. It was a miracle!

Conclusions

With its self-justification, ethnocentrism, single issue and unbiblical micro-morality, small god Christianity contradicts the One described and exemplified so marvelously in our readings for the day.

Granted that in the Bible’s “battle of the gods” as depicted in last week’s homily, we also find more narrow, ethnocentric concepts of God in that ancient Book’s description of Israel’s long drawn out search for what we’re all looking for – meaningful lives and right relationship with what’s ultimately important in the universe.

However, the Yeshua tradition clarifies the resulting confusion. The Great Master himself turns out to encourage everything that contradicts small-godders as represented in the words of Congressman Yoho and by less enlightened figures in the Bible.

As I pointed out last week, Yeshua incarnates the real causes of hunger and poverty – houselessness (at his birth), immigration (in Egypt), rejection by his community and family (Luke 4: 14-30, Mark 3: 12-20), investigation by the state, torture and ultimately, capital punishment.

That Yeshua has nothing to do with a small god.

As for Mr. Yoho and Bread for the World. . . We can safely assume that he brought his small god approach into board meetings at that organization too. That’s what the small-godders do in such venues. They attempt to shrink to size the generous God that non-profits like BftW promote. At their directors’ table, you can bet that he was as adamant about self-sufficiency, micro-morality, and American-centered law and order just as he’s been each day in the U.S. House of representatives.

Again, that’s the mission of small-godders. Don’t let it be yours.

Five Reasons Why Christians Should Feel Uncomfortable Voting for Trump in 2020

Last Sunday (July 19th), the far-right Christian Post published an article by John Wesley Reid entitled “5 Reasons why Christians should feel comfortable voting for Trump in 2020.”  Two days later, the same publication reported an international survey implicitly lamenting the fact that “most Americans don’t believe they need God to be good.”

In this time of Black Lives Matter (BLM) uprisings across the country and across the world, the two articles take on particular importance. Together, they not only highlight stark differences between right and left-wing understandings of Christianity. They also point up differences between the faiths of white evangelicals and their black counterparts in the street.

Additionally, both articles’ identification of Christianity exclusively with far right Caucasian politics goes a long way towards explaining the disconnect between morality and belief in a God. The explanation is found in the Christian right’s severely limited understanding of God, of goodness, and of the connection between morality and politics in this polarizing era of Donald Trump.

In tandem, the two articles also invite readers to be more thoughtful about their faith (or lack of same) and the ballot they’ll cast come November 3rd.   

God & Goodness

Begin with the survey. According to Pew Researchers, 54% of Americans hold that you don’t need God to be good.  Meanwhile 44% (a large majority of them on the ideological right) hold the opposite opinion. Only 24% on the ideological left believe God and morality are necessarily connected. (Left respondents in the survey typically had more years of formal education.)  

The Reid article shed light both on the identity of the sidelined God and on survey respondents’ likely understanding of “goodness” closely connected with that supposed deity. As will become clear below, Reid’s God is primarily concerned with specifically Christian welfare and with unborn life. Goodness is overwhelmingly connected with what the author referenced as “non-carnality.” Consequently, Christian political concern focuses on matters of specifically Christian liberty, on sexuality and reproduction – especially on abortion (which btw is not even mentioned in the Bible as a moral concern).  

Such limited understanding reflects the huge gap between white evangelicals and their black counterparts – for instance, the ones demonstrating against police brutality in our city streets. Their actions, of course, cannot be adequately explained without reference to the religiously based history of the Civil Rights Movement.  

In the light of that history, BLM demonstrators have inherited an understanding of God biblically founded on God’s very first revelation, viz. in the liberation of slaves from captivity in Egypt. It is linked besides to concern for widows, orphans and resident immigrants and refugees frequently reiterated in both the Jewish and Christian Testaments. In other words, goodness for black evangelicals is inseparably connected with social justice. Meanwhile, Reid’s article suggests ignorance of, and even hostility towards such linkage.

Morality & Voting for Trump

Setting all of that aside, Reid admits that he had doubts about Trump in 2016. But now, he says, those reservations have completely disappeared. Instead, he recommends that all Christians should confidently vote for 45’s reelection in November. He advances 5 reasons for doing so:

  1. You’re not voting for Donald Trump; you’re voting for the Trump Administration.
  2. You’re not voting simply for a person; you’re voting for an agenda.
  3. Policy outweighs character because policy outlasts character.
  4. If for no other reason than abortion, vote for Donald Trump.
  5. Voting for Trump is a tangible way of keeping Biden out.

Closely read, those reasons indicate that the author is still holding his nose. They all end up distancing themselves from a morally challenged candidate while cozying up to supposed paragons of Christian virtue such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to Trump’s agenda favoring “religious liberty,” “life of the unborn,” and resistance to volatile attacks on America (standard dog whistle for African Americans).

More specifically, Reid’s 5 reasons claim that:

  1. Trump may be carnally questionable, but people like Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo are “committed non-carnal Christ-followers.”
  2. Doubts about the president’s moral character should be “trumped” by his agenda which the author finds favoring “religious liberty,” “life of the unborn,” and resistance to those explosive attacks on America.
  3. Sure, Trump’s character is highly debatable. However, appointments of “constitutional originalists” to the judiciary are more important. So are “our children’s futures,” religious liberty, the lives of the unborn, and the economic advancement of low-income communities.
  4. Christians can conscientiously identify as single-issue voters, because the abortion issue is powerful enough to overwhelm all other policy considerations.
  5. Joe Biden is no Donald Trump.

