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?”
Last week, Michael Moore asked an important question on OpEdNews. He wondered “Why Are We Not Uprising?” His revolutionary issue was the lack of single-payer healthcare so relentlessly highlighted by the worldwide covid-19 pandemic. Why no revolution, he asked, when so many are dying from clearly remediable causes – when the vast majority of Americans want single-payer?
Response to Moore’s article showed that he had indeed touched a revolutionary chord.
But then last Wednesday, when an actual uprising took place, everyone, it seemed, wanted to join hands across the proverbial aisle separating left and right. They jointly lamented the shocking breakdown of law and order. (The “Risings” Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti provide an example of that shared reaction.)
Think about it, everyone said: the rioters actually “desecrated” the Capitol Building’ “sacred” space! They broke some windows. They took selfies of themselves standing at the podium of the House of Representatives. They ransacked poor Nancy Pelosi’s office! They forced Mitch McConnell and Co. to run for their lives.
Washington policemen responded with a wink and a nod.
The horror of it all!
Something similar (with important differences) happened this summer, when Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrators took to the streets. Theirs’ was a largely peaceful uprising in the spirit of Martin Luther King. But then, agents provocateurs (and perhaps some demonstrators themselves) had the temerity to break into and loot Wal-Mart’s “sacred” precincts. Windows were smashed; fires were set.
That time, police responded with an iron fist. Demonstrators were beaten, tear-gassed and arrested.
Yes of course, there were those important differences between the two insurrections just cited. The DC protagonists were Trump supporters and right-wing fanatics. Their issue was election fraud. The cause of the BLM demonstrators was police brutality directed towards black and brown people.
Despite those distinctions however, don’t you see what’s happening? Michael Moore’s wish has come true! The first phase of the revolution is unfolding before our very eyes. But even its protagonists don’t recognize its portent and promise.
That’s because they’ve been hoodwinked into seeing each other as the enemy. Rather than joining forces against their common overlords, they’re punching down. The rightists think their enemy are blacks and immigrants whose numbers are rapidly changing U.S. demographics. Meanwhile, leftist demonstrators are the very ones mistakenly vilified by the rightists and their sympathizers among the police.
The empowering solution is for all of us to see the common revolutionary terrain on which we’re standing, namely:
Citizen anger, be it left or right is entirely justified
Both what happened In DC this week and in streets across the country (and world) last summer are the initial stirrings of a widespread working-class revolution.
Michael Moore is right. He’d agree, I think, that the real violence in question here is not breaking windows or setting fires. It’s a system that in the midst of a worldwide pandemic refuses (despite agreement between Democratic and Republican majorities) to refund our taxpayer dollars in the form of single-payer healthcare and guaranteed income for workers displaced by forces beyond our control.
That’s our money they’re not returning to us in this emergency!
Everyone can also agree with Trump supporters that our election system is entirely fraudulent. Voting machines are completely questionable; they should be replaced by paper ballots. Campaign contributions are nothing but legalized bribery. Voter suppression’s many forms (from unnecessary ID laws to the dismantling of the U.S. post office) are a sad fact of American life. Gerrymandering is hideously anti-democratic. So is the Electoral College. The list of fraudulence goes on.
Pelosi and McConnell do not represent us, but their donors. Following the example of our Founders (cf. Jefferson on this!), we should force them all to flee for their lives from outraged citizens and their pitchforks whether the attack comes from the right or the left.
The offices of our mis-representatives deserve to be ransacked.
Ordinary people should seize congressional podia and make their voices heard.
The police too are working class people misled into identifying fellow workers as the enemy while defending their own natural enemies.
I’m currently reading Barack Obama’s autobiography, The Promised Land. It’s an account of a well-meaning ambitious young black man whose rise to the pinnacle of political power gradually but inexorably transforms him into the servant of a class he initially identified as inimical to the interests of the people he wanted to help. It’s the story of an imperceptibly slow cooptation, early-onset blindness, and betrayal of ideals and common sense in favor of power, profit and prestige.
A similar cooptation threatens all of us at this pre-revolutionary moment. It will succeed if we allow our overlords to sell us a narrative that covers up the workers’ revolution that has the Pelosis and McConnells of the world frightened out of their wits. Like young Mr. Obama, we’re overlooking how the rich and powerful are blinding us to our common cause as wage-earning Americans.
Michael Moore (and the rest of us) should take note.
Readingsfor the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 20: 7-9; Psalm 63: 2-9; Romans 12: 1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
This Sunday’s readings are about truth, the world’s rejection of the same, and about the truth-teller’s willingness to take the consequences – even if they entail loss of one’s life.
The readings are extremely relevant to our moment in history. There, the current occupant of the White House has from day one (and before) challenged conventional ideas about truth itself. His administration popularized the phrases “fake news” and “alternative facts.” The Washington Postalleges that in less than one year, the chief executive told more than 2000 lies.
In the meantime, sources like QAnon have spread right-wing conspiracy theories that have many scratching their heads about what to believe. For instance, are Q’s assertions true that:
Antifa is a sworn enemy of Black Lives Matter (BLM)?
BLM itself is funded and controlled by George Soros and left-wing think tanks?
President Obama is really a Muslim?
Kamala Harris is ineligible to be POTUS?
Sandy Hook was a false flag event staged to justify disarming U.S. citizens?
Prominent Democrats have run a child-trafficking ring out of a D.C. pizzeria (“Pizzagate”)?
The entire world is run by a Satan-worshipping child sex-trafficking organization?
In the context of COVID-19, beliefs are widespread that:
COVID-19 is a fake “pLandemic” orchestrated by a “deep state” to eliminate democracy and reset the economy even more in favor of the rich.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is a key player in starting the pLandemic – to make billions for himself.
But the ultimate goal is to set up a New World Order under a single government.
Face masks and social distancing are means to deprive unsuspecting citizens of their civil liberties.
Debate Among OpEd Editors
With all of that in mind, a lively debate has erupted for the past couple of weeks among OpEdNews senior editors. It was sparked by an editorial penned by the website’s editor-in-chief (EIC), Rob Kall. Rob has taken a courageously firm editorial stance against articles that reflect the right-wing talking points of view just listed. According to Rob, they’re all “bad guy” theories. Moreover, the uncritical use of right-wing talking points and language (e.g. “deep state,” “pLandemic,” and “New World Order”) only serve to boost and promote right wing messaging. The EIC wrote, “When you use the language of the enemy, you help the enemy . . . So, stop using their language.”
For me, Rob’s stance makes a lot of sense. But I can also see how others (excluding the senior editors) might label it just another example of “cancel culture?” Are we to cancel well-written and well-documented articles because of their conspiratorial language?
More importantly (at least in the context of this Sunday homily) can we get away with classifying those we disagree with as “bad guys” or as “the enemy?”
