Marianne Williamson and War (Memorial Day Sunday Homily)

Readings for 6th Sunday of Easter: ACTS 15: 1-2, 22-29; PS 67: 2-3, 5-6, 8; REV 21: 10-14, 22-23; JN 14: 23-29

It’s Memorial weekend already – the unofficial beginning of summer, 2019. As usual, it’s a day when our country celebrates war and its heroes. That’s simply the American way of commemorating every patriotic occasion.

Appropriately however, this weekend’s liturgy of the word introduces a note of dissent. It centralizes peace as the content of Jesus last will and testament. In so doing, it implicitly contrasts Jesus’ concept of peace with that of Rome or any empire for that matter. The Roman Tacitus described his country’s understanding with the famous aphorism: “They create a desert and call it peace.” For me, Tacitus’ description applies just as well to the United States.

With that in mind, it also seems appropriate to connect Memorial Day, the peace Jesus advocated and the presidential candidacy of Marianne Williamson. I say “appropriate” this time because Williamson is the only candidate in the crowded Democratic field who thematically centralizes the need for change of specifically spiritual consciousness about all things political – including matters of war and peace. Her attitude on those issues corresponds closely with that of Jesus as expressed in today’s Gospel reading.

Marianne Williamson and Peace

To begin with, Williamson is a harsh critic of the Pentagon and the policy of perpetual war into which our country has increasingly fallen since the Second Inter-Capitalist War (1939-’45) and especially since 9/11/01. 

In fewer than 100 years, she points out, the real driving force behind United States military posture has become the interests of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and other defense contractors. That has Americans, for instance, buying one hundred B-21 stealth bombers each costing $550 million and each capable of carrying thermonuclear weapons. That’s $55 billion in total.

Such investment, Williamson says, is completely over-the-top. Why 100 planes of that type? At the very least, it all seems completely out-of-proportion to the danger posed by our perceived terrorist enemy. Terrorists belong to no particular state. Very often they are home-grown. In any case, their hit-and-run attacks cannot be effectively answered with wholesale bombing, much less with nuclear weapons. Williamson writes:

“America today is like the British Red Coats during the Revolutionary War – standing abreast in a straight line waiting for someone to yell ‘Fire!’ while American colonists were hiding behind trees like the early guerrilla fighters that they were. Our entire notion of national security is like something out of another century.”  

Instead of such waste and without neglecting legitimate defense concerns, Williamson calls for effective recognition of the soul force of peace building. She wants established a US Department of Peace that would make peace-creation a central goal of national policy, both foreign and domestic.  It would use resources like those now wasted on those B-21s to support diplomatic efforts with those currently villainized in order to justify purchase of overpriced weapons systems.

Peace building would reconstruct the cities that US policy has destroyed. It would support educational opportunities for children, expand economic prospects for women, and in general alleviate human suffering across the planet. “That would be the moral thing to do,” Williamson says. “That would be the loving thing to do. And that would be the smart thing to do.” In summary she says, “The best way to create a more peaceful world is to treat people with greater compassion.”

Jesus and Peace

Williamson’s approach to peace-building is in sync with Jesus last will and testament expressed in today’s liturgy of the word. There he says: My peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. Not as the world (meaning Rome) gives, do I give.”

Jesus words and ultimate fate remind us that Rome’s policies created terrorists no less predictably than our own country’s way of creating “peace.” It led the empire to identify Jesus as a terrorist and execute him accordingly.

Jesus, I’m sure, must have hated Rome. Like all his Jewish contemporaries, he must have despised Rome’s imperial presence in Palestine – especially since it was headed by a man who considered himself God, Savior, Lord, and Prince of Peace. Scholars remind us that empire was the most significant factor shaping Jesus’ life. We know for a fact that he opposed it vigorously – especially its local collaborators personified in the Jewish high priesthood of his day, along with the scribes, Pharisees and Jewish high court. However, his resistance was non-violent.

Yes, Jesus’ peace is not what the world calls peace. It’s not Roman peace which was imposed by means of war. Rome’s, like the Pentagon’s, was peace through victory – always supported by Roman religion. In fact, as scripture scholar John Dominic Crossan, puts it in God and Empire: Jesus against Rome then and now, the exact sequence was religion – war – victory – peace. Sound familiar?