Voting against Trump

But what if being Christian is far more complicated and challenging than Reid lets on? What if black evangelicals and others are correct in holding it’s more than avoiding “carnality” even in the sense of Trump’s legendarily deviant sexuality (now involving expressed support for his friend, accused child rapist and sex trafficker, Ghislaine Maxwell)? Such complexity might lead Christians to decline voting for Mr. Trump for at least the following 5 specific reasons roughly mirroring Reid’s own:

  1. The type of Christianity advocated by Mr. Reid is just that – a type of Christianity, viz. the white evangelical sort. However, there are other types of Christians – those black evangelicals, for instance. And then there are Catholics who embrace the official teaching of their Church, viz. the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Francis. Their pro-life positions go far beyond the single issue of abortion to include radical environmentalism, war resistance, rejection of capital punishment, advocacy of living wages, fair housing, and healthcare as a human right. All of these, they profess, are pro-life matters.
  2. Religious liberty as understood in the Constitution is not limited to Christians of any stripe. It extends to Muslims, Jews, Hindus, agnostics, atheists and others whose pro-life concerns prioritize the already born – e.g. at the border, in Trump’s baby jails, under incessant U.S.-supported bombing in places like Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, on death row, and elsewhere.
  3. Donald Trump and virtually every member of the Republican Party are joined at the hip. There is absolutely no separation between policies advocated and implemented by Donald Trump and the rest of his administration – none. As for the morality of Mike Pompeo, he has specifically joked and bragged about endorsing policies of lying, cheating and stealing –all (unlike abortion) specifically prohibited not only in the Bible, but in all religious traditions. In other words, Trump’s inner circle is no more virtuous than he.   
  4. Above all, “our children’s futures” which are of such apparent concern to Mr. Reid, are intimately connected with and existentially threatened by climate change which the entire Republican Party proudly denies.
  5. Joe Biden is no Donald Trump.

Conclusion

There are good reasons for Americans and better educated people around the world to consider belief in God as inessential to morality. The God of The Post’s John Reid and his fellow believers, for instance, is so small in moral stature and very limited in his concern compared with the God of the Bible. Reid’s God is not only unbiblical, he is also basically white, ethnocentric and specifically American. That strains the credulity of even moderately educated people whose general knowledge recognizes the goodness found in non-Christians and in so many atheists. No wonder such thinkers reject a god as tiny as Reid’s.

Meanwhile, the biblical God, at least as embodied in Jesus’ prophetic tradition, literally identifies with human beings like those specifically despised by the candidate Reid would have his type of Christians embrace. Remember, Jesus himself was born out of wedlock to a teenage mother; he was an immigrant in Egypt in his early years; he was working class, poor, and a member of a people imperialized by the first century equivalent of the United States.

Besides that, Jesus’ “Good News” was specifically addressed to the poor (LK 4:18). He ended up being a victim of torture and capital punishment at the hands of the Roman Empire. All of that is foreign to Reid’s unbiblical notion of God.

And finally, it seems that the Jewish Jesus of the Christian Testament could well sympathize with those who feel alienated from their religious communities of origin. After all, he was expelled from his hometown synagogue (Luke 4: 14-30) and thought to be possessed by the devil himself (John 10:20).   

That Jesus, it seems safe to say, would be appalled by Donald Trump.

A Biblical Warning about Stable Geniuses Like Solomon (&DJT)

Readings for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: I Kings 3:5, 7-12; Psalms 119: 57, 72-77, 127-130; Romans 8: 28-30; Matthew 13: 44-52  

Do you ever wonder how those claiming to be Christian can support rich billionaires like Donald Trump and those with whom he’s surrounded himself? How can they vote for those who would deprive them of health care, and give tax breaks to the already super-rich, especially when such policies end up being funded by cut-backs in programs that benefit non-billionaires like themselves — programs like Medicare, Medicaid and environmental protection?

Today’s liturgy of the word suggests an answer. It presents us with what Chilean scripture scholar, Pablo Richard, calls the “Battle of the Gods.” The conflict embodies contrasting ideas about the nature of God and God’s order as found within the Bible itself – as well as in today’s “America.”

One concept of God belonged to the rich such as Israel’s Kings, David and Solomon – ancient analogues of Donald Trump and his friends. The other belonged to the poor who surrounded Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth. They were working people like you and me, along with n’er-do-wells: the unemployed, poorly paid, sick, disabled, and underemployed. Many were houseless street people and working girls. To them Jesus embodied and spoke of a God unrecognizable to David, Solomon, or today’s right wing.

The contrast emerges as today’s readings juxtapose the dream of Solomon, the representative par excellence of Israel’s 1% in our first reading, over against Jesus’ own words about the contrasting nature of God’s Kingdom in today’s Gospel selection.

Here are my “translations” of this Sunday’s selections. Check them out here to see if I’ve got them right.

I Kings 3:5, 7-12: So, the wily king David’s son, Solomon, had a convenient “dream” which proved him every bit as clever as his old man. In it, (as he told his fawning court historian) the new king successfully requested from God not riches or triumph over his enemies but understanding and judgment that would distinguish him as the wisest man ever. (Sounds very like a “stable genius,” wouldn’t you say?)

Psalms 119: 57, 72-77, 127-130: Would that we could believe such testimony on the part of self-serving politicians like king Solomon. It would mean that they actually preferred God’s wisdom to their own – God’s law over money. They would be compassionate rather than cruel, value truth over propaganda, and honor wisdom from below rather than the court ideologies of sycophants on the make.

Romans 8: 28-30: How different from the prophet Jesus. As a poor man himself, he was genuinely good, loved God and actually manifested true divine wisdom. We are all called to be like him – not like the always self-congratulatory royals.

Matthew 13: 44-52: However, accepting Jesus’ message calls for complete buy-in – for total commitment. It’s a pearl of great price. It demands wise discernment in choosing between the good and the bad, the old and the new. Making the wrong choice can be disastrous – though (pace, St. Matthew) never finally so.

Notice in that final reading how Jesus calls his would-be followers to a profound paradigm shift – away from one that lionized the imperial order to a divine kingdom in in which the poor prosper. The former was embodied not only in the Roman empire of Jesus’s day, but in Israel itself. Its leaders a thousand years earlier had hijacked the Mosaic Covenant that contradicted their New Imperial World Order.

In today’s first reading Solomon’s court historians mask the hijacking by predictably identifying their employer as “the wisest man ever,” just as before him they had identified Solomon’s cruel and womanizing father, David, as “a man after God’s own heart.” In this royally stolen form, the Covenant connected God and the royal family. It assured a royal dynasty that would last “forever.” It guaranteed God’s blessings on Solomon’s expansionistic policies.

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

The Covenant’s laws celebrated in today’s responsorial psalm protected the poor from those perennial antagonists.  For instance, “Thou shalt not steal,” was originally addressed to large land-owners intent on appropriating the garden plots belonging to subsistence agriculturalists.