[Believe me, I ask that question with some trepidation. I’m uncomfortable with the theories listed above. Many of them (not all – see below) seem outrageous. Most often, I think of Donald Trump and his cohorts as “the enemy” – as “bad guys.”]
However, such reflections bring me back to this Sunday’s readings and their faith underpinnings. All of the readings underwrite truth alternatives severely in conflict with unquestioned cultural convictions. They point to the embrace of those who hold “unacceptable” opinions.
And it’s not just the Judeo-Christian tradition I’m talking about. Instead, I’m referencing all the non-dual spiritualities that find home in all the world’s Great Religions. In their mystical forms, they all agree that there’s no distinction between us and those we’re tempted to “other” as bad guys and enemies. Despite our understandable antipathies, none of them is cancelable any more than we would like to be.
Even more familiarly, Jesus the Christ recommended loving “your neighbor as yourself” (i.e. because she or he is yourself). That’s because (as Marianne Williamson puts it) “There is really only one of us here.” Ken Wilber comes close to saying the same thing when he observes (uncomfortably for me!) that given their level of consciousness, everyone is right — at least partially. And then there’s Deepak Chopra who says everyone’s doing the best they can.
Again, with all of that in mind imagine, for instance, how Donald Trump or QAnon partisans would relate to today’s readings. Please check out the originals for yourself here to see what I mean. My “translations” run as follows:
Jeremiah 20: 7-9: Life is deceptive. When I explain how, everyone laughs and makes fun of me. Yet, despite my resolutions to stop talking, I cannot remain silent about the violence and outrages that no one else seems to see. My compulsion to tell the truth is like an out-of-control fire burning inside me.
Psalm 63: 2-9: In fact, truth-seeking is synonymous with my thirst for Life Itself. It’s like rain falling on parched soil. It involves an encounter with the Force that some call “God.” That meeting is what life itself is about. Hence despite rejection by the world, speaking truth is more satisfying than a rich banquet. It’s like water for my scorched soul.
Romans 12: 1-2: So, sisters and brothers, be willing to endure rejection for your stubborn non-conformity – for your commitment to the true, the good, and the beautiful – for your enlightenment. No other way of life is worth living.
Matthew 16:21-27: Commitment to truth always brings some type of martyrdom. Jesus saw that clearly. However, he refused to be dissuaded from following his prophetic script – even by his closest friend. “STFU,” he told Peter in no uncertain terms. “You too,” he said, “and anyone wishing to follow me must be willing to endure even capital punishment. Yes, opposing the lies of church and state is more important than life itself.”
The Unresolved OpEd Debate
So, if life is so mysterious and even deceptive, if our faith demands nonconformity and taking the heat for unpopular opposition to church and state, if transcendent truth really lies 180 degrees opposite of routinely accepted cultural bromides, what are we to do about “bad guys,” “enemies,” and their apparently wild conspiracy theories?
First of all, we must recognize that bad guys indeed exist. There are criminals in the world and the worst of them reside not behind bars, but behind desks in D.C., in state capitals, and on Wall Street. It may even be that CIA or NSA operatives are behind the more outlandish conspiracy theories in question. Clearly, many of these perps belong in jail. And most of us look forward to the day of their incarceration.
Secondly, however, we must recognize that the bad guys are emphatically not the people writing for OpEdNews. In Ken Wilber’s terms, those persuaded by the earlier-referenced theories might simply be coming from mindsets Wilber calls “egocentric” or “ethnocentric.” These are not negative terms; all of us, even if we’ve transitioned to “world-centric” or even “cosmic-centric” levels, have passed through those stages (no one can avoid them). In other words, following the thread I’m trying to develop here, and given their stage of evolutionary development, these people are right and are doing the best they can.
Thirdly (and most uncomfortably for me), it may be that the so-called “conspiracy theorists” are objectively correct or at least partially so. Here I’m thinking specifically about a video interview of Sasha Stone I posted on OEN a few weeks ago. There Stone (who sometimes appears angry and even unhinged) does endorse that claim that the world is run by a cabal of pedophiles and Satan worshippers. More importantly however, he’s endorsed in that position by Robert David Steele, an ex-CIA officer, who seems perfectly sane, objective, and entirely rational. Steele claims that 22,000 children are kidnapped and “disappear” every year into an underworld of pedophilia and Satan worship. That conclusion is supported by an entire panel of sober scholars and jurists belonging to Stone’s International Tribunal for Natural Justice.
What is one to think about all that – especially given what’s been revealed in the Jeffrey Epstein/Ghislaine Maxwell saga? Is that merely the tip of an iceberg?
Given the thrust of today’s readings (and even discounting them if you prefer) it could very well be possible that the conspiracy theorists now under threat of cancellation from OEN pages might be right – or at least partially so. With the readings’ recommendations of nonconformity and prophetic resistance ringing in my ears, here’s where I see that they might well be on the right path:
By his outrageous lies, Donald Trump has clearly pulled the curtain back from our culture’s ethnocentric prevarications. As the very incarnation of egocentrism, he has rendered untenable all claims to American exceptionalism. In that sense, he himself is a great (though completely unconscious) prophet.
Secretary of State and former CIA director, Mike Pompeo, has been even more explicit in his admissions about our government’s systemic lies. Pompeo’s predecessor under President Reagan, William Casey was more honest still. He said, “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” (Think about that! How can we trust anything our government says?)
Trump, Pompeo, Casey and the revision of American history stimulated by their policies have shown that all of us have been duped about our country’s foundations and “noble traditions.” Most of it is fake.
Consequently, everyone should presume without contrary smoking gun evidence that our politicians (and mass media, church leaders, scientists and educators) are lying, though often unconsciously.
NOTHING is immune from such well-founded skepticism – including COVID-19, mask wearing, and social distancing.
Moreover, the Epstein/Maxwell saga coupled with the worldwide pedophilia scandal within the Roman Catholic Church and the massive profits gained from child pornography have all revealed the centrality of child sexual abuse that few previously suspected. (As Robert David Steele puts it: the five pillars of U.S. policy are guns, gold, cash, drugs, and child trafficking.)
Those same revelations have demonstrated that our country’s ruling class (and the world’s!) are corrupt to the bone. NOTHING – no crime, no degeneracy – is beyond them. The swamp is deep and fetid.
Joe Biden and the Democrats will be no better than Mr. Trump in draining that swamp. They have no interest in doing so.
Of course, I could go on with my list. However, the point is that there is more overlap than one might think between the convictions of those on the right and progressive readers and contributors to OEN. As uncomfortable as it might be, leftists must not cancel, but rather dialog with “the enemy” and seriously investigate their claims.
