Episode 11, Lesson 3: I Do Not Understand Anything at All about COP 26 or Climate Change

Welcome to Episode 11 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. And today we’ll examine together Part I, Lesson 3 of The Course’s Workbook for Students.

In the first part of the Workbook, we’ve been deconstructing our illusory understandings of the world. We’ve been imagining ourselves as residents in Plato’s Cave completely deceived by our culture, its educational system, by its advertising, its politicians, priests, and publicists. It’s all illusion.

In line with that insight, today’s lesson reads: “I do not understand anything I see in this room, [on this street, from this window, in this place].”

For purposes of this podcast and its concern with social justice, the lesson’s central idea might better be phrased, “As a captive in my culture’s version of Plato’s Cave, I do not understand anything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place.]”

Or: as a beneficiary of a system that is white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, and patriarchal, I understand nothing at all about the world.

The truth of this last phrasing was especially illustrated this morning on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” and its coverage of the 26th meeting of COP (Congress of Parties) on climate change. The meeting began today in Glasgow, Scotland.

Global South guests on this morning’s “Democracy Now” described it in scathing terms invisible to most of us who are even taking the trouble to notice that COP 26 is taking place. “Democracy Now’s” guests spoke of:

  • White Supremacy: They described the Glasgow gathering as “the whitest and the most privileged climate summit ever, with thousands from the Global South unable to attend because of lack of access to COVID vaccines and visa issues.”
  • Dysfunctional Capitalism: They added that the exclusion of participants from the Global South was intentional to silence their voices highly critical of specifically capitalist schemes such as carbon trading and “Net Zero Carbon Emissions” that will permit the world’s biggest “free market” polluters (mainly the United States) to continue business as usual. As a result the Paris Climate Accord goal of keeping global temperatures below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, will not only be missed, but global temperatures will reach the catastrophic level of 3 degrees above those pre-industrial measures.
  • Neo-Colonial Imperialism: The capitalist world’s business as usual includes ongoing subsidization of the fossil fuel industry and unabated plans for expanded oil drilling and pipelines across lands belonging to indigenous peoples. Unchanged business plans means that Africa’s 1.5 billion people who are responsible for about 3% of global warming will continue bear a vastly disproportionate share of climate change’s ravages. Those consequences will predictably turn the continent’s largely agrarian populations into impoverished climate refugees. The refugees will in turn be xenophobically excluded from seeking asylum in countries like our own.
  • Patriarchal Rule: Even though 60-80% of the non-industrialized world’s farmers are women, the ones making the decisions that will adversely affect their livelihoods are men like Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, and the predominantly male CEOs of fossil fuel corporations.   

In the light of all of this, Lesson 3 might well read, “I do not understand anything at all.” I don’t even know how white supremacy works because (as a white person) it works for me. I do not how capitalism works, because (as an American) it benefits me. For the same reason, I do not know how imperialism or patriarchy work.

In Plato’s Cave, I know nothing about climate change.

But guess who does know about climate change and how the world works for whites, capitalists, imperialists, and men. It’s those would-be delegates excluded from the Glasgow conference. It’s those spokespersons from the Global South who know the ins and outs of the real effects of carbon trading and “Net Zero” policies. It’s those poor women farmers made to bear the brunt of climate chaos.

It’s the poor who according to Christian faith (and Jesus’ voice in A Course in Miracles) constitute the site of God’s revelation of what’s wrong with the world and what to do about it. Indirectly, A Course in Miracles is asking us to listen to them – to the voices of the excluded who resonate with the voice of Jesus. The historical Jesus was one of them.

Think about those people from the Global South today as you repeat (almost as a mantram) the central expression of Lesson 3. As you focus randomly on whatever your eyes light upon, say “I do not understand anything I see in this room, [on this street, from this window, in this place].”

As you watch television, or read the paper say, “As a beneficiary of a system that is white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, and patriarchal, I understand nothing at all about the world.”

To access previous postings in this series on A Course in Miracles, please go to my podcast site.

Under the Radar and at Warp Speed Cuba Leads Latin America Towards Affordable Covid-19 Vaccines

Recently Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” explored “The Case for People’s Vaccines.”

While those interviewed by Ms. Goodman called for early and affordable access to inoculations in the Global South, no mention was made of perhaps the most promising source of such therapies. The neglected source was not only promising, but implicitly revealed the swindle represented by Big Pharma’s anticipated exorbitant prices for Covid-19 vaccines.

It may surprise readers to know that the source in question is Cuba.

Cuba’s Achievement

In fact, Cuba is the first nation in Latin America to receive authorization from the World Health Organization (WHO) to perform officially sanctioned tests of the four vaccines it now has under development. Those trials have already completed their clinical stages. Promising results so far have Cubans looking forward to completing the (cost free) inoculation of its entire population of 12 million by the end of March 2021.

The vaccines under trial are named Soberana 01, Soberana 02, Abdala (CIGB66) and Mambisa (CIGB669). None of them is dependent for its preservation on super-cold temperatures.

Mambisa is worthy of special note, since as a nasal spray, it requires no needles, but responds locally to the specifically respiratory nature of Covid-19.   

Failure to report such developments even on “Democracy Now” illustrates the complicity of our mainstream media in shunning any news from socialist nations like Cuba that might possibly illustrate the superior ability of their economies to deliver high quality, no-cost healthcare to citizens even during a worldwide pandemic. Moreover, absent the profit motive, Cuba will predictably deliver its vaccines to its neighbors at vastly cheaper prices than its capitalist counterparts.  

Cuba’s Vaccine History

This prediction is based on the fact that Cuba has long been a supplier of vaccines and doctors not only to the Global South, but to countries such as Italy during the height of Covid-19’s first wave. Additionally, with its unequaled ratio of doctors to citizens, the island nation’s response to the pandemic has effectively limited documented coronavirus infections despite supply problems caused by the continued U.S. embargo of the island.