By contrast, the peace Jesus bequeathed had nothing to do with Rome or empire in general. His peace is brought not by victory, but by justice – especially for the poor. His was not peace through victory, but peace through justice. As I noted last week, that point was made in the programmatic sermon the Master gave in Nazareth at the beginning of his public life. These are the words with which he described his very purpose: “The Spirit of the Lord in on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (LK 4: 17-19).

Jesus was about serving the poor, releasing the imprisoned, caring for the disabled, liberating the enslaved, and ending debt servitude. His peace had nothing to do with victory as the world understands it – as Rome understood it or as the United States does. The sequence of Jesus’ gift to the world was religion – nonviolence – justice – peace.

Conclusion

And that’s what Marianne Williamson’s national defense program is about as well. It entails a spiritual conversion that takes its cue as well from Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. It also takes heed of Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the dangers of the military-industrial complex. Williamson’s program would:

  • Have our country live within its means
  • Emphasize peace building rather than war-making
  • Rather than bombs and drones, it would rain down rebuilt homes, schools, hospitals, factories, temples, mosques and churches on the enemies created by our imperial philosophy of peace through victory   

And to those who say that all of that won’t work or that it’s totally unrealistic, Williamson is fond of responding, “And how’s that realism working out for you?” In fact, it’s creating more terrorists and mayhem while simultaneously destroying the planet.

We’ve got to try something different. And that means national spiritual conversion. It’s in that call for repentance, transformation and restorative justice that the campaigns of Jesus and Marianne Williamson coincide. And that coincidence has nothing to do with memorializing, much less glorifying our country’s ceaseless imperial wars.

(By the way, Marianne has not only achieved the 65,000 unique donors required for her to appear in the debates with other presidential candidates. As well, she has surpassed the minimum 1% support in 3 separate national polls. Nate Silver has identified her as a major candidate.)

Why Not Kill Them All: Abortionists, Soccer Moms and God?

Anti-abortion extremism is in the news again. (Does it ever disappear?) As everyone knows by now, it’s because right-wing lawmakers in Alabama have advanced a law banning abortion at every stage of pregnancy – from the moment that sperm fertilizes egg. The law makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

In terms of logic, the law can easily be debunked as literally absurd. In terms of theology (and remember, the question of abortion has been shaped by theology, regardless of what we might think about that fact) the law makes God himself (sic) deserving of capital punishment. Finally, in terms of the U.S. Constitution, criminalizing abortion contradicts the First Amendment which explicitly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

To clear the air of confusion and to clarify the concept of pro-life itself, let’s consider each one of those points.

Logic

To begin with, consider the law’s logical inconsistency. It begins by holding that abortionists are killers deserving capital punishment. Its reasoning runs as follows: (1) Abortion is murder, (2) But all murders are capital crimes; deserving capital punishment; (3) Therefore abortion-providers should be punished by execution or life imprisonment.

Strangely, the woman who seeks an abortion finds no place in that logic. I say “strangely,” because her exclusion doesn’t make sense according the syllogism just referenced. Murder is murder. And legally speaking, employing a hit-man to kill another person makes the employer guilty of conspiracy to commit murder regardless of who actually pulled the trigger. Both contractor and contractee deserve the same punishment. Since it’s the woman who employs the murderer, why not execute her or imprison her for life, the same as the abortionist?

The answer is because doing so would be absurd. It would be politically untenable.

Virtually no one in the electorate would support it – especially in the light of polls showing that 80% of Americans believe abortion should be legal. Seventy-one percent oppose overturning Roe v. Wade – including 52% of Republicans.

Imprisoning abortion-providers might be one thing. But imagine, if legislators proposed filling jail cells with all the soccer moms among those responsible for the at least 45.7 million abortions performed since 1973 and the passage of Roe. Hundreds of thousands of moms in prison for life wouldn’t make sense. It is patently absurd.  It wouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.

But think a little further about those numbers. They are familiar to us, because “pro-birthers” usually employ them to train focus on the zygotes and fetuses in question. However, the numbers can also suggest something else.

Exchange the viewpoint of zygotes and fetuses for that of our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters who’ve undergone the procedure. If the fundamentalists are right, the sheer numbers mean that millions of the women we love are actually murderers. Millions of them over the last nearly 50 years have committed murder and, according to fundamentalist logic, deserve capital punishment – no less than the others on death row. Again, murder is murder. And in the case of abortion, the scale of the slaughter collectively perpetrated by the women we sleep with is beyond compare. It means that American women – women throughout the world – women in general – cooperate in mass murderers dwarfing the crimes of Hitler!

