Resurrect the World: End the War on Drugs

Readings for Easter Sunday: ACTS 10:34A, 37-43; PS 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3: 1-4; Pascal Victim Sequence; 1 Corinthians 5: 7B-8A; John 20: 1-9

On this Easter Sunday, I want to tell you a story of resurrection. It involves the ex-president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, and his personal resurrection from three years in a tomb. It’s about how he not only advanced his country’s resurgence from its profound drug problem, but set a shining example of national leadership from his country’s highest office.

The story is intimately connected with that of the poor man, Jesus, whose immortality billions celebrate today. As today’s readings tell us, this healer, teacher and champion of the poor spent three days in a tomb and is more alive today than ever he was 2000 years ago.

Focus on Mujica’s story comes from a personal experience that I had last January when I spent a couple of weeks at the border in Tijuana Mexico. There I worked with pro bono lawyers and volunteers offering legal help to immigrants, refugees and asylees. The group is called Al Otro Lado

In helping clients fill out paperwork, I discovered that most of the Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and others I interviewed were driven from their countries of origin by drug gangs.

On the one hand, the experience made me think in general about drugs, addiction, and our country’s century-long “War on Drugs.” On the other hand, it drove me to reflect more deeply on resurrection and the possibilities for new life we celebrate on this Easter day.

The War on Drugs

Start with the war on drugs. Of course, we’re no closer to winning it than when first it began in 1914. (Before then, you could buy cocaine-based remedies, for example, at your local drug store – and at a low price.)

Moreover, so many of the problems that plague our world can be traced back to that spectacularly unsuccessful war. It’s not just the addiction and the gangs. It’s also the billions upon billions of dollars that have been wasted, the corruption of governments and law enforcement agencies throughout the world, the millions of souls who have been incarcerated or forced to leave their countries, as well as the thousands upon thousands who have been murdered by drug gangs and their police mob counterparts.

It all made me think: what if there were no drug war? What if drugs were entirely legal again? Wouldn’t that drive the gangs out of business? And wouldn’t all those other related problems disappear? Wouldn’t that lead to a kind of resurrection of humanity?

Think about it. Drug decriminalization and legalization would profoundly change the world!

But you might wonder (as I did) wouldn’t drug decriminalization and legalization also vitiate the planet? Wouldn’t our kids (and maybe we ourselves) all get hooked and end up staggering around in drug-induced stupors?

As it turns out, the answer is No. As Johann Hari points out in his page-turner study, Chasing the Scream, (as is the case with alcohol) less than 10% of those who use even cocaine, crack, and Oxycontin get hooked. The other 90% often take those controlled substances for recreation every weekend (and even on some weekdays) and still carry on normally in their families. They hold steady jobs and contribute to their communities. Even those who become addicted mature out of their problem after about 10 years. This means that the War on Drugs, laws against narcotics, and the resulting havoc are connected with something like 10% of users.

All of this is because drug addiction is not the result of chemical “hooks,” so that anyone taking them becomes ipso facto obsessed.  Instead, addiction is caused primarily by personal and social problems connected with childhoods marked by abuse, with loneliness, meaningless work, and lack of human connection.

Addictions are psychological and social diseases. They are not crimes. Punishing drug use as criminal only causes more drug use by aggravating its causes. It also feeds the gangs.

The Case of Uruguay

And that brings me to Jose Mujica and his resurrection from three years in a tomb. Mujica was a Tupamaros (Robin Hood) guerrilla during Uruguay’s revolutionary war against the country’s military dictatorship during the 1970s and ‘80s. He was captured by government forces, tortured mercilessly, and imprisoned for 12 years – three of them in the bottom of a well that his captors thought would be his final resting place. Those years gave him lots of time to think about life and his country’s problems.

When the revolution Mujica supported eventually triumphed, he in effect returned from the dead only to be elected his country’s president for five years (2010-2015). It was then that he set about decriminalizing the use of drugs beginning with marijuana. Contrary to all expectations, he was successful in reaching that goal.

[Not only that: as president, Mujica himself continued to live with his wife in their simple farmhouse. He gave 90% of his income as president to the poor (living on $775 per month), sold his presidential limousine to travel on public transportation, and passed legislation to give a laptop to every child in the country.]

The point here, however that the president’s action on the drug front represented a first step towards bankrupting his country’s drug cartels. His ultimate goal was to provide for users of all drugs a cheaper, safer, cleaner product, and set up locations for safe drug consumption. The facilities would be staffed by medical personnel, and by counsellors and life coaches intent on helping their clients find work, housing, and more meaningful lives.

In this way, drug cartels would suffer defeat and the country’s drug problem would be solved. Similar results from comparable policies had already been achieved in Switzerland, Portugal and elsewhere.

Easter Readings

Now, keeping in mind what I’ve just said about Mujica and drug use in general, connect it all to Easter. Read today’s liturgical selections. They recall that like Jose Mujica, Jesus of Nazareth set about bringing healing to the sick, liberation of captives from prison, and relief for the oppressed. Christian faith professes that such commitment brings enlightenment and (somehow) never-ending life. (What follows are my “translations.” The originals can be found here.)

ACTS 10:34A, 37-43: Peter’s First Proclamation of Jesus’ Resurrection: From the beginning, Jesus of Nazareth embodied God’s Holy Spirit of healing the sick and liberating the oppressed. For that, the Romans crucified him (their policy with all rebels). However, three days later, some of us (not all) were privileged to recognize him as still alive during our ritual meals together. Inspired by that experience, we ask you to join us in continuing Jesus’ work of healing and liberation.   

PS 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23: Response to Peter’s Proclamation: Thank you, Divine Mother for this happy day! You have been so good to us, so powerful and unfailingly compassionate. You use the world’s “weakest” to contradict its idea of power. With you, we acknowledge that the “weakest” are actually the strongest. Thank you, again!

COL 3: 1-4: Where God’s Holy Spirit Is Found: Yes, our Easter faith is that the Holy Spirit is found in the sick, the oppressed, in those executed by the state, and in those the world despises. Realizing this truth represents OUR resurrection! Let’s keep our eyes on the prize – the ultimate triumph promised us by the example of Jesus (and Jose Mujica).

Easter Sequence: On Death Row and in Drug Addicts: Thank you, Divine Mother, for contradicting the world’s judgment that the poor and despised (like Jesus on death row or drug addicts today) are somehow sinful. In fact, the supreme victim of empire’s capital punishment has proved more immortal than Rome itself. Jesus lives; Rome is all but forgotten! We can’t even find his tomb or decaying body. Help us, Divine Mother, to synchronize our lives’ energies with those of our Master.

John 20: 1-9: And in Female Leadership: Jesus’ beloved and dearest disciple, Mary Magdalen, achieved full enlightenment when everyone else was in dark mourning over Jesus’ death. Three days later, on visiting Jesus’ tomb, she realized that his True Self was not even there! So, she (even as a woman without standing before the law!) became the first to recognize what later was called Jesus’ “resurrection.” Meanwhile, Peter, “the first pope,” was slower than others to accept what Mary saw immediately. She (the despised) rather than the men, was the first truly enlightened follower of Jesus. As the Master himself said (in the Gospel of Thomas) she rather than Peter should be recognized as the “apostle of apostles.”

Conclusion

Today’s readings along with Chasing the Scream and its story of Jose Mujica invite readers to imagine a world turned upside-down — where death and burial do not have the final word — where prisoners are freed and those the world writes off as dead return to fullness of life. In our world torn apart by a futile drug war, the readings can call us to imagine a human community where those sick with addiction are treated as human beings instead of being criminalized. In the spirit of Easter, that would be a resurrected world:

  • With greatly reduced crime and a shrunken prison system
  • Where police forces could be downsized and rehabilitated in the eyes of poorer communities as a welcome rather than a threatening presence
  • Where countries like Mexico would be liberated from control by drug cartels
  • Where refugees from those countries would be dramatically reduced or eliminated, thus greatly impacting immigration problems and the perceived need for baby jails and expensive border walls.
  • Where the billions upon billions of dollars currently spent in a clearly unsuccessful war on drugs including those huge police forces, overcrowded prisons, and enormous bureaucracies intended to administer it all could be re-channeled to help the merely 10% percent of drug users whose habits are problematic.

In short, cessation of the Drug War, decriminalization and legalization of drugs of all kinds, would reshape our world in ways that would reduce and/or eliminate many of its most vexing problems. It would truly be an Easter event.

The Most Revealing Take-Away from the Nevada Debate: Our Problems Have Been Solved

Readings for Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18; Psalms: 103: 1-13; 1st Corinthians: 3: 16-23; 1 JN 2:5; Matthew 5: 38-48

Last week’s Democratic debate was the most interesting and revealing yet. And we have Mike Bloomberg to thank for that. His tone-deaf buffoonery was stunning and just happens to be intimately connected with this Sunday’s liturgical readings.

Taken together, the readings and Bloomberg’s performance show us that all the problems addressed in the debate have already been solved – especially that of religiously inspired terrorism despite its not being addressed in last Wednesday’s “show.”

I say all that because today’s selections contrast the foolish wisdom of the world (embodied in billionaires like Bloomberg) with the contradictory visions of Moses and Jesus the Christ who are prophets not just for Christians and Jews, but for Muslims as well. As such, their words call us to recognize our absolute unity with our neighbors, and to reject entirely the Bloombergian separative thinking of the world. What we do to others, the readings tell us, we do to ourselves.

But before we get to that, let’s recall what happened on Wednesday. 