All four developments (the superabundance of doctors, the relative control of Covid-19, Cuba’s research capacities, and the export of medical care to other countries) result from the foresight and vision of Fidel Castro, the revered father of his country. In the early 1980s he sparked initiation of a vigorous homegrown biotech sector – largely to cope with the U.S. embargo’s persistent attempts to deprive the island of medical supplies.

The result was the emergence of 20 research centers and 32 companies employing 20,000 people under the umbrella of the state-run BioCubaFarma Corporation. Recently, spokespersons connected with the corporation tweeted, “The #CubanVaccineCOVID19 is dedicated to the sower of dreams: Fidel. Our tribute to the one who believed in the strength and future of #CubanScience.”  

BioCubaFarma produces 8 of the 12 vaccines Cuba uses to immunize its own population against diseases such as measles and polio. Cuba has also exported hundreds of millions of vaccine doses to more than 40 countries (e.g. to deal with meningitis and hepatitis B).

Conclusion

All of this represents just one more illustration of socialism’s comparative efficiency in the face of crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Even a poor blockaded country like Cuba can respond to an unprecedented crisis such as the coronavirus without holding sick people hostage to the confiscatory demands of privatized natural monopolies like Big Pharma. The latter’s claims to mammoth profits based upon (largely government-funded) costly research are simply ideological cover for overweening corporate greed that none of us should stand for.     

People’s vaccines can be produced at warp speed and at low cost – despite news blackouts even on “Democracy Now.”

Give Up Devil-Worship for Lent: Work and Pray for the Defeat of U.S. Empire

Readings for First Sunday of Lent: Dt. 26: 4-10; Ps. 91: 1-2; 10-15; Rom. 10: 8-13; Lk. 4: 1-13.

Last Tuesday’s edition of “Democracy Now” had Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewing Daniel Immerwahr, and associate professor of history at the University of Chicago. Dr. Immerwahr has just published a book called How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States.  For me, it was an eye-opening conversation, because it described the actual extent of U.S. empire that remains hidden even, as Dr. Immerwahr noted, from PhD historians.

Yet more importantly, for today’s reflections on this first Sunday of Lent, the interview revealed how the hidden U.S. empire actually involves our country in devil worship as defined by this Sunday’s Gospel episode.

Actually, that’s been the case for Christians in general ever since the 4th century of our era, when their predecessors threw in their lot with Constantine’s Roman army. Since then, they’ve (we’ve!) been worshipping Satan while calling him “God.” Today’s Gospel calls attention to that contradiction. It implies that Christians should no more support their country’s foreign policy (or what pretends to be the Christian Church) than if it were run by Hitler or the devil himself.

Let me explain.

Begin with Dr. Immerwahr’s description of the hidden U.S. Empire. He traces its inauguration to the period immediately after our country’s founding. It was then that settlers incorporated territories seized (in clear violation of treaties) from Native Americans. Then 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. By the end of the 19th century, the U.S. had added Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, and Wake Island.

If we add to this the implications and actual invocation of the Monroe Doctrine (1823) in order to control the politics of Latin America, we can see forms of U.S. colonialism extending throughout the western hemisphere.

Coups in Africa [e.g. Congo (1961), Ghana (1965), Angola (1970s), Chad (1982)] established U.S. hegemony there. Similar interventions in the Middle East (e.g. Iran in 1953) along with the establishment of Israel and Saudi Arabia as a U.S. proxies controlling political-economy throughout the region established United States control there.

Factor in the 800 U.S. military bases peppered across the world and one’s understanding of our empire’s extent expands exponentially. (Russia, by contrast has 9 such bases; the rest of the world has virtually 0). To understand the sheer numbers involved, think of our continued military presence in South Korea (35,000 troops) Japan (40,000), and Germany (32,000). Besides this, of course, there are the active troops who daily kill civilians and destroy property in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and elsewhere. In total we’re told that there are about 165,000 troops deployed in 150 countries throughout the world – though, in the light of what I’ve just recounted, even that number seems vastly understated.

In any case, all of that describes an extensive, highly oppressive, and extremely violent American Empire.

And we’re proud of it. Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson thought of colonialism as marvelous. However, by the first decade of the 20th century, politicians became increasingly uncomfortable with “the ‘C’ word,” and exchanged references to colonies for the gentler euphemism, “territories.”

But whatever name we give it, the reality of U.S. empire stands in sharp contrast to today’s Gospel reading and its description of Jesus basic proclamation with its negative judgment on empire and colonialism.

As a prophet and actual victim of empire, Jesus made his fundamental proclamation not about himself or about a new religion. Much less was it about the after-life or “going to heaven.” Instead, Jesus proclaimed the “Kingdom of God.” That phrase referred to what the world would be like without empire – if Yahweh were king instead of Rome’s Caesar. In other words, “Kingdom of God” was a political image among a people unable and unwilling to distinguish between politics and religion.

According to Jesus, everything would be reversed in God’s Kingdom. The world’s guiding principles would be changed. The first would be last; the last would be first. The rich would weep, and the poor would laugh. Prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the Kingdom, while the priests and “holy people” – all of them collaborators with Rome – would find themselves excluded. The world would belong not to the powerful, but to the “meek,” i.e. to the gentle, humble and non-violent. It would be governed not by force and “power over” but by compassion and gift (i.e. sharing).

