None of Us Can Change the World, So We’d Better Get Busy!

Gandhi

The other day a good friend and I were discussing the state of the world. Our conversation touched on the Boston Marathon bombing, the Bangladesh factory collapse, drone warfare, Guantanamo, the increasing concentration of media ownership, and the sorry state of the Roman Catholic Church. My friend remarked on the futility of attempting to do anything to change the world situation. Better to simply tend your garden, he said, rather than wasting psychic energy and physical effort to affect what cannot be changed.

I must confess that I found myself agreeing with my conversation partner more than not. It all seems so futile when we consider the overwhelming power of money, the state, the military, and of education and media propaganda whose predominantly conservative purpose is to keep things the way they are.

Suitably depressed, I took up my spiritual reading before going to bed. I’m currently pouring over, perhaps for the fifth time, Eknath Easwaran’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. In The End of Sorrow, the first of his three volume work (The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living), Easwaran addresses the question of “detachment.” By that he means being free from anxiety or depression about the results of anything we do. What I read seemed intimately related to my exchange with my dear friend.

Easwaran points to the example of Gandhi:

“Prior to Gandhi, even people who had seen and grieved over the political bondage of India could not bring themselves to act because they thought the situation was impossible. They could not act because even before taking the first step they were already caught in results. We too, when faced with problems, have a tendency to think, ‘There is nothing we can do about it.’ . . . Wherever we find a wrong situation – in our personal life, in our country’s life, or in our world’s conflicts – we all have a duty to work to correct it.”

The words hit home. It’s giving up in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds that so strongly tempts us (me!). It’s just so easy to give up.

But as Kevin Trudeau reminds us, the temptation gives us far more credit for knowing our situation than our actual condition warrants. Coming from a completely secular and otherwise questionable perspective, Trudeau says we’re like people looking at a computer screen, but seeing only the bottom right hand corner – perhaps an inch square. We just don’t see what’s going on in the rest of the screen at all. But we make decisions and value judgments, we go in and out of depression as though we were all-knowing. We react and get attached to results as though our lives were not mere blips on the cosmic screen.

Thankfully, we don’t know very much. And our brief lives don’t offer much perspective on the effects of our actions. I’m reminded of what Mao Tse- tung’s is reputed to have answered when asked whether he thought the French Revolution was successful or not. “Too soon to say,” was his response.

It’s definitely too soon to say what the effects of our actions are or those of Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, Bradley Manning, or John XXIII.

My friend is right. Results are out of our hands. But the person of faith, like Gandhi and those others I’ve just mentioned pushes ahead, doing what’s possible, leaving the results in the hands of the One who directs the universe. Only She sees the whole screen.

I take some comfort in that.

Drones, the Marathon Bombing And Today’s Liturgy of the Word (Sunday Homily)

I got into trouble with a lot of people over the last week or ten days. It all goes back to the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15th. The very next morning I found myself writing a blog entry that drew fire from friends who go back with me nearly sixty years, and even from my family members. I had written that the Marathon Bombing paled in comparison with the havoc and destruction the United States’ drone policy creates in the world virtually every day.

For instance, last week in the Senate hearing on that policy, a young Yemeni activist, Farea Al-Muslimi, gave testimony about the destruction in his village brought about by a drone attack that had occurred a few weeks earlier. [Do yourself a favor and see the video of his testimony (above); it went viral last week.] Women and children were killed by the drone apparently intended to eliminate a single person who might easily have been apprehended by local police. Instead, the missile launching killed indiscriminately. In the resulting carnage, the young man said, you couldn’t distinguish the bodies of women and children from their animals which had also been killed in the raid. The human victims had to be buried with their animals as though there were no difference between them.

According to the young activist, drones hovering over villages like his own, ready to release their deadly cargo are a form of terrorism. They have for Yemenis become the new face of the United States, and have caused great anger and hatred towards our country. Drones are what Yemenis now think of when they hear “America.” They represent a highly effective recruiting tool for what Americans understand as “terrorists.”

This means that in the activist’s own village, the drones accomplished in an instant what the propaganda of Islamic jihadists had been unable to do after years of effort.

It was this sort of testimony that I had in mind when I wrote the morning after the Marathon bombing. I was also inspired by the kind of faith-consciousness communicated by the readings in this morning’s liturgy of the word. Those readings call us to embrace an awareness of the unity of the entire human race. All are our sisters and brothers, the readings emphasize; Yeminis are as important to God as we are. Put otherwise, all four readings call us beyond the nationalism that makes us so sensitive to violence directed towards our own people, while ignoring or down-playing much greater terror our country directs towards those we consider “foreign” or “other.”

In fact, today’s liturgy of the word might well be considered a hymn of praise to the God of Love who cherishes everyone and everything equally. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles highlights the expansion of the understanding of God’s Chosen People. Paul and Barnabas extend the concept from the Jews to non-Jews – i.e. to gentiles. God’s people are found not merely in Israel, but in strange sounding places like Lystra, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, Attalia, and Antioch.

