Today’s Gospel selection, the familiar story of the Good
Samaritan, couldn’t be timelier.
It’s read at a juncture in American history, where a Christian acting specifically according to the teaching of Jesus’ parable faces 20 years in prison. His crime? He provided food, water, lodging and hospitality to people whom the Trump administration would rather see die of thirst and exposure, because the president considers them sub-human.
I’m talking about Dr. Scott Warren (pictured above), a humanitarian aid volunteer and immigration rights activist. For years, he has worked with an organization called No More Deaths (NMD). Its members leave water jugs, clothing, and medical supplies for refugees and immigrants crossing the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. Warren and NMD also keep track of the numerous cadavers they find there and have filmed U.S. border agents emptying more than 3000 NMD water jugs in their clear effort to create more deaths by dehydration. In fact, those border agents are the sadistic executioners who staff Mr. Trump’s concentration camp system. (Watch what they do in this film clip. Doesn’t their sadism remind you of the Nazis we’ve all seen in all those WWII movies?)
Coincidently, I guess, and soon after filming the murderers, Warren was arrested and tried for aiding two undocumented migrants. A hung jury failed to convict him. However, the Trump administration wants the man retried – again, for the crime of obeying Jesus’ mandate in today’s reading. (In fact, most reports of Warren’s case specifically invoke the imagery of “the Good Samaritan.”) His second trial will take place in November.
The sad irony is that so many of Trump’s supporters consider
themselves Christians. Their single “Christian” issue seems to be abortion
about which Jesus and the Bible in general says absolutely nothing. Nothing at
all! And yet, when someone obeys Jesus’ clear and unambiguous teaching as in today’s
Gospel, they want Jesus’ follower punished to the full extent of the law whose
essence Moses describes as Love in today’s first reading.
It’s like what happened in Germany after Hitler came to power. There, the birthplace of Luther and his Reformation, Christians not only enthusiastically approved of der Fuhrer; they worked in his concentration camps. And then (as Elie Wiesel puts it) after cremating Jews all week, they went to confession on Saturday and received communion on Sunday. They could do so, because, mirroring Trump’s attitude towards immigrants, they believed Jews were sub-human.
That’s the same attitude Jews themselves in Jesus’ day had towards Samaritans. They were considered enemies of the state, because their ancestors back in the 8th century BCE, intermarried with Assyrian occupiers of the Jewish homeland. Intermarriage rendered Samaritans unclean. They were as sub-human as Trump’s immigrants or Hitler’s Jews.
So Jesus’ making a Samaritan the hero of his challenging
parable, and contrasting the outcast’s compassion with the “couldn’t-care-less”
attitude of professional holy men – the priest and the Levite – connects directly
with the hypocrisy of Christians, the Trump administration, and those border
agents all of whom have criminalized the fundamental human right of
No; I’m wrong: they’ve actually criminalized God’s law of love as described throughout today’s liturgical readings. Read them for yourself here. In any case, what follows is my “translation” of their main ideas:
DT 30: 10-14
The Great Liberator, Moses Exhorted the former slaves To return to LOVE The most obvious, uncomplicated Reality In the world.
PS 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
Love is all we need From Life Itself. It is always kind And helpful Overflowing with gifts And ready to protect The poor, the imprisoned, The exiled, And those in pain. Yes: All we need is Love.
Jesus, the Christ Shows what Love means – That absolutely everything Was created for Love, The bond, the glue That holds us all together In complete at-one-ment Transforming the human race Into a single body Despite resistance And crucifixion By a hostile world.
LK 10: 25-37
For Jesus (like Moses) Love of God and Neighbor Is the only law Promising fullness of life. The two laws are one. Being “neighbor” Means rejecting The ignorance of Professional holy men And politicians, Adopting instead The compassion of The very minorities We’re taught to hate Who provide Health care, transportation, Lodging, mercy Follow-up, And money, For those they have every reason To hate. That’s what it means To love Our very Self!
