Readings for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: I Kings 19: 16b, 19-21; Psalm 16: 1-11; Galatians 5: 1, 13-18; Luke 9: 51-62
I’m taking this Sunday’s readings quite personally. They’re about prophets leaving behind family and tribe for the sake of the divine order Yeshua called the “kingdom of God.” In the Master’s parlance, that referred to a world with room and abundance for everyone.
The readings are personal for me, because lately I’ve been feeling abandoned by my tribe – the people in the world I hold dearest – my own family. Especially in the context of the Ukraine war and my refusal to accept our culture’s official story about it, most in my tribe has decided that I’ve gone off the deep end.
I wonder how many readers here are experiencing similar rejection.
More specifically, my tribe’s abandoned me because I refuse to parrot the simplistic narrative: “Russia bad; NATO good.” Instead, as I’ve written here, here, here, here, here, and here, I find the truth to be much more complex.
NATO, I’ve concluded, started the war. Putin is only acting according to the same logic of self-defense and sphere of influence that the United States has used repeatedly to justify its illegal wars of aggression for more than 200 years. (See the above short list of such heinous interventions.)
Moreover, Putin is even more justified in using that tired logic because he’s responding to threats on Russia’s very border – not to those represented by Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan thousands of miles away.
In fact, Russia’s experience is even closer to home than the Soviet menace “we” perceived during the Cuban missile crisis. In that case, the U.S. government was prepared to incinerate the world itself – to end it all – rather than allow communists to install weapons of mass destruction on an island 90 miles distant from Florida.
But my family doesn’t get all of that. For most of them it’s still “Russia bad; NATO good.” It leads some of them to ask me the pointed question, “Why do you hate America?”
Of course, I don’t hate America, although I sometimes find myself saying that our planet would be much better off without the United States. At the same time I dearly love the American places where I’ve spent so much time studying our nation’s crimes — Cuba, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Panama.
But anyway, here’s what I tell my folks.
Hating the U.S.
It’s all very simple, I say. The United States has 4.6% of the world’s population. Yet, it consumes something like 40% of its product. As George Kennan noted years ago, it wants to keep things that way by occupying the very position of world domination to which Adolf Hitler aspired in the 1930s and 40s.
As cited repeatedly by Noam Chomsky, here’s what Kennan said:
“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population…. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives…. We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”
In other words, since the Second Intercapitalist War (1939-’45) U.S. policy has been about preventing the world’s majority from acquiring its fair share of the world’s resources. It bullies the world.
Meanwhile, Russia occupies the largest land mass on the planet. China has almost 20% of the world’s population. So does India and Africa. Yet those countries and the African continent have traditionally been controlled by the U.S. and its NATO allies, the most powerful of which (as colonial powers) have looted their treasures for more than a century.
Currently, the Global South countries (sometimes called “The Group of 77 and China”) continue as victims of an imperial order administered by the United States and enforced by nearly 800 military bases scattered across the globe. In summary, though nations of the Global South constitute most of the world’s population, they have until recently wielded little political influence on a global scale.
Of course, all of that is changing now. The world’s white minorities, led by the United States, are being pressed by the world’s non-white majorities to yield them political and economic powers commensurate with their populations, land mass, and resource wealth.
However, United States policies enforcing unipolarity, its forever and regime change wars, NATO expansion, and “full spectrum dominance” (including in Ukraine) are still intended to shove minority white control down the throats of all those non-whites.
That’s arrogant, illogical and morally repugnant.
And in the context of this homily, it’s quite contrary to the prophetic tradition of the Judeo-Christian tradition as embodied in great prophets like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, and Yeshua of Nazareth. The latter lived under imperialism and hated it.
As shown in today’s readings, all of those prophets (and many more) knew the loneliness of tribal abandonment for the sake of a human family much larger than that of their parents and remote ancestors.
For yourselves, please consult the selections here. Then look at my “translations” below to see if I’ve got them right.
I Kings 19: 16b, 19-21 Thankfully, We will never Be without prophets Who renounce everything, Even family and nation (For God’s sake!) Without counting the cost. That’s God’s honest truth Exemplified, they say, In Elisha’s succession To Elijah, The prophet whose Fiery chariot famously Whisked him away From death’s dread gate To immortality. “Come follow me,” Elijah said To the young plowman. Elisha replied, “Yes, but let me first Say goodbye To mom and dad.” “There’s no time For such triviality!” Elijah growled. “Instead, burn your plow Here and now! Roast your oxen Over its fire And feed the poor With their flesh.” Elisha obeyed, Charred everything Leaving it all behind Never once looking back. Psalm 16: 1-11 Indeed, prophets Like Elijah and Elisha teach That our real inheritance Is neither silver nor gold, Nor the equivalent Of fields, plows, oxen, Or family ties But the Source of life itself – (What some still call “God”) The Font of all nourishment. Source makes us Calm and wise Even when surrounded By rejection,loneliness, Terror and darkness. Source renders us Joyful and confident Saving us from the abyss Of the world’s contradictions Showing instead The true path Of life and joy. Galatians 5: 1, 13-18 Yeshua, some claimed, Was Elijah redivivus. (Or was it John the Baptist? I forget.) No matter, Paul said. The Master’s example Has burnt away Oxen’s yokes That once bound Our bullish Slave-stiffened necks. Instead, Paul proclaimed: Everyone’s free From the culture’s Selfish, all consuming Fools’ “wisdom” That devours everything And spits it out again. We can Love others Without restriction (Because they are In fact Our true family Our very selves!). That’s the wisdom Of Expanded Consciousness (Aka the “Holy Spirit”) That never agrees With the world’s “truth” Or its elite-serving law. Luke 9: 51-62 “Worldly wisdom,” (What Paul called “flesh”) Counsels revenge And even violence Simply for hurt feelings. (All in the name of God!). “Don’t be like that,” Yeshua laughed, “Just forget it, And move on. “Instead, follow me Like Elijah’s Elisha. Leave behind Even your parents and family Without bothering To say goodbye. “Choose to be homeless (No better than birds and foxes) For the sake Of Cosmic consciousness And the order it dictates – Our only home That truly matters.”
Do I “hate America” as my tribe alleges? Not really, if you’re asking about Yosemite or the Grand Canyon and certainly not about its heroes like Dorothy Day, the Berrigans, Malcolm, King, Liz Theoharis, and William Barber.
But if you’re asking about the system now controlling the world, Ms. Day’s words capture my own thinking inspired by today’s readings.
She said, “We need to change the system. We need to overthrow, not the government, as the authorities are always accusing the Communists ‘of conspiring to teach [us] to do,’ but this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering in the whited sepulcher of New York.”
Those are the sentiments my tribe finds so hard to accept. Yeshua, I believe, would not find them so.