Logically speaking, all of that – treating abortion as murder, punishing abortion providers as capital criminals, refusing to do the same for the women employing them, and identifying millions of women throughout the world as evil murderers (while saying not a word about the men who impregnate them) – reduces to the absurd the position that abortion is murder.

In fact, it constitutes the very definition of logic’s reductio ad absurdum that proves the falsity of an argument by demonstrating that its conclusion is completely untenable. In other words, when you put words to it and draw the logical conclusions, the contentions of the pro-birthers sound absolutely crazy to almost everyone. Case closed.

Theology

And that brings us into the field of theology.

For Catholic moralists, commonly shared perception like that just referenced is called the “sensus fidelium.” Sensus fidelium refers to ordinary people’s conclusions about matters of faith and morals (such as abortion). It refers to conclusions based on common sense rather than the arguments of the experts including theologians. Catholic doctrine regards such agreement as infallible.

But here I’m suggesting a unique kind of sensus fidelium – one accessible primarily to women and their special ways of knowing. After all, male legislators cannot possibly understand women’s physiology, biological processes, psychology, or moral sensitivities in the same way as women.

In other words, women are a uniquely privileged reference group. However, because of the domination of theology (and politics!) by men, the latter act as if they know better than women. As a result, women are treated in effect as pre-rational children in need of direction by the culture’s patriarchs. (This, perhaps, offers another explanation of the disparate treatment of abortion-providers and women seeking abortion. The women in question are not truly responsible moral agents.)

To correct such imbalance, women of all faiths (and none) and not just Christian men should be in charge of any reasoning about and regulations of abortion. At the very least, such women deserve a decisive place at the table where theologians, ethicists and legislators discuss the question. If that were the case, another reductio ad absurdum would soon come to light – this one specifically theological. It would be that God Himself (sic) is the world’s abortionist-in-chief responsible for filling sewers with aborted babies.

What I mean is that according to medical researchers spontaneous abortion is the “predominant outcome of fertilization.” At least half of fertilized eggs are simply flushed down the toilet without their “mothers” even aware of their presence. They never knew they were pregnant in the first place.

If (as pro-birthers maintain) God is responsible for and cares about every fertilized egg, the conclusion is inevitable. God is a wholesale abortionist. Like all abortionists, he deserves the fate that death-of-God theologians declared fifty years ago.

(As a matter of fact, understanding God according to the absurdities just described might well be responsible for the rejection of his existence by rational adults. The fundamentalists themselves may have unwittingly but effectively executed him!)

Constitutional Considerations

What all of this means is that the recently passed Alabama law is unconstitutional, since imposes on Christians and non-Christians alike a particular religious (and therefore unproveable) theory about God’s role in the initiation of specifically personal life.

As we’ve seen, the particular theory arbitrarily holds that each fertilized egg is a unique human person with an immortal soul wedded exclusively to that particular fertilized ovum. The theory further holds that when the ovum in question dies, the soul’s God-intended purpose is forever frustrated. The world is forever deprived of the aborted-one’s unique gifts, which God cannot or will not supply through another person.

The idiosyncrasy of that position is unmistakable. As is the case with other faiths, one could easily understand early abortion as not that important in God’s grand scheme of things. A soul prevented from incarnating in one form could just as easily be imagined as appearing in another – when its time is right.

In other words, and more specifically, the theory that life begins when sperm fertilizes egg is not at all generally shared even across religions, much less by agnostics and atheists. For instance, some locate the beginning of personal life at the moment of “quickening” (when the mother first feels her baby move), others identify it with viability outside the womb, still others with actual emergence from the womb, or (as with some Native Americans) with the “painting” of the emergent child to distinguish it from animals.

Given such differences, it seems clearly unconstitutional to impose the view of one religion on an entire culture. We might expect such preference of one religious view over others from the Taliban. But it has no place in a governed by a constitution with the First Amendment quoted earlier in this essay.

Conclusion

The bottom line here is that in a diverse country like our own, some form of legislation like Roe v. Wade might be the best we can do. There it was determined that the pregnant woman as moral agent can decide about abortion on her own during the first trimester and in consultation with her physician during the second. In the third trimester, however, the state asserts its interest and can make laws restricting abortion to protect the woman’s health and the potentiality of human life.