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

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

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

That’s the kingdom – the world order we’re asked to believe in, champion, and work to introduce. It’s what the world would be like if God – not David or Solomon – were king.

In our own country, it’s what “America” would be like if our politics were shaped by God’s “preferential option for the poor,” instead of Mr. Trump’s preferential option for his dear 1%.

Trumpty Dumpty’s Great Fall: His Unwitting Support of Black Lives Matter

It’s happening now. And it’s irreversible. It was promised to us in the 1960s as the “dawning of the Age of Aquarius” – a world where harmony, understanding, peace and trust would abound.

The Mayans reiterated the promise in 2012, when they predicted that the perfect alignment of the sun, the earth, and the center of the Milky Way (for the first time in 26,000 years) would inaugurate the “sixth era of the sun.” It would bring to humanity and the Earth itself a positive physical and spiritual transformation.

It’s happening now before our eyes.

And the agent of this profound change? Its polar opposite! A Trumpty Dumpty sitting on a “great and beautiful” wall symbolic of resistance to everything promised to us by Mayan wisdom.

Yet, Trumpty prepared us for the “great fall” of the entire world that his wall of separation symbolized – a white supremacist patriarchy that now lies in pieces impossible to reassemble despite the best efforts of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men.   

Trumpty came, remember, specifically calling into question everything we were taught to revere. He said the news was fake; so was history, political polling, our voting system, Constitution, and even science. His very language patterns – repetitive, incoherent, and verbally challenged – called into question accepted standards of grammar and eloquence we had become accustomed to in smooth talking politicians and “respected” public figures. In Trumpty’s eyes, all of that was bunk and fake too.

And he was right.

However, the rude irony is that the accuracy of Trumpty’s demythologized iconoclasm has been underlined by the very people that the wall he’s been sitting on promised to exclude. It’s immigrants and especially the Black Lives Matter activists who are successfully joining him in questioning (but from the other side) his white supremacist understanding of the world as well as our history, laws, language, and implementation of democracy.

Think about it: before BLM, who would have thought Americans would even consider demolishing statues of Christopher Columbus and Confederate generals, let alone of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other revered “Founding Fathers?”  Impossibly, Americans are seriously rethinking the “official story” of their nation and engaging in righteous iconoclasm.

But the movement goes much deeper than that. As Robin DiAngelo has pointed out in White Fragility, the world’s ruling Caucasian minority is now coming to realize that society itself is rigged at its intellectual core – and in the favor of the white supremacists Trumpty promised to restore to greatness.

According to DiAngelo, it’s all a mirage – white culture’s beliefs in

  • The supposed superiority of some forms of knowledge over others:
    • White Eurocentric knowledge over non-White, Indigenous and non-European ways of knowing
    • Written expression over oral
    • History over memory
    • Rationalism over wisdom
  • Acceptance of the supremacy of scientific linear thinking that recognizes as true only what can be quantified, and peer reviewed by scholars
  • The assumed neutrality of the white European Enlightenment
  • The Ideology of individualism
  • Meritocracy

For DiAngelo and Black Lives Matter, such convictions and white values themselves are arbitrary. And that includes its reverence for the king’s English. So is its philosophy of “work before play,” “planning for the future,” adherence to rigid time schedules, and governance of life itself by Apple watches.

Before BLM and COVID-19, none of that was questionable for the cultural mainstream.

Now it is. American culture, if not the entire world, is questioning its basic world view and way of life.

The whole turn of events has opened for humanity what Indian scholar Arundhati Roy has called “a portal” – an opening from old discredited ways of thinking and acting to new more credible ones. A door has opened to the other world Mayan wisdom has told us is now possible.

In other words, humanity is ceasing its efforts to reassemble Mr. Trumpty’s shattered reality and to reject his wall and all it stands for. We’re telling each other that the time has come to finally walk through today’s open doorway into the promised Aquarian Age that (at least unconsciously) we’ve all been longing for.

U.S. Wars on Muslims Continue Even During CV-19 & BLM Uprisings

Readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 12: 13, 16-19; Psalms 86: 5-6, 9-10, 15-16; Romans 8: 26-27; Matthew 13: 24-43

Despite what you might hear in church today, this Sunday’s liturgy of the word is not about the end of the world and the condemned spending eternity in endless fire. So, don’t be confused by the words Matthew puts in Jesus’ mouth about an afterlife filled with “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

No, today’s readings are much more relevant than that. They’re actually about non-violent resistance in a context of imperial aggression and war. They suggest that Americans withdraw our support for the U.S. military and from Washington’s policy of state terrorism against impoverished Muslims in the Middle East. (Need I remind us that even during the Covid-19 crisis and Black Lives Matter uprising, U.S. wars against Muslims continue unabated?)

At the same time, the day’s three parables attributed to Jesus also imply a message for Middle Eastern followers of Mohammed. Today, as the principal victims of (U.S.) imperialism, Muslims are the closest analogue to the Judeo-Christian understanding of “People of God.” So, all three readings call followers of Islam [which recognizes Isa (Jesus) as the second greatest of the prophets (after Mohammed and before Abraham)] to lay down their arms in favor of Jesus’ own non-violent resistance.

Today’s Readings

To get my meaning, begin by considering my translations of today’s exceptionally beautiful readings. As usual, you’re advised to check the originals here to see if I’ve got them right:

Wisdom 13: 13, 16-19: Our Divine Mother loves all her creatures, even unbelievers. She condemns no one. Her love is the source of justice, easy forgiveness and of human courage. Consequently, the truly powerful on earth are also merciful, lenient, gentle and kind. None of us should worry about our “sins.” They are all forgiven.

Psalms 86: 5-6, 9-10, 15-16: Yes, our Divine Mother is good, understanding and kind. So, in time of trouble, we should feel confident asking for her help. She’s the One we’re all looking for. Deep down, we all want to be like her – forgiving, graceful, patient, gentle and faithful. At our profoundest level, we are!

Romans 8: 26-27: In fact, our Mother is there even for those who don’t know how to pray. Weak, painful groanings are enough. She knows what they mean. She knows we’re trying to do our best.