That basic message becomes apparent in Luke’s version of Jesus’ second temptation described in today’s Gospel episode. From a high vantage point, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth. Then he says,

“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

Notice what’s happening here. The devil shows Jesus an empire infinitely larger than Rome’s – “all the kingdoms of the world.” Such empire, the devil claims, belongs to him: “It has been handed over to me.” This means that those who exercise imperial power do so because an evil spirit has chosen to share his possession with them: “I may give it to whomever I wish.” The implication here is that Rome (and whoever exercises empire) is the devil’s agent. Finally, the tempter underlines what all of this means: devil-worship is the single prerequisite for empire’s possession and exercise: “All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

However, Jesus responds,

“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”

Here Jesus quotes the Mosaic tradition summarized in Deuteronomy 26 (today’s first reading) to insist that empire and worship of Yahweh are incompatible. Put otherwise, at the beginning of his public life, Jesus declares his anti-imperial position in the strongest possible (i.e. scriptural) terms.

Now fast forward to the 4th century – 381 CE to be exact. In 313 Constantine’s Edict of Milan had removed from Christianity the stigma of being a forbidden cult. From 313 on, it was legal. By 325 Constantine had become so involved in the life of the Christian church that he himself convoked the Council of Nicaea to determine the identity of Jesus. Who was Jesus after all – merely a man, or was he a God pretending to be a man, or perhaps a man who became a God? Was he equal to Yahweh or subordinate to him? If he was God, did he have to defecate and urinate? Seriously, these were the questions!

However, my point is that by the early 4th century the emperor had a strong hand in determining the content of Christian theology. And as time passed, the imperial hand grew more influential by the day. In fact, by 381 under the emperor Theodosius Christianity had become not just legal, but the official religion of the Roman Empire. As such its job was to attest that God (not the devil) had given empire to Rome in exchange for worshipping him (not the devil)!

Do you get my point here? It’s the claim that in the 4th century, Rome presented church fathers with the same temptation that Jesus experienced in the desert. But whereas Jesus had refused empire as diabolical, the prevailing faction of 4th century church leadership embraced it as a gift from God. In so doing they also said “yes” to the devil worship as the necessary prerequisite to aspirations to control “all the kingdoms of the world.” Christians have been worshipping the devil ever since, while calling him “God.”

No, today’s readings insist: all the kingdoms of the world belong only to God. They are God’s Kingdom to be governed not by “power over,” not by dominion and taking, but by love and gift. Or in the words of Jesus, the earth is meant to belong to those “meek” I mentioned – the gentle, humble, and non-violent.

Yet, as Dr. Immerwahr attests, those very people living in the West’s former colonies in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia are the very ones ceaselessly victimized by the empire historians have so well-hidden from our consciousness.

As described in Immerwahr’s How to Hide an Empire, colonialism and neo-colonialism are diabolic abominations in the eyes of Jesus’ God. They represent nothing less than a system or robbery currently bent on confiscating the rich resources of the Global South. Authentic followers of Christ can never support such depredations.

On this First Sunday of Lent, we should pray sincerely and work tirelessly for the defeat of such abominable practices.

(Sunday Homily) Amy Goodman Shows Us How to “Pray Always”

dog-standing-rock

Readings for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: EX 17: 8-13; PS 121: 1-8; 2 TM 3:14-4:2; LK 18: 1-8;

Amy Goodman is in trouble. She’s the television journalist my wife and I had dinner with last summer. She’s the host of “Democracy Now: the War and Peace Report” – a daily news hour on the Pacifica Radio and Television network.

In the face of mainstream media’s refusal to cover significant grassroots events and issues, Ms. Goodman’s program has been called “probably the most significant progressive news institution that has come around in some time” (by professor and media critic Robert McChesney.) In addition to sources such as OpEdNews, Information Clearing House, and Alternet, “Democracy Now” is an invaluable fountain of information about issues that touch all of our lives.   Amy’s program is an example of what can be accomplished for peace and social justice in the face of overwhelming odds.

Anyway, Amy is in trouble. Or should I say that judges in the North Dakota legal system are in trouble. I mean the court’s black robes there are about to tangle with a woman who is stronger and more committed than all of them put together.

The issue at hand is a charge of criminal trespassing against Ms. Goodman. It stems from her coverage of Native American protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline – a nearly 2000 mile, multi-billion dollar construction stretching through North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. The pipeline cuts across Sioux Tribe sacred sites and burial grounds at their Standing Rock Reservation. Defense of those holy grounds has brought together thousands of Native Americans from across the country and Latin America, as well as indigenous peoples from around the world.

On Labor Day weekend this year, while Amy was covering that resistance, security forces of Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the pipeline’s builders, set dogs on the Standing Rock “Protectors” (they refuse the name ” protestors”). She filmed a dog whose mouth was dripping with Protectors’ blood.

Amy’s honest reporting (protected by our Constitution’s First Amendment) proved offensive to ETP, their security forces, and to the local police. Hence the charges.

_____

Please keep all of that in mind as we attempt to understand today’s liturgy of the word. In the context of an unjust legal system, our readings raise the question of what it means to “pray always.” Jesus says it means persistently demanding justice. Amy embodies that meaning.

Actually, the readings compare what might be termed men’s intermittent way of praying with women’s unrelenting persistence. For instance, in today’s readings, men shockingly pray that God might intervene to slaughter their enemies.

In contrast, the woman in today’s gospel is in it for the long haul. She indefatigably confronts the power structure of her day as her way of “praying always.” That is, like Amy Goodman, she persistently works to bring her world into harmony with God’s justice. According to Jesus, that’s what prayer means.

Take that first reading from Exodus. . .  Did it make you raise your eyebrows? It should have. It’s about God facilitating mass slaughter. It tells the story of Moses praying during a battle against the King of Amalek. It’s a classic etiology evidently meant to explain a chair-like rock formation near a site remembered as an early Hebrew battleground.

“What means this formation?” would have been the question inspiring this explanatory folk tale. “Well,” came the answer, “Long ago when our enemy Amelek attacked our people, Moses told Joshua to raise an elite corps of fighters. During the course of the ensuing battle, Moses watched from this very place where we are standing accompanied by his brother Aaron and another assistant called Hur.