However, a Roe v. Wade approach can never be sufficient for genuine pro-life advocates. For them, abortion law must be complemented by social programs that provide a welcoming atmosphere for all life forms. These would provide free counselling and pre- natal care for pregnant mothers along with post-natal services for their newborns. Job provisions would be available for new mothers along with free daycare for their pre-school children. Programs would also include low cost housing and (where necessary) help paying grocery bills. All such measures are genuinely pro-life. They not only discourage abortion; they also create a welcoming environment for new life.

However, don’t expect Alabama politicians to endorse such measures. For them, pro-life concern ends at birth. Afterwards, the burden must be assumed entirely by the mothers in question.

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister has called such typically male attempts to evade responsibility by its true name. She wrote:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Jesus’ Calls Followers to Practice What Marianne Williamson Calls a “Politics of Love”

Readings for 5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 14: 21-27; PS 145: 8-13; REV 21: 1-5A; JN 13: 31-35

The readings for this fifth Sunday of Easter centralize Jesus’ New Commandment, to “Love one another as I have loved you.” He also identifies the criterion for distinguishing his true followers from those who are not. He says, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” – again, “as I have loved you.”

So, the question becomes how exactly did Jesus love those he interacted with? Was his love confined to the inter-personal sphere, or was it somehow political? And even if it was, is a politics of love practical? Or are we condemned to the political status quo based on fear and greed which our “Christian” culture has ironically convinced us is much more realistic than the love and compassion that Jesus seems to recommend?  

The answer to all of those questions was captured in our liturgical readings several weeks ago in Jesus’ first sermon as recorded by the evangelist called Luke. Jesus described his program in this way: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That final phrase “the year of the Lord’s favor” is key to answering the questions I just posed. It’s a reference to the Jubilee Year enshrined in Israel’s ancient tradition. That tradition, if nothing else, was highly political. As economist Michael Hudson has reminded us recently in his And Forgive Them Their Debts, Jubilee referenced a political and economic practice common not only in Israel, but throughout the ancient Middle East. It had kings and emperors (usually on the occasion of their assuming power) periodically creating a clean slate for everyone, especially the poor. During Jubilee, debts were cancelled, land was redistributed, slaves were freed, and amnesty was extended to prisoners. Jubilee prioritized the needs of the poor, not the rich. Its unfolding in Jesus’ public life involved non-violent resistance to temple authorities who had aligned themselves with Roman imperialism.

In other words, the unmistakable conclusion here is that if Christians are to love one another precisely in the way that Jesus loved them, their love must be unapologetically political and anti-imperial. They must practice a politics of love that prioritizes the needs of the poor, sick, indebted, imprisoned, and of those victimized by oppressors of all kinds.

In our own day, don’t you think that at least gestures towards the spirit of the Green New Deal as opposed to continuation of the status quo? I do.

But, you might ask, is a politics of love practical?  Or given the fallenness of the human race, isn’t it more realistic to practice our familiar politics based on fear and greed – to run the country like a business instead of like a family.  Isn’t it more sensible to appeal to self-interest, money and the bottom line?

In response, Marianne Williamson would ask, “Well, how’s that working out for you?”

In case we’ve forgotten, (and please notice the dollar figures in what follows) by prioritizing the values of fear and greed, our “leaders” have :

  • Committed to a program of perpetual war that’s costing us about $2 billion per day
  • Spent $2 trillion in just one of those wars (Iraq) while slaughtering hundreds of thousands of civilians (and perhaps more than a million) and creating ISIS in the process
  • Prevented refugees created by our wars and economic system from finding refuge in our country where all but a hand-full (Native Americans) are descended precisely from immigrants, refugees, and slaves forced by the rich to work here against their wills
  • Created a society in which 3 men own as much as the bottom 50% of the country
  • Given $2 trillion in additional tax breaks mostly to those men and their colleagues in the richest 0.1%
  • Decided to commit mass suicide by hanging on to an economic system that is destroying our planet despite our claims to love our children and grandchildren
  • Asserted proudly that, all evidence to the contrary, our system of political-economy somehow “works”

And that’s just the short list of the craziness of our culture’s commitment to fear and greed rather than to a politics of love and compassion that prioritizes (as did Jesus) the needs of the poor, education, health care, debt forgiveness, and anti-imperialism.

Clearly, we can do better than that. Clearly, it’s time to try something else.