The author of the Book of Revelation concurs with Paul’s interpretation. In his utopian vision of the “end of time,” John of Patmos hears a loud voice proclaiming, “God’s dwelling is with the human race.” Did you hear that? God’s People are found not just in Israel (or in “America”), but are co-extensive with the entire human race. People of all nations constitute God’s Chosen, John says. In other words, God considers everyone God’s beloved simply in virtue of their being human.

However, John “loud voice” also suggests that God is especially partial to the poor and oppressed. God wishes that tearful people stop crying. God’s kingdom is an entirely new dispensation without premature death, mourning, wailing, or pain. The suggestion here is an understanding of God’s chosen people as those within the human race who suffer the most. (As a nation, Americans, it seems, are not in that category.)

Does this mean that in our assessment of world events, the suffering should be given greater attention than the well-off?

Moreover, God’s love extends beyond humans to all of physical creation. The responsorial psalm describes God as generous, merciful, slow to anger, exceedingly kind, and good to all. That “all” includes everything God has made. In the psalmist’s words, God is “compassionate to all his works.”

Finally, today’s brief gospel reading suggests that the vocation of Christians is to mirror God’s universal love specifically as reflected in Yeshua ben Joseph – who accepted his own death at the hands of the violent rather than defend himself or take the lives of others .

Yeshua’s followers, John the evangelist suggests, must be willing to love in the same way Jesus loved. We must be ready to give our lives for “the least of our brothers and sisters” – to die ourselves before taking the lives of poor Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghanis, Iraqis, Somalis . . . . (That’s what the words of the gospel seem to propose!)

But there’s a warning with all this talk of God’s universal love. Nationalism is strong. Criticizing it evokes energetic resistance. This is the thrust of Paul’s words in today’s first reading when he says that “It is necessary to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” Evidently some within the emerging Christian community wanted to stick with the old narrow notion of “God’s People” limiting it to a single nation. They thought of the community of Yeshua as a reformed wing of Judaism. As the reading from Acts tells us, they resisted Paul’s more expansive reinterpretation, sometimes violently.

Something similar can happen today when the suffering of “those others” are equated or even prioritized over the suffering of our compatriots.

Nonetheless, today’s readings remind us that in God’s eyes there are no “others.” If they are human, if they are part of God’s creation, they are God’s children every bit as important as “Americans.” Their suffering (especially when it originates from our hands) should be prioritized over our own.

That’s where I was coming from last week.

The Holocaust Museum And the Search for Truth

jesus_in_abu_ghraib

What keeps us from recognizing the truth when it’s staring us in the face? That’s the question that occurred to me as I visited the Holocaust Museum last week when I was in DC. The answer is complex. Dealing with its ramifications challenges us to remember what we learned in kindergarten and what many of us were taught in church.

Last week’s visit was my second time through the Holocaust Museum. Its four floors of display, film, recordings, and horrific material memorabilia are dedicated to keeping alive the nightmare of the systematic murder of millions of communists, socialists, Jews, trade union leaders, priests, ministers, nuns, homosexuals, gypsies, and disabled along with other “dysfunctionals” and enemies of the state.

This time Peggy and I along with our youngest son, Patrick (age 26) spent most of our time on the fourth floor. It details Hitler’s rise to power. How did the German people allow that to happen, I wondered? They were Europeans. They were “modern,” producers of great philosophers, theologians, poets, novelists, musicians, scientists, and industrialists. Even more puzzlingly, they were largely Christian living in a major birth-center of the Reformation.

And yet they allowed the prison-camp system to emerge. They allowed Hitler to declare war on the world. The majority claimed ignorance of the gassings and incinerations. But surely, no one was unaware of the vilification of the ovens’ victims. Hitler’s speeches were filled with denunciations of “Jewish madness.” The phrase not only reflected anti-Semitism, but was code for the political left inspired at its core by the Jewish Testament – those communists and socialists that Hitler (and the ruling classes across Europe and the United States) hated and feared more than anything else.

And when Hitler declared war on the world, good Christian Germans lined up to fight for God and country. As Elie Wiesel reminds us, Catholic prison guards gassed Jews during the week, and then went to confession on Saturday and received Holy Communion at Mass on Sunday.

Reviewing all of that in the Holocaust Museum made me uncomfortably aware that the specter of Adolf Hitler is stalking our world today. It actually pains me to say that this time the shadow is cast by the United States. As I write, the “Americans” have established the control of the world that Hitler sought. In effect, Hitler (or more accurately Hitlerism) won that Second Inter-capitalist War.

In fact, since 9/11 the U.S. has declared a Hitler-like war on the world. It recognizes no inhibiting law, and will brook no rival. Its law of the jungle prevails. The war’s enemy: the poor who demand a fair share of the resources located where they live. Acting as the Hessian armed force of multinational financial interests, the United States identifies, arrests, tortures, and eliminates those who insist that the oil, minerals, natural resources, and agricultural produce of their countries belongs to them and not to the foreign interests on whose behalf the United States polices the world.

Part of the police-world the “Americans” have established is unending war; another is the world-wide prison system like the one at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisons are entirely reminiscent of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Belsen, and Dachau, though government secrecy keeps us in the dark about the true extent of the clandestine hell-holes. They are centers of torture and degradation that beggar description. They are filled with Muslims, not with Jews. (Ironically Palestinian Jews are spearheading the attack on Muslims. It’s not for nothing that the Palestinians are called “the Jews’ Jews.”)

