“A Meaningless World Engenders Fear”

Welcome to Episode 21 in this series called “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” My name is Mike Rivage-Seul, and I’m your host on this podcast.

Today we’ll focus on Lesson 13 of ACIM’s Workbook for Students. Its main idea is summarized in these words, “A meaningless world engenders fear.” That is, today’s lesson expands Lesson 12’s insight that “I am upset because I see a meaningless world.” Today’s instruction identifies the specific emotion aroused by meaninglessness. The emotion in question is fear.

Before we turn to that notion, let me remind you of our podcast’s general approach to A Course in Miracles. As I pointed out in episodes 3 and 4, we’re interpreting ACIM as though it was written primarily for U.S. citizens living in the belly of the U.S. empire that is the latest iteration of global domination embodied, for instance in Rome and the British Empire.

A Course in Miracle’s Historical context, authorship, language, and literary genre makes that clear. The voice of Jesus in ACIM is not the voice of the historical Jesus, but of a Christ addressing well-educated, well-to-do Americans far removed from the poor, uneducated, and mostly illiterate victims of empire the Jewish master addressed in the first century of our era. As well see later in much greater detail, ACIM calls Americans away from imperial values of individualism, competition, separation, domination, and patriarchy.

With that said, let’s turn our attention specifically to Lesson 13. It reminds us that the cause of our fear is our country’s loss of meaning. To repeat: Lesson 13’s main idea is “A meaningless world engenders fear.”     

Such expression insists that although our national anthem identifies “America” as “the home of the brave,” we are in reality an extremely fearful people. In fact, ours is better described as “the home of the frightened.”  

Today’s lesson 13 calls ACIM students to come to grips with the most profound reason for our fear. It’s because the meaning stories we were raised on have disintegrated before our eyes leaving us with a meaningless world. Understandably, we find that extremely unnerving.

As we’ve seen before, we once thought that:

  • Our country is the greatest in the world
  • We’re a Christian nation
  • God is on our side
  • We live in a democracy
  • Our politicians represent “the people”
  • Our wars are just
  • Our armed forces are invincible
  • Our soldiers are heroic
  • Law enforcement protects and serves us

None of these formerly self-evident statements any longer proves convincing:

  • As Dr. King pointed out, far from being the “greatest” in terms of virtue and goodness, our country is instead the world’s “greatest purveyor of violence.” As such, it is the root cause of most of the world’s problems.
  • This means that the God of Jesus is not our God; we are therefore not his followers; we are not “Christian.”
  •  God is not on our side; we are not divinely favored. Instead, America is more like the Roman Empire responsible for the execution of Yeshua of Nazareth.
  • Neither is the United States a democracy. In fact, it never was. As Federalist Paper # 10 makes clear, the Founding Fathers specifically rejected democracy in favor of a republic where (as John Jay put it) “Those who own the country ought to govern it.” 
  • And Jay’s imperative has been obeyed throughout U.S. history. This truism has been unmistakably underlined in the Citizens United SCOTUS decision. Its aftermath shows that politicians represent their donors rather than “the people.” (This is why a coal baron like Joe Manchin can defy the will of West Virginians on issues they overwhelmingly favor like Medicare for all, a $15.00 minimum wage, pharmaceutical pricing, family leave, and college debt forgiveness.
  • As for our wars being just, think about the lies that got us into Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
  • Those same conflicts give the lie to convictions about the heroism of service in the U.S. military, whose personnel General Smedley Butler (already in the 1930s) implied are no better than brainwashed Mafia foot soldiers.
  • And just try to convince any black people you know that the police protect and serve them. Most would laugh in your face, if they didn’t burst into tears.

As pointed out in Lesson 12, A Course in Miracles itself can also engender fear. That’s because its relentless insistence that our favorite convictions (like those just mentioned) are 180 degrees opposite those of the divine order, can be extremely disorienting.

In the words of today’s lesson, “Recognition of meaninglessness arouses intense anxiety in all the separated ones” – that is, in everyone who sees herself or himself in competition and strife with fellow human beings. And that includes most of us.

And just whom is it that we Americans see ourselves in competition with? Largely, it’s with the poor, but ultimately, it’s with God.

Competition with the poor is evinced by that fact that (at least since the end of the Second Inter-capitalist War) ALL our wars have been fought against the impoverished identified as terrorists, communists, Muslims, and (as a Great Man once put it) “bad hombres.” (On this, please view the speech of the highly decorated ex-CIA operative John Stockwell.)