But where, our culture asks, would the money come from to eliminate poverty and save the planet? Practically speaking, where would we find the money for a Green New Deal, for universal health care, for higher wages, for forgiving student loans, to remedy the epidemic of homelessness?

“Don’t make me laugh” says Marianne Williamson in her Politics of Love. She writes:  

“How would we pay for all that education and culture, health and safety” ask those who have no problem whatsoever paying for ill-begotten wars and tax cuts for the extremely wealthy. Such a question should be met by laughter from those who were never consulted as to how we would pay for a $2 trillion war in Iraq (which, among other things created ISIS) or a $2 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest among us (which, among other things, is already adding tour wealth inequality).”

No doubt, the Jesus of Jubilee would join in Williamson’s ironic laughter. Where will we get the money?

Please go back to the dollar figures I asked you to note above. Then allow me to count the ways. They include moving quickly to an energy economy not based on fossil fuels, and then:

  • Saving trillions when the energy-switch enables us to stop fighting and threatening wars fought for oil (think Iraq, Iran, Venezuela). Stopping those energy wars would enable us to cut the Pentagon budget in half.
  • Revoking the recent tax gifts to the rich. That too would provide trillions
  • Revising the tax code’s highest bracket to 75% annually freeing up billions in the process
  • Cutting off all subsidies to oil companies. That as well would save millions each year
  • Imposing the death penalty on Exxon and seizing its assets as a penalty for concealing and lying about its climate research. That alone would go a long way towards paying for any Green New Deal
  • Returning to workers the wages stolen by their corporate employers who for the past 40 years have kept the fruits of skyrocketing labor productivity for themselves while practically stiffing their employees.
  • Recovering from corporations like McDonalds and Amazon the cost of food stamps and other federal aid programs accessed over the years by their underpaid workers.
  • Identifying the beneficiaries of 250 years of unpaid slave labor and assessing penalties on the families and corporations involved for the wages not paid for all that forced labor. The money could be used to build respectable housing and palatial schools in black communities.
  • And here I’m probably only scratching the surface.

According to my way of looking at things, implementation of the above policies would actually pay for the Green New Deal without raising taxes on any but the super-rich whose extravagant lifestyles will remain mostly unaffected.

In any case, the point is that the politics of love highlighted in today’s readings is the only realistic way of saving our planet. And Marianne Williamson is the only presidential candidate willing courageously to say so.

Again, as Marianne puts it, (just as in the past) love is the only answer to our current problems. “It was love that abolished slavery, it was love that gave women suffrage, it was love that established civil rights, and it is love that we need now.”

(P.S. Marianne Williamson recently achieved the 65,000 unique contributions required for her to appear on the debate stage with other Democratic presidential candidates. But now that more than 20 are running, it’s necessary for her to poll at 1% in national opinion polls. She’s close to achieving that goal too, but needs financial help to get her name and identity before the public. Please help her by donating here. She only has till June 12th to reach this goal.)

“In the Heights” Answers the Immigrant Question in Arts-Friendly Westport Connecticut

On Mothers’ Day, the immigrant invasion that Donald Trump has warned us about, finally reached my new hometown of Westport, Connecticut. It came in the form of Lin Manuel Miranda’s sparkling musical, “In the Heights.”  My daughter and son-in-law generously took us to see the play.

At first glance, a performance in Westport might seem literally out-of-place. After all, it’s is one of the most affluent cities in the country. By contrast, Miranda’s play is set in a poor barrio located in Manhattan’s Washington Heights. However, “In the Heights” succeeded in bringing two disparate communities together in a mutual appreciation that should characterize all interactions between “Americans” from the north and those from the south.

Let me explain.

Westport is the home of Wall Street investors, lawyers and insurance brokers.  But the town of 26,000 clearly has a social conscience. At least in part, that’s because in the 1930s it was an artist colony animated by the horizon-widening presence of its venerable “Country Playhouse.”

A converted barn right out of a Rooney and Garland movie, the Playhouse was later adopted by local residents, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who inspired its renovation. Over the years, many famous authors, television personalities and actors from Hollywood and Broadway have been drawn to Westport by the playhouse and its theatrical sprites. The best-known personalities include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bette Davis, Robert Redford, Ann Hathaway, Keith Richards, Martha Stewart, Jim Nantz, Phil Donahue, and Christopher Walken.