Moses raised his hands in prayer during the day-long battle. And as long as he did so, Joshua’s troops got the better of Amalek’s. But Moses would get tired from time to time; so he’d lower his hands. When he did so, Amalek’s troops got the better of Joshua’s.

“To solve the problem, Aaron and Hur sat Moses down on this stone you see before us. They held up his arms during the entire battle. That strategy saved the day. Joshua won his battle “mowing down Amelek and his people.”

So here we have a God who responds to ad hoc prayers and reverses history so that one group of his children might “mow down” another group of people he supposedly loves. That’s a pretty primitive concept of prayer (and of God), don’t you agree?

In today’s gospel, Jesus has another approach to prayer. For him, prayer is not an ad hoc affair – about changing God’s mind. Rather, “praying always” represents the adoption of an attitude — a way of life — that consistently seeks justice for the oppressed. Praying always means living from a place that won’t let go of justice concerns like those that drive Amy Goodman.

To illustrate that point for his own time, Jesus tells a comic parable about a persistent woman. (Remember, he’s speaking to people who have no power in a legal system, which, like ours favors the wealthy and powerful.)

“Imagine a judge,” Jesus said. “He’s like most of the judges we know. He doesn’t give a damn about the God of the poor, and he doesn’t care what people like us think of him.” (Already Jesus’ audience is smiling seeing a funny story coming.)

“But then along comes this widow-woman. Like all of us, she’s poor, and as usual, the judge pays no attention to her.” (Jesus’ audience recognizes the syndrome; they nod to each other.)

“But this woman’s a nagger,” Jesus says. (Now his audience is snickering and chuckling.)

“She just won’t let go. And she’s strong and aggressive besides. She comes back day after day insisting that she get justice against her adversary. And as the days go by, she gets more and more insistent – and threatening. So much so that the judge starts getting worried about his own safety.

(Laughter from the crowd . . .)

“’While it is true,’ the judge says to himself, ‘that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’”

In other words, this macho judge is afraid of this poor widow; he’s afraid she’ll come and beat him up!

Can you imagine Jesus saying that without smiling broadly – and without the crowd roaring in laughter?

Anyway, here’s Jesus point: “If an unjust judge responds to the prayer of the poor like that, how do you suppose the All-Parent will respond when we ask for justice? The All-Parent will respond swiftly, Jesus says, because that’s who God is – the one who (as Martin Luther King put it) has established an arc of history that bends towards justice.

Prayer, then, is about reminding ourselves of that fact, trusting and having faith that in the long run justice and truth will prevail. Taking that position and acting upon it in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, takes great faith that’s harder and harder to find.

So Jesus ends his parable with the rhetorical question, “When the Son of Man returns, do you think he’ll find that kind of faith anywhere?”

What I’m suggesting here is that today we’re more likely to find that kind of faith, that kind of prayer, that kind of persistence in women rather than men. The example of Amy Goodman and her “War and Peace Report” inspires us to renounce ideas of a God who calls us to “mow our enemies down.” It inspires us to view prayer not as a now-and-then petition, but as a lifestyle based on a struggle for justice.

In any case, Amy Goodman seems even more determined than the widow in Jesus’ parable. In prosecuting her, the pro-ETP justice system has bitten off more than it can chew.

Thank God for persistent women! We men have so much to learn from them. A good start towards doing so would be to watch “Democracy Now” every day. It’s on line. Check it out.

Our Dinner with Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman

A week ago today, Peggy and I had dinner with Amy Goodman, the host of “Democracy Now: the War and Peace Report” (DN).  The program airs each Monday through Friday on radio and TV stations across the country. I watch it every morning in its podcast version that can be accessed at any hour at http://www.democracynow.org/

The dinner was a Christmas present from my daughter, Maggie who (with her husband, Kerry) had given DN a substantial contribution.

[The gift came with a black Democracy Now tee shirt (which I wore to our dinner) and two coffee cups showing the program’s logo. The meal portion of the gift was for me and a companion of my choice. Naturally, it was Peggy. Still another of the gift’s components was attendance at one of the show’s morning productions (which we’ll take advantage of sometime in the future).]

There were four of us in Thursday’s dinner party. Amy brought along her factotum, Edith Penty, whose presence was absolutely delightful. We ate at the Hangawi Korean restaurant on 32nd street between Fifth and Madison Avenue. There we shared “The Emperor’s Tasting Menu” that featured starters, appetizers, entrees and dessert –   acorn noodle salad with avocado fritters, dumplings in pine nut and pineapple sauce, tofu with sesame leaves and seaweed sauce, and dessert.

As the meal unfolded we all shared our biographies.

Amy is a New Yorker raised in Bay Shore. She is the daughter of an ophthalmologist father and a mother who taught literature and Women’s Studies. Her family is Jewish Orthodox. Her maternal grandfather was an Orthodox Rabbi.  She studied Hebrew and Torah from kindergarten through high school. Amy graduated from Radcliffe College in 1984, with a degree in anthropology.

From her stories about participation in demonstrations, vigils, and campaigns, it’s clear that Amy Goodman has always been an activist. For some years she worked in an organic bakery that eventually supplied buns for Arby’s restaurants. Journalism has always been in her family’s blood. (Her brother published a family newspaper before reaching his teenage years.) She founded Democracy Now in 1996; this is its 20th anniversary year. Throughout Amy’s account of her life, there wasn’t a trace of self-promotion. On the contrary, both Peggy and I were impressed with her interest in our stories, and with her unassuming presence.

In all the four of us spent about two hours together. And of course conversation went far beyond autobiographies. Inevitably we discussed Trump, Bernie and Hillary.

