Random Notes from a Bunker against Fascism

  • Black Lives Matter may represent the largest social movement in American history. So, it has a lot of powerful very scared.
  • Over the Memorial Day weekend, I had a couple of discouraging encounters with “liberal” opponents of Black Lives Matter. They had vague issues with the organization’s “funding,” “corruption,” “hypocrisy,” and “policy” such as defunding the police.  
  • In one case, circumstances forced me to listen to a podcast of the type just mentioned. It was extremely critical of BLM – all in the name of independent thinking, balance, fairness, neutrality, and self-criticism. However, the liberals in question had no alternative to BLM. And so, in effect, they had joined forces with the right wing and status quo which gladly embrace such “fair-minded” liberals to keep blacks and browns in their place.
  • The syndrome is familiar. Any successful progressive organization or leader will be subject to such denigrations, personal attacks, “revelations,” and throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They did it to King; they did it to Gandhi; they did it to Jesus. It’s all an ancient right-wing strategy defending the putrid way things are.
  • Progressives have got to decide which side we’re on. Are we on the side of the victims of white supremacy or not? (And yes, contrary to the official story, there are victims in this world — victims of “our” policy!)
  • The truth is that if we’re not with BLM, we are against it. Why give and comfort to the fascists and make the perfect the enemy of the good?
  • What on earth are Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema thinking by resisting the voting reforms of HR1 and the Pro Act? They’re allowing Republicans to fix all future elections. Face it: Manchin and Sinema are really Republicans. Contrary to post-election happy talk, the Democrats really don’t have control of the Senate. Manchin and Sinema should be primaried.
  • What we studied as U.S. history in school was in reality Confederate history – no true account of slavery, labor movements, women’s struggle for the vote, or indigenous slaughter.
  • And those Confederate statues? Imagine what we’d think if Germany celebrated Nazism like that — statues of Hitler, Goering, Himmler, Eichmann. . . You won’t find monuments like those in Germany, but you will find their equivalents all over this great country of ours.
  • And what’s with all this anti-Russian and anti-Chinese propaganda? Everything nefarious that happens especially in the fields of “cyber-attacks,” Covid-19, and election improprieties is “potentially” linked to China or Russia (and “reportedly” to their governments). Where’s the evidence? Don’t be fooled. It’s all CIA B.S.
  • Never forget what CIA head, Mike Pompeo, said about the CIA. He admitted that they lie, cheat, and steal all they time. The CIA offers its spooks entire courses on the topics. The CIA and its agents are not our friends. Never were.
  • Neither is the U.S. military. We shouldn’t be proud of it. Never forget what MLK said about our country. “It’s the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” Should we be proud that our children are part of such a gang? Yes, it’s a huge gang.
  • At last count, “we’re” now fighting seven wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Niger, Yemen, Somalia – and who knows where else?). Do any of us care? The people under our bombing attacks do.
  • Tell me: is it better to deal with terrorism by killing alleged terrorists in those countries just mentioned (along with their children) or with re-education camps like the ones our “leaders” are so outraged about in Northwest China? (Actually, we know nothing about those camps.) Think about that.
  • “We” maintain 800 military bases throughout the world. Do you know how many extra-territorial bases China has? One! One!!
  • We drop bombs on Muslims every day. China hasn’t dropped a bomb on another country in more than 40 years.
  • Why was apartheid in South Africa despicable, but not in Israel-Palestine?
  • The U.S. of A is exactly in the position that Hitler aspired to gain in the 1930s. We control the world by military might.
  • And long before Hitler, we had already sponsored our own Holocaust (slaughtering more than 100 million indigenous here). It started centuries before Hitler’s atrocious but small by comparison carnage.
  • Sad to say: it seems the world would be better off in so many ways without the U.S.of A.
  • Does the evidence show that the Sandinistas may well have been right in identifying us Yankees as the “enemy of mankind?”

Mad as Hell!

Don’t get too excited about Joe Biden and his pretense at boldness in the model of FDR.

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FDR? Don’t make me laugh. Biden doesn’t even measure up to Eisenhower’s liberalism!