Miranda brought together Westporters proud of such lineage on the one hand and immigrants far from such pedigree on the other. And guess what: there was not even one of President Trump’s frightening rapists or gang members among the latter. Instead, they included a street graffiti artist, a snow-cone vender, a bodega proprietor, the owner of a small taxi service, his dispatcher, a sassy beautician and her staff of three, and a college student from Stanford University. Over a period of 90 minutes we came to know and care about each one of them.

The characters came from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. Yet all of them had lived in New York for years hardly even noticed as somehow out-of-place. Like many of their real-life counterparts, those the Trumpists call “invaders” were marvelous singers and dancers. Each had a story of family idiosyncrasy, love, economic struggle and high aspiration.

Countering Trump’s cheap clap-trap, “In the Heights” underlined the unmistakable gift-to-America brought by its Latinix citizens. They are hard workers with lofty aspirations, and rich cultures with enviable family values, joy, music, dance, colorful language, resourcefulness, patience and faith. They love their children and grandparents. They scrimp and scrape and help each other with their meager resources. With patience and faith, they endure blackouts (recalling months without power in post-Maria Puerto Rico) that render them powerless in more ways than one, without diminishing their indominable carnival spirits.

Capturing all of that, and following the triumph of “Hamilton,” this earlier musical by Lin Manuel Miranda once again displays the author’s unmistakable genius. (Its first draft was written when he was only 19 years of age.) Its main storyline belongs to Nina Rosario, the first in her family to attend college. Her whole barrio is proud of her and her scholarship to Stanford. However, she disappoints herself and her parents when she secretly drops out in March of her first year, because the work necessary just to pay for her books cut so deeply into her study time. (By the way, her bio reminded me of the students I taught over my 40 years of teaching in Appalachia’s Berea College in Kentucky. Its familiarity brought tears to my eyes.)  

Returning home for summer vacation, Nina causes a family crisis, when she finally informs her parents that she has lost her scholarship. Initial parental chagrin and anger soon turns into resolve to sell the family taxi cab business in order to finance their daughter’s college costs.

Meanwhile, Nina falls in love with Benny, an African-American who works for Nina’s father and the only one in the story who does not speak Spanish. Nina’s parents’ own prejudice doesn’t allow them to see Benny as worthy of their daughter. But Benny too has his own aspirations. He wants to learn Spanish. He wants to start his own business. He’s serious – and deeply in love with Nina. Their duet, “Sunrise,” makes that touching point.

But in the end, it’s elderly Claudia, the matriarch recognized as abuela by everyone in the barrio who saves the day.  Before her sudden passing, she wins the lottery and immediately shares it with her grandson, who in turn shares it with others. Her image and spirit rendered permanent by the barrio’s graffiti artist prevents the neighborhood from disintegrating. Her memory successfully overcomes the centrifugal force of poverty, crime, and economic hardship. The strength of such family ties, memories and tradition hung like a bright shadow over the entire performance.

Not surprisingly, and thanks, I’m guessing, to their art-friendly context, Westporters accepted all of that with open arms and a standing ovation. It was as if the audience recognized themselves in these on-stage first- and second-generation immigrants. And of course they did – precisely because that’s what all of our families are or have just recently been.

Too easily we forget that. We’re all immigrants, aren’t we? At the most basic level, our ancestors were absolutely no different in any way from those we Westporters watched on stage. We’re no different from those our “leaders” fear and cage.

Yesterday’s audience thankfully realized that those Mr. Trump calls “invaders” deserve welcome, appreciation, and standing ovations reserved for the local “celebrities” whose families themselves were once immigrants like those now living in Washington Heights.

Everyone deserves the honor now given to Lin Manuel Miranda. Everyone merits the response we all gave the Country Playhouse yesterday afternoon. That’s the lesson my new neighbors taught me on Mothers’ Day in their hallowed theater.      

Give A Dollar Today to Help Marianne Williamson Get on the Debate Stage

I’m currently reading presidential candidate Marianne Williamson’s new book A Politics of Love. As if I needed the reminder, it’s helping me see how completely off-base American politics is. Even more, it’s making me realize how necessary it is for Marianne to get on that debate stage. She is by no means a political lightweight. And she offers a deep philosophical (and, yes, spiritual) approach to politics beyond the capability of any other candidate. Her voice needs to be heard. It promises to shift the on-stage conversation to unexpectedly profound levels.