As for the unending war, according to the highly decorated ex-CIA agent John Stockwell, over the last 60 years, “The Third World War against the Poor” has claimed far more lives than the horrendously iconic figure of six million. In Vietnam alone more than 2 million Vietnamese were slaughtered. In Iraq, the figure of pointlessly butchered reaches beyond 1 million in a war of aggression which the U.N. terms the highest of international crimes.

And yet, our contemporaries, like the good Christians of Berlin and Cologne, are mostly in denial about the extent of the police state that has taken form especially since 9/11. Most deny (at least by their silence) the very existence of secret prisons, torture of suspects, the plain fact of political prisoners, death squads, and systemic cruelty.

Where does that denial come from? Where did it come from as Hitler rose to power? Part of the answer is that the process of take-over was gradual. It took years as Hitler advanced from army corporal, to political prisoner, to best-selling author of “Mein Kampf,” to Member of Parliament, to Chancellor, to dictator.

Similarly, the mission creep of the U.S. National Security State has been gradual as we’ve seen our government claim (and be granted by the judiciary) the right to spy on its citizens, search them without probable cause, imprison them without charge, torture them without limit, and ultimately kill them without trial. In the face of all that, like our German counterparts, most of us have stood dumbly by and have even applauded our oppressors as they expropriate us of our constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Another source of denial is the disruption that truth-telling causes in our own lives. As Paul Craig Roberts has recently pointed out, telling the truth disturbs career trajectories and can even disrupt family relationships. That makes fathers and mothers, ministers and priests, politicians and pundits close their eyes and moderate their speech. Roberts says,

“The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again.”

What to do about this state of affairs? For one we must learn to think critically. At the very least, that means applying daily to what we see and hear the “law of reciprocity.” It’s something even a child of seven can understand, though it seems beyond the capacities of our “leaders” to grasp.

One meaning of the law of reciprocity is that what is good for me is good for you; what is bad for you is bad for me. This means that if the U.S. would consider it unacceptable for Pakistanis to drone their enemies on “American” soil, it unacceptable to drone “American” enemies on Pakistani soil. If it’s wrong for Iranians to have nuclear weapons, it is also wrong for Israel or the United States to have them.

The law of reciprocity makes one wonder what the United States would do if a foreign drone so much as appeared unbidden in American airspace much less if it did its destructive work on the ground.

Besides observing the elements of what we were all taught in kindergarten, it would also help to heed what most of us have heard in church all our lives. That those German prison guards could do their crematorium work during the week and receive communion on Sundays seems somehow contradictory to the teachings of Jesus, don’t you think?

What about the guards at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, the soldiers in Fallujah or Haditha, or the drone pilots sitting at the consoles in their air-conditioned theaters? How are they different from the Germans we condemn?

Help me figure this one out. The question is disrupting my life.

The Boston Marathon Bombing: Our Wake-Up Call

Pakistan Drone Victims

Last Tuesday I shocked some of my blog readers by observing that the carnage of the Boston Marathon bombing paled in comparison with the mayhem the U.S. inflicts daily on anyone who happens to be near designated enemies in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere. My observations were dismissed by some as “incredibly insensitive” and as the “garbage” comments of an armchair philosopher unacquainted with the brutality of “those Jihadists.” One former army chaplain accused me of having a screw loose somewhere.

Be that as it may, I was in reality simply trying to highlight the double standard most of us have internalized concerning our own victimhood when tragedy strikes close to home. We wring our hands and ask “Why us?” Meanwhile we exhibit little compassion for those our country’s policies punish with the equivalents of Boston Marathon bombings virtually every day. Our media regularly ignore those tragedies and so insult our country’s victims with the mainstream media’s (and our) own brand of incredible insensitivity.

The implication of ignoring the suffering of the victims of U.S. policy is that “American” lives and children are more valuable than the lives and offspring of “those others.” We seem convinced that our “holy wars” are somehow different from their jihads. Any fool, we imply (and sometimes state) would see that we are good and they are evil. We are, after all, the exceptional, indispensable nation.

That conviction of American exceptionalism seems impervious to fact and memory. It allows U.S. perpetrators of human rights abuses such as wars of aggression, death squads, drone killings, torture, imprisonment-without-charge, voter suppression, and incarceration of whistle-blowers to pontificate about those same human rights violations when they occur in other countries.

Consider the following:

• The Obama administration is currently withholding its recognition of the results of last week’s election of Nicolas Maduro as president of Venezuela. Maduro was the personal choice of U.S. bête noir, Hugo Chavez. Standing alone in its refusal to recognize his electoral victory (except for the arch-conservative Spanish administration) and despite assurances of international election observers and the Venezuelan National Election Commission, the United States solemnly insists that Venezuelans deserve a complete recount of every single vote.

Apparently, the Obama folks have forgotten the 2000 election of George W. Bush when its country’s own government refused to perform a recount, even though the eventual loser had verifiably received more votes than the winner. That victor was finally selected not by popular vote but by the Supreme Court dominated by his cronies.

