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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Readings

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus & Nonviolent Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions for Muslims

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

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

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

So, Jesus is saying:

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

Conclusions for Christians

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

(African) American Exceptionalism: The Case for Black Supremacy

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

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

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

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

Prophetism  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

African American Exceptionalism

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

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

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

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

Professor Retamar reasoned as follows:

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

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

Today’s Readings

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiads

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Readings

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

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

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

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

Jeremiads for America

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

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

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

Glimmer of Hope

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Face It: America’s God Is Violence

Readings for Trinity Sunday: Exodus 34: 4B-6, 8-9; Daniel 3: 52-56; 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13; John 3: 16-18

You’ll never convince me that theology is unimportant or irrelevant to politics.

Early last week, President Trump had Lafayette Park cleared of protestors for a Bible-waving photo-op in front of St. John’s Church. Evidently, his specifically theological point was to assure everyone that God is somehow on his side and that of the DC police in their fight with the peaceful protestors he called “thugs” and “terrorists.” The president implied that God supports his and the cops ham-handed attempts to quell the general uprising sparked throughout the country (and the world) by the brutal murder of George Floyd, yet another unarmed black man executed by the police state Mr. Trump now heads.

The presidential photo-op underscored not only the tone-deaf cynicism of the current occupant of the White House. It highlighted as well, the identity of the three-personed God he and his white “Christian” supporters actually worship. It’s not the God of Jesus.

I bring that up, because today is Trinity Sunday – a day that calls attention to the mysterious Christian belief that almost no one can coherently explain. It’s the faith that there are three persons in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today in these remarks, I’m setting aside any concern with obscure, esoteric explanations of that rich mystery so often trivialized into some sort of mathematical problem. (It has been well explained most recently by Richard Rohr in his The Divine Dance. Highly recommended.)

My point instead is to redirect its understanding in a more immediate way intimately connected with what’s happening now in our city streets. It is to explore the mysteries of the real Trinity that we Americans actually worship. It’s a divinity Americans call on to solve any problem you might imagine.  I’m talking about the deity called Violence. Yes, as what Dr. King called “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” our nation worships Violence Itself.

Our reverence for this quasi-divine being is revealed in our vicious cultures of police and military so evident in our cities these days. It’s revealed in our worship of guns, in our “defense” budgets, in our films, and in the wars our nation more than any other on the planet initiates and sustains throughout the world.    

Like the traditional Trinity, our God of Violence also has three manifestations. There is Violence the Father, Violence the Son, and Violence the Evil Spirit. Let me try to explain.

Trinitarian Violence

Violence the Father: This is the invisible power that shapes all of our lives. Sociologists refer to his domain in terms of “structural violence.”  He is the creator of every society’s status quo – the form of mayhem that begets most of its other manifestations. This violent divinity is the one in whom we Americans live and move and have our being; he’s like the air we breathe; we don’t even notice his presence. Yet our simple participation in the world-as-we-know-it transforms us into his votaries.

Worldwide, this is the God who allows 15,000 children to die each day of absolutely preventable poverty and hunger. Most commonly, they are victimized by ailments as simple as diarrhea caused by contaminated water. But all those children die at our system’s hand just as surely and predictably as if executioners put guns to their heads and pulled the trigger 15,000 times every 24 hours. The God of the status quo endorses every shot.

Violence the Father also underwrites ghettoes, decrepit schools, food deserts, and structural unemployment. He makes sure drinking water is contaminated by lead, that borders are closed to refugees and asylum seekers, and that the air in poor communities is unbreathable.

For the police, he’s the patron of “qualified immunity.” That’s the legal doctrine that encourages law enforcement crime. In practice, it guarantees that police will never be convicted of any crime unless their attorneys prove unable to turn up a single cop anywhere in the world who wouldn’t have acted similarly in a similar situation. What a joke!

Americans love Violence the Father. We’re convinced his order is the best human beings can achieve. After all, we live in “the greatest country in the world.” [We say that with a straight face, even though (if we opened our eyes) we would see clearly that other better countries are all over the map. However, our fundamentalist religious brainwashing masquerading as “patriotism” just won’t let us go there.]

Violence the Son: This is the second person of the unholy trinity worshipped throughout America. Violence the Son is the offspring of the Father – his only (i.e. inevitably) begotten son. He embodies the self-defensive, but ultimately auto-destructive response of perhaps 5% of the protestors in our streets during these days of rage and rebellion. They are the marginalized, despised and brutalized who have abandoned hope of systemic reform by going through the channels. They’ve given up on Dr. King’s and on Jesus’ non-violent resistance.  

If the truth be told, many of them are heroic by standards widespread in our country, where precious few subscribe to non-violence. Often, these devotees consider themselves spiritual descendants of the U.S. Founding Fathers. Remember how those sometime heroes bravely defended the right to take up arms against any government or police force that denies rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In their Declaration of Independence, the founders wrote “. . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government. . .”

Yet, the attitude of these followers of Violence the Son, though apparently heroic, is self-destructive. That’s because it inevitably incurs a response from the militarized state that is overwhelming and absolutely destructive. It’s that response of police brutality that has horrified us all over the past ten days. It’s the third-level violence — that of the Unholy Spirit.  

Violence the Evil Spirit:

This is the spirit of fear, racism, vengeance, and false patriotism that inspires police and military over-response to the small number of protestors who worship Violence the Son. And, as I just said, the response in question is devastating. Worldwide, this Spirit routinely leads the United States to mercilessly slaughter any who dare raise a fist against first-level structural crimes inspired by Violence the Father. Think of the hundreds of thousands butchered throughout Central America during the 1980s, when the U.S. crushed peasant response to U.S. neocolonialism, regime change, torture and assassination in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras.

