How Marianne Williamson Won Thursday’s Debate (Sunday Homily)

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 ignored others.  

Meanwhile, 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.

As 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.

A 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.”

The book’s 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?”

Even 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).

According 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. For instance:

  • The 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.  
  • The 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!”
  • Similarly, 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.

With such 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.

Forgiveness, 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.  

In this 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!)

Yes, for 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 reparations due.

Imagine 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.

As her 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.

Today’s Readings   

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.

Conclusion

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.  

Bread and Wine for War and Peace (Readings for the Solemnity of Christ’s Body & Blood)

In preparation for next Sunday’s commemoration of the Solemnity of Christ’s Body and Blood, here is my “translation” of the day’s sacred texts including its special sequence, “Lauda Sion.” Please read the originals yourselves to see what they might suggest by way of practical application. To me, they say something about priesthood, its perversions, and rejection by Jesus. More universally, they call me to think revolutionary thoughts about throwing off ALL inherited structures responsible, as they are, for war and impending omnicide. As Marx taught, any criticism worth its salt begins with religion. 
GN 14: 18-20
 
Melchizedek fed Abram,
Bread and wine.
Assuring the patriarch
Of God’s favor
In his mid-east wars,
Provided the sheik
Gave the priest
A tenth of all he possessed.
 
PS 110: 1-4
 
Subsequent clergy
In Melchizedek’s line
Have done the same
For kings who tithe
Promising them
Enemies become footstools
Forever and ever!
 
 
I COR 11: 23-26
 
Jesus
Like that gnarly pastor,
Served bread and wine too
But for God’s peace
Not Melchizedek’s war.
Those who shared
His simple meal
Were to re-member the Christ
And make his presence real
As Prince of Peace.
 
Sequence Lauda Sion
 
Yes, Melchizedek’s offering
Is turned upside-down
By the priesthood’s
Severest critic.
Who feeds both
Kings and shepherds.
Apostles and us
Uniting all
And replacing
Antique class-warfare
And our own
Damnable understandings
Of Eucharist
With a picnic of peace
So that wheat and grape
Might become
OUR flesh and blood,
To afterwards incarnate
Christ’s own body
To complete his work
On earth.
 
LK 9: 11B-17

So what's the point
Of this parable's tale
(Ironically chosen
By Melchizedek's sons)
If not to say
What Eucharist's for
To feed the hungry
Towards peace not war.
No Melchizedek
No miracle
No market
No priesthood
No transubstantiation's
Required here.
“Do it yourselves”
Jesus told his friends
(And us).
And that’s just
What the apostles
(And a little boy)
Did
To everyone’s satisfaction
With lots left-over!
Let those with ears to hear . . .

Marianne Williamson: The Most Radical Candidate

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 Spirit:

  • 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.

What Stephen Saw (Yet We Do Not) — Homily for 7th Sunday of Easter

Readings for Seventh Sunday of Easter

ACTS 7:55-60

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.






	

Marianne Williamson and War (Memorial Day Sunday Homily)

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

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

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

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

Marianne Williamson and Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus and Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Ash Wednesday Reflection

Lent begins tomorrow. March 6th is Ash Wednesday.

But what does that mean for activists who are aspiring to follow in the footsteps of the great prophet, dissident, teacher of unconventional wisdom, story-teller, mystic, and movement founder, Yeshua of Nazareth?

The question is obscured by long centuries of covering up those identities in favor of Jesus’ overwhelming identification as “Son of God.” Son of God swallows up all the rest and makes it difficult, if not impossible to engage in what Thomas a Kempis called “The Imitation of Christ.”

But for the moment, suppose we set aside “Jesus the Christ,” and concentrate on that man his mother named Yeshua. He lived in a time not unlike our own, in a province occupied by an empire similar to ours. He found those conditions unbearable and devoted his public life to replacing the “Pax Romana” with what he called the “Kingdom of God.” There the world would be governed not by those wearing Roman jackboots, or by the law of the strongest, but by compassion and gift – even towards those his culture saw as undeserving.