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The man and his party have already surrendered to the fascist Republicans who are busy passing new Jim Crow laws to insure their continued minority rule. The Democrats could prevent that by passing the “For the People” Act (HR1). But that would insure continued Democratic rule. It would also require suspension of the Senate filibuster. Uncle Joe and the Dems tremble at the very thought.

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Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats just won’t play hard ball. Remember how the fascists refused to even consider Obama’s SCOTUS appointment, Merrick Garland? With the presidential election 11 months off, they said they wanted “the American People” to have a voice in the matter. Then the fascists turned around and rushed through the appointment of a right-wing fanatic Amy Coney Barrett – less than two weeks before the 2020 election!

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That and the appointments of sexual predators, Thomas and Kavanaugh, have rendered the SCOTUS absolutely corrupt. None of us should recognize the validity of its decisions.  

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Yes, Trump is gone for the moment. But enjoy the respite while you can. He’ll soon be back in one form or another – very likely worse than in his last incarnation. And the reason he’ll be back is because the Democrats are gutless wonders who don’t represent any of us. They represent only their rich donors.

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Think about it: “The American People” overwhelmingly support Medicare for all, $15 an hour minimum wage, free college, tuition debt forgiveness, gun control, and higher corporate taxes. But can we expect “our” elected officials to follow suit? Of course not! They don’t care what we want — only what their donors demand.

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Face it: we’re living in a failed state. Gridlock remains the order of the day. Nothing substantial is done for any of us ordinary people.

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Compare “our” government’s gridlock with China’s efficiency – which enjoys (according to U.S polls) the approval of 90% of its population. That sounds like democracy to me.

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Do you know how China solved its drunk driving problem? It decreed that a first offense would result in 2 weeks in jail. A second conviction leads to the permanent confiscation of one’s driver’s license! Problem solved.

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Last week, there was an extremely rare school shooting in Russia. Immediately, President Putin introduced new restrictions on gun ownership. Our country has mass shootings every week. How do our legislators respond? “Thoughts and prayers.”

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Biden’s foreign policy is virtually the same as Trump’s. Old Joe’s man, Tony Blinken says he’s worried about China, the Uyghurs, and the world’s “rules-based order.” But he won’t condemn Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, will he? He won’t even cut off funding of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince or call him the “killer” he is. Oh yes, “Putin’s a killer,” but not the man who had a Washington Post journalist murdered and dismembered.

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What rules-based order?

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And what about Cuba? And the Iran deal and old Joe’s continuance of the Donald’s crippling sanctions there? And Venezuela?

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And the Pro Act? There’ll be no protection of workers under the Biden Administration. Why? See my note above on filibuster.

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I hate to break the news, but it’s all smoke, mirrors, posturing and hypocrisy.

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We’re living in a failed state. Yes, Trump will be back.

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God help us!

I Go Overboard in Explaining How the Judeo-Christian Tradition = God’s Preferential Option for the Poor

[This is a second reflection on a pair of Zoom experiences I had last Monday. I reported the first here – some comments I made at a meeting of the Y’s Men of Westport. What I said and my insistence on saying it had me wondering about my role in the world during this third stage of my life. How much should I say? To what extent should I just shut up?

Today, I’m reporting on a Zoom meeting later that same day. It had me co-leading a Lenten discussion at our new church in Westport, CT. It was our third pre-Easter session devoted to examining controversial topics connected with our faith. Two weeks earlier, we had discussed miracles, their nature and possibility. A week later, the topic was healing. The topic last Monday was the question of “Jesus for the poor.”

Because of my interest in liberation theology and its signature “preferential option for the poor,” one of our two pastors had invited me to co-lead the discussion with him.

With the pastor’s consent, here’s the way I approached it.]

Introduction

The question of Jesus and poverty is fundamentally a religious question. And religion, of course, is a language. It marries words and concepts to a fundamentally ineffable (beyond words) experience that is open to all people. When that experience occurs in China, it comes out as Buddhism or Confucianism; when it happens in India, it’s expressed as Hinduism; when it happens in Arabia, it takes the form of Islam.

When the religious impulse finds words among the world’s poor and oppressed committed to improving their collective lives, it is expressed as the Judeo-Christian tradition. Yes, I mean that: the biblical tradition (virtually alone among the world’s great literature) thematically reflects the religious consciousness of awakened and impoverished victims of imperialism.  