The most interesting insight came when Amy shared the fact that the Obamas and Clintons can’t stand one another. Obama made Hillary his Secretary of State following the principle: Stay close to your friends, and even closer to your enemies. One of the first questions asked in any Obama or Clinton vetting process is: “What do you think about Hillary?” “What do you think about Barrack?” Hiring decisions are made accordingly.

Towards the end of our time together, Amy left the table for a moment. Soon afterwards waiters came to our table with ice cream and small cakes and a candle. Amy had informed them that Peggy and I are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. That’s the kind of thoughtful person Amy Goodman is.

As we left Hangwai, a young African American man caught sight of my Democracy Now tee shirt. He said to me: “Love your tee shirt. I watch that program every day. Love that too!” I pointed ahead of us to Amy who was deep in conversation with Peggy. I said, “That’s Amy Goodman right there.” He couldn’t believe it. Soon we were all taking pictures with the celebrity. It was a moment that topped the evening off just perfectly.

If Democracy Now isn’t part of your daily news-gathering routine, it should be.  Unlike other newscasts, it centralizes stories from the grassroots. So it often interviews victims of police violence, representatives of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), political dissidents, and community organizers. Noam Chomsky, Glen Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Medea Benjamin, Cornel West, Lori Wallach, Richard Wolff, Tariq Ali, and many other thought-leaders and journalists are among the program’s frequent guests.

“Democracy Now” covers the Black Lives Matter Movement along with the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction campaign against the Israeli apartheid system – whose proponents are almost never interviewed in the mainstream media.

If you watch Democracy Now, you know details of the recent coup in Brazil, its predecessor in Honduras, and current attempts at still another in Venezuela. You know about Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. But you also are familiar with police killings of Sandra Bland, Tanisha Anderson, and Miriam Cary.

None of the stories is reduced to sound bites. Interviewees like Noam Chomsky are sometimes given an entire hour (without commercial interruption) to analyze a whole host of world and national issues. An hour-long broadcast was devoted recently to Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit peace activist who died last month.

Peggy and I are so grateful to Maggie and Kerry for making possible such a memorable evening — and of course, to Amy Goodman for spending so much time with us and for being the huge inspiration she is

What Ordinary People Can Do for World Peace

nobel-women

This morning I watched “Democracy Now” as I do each day. All this week, the best news program on air will be broadcast from the Netherlands. There the show’s host, Amy Goodman, will be at the Hague, where she’s attending a World Forum celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom.

Today’s program featured interviews with three women peace activists and Nobel Peace laureates: Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and Jody Williams of the U.S.  Mairead Maguire received her prize for her actions to end the conflict in her country. Leymah Gbowee was given the Nobel award for her leadership in a women’s movement that brought down dictator, Charles Taylor in Liberia, and saw him sentenced to 50 years in prison. Jody Williams’ prize resulted from her work in an international campaign to ban landmines.

All three women were entirely inspiring as they showed how ordinary people like you and me can change the world if we organize and stay for the long haul  in the struggle for peace.

Their interviews led me to think:

What is Peace?

I recently heard repeated

(In a sermon)

The bromide that

Peace is “not just absence of war.”

That’s right (I suppose) as far as it goes,

But peace is more than that.

It is indeed “not just the absence of war.”

But absence of war without its causes,

Injustice and inequality.

Peace is absence of war

With obscene poverty and income gaps

Outlawed.

_____

That’s the goal.

The question is

What will I do

For peace, justice, and equality

Today?

(Sunday Homily) Jesus Has More in Common with ISIS than with the United States

King Purveyor

Readings for Feast of Exaltation of the Holy Cross: NM 21:48-49; PS 78: 1BC-2, 34-38; PHIL 2: 6-11; JN 3: 13-17 http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091414.cfm

Today is the feast of “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross.” It might as well be called the feast of “The Exaltation of the Electric Chair” or of the exaltation of death row or of torture or terrorist martyrs. For relevance’s sake, we might today call the feast “The Exaltation of ISIS or Al Qaeda.”

That’s because the cross on which Jesus died was not only empire’s instrument of unspeakable torture and capital punishment. It was also the punishment the Romans reserved for terrorist insurgents against their empire. Among many others, biblical scholar, Reza Aslan underlines that point in his best-selling study, Zealot. (I recommend the book.)

All of that indicates that the Romans thought of Jesus as a terrorist – just as “Americans” do its enemy du jour whether we call them ISiS, ISIL, or al Qaeda. Let me repeat, Christians worship someone whom the quintessential empire (Rome) and its hangers-on vilified as much as President Obama vilified ISIS last Wednesday night in his address to the nation announcing yet another war. In the eyes of Rome and its Jewish collaborators, Jesus was a terrorist. They said he was stirring up the people and trying to take Caesar’s throne by force (LK 23:5, JN 19:15).

And yet, in today’s liturgy of the word, Jesus himself tells us to follow his example. You might say that he urges us to do what’s necessary to merit the charge of “terrorism” and even its punishment. That’s right. He says, “You cannot be my disciple unless you too take up your cross and follow me to Golgotha – or as we might put it, to Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, death row, and ultimately to the electric chair or gurney to be lethally injected. That is, following Jesus means all of us should be traitors and rebels and enemies of the murderous state the U.S. has become. This is particularly true since our “leaders” have chosen the path of war without end.

However, (if we’re to believe the polls) instead of taking up our crosses, those calling themselves “Christians” have identified with another of the empires in the long line that has succeeded Rome. In other words, we’ve refused the project of Jesus who had more in common with ISIS than with the United States.

Think about it. Jesus’ “gang” was filled with insurgents. How could it be otherwise – poor working class men coming from the hotbed of rebellion in Galilee? They followed a man proclaiming “God’s Kingdom” as a world where Yahweh is king instead of Caesar. In fact, there were many points of convergence between Jesus’ program and that of Zealot terrorists. Like them he favored land reform, cancellation of debts, and justice for the poor. Both the terrorists of his day and Jesus opposed the Jewish leaders who collaborated with Rome. Both detested Roman occupation of God’s lands.