The latter was “Good News” for the poor and oppressed among whom he found himself and his friends – laborers, working girls, beggars, lepers infected with a disease not unlike AIDS, and those fortunate enough to have government work as toll gatherers. He ate with such people. He drank wine with them. Some said he got drunk with them (MT11:19). He defended such friends in public. And he harshly criticized their oppressors, beginning with his religion’s equivalents of popes, bishops, priests, ministers, and TV evangelists. “Woe to you rich!” he said. “White-washed tombs!” he called the religious “leaders” (LK 6:24, MT 23:27).

What does it mean to follow such an activist and champion of the poor this Ash Wednesday March 6th, 2019?

I would say it means first of all to ask that question and to pray humbly for an answer.

Other questions for this Lent: Does following Jesus mean taking a public stance against empire and “church” as he did? Does it mean praying for the defeat of U.S. imperial forces wherever they wage their wars of expansion and aggression? Does it mean discouraging our daughters and sons from participating in a disgrace-full military? Does it mean leaving our churches which have become the white-washed tombs of a God who through failed church leadership has lost credibility and the vital capacity to effectively summon us beyond our nationalism, militarism, and addiction to guns and violence? Does it mean lobbying, making phone calls on behalf of and generally supporting those our culture finds undeserving and “unclean?”

Does it mean for Catholics that we somehow make our voices heard all the way to Rome demanding that Pope Francis save the church from itself by healing the wounds of the pedophilia crisis, reversing the disaster of “Humanae Vitae’s” prohibition of contraception, allowing women to become priests, and eliminating mandatory celibacy as a prerequisite for ordination?

Yes, I think, it means all of those things. But Lent also calls for self-purification from the spirit that arrogantly locates all the world’s evils “out there” in “those people.” In its wisdom, the grassroots church of Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, of Daniel and Phil Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Ignacio Ellacuria, Jean Donovan, and Matthew Fox calls us to deepen our interior lives for purposes of sharpening our discernment about how to contribute towards replacing empire with God’s Kingdom. All of those saints, remember, were condemned by the hierarchy just the way Yeshua was in his own day.

Six weeks is a relatively long time for the purification necessary to eliminate undesirable patterns in our lives and to replace them with habits exemplified in the lives of the saints just mentioned. It’s plenty of time for working on our addictions to the pursuit of pleasure, profit, power, and prestige. Each of us knows what behaviors in our own lives are associated with those categories. So, it’s time to get to work.

As for myself . . . besides using this period for training my senses, I intend to recommit myself with renewed fervor to my daily practice of meditation, my mantram (“Yeshua, Yeshua”), spiritual reading, slowing down, one-pointed attention, spiritual companionship, and putting the needs of others first – the eight-point program outlined by Eknath Easwaran in his book Passage Meditation. Over the past two years, I’ve been keeping a spiritual journal to make sure I stay focused.

For the past two years, I’ve also been taking A Course in Miracles (ACIM) as explained by now-presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson. I’m going through the manual’s 365 lessons for a second time and find it absolutely challenging. It’s helping me distance myself further from the world’s shadows projected in our Plato’s-Cave-world. It’s giving me, what I described in another context, a set of “magic glasses” that confer a world-vision 180 degrees opposite the one that reigns here in the United States.

During Lent, I’ll continue my ACIM work – including redoubled efforts on behalf of Marianne Williamson’s candidacy. Regardless of what one might think of her chances of success, her message needs to be taken seriously. In the end, it’s about replacing politics driven by fear with policy shaped by the compassion of Jesus and the most admirable people in history. (Marianne’s candidacy forces the question on believers: Do we really believe Jesus’ words? Do we?)

I hope anyone reading this will feel free to offer other suggestions. I’m sure you agree that these are extraordinary times. They call for extraordinary political and spiritual commitment. In the spirit of Yeshua and all those saints I mentioned, we need to pool our resources.  

Americans Love Jesus, but Hate His Politics

Readings for 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1 SM 28: 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; PS 103: 1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; I COR 15: 45-49; LK 6: 27-38

This Sunday’s instruction from Jesus stands on its own. Comment seems hardly necessary.

Instead, Jesus’ unadorned words should turn bright red the faces of all in our country who claim to be his followers. For they contradict our economic system and entire way of life driven as it is by the military-industrial complex, unending wars, and an economic system that victimizes the poorest among us, while enriching beyond belief a tiny minority.