Matthew 13: 24-43: Our Mother’s world is like a garden sown with radiantly beautiful flowers of all kinds and colors. However, the spiritually unevolved sow weeds of hatred and violence to ruin that splendid paradise. Don’t resist them in kind. That only makes matters worse. Instead, just tend the flowers. Our compassionate Mother will do the rest. Her power is everywhere like yeast in a loaf of bread. That knowledge should give us courage to exercise similar gentle influence everywhere.

Jesus & Nonviolent Resistance

I hope you’re able to see the call to non-violence contained in those selections. They implicitly address all victims of aggression by Americans, today’s ruling empire. This means the selections are most relevant to the Muslim community and the question whether or not (as people of The Book) they should resist their oppressors in kind – i.e. with extreme violence.

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

In Jesus’ occupied Israel, the suffocating Roman presence (like our own country’s in the Middle East) was as unwelcome, alien, and destructive as weeds in a garden or field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions for Muslims

How then are Muslims to respond to increasing American domination of the Middle East since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire?

Jesus’ answer? Be like mustard plant, he says. Be like yeast in flour. Both puzzling recommendations are relevant not just to Muslim victims of United States imperialism, but to Christians in our country who wish to dissent from their government’s policies of endless war.

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

So, Jesus is saying:

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

Conclusions for Christians

What does that mean for Christians wishing to express solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters against their cruel “Christian” oppressors? At least the following:

* Reject U.S. militarism in general as counterproductive, since fully 90% of the casualties it inflicts in war are civilians.
* Be instead like the yeast a homemaker puts into 60 pounds of flour, “infecting” the greater culture by non-violent resistance rather than “supporting our troops.”
* Recognize and take sides with the real victims of terrorism – those plagued by U.S. policies of aggressive wars and regime-change – i.e. of state terrorism.
* Lobby against absurd proposals to increase U.S. military spending, when already “our” country spends more on “defense” than the next ten countries combined.

* Refuse to honor the military and dissuade your children and grandchildren from entering that corrupt and corrupting gang of outlaws.

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

But then perhaps we Christians think we’re smarter and more realistic than Jesus — or our Divine Mother?

What do you think?

“Hamilton” Revisited: You Read It Here First !

Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical, “Hamilton,” is back in the news. The day before Independence Day, Disney + made available the filmed version of the acclaimed musical.

This time, however, in the light of Black Lives Matter and its reassessment of our nation’s patriotic statuary, some critics have understandably muted their praise for the play and its unmitigated hagiographic rehab not only of Alexander Hamilton, but of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

All of them, of course, were enslavers of Africans and brutal exterminators of Native Americans. (Remember the part of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence that describes the latter as “the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is the undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”) 

The soft-pedaled praise has made me feel cautious vindication. That’s because nearly five years ago, I incurred the wrath of my family by critically reviewing “Hamilton,” a play they all adored.

I’m sure you can understand their reaction. Not only did they adore the play, but my daughter and her husband (at great expense) had brought our entire family to see it in November of 2015. So, in their eyes my commentary demonstrated not only Philistine insensitivity, but an exceptionally high quality of ingratitude by looking a gift horse in the mouth.

In fact, the blog offended everyone to such an extent that all three of my adult children immediately unsubscribed from my blog. (And they haven’t re-subscribed since.) Whenever “Hamilton” is mentioned in our family, the story of my betrayal is enthusiastically rehearsed by everyone including my young grandchildren.

Nonetheless, it’s in that spirit of cautious vindication that I republish my original piece. I do so without change, except for my regret that I didn’t credit Ishmael Reed for the Eichmann line in the piece’s last sentence.

_____

The “Hamilton” Minstrel Show

In the era of Black Lives Matter, how do you get Whites (including the Fox News crowd) to give standing ovations to Blacks and Browns presenting a play about the era of slavery and “Indian” extermination?

Simple: You (1) forget about Black Lives Matter, extermination and slavery and (2) make the play a “reverse” minstrel show where (3) a cast of what Malcolm X called “house Negroes” pretend to be white and celebrate the very people who oppressed and slaughtered their own forebears.

And there you have it: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feel-good musical “Hamilton,” which is currently setting box office records on Broadway before enthusiastic, overwhelmingly white audiences.

It’s a whiteface minstrel show without the grease paint.

In “Hamilton,” mostly black and Hispanic actors cavort and grin through performances redolent of Stepin Fetchit. Without a hint of conscious irony, they domesticate their communities’ hip-hop resistance medium to celebrate the slave merchant, Alexander Hamilton and the Indian Exterminator, George Washington.

And white people love it. That’s because “Hamilton” is the Horatio Alger story our culture loves and uses against the poor, especially people of color.

“Hamilton’s” about a lowly illegitimate Scotsman from the Caribbean who at the age of 19 comes to New York City bent on making a fortune and achieving immortality. An unabashed social-climber, young Alexander sees himself as the embodiment of “his country.” He is “young, scrappy, and hungry” with plenty of brains but no polish — a real diamond in the rough.

So he joins the revolution, marries into the rich slave-owning Schuyler family, rises to prominence in the Continental Army, fathers a son, authors most of the Federalist Papers, has an affair, becomes Secretary of the Treasury and is killed in a duel with Aaron Burr.

Actually, Hamilton turns out to be a real buffoon. He’s self-centered and arrogant. Though a criminal in the eyes of the slaves and “Indians,” he and his kind are obsessed about his “honor” and are willing to kill and be killed for honor’s sake. Three duels mark the play. One eventually causes Hamilton’s own death; another takes the life of his son. He’s one of the “Founding Fathers,” who routinely crushed slave and “Indian” uprisings without mercy, but then self-righteously took up arms against England. Their issue (as the play puts it): taxes on tea and whisky!

The play overflows with comatose irony.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is the Puerto Rican artist who produced “Hamilton’s” music, lyrics and book. Though his people know plenty about the horrors of colonialism, he doesn’t seem to get it either. Instead, he presents his work as a celebration of post-racial patriotism. He has said “We’re telling the story of old, dead white men but we’re using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience.”

Apparently, the actors are just as clueless. They’re doing a minstrel show for the descendants of the Massa.

It’s like their Jewish counterparts cavorting and grinning through a celebration called “Eichmann!”