Readings for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: ISAIAH 56: 1, 6-7; PSALMS 67: 2-8; ROMANS 11: 13-15, 29-32; MATTHEW 15: 21-28
Today’s readings return us to the idea explored here a few weeks ago – Big God faith vs. small god beliefs. Today’s selections point to the latter as the root of diabolically deep divides like those separating Jews from Palestinians – as well as the rest of us from those we despise as somehow “foreign.”
This time however, the vehicle for making the Big God point is mildly sarcastic humor. And it comes from a completely unexpected source – a presumably uneducated Palestinian woman schooling a specifically Jewish prophet about his small god beliefs. It’s the only place in the early Christian tradition where Jesus is out bantered and rendered speechless in what can only be described as a contest of repartee. The joke is that the Great Teacher loses!
The woman in question is a Palestinian mom seeking a cure for here mentally disturbed daughter whom the reigning culture considered demon possessed. Within the story’s context, the demon in question seems to be a product of the dominant Jewish culture’s belief in a small nationalistic god who favors Jews over Palestinians. No wonder the child was disturbed; she had been told since birth that she was worthless. That, of course is the same demon that today not merely causes Palestinian children (and a whole list of others in our world) mental anxiety; too often, it costs them and/or their parents and siblings their very lives.
The woman is remembered by Matthew as “Syrophonician.” That meant she was not a Jew. She was a native or inhabitant of Phoenicia when it was part of the Roman province of Syria. She was living near the twin cities of Tyre and Sidon — a gentile or non-Jewish region of the Fertile Crescent where Matthew takes trouble to locate today’s episode. As I said, that would have made Jesus’ petitioner what we call a “Palestinian” today.
(By the way, Matthew’s geographical note serves to remind us that the Jews never controlled all of their “Promised Land.” Instead, they always had to share it with “Palestinians” including Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, Geshurites, Maacaathites, and Philistines.)
In any case, the woman’s daughter is troubled apparently by this culturally imposed anxiety.
So, identifying Jesus as specifically Jewish, the woman petitions: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
Jesus responds by ignoring his petitioner at first and then by disrespectfully associating his petitioner with dogs — almost calling her a b*tch. Disdainfully, he says, “I have been sent for the lost children of Israel . . . it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
The reply seems out of character for Jesus, doesn’t it? In fact, such dissonance has led many to reject the saying as inauthentic. (On the contrary, I would say that the negative light in which this tale presents Jesus argues for its authenticity. After all, the evangelists were anxious to present him as favorably as possible. Why would they make up a story like this?) Whatever the case, Jesus’ reply only echoes the rabbinic saying of the time, “He who eats with idolaters is like one who eats with a dog.”
In other words, Jesus’ comparison stands in a long line of small godders likening cultural outsiders to animals. If Matthew’s account is accurate, in his initial silence and then in his harsh response, Jesus was showing himself to be captive to his people’s traditional norms.
However, the brave woman in today’s gospel doesn’t take no for an answer. She drolly replies, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
The witty answer evidently astonishes Jesus. We can almost hear him laughing as he shakes his head and exclaims, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” In other words, the woman “converts” Jesus; he concedes her argument. The one the gospels present as the master of verbal riposte is vanquished by this simple Palestinian mom.
Even more importantly, the woman’s daughter is cured. The demon that possessed her leaves. That is, by overcoming his reluctance and expanding his own nationalistic understanding of God, that broadened awareness was somehow communicated to the woman’s daughter. No more possession.
The lesson? Transcending small god religious convictions can vanquish even demons with supernatural powers. By comparison, overcoming more pedestrian foes is easy. Small god beliefs are diabolical. Setting them aside heals even at a cosmic level.
Notice how that encouraging Big God understanding is communicated by this Sunday’s entirely expansive vision communicated in all four readings. Here are my “translations” of their content. Please read them yourself here to see if I’ve got them right.
ISAIAH 56: 1, 6-7: What separates God’s People from the rest is not nationality, but their embrace of social justice towards everyone else. That’s what unites “foreigners” to our Great Mother. Doing justice makes their landscapes as holy as our own. It renders their altars sacred and their offerings meaningful. It designates their houses of worship as centers of joy.
PSALMS 67: 2-8: Yes, according to their own customs, all people everywhere (implicitly or explicitly) recognize and worship the same Holy Mother. She is compassionate towards them all, guides them, and showers each with abundant blessings. That’s simply the divine way. All of us can be happy about such universal inclusion.
ROMANS 11: 13-15, 29-32: So, for our Mother there are no “foreigners.” There shouldn’t be for us either. Otherwise, we’re like petty jealous children vying for parental love and “telling on” each other for supposed disobedience. Accepting everyone as God’s gifted and forgiven children challenges every one of us to embrace a new form of living based on God’s universal love.
MATTHEW 15: 21-28: Even Yeshua had to learn this lesson. When a Palestinian woman approached him as a specifically Jewish prophet, he at first ignored her and then nearly called her an unworthy “b*tch. He did! But she outsmarted him with a clever reply that made him laugh and melt. The demons of religious nationalism recoiled in disappointed disgust.
Off hand, I can think of about 10 conclusions to draw from today’s remarkably “Immense God” readings – and especially from today’s especially noteworthy story about the humbling of Jesus and the forced shift in his small god convictions. Here they are organized into two groups, one particular (i.e. related to our Gospel narrative) and the other a bit more general:
Small gods are seductive: Even Yeshua succumbed.
They are bad for mental health: Small god religion can drive people crazy as it did the daughter in the story at hand. (No religion at all seems preferable.)
Mother power is unstoppable: Very few need convincing here. Mamma bears will defend their cubs no matter what. Like most mothers, this Palestinian mom wouldn’t take no for an answer.
In general, women have much to teach even the wisest of men: To this day under patriarchy, it remains difficult for many to accept that mother usually knows best.
Change in consciousness can be miraculous and contagious: Who knows when this schooling of Jesus occurred in his life? If it happened, it probably came at the beginning. If so, it represented a radical and transformative shift in his approach to God.
And that leads me to more general conclusions about Jesus’ conversion. Following the Big God insight that he learned from the Palestinian mom, Jesus’ revised understanding evidently led his most universally admired followers to conclude that:
Borders are arbitrary: They were not part of the original divine plan. As the universe comes from the hand of God, there are no borders. (And anyway, they keep changing all the time.) Human beings should be free to roam the earth as they wish.
Nationalities are random too: Even in the Jewish Testament, it’s only gradually that humans “fall” from their original unity into the sin of national distinctions. In the divine order, there are no Jews, gentiles, Syrophonicians, or Palestinians, blacks or whites.
Laws are entirely questionable: For the sake of human welfare, Jesus easily set aside even the “holiest” of laws (such as Sabbath Law). He recognized love’s law as supreme relativizing all others (Matthew 22:37-40). Those other regulations usually exist only to protect the rich and powerful. That’s who made them!
Racial distinctions are equally meaningless: What could be more relevant for us today? Syrophoenician lives matter. Palestinian lives matter. Black lives matter.