More specifically, the Judeo-Christian tradition found its origin among slaves in pharaonic Egypt. Those slaves formed a people (called Hebrews or “rebels”) who retained their worship of a God favoring ex-slaves, widows, orphans, and resident foreigners throughout their history of domination by empires of various sorts – under Assyrians, Persians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans.

The Tradition’s Foundational Story

That fact becomes clear when we consider the basic biblical story. According to virtually all mainstream scripture scholars, that narrative begins not with Adam and Eve in the garden, but with the liberation of a motley group of slaves of various ethnic identities. The story told to give them a sense of national unity runs as follows:

Jesus the Christ

Here it is important to note that Jesus appeared precisely in the prophetic tradition. His message represented a defense of the poor. This is abundantly clear from the program he articulated in Chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel:

Jesus’ program represented a reversal of the world’s values. Everything in God’s kingdom would be turned upside-down. According to Luke’s “Beatitudes,” the poor would be blessed, so would the hungry and thirsty along with those suffering persecutions. Meanwhile the rich would be condemned. “Woe to you rich,” Jesus is remembered as saying, “you’ve had your reward.” “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will soon be weeping.” In other words, Jesus’ understanding of God’s future entailed a complete reversal of the world’s social arrangement. As he put it, “The first would be last and the last would be first” (MT 20:16).

What’s more, the early Christian community’s interpretation of Jesus’ message underlined the entire tradition’s “preferential option for the poor.” In the first Christians’ efforts to follow the Master, they actually sold what they had and gave it to the poor. That way of life is reflected in three important passages from the Acts of the Apostles:

Jesus Romanized

With all of that in mind, you can see why the Christian message was so popular with slaves, the poor, with social outcasts. You can see how it inspired revolts as it spread throughout the Roman Empire. You can also understand why Rome became alarmed and famously ended up sponsoring all those persecutions which iconically fed so many Christians to lions and other beasts in the Colosseum. However, it was all to no avail – as Christianity continued to spread like wildfire.

So, at the beginning of the 4th century of our era, the emperor Constantine decided to co-op Christianity. But to do so, the new religion’s basic narrative had to be changed. It became Romanized and was effectively transformed into a Roman mystery cult.

Mystery cults worshipped gods like Mithra (whose feast day btw was Dec. 25th), Isis, Osiris, and the Great Mother God. Their stories had the god descend from heaven, die, rise from the dead and ascend to heaven from which s/he offered life everlasting to believers who ate the god’s body and drank the god’s blood under the forms of bread and wine.

In Christian form, the narrative supporting such belief was best expressed by St. Augustine in the 5th century. Drawing on stories in the book of Genesis and on statements found in Pauline writings, this is the story with which Augustine shaped and captivated Christian belief for the next 1500 years: 

 

Notice here how the story abstracts not only from the histories of Judea and Israel, but from Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God and its Great Reversal in the here and now. Instead, everything is mythologized.

And that brings us to our discussion questions:

For Discussion

  1. What are your questions about the information in these slides?
  2. What surprised you about that information?
  3. What (if anything) do you find questionable or unacceptable about it?
  4. What are the implications of this approach to the bible and Jesus for your own faith?
  5. What are the implications of this approach for the Talmadge Hill Community Church?

My 1st & 2nd Mistakes

Of course, anyone reading what I’ve just presented can see that my first mistake was speaking too long and presenting too many new ideas for a 90-minute discussion. (My face is still bright red.)

My second mistake was even worse.

The slides I just presented had been shared beforehand with our group of about 20. And one member had done his homework. After expressing appreciation for my work, he went on to list in detail his points of disagreement. He began with his belief that the foundational story of the Judeo-Christian tradition was indeed found in Genesis, not Exodus. He went on to say that my presentation overlooked the crucial fact that Jesus is divine, the very Son of God, and that his words about poverty were meant to be taken in a spiritual rather than in a material sense.

In response, I should have kept silent. And if I chose to respond, I should have said, “I really appreciate your taking the time to express so well and clearly the most important points of the Augustinian story. What you’ve done sets us up perfectly for comparing the two basic biblical stories we’ve just reviewed. Does anyone else in the group have similar or different thoughts from the ones just expressed?”

That’s what I should have said.