The Biblical Call to Woke, Politically Correct Identity Politics

Readings for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Zechariah 9: 9-10; Psalm 145: 1-2, 8-14; Romans 8: 9-13; Matthew 11: 25-30

Whatever the world believes and does, choose to believe and do the opposite. That’s because the Truth that some call “God” is found 180 degrees opposite to what the world claims as true. That’s the message of today’s liturgy of the word.

So, take heart if as a follower of the Christ, they accuse you of advocating identity politics, deride you as a social justice warrior, woke, politically correct, a conspiracy theorist, or a whatabouter. Leaving aside their distorted meanings, all of those categories should actually be embraced by critical persons of faith who take this Sunday’s readings to heart.  

In today’s key selection, Paul refers to accusations like the above as “flesh,” because they insistently judge according to external appearances and directly contradict the teachings of Moses and Jesus. Such judgments routinely gas light activists demonstrating for social justice across the world. For instance, followers of Rush Limbaugh tell awakened Black Lives Matter demonstrators to go back to sleep. They admonish “conspiracy theorists” to simply accept White House narratives. They ridicule “social justice warriors” as pathetic Don Quixotes impotently jousting at windmills. And they say progressives, “snowflakes” should be embarrassed about their annoying “political correctness” and whataboutism.       

However, today’s reading from the prophet Zechariah calls for political strategy that penetrates below such superficiality at every turn. In the process, he longs for political leaders whose laser vision will reject the outer manifestations that tell us that things are fine the way they are. For instance, his ideal ruler will refuse military display and instead sponsor programs of national disarmament. That, of course, flies in the face of “American” cultural ideals of bluster, toughness, and aggression.

Finally, in our Gospel reading, Jesus promises that adopting contrary unfleshly values will result in easy, restful and unburdened existence for everyone.

Flesh Merchants

Before we get to those separate readings, begin by contrasting the wisdom of the world’s flesh merchants with the general vision recommended (as we’ll see below) in today’s selections. Think about the dominant culture’s superficial dismissal of social justice warriors, the “woke,” of everything that smacks of political correctness, or conspiracy theories or whataboutism. Those caught up in fleshly appearances want progressives to feel guilty about the critical thinking implied in each of those categories understood in the light of faith.

  • The Struggle for Social Justice: Our era’s flesh merchants generally ridicule what they call “social justice warriors” as naïve bleeding hearts. However, the truth is that the struggle for social justice lies at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It all began with the liberation of slaves from Egypt. The Hebrew Covenant prioritized the needs of widows, orphans and immigrants. It instituted permanent land reform measures and periodic wealth redistribution. Jesus advocated replacement of Rome’s empire with what he called the Kingdom of God – a world where God’s truth and love replaced Caesar’s looting, lies and oppression. All the great followers of Jesus were social justice warriors. Think Bartolome de las Casas, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and today’s William Barber.
  • Wokeness: Following in the footsteps of such prophets, all of us are called to permanent spiritual insomnia. In fact, Buddhism is entirely based on the concept. It teaches that the whole purpose of life is to wake up from the slumber that is endemic to dominant cultures everywhere. Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” had a similar message. Any follower of the Judeo-Christian tradition is called to wake up.
  • Identity Politics: Notwithstanding its Buddhist and classical derivations, the term “woke” comes from the African American community. That origin reminds us that any struggle for social justice must begin with heightened awareness and affirmation of specific identity as an oppressed people. That’s why James Cone, the father of black liberation theology, jarringly insists that God is black. He’s referring to a divine preference for the unfairly “burdened” (as today’s Gospel selection puts it) in any age. It’s what lies at the heart of Pope Francis’ repeated allusions to God’s “preferential option for the poor.” It’s with the impoverished that followers of Moses and Jesus are called to unambiguously identify spiritually and politically. 
  • Political Correctness: This is perhaps the most distorted and denigrated of the concepts considered here. Originally, it was a self-critical tool used by political activists to make sure that their speech and action were consistent with their principles. More recently however, the term has been appropriated and trivialized by opponents of social justice to refer to any infringement of a dominant group’s supposed right to speak and act without considering the consequences for members of a subordinate class. Obviously, such “freedom” is out of step with the just-referenced preferential option for the poor. On the contrary, all would-be followers of Jesus the Christ are called to bring their speech and actions into correct alignment with their faith.    
  • Conspiracy Theory: Like political correctness, the original concept of conspiracy theory had no insulting overtones. In fact, conspiracy is a legal category referring to two or more people planning to commit a crime. Lawyers and prosecutors theorize about conspiracies all the time. And, of course, Jesus’ assassination resulted from a conspiracy between Jerusalem’s temple priests and the Roman imperial state. That fact alone should make his followers especially sensitive to conspiratorial plots. (BTW, one prominent conspiracy theory holds that following the Kennedy assassination, the CIA appropriated a negative understanding of the term conspiracy theorists precisely to discredit critics of the highly questionable Warren Report – and subsequently of every other CIA operation.) Bottom line here: no one familiar with history, much less Christianity, should be intimidated by accusations of being conspiracy theorists. Such allegations are meant to inhibit critical thinking.   
  • Whataboutism: The Wikipedia Dictionary defines whataboutism as any attempt to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument. Actually, in our U.S. context, it’s most often a refusal to take seriously right-wing accusations against designated enemies such as Russia, China, or Venezuela for crimes routinely committed by the United States itself. It recognizes that “America” has no ground to stand on in its accusations of election-interference, persecution of Muslims, or corruption in high office. That’s because our country’s officials routinely engage in such activities themselves and embody unsurpassed corruption at every level. It’s all in the spirit of Jesus’ words, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Like Jesus, whatabouters are concerned with hypocrisy.

Today’s Readings

With all of this in mind, here are my “translations” of the readings that inspire today’s reflection. Please read them for yourselves here to see if I’ve got them right. I take them all as issuing a call to depart entirely from the dominant culture’s way of thinking and acting in the areas just designated.

Zechariah 9: 9-10: The world leader we’re all waiting for won’t come driving a Sherman Tank, Cadillac or a Rolls Royce.  Rather, she’ll arrive on a bicycle. Moreover, she’ll achieve peace by eliminating the entire military-industrial complex. No more war for this non-violent champion! 