But closer to home, think of last week’s spectacles of police cars running over those exercising their Second Amendment rights.  We all saw those committed to “protect and serve” instead slashing tires, tear gassing, pepper spraying, and tasering peaceful protestors. We saw them crack open the head of a 75-year-old man in Buffalo. As agents provocateurs, they smashed windows, set fire to police cars, and left piles of bricks strategically placed for use by activists inclined to throw them.

It’s at the altar of this evil spirit that the NYPD worships along with other infamous blue-clad gangsters throughout the country.  By their actions, they’ve revealed the truth of Frank Serpico’s telling description of New York City police. Ten percent of them, he said, are honest. Ten percent are absolutely corrupt. And the other 80% wish they weren’t. In other words, 90% of our nation’s police forces are proving themselves to be brutally crooked especially towards people of color. And virtually all of them are committed to protecting each other’s backs no matter what. And that means that virtually all of them are liars and criminals.

And why not? They all worship our trinity’s third person – the Spirit of Violence itself.

Conclusion

Yes, what I’m saying is that almost all of us end up offering incense not to Christianity’s Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead, the God most of us worship is Violence pure and simple. In fact, most in our country would laugh in your face if you suggested adopting and implementing Jesus’ words about love and forgiveness of enemies. No, we prefer to hate and kill them – in the name of God. For most of us, anger and violence are stronger and more realistic than any ethic endorsed by the one honored in that church Mr. Trump used as a prop. As a people, Americans love Violence.

Today’s Trinity Sunday observance and the teachings of Jesus in general call us away from all that. They ask us to repudiate our idolatry of Violence – Father, Son and Evil Spirit – and to join peaceful protestors all over the world – in the Holy Spirit of Jesus himself. That Spirit remains 180 degrees opposed to our country’s allegiance to the status quo and its violent police state Trinity.

Preparing for Pentecost’s Enlightenment

Our readings for this Sixth Sunday of Easter are preparing us for Pentecost Sunday two weeks from today. That’s the day the church specifically celebrates the presence of Jesus Spirit in the world. It’s a Spirit that remains 180 degrees opposed to the world’s prevailing spirit of competition, violence, misogyny, and alienation from creation. The world’s is a spirit of fear and control that has nothing to do with what is finally important in life.

To all of that, today’s readings juxtapose Jesus’ own Spirit as one of healing, joy, and common good.

It recognizes human family, cooperation, non-violence, and respect for Mother Earth as the foundational elements of our lives.

Here’s the way I translate today’s readings (For the sake of comparison, you can find the originals here.): 

ACTS 8: 5-8, 14-17: It was care for others – psychological and physical healing – that caused people to pay attention to early presentations of Jesus’ New Way. It was life inspired by a Spirit of Wholeness that acknowledged the unity of all creation. The laying on of hands brought together symbolically and in reality, the left and right hemispheres of each person’s brain; yes, it made them whole and happy.

PSALMS 66: 1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 26: Such joy is God’s will for everyone everywhere on earth. It comes inevitably when we open our eyes to the beauty of creation and our ears to the songs it sings. But more than anything, joy comes from the miraculous liberation of the oppressed (as when former slaves crossed the Reed Sea). Our God is so kind and merciful.

1 PETER 3: 15-18: So, if anyone asks you why you’re so happy, tell them gently that it’s because you’ve discovered the Christ within yourself and within everyone you meet. Of course, most won’t believe you. They might even try to harm you. But remember, that’s the way they treated our great Master. Be assured that your non-violent response will eventually lead even violent opponents to embrace Jesus’ Spirit too.

JOHN 14: 15-21: In his last will and testament, Jesus promised that those who recognize the Christ present within themselves and everyone else will live by a truth 180 degrees opposite the “truth” of the world. The Truth of the Christ, he said, confers vision to perceive what’s invisible to worldly “wisdom” – the very presence of the divine in every human being. It enables them to recognize themselves (and the Christ) in everyone they meet.

A Return to Normal Should Be the Last Thing We Want

Readings for 4th Sunday of Easter: ACTS 2:14A, 36-41; PSALM 23: 1-6; 1 PETER 2: 20B-25; JOHN 10: 1-10

This week’s readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter contain an important message for us in this time of Coronavirus. They call us to personal and community transformation – to persist in our recently imposed collective abandonment of the world’s values around profit, pleasure, power and prestige – the ones that are destroying our planet and that were rejected by the great prophet from Nazareth.

Given our immediate context, the readings’ implied message is: Don’t simply pick up where you left off. Instead embrace the new life that Mother Nature has so recently imposed. When the smoke clears, don’t go back to normal.

That’s the highly political theme of today’s readings. They focus on the image of “Life Itself as our guiding Shepherd,” and Jesus as the gate to the sheepfold protecting those within from destructive “strangers.” In biblical symbolism, such references are loaded with political meaning. Since the time of King David, Judah’s kings had always been referred to as shepherds.

So, when today’s familiar responsorial says, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” It’s laying out a list of imperatives for kings like David. As God’s administrators, they are to make sure people have food and drink, shelter, leisure, and a clean and verdant environment.

And when John the evangelist has Jesus refer to himself as the sheepfold’s gatekeeper, John is calling attention to Jesus’ Way as leading from one reality (the world’s) to another, the fold he called the Kingdom of God. There, everything will be reversed. The first will be last; the last, first. The rich will be humiliated and the poor have the earth for their possession.

Unbelievably, the coronavirus has shed a bright light both on the corruption of what we’ve come to consider “normal,” and on what Arundhati Roy calls the “portal” and Jesus calls “the gate” leading to a revolutionary reality with kingdom overtones.

The Old Normality

To begin with, consider the old normal, specifically here in the United States.

Like the USSR in 1989, the USA has collapsed before our eyes in a matter of weeks. Yes, it’s already a fait accompli. And no one knows what to do about it.

The country’s economy has drawn to an absolute standstill. And it’s not going to return to normal any time soon. Unemployment is projected to exceed Great Depression proportions. People already routinely line up for blocks-long breadlines.