Moreover, Jesus’ teachings call entirely into question the “realism” of mainstream politicians. Such realism ridicules anyone (like Marianne Williamson) who might have us adopt Jesus’ approach before it’s too late.

Think about that in the light of our readings from the Gospel of Luke these past few weeks. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a summary of Jesus’ absolutely radical, highly political program found in the passages we’ve read. To begin with, he describes his entire purpose in this way:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me 
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Notice the undeniable political thrust of Jesus’ teaching. He emphasizes bringing good news to the impoverished. He wants to clear out the prisons, to cure the disabled and liberate those oppressed (by the Roman empire that controlled Israel in Jesus’ day). Notice he is proclaiming a Jubilee Year with its debt forgiveness, release of slaves, and radical land reform. That’s Jesus’ agenda. It’s undeniably political; it’s directed towards the poor.

And just in case we might miss the point, our readings of just last week had Jesus continue like this:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh . . .
But woe to you who are rich . . .
Woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false
prophets in this way.”

As I indicated last week, those words should shock us. Jesus’ words turn everything upside-down. It’s the poor who are God’s favored, not the rich. According to his promise, the poor will govern God’s Kingdom (a highly politicized image for what the world would be like if God were king instead of Caesar). By contrast, the rich, well-fed, the apparently happy and admired stand in God’s disfavor.

Read those words again. Imagine if our leaders insisted that they instead of the Ten Commandments be posted in front of our court houses and on school walls! “Blessed are you poor! Woe to you rich!”

But the evangelist still isn’t finished. Here’s what he has Jesus say in today’s Gospel selection:

“To you who hear, I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you . . .  (L) end expecting nothing back . . .”

And yet, despite such clear instruction, here’s what our “Christian” criminals in Washington do (with scarcely a whimper of objection from us “believers”):

  • They spend more on war than the next 12 countries combined.
  • They’re currently fighting wars against poor people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Ethiopia – having just destroyed Libya and previously most of the countries in Central America.
  • Against all the principles of international law, they’re tightening the screws on Venezuela causing hunger and shortages of medicine in order to spark rebellion against a government that has not attacked the United States.
  • They have their eyes set on regime change in Nicaragua and Cuba which have harmed the U.S. in no way at all.
  • They’re cooperating with Saudi Arabia in bombing to smithereens Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. (And virtually none of us can explain exactly why. Can you?)

With that in mind, doesn’t it seem true to say U.S. policy (especially towards the world’s poor) is 180 degrees opposed to what Jesus is reported to have said? It’s as if Jesus taught:

“To you who hear I say, hate your enemies. Annihilate those who disagree with you. Curse those who speak ill of you. Condemn those who retaliate against you. If someone defends himself by striking you back, waste him. And take everything from the person who tries to recover what you yourselves have stolen; put them in prison and throw away the key. Ignore those who seek alms from you; they’re just lazy freeloaders. And jail the one who takes what your system denies him making sure he pays back every cent with interest. Do others before they can do you. Lend at the highest rate of interest the market will bear – even if it causes women and children to starve.”

Just look at the world such departures from Jesus’ wisdom have produced!

Still, when someone (e.g. like Marianne Williamson) comes forward calling the nation to a radical spiritual change based on the elementary teaching found not only in Christianity but in all religions – viz. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – she’s dismissed as “impractical,” “unrealistic,” and “new age”

No, that teaching is “old age.” It comes from Jesus! It represents his political program.

Isn’t it time for politicians to reverse course and follow the teachings of the spiritual Master they claim as the Savior of the world? For starters, truly following Jesus’ political program that we’ve reviewed these past few weeks would have us:

  • Assume leadership in the fight against climate change
  • Cut our defense budget by at least two-thirds
  • Withdraw from all foreign wars
  • Repair the damage done by those conflicts
  • Close our country’s military bases across the world
  • Forgive the debt of the former colonies
  • Completely reform our prison system from one dominated by punishment to one centered on rehabilitation
  • Make reparation to the descendants of former slaves
  • Renounce interference in foreign elections (as we would have others do in relation to our own voting system)
  • And so much more

You get the idea. I get the idea. Or maybe we can’t . . .