Psalm 145: 1-2, 8-14: When she comes, we’ll all join in grateful thanksgiving to our Great Cosmic Mother. We’ll praise her for her grace, patience, goodness, kindness and compassion. We’ll finally realize that might is found precisely in what the world considers weakness – in the fallen and heavily burdened. 

Romans 8: 9-13: On that happy day, everyone on earth will understand their spiritual unity with everyone else regardless of externals – “flesh” including its color. We’ll see that at core, all of us share the loving Spirit that animated Jesus the compassionate Christ. Fullness of life, he taught, lies in a direction 180 degrees away from the fleshy exterior reality to which the world so insistently limits our attention.   

Matthew 11: 25-30: Yes, the worldly wise and learned tell us that “reality” is defined by what we can see and feel and that might makes right. However, the unpretentious nobodies of the world who follow Jesus know much more. In their humility, disarmed non-violence, and refusal to compete, they share the very mind of God. They’ve discovered the secret of an easy, restful and unburdened existence.

Conclusion

I suppose what I’ve been seeing in today’s biblical readings are implications that call into question our culture’s superficiality – something Paul called “flesh.” I hear the readings warning us against the dominant culture and its rejection of much deeper (spiritual) values firmly founded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I’m talking about commitment to social justice, and the identity politics that sides with the poor and oppressed. I’m referring to awakening from cultural slumber and the adoption of woke ways of thinking and acting that are politically correct in terms of coherence between theory and action. My reference is also to judicious suspicion of official stories mouthed by “leaders” who have repeatedly lied to us – even in the face of their accusations about conspiracy theories. All of this, I’m saying, entails complete rejection of hypocrisy hiding behind deflecting complaints of whataboutism.

I at least feel great relief to recognize culturally imposed guilt tripping for what it is. I’m happy to embrace my efforts to be an awakened politically correct social justice warrior identified with the poor and oppressed and alert to conspiracies by the rich and powerful.

All of these are proud labels embodied in countless heroes most of us profess to admire – people like Moses, Sojourner Truth, Gandhi, Martin King, Dorothy Day, William Barber, and Jesus himself. We’re in very good company.        

I’m Not Racist!

Three years ago, I posted this must-see video. It’s Joyner Lucas‘ hip-hop dialog between a white man and a black man. When I reviewed it again in the current context of uprisings against police violence, I couldn’t help seeing its continued currency and the need to post it again.

See what you think.

I only wish that there had been a third participant in the dialog —  someone who might helped the principals see that their anger is misdirected.  They are not each other’s enemies.

No, the real enemy is the system of capitalism run by the 0.1%. Its underlying ideology of extreme individualism, and vicious competition keeps everyone’s eyes off the ball by pitting blacks and whites against one another. Meanwhile, the system enriches the few while failing miserably to provide adequate jobs, wages, education, housing and health care for the majority.

This is an example of the system’s “divide and conquer” strategy that works every time.

Through your comments, please share your reflections.

(African) American Exceptionalism: The Case for Black Supremacy

Readings for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 KINGS 4: 8-11, 14-16A; PSALM 89: 2-3, 16-19; ROMANS 6: 3-4, 8-11; MATTHEW 10: 37-42

Today’s first reading from the Jewish Testament’s Second Book of Kings sets the tone for this Sunday’s reflection. It is about a privileged woman (from biblical Shunem) who is given a new lease on life by creating a room “upstairs” for a prophetic presence and voice. Doing so brings her new life beyond anything she had dared hope for.

Her situation taken in conjunction with our day’s other readings can be understood as calling us all to clear space in our minds for recognizing our own inner prophets. Currently, that means attuning our consciousness to the oracular nature of the shouts and denunciations raised in our streets. The black voices resonating there are far more perceptive and informed – more prophetic – than anything we hear from white politicians and talking heads on TV. In effect, the tumult in the streets calls us to recognize the truth of black supremacy.

To see what I mean, let’s think about prophecy as referenced in today’s liturgy of the word. Then consider the analytical advantage native to the truly exceptional among us (our African American sisters and brothers). Finally, let’s entertain suggestions for creating suitable space in the upper reaches of our minds for black prophets who possess the power to change our nation’s collective life.

Prophetism  

The reading about the Shunamite woman comes from the part of 2nd Kings that details the words and deeds of the great prophet Elijah and his successor Elisha. For our purposes today, those details are not important.

What is important is to rethink the category of prophet. Most lump the term together with something like fortune teller. They think prophets are primarily concerned with the future.

But that’s where they’re wrong. Biblical prophets were not principally concerned with the future. They were not fortune tellers. Instead, they were understood as spokespersons for God. Though some functioned as court advisors, most were primarily defenders of the poor and oppressed – the real “chosen people” of Israel’s God throughout the Jewish Testament.

As such, prophets had their eyes firmly fixed on the present. Their task was twofold. It was first of all to denounce and secondly to announce. Prophetic denunciation targeted kings, rich landowners, bankers, the royal classes in general, and temple officials. The habitual crime of the well-off was their systemic exploitation of poor peasants and laborers, and those forced into debt peonage. In fact, if you examine the parables of Jesus, you’ll find most of them addressing the situations of such people. Yes, Jesus appeared in the prophetic tradition.

The second prophetic task was to announce a new future for the oppressed. For the prophets, another world was possible. Another God was possible. Jesus called that other world “the kingdom of God.” The phrase and its parabolic descriptions in stories like the Prodigal Son and Good Samaritan captured what the world would be like if God were king instead of Caesar.

That God was “Father” to the poor, their “Good Shepherd,” the Great Liberator of people like those Jesus himself befriended – prostitutes, beggars, insurgents, lepers, foreigners, drunkards, the hungry and thirsty, social outcasts, children, and repentant tax collectors.

Besides being a prophet, Jesus himself was a poor man – a day laborer (not a priest or rabbi) who had been an immigrant in Egypt as a child. From the beginning of his public life, he was under surveillance and investigation by the authorities. They identified him as a terrorist and subversive. He finished as a victim of state torture and capital punishment.