Moreover, the predominantly capitalist nature of America’s mixed economy has switched overnight to a predominantly socialist one. Instead of being allowed to perish (as capitalist theory would demand) the country’s largest enterprises have proven to require repeated bailouts from the central government. It happened with the Dot Com Burst of 2000, with the Great Recession in 2008, and now with the COVID-19 Crash of 2020. The system is completely unstable, and its survival requires those periodic infusions totaling trillions of dollars each time. Meanwhile millions go hungry and are left unemployed and wondering where their next meal might come from.

That’s called “socialism.” And in a matter of weeks, it’s happened in what we brag about as “the richest in the world.”

At the same time, the central government pledged by its Constitution to protect its citizens claims no responsibility to do so. It has left that obligation to local governments and to mutual aid organizations.

The resulting chaos has lifted the curtain that previously had prevented our realizing the actual swath of the sudden systemic collapse. Besides the political breakdown just noted, the disarray has touched at the very least, the following key elements:

  • Healthcare: Like nothing else, the COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the insanity of the U.S. healthcare non-system. We spend twice as much as the rest of the world in this area and end up with a vastly inferior product. U.S. healthcare has proven completely unable to respond to an absolutely predictable viral crisis. Disgracefully, with a far smaller population than China’s, we currently lead the world in Coronavirus deaths. As a result, polls show that a strong majority from both parties want to switch to single payer healthcare. However, presidential candidates from both parties, revealing their ownership by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, steadfastly refuse to even consider that option. 
  • U.S. Industry: America’s system of production has also proven far less able to respond to COVID-19 than China’s. Our industries cannot even produce enough cotton swabs, much less, simple products like virus test kits, hospital beds, or protective gear for its first responders. That too represents a failure of the underlying neoliberal capitalist system that has off-shored productive capacity for more than 40 years.

However, the systemic failure unfolding before our eyes goes much further. It touches:

  • A phantom democracy: Ours is a phony democracy. It is based on bribery masquerading as “campaign contributions.” Its voting machines are easily hackable. The reigning system of gerrymandering has politicians choosing voters rather than the reverse. Voter suppression is widespread and obvious. No wonder only about half of Americans bother to vote. 
  • A decayed infrastructure: Roads are potholed. Bridges are increasingly dangerous.
  • Homelessness: Our streets are filled with people sleeping on grates, while homes and office spaces lie empty. The system can’t bring the two together.
  • Overflowing Prisons: The United States imprisons a greater proportion of its people than any other country in the world. Most of them are black and brown. This racist system has an imprisonment rate 5 times higher than most countries in the world. And conditions in the privatized prisons are generally abominable.
  • A propagandized mainstream media (MSM): Six giant corporations – Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany and Viacom — own most newspapers, TV and radio stations. They act more like government propagandists and stenographers for politicians rather than fulfilling their traditionally assigned Fifth Estate function. Like those living in the former USSR, most of us have learned to mistrust the MSM in favor of on-line sources – the new samizdat equivalents.
  • A corrupt military: The U.S. military fights perpetual wars no one understands: To put down rebellions against its imperial policies, it currently spends (officially) nearly $2 billion each day ($718 billion in total annually). During the Obama administration, Americans dropped more than 26,000 bombs on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. Its drones terrorized populations in those countries on a daily basis. In other words, the United States continues to be what Dr. Martin Luther King called “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
  • A politicized “justice” system: The court system has been packed for the next generation to favor corporations and the rich rather than ordinary people. That’s true all the way up to the Supreme Court whose key decisions (like Citizens United) have neutered democracy and punished women and the poor. Its predominant right-wing members should be called “Injustices” rather than Justices. 

Today’s Readings

With all of that in mind, consider today’s readings as they centralize the primacy of Jesus’ “Way” over destructive values like those that the United States has come to embody. What follows are my “translations;” you can find the originals here.

ACTS 2: 14A, 36-41: Jewish Peter continues last week’s first Christian sermon: Peter says, “The crucified Jesus whom you mistakenly executed achieved the full Christ-consciousness the world has been waiting for.” When the crowd heard this they asked, “What then must we do?” Peter answered: “In the Spirit of the Christ, reject the world’s values and join us in the reformation of life dictated by our own holy faith.” Thousands of good Jews said “yes” that very day.

PSALM 23: 1-6: His listeners’ “yes” was premised on a traditional Jewish understanding of God: The Divine One is an accompanying kind Good Shepherd – the traditional symbol of a king. The divine order leaves no one in want, but provides food and drink, housing, rest, comfort, refreshment, courage, protection for everyone without distinction. 

1 PETER 2: 20B-25: In a later letter Peter elaborated: If the world hates and hurts you for trusting such a God, know that you must be doing something right. You’re actually following in the footsteps of Jesus. Remember how they insulted him and that he remained nonviolent even when it cost him his life. Such awareness will keep you whole and on the right path blazed for us by our beloved Good Shepherd.

John 10: 1-10: A even much later reflection on Jesus as Good Shepherd: Jesus often used strange imagery to confuse his enemies. For instance, he referred to himself as a shepherd and to foreign occupiers (“strangers”) as sheep rustlers. In today’s reading, he calls himself the “gate” of the sheepfold, but also the “gatekeeper.” In the spirit of Psalm 23 (above), he speaks of his friends as his “sheep” and the purpose of his shepherding as protection and fullness of life for them.  

Conclusion

As already indicated, Arundhati Roy recently picked up Jesus’ gate theme.  At the prospect of ending the current lockdown, she spoke of our standing before a “portal” leading to a new way of life. It opens onto the new world our Great Holy Mother Earth has displayed for us these last six weeks.

Whatever the immediate causes of the virus, it seems that the Goddess of All has used it to make us realize that the world’s catastrophic way of consumption, environmental destruction, hurry and stress is not inevitable. Rather, it is clearly possible for the entire world to leave all of that behind.