Even more, one member of Jesus’ inner circle was specifically called “the Zealot” (the 1st century equivalent of ISIS). Another’s nom de guerre was “Iscariot” [quite possibly a “sicarius” or assassin of occupation forces). Peter’s nickname was “Rock Thrower.” And James and John were fierce enough to merit the name “Sons of Thunder.” Recall that one of Jesus’ closest friends tried to cut off the head of one of Jesus’ arresters. Yes, cut off his head! Luckily for the militarized cop in question, Peter narrowly missed and only cut off the man’s ear.

But it was at that point, though traveling with an armed group (Think about that for a minute!) that Jesus made the pronouncement that separated him from his band of patriotic resisters to imperial occupation. It’s here that he departs from ISIS as well. He rebukes Peter for drawing his sword. Jesus said, “Put away your sword. All those who live by the sword will perish by it” (MT 26:52).

Those words should astound would-be Christians so ready to bomb, kill and live by the sword to an extent unsurpassed in all of human history. You’d think that if there’s ever been justification for using weapons, it would be to defend the life of a man like Jesus. But no, Jesus insisted that the way to liberation is not by taking life, but by giving one’s own life in non-violent surrender – an insistence echoed by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

Last Thursday, the day following President Obama’s war speech, Amy Goodman ran a segment on “Democracy Now” asking the question, “What would Martin King do in the face of ISIS?” The segment recalled for viewers Dr. King’s 1967 speech at the Riverside Church in New York City. There he memorably called our beloved country ”the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html

King, of course, was right in 1967 when he spoke those words. They ring even truer today. Without the U.S. there would be no ISIS, no al-Qaeda. We’ve trained many of their troops; they’re using weapons the United States military has poured into the region. Without “America,” there would be no crisis in Ukraine evoking threats of World War III. Without U.S. unconditional support of Israel, there would be no “Operation Protective Edge” with more than 2500 Palestinians dead – mostly women and children. Libya would still be intact and so, of course, would Iraq. More than a million people our brutal military has slaughtered in Iraq would still be alive.

(Talk about transubstantiation! Everything our country touches is transformed into the crucified body of Christ. Wine people share at droned weddings and funerals in a sense becomes Jesus’ blood.)

So what would King do? According to Tavis Smiley who has just published Death of a King: the Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year, King would urge a sharp turn in U.S. policy. Such repentance would entail:

• Confessing our nation’s responsibility for the crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Libya, Assyria, Yemen, Somalia, Bahrain, Egypt, Ukraine. . . .
• Paying reparations to all those countries.
• Redirecting the billions (and trillions) wasted in war to health care, education, and infrastructure reconstruction in our own United States.
• Using presidential speeches not to announce further wars, but to lay out emergency plans for addressing the genuine crises that face us, viz. climate chaos world-wide and the Ebola outbreak in Africa.
• Announcing expedited plans to wean the U.S. from the oil consumption that drives our country’s perpetual war policy.

In today’s second reading St. Paul quotes an ancient Christian hymn which scholars universally recognize as encapsulating the belief of the earliest Christians. It’s a song about the Divine One choosing to appear in history not as an exalted king, but as a human being, a slave, and an executed criminal.

If we wish to find God, the hymn suggests, we should look and listen not to our presidents, but to “the other – those the Empire hates – and make their cause our own. It’s in the ranks of the oppressed that God’s Son is found – among empire’s designated enemies, among the enslaved, the tortured and those our “leaders” identify as terrorists.

Does this mean we are being called to somehow recognize Jesus in ISIS?

Yes it does. ISIS has legitimate demands. We need to talk with them, not bomb them. Followers of Jesus should be demanding that – even if it means being branded “terrorists” ourselves.

In Praise of Persistent Women like Medea Benjamin, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Goodman (Sunday Homily)

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Readings for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: EX 17: 8-13; PS 121: 1-8; 2 TM 3:14-4:2; LK 18: 1-8; http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102013.cfm

Medea Benjamin is a peace activist and founder of Code Pink. In May of this year, she interrupted a speech by President Obama about the closing of Guantanamo Bay. Four times during his speech, she reminded the president that as chief executive he had the power to close the prison as he had promised during his campaign of 2008. The president was forced to acknowledge Benjamin’s point, but held that the issue was more complicated than she made it out to be. Clearly her outspokenness called for great courage and exposed to an international audience President Obama’s failure to keep his word. It pressured the president to change policy.
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Elizabeth Warren is the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts. Elected to the Senate in 2012, she is the first female senator from Massachusetts. Ms. Warren is a tireless consumer advocate and the first female Senator from Massachusetts. During her campaign, she called attention to the hypocrisy of “self-made men” claiming they owed nothing to government or community to explain their success. She said,

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.….Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God Bless! Keep a Big Hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
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Amy Goodman is a television journalist and host of “Democracy Now: the War and Peace Report” – a daily news hour on the Pacifica Radio and Television network. In the face of mainstream media’s refusal to cover significant grassroots events and issues, Ms. Goodman’s program has been called “probably the most significant progressive news institution that has come around in some time” (by professor and media critic Robert McChesney.) In addition to OpEdNews, “Democracy Now” is an invaluable daily source of information for the well-informed. It is an example of what can be accomplished for peace and social justice in the face of overwhelming odds.
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Keep in mind the examples of Medea Benjamin, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Goodman as we attempt to understand today’s liturgy of the word. Our readings raise the issue of prayer, and what it means (in Jesus’ words) to “pray always without ceasing.”