The real crime of the poor, however, is simply their poverty. It makes us afraid that they’ll rise and take our stuff [which our ancestors – and current wars – have taken from them (e.g., from Native Americans, from 250 years of enslaved Africans, in wars over oil, markets, water, raw materials etc.)].

Lesson 13 goes even further, however. It’s not only the poor we fear. It’s God we’re afraid of because (as the lesson puts it) “we think we’re in competition with God.” That is, we’re afraid of God whose primary function (we’re taught) is to legislate, judge, condemn, and punish. We’re afraid of this oppositional God. We might even say that he turns out to be not only our competitor, but an abusive enemy who threatens us all with eternal torture.

No wonder we’re upset.  No wonder we’re all afraid. No wonder that we find all that questionable if not downright meaningless.

Lesson 13 asks us to face that discordant music. Again, it says, “A meaningless world engenders fear.”

Accordingly, the lesson asks us to spend 3 or 4 periods of no more than a minute each doing the following: “With eyes closed, repeat today’s idea to yourself. Then open your eyes and look about you slowly saying: ‘I am looking at a meaningless world.’ Repeat this statement to yourself as you look about. Then close your eyes and conclude with: ‘A meaningless world engenders fear because I think I am in competition with God.’”

As usual, I’ll fulfill this assignment today as well. Remember that specifically as North American inhabitants of empire, we are at this point in The Course attempting to clear our minds of common misconceptions that have encumbered and polluted our consciousness. With that uncomfortable task foremost in my mind, this is Mike Rivage-Seul wishing you well and God’s abundant blessings.  

Christmas Reflection: “Oh, Come Let Us Ignore Him”

Every year at this time, the entire Christian world of more than 2.5 billion people pauses to observe the birth of a martyred Jewish construction worker about 2000 years ago. In America, we tirelessly observe this winter festival with increasing intensity from about Halloween, through Thanksgiving, and the entire month of December – for two solid months.

All during that time, our radio airwaves, and every shop we enter repeat the familiar songs and hymns we’ve come to associate with Christmas. Many of the carols celebrate “the newborn king.” Some even issue the invitation, “Oh, come let us adore him” – as God. Only occasionally (as in the “Little Drummer Boy”) is there the slightest hint that Jesus was “a poor boy too.” But that insight is quickly obscured by that same song’s four references to Jesus as “king.”

However, Jesus’ unmistakable poverty, his conception out of wedlock, his homelessness at birth, his status as asylum-seeker and immigrant in Egypt (MT 2:13-18), his social location in the working class, his association with Zealot insurrectionists (MT 10:4; MK 3:18; LK 6:15; ACTS 1:13), and the fact that he ended up a victim of torture and capital punishment at the hands of empire reveal far more about Yeshua than those popular sentimental Christmas jungles and hymns about a “newborn king.”

But even if we take those latter glorifications seriously, they unwittingly communicate a revolutionary message that the Christmas season completely ignores – one that finds important application to our troubled times.

I’m referring to the fact that calling the impoverished Yeshua “king” turns upside down reigning conceptions about the One some call “God,” and about the people divinely designated to rule the world.

Such references unconsciously point to the truth of Jesus’ words that the “meek” or (better put), the lowly, the humble, the unpretentious, those without public power, the despised and discarded, the gentle and non-violent, are (in God’s eyes) the ones divinely destined to “have the earth for their possession” (Psalm 37: 11; Matthew 5:5). History belongs to them. Despite appearances, it is on their side.

What else can it mean that we call “king” a brown or black homeless child born in a barn and who will remain poor, deep in political trouble all his life and will finish on death row? What else can it mean that such a one was selected to be (according to Christian faith) the ultimate revelation of life’s meaning.

On this Christmas Day 2021, all such considerations should send us to look for God in today’s people and places Yeshua was so deeply a part of. Christmas reflections on the historical Yeshua should find him living in those tents that now dot all our big cities. He’s sleeping under some bridge in DC or NYC. He’s dodging drive-by bullets on Chicago’s South Side and shivering in the cold on the Tijuana border. He’s walking his last mile after his appeal for a stay of execution has been ignored by Trump’s SCOTUS packed with “pro-life” Catholics. His appeal is ignored by governors opening gifts with their lily-white children and filling their bellies with turkey and all the trimmings, after singing “Silent Night” with misty eyes in their heretical megachurch based on prosperity gospel lies.