Bold humor conquers all: This is perhaps the most important point driven home by today’s readings. Getting us to laugh at ourselves and our petty beliefs can melt hearts, overcome deep-seated prejudice, and restore sanity for everyone.
Last Sunday (July 19th), the far-right Christian Post published an article by John Wesley Reid entitled “5 Reasons why Christians should feel comfortable voting for Trump in 2020.” Two days later, the same publication reported an international survey implicitly lamenting the fact that “most Americans don’t believe they need God to be good.”
In this time of Black Lives Matter (BLM) uprisings across the country and across the world, the two articles take on particular importance. Together, they not only highlight stark differences between right and left-wing understandings of Christianity. They also point up differences between the faiths of white evangelicals and their black counterparts in the street.
Additionally, both articles’ identification of Christianity exclusively with far right Caucasian politics goes a long way towards explaining the disconnect between morality and belief in a God. The explanation is found in the Christian right’s severely limited understanding of God, of goodness, and of the connection between morality and politics in this polarizing era of Donald Trump.
In tandem, the two articles also invite readers to be more thoughtful about their faith (or lack of same) and the ballot they’ll cast come November 3rd.
God & Goodness
Begin with the survey. According to Pew Researchers, 54% of Americans hold that you don’t need God to be good. Meanwhile 44% (a large majority of them on the ideological right) hold the opposite opinion. Only 24% on the ideological left believe God and morality are necessarily connected. (Left respondents in the survey typically had more years of formal education.)
The Reid article shed light both on the identity of the sidelined God and on survey respondents’ likely understanding of “goodness” closely connected with that supposed deity. As will become clear below, Reid’s God is primarily concerned with specifically Christian welfare and with unborn life. Goodness is overwhelmingly connected with what the author referenced as “non-carnality.” Consequently, Christian political concern focuses on matters of specifically Christian liberty, on sexuality and reproduction – especially on abortion (which btw is not even mentioned in the Bible as a moral concern).
Such limited understanding reflects the huge gap between white evangelicals and their black counterparts – for instance, the ones demonstrating against police brutality in our city streets. Their actions, of course, cannot be adequately explained without reference to the religiously based history of the Civil Rights Movement.
In the light of that history, BLM demonstrators have inherited an understanding of God biblically founded on God’s very first revelation, viz. in the liberation of slaves from captivity in Egypt. It is linked besides to concern for widows, orphans and resident immigrants and refugees frequently reiterated in both the Jewish and Christian Testaments. In other words, goodness for black evangelicals is inseparably connected with social justice. Meanwhile, Reid’s article suggests ignorance of, and even hostility towards such linkage.
Morality & Voting for Trump
Setting all of that aside, Reid admits that he had doubts about Trump in 2016. But now, he says, those reservations have completely disappeared. Instead, he recommends that all Christians should confidently vote for 45’s reelection in November. He advances 5 reasons for doing so:
You’re not voting for Donald Trump; you’re voting for the Trump Administration.
You’re not voting simply for a person; you’re voting for an agenda.
Policy outweighs character because policy outlasts character.
If for no other reason than abortion, vote for Donald Trump.
Voting for Trump is a tangible way of keeping Biden out.
Closely read, those reasons indicate that the author is still holding his nose. They all end up distancing themselves from a morally challenged candidate while cozying up to supposed paragons of Christian virtue such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to Trump’s agenda favoring “religious liberty,” “life of the unborn,” and resistance to volatile attacks on America (standard dog whistle for African Americans).
More specifically, Reid’s 5 reasons claim that:
Trump may be carnally questionable, but people like Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo are “committed non-carnal Christ-followers.”
Doubts about the president’s moral character should be “trumped” by his agenda which the author finds favoring “religious liberty,” “life of the unborn,” and resistance to those explosive attacks on America.
Sure, Trump’s character is highly debatable. However, appointments of “constitutional originalists” to the judiciary are more important. So are “our children’s futures,” religious liberty, the lives of the unborn, and the economic advancement of low-income communities.
Christians can conscientiously identify as single-issue voters, because the abortion issue is powerful enough to overwhelm all other policy considerations.
Joe Biden is no Donald Trump.
Voting against Trump
But what if being Christian is far more complicated and challenging than Reid lets on? What if black evangelicals and others are correct in holding it’s more than avoiding “carnality” even in the sense of Trump’s legendarily deviant sexuality (now involving expressed support for his friend, accused child rapist and sex trafficker, Ghislaine Maxwell)? Such complexity might lead Christians to decline voting for Mr. Trump for at least the following 5 specific reasons roughly mirroring Reid’s own:
The type of Christianity advocated by Mr. Reid is just that – a type of Christianity, viz. the white evangelical sort. However, there are other types of Christians – those black evangelicals, for instance. And then there are Catholics who embrace the official teaching of their Church, viz. the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Francis. Their pro-life positions go far beyond the single issue of abortion to include radical environmentalism, war resistance, rejection of capital punishment, advocacy of living wages, fair housing, and healthcare as a human right. All of these, they profess, are pro-life matters.
Religious liberty as understood in the Constitution is not limited to Christians of any stripe. It extends to Muslims, Jews, Hindus, agnostics, atheists and others whose pro-life concerns prioritize the already born – e.g. at the border, in Trump’s baby jails, under incessant U.S.-supported bombing in places like Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, on death row, and elsewhere.
Donald Trump and virtually every member of the Republican Party are joined at the hip. There is absolutely no separation between policies advocated and implemented by Donald Trump and the rest of his administration – none. As for the morality of Mike Pompeo, he has specifically joked and bragged about endorsing policies of lying, cheating and stealing –all (unlike abortion) specifically prohibited not only in the Bible, but in all religious traditions. In other words, Trump’s inner circle is no more virtuous than he.
Above all, “our children’s futures” which are of such apparent concern to Mr. Reid, are intimately connected with and existentially threatened by climate change which the entire Republican Party proudly denies.
Joe Biden is no Donald Trump.
There are good reasons for Americans and better educated people around the world to consider belief in God as inessential to morality. The God of The Post’s John Reid and his fellow believers, for instance, is so small in moral stature and very limited in his concern compared with the God of the Bible. Reid’s God is not only unbiblical, he is also basically white, ethnocentric and specifically American. That strains the credulity of even moderately educated people whose general knowledge recognizes the goodness found in non-Christians and in so many atheists. No wonder such thinkers reject a god as tiny as Reid’s.
Meanwhile, the biblical God, at least as embodied in Jesus’ prophetic tradition, literally identifies with human beings like those specifically despised by the candidate Reid would have his type of Christians embrace. Remember, Jesus himself was born out of wedlock to a teenage mother; he was an immigrant in Egypt in his early years; he was working class, poor, and a member of a people imperialized by the first century equivalent of the United States.