Our Mother has shown us unmistakably that we humans are the actual virus afflicting the world. With our infernal machines ground to a halt, the sky cleared, birds and animals returned to their natural habitat, and rivers ran clear again.

In fact, another world (previously considered impossible, unrealistic, and utopian) has been shown to be indeed possible. Its restoration constitutes the very meaning of the religious term “repentance.”

Cuba’s Response to the Coronavirus Is Far More Enlightened Than Ours

Readings for 4th Sunday of Lent: 1 Samuel 16: 6-7, 10-13A; Psalm 23: 1-6; Ephesians 5: 8-14; John 9: 1-41

This week’s liturgy of the word centralizes the concepts of blindness and darkness on the one hand and vision and light on the other. The constellation of readings is extremely relevant to our situation during this election season and time of Coronavirus.

Taken together, they claim that in the end, the processes of the Loving Universe (aka God) differ sharply from the choices of “the world.”  While the world chooses the rich and powerful to lead, God chooses the least. What the world calls “seeing” is really blindness enshrouded in darkness.  What it calls blindness is deeply perceptive and surrounded in light.

I’ll get to those readings in a minute. But before I do, consider their relevance to our culture’s own highly cultivated blindness.

On Our Blindness

Yes: from birth we’re taught to deny what’s staring us all in the face. We’re actually trained to be blind by our parents, culture, teachers and holy men. That imposed condition is exhibited today as we confront the world’s current pandemic crisis brought on by the Coronavirus.

Think of how our politicians both Republican and Democrat want us to deny what we’ve all seen with our own eyes.

Begin with the Republicans and Mr. Trump. (This is quite amusing.) Mr. Trump actually wants us to believe that he deserves a grade of “A” for dealing with the crisis that surfaced last December and which he ridiculed, belittled, and mocked all the way up until last week. Despite that clear record, the man’s dared to say, “This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

What?

Then there was Joe Biden’s admonition last week that we all close our eyes to the achievements of the Cuban revolution. This man was shocked and appalled by Bernie Sanders recognition regarding Cuba that “. . . (I)t’s simply unfair to say everything is bad.”

“No,” Biden insisted, since Cuba is a “brutal dictatorship,” it’s somehow wrong to recognize the truth acknowledged even by the vice president’s own mentor (Barack Obama). Obama said, “The United States recognizes progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its enormous achievements in education and in health care.” Biden doesn’t want us to see any of that.

But there’s more – even apart from the arguable fact that for nearly 20 years, the most brutal human rights violations in Cuba have been carried out by the United States in its heinous hellhole known as Guantanamo Bay.

Cuba’s Enlightened Humanity

The “more” is that Cuba is exhibiting much greater humanity and skill in dealing with the Coronavirus than is the United States. That is, even in this time of pandemic, “we” not only refuse to lift sanctions on Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, and the other countries we’re punishing for crimes very similar to our own and even surpassed by “friends” such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and the Philippines. We’re actually intensifying the sanctions in the case of Iran while it’s an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Evidently, for our leaders, there’s no recognition of human solidarity that transcends political considerations. They want us to forget that we’re all in this together – to be blind.

Meanwhile, Cuba has given docking privileges to a British cruise ship (and medical treatment to its passengers and crew) after those same privileges were refused elsewhere – even by Great Britain’s former colonies. Cuban authorities gave permission, they said, out of “humanitarian concerns” and the need for “a shared effort to confront and stop the spread of the pandemic.”

But Cuba’s response to the Coronavirus goes far beyond a one-off act of compassion. The country’s entire healthcare system is better equipped than ours for dealing with recurring epidemics like COVID-19, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika, and flu. And it’s not just a question of a Caribbean version of Medicare for All.

No, Cuba has a whole army of doctors to care not only for its own people, but also stands ready to respond to crises outside its borders. And it has done so repeatedly – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The country also offers free medical education to students from the United States, provided they pledge themselves to serve their local communities on their return home. Moreover, every barrio in the country has a doctor known by name, because she makes house calls!

Add to this Cuba’s highly developed system of urban and community gardens, its use of animal-intensive rather than carbon-intensive plowing, and its generally low-carbon economy, and you’ll see why it’s better equipped than we are to deal with food shortages caused by a breakdown of the commercial supply chain during emergencies like the one we’re now experiencing.

Then there’s the Cuban education system vilified here as propagandistic – as though ours were not. Besides the exemplary literacy program implemented at their revolution’s outset, Cubans study colonialism, imperialism, and the way capitalism works to cause, profit from and exacerbate inevitable human disasters like pandemics, hurricanes, world hunger, and climate change. The 60-year blockade and quarantine imposed on the island along with the presence of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp provide teachers with close-to-home illustrations of capitalism’s brutality. Meanwhile, our version of schooling (even at doctoral levels) never touches such matters. So, whose system is propagandistic?

The bottom line here is that far from being a brutal dictatorship, Cuba presents us with a model of response not only to COVID-19, but to healthcare in general, climate change, and education. It’s just that we’ve been made so blind by our political “leaders,” teachers, and priests that we cannot see it.   

Today’s Readings

With all of that in mind, consider today’s liturgical readings and what they have to say about seeing, insight, and light on the one hand blindness, superficiality and darkness on the other. Again, the selections could hardly be more relevant in this election season and time of COVID-19. Here are my “translations” of the texts. Once again, I urge you to read them for yourself here.