At its heart, Williamson’s deep politics identifies the gap between Americans’ professed beliefs in Christianity and democracy, and their de facto allegiance a system contradictorily rooted in fear, greed, dishonesty and violence. (If you doubt that, recall Mike Pompeo’s confession two weeks ago at Texas A&M.)

In any case, the system’s not working, is it? That’s Williamson’s basic point recommending her infinitely deeper and spiritually articulate approach to politics. Old style “experienced” politicians can’t address our nation’s problems at that level, much less repair the damage caused by their very experience. Or as Einstein put it, “The problems of the world will not be solved on the level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

Think about those problems as described in the Politics of Love. Our economy actually produces less and less. It maintains its patina of prosperity only by virtue of financialization that rewards hedge funders who simply move money from one rich man’s pocket to another’s. Corporation heads continue the cycle of fake prosperity by using money gained through lowered taxes to buy back their own stock. That creates a booming stock market whose artificially inflated stock prices allow those executives to rake in millions or billions, while workers’ wages stagnate, and our streets remain littered with homeless poor.

Internationally, vulture funds buy up poor countries’ debts and force already starving children to pay by having their parents accept austerity programs. Those who rebel against such policies are called “terrorists.” Automated international death squads in the form of drones execute them without a second thought.  

To maintain such ironic “order,” the country’s military budget wastes the billions that could otherwise be used to save a planet that’s disintegrating before our very eyes. Life-expectancy at home shrinks and children go to bed hungry in what’s supposed to be the richest country in the world. And while we justify those never-ending wars against enemies we ourselves have created, we can’t find resources to repair bridges, roads, and water supply systems.

As for remedying such problems, Ms. Williamson offers the best justification of the Green New Deal (GND) that I’ve come across. Without specifically mentioning it, she succeeds in explaining the GND’s insistence on extending its provisions beyond environmental restoration to higher wages, universal education, college-debt forgiveness, health care for all, and support for the arts and culture. For Williamson, all of these represent engines of prosperity and job creation ignored in standard economic models which identify business as prosperity’s principal fountainhead. The fact is however, that educators are more important to prosperity than entrepreneurs. Teachers therefore deserve subsidies more than businesses, which are completely dependent on schools for preparing workers. Yes, education is an irreplaceable engine of prosperity, but so is health care, art and culture. Sick workers are not productive. Those insensitive to art and culture are far less creative.   

Of course, none of this is new for readers of OpEdNews. What is new however, is a presidential candidate who has the courage to name and address the fundamental spiritual crisis at the root of the contradictions just listed.

However, when a candidate like Marianne Williamson appears on the scene, even sympathetic progressives are likely to dismiss her insistence on love and compassion as “new agey, soft, and unrealistic.” That only proves her point: our country’s real belief has nothing to do with government of, by and for the people. Much less is it connected with the politics of Jesus of Nazareth who maintained that only a New Age (He called it the Kingdom of God) can save us from our own self-destructiveness. Rolling our eyes at Marianne’s insistence on love and compassion only proves our lack of faith and a fundamental belief in death rather than in life. We’ve become authoritarian necrophiles.

But don’t get her wrong. Marianne’s not trying to shove Christianity, new or old, down anyone’s throat. However, along with the Green New Deal, Medicare for all, and cabinet-level offices for Peacemaking as well as for Children and Youth, she’s advocating a change in attitude from national self-centeredness and greed to international other-centeredness and generosity. Citizens of all stripes – from Christians to Muslims, to Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and atheists – should be able to support all of that.

But at this point, I’m not saying that it’s necessary for any of us to support Ms. Williamson’s candidacy. What is necessary is for her voice to be heard on the debate stage. As I said, she’s guaranteed to shift the conversation to where it needs to go – towards discussion of America’s spiritual crisis.

Currently, Marianne is about 1,485 individual contributions short of the 65,000 required for her to initiate that conversation. Even a contribution of $1.00 here will count. Please contribute now; her deadline is fast approaching. And please read Marianne’s Politics of Love. It might even convince you to support her candidacy in 2020.

I Co-Officiate at the Wedding of My Son, Brendan and His Bride, Erin Pearson

The Newly Weds

Our whole family just returned from five days in Paris. We were there for the wedding of my son Brendan. He married Erin Pearson from Waco, Texas — a beautiful and brilliant young woman whom we’ve all grown to love over the last number of years. I co-officiated the ceremony with the Rev. Tom Pearson, Erin’s father. Here are some remarks inspired by the occasion:

Marriage Is a School for Character: Embrace Its Challenges

I’m so proud of this couple. It’s truly a marriage made in heaven. Both Erin and Brendan are hugely qualified public servants. Their shared passion is serving the world and changing it for the better.