All of that means that (according to Christian faith) God chose the socially marginalized and rejected as the vehicle for revealing the true meaning and purpose of human life. It’s as if (according to divine epistemology) the poor are somehow more connected with Life itself.      

African American Exceptionalism

What could that mean for our actual world that’s now on fire with insurrection?  And here, let me emphasize that I’m not just referring to Minneapolis, but to the rebellions that Twin City has evoked across the country and across the planet. Does it all suggest that African Americans know more than the rest of us? Does it suggest that as a people, they’re more perceptive – more prophetic – than the rest of us?

Cuba’s great poet and historian Roberto Fernandez Retamar thought so.

I remember 20 years ago when he addressed my class (about half of them African American) when we were in Havana for a month studying “The African Diaspora in Cuba.”

In his riveting presentation, he described the descendants of African slaves as the world’s most exceptional people. They are, he said, the strongest, most beautiful and most intelligent humans on earth.

Professor Retamar reasoned as follows:

  • Slave traders in Africa began by selecting the sturdiest, best looking and smartest specimens to sell to their slaver counterparts in the New World. (It’s the way the market works.)
  • On the Middle Passage to distribution points like Cuba, up to half of those so carefully selected perished; only the strongest survived.
  • Then on auction blocks in places like Charleston and New Orleans, none but those with the best characteristics and strongest bodies were again selected by discerning slave buyers. (They examined teeth, hair and limbs as if the slave wares were horses.)
  • Only the best and brightest of those so purchased survived the harsh conditions of slavery to reproduce and have their offspring once again culled and selected.
  • The repetition of such processes for 300 years produced the super-race of people that continues to exhibit admirably courageous survival characteristics to this very day. Despite all the obstacles, they’re the authors of the unparalleled moral achievements embodied in slave rebellions, the abolitionist movement, and in civil rights struggles – the most spiritually-grounded, inspiring and influential causes in the history of the world.
  • Moreover, African American achievements in the arts, especially in music including spirituals, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and hip-hop rank with the highest contributions that westerners have made to world culture. The black community’s tremendous athletic achievements are second to none.

Yes, Dr. Retamar concluded, the African diaspora represents the best and brightest of the human race. They are the most beautiful, strongest and smartest of humans. Their wise and perceptive prophetic presence is based on an American experience that is truly exceptional. It has much to teach us about what blacks are especially privy to – about the nature of Life Itself and the unending struggle for justice.

Today’s Readings

With all of that in mind, please reread today’s liturgical selections. As I said, they’re about making room for prophets (like Elisha and the ones in our streets) in the upper reaches of our minds. What follows are my “translations” of the readings. You can read the originals here to see if I got them right.

2 KINGS 4: 8-11, 14-16A: Despite obstacles of wealth and power, even the privileged can make room for prophets who speak for the poor. But to do so, the rich must carefully create space in the upper reaches of their clouded minds. “Up on the Roof,” they should cultivate quiet, rest, and space for reading and enlightenment. Such provision will free their inner prophet and yield new and unexpectedly welcome life.

PSALM 89: 2-3, 16-19: So, repair to your own “upper room” every day and there discover transcendent security, strength, joy, fidelity, and commitment to God’s justice. Doing so will even confer ability to discern political leaders who exhibit such qualities.

ROMANS 6: 3-4, 8-11: In fact, the whole point of following Jesus the Christ is to die to the comfortable but misleading wisdom of the world and rise to God’s new life as exemplified in the poor man, Yeshua. That life is lived entirely for justice despite the world’s threats.

MATTHEW 10: 37-42: Notwithstanding such intimidations then, be open to prophetic voices. Depart from familial truisms even as taught by your parents and (ironically) as accepted by successfully indoctrinated children. Such departures represent the only way to find your True Self. But be forewarned: the state will incriminate and crucify you even for giving a cup of cold water to thirsty oppressed people. Do it anyway and learn to live with the resulting fulfillment and happiness.

Conclusion

Today, we are called to imitate the Shunamite woman who welcomed the prophet Elisha.

She prepared space for him, and provided him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp. She welcomed him to her dining room, fed him, and made him feel at home.

Today’s liturgy of the word calls us to do something similar. It suggests that we use this time of COVID-19 respite to make room for our inner prophet who turns out to be black and (because of a unique experience of oppression) is especially insightful and aligned with the divine purposes of the universe.

This is the time to figuratively enter that space in our attic, to turn on its lamp, to meditate and read something like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. While we’re at it, we might watch something like “The Help,” “Malcolm X,” “Amistad,” or “Glory.”

Today’s readings (and our very times) call us to rethink everything, turn it upside down, see it with new eyes, and perhaps recognize the truth of black supremacy.

Jeremiads for America: Six Unspeakable Propositions (& One Glimmer of Hope)

Readings for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: JEREMIAH 20: 10-13; PSALM 69:8-17, 33-35; ROMANS 5: 12-15; MATTHEW 10: 26-33

Today’s readings can be seen as centralizing the term “jeremiad.” In that light, and despite its usually dismissive connotations, I hope you’ll consider what I’m about to say as belonging to that prophetic category. I make it my own in a spirit of desperation generated by the trouble we all observe in our streets these days following the murder of George Floyd. What follows is entirely consistent with a liberation theology perspective — the most important theological development in the last 1500 years.

Jeremiads

According to online dictionaries, “jeremiad” refers to a sermon or another work that accounts for the misfortunes of an era as a just penalty for great social and moral evils but holds out hope for changes that will bring a happier future.

The word derives from the name of the biblical prophet, Jeremiah whose words set the tone for today’s liturgy of the word. Taken together, the day’s readings might be considered commentary on his opening denunciation of his own country, Judah.

By way of context, you should know that Jeremiah did his work during the Babylonian Exile (roughly, 597 – 538 BCE), when his country’s elite had been abducted to what is modern day Iraq. Jeremiah attributed that defining tragedy to the infidelity of Judah’s leadership to their covenant with their God. Above all, it mandated care for the nation’s poor, its widows, and orphans.

Instead, its kings and upper classes were busy lining their own pockets while neglecting the very ones their religious traditions identified as God’s favorites. For Jeremiah, that neglect represented a rejection of God’s very self. It accordingly merited a half century of exile from the Holy Land and God’s special presence there.