1 Samuel 16: 1B, 6-7, 10-13A

The Spirit of Life chooses national leadership from the least in the working class: The prophet Samuel was a great seer gifted with divine insight. Sent to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem, he sought Israel’s new King not from among the wealthy, but from a herdsman’s seven sons. However, his sharp prophetic perception found none of them worthy. “Have you no other son?” the prophet asked. “Well,” Jesse said, “David, my youngest is out in the field tending the sheep. But surely, he can’t be . . .” “Bring him to me,” the prophet growled. So, the youngest entered, red-faced and handsome. Seeing with God’s eyes, Samuel proclaimed, “This indeed is God’s chosen.” He then anointed David’s head with oil. And God’s Spirit rushed in upon the unsuspecting youth.   

Psalm 23: 1-6

We can trust such choices by the Great Spirit: This is true because ultimately the Holy Spirit is humanity’s shepherd; there is nothing, then, to fear. She has created for us peaceful pastures near gentle refreshing waters. She is our guide and encouragement even in moments of darkness when we are overwhelmed by threatening circumstances. Her spirit nourishes us and protects us from all enemies and has done so throughout our entire lives. Who could ask for more?

Ephesians 5: 8-14

Trusting the insights of seers like Jesus confers salvific vision: Thanks to the enlightened Jesus (and other seers), our once darkened lives are now filled with light, goodness, justice and truth. We can finally see! In fact, we can become light itself. So, when shameful evil comes into our presence, it is exposed as such; it is transformed into light and quite disappears. Seeing with enlightened eyes is like awaking from a deep sleep or even rising from the dead.  

John 9: 1-41

An illustration of how Jesus, his example and teaching can cure our blindness: As Light of the World, Jesus demonstrated the very meaning of enlightenment, when he met a beggar who was blind from birth (a metaphor for each of us). Living in blind darkness, Jesus said, is not the result of sin, but is part and parcel of the human condition. Escaping such shared handicap means overcoming the “wisdom” of the crowd, parental formation and religion itself. It means making choices based on personal experience of divine insight and then following Jesus (or some other enlightened avatar).

Conclusion

Wow! What clear direction at this crucial time! Seeing with God’s eyes reveals a world 180 degrees opposite the one endorsed by our culture, politicians, and even most church leaders. One hundred-eighty degrees!! If they say white, think black. If they say true, think lie. If they say peace, think war. We will not go far wrong adopting the working principle that our leaders lie whenever they move their lips. And that’s the truth.

Specifically, at this time of national choice and raging pandemic, the readings suggest that all of us are blind and zombie-like; we’re the walking dead. We can’t see what’s staring us in the face.

  • Contradicting today’s first reading, we reject worker-friendly leadership in favor of billionaires and corporate lackeys.
  • Blind as we are, we’re easily convinced by serial liars like Trump and Biden that up is down and that greed is good.
  • We actually still believe that even after Vietnam, Iraq, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Yemen, prison camps and baby jails on our southern border – after alliances with the likes of Bolsonaro, Duterte, MBS, Netanyahu . . . — we can still lecture the world about our need to combat “brutal dictatorships.”
  • We still believe that our election system – even after retention of the Electoral College, Citizens United, gerrymandering, voter suppression, hackable voting machines, and mile-long lines on election days – is still somehow the world’s gold standard for democracy.
  •  Above all, we still impossibly believe that capitalism is at all capable of functioning effectively at times of crisis like the ones we’re facing now. (Here in mid-March, it can’t even produce Coronavirus test kits equivalent to what China’s been using since December!) Somehow the belief in capitalism’s superiority persists even when the record shows that in time of war, natural disaster, and predictable systemic failures, we always resort to socialism. In fact, the rich demand it! That’s because socialism is less rigid and more efficient!
  • In the case of Cuba, we can’t even recognize that a poor socialist country, oppressed and impoverished by 60 years of U.S. quarantine and blockade has shown itself more flexible, generous and humane than its uber-rich capitalist neighbor to the north.

Could we be more blind?  

“Going for Broke”: The Maximalism of Jesus, Bernie Sanders & the Green New Deal

Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 12: 1-4A; Psalms 33: 4-5, 18-22; 2nd Timothy 1: 8b-10; Matthew 17: 1-9

The sudden revival of Joe Biden’s candidacy on Super Tuesday represents a victory for cautious centrists in the Democratic Party. They’re afraid of Bernie Sanders and his self-proclaimed revolution on behalf of the working class, low income earners, and the environment threatened by the devastations of climate change. They fear Sanders strategy of “Going for Broke.”

That strategy came in for criticism a few days ago from Paul Krugman in his New York Times op-ed called precisely that: “Bernie Sanders Is Going for Broke: Is maximalism the best political strategy?”

In the light of today’s liturgical readings for this Second Sunday of Lent, the phrase “going for broke” has special meaning. The day’s Gospel selection recounts the familiar story of Jesus’ “Transfiguration,” where on a high mountain, the Master’s appearance is transformed (enlightened) before three of his apostles as he dialogs there with Moses and Elijah. Today, I’d like to give that dramatic parable a unique spin and explain it in historical context — as liberation theologians might. I’ll retell the story in terms of Jesus establishing a go for broke strategy for himself and his followers on their paths of faith.

Before I get to that, however, consider Krugman’s rejection of that approach.

Krugman’ Rejection of Maximalism

The jumping off point for his criticism of “maximalism” was a Sanders ad centralizing Barack Obama’s praise for the Vermont senator over the years. Krugman argued that such association is disingenuous since (in Krugman’s words) Sanders’ approach is a “go for broke maximalism” as opposed to Obamism which the columnist described as accepting “incremental, half-a-loaf-is-better-than-none politics.”

Echoing traditionalist appeals for gradualism in the face of the Civil Rights and Women’s Suffragist movements (not to mention Republican talking points), Krugman alleged, that Sanders’ maximalism is unrealistic. After all, it includes “complete elimination of private health insurance and a vast expansion of government programs that would require major tax increases on the middle class as well as the wealthy.” And Sanders would do all of this, the columnist argued, on the theory that it would win over white working-class constituents and bring a surge of new voters.

Krugman concluded “unfortunately, no evidence supports this political theory.”