Both partners here have studied at Harvard. Erin is a Ph.D. researcher and public health professional. She works across the Global South on women’s reproductive health issues.

Brendan is a career diplomat with our country’s State Department. Currently stationed in Paris, he has previously worked in Mexico, D.C., Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Knowing just that much about them gives some idea about why I think of them as a truly Dynamic Duo. For them, the sky’s the limit in terms of the impact for good that their union promises to the planet.

Again, I couldn’t be prouder of them or more honored to co-officiate with Erin’s father, Tom, at this wedding ceremony.

But what does a father and father-in-law tell two smart people that might help them in their marriage which begins this momentous day?

There are three things that come to mind – three reminders.

The first is simply that you two deserve heart-felt congratulations. Congratulations for having the courage to take this huge step in your personal growth. You’re both aware that the vows you exchange this day enroll you in what many have called “a school for character.”

The marriage curriculum is daunting. And even though you are both brilliant scholars, you’ll find that what you’ll be taught by married life will be far more challenging than anything you experienced in Cambridge MA. Despite knowing that (as I’m sure you do), it’s wonderful that you’re taking this giant step anyway. Doing so implies that at some level, your desire to join forces to serve others as a couple transcends personal gratification. Again, congratulations for such noble generosity.

Of course, it’s your deep love for each other that impels you to take this step which today seems relatively easy. And that brings me to my second reminder. It’s this: Never forget the vision of each other that you have this moment – the one you had when you first saw each other across a crowded room. Don’t listen to the world’s wisdom about that. The world will eventually try to persuade you that the person you saw across that room was a deceptive illusion and that the trying one you’ll experience in day-to-day living is the truth. However, it’s just the opposite. The one you saw when you first fell in love is the truth. The one you’ll eventually wonder about is the illusion. Your task as a married couple is to work towards that truth about each other you saw years ago and whom you see so lovingly today. Never forget the vision you now share. That’s the truth of this union. Hold on to it; work towards its daily realization. That’s your challenging task.

My third reminder is about dealing with married life’s ups and downs. And here my reminder is best brought out by telling a story. The great spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, tells of a Zen master who communicated to his student the secret of dealing with life’s changes good and bad.

The student was about to leave on a year-long journey. Before going, he asked the master for a practice he might use while on his trip. He complained, “Look, I’ve been here in the monastery for five years. I’ve been a good monk and have done everything according to the book. But I still haven’t achieved enlightenment. Help me.”

“Well,” the master said, “here’s something I’d recommend. . .  No matter what happens to you during the coming year, simply accept it with the words, ‘This is good. It could not be better. Thank you. I have no complaints whatsoever.’”

The student was surprised. “You mean that’s it?” he asked.

“Yes,” the master said. “No matter what happens to you – good, bad, or indifferent, wonderful or tragic – say, ‘This is good; it couldn’t be better. Thank you. I have no complaints whatsoever.’”

With that, the student left on his trip.

A year later, he returned completely frustrated. He said, “Master, I did what you said. No matter what happened to me, pleasant or unpleasant, I always said, ‘This is good; it could not be better; thank you; I have no complaints whatsoever. But nothing has changed.  I haven’t yet achieved enlightenment.’”

The master paused a long time. “Hmm. . .,” he said. “Hmm . . .” Finally, he broke the silence and said, “This is good; it could not be better. Thank you. I have no complaints whatsoever.”

The student heard that . . .  He pondered . . . And at that moment, he achieved enlightenment.

In the light of that story, my recommendation is that you adopt the Zen master’s practice in your married life. No matter what happens to you good, bad, indifferent, tragic or incredibly wonderful, say to yourselves, “This is good; it could not be better. Thank you. I have no complaints whatsoever.” It’s a reminder that simply being alive is a gift. Simply having each other is a gift. Being challenged by the married-life curriculum is a gift.

So, Erin and Brendan, congratulations. Always work towards the vision you had of each other across that crowded room. And always be grateful for everything – even the difficult and painful.

With all of that in mind, we all wish you well. We join you in saying of your marriage, of this wonderful day in Paris, and of life in general “Thank you, Lord. This is incredibly good. It could be no better. We have no complaints whatsoever.”