Moses was right: Love is really all we need. It couldn’t be
clearer. Jesus was right: Love is God’s only law. There is no other.
Trump, his followers and agents are wrong. They are criminal.
Or as the Master put it in another place (MT 10:42) “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Readings for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 66:10-14C; PS 66: 1-7, 16, 20; GAL 6: 14-18; LK 10: 1-12, 17-20.
The theme of today’s liturgy of the word is exile and deliverance
from captivity. In its light, I can’t help thinking of all those refugees at
our southern border and of Marianne Williamson’s wise and unique response in
last week’s second Democratic Debate.
According to our readings, the immigrants and refugees our politicians want us to hate are exiles like the ancient Hebrews in Babylon. They are the victims of the rich and powerful as were the Jews in Jesus’ day, when Rome occupied his homeland aided and abetted by the Temple clergy. That is, today’s biblical selections say that the poorest and most vulnerable among us are God’s own people.
Yet incredibly, the richest and most invulnerable at the top of our contemporary social order – the very ones who crashed our economy, looted our common treasury, and escaped unscathed with the handouts we ourselves provided – somehow want us to believe that the poor exiles from their beloved homes in Central America are the cause of all our problems.
But remember: the home lands of these exiles from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are the very countries whose economies our government purposely and permanently crashed in the 1980s. Then, the Reagan and Bush I administrations used drug money to finance illegal wars that ended up killing hundreds of thousands and replacing governments and social movements whose primary beneficiaries would have been the parents of those at our borders today. The latter are victims of the drug lords we established and supported during the ‘80s and who today are doing the same things they did 40 years ago – marketing drugs while terrorizing and murdering the innocent. I’m talking about the generals and other military officers who are now the drug kingpins.
That’s the point Marianne Williamson tried to make at the first Democratic debate. But no one picked it up. None of the other candidates elaborated on Ms. Williamson’s observation that today’s immigration “crisis” amounts to our government’s reaping what it sowed. The other candidates still haven’t seconded Marianne’s point. Instead, they and their interlocutors remain stuck in the same old, same old. They mouth the standard political platitudes while ignoring the shameful history that explains today’s headlines.
It’s been that way from biblical times and before – rich foreigners oppressing poor locals. Listen to today’s readings. Or, rather, read them for yourself. Here are my “translations.”
These are the words Of Isaiah’s prophecy To all in captivity By Powers Foreign and domestic: “Your time of desperation Is nearly over. You will soon Return home Like starving infants To Mother-Jerusalem. With hunger satisfied And prosperity Incredible Along with joy And comfort, comfort, comfort At last!”
PS 66: 1-7, 16, 20
Our liberator From exile So kind and powerful Is the answer To the prayers Of captive people And a source of joy For the whole Human race And all of creation. No obstacle Can impede God’s destiny Of liberation Joy and freedom From oppression.
GAL 6: 14-18
Yes, our destiny Is an entirely New World! Where the world’s distinctions Are meaningless. Acting accordingly Now Will bring Everyone Compassion and peace. However, The World Crucifies us For this belief. Nonetheless, We’re called to Bear its torture And scars Gladly As Jesus did.
LK 10: 1-12, 17-20
Paul’s words Agree with Jesus Who sent Thirty-six pairs Of “advance men” And women To announce (Like Isaiah) Liberation From oppression By powers imperial. Like lambs among wolves Like monks With begging bowls, They healed and proclaimed God’s Great Cleanup Of a world Infested by demonic Imperial oppressors. And it worked! Every one of those 72 Cast out evil spirits Just like Jesus. (Despite powerful opposition And crucifixion.)
Some have ridiculed Marianne's debate performance. However, that only shows how our country thought-leaders have become tone-deaf to biblical values. They consider them ludicrous.
For me, that only signals the necessity of doubling-down on support for the only one in the crowded Democratic field who courageously insists on the values embedded in today's readings which identify the keys for solving the problems caused by "experienced" politicians. As Marianne says, those keys are love and forgiveness precisely for and of those the rich and powerful vilify.
Readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: I KGS 19: 16 B, 19-21; PS 16: 1, 2, 5, 7-11; GAL 5: 1, 13-18; I SM 3:9; JN 6: 68C; LK9: 51-62
So, we all watched Thursday’s debate in which Marianne Williamson finally participated and showed the country who she is. And she was magnificent. She demonstrated what her spiritual guidebook, A Course in Miracles calls a refusal to be insane. She embodied that still small voice of conscience – the voice for God – that today’s liturgy of the word distinguishes from the world’s madness.
To begin with consider the madness we witnessed Thursday night. It was a perfect reflection of our insane country, of our insane world, of our insane electoral system. There they were: ten of our presumably best and brightest aspiring to occupy what we’re told is the most powerful office in the world. They shouted, talked over their opponents, self-promoted, bragged, and put their opponents down. They offered complicated “plans” that no one (including themselves) seemed to understand. They ignored the rules of the game, recited canned talking points, and generally made fools of themselves – and of viewers vainly seeking sincerity, genuine leadership and real answers. Except for that brief exchange about busing between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, it was mostly embarrassing.
And then there
were the so-called moderators who allowed the circus to spin so completely out
of control. They issued stern warnings about time limits, frequently set them
strictly at “thirty seconds,” but then proceeded to allow speakers to go on for
three minutes or more. The celebrity hosts were completely arbitrary in addressing
their questions unevenly. They repeatedly questioned some of the candidates and
there was Marianne Williamson off in the corner almost completely out of sight
and generally ignored by the hosts. When they finally deigned to notice her
polite attempts to contribute, no one seemed to know what to do with her comments.
There was never any follow-up or request for clarification. Instead, what she
said seemed completely drowned out by the evening’s “excitement,” noise, general
chaos, and imperative to change topics. It was as if she were speaking a
foreign language. I mean, how do you respond to that “still small voice of
conscience” that says:
Immigration problems should be understood in historical context; their roots are found in U.S. policy in Central America especially during the 1980s. Such comment invites further discussion. None took place.
Removing children from their parents’ arms is kidnapping; putting preschoolers in concentration camps is child abuse. Such crimes should be treated accordingly. What retribution did Marianne have in mind? The question went unasked.
Health care “solutions” should address environmental questions about chemicals in our foods, water, and air that make Americans sick. The response: “My next question for Vice-President Biden is . . .”
Government programs should be expressions of love, not fear.
expected, the pundits who afterwards declared “winners” and “losers,” generally
put Marianne in the latter category. Their criteria for that judgment were just
what you’d expect: Who was louder? Who was more aggressive, more interruptive? Who
spoke for more minutes? Who more effectively transgressed the debate “rules”
and thereby showed leadership and dominance?
None of this could be further from the spiritual principles Marianne Williamson has espoused for the last 40 years. That spirituality, like Elijah’s, Elisha’s, Paul’s, and Jesus’ in today’s liturgical readings holds that the problems that plague our world have simple answers that have nothing to do with bombast, filibusters, or spectacle. However, the world rejects out of hand the solutions of that still-small-voice of conscience as unrealistic and “out there” in the realm of the irrelevant and impractical. Such blind dismissal is what Paul in today’s reading calls “flesh;” it’s what Jesus elsewhere rejects as “worldly.”
So, in an
effort to put Thursday’s debate in perspective, let me begin by describing where
Marianne is coming from; then I’ll get to the relevant readings.
Course in Miracles
For more than forty years, the foundation of Marianne Williamson’s life and teachings has been A Course in Miracles (ACIM). It’s a three-volume work (a text, 365 daily exercises, and a manual for teachers) that was allegedly (and reluctantly) channeled by Helen Schucman, a Columbia University psychologist and atheist in the three or four years leading up to 1975, the year of the trilogy’s publication. It has since sold millions of copies. Williamson has described ACIM as “basic Christian mysticism.”
a tough read – certainly not for everyone, though Williamson insists that
something like its daily spiritual discipline (a key term for her) is necessary
for living a fully human life bent on serving God rather than self. Its guiding
prayer is “Where would you have me go? What would you have me do? What would
you have me say, and to whom?”
tougher than the cryptic text itself is putting into practice the spiritual
exercises in Volume II whose entire point is “a complete reversal of thought.” According
to ACIM’s constant reminders, we are all prisoners in a cell like Plato’s Cave,
where everything the world tells us is exactly the opposite of God’s truth.