Apart from the fact that Sanders’ strategy actually does find historical precedent in Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s (as Krugman himself argued on “Democracy Now” a week earlier), the columnist’s words ignore the fact that only a “go for broke” strategy can save the planet at this moment of climate emergency.

Simply put, the planet cannot endure another four years of Bidenesque gradualism (much less of Trumpian denial). Instead, the required strategy is what Sanders and progressive Democrats have proposed as the Green New Deal, which Biden, Krugman, and establishment incrementalists studiously ignore.

Jesus’ Embrace of Maximalism

This Sunday’s Gospel reading announces Jesus’ strategy of maximalism in the face of his people’s unprecedented crisis in the early years of the first century. (Actually, however, Jesus’ crisis is dwarfed by the one the entire human race faces today.)

Be that as it may, consider Jesus’ maximalism. Today’s reading finds the young carpenter from Nazareth on his way to Jerusalem, where he knows something extremely risky is about to happen. Yet he’s determined to be part of it. The risky action has to do with the temple and the collaboration of its leaders with the Roman Empire.

The temple has become worse than irrelevant to the situation of Jesus’ people living under Roman oppression. What happens there not only ignores Jewish political reality. The temple leadership has become the most important Jewish ally of the oppressing power. And Jesus has decided to address that intolerable situation despite inevitable risks of failure.

Everyone knows that a big demonstration against the Romans is planned in Jerusalem for the weekend of Passover. There’ll be chanting mobs. The slogans are already set. “Hosanna, hosanna, in the highest” will be one chant. Another will be “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Hosanna” is the key word here. It means “save us!” (The Romans won’t notice that the real meaning is “Save us from the Romans.” “Restore an independent Israel – like David’s kingdom!”) It was all very political.

Jesus has heard that one of the main organizers of the demonstration is the guerrilla Zealot called Barabbas. Barabbas doesn’t call what’s planned a “demonstration.” He prefers the term “The Uprising” or “the Insurrection” (Mk. 15:6-8).

Barabbas has a following as enthusiastic as that of Jesus. After all, Barabbas is a “sicarius” – a guerrilla whose solemn mission is to assassinate Roman soldiers and their Jewish collaborators. His courage has made him a hero to the crowds. (Scripture scholar, John Dominic Crossan compares him to the Mel Gibson character in “The Patriot.”)

Jesus’ assigned part in the demonstration will be to attack the Temple and symbolically destroy it. He plans to enter the temple with his friends and disrupt business as usual. They’ll all loudly denounce the moneychangers whose business exploits the poor. They’ll turn over their tables.

As a proponent of non-violence, Jesus and his band are thinking not in Barabbas’ terms of “uprising,” but of forcing God’s hand to bring in the Lord’s “Kingdom” to replace Roman domination. Passover, the Jewish holiday of national independence could not be a more appropriate time for the planned demonstration. Jesus is thinking in terms of “Exodus,” Israel’s founding act of rebellion.

And yet, this peasant from Galilee (even like Paul Krugman and establishment Democrats) is troubled by it all. What if the plan doesn’t work and God’s Kingdom doesn’t dawn this Passover? What if the Romans succeed in doing what they’ve always done in response to uprisings and demonstrations? Pilate’s standing order to deal with lower class disturbances is simply to arrest everyone involved and crucify them all as terrorists. Why would it be different this time?

So before setting out for Jerusalem, Jesus takes his three closest friends and ascends a mountain for a long night of prayer. He’s seeking reassurance before the single most important act of his life. As usual, Peter, James and John soon fall fast asleep. True to form they are uncomprehending and dull.

However, while the lazy fall into unconsciousness, the ever alert and thoughtful Jesus has a vision. Moses appears to him, and so does Elijah. (Together they represent the entire Jewish scriptural testament – the law and the prophets.) This means that on this mountain of prayer, Jesus considers his contemplated path in the light of his people’s entire tradition.

According to the Jews’ credal summary in Deuteronomy 26, their whole national story centered on the Exodus. Fittingly then, Jesus, Moses, and Elijah “discuss” what is about to take place in Jerusalem. Or as Luke puts it, “And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Jesus’ Exodus!!

It is easy to imagine Moses’ part in the conversation. That would be to remind Jesus of the chances Moses took when he led the original Exodus from Egypt. That might have failed too. Nevertheless . . .

Elijah’s part was likely to recall for Jesus the “prophet script” that all prophets must follow. That script has God’s spokespersons speaking truth to power and suffering the inevitable consequences.

Elijah reminds Jesus: So what if Barabbas and those following the path of violence are defeated again? So what if Jesus’ non-violent direct action in the temple fails to bring in the Kingdom? So what if Jesus is arrested and crucified? That’s just the cost of doing prophetic business. Despite appearances to the contrary, Jesus’ faithful God will somehow triumph in the end.

Conclusion

Is there a message for us here as Bernie Sanders (the most honest politician our country has produced in generations) calls us towards a maximalist response to a world-wide crisis so much worse than the one that faced Jesus’ people under Roman domination?

I think there is.

Today’s readings tell us that God’s People are not to be led by frightened little men who place security and their own careers above compassion for the poor, the oppressed, and Mother Nature Herself. Faith is not primarily about cooperating with denialists, settling for half-a-loaf or about gradualism advocated by the rich and their comfortable allies. The crisis facing the human race is unprecedented. It calls for maximalism far beyond what Krugman criticizes in Sanders. At the very least, it calls for a Green New Deal, which Krugman could not even bring himself to mention.

No: faith is not at all about gradualism. It’s about risk on behalf of God’s creation and the poor, who will suffer most from the ravages of climate change.

Yes, Mr. Krugman, there are people like you and Mrs. Biden who say they are concerned, but who cancel out such claims by fearful, self-defeating caution and cowardly willingness to sacrifice even the lives of their children and grandchildren for a near-term, more-of-the-same future. There, Mr. Biden has promised his corporate supporters, “Nothing fundamental will change.”