With all of that in mind, please read today’s biblical selections. To repeat, they will lay the groundwork for my contemporary jeremiads that might be addressed to the United States. What follows are my “translations” of the readings. You can read them for yourself here to see if I got them right.

Today’s Readings

JEREMIAH 20: 10-13: I am surrounded by state terrorists. They monitor my slightest missteps using a sophisticated surveillance apparatus and sting operations that seek revenge for my damning accusations. But I remain undeterred.  My rich persecutors are the ones who will end up confused and shamed. YHWH, the champion of the poor, will see to that.  

PSALMS 69: 8-17, 33-35: In fact, nothing can stop any genuine prophet from siding with the poor: not public shame, not family ostracization, not insults or curses. Bolstered by divine kindness, mercy and love, all prophets speak words of comfort to the impoverished and imprisoned. In this, God’s spokespersons are one with the Source of Life itself that fills the seas and skies and the very hearts of humanity.

ROMANS 5: 12-15: The prophet, Paul of Tarsus, was no different from Jeremiah. Shockingly, he identified Law itself as the source of the world’s evil – a tool of the rich and powerful to control God’s favorites (the poor and despised) with feelings of guilt and shame. For Paul, Jesus the Christ – the greatest of the anarchistic prophets — rendered all such law obsolete. 

MATTHEW 10: 26-33: In that spirit, Jesus advised absolute refusal to accept the regulations, cover-ups and “state secrets” of the rich and powerful. Their every utterance should be disclosed for the lie it is. Speak truth then, even in the face of death threats. It is far better to lose your life, Jesus said, rather than surrender to lies of Rulers from Hell. Follow the example of prophets who though typically assassinated, preserved their integrity by telling the truth of a loving God committed to the poor and oppressed.

Jeremiads for America

So, in the spirit of those words from Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus the Christ, let’s review some of the most profound reasons for the police riots in our streets. I feel confident our three prophets would say that taken together, the following half-dozen propositions describe elements that have shaped our national reality of damning racism and police state violence. Our readings direct us to face up to these defining truths and take our lead from those vilified by mainstream culture – our nation’s indigenous, descendants of slaves, and the Latinx community.

  1. “America” was founded by scoundrels, not heroes: Face it: the so-called “Founding Fathers” were not heroic. They were outright colonialists who tired of sharing the spoils of their Grand Larceny with royal godfathers back home in England. Washington, Hamilton, and the rest wanted it all for themselves and their class. As liberation theologians argue, their Jeffersonian declaration that “all men are created equal” was intended principally to establish the fact that settlers were equal with the “Indians” and so could steal their land and resources which, they argued, were up for grabs according to the law of the strongest and that of capitalist “efficiency.”
  2. It all began with unbelievable genocide: In American Holocaust, David E. Stannard puts the number of indigenous Americans killed from the time of Columbus’ invasion to Wounded Knee (in the 1890s) at 100 million. It remains the most massive act of genocide in human history.
  3. Primitive accumulation of capital came from the unpaid work of millions of slaves: Three hundred years of such labor created huge fortunes and laid the groundwork for America’s industrial revolution.
  4. Huge swaths of “America” were stolen from Mexico: In 1845, the U.S. absorbed nearly half of Mexico – Texas first, and then [after the Mexican American War (1846-’48)], what became Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. So, it’s not that Mexicans are crossing “our border;” rather, the border crossed them.
  5. Probably, about 90% of the nation’s police force is criminal: The evidence or police brutality displayed in our streets these days leads one to think that not much has changed since 1973. That’s when NYPD police insider, Frank Serpico, estimated that about 10% of police officers are honest; about 10% are absolutely corrupt, and the other 80% wish they weren’t. In fact, ninety percent of the cops we’ve seen on our TV screens exhibit what can only be described as unconstitutional criminal activity. Virtually all of them cover up, condone evidence-planting, and make excuses for crimes of their colleagues that we’ve all seen with our own eyes. In other words, virtually all of them are liars.
  6. Our nation remains the greatest purveyor of violence in the world: This characterization by Martin Luther King is as true today as it was when he made the allegation in 1967. As the most violent nation on earth, the United States represents the origin of most of the planet’s problems. If it fell off the face of the earth, the planet would be better off.

Of course, the list of propositions like those could go on infinitum. Our nation continues to exist in profound denial about its continued racism and overwhelming corruption. Democracy in America has virtually disappeared through gerrymandering, voter suppression, crooked voting machines, and campaign contributions that amount to legalized bribery. All levers of power now reside in the hands of oligarchs supported by a racist “justice system” that has also been captured by the wealthy elite – all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Glimmer of Hope

Besides echoing prophetic jeremiads, what I’ve just said are simply home truths. By themselves they’ll surprise almost no one who is paying attention. Yet (at least for me) taken together they illustrate the fact that (far from being exceptionally good) our country is deeply, deeply flawed by a profound racism, corruption, and supporting violence that put us nearly beyond human possibility of redemption.

Ironically, however (as always in the biblical tradition that Jesus endorsed) it’s in society’s marginalized classes that hope is to be found.

At this particular historical moment, it’s the nation’s black community that embodies our last best prospect. It’s what makes America truly distinct and great. I’m referring to abolitionism, the civil rights movement, and heroes like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. They were more highly principled and greater heroes than Washington, Jefferson or Hamilton. Their work for social justice has influenced liberation struggles across the planet. It has inspired other achievements that make America great – such as the drive for women’s liberation, the gay rights struggle, and the environmental movement.  

Conclusion

Yes, this has been a jeremiad homily against a dying nation blinded to its false premises by systemic racism. Today’s readings and the prophetic traditions they represent remind us that what makes America great are those who have resisted and continue to resist all representations of white supremacy. The real heroes – the truly Great Americans – are our country’s indigenous remnant as embodied for example in the Standing Rock water protectors. They’re the slavery and prison abolitionists, women suffragists and feminists. Above all, at this moment, they’re the Black Lives Matter activists inspired by their Civil Rights Movement forebears.

The prophet Jeremiah himself, along with his counterparts, Jesus and Paul call us to accept such uncomfortable facts and join forces with those equally prophetic agents of hope.