As far as I was concerned, the most instructive moment came not when Mr. Bloomberg declined to release women from their non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). It wasn’t even when he arrogantly joked about the inability of TurboTax to help determine his annual attempts at gargantuan tax evasion.

No, it came in a throw-away line in his exchange with Elizabeth Warren about her proposed “two-cent wealth tax.” Almost as an aside, he said something like, “Well, of course I don’t agree with Senator Warren’s tax proposal.” He then went on to make another of his monumentally vacuous non-points.

I only wish one of the moderators or debaters had followed up: “What exactly is your objection to a two-cent tax? Would it somehow diminish your lifestyle or impoverish you?”

Bernie Sanders came closest to asking that question when he raised the issue of capitalism’s immorality. He observed:

“We have a grotesque and immoral distribution of wealth and income. Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. That’s wrong. That’s immoral. That should not be the case when we got a half a million people sleeping out on the street, where we have kids who cannot afford to go to college, when we have 45 million people dealing with student debt. We have enormous problems facing this country, and we cannot continue seeing a situation where, in the last three years, billionaires in this country saw an $850 billion increase in their wealth — congratulations, Mr. Bloomberg — but the average American last year saw less than a 1 percent increase in his or her income. That’s wrong.”

There, Bernie said it: capitalism is a highly immoral system. No Jewish prophet; not Moses, not even Jesus of Nazareth could have said it better.  We have the money – unlimited resources – to solve the world’s problems. However, those resources remain locked up in the vaults of the world’s 2000 billionaires. Fact is: their living standards would not be lowered by Warren’s 2% tax. Mr. Bloomberg’s lifestyle would even be unaffected if billionaires like him were outlawed altogether and if as a result, he lost 49.1 billion of his 50-billion-dollar bank account.

Yet, those resources (along with similar confiscations from other billionaires) could absolutely eliminate our material problems not merely in the United States, but throughout the entire world. Despite that undeniable fact, the billionaires and their kept allies refuse to entertain even the possibility of such taxation.

Could anything demonstrate more clearly the immorality of the reigning system?

In other words, the super-rich and corporate “persons” along with their servants in the mainstream media, and in the United States Congress prevent us from seeing that the solutions to the world’s problems are already here and staring us in the face. Yes, the world’s major problems have already been solved!

And I’m not just talking about correcting wealth inequality through confiscatory tax rates on the world’s billionaires. I’m also referring to “problems” like immigration, Medicare for all, free college tuition, forgiveness of college loans, the $15.00 an hour minimum wage, the Green New Deal, world peace, and especially (in the light of today’s readings) terrorism. To repeat: all of those problems (and more) have already been solved. It’s just that the prevailing received wisdom prevents us from recognizing it.

Consider the issues just mentioned one-by-one and how they’ve already been effectively addressed:

  • Immigration: The United States, Canada, and Australia prove that nations made up almost entirely of immigrants (most of them poor at the beginning) cannot only survive but thrive. There is nothing to fear from even the poorest of immigrants. Virtually all of us are descended from such outsiders. Why not make it as easy for immigrants to enter our country today as it was when our parents, grandparents or great grandparents came over? It’s already been done.
  • Medicare for all: Publicly funded healthcare has outperformed (and at much lower cost) the U.S. privately funded system in every industrialized country. The same has happened in the U.S. itself in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, and as plans provided by the Veterans’ Health Administration, and by those extended to U.S. legislators. Medicare for All merely expands already proven systems. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Free College Tuition: We already have publicly funded elementary and high schools. Why not extend that funding to public colleges and universities? Mr. Bloomberg’s billions could take care of that.
  • College Loan Forgiveness: Michael Hudson has shown that periodic debt forgiveness has been an engine of economic growth since ancient times. It was even enshrined and required in the Hebrew Testament (Leviticus 25: 8-13) as well as centralized in Jesus’ preaching (Luke 4: 19). Moreover, billionaires (like Messrs. Bloomberg and Trump) declare bankruptcy all the time. Why exclude students from such relief?
  • Minimum Wage: A $15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage is already a fact in Seattle, New York, in the Amazon workforce, and elsewhere. It provenly works to raise working class living standards.
  • Green New Deal: In the 1930s FDR’s New Deal fundamentally changed the economic landscape of the United States including (for the first time) a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, social security, and a government jobs program employing millions. The result was the creation of a large, previously non-existent prosperous middle class. Similar even more robust programs were enacted throughout Western Europe even though its infrastructure had been devastated by the Second Inter-Capitalist War. In other words, the Green New Deal is not unprecedented. Its suggested provisions are affordable and have highly successful and popular precedents.
  • World Peace: Think about it. Current crises with Iraq, Korea, Russia, China, Iran, Syria and elsewhere have been manufactured — absolutely pulled out of the air. None of those countries represent mortal threat to the United States. And in any case, the tools for resolving international conflicts already exist under the auspices of the United Nations. Those who routinely ignore those tools and associated laws are not our “enemies,” but ourselves and our “allies.” “We” are the agents who employ force, sanctions, droning, and bombing as a first resort rather than observe international law and UN procedures for avoiding international conflict. Our merely observing international law would represent a giant step towards world peace.

But, of course, the wisdom of the world denies all of the above. It would convince us that reform is without precedent, that those proposing it are radicals, and that their proposals are unrealistic and impossible to implement. They would even have us believe that Bloombergian and Trumpian wealth based on individualism, competition, and separateness are somehow compatible with the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Today’s readings make the opposite point and condemn as heretical such received wisdom. Instead, the readings emphasize the unity of humankind and the need to reject the world’s ideology.

And that’s where the connection with terrorism comes in. The fact is that the world’s leading terrorists are religiously motivated Jews, Christians and Muslims. Yet, all three accept the Bible as inspired. All three recognize Moses and Jesus as hallowed prophets. All three claim to endorse the basic teachings of those prophets as contained in today’s readings. Such convergence represents a basis for eliminating terrorism far more powerful than bombs, drones or boots on the ground.

To see what I mean, please consider today’s readings in my translated form. (And do check them out here to see if I have them right.) They describe the basis for replacing armed conflict with peaceful religious dialog.

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18: Moses called Yahweh’s people to divine holiness outlawing all hatred, grudges and any type of revenge. All such animosity, he warned, ultimately equates with self-hatred.

Psalms: 103: 1-13 This is because God’s very essence is kindness, compassion, generosity, and unbounded forgiveness.

1st Corinthians: 3: 16-23:And that essence is ours too. Hence, destroying another person represents an attack not only on God but on our Selves. Such profound wisdom is 180 degrees opposed to the world’s foolhardy “savoir faire.” Therefore, accepting Jesus means rejecting received wisdom.

1 JN 2:5:  In other words, following Jesus’ teaching (and btw the Buddha’s, Mohammed’s, Krishna’s, Lao Tzu’s, and that of history’s great humanists) is the only way of pleasing God

Matthew 5: 38-48: More specifically, the world teaches eye for eye revenge, retaliation two for one, suing at the drop of a hat, suspicion of borrowers and beggars, and hatred of enemies. However, (along with Moses) Jesus counsels exactly the opposite: gentleness, generosity, having no enemies at all, loving even those who cause us pain, recognition that all are neighbors loved equally by the One whose sun and rain benefit everyone without distinction. Yes, our neighbor (including “enemies”) is our very Self!

Can you see how the wisdom expressed in those readings provide a basis for dialog rather than for armed conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslims? Can you see how rejecting the “wisdom of the world” reveals that the world’s most pressing problems have already been solved? None of them is new, unprecedented, or insoluble.

It’s time for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to unite in a shared project that opens everyone’s eyes to those facts. It’s time to expropriate the Bloombergs, Trumps and their corporate allies who deny solutions that are absolutely staring everyone in the face.  

Border Reality in Tijuana: Horror, Heartbreak – and Heroism

Readings for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 8:23-9:3; Psalm 27: 1, 4, 13-14; I Corinthians 1: 10-13, 17; Matthew 4:23; Matthew 4: 12-23

In recent weeks, I’ve been trying to report on my rich but heartrending experiences in Tijuana Mexico where I’m volunteering for a legal services group, Al Otro Lado (AOL). We offer professional counseling and support to refugees at our country’s heaviest border crossing here in Baja California. For someone in his 80th year, workdays here have been incredibly busy, very exhausting, but also extremely rewarding.

I mean, who wouldn’t be edified to witness the example of heroic but impoverished fathers and mothers AOL counsels each day. Their love for their children is so powerful that it has driven them to leave the homes and countries they love and actually walk hundreds of miles to what they imagine will be safer conditions for their little ones? (How desperate do you have to be to do that?!) It’s like the mythic journeys celebrated in some of the greatest stories human beings have ever produced.  

And yet, whose heart wouldn’t be broken to realize that helping these heroines and heroes fill out reams and reams of invasive forms and questionnaires will in most case lead nowhere but back to their original unbearable circumstances? That’s because the heartless Trump administration is doing everything in its power to thwart the dreams of these mythic champions.

Refugee Testimony

To be more specific, here’s what I’ve been told over the past two weeks while taking testimony from refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. (What follows is virtually in the refugees own words.) See if you find them as distressing as I have:

  • My country (e.g. Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, or Haiti) is controlled by drug cartels created by the U.S. so-called “war on drugs.”
  • Small business owners in my barrio must offer the gangs protection money or otherwise cooperate with them – either that or suffer horrific consequences.
  • They try to get the rest of us to pay “war taxes” and/or to transport or distribute drugs.
  • For refusing to do so, my father (and/or a brother, or uncle) has been murdered. They’ve beat me up too. They almost stabbed me to death. They’ve burnt down our family’s house.
  • And the gangs are currently threatening to kill me and remaining members of my family if we don’t give in.
  • I can’t move elsewhere in my country to escape all of this, because the gangs are everywhere. They’ve followed me to the border, made threatening phone calls, parked prominently outside my place of work. They always seem to know where I live.
  • Moreover, it doesn’t help to go to the police. They either fear the gangs or cooperate with them. We’re all afraid of the police; they are so corrupt and unhelpful.
  • I’m desperate, so I and my family have walked across three countries to get here.