Such people cannot claim to be followers of the prophetic Jesus of Nazareth. In our present crisis, those of us who do are called to adopt nothing short of the maximalism Paul Krugman fears.

First Sunday of Lent: Jesus (and Blessed Eve!) Instruct on How to Distinguish Good from Evil

Today’s liturgy of the word is about the moral imperative to choose good over evil. It presents the capacity to do so as the fundamental characteristic distinguishing humans from animals. In its culminating reading, it offers Jesus as the prime example of rejecting the world’s values over God’s. The two are always 180 degrees opposed to each other.

Here are my “translations” of the day’s readings. They urge a kind of anarchistic antinomianism on us all. The originals can be found here. Please check them out for yourself; they are quite interesting.

Genesis 2: 7-9: God breathed his own life into the unevolved Earth Creature who lived in a lush jungle filled with everything the animal needed, except the human ability to judge right from wrong. But then the Creature having divided in two, saw its heroic “better half” listen to the Wise Serpent (the Goddess symbol for 50,000 years) who disclosed the dreadful secret that human choice between good and evil might make her and her man like gods who know everything – even their damned mortality. Thus, they became human and (alas!) ashamed.

Psalm 51: 3-6, 12-13, 17: That false shame has made us feel guilty, dirty and offensive. It has caused us to desperately and repeatedly beg forgiveness for simply being what God has made us – embodied spirits called to joy by the one who is great, compassionate and present within each of us as our very Self.

Romans 5: 12-19: [Frankly, I don’t know how to translate the passage just cited. Its complex, circular, rabbinical reasoning is impenetrable to outsiders. (It makes one wonder why such readings are chosen. Who can understand them?) Nevertheless, taking account of the wider context of Paul’s letter to the Romans, a translation might come out something like the following.] Indeed, like the heroic Eve, Paul of Tarsus identified false ideas of God and religion’s guilt-inducing Law, as the sources of human shame, self-reproach and unhappiness (what he called “sin.” Meanwhile, he said: Jesus – the long-awaited New Man – has delivered us from all of that. Freed from legal restrictions, Jesus revealed the real autonomous choices everyone must make.

Matthew 4: 4B: This teaching is as nourishing as strong nutritious bread.

Matthew 4: 1-11:  Paul’s teaching was confirmed during Jesus’ vision quest in the desert. Forty days and nights of heat and cold, prayer and fasting, brought the visions sought – of seductive devils and ministering angels with fevered dreams inviting Faustian bargains to exchange his soul for bread, suicidal fame, and magnificent kingdoms. Instead (and following his Mother Eve) Jesus chose Original Goodness over the world’s Primal Sin prostrating itself before personified pleasure, power, profit, and prestige.

The Most Revealing Take-Away from the Nevada Debate: Our Problems Have Been Solved

Readings for Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18; Psalms: 103: 1-13; 1st Corinthians: 3: 16-23; 1 JN 2:5; Matthew 5: 38-48

Last week’s Democratic debate was the most interesting and revealing yet. And we have Mike Bloomberg to thank for that. His tone-deaf buffoonery was stunning and just happens to be intimately connected with this Sunday’s liturgical readings.

Taken together, the readings and Bloomberg’s performance show us that all the problems addressed in the debate have already been solved – especially that of religiously inspired terrorism despite its not being addressed in last Wednesday’s “show.”

I say all that because today’s selections contrast the foolish wisdom of the world (embodied in billionaires like Bloomberg) with the contradictory visions of Moses and Jesus the Christ who are prophets not just for Christians and Jews, but for Muslims as well. As such, their words call us to recognize our absolute unity with our neighbors, and to reject entirely the Bloombergian separative thinking of the world. What we do to others, the readings tell us, we do to ourselves.

But before we get to that, let’s recall what happened on Wednesday. 

As far as I was concerned, the most instructive moment came not when Mr. Bloomberg declined to release women from their non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). It wasn’t even when he arrogantly joked about the inability of TurboTax to help determine his annual attempts at gargantuan tax evasion.

No, it came in a throw-away line in his exchange with Elizabeth Warren about her proposed “two-cent wealth tax.” Almost as an aside, he said something like, “Well, of course I don’t agree with Senator Warren’s tax proposal.” He then went on to make another of his monumentally vacuous non-points.

I only wish one of the moderators or debaters had followed up: “What exactly is your objection to a two-cent tax? Would it somehow diminish your lifestyle or impoverish you?”

Bernie Sanders came closest to asking that question when he raised the issue of capitalism’s immorality. He observed:

“We have a grotesque and immoral distribution of wealth and income. Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. That’s wrong. That’s immoral. That should not be the case when we got a half a million people sleeping out on the street, where we have kids who cannot afford to go to college, when we have 45 million people dealing with student debt. We have enormous problems facing this country, and we cannot continue seeing a situation where, in the last three years, billionaires in this country saw an $850 billion increase in their wealth — congratulations, Mr. Bloomberg — but the average American last year saw less than a 1 percent increase in his or her income. That’s wrong.”

There, Bernie said it: capitalism is a highly immoral system. No Jewish prophet; not Moses, not even Jesus of Nazareth could have said it better.  We have the money – unlimited resources – to solve the world’s problems. However, those resources remain locked up in the vaults of the world’s 2000 billionaires. Fact is: their living standards would not be lowered by Warren’s 2% tax. Mr. Bloomberg’s lifestyle would even be unaffected if billionaires like him were outlawed altogether and if as a result, he lost 49.1 billion of his 50-billion-dollar bank account.

Yet, those resources (along with similar confiscations from other billionaires) could absolutely eliminate our material problems not merely in the United States, but throughout the entire world. Despite that undeniable fact, the billionaires and their kept allies refuse to entertain even the possibility of such taxation.