Besides that, Jesus’ “Good News” was specifically addressed to the poor (LK 4:18). He ended up being a victim of torture and capital punishment at the hands of the Roman Empire. All of that is foreign to Reid’s unbiblical notion of God.
And finally, it seems that the Jewish Jesus of the Christian Testament could well sympathize with those who feel alienated from their religious communities of origin. After all, he was expelled from his hometown synagogue (Luke 4: 14-30) and thought to be possessed by the devil himself (John 10:20).
That Jesus, it seems safe to say, would be appalled by Donald Trump.
It’s happening now. And it’s irreversible. It was promised to us in the 1960s as the “dawning of the Age of Aquarius” – a world where harmony, understanding, peace and trust would abound.
The Mayans reiterated the promise in 2012, when they predicted that the perfect alignment of the sun, the earth, and the center of the Milky Way (for the first time in 26,000 years) would inaugurate the “sixth era of the sun.” It would bring to humanity and the Earth itself a positive physical and spiritual transformation.
It’s happening now before our eyes.
And the agent of this profound change? Its polar opposite! A Trumpty Dumpty sitting on a “great and beautiful” wall symbolic of resistance to everything promised to us by Mayan wisdom.
Yet, Trumpty prepared us for the “great fall” of the entire world that his wall of separation symbolized – a white supremacist patriarchy that now lies in pieces impossible to reassemble despite the best efforts of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men.
Trumpty came, remember, specifically calling into question everything we were taught to revere. He said the news was fake; so was history, political polling, our voting system, Constitution, and even science. His very language patterns – repetitive, incoherent, and verbally challenged – called into question accepted standards of grammar and eloquence we had become accustomed to in smooth talking politicians and “respected” public figures. In Trumpty’s eyes, all of that was bunk and fake too.
And he was right.
However, the rude irony is that the accuracy of Trumpty’s demythologized iconoclasm has been underlined by the very people that the wall he’s been sitting on promised to exclude. It’s immigrants and especially the Black Lives Matter activists who are successfully joining him in questioning (but from the other side) his white supremacist understanding of the world as well as our history, laws, language, and implementation of democracy.
Think about it: before BLM, who would have thought Americans would even consider demolishing statues of Christopher Columbus and Confederate generals, let alone of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other revered “Founding Fathers?” Impossibly, Americans are seriously rethinking the “official story” of their nation and engaging in righteous iconoclasm.
But the movement goes much deeper than that. As Robin DiAngelo has pointed out in White Fragility, the world’s ruling Caucasian minority is now coming to realize that society itself is rigged at its intellectual core – and in the favor of the white supremacists Trumpty promised to restore to greatness.
According to DiAngelo, it’s all a mirage – white culture’s beliefs in
The supposed superiority of some forms of knowledge over others:
White Eurocentric knowledge over non-White, Indigenous and non-European ways of knowing
Written expression over oral
History over memory
Rationalism over wisdom
Acceptance of the supremacy of scientific linear thinking that recognizes as true only what can be quantified, and peer reviewed by scholars
The assumed neutrality of the white European Enlightenment
The Ideology of individualism
For DiAngelo and Black Lives Matter, such convictions and white values themselves are arbitrary. And that includes its reverence for the king’s English. So is its philosophy of “work before play,” “planning for the future,” adherence to rigid time schedules, and governance of life itself by Apple watches.
Before BLM and COVID-19, none of that was questionable for the cultural mainstream.
Now it is. American culture, if not the entire world, is questioning its basic world view and way of life.
The whole turn of events has opened for humanity what Indian scholar Arundhati Roy has called “a portal” – an opening from old discredited ways of thinking and acting to new more credible ones. A door has opened to the other world Mayan wisdom has told us is now possible.
In other words, humanity is ceasing its efforts to reassemble Mr. Trumpty’s shattered reality and to reject his wall and all it stands for. We’re telling each other that the time has come to finally walk through today’s open doorway into the promised Aquarian Age that (at least unconsciously) we’ve all been longing for.
Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical, “Hamilton,” is back in the news. The day before Independence Day, Disney + made available the filmed version of the acclaimed musical.
This time, however, in the light of Black Lives Matter and its reassessment of our nation’s patriotic statuary, some critics have understandably muted their praise for the play and its unmitigated hagiographic rehab not only of Alexander Hamilton, but of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
All of them, of course, were enslavers of Africans and brutal exterminators of Native Americans. (Remember the part of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence that describes the latter as “the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is the undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”)
The soft-pedaled praise has made me feel cautious vindication. That’s because nearly five years ago, I incurred the wrath of my family by critically reviewing “Hamilton,” a play they all adored.
I’m sure you can understand their reaction. Not only did they adore the play, but my daughter and her husband (at great expense) had brought our entire family to see it in November of 2015. So, in their eyes my commentary demonstrated not only Philistine insensitivity, but an exceptionally high quality of ingratitude by looking a gift horse in the mouth.
In fact, the blog offended everyone to such an extent that all three of my adult children immediately unsubscribed from my blog. (And they haven’t re-subscribed since.) Whenever “Hamilton” is mentioned in our family, the story of my betrayal is enthusiastically rehearsed by everyone including my young grandchildren.
Nonetheless, it’s in that spirit of cautious vindication that I republish my original piece. I do so without change, except for my regret that I didn’t credit Ishmael Reed for the Eichmann line in the piece’s last sentence.
The “Hamilton” Minstrel Show
In the era of Black Lives Matter, how do you get Whites (including the Fox News crowd) to give standing ovations to Blacks and Browns presenting a play about the era of slavery and “Indian” extermination?
Simple: You (1) forget about Black Lives Matter, extermination and slavery and (2) make the play a “reverse” minstrel show where (3) a cast of what Malcolm X called “house Negroes” pretend to be white and celebrate the very people who oppressed and slaughtered their own forebears.
And there you have it: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feel-good musical “Hamilton,” which is currently setting box office records on Broadway before enthusiastic, overwhelmingly white audiences.
It’s a whiteface minstrel show without the grease paint.
In “Hamilton,” mostly black and Hispanic actors cavort and grin through performances redolent of Stepin Fetchit. Without a hint of conscious irony, they domesticate their communities’ hip-hop resistance medium to celebrate the slave merchant, Alexander Hamilton and the Indian Exterminator, George Washington.
And white people love it. That’s because “Hamilton” is the Horatio Alger story our culture loves and uses against the poor, especially people of color.
“Hamilton’s” about a lowly illegitimate Scotsman from the Caribbean who at the age of 19 comes to New York City bent on making a fortune and achieving immortality. An unabashed social-climber, young Alexander sees himself as the embodiment of “his country.” He is “young, scrappy, and hungry” with plenty of brains but no polish — a real diamond in the rough.