However, instead (and forgetting all I’ve learned from 40 years of teaching this stuff) I attempted to respond point-by-point to the issues my friend had so well summarized.

Mine was such a bad decision that at one point, the pastor had to cut me off to give other people a chance. (As I said, my face is still a vivid crimson.)

Conclusion

I didn’t sleep well Monday night. I couldn’t help thinking, “When will I ever learn?” I even thought, “I’m getting too old to do this sort of thing. I think my days of teaching, public speaking, and playing leadership roles in church might be over. I’ve got to learn to say less and to stop trying to convince others about what I’ve learned over all my years of studying and dialoguing with Global South scholars. It’s all counterproductive.”

The next morning, however, things appeared a bit less dire. I received telephone calls of encouragement from the co-leading pastor and some others. Emails tried to console me. (But all of that almost made matters worse. It made me think, “They’re just trying to make me feel good. It must have been more awful than I thought.”)

The problem is that I still feel so passionate about rescuing the Jesus tradition from the irrelevance of its domestication by Augustine and subsequent theologians.

In a world of globalized poverty and exploitation, the life, words and teachings of the historical Jesus are too powerful to keep silent about. I’m just going to learn from this sobering, uncomfortable lesson and move on.

This is about something much bigger than my mistakes as a teacher.

At 80, Still Wondering Who I Am

Just yesterday, I had two experiences that made me wonder about myself. Even at the age of 80, I’m still questioning how I should present myself in this world that by all appearances is rushing headlong into terminal disaster? Am I being too outspoken? Should I temper what I say about politics and religion?

For me, those are constant questions. They arise not only in family conversations, but more publicly – e.g., in the context of a men’s group I’m part of in our new hometown, Westport Connecticut. My self-interrogations surface as well in the church that Peggy and are aspiring to enter. It’s the Talmadge Hill Community Church located in nearby Darien. In all three instances – family, the men’s group, and in church – I find myself wondering about transgressing the boundaries of polite discourse.

Today, let me first of all tell you about what happened yesterday with the men’s group. In a subsequent posting, I’ll share my questionable behavior in church – and then in my family.

The Y’s Men

In Westport, I’m a member of The Y’s Men. It’s a group of about 200 retired men, mostly Jewish and with backgrounds in international business, law, local government, and other administrative posts. The organization gets its cleverly ambiguous name from some distant association with the YMCA, which I can’t recall.

In any case, the Y’s Men meet every week and sponsor a myriad of activities that include (among other items) hiking, golf, sailing, a book club, and (before Covid) theater in New York City. I’m enjoying all of that. The Y’s Men are typically very bright and firm I their opinions.

That firmness takes center stage every other week, when a gathering of about 50 of us meet to discuss world issues. There, as we talk about matters such as China, 5G, the Middle East, and the Great Global Reset. In those contexts, the Y’s Men reveal themselves as basically patriotic, respectful of the military, and as “Americans” who understand their country as a splendid model honoring human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

I, of course, share none of those characteristics. Informed by social analysis reflected in liberation theology, my own tendencies have me looking at international affairs from the viewpoint of the world’s majority who are poor and under the jackboot of western imperialism led by the United States of America. As a result, I often find myself at odds with my fellow discussants.

U.S. Policy in the Middle East

This week was no exception. The announced topic is “Recalibrating US Policy with respect to Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.” As usual, the conversation reflected the official position of the United States, viz. that “our” interests in recalibration are democracy and the protection of Israel from unreasonably hostile undemocratic forces represented principally by Iran, Islam, the Taliban, and Islamic terrorists.

For me, that position overlooked the provocative hostility of the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia towards Iran which is a major power in the area and whose interpretation of Islam has good reason for being defensively hostile towards foreign control of the Middle East. Consider the following:

  • Between 2010 and 2012, the intelligence agency (Mossad) of U.S. client Israel, assassinated four of Iran’s top nuclear scientists.
  • On January 3rd of 2020, the Trump administration itself assassinated Iran’s revered general, Qassim Soleimani, a national hero.
  • On November 11th, 2020, the Mossad also assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, yet another of the country’s leading nuclear scientists.
  • On May 8th, 2018, President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the internationally supported Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by which Iran had renounced alleged efforts to develop nuclear weapons. By all accounts, Iran had not violated the agreement.
  • Instead, the United States intensified economic sanctions on the country which increased Iran’s poverty rate by 11%.
  • The strengthening of sanctions persisted even during the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Despite such provocations, Iran has taken virtually no retaliatory measures either against Israel or the United States.