Could anything demonstrate more clearly the immorality of the reigning system?

In other words, the super-rich and corporate “persons” along with their servants in the mainstream media, and in the United States Congress prevent us from seeing that the solutions to the world’s problems are already here and staring us in the face. Yes, the world’s major problems have already been solved!

And I’m not just talking about correcting wealth inequality through confiscatory tax rates on the world’s billionaires. I’m also referring to “problems” like immigration, Medicare for all, free college tuition, forgiveness of college loans, the $15.00 an hour minimum wage, the Green New Deal, world peace, and especially (in the light of today’s readings) terrorism. To repeat: all of those problems (and more) have already been solved. It’s just that the prevailing received wisdom prevents us from recognizing it.

Consider the issues just mentioned one-by-one and how they’ve already been effectively addressed:

  • Immigration: The United States, Canada, and Australia prove that nations made up almost entirely of immigrants (most of them poor at the beginning) cannot only survive but thrive. There is nothing to fear from even the poorest of immigrants. Virtually all of us are descended from such outsiders. Why not make it as easy for immigrants to enter our country today as it was when our parents, grandparents or great grandparents came over? It’s already been done.
  • Medicare for all: Publicly funded healthcare has outperformed (and at much lower cost) the U.S. privately funded system in every industrialized country. The same has happened in the U.S. itself in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, and as plans provided by the Veterans’ Health Administration, and by those extended to U.S. legislators. Medicare for All merely expands already proven systems. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Free College Tuition: We already have publicly funded elementary and high schools. Why not extend that funding to public colleges and universities? Mr. Bloomberg’s billions could take care of that.
  • College Loan Forgiveness: Michael Hudson has shown that periodic debt forgiveness has been an engine of economic growth since ancient times. It was even enshrined and required in the Hebrew Testament (Leviticus 25: 8-13) as well as centralized in Jesus’ preaching (Luke 4: 19). Moreover, billionaires (like Messrs. Bloomberg and Trump) declare bankruptcy all the time. Why exclude students from such relief?
  • Minimum Wage: A $15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage is already a fact in Seattle, New York, in the Amazon workforce, and elsewhere. It provenly works to raise working class living standards.
  • Green New Deal: In the 1930s FDR’s New Deal fundamentally changed the economic landscape of the United States including (for the first time) a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, social security, and a government jobs program employing millions. The result was the creation of a large, previously non-existent prosperous middle class. Similar even more robust programs were enacted throughout Western Europe even though its infrastructure had been devastated by the Second Inter-Capitalist War. In other words, the Green New Deal is not unprecedented. Its suggested provisions are affordable and have highly successful and popular precedents.
  • World Peace: Think about it. Current crises with Iraq, Korea, Russia, China, Iran, Syria and elsewhere have been manufactured — absolutely pulled out of the air. None of those countries represent mortal threat to the United States. And in any case, the tools for resolving international conflicts already exist under the auspices of the United Nations. Those who routinely ignore those tools and associated laws are not our “enemies,” but ourselves and our “allies.” “We” are the agents who employ force, sanctions, droning, and bombing as a first resort rather than observe international law and UN procedures for avoiding international conflict. Our merely observing international law would represent a giant step towards world peace.

But, of course, the wisdom of the world denies all of the above. It would convince us that reform is without precedent, that those proposing it are radicals, and that their proposals are unrealistic and impossible to implement. They would even have us believe that Bloombergian and Trumpian wealth based on individualism, competition, and separateness are somehow compatible with the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Today’s readings make the opposite point and condemn as heretical such received wisdom. Instead, the readings emphasize the unity of humankind and the need to reject the world’s ideology.

And that’s where the connection with terrorism comes in. The fact is that the world’s leading terrorists are religiously motivated Jews, Christians and Muslims. Yet, all three accept the Bible as inspired. All three recognize Moses and Jesus as hallowed prophets. All three claim to endorse the basic teachings of those prophets as contained in today’s readings. Such convergence represents a basis for eliminating terrorism far more powerful than bombs, drones or boots on the ground.

To see what I mean, please consider today’s readings in my translated form. (And do check them out here to see if I have them right.) They describe the basis for replacing armed conflict with peaceful religious dialog.

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18: Moses called Yahweh’s people to divine holiness outlawing all hatred, grudges and any type of revenge. All such animosity, he warned, ultimately equates with self-hatred.

Psalms: 103: 1-13 This is because God’s very essence is kindness, compassion, generosity, and unbounded forgiveness.

1st Corinthians: 3: 16-23:And that essence is ours too. Hence, destroying another person represents an attack not only on God but on our Selves. Such profound wisdom is 180 degrees opposed to the world’s foolhardy “savoir faire.” Therefore, accepting Jesus means rejecting received wisdom.

1 JN 2:5:  In other words, following Jesus’ teaching (and btw the Buddha’s, Mohammed’s, Krishna’s, Lao Tzu’s, and that of history’s great humanists) is the only way of pleasing God

Matthew 5: 38-48: More specifically, the world teaches eye for eye revenge, retaliation two for one, suing at the drop of a hat, suspicion of borrowers and beggars, and hatred of enemies. However, (along with Moses) Jesus counsels exactly the opposite: gentleness, generosity, having no enemies at all, loving even those who cause us pain, recognition that all are neighbors loved equally by the One whose sun and rain benefit everyone without distinction. Yes, our neighbor (including “enemies”) is our very Self!

Can you see how the wisdom expressed in those readings provide a basis for dialog rather than for armed conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslims? Can you see how rejecting the “wisdom of the world” reveals that the world’s most pressing problems have already been solved? None of them is new, unprecedented, or insoluble.

It’s time for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to unite in a shared project that opens everyone’s eyes to those facts. It’s time to expropriate the Bloombergs, Trumps and their corporate allies who deny solutions that are absolutely staring everyone in the face.