In the light of such irregularities, not to mention gerrymandering, legalized vote-buying sanctioned by “Citizens United,” voter suppression of minorities, and refusal to set up the paper trail the Venezuelan system has so firmly established, wouldn’t you think our government would recognize that it’s lost all moral ground to lecture others about or adjudicate “free and fair” elections? No – not when inconvenient truths can be successfully flushed down George Orwell’s memory hole. Despite evidence to the contrary, Americans are still convinced their election system is the world’s gold standard. Go figure.

• The week before last Beyonce and Jay-Z decided to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary in Cuba. Their decision drew immediate response from Miami expatriates of Cuba who descried the couple’s implied support for such an egregious violator of human rights as Cuba.

Apparently, the objectors had forgotten that the U.S. has a higher percentage of its population in prison than Cuba or any other nation in the world for that matter. Additionally, the “Americans” maintain a world-wide system of secret jails for political prisoners. Practically all of the 166 incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are currently on hunger strike protesting their inhuman treatment there. The “American” torture and even murder of its political prisoners is better documented than any alleged mistreatment of prisoners in Cuba or anywhere else you might care to name.

And yet, U.S. patriots somehow feel free to lecture Cuba about respect for human rights. Can you say “denial;” can you say “1984” or “memory hole?” Once again, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Americans are still convinced that the United States is somehow the world’s leading defender and observer of human rights.

• Last week the Obama administration’s press secretary, Jay Carney sanctimoniously justified (with a straight face) the refusal of visas to 18 Russian citizens. The banned individuals were all linked to the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blower lawyer who had exposed widespread corruption and theft of national resources by high officials in the Russian government. Magnitsky had died in prison while awaiting trial. His death sparked congressional passage of the “Magnitsky Act” to protect whistle-blowers – in Russia.

Carney intoned,

“This administration is committed to working with the Congress to advance universally recognized human rights worldwide, and we will use the tools in the Magnitsky Act and other available legal authorities to ensure that persons responsible for the maltreatment and death of Mr. Magnitsky are barred from traveling to the United States and doing business here.”

Apparently, Carney wants us to forget the fact that untold (literally) numbers of incarcerated individuals have died in U.S. political prisons – many of them directly under torture. He wants us to forget that the Obama administration has virtually transformed whistle-blowing (i.e. the exposure of government and military crimes) from an act of virtue to a felony.

More specifically, Carney’s consigned to the memory hole the fact that the Obama administration has indicted more whistle-blowers than all previous administrations combined. In doing so he has criminalized the prophetic act of speaking truth to power. This is best illustrated in the case of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army whistle-blower who obeyed his conscience and Army regulations by going public with the war crimes he observed. His reward? Imprisonment without charge, torture, and a possible life sentence. Here again we’re expected to believe that the United States respects “universally recognized human rights worldwide.” We really respect them universally only in places like Russia.

You see, it’s not just that official hand-wringing over the Boston Marathon Bombing highlights U.S. hypocrisy concerning the injuries and deaths of the innocent people it’s responsible for killing; it’s that such hypocrisy has become a way of life. It has blinded U.S. citizens to the fact that their country is not at all exceptional except in its disregard for universal human rights and international law.

It’s time for “Americans” to realize that their country long ago lost any moral ground they once believed it occupied. It’s time for politicians to observe humble and repentant silence about human rights, election validity, and whistle-blowers.

As it turns out, the Marathon Bombing is only a faint “retail” reflection of the wholesale mayhem the United States routinely wreaks in every corner of the planet. Cuba is a paragon of virtue compared to the U.S. Nicolas Maduro owns far more legitimacy than did George Bush who committed those war crimes Bradley Manning has been punished for exposing.

The Marathon Bombing was a wake-up call.

Saving Jesus from Paul and John (Sunday Homily)

rebel_jesus2

Readings for the 4th Sunday after Easter: Acts 13:14; Ps. 100: 1-2, 3-5; Rev. 7:9, 14B-17; Jn. 10: 27-30. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042113.cfm

As I’ve been reporting here, a group of about 25 people met weekly during Lent for an intensely rewarding study of “The Historical Jesus.” The group included members of our local Catholic church in Berea, Kentucky along with an equal number from our Ecumenical Table in nearby Richmond. In the aftermath of that experience, I find it impossible to read selections like those in today’s liturgy of the word without making connections with our little seminar.

For instance, today’s readings remind me that would-be followers of Jesus might more accurately call ourselves “Paulists” rather than “Christians.” That observation is sparked by the tension between Paul and “the Jews” in this morning’s selection from Acts. The tension reminds us that our belief system has been shaped more by Paul of Tarsus than by Jesus of Nazareth who was himself a Jew. The same holds true for the gospel selection from John the Evangelist with its emphasis on Jesus’ divinity (“I and the Father are one”). As a result of the influence of Paul and John, our faith tends to be other-worldly and de-politicized. Our Jesus tends to be one-dimensionally divine rather than the enlightened very human rabbi who graced the Palestinian landscape 2000 years ago. Let me explain.

To begin with it’s important to point out that we know more about Paul than we do about the historical Jesus. And we know more about the historical Jesus than did the rabbi from Tarsus. The reasons why are simple. On the one hand, most of the Christian Testament is written by or heavily influenced by Paul. The New Testament, then, is more Pauline than Christian.