In the light of these facts, here’s what said at this week’s meeting:

What we’re calling a “reset” in the Middle East is really a recommitment to traditional U.S. anti-democratic policy there. It has us supporting not democracy, but client kings and potentates throughout the region particularly in Saudi Arabia as well as an apartheid regime in Israel. U.S. enemies here are Islamic nations who understand their religion as an affirmation of independence from outside control – independence from western imperialism and neo-colonialism. (For their part, the United States and its puppets call Islamic striving for independence “terrorism.”)  Of course, the point of that imperial control is what it’s always been, viz. transfer of resources. And in the middle east, the resource in question is oil. Nothing has changed. Nothing will change as long as our economy remains petroleum dependent.

My intervention was largely ignored. So, using other words, I reiterated the sentiment about three times more.

Too Insistent?

And that’s my point of self-questioning here.  Am I saying too much? Are my positions too radical? If so, are my efforts counterproductive in that they turn people against the very viewpoint I’m trying to share (that of the world’s poor, imperialized and silenced). Should I just shut up and listen?

Family members often caution me in the direction of such judicious silence.

Truthfully however, I find such restraint a species of self-betrayal. My role models – the people I find most admirable in the world – never bit their tongues in similar circumstances and even on the world stage. Their list is long and includes Gandhi, King, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Dorothy Day, William Barber II, Liz Theoharis, Naomi Klein, Cornel West, Jeremiah Wright, Chris Hedges, the Berrigan brothers, and the liberation theologians I’ve spent more than 50 years studying.    

Most of all, the list of such truth-tellers is headed by the great prophets of the Bible and by the one who has grasped and held my attention my entire life. I’m talking about Jesus the Christ.

I’ll explore that dimension of my outspokenness and self-doubt in my next posting.   

Guest Column: Where are we today?

(Here are some timely thoughts written by my life’s partner, Peggy Rivage-Seul. She is professor emerita of Women and Gender Studies at Berea College, where she taught for more than 30 years.)

The Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico warned us long ago that “another world is necessary.” To make this happen we must exit from the development paradigm of the neoliberal new world order and return to a future of non-violent relationships between ourselves and the planet we call home.  Another world has indeed arrived, and perhaps it will soon lead to the vision the Zapatistas have articulated over the past twenty-five years.  

Where are we exactly? We are in a globalized moment of social isolation. Unless we are living with our closest relatives, we have lost physical contact with those we love—our children, our grandchildren, our friends, our church, our colleagues, our neighbors. We can no longer break bread with our communities.  

How do we make sense of this new social isolation in the world? There are many explanations, undergirded by ideologies that shape the way we perceive our global circumstances. Perhaps most popular is the notion that a virus has either escaped a laboratory created for bio-weaponry against humanity or it has evolved on its own in response to our poor stewardship of our natural resources. Mother Earth has to do some house cleaning because the “developed countries” have not heeded the call to slow down its demands on the earth. The planet warned us through climate changes and catastrophes, but the wealthy among us have prevailed in their global denial of the need to change the way we live. 

 We are all vulnerable—some of us more than others.   Those of us who believe in Adam Smith’s idea that the environment and laborers are expendable  can accept that the earth is purging the global population of its poor and  elderly who no longer serve the capitalist enterprise.  And  the earth has been given a respite to re-gather her energies for even more domination and exploitation in the new world to come.  There are many sub-scenarios about the “deep state” trying to wrest control of the entire world population, and the “fake news” that there really is a virus at work in our bodies.  These are the tales that fill our days. 

But there is another story. Eight years ago began a  movement in the cosmos: our solar system  passed through a portal that leads to another dimension of living much closer to the Zapatista vision for world happiness. This passage is from the third dimension of the  material world of capitalist growth to the fourth and fifth dimensions where humans behave at much higher frequencies with strong spiritual values of love and cooperation.