To counter such deception, A Course in Miracles has the rare disciple (possessing the discipline to persevere) systematically deconstruct her world. It begins by identifying normal objects like a lamp or desk and helping the student realize that what s/he takes for granted is entirely questionable. Or as Lesson One puts it: “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.” The point is to liberate the ACIM practitioner from all preconceptions and from the illusory dreams the world foists upon us from birth. Those illusions, dreams and nightmares are guided by fear, which, the course teaches, is the opposite of love. In fact, ACIM teaches that fear and love are the only two energetic forces in the entire universe. “Miracles” for A Course in Miracles are changes in perception – a paradigm shift – from fear to love. For Marianne, Donald Trump’s worldview is based primarily on fear; her’s is based on love (which means action based on the recognition of creation’s unity).
to Williamson’s guide, time, space, and separation of humans into separate
entities are all entirely illusory. Such distinctions are dreams that cause all
the world’s nightmares, including all the topics addressed in Thursday’s debate.
illusion of time has us all living in past and future while ignoring the
present – the only moment that actually exists, has ever existed, or where true
happiness can be found. This means, for example, that inspirational figures
like Jesus are literally alive NOW just as they were (according to time’s illusion)
2000 years ago. His Holy Spirit is a present reality.
dream of space has us taking too seriously human-made distinctions like borders
between countries. Yes, they are useful for organizing commerce and travel. But
the world as God created it belongs to everyone. It’s a complete aberration and
childish to close off borders as inviolable and to proudly proclaim that “From
now on, it’s only going to be America first, America first!”
the dream of separation between humans has us convinced that “we” are here in
North America, while refugees are down there at our southern border. According
to ACIM however, “There is really only one of us here.” This means that I am female,
male, white, black, brown, straight, gay, trans, old and young. And so are you.
Others are not simply our sisters and brothers; they are us! What we do to
them, we do to ourselves.
clarifications in mind, the solution to the world’s problems are readily
available and far easier to understand than complicated health care systems or
carbon trading. The solutions are forgiveness and atonement. But for ACIM,
forgiveness does not mean overlooking another’s sins and generously choosing
not to punish them. It means first of all realizing that sin itself is an
illusion. It is an archery term for a human mistake – for missing the mark –
something every one of us does.
then, amounts to nothing more than realizing that truth and acting accordingly –
as though the forgiven one were our Self (because s/he is!). In a world of
complete deception, it means accepting the truth that the ones our culture
blames – like immigrants, refugees, people of color, the poor, Muslims, and members
of the LGBTQQIA community – are not only completely innocent. Accepting them as
our very Self represents the source of our personal and political salvation.
light then, prisons (for particularly dangerous people) become re-education
centers for rehabilitation, not punishment. This means that even pathological
criminals like Trump, Pence, Pompeo, and Bolton can helpfully be sequestered
for a while and then returned to society as reformed, productive people. (I
know that’s hard to believe; but it could happen!)
Williamson, the goal of it all (of life itself!) is atonement – At-One-Ment – practical
realization of a world with room for everyone with illusory distinctions either
ignored, or played with, or celebrated in the spirit of party and game. Practically
speaking, atonement looks like reparations not only to the descendants of
African slaves, but to countries we have destroyed like those Marianne
referenced in Central America – but also like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba,
and a host of others. Instead of dropping bombs on them or applying sanctions,
we should, in effect, be showering them with schools, hospitals,
infrastructure, technological assistance, and money. It’s all part of the
what that kind of foreign policy would accomplish and how much cheaper it would
be than the trillions we’re now wasting on weapons and war.
books, Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love show, Williamson
stood ready to share such convictions last Thursday night. But she was never
asked. And we’re all poorer as a result.