Women hovering over young children, clinging infants, and adorable babies report:

  • I’ve been a victim of domestic violence for years.
  • My husband who’s alcoholic regularly beats me and my children.
  • Since I left him, there’s been no escape; he stalks me wherever I go.
  • I can’t live like this anymore.
  • I’ve got to get as far away from this man as possible.

To repeat: those are the stories all us volunteers for AOL hear each day. I bring them up today because they turn out to be intimately connected with the liturgical readings for this third Sunday in Ordinary Time. Those selections offer encouragement to our mythic heroes, because their stories are quite like those of 6th century (BCE) Jews reflected in today’s first reading as well as of Jesus of Nazareth in today’s gospel selection. In fact, heroes’ journeys, exile, and refugeeism turn out to be prominent recurring biblical themes. Think about it.

Biblical Parallels

Consider for example today’s first selection from the prophet Isaiah. It celebrates Israel’s homecoming after a 50-year exile in Babylon (modern Iraq). It was then that their leaders had been forced to emigrate from Israel to Babylon. In other words, they were victims of wholesale kidnapping when Babylon’s rulers desired to prevent uprisings in the land they had just conquered and occupied. So, like our clients here in Tijuana, the removed ones became victims of heartless force and violence back home.

And then in the Gospel (500 years later), we find John the Baptist and Jesus similarly victimized by regimes almost as ruthless as the Trump administration. Today’s gospel reading focuses on Jesus himself becoming a political refugee for the second time. [Remember that first time in Matthew’s “infancy narratives,” when he and his parents sought expatriate status in Egypt to escape wholesale state infanticide (MT 2:13-23)?]

This time, that same King Herod has arrested Jesus’ mentor, the outspoken John the Baptizer. (The king would shortly have him beheaded.) And that in turn forces Jesus, as John’s protege, to go underground. So, the young teacher flees for refuge specifically among non-Jews in the Gentile region of Zebulon and Naphtali in eastern Galilee.

Significantly, that entire territory constituted a rebellious district and a hotbed of revolution. As such, it was largely out of Herod’s control. (To some extent, the king had only himself to blame for that, because it was in Zebulon and Naphtali that he had forcefully resettled migrants, non-Jews, and the poor.) In any case, Jesus finds comparative safety in that mixed context of foreigners, rebels and refugees.

Nevertheless, Matthew’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus’ semi-clandestine status didn’t silence him. Instead, he simply took up where John had left off proclaiming their shared conviction that another non-imperialized world is possible. As a world without Caesars – as a world with room for everyone – Jesus called it the “Kingdom of God.” It’s what refugees and immigrants have always wanted.

What I’m trying to say is that here in Tijuana, AOL deals every day with refugees from violence pretty much like what’s portrayed in today’s biblical selections. Circumstances have forced most of them into exile every bit as effectively as 6th century (BCE) Jews were forced into Babylon. They are just as frightened as Jesus must have been when he fled to eastern Galilee to hide out in a district virtually ungovernable by the reigning King Herod.

Calling attention to the similarities between the stories of heroes at our southern border and those of Israel in general and of Jesus in particular should offer encouragement to both today’s refugees and those who work with them (like the AOL permanent volunteers I’ve found so inspiring). The message for everyone is “this too will pass.” In any case, here are my “translations” of the readings in question. You can find them here in their original form.

Today’s Readings (in Translation)

Isaiah 8:23-9:
Our long, alienated exile
Is finally over.
Anguish, darkness
Gloom and distress
Have been replaced                                       
By light, joy and merriment.
The burdens                                                   
Of foreign taskmasters
Have been lifted
Their instruments of torture,
Smashed.
It is time to celebrate.
 
Psalm 27: 1, 4, 13-14
Indeed, fear is gone
Removed by the Divine One
Who is Light, Salvation,
Refuge and Loveliness
The Source of
Bounty, courage, strength,
And life.
 
I Corinthians 1: 10-13, 17
For us, Yeshua
Is the wellspring
Of such delight
Despite Empire’s
Divide-and-conquer strategy.                        
So, as his followers
We should never
Split into petty factions
But stay united instead.
 
Matthew 4:23
Yes, embracing 
God’s Kingdom
Where disease                                               
Is banished –
Has us rejecting
The World’s division
Its insanity –
Its fundamental sickness.
 
Matthew 4: 12-23
That World even
Imprisoned John the Baptizer
And caused
Yeshua himself
To hide underground
Among anarchists.
Yet he never stopped
Insisting that                                      
Another world is possible
With room for everyone                    
Even persuading
Working class people
To leave behind
Job security
For its sake
With the added bonus
Of free health care
For everyone!

Conclusion

A key foundational principle of liberation theology is the “hermeneutical privilege of the poor.”

It means that since poor people stand on the same ground as the ones whose experience is centralized in the Bible, their interpretations of texts (hermeneutics) are probably more accurate than the readings of the non-poor and even of academics trained in biblical science. The poor and oppressed see elements of historical accounts, parables, and other literary forms that remain opaque to the rest of us.

The truth of that privilege has come home to me strongly since I began my stint two weeks ago here in Baja California. It has forced me to see the world through the eyes of the refugees our group accompanies each morning at the el Chaparral crossing.

So, when I considered this week’s liturgical readings from Isaiah and Matthew, I saw what I never saw before, though I was previously quite familiar with both passages. Today’s readings, I realized, are about escapees from persecution similar to what our refugees from Mexico and Central America have experienced.

In summary, Tijuana’s refugees are more authentically God’s people – God’s favorites – than the rest of us.

I thank the heroes I’ve met here in Baja California for teaching me that lesson. They are mythic giants indeed.

View from the Border: Christians Torturing Christians, Lawyers Following Jesus

Readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 49: 3, 5-6; PS 40: 2-10; I COR 1: 1-3; JN 1: 14A, 12A; JN 1: 29-34

So, I’m here in Tijuana, Mexico. As I noted last week, I’ll be in Baja California for three weeks working with a border rights project called Al Otro Lado (AOL). It’s helping refugees and immigrants claim their internationally recognized entitlement to asylum from repressive governments, gangs, the ravages of climate change, and from a worldwide economic system whose “free trade” agreements have destroyed jobs and created grinding poverty across the globe.

Yes, I’ve entered another world here – vastly different from what I experience every day in my new home in super-affluent Westport CT. And I love it. It’s brought me to a social location similar to the ones experienced by most of the world’s inhabitants – including Jesus and his friends 2000 years ago.

What I’ve found at this Mexican border is closer to the reality of my former home in central Kentucky’s Appalachia where so many live from hand to mouth as part of the national precariat that ironically (as Rev. William Barber says) has come to include 43% of Americans – in the world’s richest country.

Here in Tijuana, I’ve met two kinds of people that give me great hope despite the power of a third group that dominates public policy and discourse. All three groups stand starkly revealed in the light of today’s liturgical readings. As we’ll see presently, those selections from the Jewish and Christian Testaments call Jesus’ followers to a universal community that overcomes the narrow ethnocentrism required to justify torturing one’s fellow human beings.   

Consider that last group first – the dominant one. They’re best represented by Donald Trump and the Republican Party whose mostly white members (sporting their red MAGA hats) loudly trumpet their Christian faith. Nevertheless, this group takes great delight, it seems, in making their brown and black fellow Christians suffer.

It’s a kind of sadistic cruelty that puts obstacle after illegal obstacle in front of mostly non-white Christians seeking a healthier, safer life for their children and themselves. Despite court orders to the contrary, the process continues to separate small children (and even infants and babies) from their parents. It confines asylum seekers in what refugees themselves call “the icebox” (hielera) – a holding tank through which those lucky enough to get a “Credible Fear Interview” (CFI) must legally endure for no more than 72 hours – but where stays sometimes stretch out for 3 or 4 weeks. The tank is kept at 48 degrees Fahrenheit while detainees are allowed to wear no more than one layer of clothing, are given aluminum blankets to cover themselves at night and are served frozen and expired food. It’s a form of state-sponsored torture. There’s no other word for it.

Meanwhile, those who have not yet qualified for a CFI are forced to wait 3 or 4 months for the privilege to endure such cruelty. Each of them is given a number placing them on “The List” for eventual refrigerator admission. So, thousands have their ciphers scratched on little pieces of paper that they’re warned not to lose.

The announced time for reading list names is usually 7:30 in the morning. But occasionally, the names are called at 4:00 a.m.; other days, the time 10:00. And those missing the summons, must reapply for another number and begin their wait all over again. Most days only 40 people are called to the hielera over a scratchy bullhorn with names read quickly in distorted, barely audible tones. But some days, as many as 700 names are called. Other days, no one is summoned.

Under such a “system,” you can imagine how people are kept off-balance. It inflicts confusion, anxiety, frustration, disappointment and pain on impoverished people who have already experienced great hardship walking with their small children and their most treasured possessions all the way from places like Honduras and El Salvador. Just imagine missing the announcement of your number!