Like the change from pony express mail to cell phone texting, our collective crossing over to these higher  dimensions  creates an exponential change in our thinking and actions. In the fifth dimension, we can  process information with much more efficiency. Working a higher vibrations,   both problems and solutions occur at much greater speed. In this new world, the  cultural values of the 20th century no longer serve us.  

Wars are passe and violence toward one another is not tolerated. Co-creation for the good of everyone replaces capitalism for the privileged few, oppression gives way to liberation, etc. Most importantly, the mindset of globalized industrialism no longer functions and those unable to make the leap in consciousness will wither on the vine in the third dimension, unable to meet the requirements for living on the new earth.  

Underlying this vision of a fifth dimension is a belief in the capacity of humans to claim their direct connection to a divine reality and to live the values of love and justice, cooperation and sharing, joy and sorrow. These values have  been alive (and ignored by the developed world) in the ancient traditions of indigenous communities the world over.

The transition from the astrological Piscean Age to the new Aquarian era is made easier as we go back to the future by reclaiming the lessons of Zapatismo.  There, we understand that as our consciousness changes and our frequencies rise,   we see each other as one family moving into a world where there is room for everyone. 

We are no longer individuals   competing for scarce resources to survive. We are in this together. “I” becomes “We” as we make instantaneous connection to the source of life that is Spirit. We belong to the earth as much as earth belongs to us. My community becomes the entire world population. We all have a place at the table of life.  

Which story will you choose? 

Money for Nothin’: Why Pay Federal Taxes?

The do-nothing approach of the know-nothing Trump administration to the COVID-19 crisis has raised a fundamental question for me. Why are we paying federal taxes?

I mean, if (unlike countries even such as South Korea and China) “the greatest country in the world” can’t even make sure that its citizens have enough cotton swabs for coronavirus tests, what is it doing for us? Why am I paying taxes?

And I’m just talking cotton swabs – not to mention low-tech items like test kits themselves or plastic gloves, protective clothing for nurses and doctors, face masks for the rest of us, hospital beds, or ventilators. Cotton swabs!

Of course, the answer is that we’ve somehow bought in to Reaganism. To use his words, it somehow convinced us that “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Remember that? I do.

It was Reagan’s version of the Edmund Burke quote: “That government is best which governs least. . .” Or as Republican operative, Grover Norquist, put it, “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Whatever the phrasing, its bottom line over the last 40 years has the government doing less and less for its citizens – and we end up paying more and more.

It’s as if we had two choices: (1) pay taxes those who provide us with the services we need (like healthcare, education, affordable housing, serviceable roads and bridges) or (2) pay them to those who on principle do nothing for us. Pay for something or pay for nothing! By electing Republicans (and many Democrats too), we’ve been making the latter choice.

Is that crazy or what?

And what’s the government doing with my tax dollars – and yours? It’s like we’re paying protection money — to our representatives — to protect us from the services we’re paying for.

I thought government’s first duty was to keep us safe. Right now, though, in the face of the biggest threat to our safety in the last 75 years, our “representatives” are doing nothing – absolutely nothing to that end.

And they’re proud of it.

In fact, we’re on track to re-elect the lot of them again next November.

Go figure.

Easter in the Time of COVID-19

It was a miracle
No one thought possible
Before Ash Wednesday.
Suddenly,
Traffic stopped,
Stores closed,
Schools shuttered,
Even churches.
Focus shifted
To health, family,
Leisure,
Jokes, stories,
Children, grandchildren
Lovemaking,
Reading, studying,
Conversing, writing,
Napping, dreaming,
Cooking and eating
Together.
Houses never cleaner –
Or messier (Your call).
Finally knowing
That Special Other,
And our very selves.
Imagining and living
Without hated jobs
And nosey bosses.
 
With cards freshly reshuffled.
The New Deal came
They said couldn’t be.
Hearts opened
Skies cleared
People sang
From porches
And open windows.
Eyes smiled
With other masks
Dropped and replaced.
Could you tell?
 
And now it’s Easter
Sad tears for the dead
Clear eyes
To see that their passing
Was no Act of God
Or preordained,
That New Life,
Another way
Is possible NOW
(It always was)
Where no one
Dies like that,
And no one’s work
Brings tears,
Where all finally
Get that recompense
Guidance and well-being
Each child deserves.
 