On the other, Paul never met the historical Jesus and shows almost no knowledge of Jesus’ words and deeds in his epistles. Meanwhile, scholarship based on manuscript discoveries at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945 and at the Dead Sea in 1947 (the famous Dead Sea Scrolls) has yielded unprecedented knowledge of the historical Jesus. That means we know more about the rabbi from Nazareth than did Paul.

Think about the Pauline nature of the faith we’ve inherited. There are 27 books in the “New Testament.” Thirteen of those 27 are letters written by Paul. Then there’s the “Acts of the Apostles” which really is a travelogue about the mission and adventures of Paul written by Paul’s companion, Luke the evangelist. Luke also wrote his own Gospel, which, of course, was heavily influenced by his mentor. Finally, as the earliest entries in the New Testament, Paul’s epistles (written from about 50 to 64 CE) evidently exercised great influence on the other evangelists Mark, Matthew and John who wrote much later.

That means that nearly half of the New Testament (13 of 27 entries) is comprised of letters attributed to Paul. Fifty-five percent (15 of 27 entries) was written by Paul or Luke. And more than 66% (18 of 27 entries) was arguably more influenced by Paul than by Jesus.

I say “more influenced by Paul than by Jesus” because what we have in Paul’s letters, the Acts of the Apostles and in the gospels themselves are proclamations about Jesus rather than the proclamation of Jesus. Remember, Jesus’ proclamation was about the Kingdom of God, “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” In contrast, the New Testament’s proclamations about Jesus are “Jesus is Lord.”

The differences between these two “gospels” are enormous and they are, as I indicated, illustrated in today’s readings on this fourth Sunday after Easter. Today’s selection from John’s Gospel (written about 70 years after the crucifixion of the Enlightened Yeshua) has Jesus discoursing about himself. He speaks of himself as a “shepherd” leading his sheep and about offering them “eternal life.” He concludes by claiming to be God’s Son equal to the Father. “I and the Father are one,” he says. (The historical Jesus could never have made such statements without being stoned by his fiercely monotheistic Jewish audience.)

However, Jesus’ discourse as reported in John’s gospel is completely coherent with the gospel of Paul. Paul, I repeat, never met the historical Jesus. In fact, as we all know, before his famous conversion on the road to Damascus, he was a persecutor of Christians. He pursued them on behalf of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, which worked hand-in-glove with the Romans.

The Romans were hunting down Christians for the same reason they arrested and executed Jesus – because he was perceived as the Jewish Messiah whose overriding responsibility was the overthrow the Roman occupation of Palestine. With good reason, the Romans considered Jesus’ followers to be subversives.

In other words, the Romans, their Sanhedrin collaborators, and their point-man, Saulous (Paul’s name before his conversion) were cooperating in a counter-revolutionary program that targeted Jesus’ nationalistic followers.
Those followers had actually lived with Jesus. They were Jews primarily – members of a Jerusalem community gathered around Jesus’ brother, James, the apostles, and Jesus’ “inner circle” of followers including many women and numbering perhaps 120 people or more. Together they constituted a group of reformed Jews. Many of them had been eye-witnesses of Jesus’ deeds and followers of his teachings.

Those teachings centralized a new understanding of “the Law” which Yeshuaists called “the Way.” It emphasized love and forgiveness over fear, punishment and a purity code that divided people into “clean” and “unclean.” It emphasized justice for the poor and oppressed and freedom from foreign domination. The Jerusalem community of The Way recognized Jesus as the True Prophet predicted in their scriptures – a wonder-working Messiah and liberator who would usher in an era reminiscent of the Exodus from Egypt under the great rebel Moses. This Jewish messiah was human (the Son of Man) not a divine Son of God.

Paul, as I said, had never met the Son of Man. His writings show neither knowledge of Jesus’ deeds nor of specific teachings which were so important to the Jewish Yeshuaist community. Instead, Paul preached a kind of mythological Jesus who was entirely recognizable to the gentile audiences which interested him. Paul’s Jesus was born, crucified, risen and ascended to heaven. Evidently, Paul considered nothing between Jesus’ birth and death worth reporting.

For Paul’s gentile audience, any wonder-working “messiah” had to be a divine incarnation like the gods Romans and Egyptians worshipped — Mithra, Isis, Osiris, the Great Mother God. These “dying and rising gods” descended from heaven, lived for a while on earth, died, and then rose from the dead. Typically, they offered “eternal life” beyond the grave to believers who ate sacred meals together sharing the gods’ body and blood in the form of bread and wine. These are the terms Paul used to explain Jesus to his gentile audiences.

As reformed Jews, the Jerusalem community along with most unreformed (non-Yeshuaist) Jews had trouble with such explanations which offended their strictly monotheistic beliefs. How could Jesus be uniquely “one with the Father?” That sounded like two Gods and was entirely offensive and unacceptable.