But that’s the entire point: to make asylum seekers fail – to render the process as difficult, excruciating, frustrating and futile as possible. That’s white Republican Christianity for you.

Meanwhile, the Christians at the gate awaiting hielera admission provide examples of courage, optimism, kindness and hope. That’s the second group I’ve seen here over the past week – a hopeful one in the face of their fellow Christians’ meanness. In fact, all AOL volunteers have witnessed those edifying qualities every day despite the long lines, despite the frustration and dashed hopes. Those waiting in line are typically earnest, patient, smiling, and easy to speak with.

The children are the best – running around, playing, drawing pictures with the crayons supplied by border workers anxious to help. This second group is awe-inspiring and uplifting.

But it’s the third group that is for me the most admirable. Here, I’m referring to the volunteers in Al Otro Lado.  In the past year, over 3000 of them have passed through the program. Most come from the U.S. The majority of them are young women. Many are law students or lawyers. 3000 in a single year!! Does that give you hope or what?

Volunteers prepare asylum seekers for their CFIs and provide free legal counsel otherwise unavailable to their confused clients. Typically, the counsellors stay for a week. Many stay longer. Some come back every few months. None of the thousands of volunteers – much less the permanent staff – is motivated by money or material ambition. It’s all about service, respect for clients, contesting the insanity of the entire process and about giving, giving, giving . . . And all of this, despite the Sisyphean nature of the work – despite knowing that most of those served will not be successful in overcoming the system’s bias against them. Instead, they’ll be sent back to the very life-threatening situations they’re trying to escape.

It’s all entirely inspiring and without any pretense of faith motivation. Nonetheless, it’s also entirely coincident with the spirit of today’s liturgical readings. I mean, the irony is that AOL volunteers are nearer the spirit of this Sunday’s readings than those loudly professing their faith as followers of Mr. Trump and the version of Christianity that so many white people endorse.

To show what I mean, here are my “translations” of today’s texts. Read them for yourself here to see if you agree – to see if I’ve got them right.  

IS 49: 3, 5-6
God’s people
Serve; they do not rule.
This has been our purpose
From the very beginning
As individuals and communities.
Loving kindness to others
Is a sign of strength.
It is the glory of being human
To reject narrow ethnocentrism
For the good
Of the whole human race.
 
PS 40: 2-10
Lord, help me to love
As you do
Hearing the cry
Of the afflicted
Putting aside
All religious nonsense
And living simply
According to your
Law of love
Calling us
To social justice
And to speak truth
Without fear.
 
I COR 1:1-3
This is what it means
To do God’s will
And follow holy Yeshua
As our Master Teacher
Living gracefully
And at peace
With everyone.
 
JN 1: 14A, 12A
Yes, Jesus
Is our model
Our source of strength
And of child-like openness
To God’s real presence
In flesh and blood
Sisters and brothers
Among us.
 
JN 1: 29-34
The great prophet
John the Baptist
First recognized
Jesus’ fiercely gentle power
Against the world’s
Foolish ‘wisdom,’
Fear, selfishness
And violence.
Jesus, John said,
Embodies eternal wisdom
The very Spirit of God.
So should we all.

Do you see what I mean about the three groups I’ve met here in Tijuana? The refugees and AOL staff embody on the one hand and recognize on the other the Jesus we’ve been reviewing every Sunday since Christmas with our readings focused on “the infancy narratives.” The refugees here in Tijuana embody the Homeless One who was born in a stable, the Refugee from Herod’s infanticide, the Immigrant who lived those years in Egypt.

And despite not wearing any faith convictions on their sleeves, the AOL volunteers embody the global perspective, openness to the afflicted, and the Spirit of John the Baptizer and of Yeshua himself that are centralized in today’s readings.

We can only pray that Trump Christians might one day see the truth as clearly. We can only pray that all of us might see like that. The lives of people like Jesus depend on it.

Report from Tijuana: A (Near) 80-Year Old’s Experience at Ground Zero of the Immigration Crisis

Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, 7:10 p.m.

Today near the middle of my 80th year, I’m off to Tijuana to work for a couple of weeks with refugees and immigrants at the border. I mention my age not because I feel old, but because 80 used to seem ancient to me. Yes, I’ve done lots of these fact-finding trips before beginning with our family’s six months in Brazil during the military dictatorship there back in 1984. Then there were all those trips to revolutionary Nicaragua beginning the next year, and many visits to Cuba. This time around, I find myself wondering if my age will be a factor in the eyes of my co-workers.

In any case, this is the first in a series of daily reports I plan to make on this blog site. I want to take readers with me on this particular expedition of first-hand observation and discovery.

So, I’m now seated on Delta Flight 2685, in seat 23B on my way from New York’s JFK Airport to San Diego CA. It’s a 5 hour and 45-minute flight. I’ll stay overnight in San Diego’s Gaslight District. Then, tomorrow I’ll cross over into Tijuana, and begin work on Monday at 9:00 a.m.

My plan is to join forces with Al Otro Lado (AOL), a Tijuana-based social justice and legal services organization whose task is to help asylum-seekers in their quest to find refuge in the United States. I’m not sure what my function with the group will be. I might end up sweeping, washing floors, making beds, working in the kitchen, and serving meals. That would be fine. But I’m hoping my Spanish will be of some use. (For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been burnishing my skills in hour-long Skype sessions with a wonderful Spanish teacher in Cuernavaca.)

My main task however is to learn. I want to build on what I’ve gathered throughout my professional life as a theologian, researcher, teacher and habitual traveler to Global South stress points.

More specifically, my past observations (during those long stays in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Brazil and Cuba) as well as my study with Global South thought leaders (especially in Costa Rica’s Departamento Ecumenico de Investigaciones and during my years teaching in an on-site Latin American Studies Program) have already taught me that today’s refugees are seeking escape from:

  • The effects of U.S. wars during the 1980s which destroyed families, church communities, businesses, towns, and entire countries. Those wars were aimed at keeping in power brutal dictators who served U.S. business interests such as Chiquita Banana. They were intended to prevent democracy from replacing the tyranny of Latin America’s wealthy classes allied with their counterparts across the U.S. border.
  • Gang violence inflicted on whole communities by the now decommissioned national soldiers and paramilitaries employed 40 years ago by the United States in South and Central America in the wars just referenced. [During the years of cooperation with the CIA and U.S. Army, those terrorists (that’s what they were) supported their illegal war efforts by deep involvement in drug trafficking – with CIA facilitation. Now, with the wars over, the former U.S. assets are simply continuing the work they learned all during those years of conflict – including the associated threats, bribes, kickbacks, death squads, assassinations, rapes, and torture.]
  • The devastating results of free trade pacts (like the North and Central American Free Trade Agreements – NAFTA and CAFTA) that have allowed the United States to e.g. dump cheap corn on the international market thus driving millions of small farmers off their land and into unemployment in big city slums.
  • The effects of climate change such as rising temperatures, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and forest fires, exacerbated by the entire Republican Party which insists not only on denying scientific fact, but on doubling down on the ecocide’s causes.
  • Domestic violence exacerbated by rampant unemployment (caused by those free trade deals) that has made mothers and their children absolutely desperate to escape the violent men in their lives.

Virtually none of those causes are explained to the American people. Instead, the multifaceted central role of the U.S. government and CIA in creating the crisis is completely overlooked as politicians and the mainstream media (MSM) ahistorically “explain” the problem in terms of freeloaders, drug dealers, rapists, gangbangers and general criminality.

Ignored as well is the undeniable moral obligation of the United States to make reparations by rebuilding the economies and infrastructures they’ve destroyed and by giving generous and easy asylum (not to mention jobs and cash payments) to the refugees manufactured in the process. WE ABSOLUTELY OWE THESE PEOPLE SHELTER, PROTECTION, AND RESTITUTION! THIS IS NOT A QUESTION OF CHARITY. WE ARE MORALLY OBLIGED!

As you can see, my project here is to help balance our MSM-cultivated ignorance by acquainting readers with actual refugees and immigrants and their full stories.

Please tune in tomorrow for an update.

This Is What A Good Samaritan Looks Like (Sunday Homily)

Today’s Gospel selection, the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, couldn’t be timelier.

It’s read at a juncture in American history, where a Christian acting specifically according to the teaching of Jesus’ parable faces 20 years in prison. His crime? He provided food, water, lodging and hospitality to people whom the Trump administration would rather see die of thirst and exposure, because the president considers them sub-human.

I’m talking about Dr. Scott Warren (pictured above), a humanitarian aid volunteer and immigration rights activist. For years, he has worked with an organization called No More Deaths (NMD). Its members leave water jugs, clothing, and medical supplies for refugees and immigrants crossing the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. Warren and NMD also keep track of the numerous cadavers they find there and have filmed U.S. border agents emptying more than 3000 NMD water jugs in their clear effort to create more deaths by dehydration. In fact, those border agents are the sadistic executioners who staff Mr. Trump’s concentration camp system. (Watch what they do in this film clip. Doesn’t their sadism remind you of the Nazis we’ve all seen in all those WWII movies?)

Coincidently, I guess, and soon after filming the murderers, Warren was arrested and tried for aiding two undocumented migrants. A hung jury failed to convict him. However, the Trump administration wants the man retried – again, for the crime of obeying Jesus’ mandate in today’s reading. (In fact, most reports of Warren’s case specifically invoke the imagery of “the Good Samaritan.”) His second trial will take place in November.