So he joins the revolution, marries into the rich slave-owning Schuyler family, rises to prominence in the Continental Army, fathers a son, authors most of the Federalist Papers, has an affair, becomes Secretary of the Treasury and is killed in a duel with Aaron Burr.
Actually, Hamilton turns out to be a real buffoon. He’s self-centered and arrogant. Though a criminal in the eyes of the slaves and “Indians,” he and his kind are obsessed about his “honor” and are willing to kill and be killed for honor’s sake. Three duels mark the play. One eventually causes Hamilton’s own death; another takes the life of his son. He’s one of the “Founding Fathers,” who routinely crushed slave and “Indian” uprisings without mercy, but then self-righteously took up arms against England. Their issue (as the play puts it): taxes on tea and whisky!
The play overflows with comatose irony.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is the Puerto Rican artist who produced “Hamilton’s” music, lyrics and book. Though his people know plenty about the horrors of colonialism, he doesn’t seem to get it either. Instead, he presents his work as a celebration of post-racial patriotism. He has said “We’re telling the story of old, dead white men but we’re using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience.”
Apparently, the actors are just as clueless. They’re doing a minstrel show for the descendants of the Massa.
It’s like their Jewish counterparts cavorting and grinning through a celebration called “Eichmann!”
Readings for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Zechariah 9: 9-10; Psalm 145: 1-2, 8-14; Romans 8: 9-13; Matthew 11: 25-30
Whatever the world believes and does, choose to believe and do the opposite. That’s because the Truth that some call “God” is found 180 degrees opposite to what the world claims as true. That’s the message of today’s liturgy of the word.
So, take heart if as a follower of the Christ, they accuse you of advocating identity politics, deride you as a social justice warrior, woke, politically correct, a conspiracy theorist, or a whatabouter. Leaving aside their distorted meanings, all of those categories should actually be embraced by critical persons of faith who take this Sunday’s readings to heart.
In today’s key selection, Paul refers to accusations like the above as “flesh,” because they insistently judge according to external appearances and directly contradict the teachings of Moses and Jesus. Such judgments routinely gas light activists demonstrating for social justice across the world. For instance, followers of Rush Limbaugh tell awakened Black Lives Matter demonstrators to go back to sleep. They admonish “conspiracy theorists” to simply accept White House narratives. They ridicule “social justice warriors” as pathetic Don Quixotes impotently jousting at windmills. And they say progressives, “snowflakes” should be embarrassed about their annoying “political correctness” and whataboutism.
However, today’s reading from the prophet Zechariah calls for political strategy that penetrates below such superficiality at every turn. In the process, he longs for political leaders whose laser vision will reject the outer manifestations that tell us that things are fine the way they are. For instance, his ideal ruler will refuse military display and instead sponsor programs of national disarmament. That, of course, flies in the face of “American” cultural ideals of bluster, toughness, and aggression.
Finally, in our Gospel reading, Jesus promises that adopting contrary unfleshly values will result in easy, restful and unburdened existence for everyone.
Before we get to those separate readings, begin by contrasting the wisdom of the world’s flesh merchants with the general vision recommended (as we’ll see below) in today’s selections. Think about the dominant culture’s superficial dismissal of social justice warriors, the “woke,” of everything that smacks of political correctness, or conspiracy theories or whataboutism. Those caught up in fleshly appearances want progressives to feel guilty about the critical thinking implied in each of those categories understood in the light of faith.
The Struggle for Social Justice: Our era’s flesh merchants generally ridicule what they call “social justice warriors” as naïve bleeding hearts. However, the truth is that the struggle for social justice lies at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It all began with the liberation of slaves from Egypt. The Hebrew Covenant prioritized the needs of widows, orphans and immigrants. It instituted permanent land reform measures and periodic wealth redistribution. Jesus advocated replacement of Rome’s empire with what he called the Kingdom of God – a world where God’s truth and love replaced Caesar’s looting, lies and oppression. All the great followers of Jesus were social justice warriors. Think Bartolome de las Casas, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and today’s William Barber.
Wokeness: Following in the footsteps of such prophets, all of us are called to permanent spiritual insomnia. In fact, Buddhism is entirely based on the concept. It teaches that the whole purpose of life is to wake up from the slumber that is endemic to dominant cultures everywhere. Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” had a similar message. Any follower of the Judeo-Christian tradition is called to wake up.
Identity Politics: Notwithstanding its Buddhist and classical derivations, the term “woke” comes from the African American community. That origin reminds us that any struggle for social justice must begin with heightened awareness and affirmation of specific identity as an oppressed people. That’s why James Cone, the father of black liberation theology, jarringly insists that God is black. He’s referring to a divine preference for the unfairly “burdened” (as today’s Gospel selection puts it) in any age. It’s what lies at the heart of Pope Francis’ repeated allusions to God’s “preferential option for the poor.” It’s with the impoverished that followers of Moses and Jesus are called to unambiguously identify spiritually and politically.
Political Correctness: This is perhaps the most distorted and denigrated of the concepts considered here. Originally, it was a self-critical tool used by political activists to make sure that their speech and action were consistent with their principles. More recently however, the term has been appropriated and trivialized by opponents of social justice to refer to any infringement of a dominant group’s supposed right to speak and act without considering the consequences for members of a subordinate class. Obviously, such “freedom” is out of step with the just-referenced preferential option for the poor. On the contrary, all would-be followers of Jesus the Christ are called to bring their speech and actions into correct alignment with their faith.
Conspiracy Theory: Like political correctness, the original concept of conspiracy theory had no insulting overtones. In fact, conspiracy is a legal category referring to two or more people planning to commit a crime. Lawyers and prosecutors theorize about conspiracies all the time. And, of course, Jesus’ assassination resulted from a conspiracy between Jerusalem’s temple priests and the Roman imperial state. That fact alone should make his followers especially sensitive to conspiratorial plots. (BTW, one prominent conspiracy theory holds that following the Kennedy assassination, the CIA appropriated a negative understanding of the term conspiracy theorists precisely to discredit critics of the highly questionable Warren Report – and subsequently of every other CIA operation.) Bottom line here: no one familiar with history, much less Christianity, should be intimidated by accusations of being conspiracy theorists. Such allegations are meant to inhibit critical thinking.
Whataboutism: The Wikipedia Dictionary defines whataboutism as any attempt to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument. Actually, in our U.S. context, it’s most often a refusal to take seriously right-wing accusations against designated enemies such as Russia, China, or Venezuela for crimes routinely committed by the United States itself. It recognizes that “America” has no ground to stand on in its accusations of election-interference, persecution of Muslims, or corruption in high office. That’s because our country’s officials routinely engage in such activities themselves and embody unsurpassed corruption at every level. It’s all in the spirit of Jesus’ words, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Like Jesus, whatabouters are concerned with hypocrisy.