Moreover, Paul’s version of the gospel seemed to remove the Kingdom of God to an other-worldly heaven. It left the Romans in charge of Palestine ruled by a god (the Roman emperor) who was a rival of Yahweh, who, for good Jews, alone was God and who alone was the legitimate ruler of the Palestinian homeland. Such a gospel along with Paul’s background of cooperation with the Romans made all Jews (Yeshuaist and orthodox) deeply suspect of Paul. They remained adamant in their hope of the “Second Coming” of Jesus who would finally defeat the Romans and introduce God’s Reign to replace Caesar’s.

We pick up the tension between Paul’s message aimed at gentiles and the anti-imperial faith of Jews (including Yeshuaists) in today’s readings. In the selection from Acts, Paul proclaims his version of Jesus. And “the Jews” respond as expected. To them Paul’s (and John’s) understanding of Jesus as God’s only Son, his understanding of salvation as “eternal life” rather than messianic liberation from foreign domination was completely blasphemous. So Paul and Barnabas end up “shaking the dust” of Antioch’s streets from their feet against “the Jews.”

Eventually, Paul’s gospel (with the deeply engrained seeds of anti-Semitism) ends up triumphing completely. This is because the base of the Jerusalem Yeshuaist community (the inner circle referenced earlier) was completely destroyed during the Jewish war with Rome (64-73). In the absence of strong Yeshuaist leadership, the way was thus opened for the triumph of a divine Jesus proclaiming himself (rather than God’s Kingdom) and offering an other-worldly “eternal life” rather than a new revolutionary social order characterized by love, forgiveness, justice, and room for everyone.

That other-worldly “Christianity” was finally canonized by Constantine in the fourth century (325 at Nicaea). Afterwards, in his zeal for uniformity of belief, the emperor and his church accomplices ordered the destruction of documents reflecting anything other than the Pauline and Johannine understandings of Jesus. The rest is history. The historical Jesus was lost. We’ve been worshipping a Roman Mithra instead of a prophetic Enlightened Jewish Jesus ever since.

Luckily disobedient monks ignored Constantine’s order to destroy manuscripts reflecting understandings of Jesus other than Paul’s. That happened at the Dead Sea and at Nag Hammadi.

Thank God for their crime! At this late date it has directed our focus away from the Gospel about Jesus to the Gospel of Jesus. It calls us to work not for an after-life heaven, but for God’s Kingdom in the here and now.

Boston Marathon Bombing: Our Collective Destiny

Boston Marathon

All of us were shocked yesterday by the bombing at the Boston Marathon. About 3:00 p.m. two powerful bombs were detonated near the finish line of the annual “Patriots’ Day” event. Three people were killed including an 8-year-old boy. One hundred and forty-four were injured among them a 3-year-old; two were left in critical condition.

Naturally, our hearts go out to all the victims and their families. A day that began in joy and celebration ended in complete tragedy. What can be more painful than losing a loved one – especially a child?

Responses to the disaster will be interesting to observe. It remains to be seen whether U.S. officials will connect the Boston Marathon Bombing with foreign or domestic terrorists or whether it was a criminal act by some insane individual.

In either case, the tragedy brings home to American soil the destruction and terror that U.S. policy inflicts each day on unsuspecting civilians across the world in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere. Pakistani events, Yemeni celebrations that begin in joy and high spirits routinely end in tears and mourning as drones drop from the sky without warning or as doors are kicked in by rampaging American soldiers shouting vile curses.

We must remember that the terrifying explosions, blood, torn flesh, scattered body parts and lives cut off virtually before they’ve begun constitute everyday occurrences at the hands of our criminal government and brutal military.

In fact, next to the havoc, murder, torture and sheer cruelty of U.S. policy in the countries just mentioned, what happened in Boston hardly deserves a mention. (Actually, most of U.S.-caused terror gets no mention in our mainstream press at all.)

What I’m saying is the obvious: U.S. chickens are coming home to roost; Boston is a preview of things to come.
I mean, Marathon-like bombings regardless of the origin of this particular attack will increasingly be part of our own lives until our country comes to its senses and leaves aside its imperial pretensions, international interventions and quick resort to violence as the solution to every problem.

This is because random bombings employing crude improvised devices constitute poor people’s responses to illegal occupation of their countries by American invaders using state-of-the-art weapons from drones to daisy cutters. It’s the last resort — what is possible for the poor and powerless as they attempt to defend themselves from “the most powerful military in the world.”

There is only one way to avoid the fate I’m describing: reject empire. That means living within our means; respecting human rights and international law; abjuring militarism; stopping the torture; closing the secret prisons; remanding drone policy; and ACTUALLY BEING WHO WE CLAIM TO BE IN THE WORLD!

Until we make such reforms, mayhem like that exemplified by the Boston Marathon bombing will continue to represent our collective destiny.

Alexander Being Here Now

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Alexander Kinne-Coyle

This morning’s post is the one I promised last Saturday. This meditation comes from Declan Coyle, a former colleague of mine in the Society of St. Columban, who was ordained in 1969. He later left the priesthood after living for years in slums and poor barrios in the Philippines and Taiwan. Here he reflects on what he and his family have learned from his youngest child, Alexander. Thank you, Declan, for allowing me to share this with my friends.