The sad irony is that so many of Trump’s supporters consider themselves Christians. Their single “Christian” issue seems to be abortion about which Jesus and the Bible in general says absolutely nothing. Nothing at all! And yet, when someone obeys Jesus’ clear and unambiguous teaching as in today’s Gospel, they want Jesus’ follower punished to the full extent of the law whose essence Moses describes as Love in today’s first reading.

It’s like what happened in Germany after Hitler came to power. There, the birthplace of Luther and his Reformation, Christians not only enthusiastically approved of der Fuhrer; they worked in his concentration camps. And then (as Elie Wiesel puts it) after cremating Jews all week, they went to confession on Saturday and received communion on Sunday. They could do so, because, mirroring Trump’s attitude towards immigrants, they believed Jews were sub-human.

That’s the same attitude Jews themselves in Jesus’ day had towards Samaritans. They were considered enemies of the state, because their ancestors back in the 8th century BCE, intermarried with Assyrian occupiers of the Jewish homeland. Intermarriage rendered Samaritans unclean. They were as sub-human as Trump’s immigrants or Hitler’s Jews.

So Jesus’ making a Samaritan the hero of his challenging parable, and contrasting the outcast’s compassion with the “couldn’t-care-less” attitude of professional holy men – the priest and the Levite – connects directly with the hypocrisy of Christians, the Trump administration, and those border agents all of whom have criminalized the fundamental human right of immigration.

No; I’m wrong:  they’ve actually criminalized God’s law of love as described throughout today’s liturgical readings. Read them for yourself here. In any case, what follows is my “translation” of their main ideas:  

 DT 30: 10-14
 
The Great Liberator, Moses
Exhorted the former slaves
To return to LOVE
The most obvious, uncomplicated
Reality
In the world.
 
PS 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37

Love is all we need
From Life Itself.
It is always kind
And helpful
Overflowing with gifts
And ready to protect
The poor, the imprisoned,
The exiled,
And those in pain.
Yes: All we need is Love.
 
COL 1:15-20
 
Jesus, the Christ
Shows what Love means –
That absolutely everything
Was created for Love,
The bond, the glue
That holds us all together
In complete at-one-ment
Transforming the human race
Into a single body
Despite resistance
And crucifixion
By a hostile world.
 
LK 10: 25-37

For Jesus (like Moses)
Love of God and Neighbor
Is the only law
Promising fullness of life.
The two laws are one.
Being “neighbor”
Means rejecting
The ignorance of
Professional holy men
And politicians,
Adopting instead
The compassion of
The very minorities
We’re taught to hate
Who provide
Health care, transportation,
Lodging, mercy
Follow-up,
And money,
For those they have every reason
To hate.
That’s what it means
To love Our very Self!

Moses was right: Love is really all we need. It couldn’t be clearer. Jesus was right: Love is God’s only law. There is no other.

Trump, his followers and agents are wrong. They are criminal.

Or as the Master put it in another place (MT 10:42) “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

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

Readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: I KGS 19: 16 B, 19-21; PS 16: 1, 2, 5, 7-11; GAL 5: 1, 13-18; I SM 3:9; JN 6: 68C; LK9: 51-62

So, we all watched Thursday’s debate in which Marianne Williamson finally participated and showed the country who she is. And she was magnificent. She demonstrated what her spiritual guidebook, A Course in Miracles calls a refusal to be insane. She embodied that still small voice of conscience – the voice for God – that today’s liturgy of the word distinguishes from the world’s madness.

To begin with consider the madness we witnessed Thursday night. It was a perfect reflection of our insane country, of our insane world, of our insane electoral system. There they were: ten of our presumably best and brightest aspiring to occupy what we’re told is the most powerful office in the world. They shouted, talked over their opponents, self-promoted, bragged, and put their opponents down. They offered complicated “plans” that no one (including themselves) seemed to understand. They ignored the rules of the game, recited canned talking points, and generally made fools of themselves – and of viewers vainly seeking sincerity, genuine leadership and real answers. Except for that brief exchange about busing between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, it was mostly embarrassing.

And then there were the so-called moderators who allowed the circus to spin so completely out of control. They issued stern warnings about time limits, frequently set them strictly at “thirty seconds,” but then proceeded to allow speakers to go on for three minutes or more. The celebrity hosts were completely arbitrary in addressing their questions unevenly. They repeatedly questioned some of the candidates and ignored others.  

Meanwhile, there was Marianne Williamson off in the corner almost completely out of sight and generally ignored by the hosts. When they finally deigned to notice her polite attempts to contribute, no one seemed to know what to do with her comments. There was never any follow-up or request for clarification. Instead, what she said seemed completely drowned out by the evening’s “excitement,” noise, general chaos, and imperative to change topics. It was as if she were speaking a foreign language. I mean, how do you respond to that “still small voice of conscience” that says:

  • Immigration problems should be understood in historical context; their roots are found in U.S. policy in Central America especially during the 1980s. Such comment invites further discussion. None took place.
  • Removing children from their parents’ arms is kidnapping; putting preschoolers in concentration camps is child abuse. Such crimes should be treated accordingly. What retribution did Marianne have in mind? The question went unasked.
  • Health care “solutions” should address environmental questions about chemicals in our foods, water, and air that make Americans sick. The response: “My next question for Vice-President Biden is . . .”
  • Government programs should be expressions of love, not fear.

As expected, the pundits who afterwards declared “winners” and “losers,” generally put Marianne in the latter category. Their criteria for that judgment were just what you’d expect: Who was louder? Who was more aggressive, more interruptive? Who spoke for more minutes? Who more effectively transgressed the debate “rules” and thereby showed leadership and dominance?

None of this could be further from the spiritual principles Marianne Williamson has espoused for the last 40 years. That spirituality, like Elijah’s, Elisha’s, Paul’s, and Jesus’ in today’s liturgical readings holds that the problems that plague our world have simple answers that have nothing to do with bombast, filibusters, or spectacle. However, the world rejects out of hand the solutions of that still-small-voice of conscience as unrealistic and “out there” in the realm of the irrelevant and impractical. Such blind dismissal is what Paul in today’s reading calls “flesh;” it’s what Jesus elsewhere rejects as “worldly.”  

So, in an effort to put Thursday’s debate in perspective, let me begin by describing where Marianne is coming from; then I’ll get to the relevant readings.

A Course in Miracles

For more than forty years, the foundation of Marianne Williamson’s life and teachings has been A Course in Miracles (ACIM). It’s a three-volume work (a text, 365 daily exercises, and a manual for teachers) that was allegedly (and reluctantly) channeled by Helen Schucman, a Columbia University psychologist and atheist in the three or four years leading up to 1975, the year of the trilogy’s publication. It has since sold millions of copies. Williamson has described ACIM as “basic Christian mysticism.”

The book’s a tough read – certainly not for everyone, though Williamson insists that something like its daily spiritual discipline (a key term for her) is necessary for living a fully human life bent on serving God rather than self. Its guiding prayer is “Where would you have me go? What would you have me do? What would you have me say, and to whom?”

Even tougher than the cryptic text itself is putting into practice the spiritual exercises in Volume II whose entire point is “a complete reversal of thought.” According to ACIM’s constant reminders, we are all prisoners in a cell like Plato’s Cave, where everything the world tells us is exactly the opposite of God’s truth.

To counter such deception, A Course in Miracles has the rare disciple (possessing the discipline to persevere) systematically deconstruct her world. It begins by identifying normal objects like a lamp or desk and helping the student realize that what s/he takes for granted is entirely questionable. Or as Lesson One puts it: “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.” The point is to liberate the ACIM practitioner from all preconceptions and from the illusory dreams the world foists upon us from birth. Those illusions, dreams and nightmares are guided by fear, which, the course teaches, is the opposite of love. In fact, ACIM teaches that fear and love are the only two energetic forces in the entire universe. “Miracles” for A Course in Miracles are changes in perception – a paradigm shift – from fear to love. For Marianne, Donald Trump’s worldview is based primarily on fear; her’s is based on love (which means action based on the recognition of creation’s unity).

According to Williamson’s guide, time, space, and separation of humans into separate entities are all entirely illusory. Such distinctions are dreams that cause all the world’s nightmares, including all the topics addressed in Thursday’s debate. For instance:

  • The illusion of time has us all living in past and future while ignoring the present – the only moment that actually exists, has ever existed, or where true happiness can be found. This means, for example, that inspirational figures like Jesus are literally alive NOW just as they were (according to time’s illusion) 2000 years ago. His Holy Spirit is a present reality.  
  • The dream of space has us taking too seriously human-made distinctions like borders between countries. Yes, they are useful for organizing commerce and travel. But the world as God created it belongs to everyone. It’s a complete aberration and childish to close off borders as inviolable and to proudly proclaim that “From now on, it’s only going to be America first, America first!”
  • Similarly, the dream of separation between humans has us convinced that “we” are here in North America, while refugees are down there at our southern border. According to ACIM however, “There is really only one of us here.” This means that I am female, male, white, black, brown, straight, gay, trans, old and young. And so are you. Others are not simply our sisters and brothers; they are us! What we do to them, we do to ourselves.

With such clarifications in mind, the solution to the world’s problems are readily available and far easier to understand than complicated health care systems or carbon trading. The solutions are forgiveness and atonement. But for ACIM, forgiveness does not mean overlooking another’s sins and generously choosing not to punish them. It means first of all realizing that sin itself is an illusion. It is an archery term for a human mistake – for missing the mark – something every one of us does.

Forgiveness, then, amounts to nothing more than realizing that truth and acting accordingly – as though the forgiven one were our Self (because s/he is!). In a world of complete deception, it means accepting the truth that the ones our culture blames – like immigrants, refugees, people of color, the poor, Muslims, and members of the LGBTQQIA community – are not only completely innocent. Accepting them as our very Self represents the source of our personal and political salvation.  