Actually, the readings compare what might be termed “men’s way of praying” with women’s. At least in today’s readings, men pray that God might intervene to slaughter their enemies. In contrast, the woman in today’s gospel confronts the power structure of her day as her way of praying. That is, she persistently works to bring her world into harmony with God’s justice.

Take that first reading from Exodus. . . . Did it make you raise your eyebrows? It should have. It’s about God facilitating mass slaughter. It tells the story of Moses praying during a battle against the King of Amalek. It’s a classic etiology evidently meant to explain a chair-like rock formation near a site remembered as an early Hebrew battleground.

“What means this formation?” would have been the question inspiring this explanatory folk tale. “Well,” came the answer, “Long ago when our enemy Amelek attacked our people, Moses told Joshua to raise an elite corps of fighters. During the course of the ensuing battle, Moses watched from this very place where we are standing accompanied by his brother Aaron and another friend called Hur.

Moses raised his hands in prayer during the day-long battle. And as long as he did so, Joshua’s troops got the better of Amalek’s. But Moses would get tired from time to time; so he’d lower his hands. When he did so, Amalek’s troops got the better of Joshua’s.

“To solve the problem, Aaron and Hur sat Moses down on this stone you see before us. They held up his arms during the entire battle. That strategy saved the day. Joshua won his battle “mowing down Amelek and his people.”

So here we have a God who responds to ad hoc prayers and reverses history so that one group of his children might “mow down” another group of people he supposedly loves. Hmmm. . . .

In today’s gospel, Jesus has another approach to prayer. For him, prayer is not an ad hoc affair – about changing God’s mind. Rather, praying always represents the adoption of an attitude that consistently seeks justice for the oppressed. Praying always means living from a place that won’t let go of justice concerns like those that drive Medea Benjamin, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Goodman.

To illustrate that point for his own time, Jesus tells a comic parable about a persistent woman. (Remember, he’s speaking to people who have no power in a legal system, which, like ours favors the wealthy and powerful.)

“Imagine a judge,” Jesus said. “He’s like most of the judges we know. He doesn’t give a damn about the God of the poor, and he doesn’t care what people like us think of him.” (Already Jesus’ audience is smiling seeing a funny story coming.)

“But then along comes this widow-woman. Like all of us, she’s poor, and as usual, the judge pays no attention to her.” (Jesus’ audience recognizes the syndrome; they nod to each other.)

“But this woman’s a nagger,” Jesus says. (Now his audience is snickering and chuckling.)

“She just won’t let go. And she’s strong and aggressive besides. She comes back day after day insisting that she get justice against her adversary. And as the days go by, she gets more and more insistent – and threatening. So much so that the judge starts getting worried about his own safety.

(Laughter from the crowd . . .)

“’While it is true,’ he says to himself, ‘that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’”

In other words, this macho judge is afraid of this poor widow; he’s afraid she’ll come and beat him up!

Can you imagine Jesus saying that without smiling broadly – and without the crowd roaring in laughter?

Anyway, here’s Jesus point: “If an unjust judge responds to the prayer of the poor like that, how do you suppose the All-Parent will respond when we ask for justice? The All-Parent will respond swiftly, Jesus says, because that’s who God is – the one who (as Martin Luther King put it) has established an arc of history that bends towards justice.

Prayer, then, is about reminding ourselves of that fact, trusting and having faith that in the long run justice and truth will prevail. Taking that position in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, takes great faith that’s harder and harder to find.

So Jesus ends his parable with the rhetorical question, “When the Son of Man returns, do you think he’ll find that kind of faith anywhere?”

What I’m suggesting here is that today we’re more likely to find that kind of faith, that kind of prayer, that kind of persistence in women rather than men. The example of social activist Medea Benjamin encourages us to find our voices in defense of the voiceless in U.S. prison camps throughout the world. Politician, Elizabeth Warren, calls us to pray always by calling into question received truths like those surrounding “self-made men.” Amy Goodman and her “War and Peace Report” inspire us to renounce ideas of God that call us to “mow our enemies down.”

Thank God for persistent women! We men have an awful lot to learn from them.

Shame on NPR: Elliot Abrams Is Not a Trustworthy Authority

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Have you noticed the rightward drift of National Public Radio? I think it’s unmistakable. That hasn’t caused me to adopt Mitt Romney’s position on the station’s defunding. However NPR’s validation of spurious right wing commentators has led me to petition my local station (WEKU) to replace “All Things Considered” with Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” After all, the right has enough air space with its nearly absolute domination of AM radio.

Case in point: On yesterdays “All Things Considered,” Melissa Block interviewed Elliot Abrams about the pending appointment of Chuck Hegel, the former senator from Nebraska, as Secretary of Defense. Though a Republican, Hegel has been tapped by President Obama for this important cabinet post. His Republican credentials however have not prevented him from being opposed by neo-conservatives like Abrams who see him as “anti-Semitic.”

Abrams’ charge is based on Hegel’s criticism of “the Jewish lobby.” Apparently, the ex-senator is suspect not only for his use of that somehow objectionable phrase, but for pointing out that he had been elected a senator from Nebraska, not from Israel.
Additionally Abrams contests Hegel’s appointment because of the former Vietnam veteran’s seeming reluctance to endorse possible military action against Iran over its alleged nuclear ambitions. Hegel is suspect because he sees diplomacy and dialog as less destructive and more productive than yet another war in the Middle East.

Before voicing such opinions, Abrams was introduced as a former advisor to Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, and as Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. What the NPR interviewer didn’t say was that Abrams himself is part of “the Jewish lobby.” He is also a convicted felon. Abrams, you’ll recall, was found guilty of criminal activity for his role in the Iran-Contra affair and was later pardoned by George W. Bush.