Alexander
Alexander has Mowat Wilson Syndronme. He cannot eat, walk or speak, and he is doubly incontinent but boy can he communicate.
He is unconditional Love … as near as we’ll ever get to it.
He doesn’t do the past. He doesn’t do the future.
He only does the present.
Here.
Now.
His simple message is always the same:
Be Here Now!
The essence of Zen.

You are only doing what you are doing.
“Chopping wood, drawing water!”

Not the mental noise of the thinking mind goaded into the future by the Ego that cannot live in the now with its victim stories: “how many more years will I have to chop this wood? Why do I always have to draw the water?” “Why is it always me?”

Alexander always invites us to be here now. Fully present. Fully alive. Awake. Aware. Alert.

As Rumi said, “the future and the past veil God from you. Burn both of them with fire.”

He brings all that “be fully present and live with joy in the now” stuff from the gospels alive.
“Take no thought for tomorrow …”
“Look at the flowers of the field how they bloom …”
“Don’t put your hand on the plough and look back … the negative past is a backpack full of manure … learn the life lessons and cut the backpack straps and live fully in the present …”
“Enter through the narrow gate of the now, the present moment …”
“By waiting and calm you will be saved, in quiet and trust your strength lies.” (Isaiah 30:15)
“Be still and know that I am God!”
“Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.” Mt. 11.28
“Unless you become like little children …”

Like the poet Rumi he says to us,
“Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment, awe and wonder!”

He is God’s gift to us, God, who as St John of the Cross said, hears “the silent language of love.”

Reminding us like Moby Dick author Herman Melville that, “silence is the one and only voice of God!”

Alexander shows us the pearl of great price right there in the centre of our being telling us not to try so hard.
Be one with life.
Go with the flow of life. Let go and let God.
A flower doesn’t work hard or try to bloom. It just does. The sun shines. No effort.

He is all about being here now.
Like the sun, all he wants to do is shine love into our lives even though the clouds of pain often cover his face.
Even then he’s reminding us that we are all children of the resurrection not the crucifixion.

When his laughter returns his constant reminder is to look at the crucifixion, that energy pattern of fear, but not to dwell on it. Not to make the victim-story our home. To look at the darkness, but to proclaim the light.

While we may look at the hands or the side on the Galilean carpenter and victim of abuse, the message is never the victim-story but rather the radical message of new life: “peace be with you, joy be with you!” Not the finger-pointing blaming, “will you look at what they did to me!”

Apart from the times Alexander is in pain, he is almost always smiling, waving and clapping his hands.

P.J. Cunningham saw him at the seafront in Bray one time waving at every single passerby and he said “he’s like a little pontiff!” That little royal or pontifical wave. He is not hard or tough. He is soft. But there is a huge strength in his softness.

Like the Tao Te Ching, Ch. 43:
“The softest thing in the universe overcomes the hardest thing in the universe.”

The ‘softest thing’ referred to is water. We see how, in the course of time, water can erode rock; how, without trouble, it disappears into the earth. Water looks soft, but really is very strong. Because it is silent and unpretentious, seems to have ‘no substance’, it achieves its purpose.

It is not worried about efficiency and profit. But eventually it is more successful than frantic work, because it is based on being.

Non-action tries to imitate this approach. It aims at being, not at producing immediate results. It does not make claims.

Chuang Tzu (300 BC) explains the same idea with reference to the art of target shooting.

“When an archer is shooting for nothing he has all his skill. If he shoots for a brass buckle he is already nervous.

If he shoots for a prize of gold he goes blind or sees two targets – he is out of his mind!

His skill has not changed. But the prize divides him. He cares now about winning.

He thinks more of winning than of shooting and the need to win drains him of power.”

His attachment to the outcome caused him to lose the present, the now, the moment. Process is lost in outcome addiction. The future fear-fuelled focus destroys the now. Fear replaces freedom and fun. Then the action in the now withers and shrivels and loses its free flowing power.

The poet T.S. Eliot captures the doing/being challenge in his poem “The Rock.”
“The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not silence;
Knowledge of words, but ignorance of the Word!”

Anthony De Mello says that despair is always five minutes ahead, never now. These great thinkers encourage us to “enjoy the precious present!”
D. H. Laurence said: “One’s actions ought to come out of an achieved stillness, not out of a mere rushing on.”
Alexander introduces us to the Being behind the Doing. The God of life behind all the action.

His presence invites us to slow down and step out from the fast pace of this world and reflect. To go receptive. To once again be here now. To allow ourselves to be guided, to be healed and to be loved by God. To dissolve resistance into an aware allowing.

Alexander is not under time pressure. He’s not working on his Ph.D. He teaches us what real love is all about. He shows us that we are not what we do (our work, our job, our title,) nor are we what we have, or even what other people think of us, our reputation. Rather than what we do, it’s who we are and who we become in his presence that matters.

The Chinese word for busy-ness or persistence is “knife” or “killing” and “heart!” When we’re busy we kill what the heart wants to achieve.
The heart wants to connect, to observe, to drink in, and to be aware and awake. But we’re too busy. We rush on past. Maybe tomorrow? We’re asleep.
“It is only with the heart that one sees rightly,” said the Little Prince.
“What is essential to the heart is invisible to the eye.”