In this light then, prisons (for particularly dangerous people) become re-education centers for rehabilitation, not punishment. This means that even pathological criminals like Trump, Pence, Pompeo, and Bolton can helpfully be sequestered for a while and then returned to society as reformed, productive people. (I know that’s hard to believe; but it could happen!)

Yes, for Williamson, the goal of it all (of life itself!) is atonement – At-One-Ment – practical realization of a world with room for everyone with illusory distinctions either ignored, or played with, or celebrated in the spirit of party and game. Practically speaking, atonement looks like reparations not only to the descendants of African slaves, but to countries we have destroyed like those Marianne referenced in Central America – but also like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba, and a host of others. Instead of dropping bombs on them or applying sanctions, we should, in effect, be showering them with schools, hospitals, infrastructure, technological assistance, and money. It’s all part of the reparations due.

Imagine what that kind of foreign policy would accomplish and how much cheaper it would be than the trillions we’re now wasting on weapons and war.

As her books, Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love show, Williamson stood ready to share such convictions last Thursday night. But she was never asked. And we’re all poorer as a result.

Today’s Readings   

So how is all of that related to this Sunday’s readings? They’re about the contrast between the world’s wisdom – its way of debating, judging, condemning, and praising – and God’s way of interacting with one another and with creation itself. Check out the readings for yourself here and see what you think. My “translations” follow to clarify their cumulative point:

I KGS 19:16B, 19-21
 
We are called
To be prophets
Like Elijah
And his disciple-successor
Elisha
A wealthy farmer
Who understood
That God’s call
Required renouncing
Everything the world
Holds dear:
Family, possessions,
And independence
In order to
Comfort the afflicted
Afflict the comfortable
And feed the hungry.
 
PS 16: 1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
 
For what ultimately
Belongs to us
Is not
The world’s
Corruption and condemnation
But the God
We deeply are
Who is our very
Food and drink,
The ability to see
Even amidst
The world’s darkness,
The source of calm,
Gladness, and health
Who shows
The path to life,
Joy, and unending delight.
 
 
GAL 5: 1, 13-18
 
As Elisha realized:
World and Spirit
Are completely opposed.
Paul terms
Those worldly values
“Flesh.”
It demands
Slavery and consumption
Of one another!
What God values
Is Christ’s “Spirit.”
Demanding
Nothing more
Than love
Of the other
Who is
(Believe it or not)
Our very Self.
 
I SM 3:9, JN 6: 68C
 
Deep down
We know
All of this
Is true.
 
LK 9: 51-62
 
Jesus did too.
So, on the way
To ultimate destiny
He rejected
The world’s spirit
Of xenophobia, revenge,
Ethnocentrism –
And Hell-Fire missiles.
Instead, he identified with
The homeless,
With life, not death,
And with the Spirit
Of Elisha
Who also
Left plow and oxen
For the sake of
God’s reign.

Conclusion

Please think about those readings in the light of what we witnessed on the debate stage a few nights ago. The other candidates represented what Paul calls “flesh” – you know: the world’s wisdom and way of doing things involving corruption, condemnation, devouring one’s opponent, xenophobia, and addiction to those Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile Marianne seemed bemused by it all. Her few thoughtful remarks said far more than the ones filibustering, pointlessly arguing, self-promoting.

As she says herself, Ms. Williamson is not in this campaign to run against anyone. She’s there to run with her fellow Democrats and to help Americans decide which candidate is best.

I think that candidate is Marianne. She deserves better consideration and a closer hearing than she received on Thursday. Like Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and Paul, she is a voice for our Deepest Self. She was the winner.  

Report from France: “Yellow Vest” Revolutionary Unity and Its Lessons for Americans

Over Christmas, my daughter and son-in-law took us all on a ski vacation in the French Alps followed by a full week in Paris. Since at my stage of life, skiing is no longer advisable, I decided to focus instead on looking into the country’s Gilet Jaune (GJ) protest movement that’s shaken France to the core.

So, for several months before leaving the U.S., I studied French each day trying to recover the little I retained from 7 years (!) of extended formal French study 3 in high school and 4 in college.

And then, once in France, while my sons, son-in-law, and 4 grandchildren were on the slopes, I studied up on the Gilet Jaunes themselves I read about them in French newspapers, watched TV coverage of their demonstrations,and tried to join them in Albertville my first Saturday in the country, in the Champs Elysee on New Year’s Eve, and in front of the Hotel de Ville my final day in Paris.

As an activist and student of the left, my point was to become a kind of accidental reporter covering a phenomenon that has seen hundreds of thousands of political protestors in the streets across a country whose history since 1789 has given it quasi-ownership rights to the word “revolution.”

Dressed in the yellow safety vests that French drivers are required to wear in case of highway emergencies, the GJs are stopping traffic on busy roadways. They’re occupying toll booths to allow travelers escape from burdensome fees. Some see them as suggesting a “Frexit” that may mirror the UK’s recent Brexit withdrawal from the European Union.

Interviewing those protestors, some U.S. ex-patriots, teachers, and small businesspeople, as well as reading those newspapers and attending GJ protests have all made it clear to me that the Yellow Vests have valuable lessons to teach Americans about overcoming our current political fragmentation. The GJs suggest that it’s possible for both left and right extremes of our own political spectrum to cooperate for mutual benefit regardless of positions even on divisive issues like abortion, gun control, immigration, violence and terrorism.

The Yellow Vest Phenomenon

In the U.S. the GJ movement is typically reported by the Fox News right and even by “progressives” in terms of identity politics. It’s a rebellion, we’re told, against an “eco-tax” on diesel fuel. According to this view, the Yellow Vest rebels are part of a culture war pitting climate skeptics against a government whose vision has been captured by environmental extremists.

Such identification of the GJs with right-wing politics is adopted with good reason. French President Emmanuel Macron lent it credence in his annual New Year’s Eve address. There, he identified the Yellow Vests as “hateful” enemies of the state, of Jews, the media, homosexuals, and of law and order itself.

A more comprehensive view however, was inadvertently suggested by an American ex-pat living in Paris. At first, she described the Yellow Vests as “exactly the same as the U.S. Occupy Movement.” By the end of the interview, however, she portrayed it as mimicking the Republican Tea Party.

In my assessment, both evaluations are accurate. That is, far from being either predominantly conservative, liberal or radical, the Yellow Vest Movement is an all-sides rebellion against neo-liberal globalism itself. It has brought together forces on both the left and right extremes of the French political spectrum. Le Monde describes them as “retirees, the unemployed, poor workers, small businesspeople, and the self-employed within the gig economy.” It’s as if the Occupy Movement had united with Tea Partiers.

In terms understandable to Americans, yellow in France has become the new purple with each shade contributing from its corresponding degree of political consciousness. Right wingers like Marine Le Pen see the Yellow Vests as a protest against open borders that allow foreigners to corrupt French culture. Left wingers see it more broadly as a rejection of a globalism that accords free mobility to capital, while forbidding such movement to labor from France’s former colonies.

All sides see GJs as repudiating the status quo. And they’re working together to overthrow it. Therein lies the lesson for Americans. The lesson is that recognizing broad class interests as opposed to narrow and exclusionary identity-politics can unite normally fragmented citizens against a tyrannous plutocracy that is crushing us all.

The Real Yellow Vest Issues

Yes, a fuel tax purporting to address climate change was the precipitating “last straw.” But the tax was galling not because the French are climate-change deniers, but because it regressively impacted low-income workers living outside of the country’s big cities and dependent on auto commutes to get to work. It’s those people from the French countryside who constitute the majority within the Yellow Vest movement.

That’s because the government had persuaded commuters in France to switch to diesel cars as cheaper and more environmentally-friendly than gas guzzlers. Then, as diesel fuel became more expensive, the government reversed course on diesel cars. Suddenly, the vehicles were a major part of the climate problem.

Additionally, the revenue gathered by the fuel tax was never intended to advance the cause of alternative energy sources. Instead, it would revert to the general fund and end up in bank coffers as loan repayment. In other words, the bankers and their rich cronies who have recently been awarded huge tax reductions, would actually benefit from the fuel tax. Meanwhile, its pain would be felt by those already suffering from austerity measures imposed by the European Union following capitalism’s world-wide recession in 2008.

There’s also concern here about immigration. Open borders across the E.U. are changing the nation’s identity. Additionally, the creation of immigrants and refugees by climate chaos, poverty, and the post-2008 economic depression in France’s former colonies are all contributing to the identity-crisis syndrome decried by the French right-wing.