So how is all of that related to this Sunday’s readings? They’re about the contrast between the world’s wisdom – its way of debating, judging, condemning, and praising – and God’s way of interacting with one another and with creation itself. Check out the readings for yourself here and see what you think. My “translations” follow to clarify their cumulative point:
I KGS 19:16B, 19-21
We are called To be prophets Like Elijah And his disciple-successor Elisha A wealthy farmer Who understood That God’s call Required renouncing Everything the world Holds dear: Family, possessions, And independence In order to Comfort the afflicted Afflict the comfortable And feed the hungry.
PS 16: 1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
For what ultimately Belongs to us Is not The world’s Corruption and condemnation But the God We deeply are Who is our very Food and drink, The ability to see Even amidst The world’s darkness, The source of calm, Gladness, and health Who shows The path to life, Joy, and unending delight. GAL 5: 1, 13-18 As Elisha realized: World and Spirit Are completely opposed. Paul terms Those worldly values “Flesh.” It demands Slavery and consumption Of one another! What God values Is Christ’s “Spirit.” Demanding Nothing more Than love Of the other Who is (Believe it or not) Our very Self.
I SM 3:9, JN 6: 68C Deep down We know All of this Is true.
LK 9: 51-62 Jesus did too. So, on the way To ultimate destiny He rejected The world’s spirit Of xenophobia, revenge, Ethnocentrism – And Hell-Fire missiles. Instead, he identified with The homeless, With life, not death, And with the Spirit Of Elisha Who also Left plow and oxen For the sake of God’s reign.
Please think about those readings in the light of what we witnessed on the debate stage a few nights ago. The other candidates represented what Paul calls “flesh” – you know: the world’s wisdom and way of doing things involving corruption, condemnation, devouring one’s opponent, xenophobia, and addiction to those Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile Marianne seemed bemused by it all. Her few thoughtful remarks said far more than the ones filibustering, pointlessly arguing, self-promoting.
As she says herself, Ms. Williamson is not in this campaign to run against anyone. She’s there to run with her fellow Democrats and to help Americans decide which candidate is best.
I think that candidate is Marianne. She deserves better consideration and a closer hearing than she received on Thursday. Like Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and Paul, she is a voice for our Deepest Self. She was the winner.
On this Trinity Sunday, Marianne Williamson’s basic approach to our national problems reminds me of traditional trinitarian doctrine. I mean, when I was a kid in catechism class, the mystery of the Holy Trinity seemed like one of those word-problems I found so difficult in arithmetic. I wondered, how can there be three divine persons in one God? Was it 3+ 1= 1? Or was it 3 ÷ 1 = 1? I was confused.
Williamson’s basic approach to politics presents a similar quandary. Her basic math problem is: How can we solve our myriad national problems? There seem to be so many. However, like what I heard in catechism class, her solution remains theological. But it goes like this 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1 = One.
What she means is that we really have only a single problem. It’s extremely personal, but at the same time very political and highly theological. It’s our relationship with God (though we might with good reason reject that particular word as culturally debased). Williamson observes that (whatever name we might prefer) until we get our God-problem straightened out, all those other difficulties will continue to plague us and threaten our very survival.
That simple but profound spiritual insight is what distinguishes Williamson from other Democratic candidates for president. It’s that ecumenical, all-inclusive spirituality that separates her from Republican Christianists. Specifically, it calls us to profoundly correct our perception of reality from that of the “world” based on fear and greed to a divine perception based on love and compassion.
Think, for instance, about our endless political troubles. Internationally, they’re based on the conviction that we are surrounded by enemies radically different from us. They are so threatening that we must spend billions each day — yes, nearly $2 billion every 24 hours — to protect ourselves against the likes of Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Yemen(!), ISIS, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and against immigrants and refugees from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico.