Alexander is our “now” teacher. “Am I living well now? What is life teaching me now? What’s the best use of my time right now?”


Now is my gift.
The present has three meanings:
1. A gift.
2. Here.
3. Now.
Wisdom is knowing how to maximise the enjoyment of each moment. Being fully present enables people to give of their best and also to be able to receive the best that is on offer. Every day is a gift for those who really believe that every day is a gift.
When he looks at you, when he smiles, it’s as if he’s saying, “just fuel every moment with the best that’s in you now, and let fear and doubt go. Live out of love and freedom.”
There’s a story in the Orient about a monk who had a little bird on his shoulder who could see and foretell the future. Each morning the monk would ask the little bird, “Is today the day?” Meaning is today the day that I am going to die.
The bird would always reply, “no, but live as if it were.”
When Steve Jobs has his close encounter with life-threatening illness he resolved to live each day as if it were his last.
Being fully present answering the two great mystical questions:
“Where am I?”
“Here!”
“What time is it?”
“Now!”
If we cannot live in the now or discover Zen meditation washing the dishes or changing a dirty nappy there’s no way we’ll find in a cave on a mountain in Nepal or Tibet.
Alexander is our guru of “Being!” He is our master of power of now, the precious present. He is the ultimate cure for destination addiction or outcome addiction. He instinctively knows that the mountain of success is going to be very lonely if we don’t enjoy the climb, the view and the companionship on the way up.

It’s always the journey, never the destination.

He doesn’t label. He doesn’t judge. He doesn’t evaluate you and then decide how he’ll respond to you.
He lives in the unconditional love zone.
He has opened a portal to another world for us.
The world of ‘Being.’ So radically different from the world of doing, but also so root connected with the power of doing.

With Genevieve and Fionn, his brother and sister, when they were growing up, it was often the world of action and doing.
“Brush your teeth.”
“Do your homework.”
“Tidy your room.”
“Hurry up! Get ready!”
“Put away the dishes.”
“Come on! Let’s go … now!”

The doing is fine, but if that’s all there is then life is so so diminished.

With Alexander, when you touch him, hold him, cuddle him, smell him, put his cheek to your cheek, scratch his legs and get him laughing you enter the other portal into the world of Being.

He takes his mother Annette, and Genevieve, Fionn and Mary his friend and godmother, Hugh his godfather into this world of Being. Through that portal. That door. And they are always at their best in that space. Fully alive … here … now … in the moment with him.

As you look at, listen, touch or help him with this or that you are alert, still, completely present not wanting anything other than the moment as it is.

You are the Alertness, the Stillness, the Presence that is listening, looking touching … the Being behind the Doing.

The Loving Living God.
The kingdom inside.
Life to the full.
Joy pressed down, overflowing.
Holy Communion on a weekday.
Eucharistic thanksgiving.

Down in St Catherine’s in Newcastle where angels disguised as nurses and helpers look after him every morning and give him therapy sessions.

The children in his class are getting ready for Holy Communion next May. I asked him how he felt about that. He gave me that look as if to say, “Why should I take a bus to Bray when I’m already in Bray!”

When St. Francis said, “we must preach the gospel, but only if absolutely necessary use words,” he could have been talking about Alexander.

A slice of an apple pie has to be like the apple pie, like the source. Not like a slice of rhubarb pie. Exactly like the source.

Alexander is like a little slice of God. Just like the Source.

Blessing us with his presence all the time.
Reminding us of who we really are.
With him, you’ve entered another portal of life.

He lives what the monk Thick Nhat Hanh wrote about:

“Waking up in the morning, I smile
Twenty-four brand new hours before me
I vow to live fully in each moment
and look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.”

Alexander looks at us all with the eyes of compassion, with the eyes of joy, with the eyes of unconditional love. Never with the eyes of judgement. Never with the eyes of misery.

That’s how he enriches Annette, Genevieve, Fionn and Mary and all who come into his presence.

Last words to Dr Roisin Mulcahy from Bantry: “Children with special needs like Alexander … they soften the hard edges of society.”
Magic!
Here’s how Genevieve captured that magic in a poem she wrote about Alexander some years ago or as she playfully calls him Alexie Balexie Boo:
My Alex

At three minutes to midnight on December the 10th,
You were new to the world and took your first breath,
A gentle baby boy with wide-set eyes,
They sparkle when you’re happy and shine when you cry.
People often comment on your beautiful eyes,
their expressive colour, ever trusting, never shy.

You achieve what you do, you do what you can,
It’s hard to perform with Mowat Wilson syndrome.
Yet the ability to love, to “live in the now,” that’s pretty rare, but you know how.

Your happiness is special, the tint of your hair,
you’ve been sick a lot, and I’ll always be there.

The sounds of your chuckles are laughed with great taste,
It’s something I can’t describe,
it’s nothing I could paint.
Strangers are your friends, you stop, smile and wave,
What a beautiful little boy in that little walking frame.

My baby brother, Alexander,
I love you in every single way,
If it weren’t for you, would I still be the same person I am today?

I love to hug you and keep you very close,
It’s one of the things I love to do the most.

I’m proud to be your sister and also Fionn’s too,
Our beautiful baby brother, Alexie Balexie Boo.