Nonetheless, ever class-conscious, and with their traditionally strong socialist and communist historical ties, the French (with 80% public approval) have apparently drawn conclusions about root systemic causes. And they’ve taken to the streets. To repeat, this is class struggle that transcends identity politics. Across the political spectrum, those on the left and those on the right are upset about:

· The emerging perception that the E.U. (like free-trade agreements everywhere) is geared towards disempowering the working class while enriching transnational corporations

· The rich not paying their fair share

· Resulting wealth inequality

· Wages that have not kept up with living-costs

· Austerity measures that threaten social programs like universal health care, public education, government-sponsored child care, and month-long worker vacations

· An educational system that devalues teachers, overloads their classrooms, and pays them poorly

Yellow Vest Lessons for Americans

As I said, all of this contains lessons for Americans fragmented into political siloes where the working class (those whose income is dependent on wages) are schooled to identify other workers as our enemies rather than our wealthy bosses, corporatists and financiers. Rightists tell us that our enemies are immigrants and people of color. Leftists say they are patriarchs, gun-rights advocates, and pro-lifers. Gilet Jaunes disagree. They say that the real enemy is what the Occupy Movement identified as the richest 1%; they are the corporate elite, our employers. The GJs would instruct us to get out into the streets and embrace what unifies the working class rather than what divides us on issues such as:

· Abortion: It’s time for grass-roots pro-choice and anti-abortion activists to join forces on the shared terrain of respect for human life. On that score, we are not each other’s enemies. Accordingly, the Gilets Jaunes implicitly invite us all to provisionally bracket the contentious issue on which we’ve been led to disagree so strongly. It’s time, they imply, to join forces to oppose the military-industrial concerns that spend billions to destroy human life for vaguely-defined and questionably-achievable purposes. Their bombings and drone attacks liquidate human life in the wombs of bombing victims as well as in homes, schools, churches, mosques, temples, hospitals, restaurants, and on farms where other wage-earners like the rest of us gather for peaceful domestic purposes. All of us share those purposes. In that sense, we are all pro-life.

· Gun Control: On New Year’s Eve, I attended what I thought would be a GJ protest in the Champs Elysees. The police were out in force on behalf of a government seen as coddling the rich at the expense of the working class. The heavily-armed gendarmes frisked us all before entering the Parisian equivalent of Times Square. In another demonstration (the day I left the country) the police tear gassed everyone as more than 5000 of us rallied outside the French President’s offices in the Hotel de Ville. The Robocop’s menacing presence made me wonder (along with Chris Hedges and Paul Craig Roberts) why we working-people and pensioners allow such service “dogs” (as the rich characterize their own police) to routinely beat and otherwise abuse us without response-in-kind. I found myself ruminating about the historical wisdom of gun-rights advocates. They embrace the history lesson that nothing usually changes until the battered have risen up and retaliated against police goons and strung politicians from the lampposts. Without advocating such violence, the over-the-top response of police in the Champs Elysees and before the Hotel de Ville represented for me another GJ invitation. It was to recognize common ground with those previously seen by leftists as enemies and nothing more. It may be time, the Yellow Vests imply, for gun-control advocates to enter serious and respectful dialog with those they’ve previously seen only as deplorable enemies. Perhaps there’s more wisdom than pacifists have been willing to recognize in Thomas Jefferson’s dictum that the tree of liberty must periodically watered with the blood of tyrants.

· Violence: Relatedly, I found it interesting how opponents of the Yellow Vests routinely attempt to discredit them by characterizing GJ demonstrators as “violent.” Ignored in the accusation is the critical point that any violent attacks by demonstrators on property or on the police is only one form of violence. More accurately, the GJ acts in question are often likely the work of agents provocateursBut even if not, they certainly represent a reaction to a first act of violence in the form of the structural arrangements that precipitated the Yellow Vest movement in the first place. As described to me by a Paris university professor, those structures underpay workers and make it impossible for their children to attain the classic “French Dream” of liberty, equality, and fraternity. They impose austerity measures that deprive pensioners of a decent living and give rise to the widespread homelessness I witnessed on Paris streets and under the city’s bridges. All such inherently violent arrangements dwarf the broken store windows that the GJs are blamed for. And then there’s the third level of violence that critics routinely fail to recognize the outrageous police response to the Gilet Jaunes mentioned above. (I can still smell the tear gas.) The bottom line here is that the state, not the protestors, represents the most prominent purveyor of violence in this French context. Insisting on recognizing this habitually overlooked fact can go a long way towards defusing disagreements between leftists and their right-wing counterparts sparked by a one-dimensional approach to the divisive issue of “violence.”

· Immigration: What the left characterizes as xenophobia is really an implied, mostly unconscious, but highly accurate perception by the right that corporate globalization is totally impractical. It is founded on a fundamental contradiction. That inconsistency claims to champion “free market capitalism.” Yet such economic arrangement accords unrestricted freedom of movement across borders to only one element of the capitalist equation, viz. to capital itself. Meanwhile, labor, the other equally important factor in the system is forbidden such mobility (in the United States) and is restricted to other members of the E.U. on the continent. When the world’s labor force (in the former colonies) intuits the injustice of such double-standard when it votes with its feet to appropriate for itself the privileges routinely accorded capitalists all of us are made to recognize the unworkability of current forms of corporate globalization. The same is true of refugees caused by climate change and resource wars. Like free trade agreements, both are intimately connected with current forms of globalization. Such recognition in turn reveals a common struggle shared by both the political right and left. Following GJ partisans, our focus should correspondingly shift from villainizing fellow workers who happen to be immigrants to the corporatists who exploit both them and us by their destructive trade alliances. Invariably, those pacts benefit the 1% rather than those they (dis)employ. In other words, massive immigration should drive all of us to oppose reigning models of free trade and their destructive impact on workers everywhere as well as on human habitat.

· Terrorism: Something similar can be said of the war on terror. Those whom our leaders would have us fear as “terrorists” are arguably patriots desiring to “Make the Caliphate Great Again (MCGA). Often, they are partisans claiming ownership of their homelands. They’re Pan Arabs who envision an “Arabia for Arabs,” rather than for oil-thirsty westerners whose culture contradicts the values and monumental historical achievements of Islam in science and culture. At the very least, the so-called “terrorists” represent blowback against western aggression epitomized in the invasion of Iraq, the greatest war crime of the twenty-first century. Donald Trump’s MAGA supporters should be able to recognize such common ground both with MCGA enthusiasts and with anti-war activists in the United States. Once joined there, both the U.S. left and right could further cooperate in advocating reinvestment of what used to be called “the peace dividend” in a Green New Deal and its benefits for wage earners of every political stripe.

Conclusion

My accidental research project in France has given me hope. It’s helped me see as unnecessary the counter-productive divisions between descendants of Tea Party Activists and of their counterparts in the Occupy Movement. Actually, we have more in common than we might think. It’s the powers-that-be who want us fragmented and at each other’s throats!

If we could but recognize our points of unity, rather than the ideological fissures we’ve been schooled to cherish, we might well be as successful as today’s French Revolutionaries in making politicians more receptive to the real issues that unite wage earners across the country and throughout the world.

After all, polls across the political spectrum indicate we all want similar outcomes. We all want profound change that disempowers the world’s 1% and spreads around the wealth we’ve all produced, but that has instead been funneled upwards to the plutocrats.

Above all, adopting the cooperative spirit of the Gilet Jaunes means finding an alternative to the neo-liberal form of capitalism with its dreadful austerity measures. It’s destroying the planet and making paupers of us all.

Borders Are for Poor Suckers Like Us, Never for the Rich: Tear Down That Wall!

Borders

Isn’t it interesting how the world’s richest 1% have managed to convince most among us that the world’s poorest 1% are responsible for all of our problems? These days, they have us talking about almost nothing else.

Yes, billionaires like Donald Trump and his effete allies in D.C. have pulled “the immigrant problem” completely out of the air. And they’ve done it precisely to paper over the fact that they themselves, not the poor, are the cause of our genuinely distressing economic and social problems. It’s all a familiar diversionary tactic to keep us from seeing how the rich are screwing us over every single day.

Think about it. What troubles us aren’t immigrants and refugees who are somehow alien. Hell, if we’re not Native Americans, every one of us comes from immigrant (not to say “invader”) stock or from slaves brought here against their wills by immigrants. Every one of us!

No, our problems are persistent low wages, the emergence of the gig-economy, withdrawal of worker benefits, destruction of unions, police brutality towards people of color, lack of decent health care, deteriorating infrastructure, underfunded schools, impoverishing student debt, disappearance of retirement prospects, a bloated military budget, the threat of nuclear war, climate change denial, voter suppression, mass imprisonment of non-violent offenders, and a nation-wide drug problem induced by Big Pharma.

That’s the short list of our country’s real dilemmas. They are caused by the filthy rich who give themselves the very tax breaks that rob our common treasury and necessitate the austerity measures the wealthy prescribe for the rest of us.

Nonetheless, those plutocrats want us to take our eyes off that particular ball. Instead, they’d have us believe that the very refugees whose homes and jobs, schools and hospitals have been destroyed by the one-percent’s endless wars in the Middle East are somehow attacking the rest of us. Similarly-guilty, they say, are those fleeing the chaos and gang violence produced by the illegal counter-revolutionary wars waged by “our” country in Central America throughout the 1980s. The same for simple Mexican farmers displaced by NAFTA provisions favoring U.S. corn over locally-produced maize; that’s what’s made them poor and jobless.

As a result, all of those just mentioned – victims of our unjust wars and one-sided trade policies – along with their children, have been excluded from entry to the U.S. whose borders, our “leaders” tell us are somehow sacrosanct as if created by God. So, (we are told) we must pay for a multi-billion-dollar wall to exclude the victims the billionaires have created and characterized as rapists, gang-members, drug dealers, and criminals.

Thing is: borders are completely arbitrary; they’re fictions the rich would have the rest of us worship, while they pay them no mind. That’s another thing to think about.

In historical perspective, current demarcation lines dividing countries are totally artificial and changeable. Many of them, for instance in Africa and the Middle East, were drawn up in a field tent by basically ignorant imperial generals.

The colonial outsiders’ overriding interest was accessing the resources of the areas in question. So, they formed alliances with local chiefs, called them “kings” of their new “nations,” and drew those lines I mentioned describing the area the nouveau royalty would govern.