Domestically, politicians want us to think that we’re threatened
not only by all those foreigners, immigrants and refugees, but by what the
Clintons once termed “super-predators” who tend to be black or brown,
by LGBTQQIA individuals, and by poor people in general. That’s why we end up
imprisoning a greater percentage of our population than any other country —
and that doesn’t even include the immigrants and refugees in our border
concentration camps and baby jails, or those in the black sites (sic!) we
maintain across the globe.
No wonder we anesthetize ourselves to forget it all. So, we consume
drugs like guns, alcohol, pot, amphetamines, other pharmaceuticals, tobacco,
our iPhones, pornography, spectator sports, snacking, comfort food, and TV
binges. That’s quite a list, don’t you think? Each item creates its own problem
in the personal and familial spheres. It’s a never-ending cycle of
threat-fear-denial and escape. And it’s all-encompassing.
However, according to Williamson, all of that — the guns, wars, fear of “the other,” and narcotization of all sorts — are simply means of side-stepping our only real problem: God.
And that’s what’s centralized in today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The day’s readings call us to face the nature of God straight-on. And it has nothing to do with catechism math. Neither, according to today’s biblical selections, is God what we’ve been taught. God is not a judge, punisher, and torturer. Instead, the passages selected for this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity invite us to appreciate divine goodness and love for all of humankind, and to use those insights to reduce our countless problems to merely one.
Consider today’s readings. (Please read them for yourself here.)
They describe for us the three-fold nature of the One we find so problematic.
As depicted in the graphic above, she is Mother (Wisdom), Father (Creator), and
Child (as revealed in Jesus the Christ). Here’s my “translation” of
this Trinity Sunday’s readings specifically about the nature of God:
God as Wisdom Itself
Is embodied in all the world.
As feminine and Mother
She is like a skilled craftswoman
Who set the very foundations of the earth
And shores of the seas
All in a spirit of playfulness
Finding special delight in the human race.
PS 8: 4-9
Which is amazingly loved
By the Creator-Father
All human beings are like angels
Glorious and honorable
Caretakers and rulers of
Wild and domesticated animals
Birds and sea creatures
And whose traditions across the earth
Have always recognized
The Reality of God.
ROM 5: 1-4
It is that universally-shared faith
That gives human existence
Worth and value
Peace among nations
Giving us hope
But putting us at odds with “the
Which punishes us for our faith
(contradicting, as it does
The world’s fear-full “wisdom”).
But the world’s opposition
Our sensitivity to
The Holy Spirit of Jesus.
JN 16: 11-15
A guiding vision of the future
Expressed in teachings
About humankind’s fundamental
Unity with God
And each other.
Do you see how owning and interiorizing that single trinitarian vision of Mother, Father, and Child holds potential for dissolving our countless problems? The earth belongs to all of us who constitute a single family. Each angelic member is loved by God who as our Female-Male Parent has filled all with the very Spirit of Jesus. His fundamental teaching is to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as our self. That means we need to recognize that those whom we fear as enemies and foreigners are our very Self. Or, as Marianne Williamson puts it, “There is really only one of us here.”
According to Williamson, interiorizing that insight and expressing
it in our personal, familial, social, spiritual and political lives would
absolutely eliminate every single problem I listed earlier.
So how do we get from here to such problem-free existence? That’s where Williamson descends from the sublime to the nitty-gritty. Unlike some others who’ve qualified for the first presidential debate, she’s signed Cenk Uygur’s TYT Progressive Pledge. (You can sign it here.) Watch how she responds to Uygur’s questions:
Yes, I know, that sounds very similar to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. However, Marianne’s distinguishing edge is her insistence on calling for the change in spiritual consciousness that is necessary to effect redirection of U.S. policies. In that sense, she’s far more progressive than anyone else in the field.
Opponents and the media, of course, will smile and condescendingly
pat her on the head and say, “Oh, that’s very sweet, Marianne, but quite
naive. Your approach will never work in the dog-eat-dog world we live in.”