With all of this in mind, here are my “translations” of the readings that inspire today’s reflection. Please read them for yourselves here to see if I’ve got them right. I take them all as issuing a call to depart entirely from the dominant culture’s way of thinking and acting in the areas just designated.
Zechariah 9: 9-10: The world leader we’re all waiting for won’t come driving a Sherman Tank, Cadillac or a Rolls Royce. Rather, she’ll arrive on a bicycle. Moreover, she’ll achieve peace by eliminating the entire military-industrial complex. No more war for this non-violent champion!
Psalm 145: 1-2, 8-14: When she comes, we’ll all join in grateful thanksgiving to our Great Cosmic Mother. We’ll praise her for her grace, patience, goodness, kindness and compassion. We’ll finally realize that might is found precisely in what the world considers weakness – in the fallen and heavily burdened.
Romans 8: 9-13: On that happy day, everyone on earth will understand their spiritual unity with everyone else regardless of externals – “flesh” including its color. We’ll see that at core, all of us share the loving Spirit that animated Jesus the compassionate Christ. Fullness of life, he taught, lies in a direction 180 degrees away from the fleshy exterior reality to which the world so insistently limits our attention.
Matthew 11: 25-30: Yes, the worldly wise and learned tell us that “reality” is defined by what we can see and feel and that might makes right. However, the unpretentious nobodies of the world who follow Jesus know much more. In their humility, disarmed non-violence, and refusal to compete, they share the very mind of God. They’ve discovered the secret of an easy, restful and unburdened existence.
I suppose what I’ve been seeing in today’s biblical readings are implications that call into question our culture’s superficiality – something Paul called “flesh.” I hear the readings warning us against the dominant culture and its rejection of much deeper (spiritual) values firmly founded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
I’m talking about commitment to social justice, and the identity politics that sides with the poor and oppressed. I’m referring to awakening from cultural slumber and the adoption of woke ways of thinking and acting that are politically correct in terms of coherence between theory and action. My reference is also to judicious suspicion of official stories mouthed by “leaders” who have repeatedly lied to us – even in the face of their accusations about conspiracy theories. All of this, I’m saying, entails complete rejection of hypocrisy hiding behind deflecting complaints of whataboutism.
I at least feel great relief to recognize culturally imposed guilt tripping for what it is. I’m happy to embrace my efforts to be an awakened politically correct social justice warrior identified with the poor and oppressed and alert to conspiracies by the rich and powerful.
All of these are proud labels embodied in countless heroes most of us profess to admire – people like Moses, Sojourner Truth, Gandhi, Martin King, Dorothy Day, William Barber, and Jesus himself. We’re in very good company.
Readings for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 KINGS 4: 8-11, 14-16A; PSALM 89: 2-3, 16-19; ROMANS 6: 3-4, 8-11; MATTHEW 10: 37-42
Today’s first reading from the Jewish Testament’s Second Book of Kings sets the tone for this Sunday’s reflection. It is about a privileged woman (from biblical Shunem) who is given a new lease on life by creating a room “upstairs” for a prophetic presence and voice. Doing so brings her new life beyond anything she had dared hope for.
Her situation taken in conjunction with our day’s other readings can be understood as calling us all to clear space in our minds for recognizing our own inner prophets. Currently, that means attuning our consciousness to the oracular nature of the shouts and denunciations raised in our streets. The black voices resonating there are far more perceptive and informed – more prophetic – than anything we hear from white politicians and talking heads on TV. In effect, the tumult in the streets calls us to recognize the truth of black supremacy.
To see what I mean, let’s think about prophecy as referenced in today’s liturgy of the word. Then consider the analytical advantage native to the truly exceptional among us (our African American sisters and brothers). Finally, let’s entertain suggestions for creating suitable space in the upper reaches of our minds for black prophets who possess the power to change our nation’s collective life.
The reading about the Shunamite woman comes from the part of 2nd Kings that details the words and deeds of the great prophet Elijah and his successor Elisha. For our purposes today, those details are not important.
What is important is to rethink the category of prophet. Most lump the term together with something like fortune teller. They think prophets are primarily concerned with the future.
But that’s where they’re wrong. Biblical prophets were not principally concerned with the future. They were not fortune tellers. Instead, they were understood as spokespersons for God. Though some functioned as court advisors, most were primarily defenders of the poor and oppressed – the real “chosen people” of Israel’s God throughout the Jewish Testament.
As such, prophets had their eyes firmly fixed on the present. Their task was twofold. It was first of all to denounce and secondly to announce. Prophetic denunciation targeted kings, rich landowners, bankers, the royal classes in general, and temple officials. The habitual crime of the well-off was their systemic exploitation of poor peasants and laborers, and those forced into debt peonage. In fact, if you examine the parables of Jesus, you’ll find most of them addressing the situations of such people. Yes, Jesus appeared in the prophetic tradition.
The second prophetic task was to announce a new future for the oppressed. For the prophets, another world was possible. Another God was possible. Jesus called that other world “the kingdom of God.” The phrase and its parabolic descriptions in stories like the Prodigal Son and Good Samaritan captured what the world would be like if God were king instead of Caesar.
That God was “Father” to the poor, their “Good Shepherd,” the Great Liberator of people like those Jesus himself befriended – prostitutes, beggars, insurgents, lepers, foreigners, drunkards, the hungry and thirsty, social outcasts, children, and repentant tax collectors.
Besides being a prophet, Jesus himself was a poor man – a day laborer (not a priest or rabbi) who had been an immigrant in Egypt as a child. From the beginning of his public life, he was under surveillance and investigation by the authorities. They identified him as a terrorist and subversive. He finished as a victim of state torture and capital punishment.
All of that means that (according to Christian faith) God chose the socially marginalized and rejected as the vehicle for revealing the true meaning and purpose of human life. It’s as if (according to divine epistemology) the poor are somehow more connected with Life itself.
African American Exceptionalism
What could that mean for our actual world that’s now on fire with insurrection? And here, let me emphasize that I’m not just referring to Minneapolis, but to the rebellions that Twin City has evoked across the country and across the planet. Does it all suggest that African Americans know more than the rest of us? Does it suggest that as a people, they’re more perceptive – more prophetic – than the rest of us?
Cuba’s great poet and historian Roberto Fernandez Retamar thought so.
I remember 20 years ago when he addressed my class (about half of them African American) when we were in Havana for a month studying “The African Diaspora in Cuba.”
In his riveting presentation, he described the descendants of African slaves as the world’s most exceptional people. They are, he said, the strongest, most beautiful and most intelligent humans on earth.
Professor Retamar reasoned as follows:
Slave traders in Africa began by selecting the sturdiest, best looking and smartest specimens to sell to their slaver counterparts in the New World. (It’s the way the market works.)
On the Middle Passage to distribution points like Cuba, up to half of those so carefully selected perished; only the strongest survived.