But the colonial conquerors did so without knowledge of traditional tribal habitats, shared languages, or blood connections between families their random lines separated. As a result, from the viewpoint of the groups divided, the problem with borders is not that people cross them, but that the borders cross peoples.

Closer to home, that ironic crossing phenomenon is best illustrated in the cases of Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Before 1848, all those states were part of Mexico. Then following the Mexican-American War (1846-’48), the U.S. border crossed Mexicans in those new states and they suddenly became foreigners in what previously had been their own country.

In 1848, ordinary Mexicans viewed the entire process as highway robbery. As a result, their descendants often speak of contemporary Mexican migration to “America” as a Reconquista – a justified re-conquest of lands stolen from their forebears.

Nevertheless, 170 years later President Trump wants to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by building a wall along this relatively new line of separation. His argument is that borders are holy, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about his rich confreres’ attitude towards borders.

So, let’s consider that second point.

Fact is: The rich disrespect borders in two principal ways, one questionably “legal” and the other completely otherwise.

So-called legal border crossings are claimed as a right by international corporations. According to its free enterprise principles, Wal-Mart, for example, has the right to set up shop wherever it wishes, regardless of any resulting impact on local merchants, farmers, or suppliers. Thus, capitalists claim license to cross into Mexico in pursuit of profit. They legalize their border crossing by signing agreements like NAFTA with their rich Mexican counterparts.

Meanwhile, workers (the second equally key factor in the capitalist equation) who are impoverished by “free trade” enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be inviolable, even though the boundaries prevent them from imitating the rich by serving their own economic interests – in their case, by emigrating to wherever the availability of good wages dictates.

Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard at work here. So, they defiantly cross borders without permission.

The other disrespect for borders on the part of the rich is more insidious. It takes the form of their own defiant transgression of international law by crossing borders to drop bombs on poor people wherever and whenever they wish, without formal declaration of war. (Imagine if poor countries claimed that same right vis a vis their wealthy counterparts, because they consider the wealthy’s bombing raids and drone operations as “terrorism.”) Let’s face it: in the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless – for the rich.

The point is that we “Americans” need to re-examine our attitudes towards borders and border walls. Borders, after all, are not sacred to the rich. Never have been. So why should rich corporatists expect workers and refugees from their destructive and illegal border-crossings to respect boundaries the elite have drawn so arbitrarily and violated so cavalierly?

I’ll say it again: in the eyes of Mr. Trump, borders are for suckers and poor working stiffs, not for people like him.

The truth is, however, that borders should be the same for everyone, regardless of wealth and power. If capital has the right to disregard borders, so should labor. If the workers cannot cross them, neither should rich investors.

Mr. Trump, tear down that wall!

The Salvation of Our Country and Church Comes from Iranians and Mexican Immigrants (Sunday Homily)

Readings for 4th Sunday in Lent: 2CHR 36:14-16, 19-24; PS 137:1-6; EPH 2:4-10; JN 3: 14-21

NAFTA

Today’s liturgy of the word reminds us to look for salvation in unexpected places. In fact, it strongly suggests that the very ones our culture despises, and our church relegates to second class status have been chosen by God to save us. Specifically, I’m talking about Iranians relative to our country and Latin Americans in relation to the church.

Take Iranians first. (They are called “Persians” in today’s first reading.) There, one of them (King Cyrus) is identified in Chronicles as Judah’s “messiah” or anointed. The identification is given even though Cyrus was not a Jew, but an adherent of Zoroastrianism, a religion even more foreign to Judaism than Islam. Yet according to Chronicles, this Iranian king was God’s servant chosen to end Judah’s long exile in Babylon (modern day Iraq). That’s what I mean by salvation coming from an unexpected place.

Then in the second reading from Ephesians, Paul refers to Jesus of Nazareth in those same Cyrusian terms. Jesus is the Christ, God’s anointed, Paul says – and an unlikely “Christ” at that. After all, the Nazarene was the son of an unwed teenage mother; an refugee-immigrant in Egypt at the beginning of his life; a working stiff rather than a priest or scholar; possessed by the devil (according to the religious establishment); a drunkard and whore-monger according to those same sources; an enemy of the temple and state; and a victim of torture and of capital punishment in the form reserved for terrorists. Nevertheless, just as Cyrus brought Judah back from their 70 year-long exile in Babylon, Paul says, Jesus, the executed criminal, brought all of us back from the metaphorical death caused by living according to the deathly standards of the world. In Paul’s eyes, those standards obscure the gifts of God by convincing us that we have to earn life rather than accepting everything as God’s gift. Or as Paul puts it: “salvation is not the result of works,” but of God’s graciousness.

That graciousness (John the evangelist reminds us in today’s Gospel reading) is unending; it covers all the bases, has no exceptions and lasts forever. It turns each of us into Christs – into God’s only son (or daughter) – into saviors of the world. In other words, each one of us is the unlikeliest Christ of all.

O.K. each of today’s readings tell us to look for salvation in unexpected places – even within ourselves. But what are we post-moderns to understand by “salvation” itself? Think about it. The answer should be clear both in terms of country and church. In both spheres our condition can only be described as absolutely desperate and in need of deliverance.

Politically, we’re currently like lemmings rushing headlong towards the final precipice. Under the aegis of the organization Noam Chomsky calls “the most dangerous in the history of the world,” our Republican “leaders” are in denial about the greatest peril the human race has ever faced. Here I’m referring to climate chaos that threatens to deprive our grandchildren and even us and our children of the most basic necessities of life.

Besides that, our rulers insist on developing nuclear arsenals whose destructive power boggles the mind. And they seem extremely anxious to unleash them. The U.S. commander in chief has gone so far as to wonder aloud, “If we have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?” If we’re not looking for salvation from all of that, we must be asleep entirely.

And as for faith . . . My own Christian community, the Catholic Church, it is in dire need of salvation too. It is crumbling before our eyes.

My parish in Berea, Kentucky is a case in point. There we’ve had a series of restorationist pastors hell-bent on reinstating the pre-Vatican II order I grew up in during the 1940s and ’50s.
Clericalism is their watchword and guiding vision. Outside the sanctuary, they wear birettas and cassocks. While celebrating Mass they seem rule-bound, uncreative, unthoughtful, and totally oblivious not only to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, but to Pope Francis’ more recent summons to radical change as described in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (JG), and in his eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’ (LS).

As a result of such backwardness, church numbers are dwindling drastically. Parishioners I’ve seen at Mass every Sunday over my 46 years at St. Clare’s have gone missing. Alternatively, and like my own children, they have joined the ranks of the second largest denomination in the country – Former Catholics. Loyal progressives in my parish are at their wits’ end wondering how to cope with leadership tone-deaf to their desperate voices.

My own response has been to recognize what theologian and church historian, Figueroa Deck has identified as the “sleeping giant” of Latino Catholicism. That has me attending our parish’s Hispanic Mass at 11:00, rather than the increasingly reactionary and Euro-centric Anglo Mass at 9:00. I “go to the eleven o’clock” not only to escape the deadly retrogression of 9:00 a.m. antiquarianism, but in subconscious recognition, I think, of the fact that our Hispanic parishioners represent the cutting, salvific edge of the Catholic Church.

For decades now, the Latin American Church has embodied Catholicism’s most vital element.That’s personified in Pope Francis himself, our first Latin American pontiff, who I’m told is rejected by our current parish leadership – the same way Washington rejects Latin American immigrants.

Francis, of course, comes from Argentina. He’s followed the lead of Latin American theologians of liberation with his adoption of Jesus’ own “preferential option for the poor.” That entails recognition that the poor (including, most prominently, our immigrant population) know more about the world than our rich leaders – or even than us in more comfortable classes.

I mean, immigrants possess a version of what W.E.B. Dubois called “double consciousness,” while the rest of us see only one side of what’s occurring before our eyes. On the one hand, the daily observation of the undocumented (as our motel cleaners, nannies, gardeners, construction workers, and fellow parishioners) tells them what it means to be a white American. On the other, they know intimately the experience of exclusion by those same whites.

Immigrants know how the economy works for whites, and how it excludes browns and blacks. They know that rich capitalists and their money enjoy absolute freedom to cross borders, regardless of the negative impacts such mobility might (and does!) have on Global South economies. At least subconsciously, migrant workers recognize the simultaneous contradiction of their being excluded from such mobility, despite the fact that labor is an even more important part of the economic equation than capital. So even though the law (created by the rich) forbids them, immigrants vote with their feet to claim the rights the system unjustly denies them. Our “immigration problems” are the result.

The double consciousness of immigrants can be salvific for the church. If its expressions are heeded, they can save the church. As expressed by our Hispanic Pope Francis, the undocumented in our midst call us to a church where (in the words of The Joy of the Gospel) we cannot leave things as they presently are” (JG 25), but must include new ways of relating to God, new narratives and new paradigms (74).

Similarly, in the world of politics, Iranians (the descendants of Chronicles’ Cyrus the Great) inspired this time by Islam are calling us to changes in foreign policy. They implore us to just leave them (and their oil) alone. Ironically, their desire is that they be liberated from a kind of Babylonian captivity that places them under the jackboot of the United States and (still more ironically) Israel.

What I’m suggesting is that the descendants of Cyrus are still God’s instrument of our salvation. So in our present desperate context, are marginalized Catholic immigrants whose presence reminds us of Pope Francis’ wisdom and of the penetrating understanding of life that comes from refugees and the immigrants our government’s free trade policies create on the one hand, while refusing them sanctuary on the other.

Both bring us the new ways of relating to God, the new narratives and the new paradigms salvation requires.