However, along with Jesus and countless others whom we profess to admire, Williamson reminds us that it is precisely the “world’s” patronizing approach that is not working. That “realism” has brought us to the brink of atomic, biological, climatic, demographic, and economic annihilation (and as Crossan says, that’s only up to “e” in the alphabet!).
What remains unimplemented on a broad scale is the explicitly spiritual approach of Jesus, Gandhi, of Quakers in the Abolitionist and Women’s Suffragist Movements, of the Baptist preacher Martin Luther King, of Catholic priests like the Berrigan brothers, and of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers .
Along with today’s readings, all those spiritually inspired and deeply politicized figures agree with Marianne Williamson: We have only one problem; it’s about family; it’s about correcting our relationship with our Mother and Father in the Holy Trinity of which all humans are an integral part. Williamson is right: we have only one problem; there is really only one of us here. We are infinitely closer than brothers and sisters. Her presidency will move us towards a practical realization of that vision.
Readings for Pentecost Sunday: ACTS 2: 1-11; PS 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 34; I COR 12: 3B-7, 12-13; ROM 8: 8-17; JN 20: 19-23
Today is Pentecost Sunday. Fifty days after Easter, it
celebrates the day that followers of Jesus decided to overcome their fears and
form a community to carry on Jesus work of introducing what he called the
Kingdom of God as an alternative to Rome’s Kingdom of Caesar.
Whether the realization dawned on Easter day itself (as in
today’s Gospel reading from John) or 50 days later (as described in the first
reading from the Acts of the Apostles), today’s celebration reminds us that
Jesus’ Spirit stands 180 degrees opposed to that of empire – the spirit of the
world. That’s because Jesus’ Spirit is embodied in the victims of empire’s
torture and capital punishment. It recognizes the poor rather than the rich as the
bearers of peace, joy, and prosperity. That’s what John means by recalling that
before conferring his Spirit of Peace, Jesus “showed them his hands and his
side.” That’s what today’s Sequence means when it identifies Jesus Spirit as
the “Father of the poor.”
During this election season, I cannot help connecting those Pentecostal insights to Marianne Williamson. That’s because alone among Democratic presidential candidates, she specifically recognizes the incompatibility between Jesus’ teaching that prioritizes love and forgiveness and the spirit that governs our world characterized by fear, greed, lies, and violence. For Williamson, such opposition remains a spiritual truism, whether we connect it with Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Krishna, the Buddha, or simply with LIFE or NATURE. Acknowledging that, Williamson’s candidacy is calling for a national change of consciousness from fear and greed to one driven by love and compassion.
Yes, she dares to do that with great specificity! And her
wisdom and sincerity in doing so can hardly be questioned. In fact, we know
more about Marianne Williamson, her philosophy, spirituality, and the workings
of her mind than any other candidate. That’s because she’s spent, more than 30
years talking about nothing else. It’s all part of the public record. She’s
used her spirituality (what today’s liturgy identifies with the Spirit of
Jesus) to help individuals, couples, and congregations reach depths of critical
thinking that even progressives might consider far too radical. For instance,
she holds that:
We live imprisoned in a deceptive world much like Plato’s Cave.
There, what the world presents as truth is 180 degrees opposite of the truth of God (though no one need use that historically debased term).
The world’s truth is governed by fear and greed.
It identifies the “other” (e.g., poor people, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, non-whites, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea, ISIS) as the cause of our problems, while “we” are innocent.
The fact is none of those just listed is our enemy. All of us are more than brothers and sisters; in fact, there is really no meaningful distinction between us. What we do to them, we do to ourselves.
As a result, God’s ultimate truth is governed by love and compassion and by the realization that all humans are ultimately innocent.
That’s true even of Donald Trump, John Bolton, and Mike Pompeo. Though they are sociopaths who need to be removed from office and to face the consequences of their crimes, they too are performing the spiritual service of revealing as never before the corruption of the prevailing system that deceitfully serves the rich rather than the rest of us.