So, no matter what
Wall Street’s
Wolves and vultures
Might howl and screech,
From behind
Presidential Podia,
Tell them:
There’ll be no return
To the tombs we knew
Before Good Friday,
Ash Wednesday
And our cleansing
Lenten fast.
Seize the day:
It’s Easter
NOW
Like never before!

Why I Won’t Vote in November

As things stand now, I’m not going to vote in the general election in November 2020. What choice do I have?

Now that Bernie’s dropped out, It’s between two mentally impaired dirty old men – Donald Trump on the one hand, and Joe Biden on the other. Both are showing clear signs of dementia.

Trump stands accused of sexual assault by multiple women. Biden has a still unanswered but very credible similar charge outstanding. And no one in Biden’s party or in the press will even raise that accusation for discussion. (Trust me: Trump will! So, goodbye, Uncle Joe.)

And both men are serial liars. With Trump, that is a foregone conclusion. But Biden’s a liar too.

In one of his previous candidacies, his history of plagiarism made him surrender his bid. He’s lied about his education and his achievements in law school. Then there are those lies about his civil rights activism, about his history with Nelson Mandela, and about his attacks on Social Security. He just makes stuff up.

And neither one of them – neither Trump nor Biden – can put two sentences together without confirming their dementia. Every time he opens his mouth, Trump sounds like the doddering Mafia Don he is. He slurs his words, repeats himself, and can’t even remember what he just said. He hasn’t a worthwhile thought in his head. Never has.

Biden’s even worse! His sentences wander; he forgets what he’s talking about; he constantly leaves his audiences wondering, “What?” Or “That’s (to put it nicely) simply embarrassing!”

In a country of more than 350 million people, is this the best we can do? Are these our best and our brightest?

(However, I have to say that debate between these buffoons will make great television. It will be highly amusing and comical. But that’s what politics in this country has come to. It’s all Kabuki theater; it’s a cruel joke.)

That’s another reason I’ll not vote in November. The political system in general is completely broken. The politicians that are supposed to represent me have nothing to do with my concerns. They’ve completely sold out. They represent no one but their rich cronies. (Now I know how people in the Soviet Union must have felt in the late ‘80s.) The system just isn’t worth my participation.

And that goes for AOC, Ilhan Omar, the rest of the so-called “squad “(and Bernie too). In the most recent bailout, they all caved. They gave grandstanding speeches about the injustice of it all. But in the end, they voted against us, didn’t they? Their loyalties are to party and career, not to me or to you. We have NO ONE to represent us.

Democracy in this country is dead. The system is completely rigged. They don’t even want us to vote. The obstacles they’ve set in terms of the electoral college, gerrymandering, disenfranchisement, crooked voting machines, interminable lines, and Citizens United make a mockery of the entire process.

And please don’t try to shame me into voting because of the Supreme Court. That body is totally corrupt as well – completely politicized. No justice there – not even a glimmer of hope. Only clowns like the sexual predator Clarence Thomas (whom Biden ended up supporting over Anita Hill), the accused rapist Brett Kavanaugh, and a coward like John Roberts (who, remember hardly spoke a word while presiding over the recent sham impeachment hearings). The SCOTUS has no credibility at all. It’s irreformable. So, dear Ruth, you may go in peace.

The hell of it is that we don’t have any time for reform. Mother Nature won’t allow it. Climate change is breathing down our necks. What are the scientists giving us – 10 more years – or is it 8? You can now subtract 4 from that number. Neither Trump nor Biden will do what needs to be done. (Remember, Joe told his corporate friends, “Nothing fundamental will change.”)

And no one cares. I mean, with COVID-19, we can make the entire world stop. But with the far worse threat of climate change: not so much. It’s all business as usual. And it’s all nuts.

But in a way, maybe that’s the only ray of hope we have – from Mother Nature. While our system won’t object to climate destruction, maybe Our Great Mother just won’t allow this madness to go on. In any case, it’s now up to her. She will have her way.  

It’s all so discouraging on this morning after Bernie’s surrender. In the face of it all, and as things stand now, that’s why I’ll boycott this election in November.

“Lockdown”

This came in yesterday’s e-mail from a good friend.

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.

But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighborhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbors in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.

So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing.

Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM
March 13th 2020”

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.