Also unmentioned was Abrams’ role as point-man in Reagan’s wider illegal U.S. policy in Nicaragua costing the lives of nearly 100,000 Nicaraguan peasants at the hands of U.S.-supported terrorists. I remember quite well his interviews during the 1980s when he endorsed Reagan’s ridiculous characterization of the vicious Contras as “the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers.” He also repeatedly (and falsely) described the Sandinistas as “totalitarian, Communist dictators.”

Despite such discredits, Block treated Abrams as a trustworthy objective authority from just another Washington think-tank. In reality, she might just as well have been interviewing Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy or Rush Limbaugh.

That NPR should validate Abrams’ commentary without reminding its audience of such important elements of Abrams’ biography is inexcusable. Similarly unpardonable is Ms. Block’s failure to ask the obvious: (1) Is there a “Jewish lobby” or not? (2) Might Abrams be considered part of that lobby? (3) Was Hegel wrong in identifying himself as primarily responsible to his Nebraskan constituents rather than to Israel? (4) Why has Israel (unlike Iran) not signed onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? (5) If Iran should be sanctioned and threatened for its alleged nuclear ambitions, why not Israel for its de facto possession of hundreds of nuclear weapons?

NPR habitually ignores such obvious questions. “Democracy Now!” never does. That’s why I tune in more often to the latter than the former.

Thanks Amy Goodman For Breaking the Sound Barrier

Like 69 million other Americans, I watched the second presidential debate from Hofstra University last night. And I must confess I was pleased to see President Obama “win.” This was the Obama so notably absent from the first debate. He came out swinging, was feisty, incisive and smart. He clearly won, and was the more able of the two debaters. That made me feel better – but only because President Obama is the lesser of two evils and only because the parameters of debate were so narrowly set.

My point is that there were only two candidates on stage.  As a result, there was a remarkable convergence of assumptions and positions between the two. That convergence might have been avoided had other candidates been allowed onstage with the two corporate spokespersons now posturing before us as candidates presenting us with “stark differences.”

Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” has tried to remedy the situation in a series of debates she calls “Breaking the Sound-Barrier” (http://www.democracynow.org/).  The title’s reference is to her show’s inclusion of opinion beyond that endorsed by the corporate interests that shape public debate – that set the “limits of perception” more effectively than blinders on horses.

So this morning on Ms. Goodman’s program, she added three other candidates’ voices to the debate mix: Jill Stein of the Green Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. The three took part just as if Candy Crowley’s questions had been presented not only to Messrs Obama and Romney, but to them as well. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer. And by the way, Ms. Goodman was far more successful at imposing time limits than Jim Lehrer, Martha Radatz or Candy Crowley.

The upshot of breaking the system-imposed “sound barrier” was to remarkably soften the differences between candidates Romney and Obama.

For instance, both candidates sparred with each other over who was more the champion of dirty energy, drilling, and pipe lines. Yes, they mentioned “green technologies.” But with both Romney and Obama it always seemed an afterthought. Mr. Romney evoked “drill, baby, drill” memories with his emphasis on more drilling and on the XL Pipeline. Apparently, Mr. Obama was afraid to even mention that while reserving his decision on the XL Pipeline till after the elections, he’s very quietly allowed construction of the U.S. portion to actually begin.

Had Ms. Stein been admitted to the Hofstra debate, Americans would have been reminded of the impact of fossil fuel consumption not only on prices at the gas pump, but on the environment and global warming. (In fact, the notion of climate change received not a single mention in last night’s contest. And this even though it certainly represents the greatest threat to not only U.S. national security, but to life as we know it.) Ms. Stein’s presence would have made Obama and Romney define their positions on the topic, as she would have had the chance to make her case for a “Green New Deal” which draws connections between the consumption of fossil fuel and environmental deterioration, oil wars, and healthcare.

Rocky Anderson’s presence on stage would have brought front and center the concerns of his Justice Party. Without him the words “poverty” and “poor” crossed no one’s lips, even though poverty rates in the United States are at their highest rate since 1965. Similarly, Mr. Anderson would have raised questions of breaking up the “too big to fail” banks and the prosecution of fraudulent bankers not one of whom has yet been brought to trial.

Mr. Anderson would also have made the Republicans, Democrats and public at large reframe the “jobs debate.” Without him, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney could avoid facing the fact that the digital revolution of the last twenty-five years has rendered obsolete conventional ways of thinking about work. Robots have displaced people. As a result, it’s imperative to reframe questions of employment. Available jobs must be shared; it’s as simple as that. Work days, weeks, months, and years need shortening. Vacations need extensions. And the wealth the new technology is currently concentrating in the 1% needs redistribution.

Perhaps no question in last night’s debate more highlighted the need for “breaking the sound barrier” than the one about the differences between Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama, and George W. Bush. In his answer, candidate Romney talked about differences in personality and context, championing small businesses, and cracking down on China. Mercifully for him, Mr. Obama did not have to answer the question.

Neither Ms. Stein nor Mr. Anderson would have allowed such question-dodging to pass. The fact is, both Stein and Anderson agree, there is very little important difference between either the Romney or Obama positions or that of former President Bush. In fact under Obama, Bush policies have been exacerbated, and they promise to get even worse under Romney. The list of policy similarities is long: use of torture, promotion of free trade agreements, spying on U.S. citizens, detention of “terrorist” suspects with charge or trial, extra-judicial (drone) executions, championing dirty energy, off-shoring of jobs, misleading agreement that Social Security and Medicare are in crisis, refusal to prosecute Bush era war crimes . . .

Yes, Mr. Obama rose to the occasion last night. And I’m happy that he won. I’ll vote for him in November. But my vote is only a stop-gap measure. During the next four years I’m going to devote my political energies to working for the Justice and Green Parties so that in 2014 they won’t be excluded from presidential debates.

Even if their winning the presidency might remain a remote possibility, their inclusion in the debates will serve us all. Thanks, Amy Goodman!