Insights like those have been among Marianne Williamson’s guiding convictions for more than 30 years. And at least since 1998 and the publication of her Healing the Soul of America, she has scandalized many of her would-be followers by connecting her profound spirituality to deeply radical politics. In that book, she predicted the rise of a force like Donald Trump if the “higher consciousness community” and the rest of us failed to make similar connections. The title (and content!) of her latest book, The Politics of Love, doubles down on the radicalness of her analysis.
Imagine governing our country and the world according to the
Spirit described in today’s readings. They are crystal-clear in their
contradiction of what we’ve been led to accept as normal and unavoidable in the
realm of politics. Review the readings for yourself. They tell us that Christ’s
Is international; it loves equally people of all nations (Acts 2: 1-11)
Is abundantly creative and universal involving not just human beings, but all of creation (PS 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34)
Refuses to recognize religious distinctions, e.g. between Jews and “pagan” Greeks (ICOR 12: 3B-7, 12-13)
Embodies wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, and joy (Special Pentecostal Sequence)
Recognizes forgiveness as the key to peace (JN 20: 19-23)
Isn’t it true that most Americans, who describe themselves
as somehow “Christian,” would find the convictions just listed as unrealistic
or even suicidal if applied to politics?
But, of course, those ideals have never been tried. And, according to Williamson, that’s just the point. Failure to apply the spiritual insights advocated by Jesus and those other spiritual avatars have led us to our present impasse. That “realism,” she observes, is what’s really suicidal. It’s destroying our planet and threatening us with nuclear holocaust. For Williamson, making America great again means following a radically different path. It means following the example of Quaker-inspired abolitionists, of the similarly motivated suffragettes, of the Baptist preacher Martin Luther King, of war-resisters like the Catholic priests Phil and Daniel Berrigan, of Dorothy Day and Mohandas Gandhi. Those figures and the tradition they represent constitute the truly “great” part of the American tradition.
To put it bluntly, Marianne Williamson, like the feast of Pentecost itself, is asking Americans to overcome their fears and form the beloved human community envisioned by Jesus, King and those others. But to do so, she says, we must completely reject everything empire values as true and worthy. Instead, Williamson invites us to recognize solidarity with those empire actually despises. Russians, Chinese, Iranians, Venezuelans, Syrians, North Koreans, Muslims, immigrants, the poor in general, even ISIS fighters, and especially the world’s children are beloved by God. Rather than rejection, wars, dronings and sanctions, they deserve respect and inclusion in any negotiations that affect them. At the same time, those actually in power are often thieves, sociopaths and criminals. They deserve compassion but must be treated accordingly. All of that encapsulates the radicalness of Marianne Williamson’s approach to politics. It also encapsulates the Spirit of Jesus – his ultimate gift celebrated this Pentecost Sunday. Is that too radical, even for Christians, even for progressives? The alternative, Williamson reminds us, is just not working out.
Stephen Executed before Paul Falls asleep Envisioning God’s Kingdom While forgiving the ignorant Who cover their ears Against hearing The Human One Who substitutes God’s Reign Of compassion and love For religion’s insatiable Blood thirst.
PS 97: 1-2, 6,7,9
Yes, Jesus’ Kingdom rests Not on executioners’ haste To throw the first stone But on justice Joy and gladness For everyone It confers judgment Revealing The emptiness of Everything Killers venerate.
REV 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
May God’s Kingdom come! Even amid roadside missiles and martyrs’ gore. Hear the urgency! “Come, come, come, come, come, come” Six times over: Come Alpha and Omega First and Last Beginning and End Root and branch Starlight and Bride Water and Life.
JN 17: 20-16
It’s about Unity The Master assures Five times he says: One, one, one, one, one We are Close like Jesus and Abba. Foundationally coherent With them, Stephen, Paul And those myopic men Throwing rocks Powerful enough To awaken Prophet’s rage To know, know, know, know, know, know (Count them!) That God and We are One Rendering stones and blood Impotent To destroy Shared unity At divine core.
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.
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
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.
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.)