Then on auction blocks in places like Charleston and New Orleans, none but those with the best characteristics and strongest bodies were again selected by discerning slave buyers. (They examined teeth, hair and limbs as if the slave wares were horses.)
Only the best and brightest of those so purchased survived the harsh conditions of slavery to reproduce and have their offspring once again culled and selected.
The repetition of such processes for 300 years produced the super-race of people that continues to exhibit admirably courageous survival characteristics to this very day. Despite all the obstacles, they’re the authors of the unparalleled moral achievements embodied in slave rebellions, the abolitionist movement, and in civil rights struggles – the most spiritually-grounded, inspiring and influential causes in the history of the world.
Moreover, African American achievements in the arts, especially in music including spirituals, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and hip-hop rank with the highest contributions that westerners have made to world culture. The black community’s tremendous athletic achievements are second to none.
Yes, Dr. Retamar concluded, the African diaspora represents the best and brightest of the human race. They are the most beautiful, strongest and smartest of humans. Their wise and perceptive prophetic presence is based on an American experience that is truly exceptional. It has much to teach us about what blacks are especially privy to – about the nature of Life Itself and the unending struggle for justice.
With all of that in mind, please reread today’s liturgical selections. As I said, they’re about making room for prophets (like Elisha and the ones in our streets) in the upper reaches of our minds. What follows are my “translations” of the readings. You can read the originals here to see if I got them right.
2 KINGS 4: 8-11, 14-16A: Despite obstacles of wealth and power, even the privileged can make room for prophets who speak for the poor. But to do so, the rich must carefully create space in the upper reaches of their clouded minds. “Up on the Roof,” they should cultivate quiet, rest, and space for reading and enlightenment. Such provision will free their inner prophet and yield new and unexpectedly welcome life.
PSALM 89: 2-3, 16-19: So, repair to your own “upper room” every day and there discover transcendent security, strength, joy, fidelity, and commitment to God’s justice. Doing so will even confer ability to discern political leaders who exhibit such qualities.
ROMANS 6: 3-4, 8-11: In fact, the whole point of following Jesus the Christ is to die to the comfortable but misleading wisdom of the world and rise to God’s new life as exemplified in the poor man, Yeshua. That life is lived entirely for justice despite the world’s threats.
MATTHEW 10: 37-42: Notwithstanding such intimidations then, be open to prophetic voices. Depart from familial truisms even as taught by your parents and (ironically) as accepted by successfully indoctrinated children. Such departures represent the only way to find your True Self. But be forewarned: the state will incriminate and crucify you even for giving a cup of cold water to thirsty oppressed people. Do it anyway and learn to live with the resulting fulfillment and happiness.
Today, we are called to imitate the Shunamite woman who welcomed the prophet Elisha.
She prepared space for him, and provided him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp. She welcomed him to her dining room, fed him, and made him feel at home.
Today’s liturgy of the word calls us to do something similar. It suggests that we use this time of COVID-19 respite to make room for our inner prophet who turns out to be black and (because of a unique experience of oppression) is especially insightful and aligned with the divine purposes of the universe.
This is the time to figuratively enter that space in our attic, to turn on its lamp, to meditate and read something like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. While we’re at it, we might watch something like “The Help,” “Malcolm X,” “Amistad,” or “Glory.”
Today’s readings (and our very times) call us to rethink everything, turn it upside down, see it with new eyes, and perhaps recognize the truth of black supremacy.
Poor Jerry Jones! The owner of the Dallas Cowboys complains that his NFL football business is being hurt by his workers’ non-violent protests. So he and other white billionaires respond as only capitalists can and typically do. “Either stop threatening our huge fortunes,” they bully, “or we’ll deprive you and your dependents of your livelihood — forever. We’ll fire you!” (This, of course, is what capitalism empowers bosses everywhere to do against all of us.)
Simultaneously, from their ivory towers, the same rich whites attempt to change the subject. Sheltering in the last refuge of scoundrels, they patriotically wrap themselves in the flag claiming that protests against poverty and police violence somehow dishonor country, flag, and the military.
Note to Mr. Jones: THIS ISN’T ABOUT PATRIOTISM; IT’S ABOUT POLICE BRUTALITY!! IT’S ABOUT POVERTY!!
Let’s talk specifics. The underlying cause of player protests is the huge difference between law enforcement in rich and poor communities respectively. As recently described by Christ Hedges, the difference is exemplified in the infamous “broken windows” policy first implemented in New York City. It enabled law enforcement to send young, mostly black and Hispanic men and women to jail for relatively minor infractions mostly connected with a failed “War on Drugs.” Despite its 40-years of effort, that war leaves narcotics today more widely available, cheaper, and of higher quality than ever before. All of our high school children know where to get them.
Meanwhile, across the tracks, bankers, hedge fund speculators, real estate moguls, and their political enablers remain above the law. And this, despite the fact that their fraudulent practices were responsible for crashing the entire world economy and the financial, personal, and social ruin of millions across the planet. Yet virtually none of them has gone to jail, have they? Instead, many have reaped huge profits from the crash. Moreover, their unconscionable practices are again being deregulated by the legislators they’ve purchased through the legalized system of bribery called “campaign financing.”
All of this amounts to a two-tiered legal system supporting a two-tiered economy. It criminalizes poverty unremedied by government whose main domestic function has become the imprisonment of the poor, and the extra-judicial execution of “criminals” accused of petty offenses like Eric Garner’s selling loose cigarettes, or of Sandra Bland’s failure to signal a lane change. That’s what’s ticking off black heroes like Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett.
Again, as Hedges points out, the scale of the resulting police lynchings is no exaggeration. So far in the U.S. this year, there have been 782 police killings of mostly poor people – many shot in the back while offering no immediate threat to cops involved. (By contrast, police in England and Wales have killed 62 people over the last 27 years!) Still, such legalized thuggery is granted near-universal impunity. Badge-wearing murders almost never go to jail.
In fact, far from being punished, local police forces are routinely rewarded by government grants of tanks and grenade launchers which further militarize their cadres. The unspoken intention of such armaments is to enable cops to quash rebellions of citizens incensed by the disparities just described. For instance, here in Kentucky, legislators want to empower motorists to run over protestors exercising their First Amendment rights on public thoroughfares. They want to extend impunity to white supremacists like the killer of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville last August. They want to militarily suppress the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
But the footballers on their knees and the marchers in the street are only demanding sensible economic reform. The want well-paying jobs, affordable housing; safe and inspiring public schools; Medicare for all; and community-based policing where most officials are unarmed.
Imagine if Jerry Jones, the billionaire, forgot petty financial losses, and used the bully pulpit his status affords to campaign for such humane measures instead of misrepresenting his workers’ demands.
Don’t hold your breath though. That’s not the way our super-rich bosses operate.