In the face of all that, the proper hymn to sing is “Oh, come let us ignore him.” Yes, ignore that white supremacist, Jesus. And instead, let us adore the real Yeshua in that filthy, stinking barn. He’s there sharing a roof with the rats and beasts with whom our police forces equate those whose neighborhoods and barrios their militarized platoons occupy as enemy terrain.

If we were to find Yeshua in those unlikely places, how different our interminable Christmas season would be. Yes, suppose Americans (and the world’s other two billion Christians) spent two months each year giving serious reflection to Jesus’ social circumstances as presented in the biblical texts that scholars call “the infancy narratives.”

Doing so would change “the season” to one of national repentance, instead of the orgy of “Christmas shopping” for those who already have more than they need. We’d double down on support for Rev. Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign. We’d organize to spend the season (any beyond) doing everything possible to eliminate the specific elements that plagued the life of Yeshua — namely:

  • Identification of “God” with scepters, armies, priests, and “power over”
  • Royalty of all kinds
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Persecution of asylum seekers
  • And immigrants
  • Imperialism in all its expressions
  • Honoring imperial military service as though it were heroic (It’s not!)
  • Infanticide (today by drone instead of sword)
  • Wars invariably waged against the world’s poor
  • Torture of those same impoverished souls
  • Capital punishment of the poor [never (please note) the rich]
  • Etc.

In other words, historical reflection would cause us to embrace the one whose life and rejection by organized religion and the imperial state reveal the true social location of divine incarnation.

As for the Jesus of our hymns, carols, and Christmas jingles, “Oh (please!), come let us ignore him.”

P.S. We might replace the ignored one’s hymns with Woody Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ:”

Jesus & Borders: The World Belongs to Everyone

The other night, my wife Peggy and I were involved with friends from church in a conversation about borders. The question arose, because of immigration problems that have arisen throughout the world because of climate change and U.S. wars. I’m talking about the conflicts our government initiated in Central America during the 1980s, as well as the most recent campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lybia, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, not to mention miscellaneous dronings, and the drug war in Mexico. Every one of those debacles has created thousands of refugees.

During our discussion of borders, the question became, “What would Jesus say about them?” Surely, we can’t just ignore demarcations between countries, can we?”

My response is, “Actually, we can. Not only that, but we have done so repeatedly.” In fact, when you think about it, borders turn out to be  completely arbitrary, and the rich ignore them all the time. Only the rest of us are naïve enough to believe that lines on a map are somehow sacrosanct. It’s all a scam by the 1% to keep the world’s majority in line by creating captive labor forces.

Besides that, Jesus himself and the moral thrust of the Jewish tradition he represented by no means held borders inviolable when it came to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

Here’s what I mean:

Borders Are Arbitrary

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, U.S. presidents like Biden and Trump want to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by laws and a wall to enforce this relatively new line of separation. The argument seems to be that borders are holy, have always been there, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about our rich confreres’ attitude towards the new lines drawn.

The Rich Disregard Borders

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

For starters, 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. The agreements exclude input from the huge populations of farmers, workers, and indigenous populations directly affected by the pacts in question.

In other words, workers (who are just as much a part of the capitalist equation as their employers) enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be inviolable, even though the boundaries create a captive labor force and prevent labor from imitating the rich by serving its own economic interests — by emigrating to wherever economic advantage dictates.

Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard operative here. So, they defiantly cross borders without permission. That in large part is what we’re witnessing  in immigration problems at our own borders and across the world’s map.

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 they deem “terrorists” wherever and whenever they’re found, 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 themselves as “terrorism.”) Let’s face it: in the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless — for the rich.

Jesus & Borders

As for the attitude of Jesus towards borders? We don’t have to guess. The Bible’s main thrust centralizes the question. The basic moral injunction of the Jewish Testament is to welcome the stranger, along  with caring for widows and orphans.

As a Jewish rabbi, Jesus is presented in Matthew’s gospel (Chapter 25) as doubling down on that traditional Hebrew command. I’m talking about the only description of the “last judgment” in the entire Christian Testament. There, Jesus is depicted as saying to people who sacralize borders, “Depart from me you cursed into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . for I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.”

Those are strong, strong words depicted as coming from”the Prince of Peace” and the one often remembered as “meek and mild.” At the very least, Matthew’s insistence on attributing them to the Master indicates the strength of Jesus’ teaching on the topic at hand. For him, it seems that borders were by no means sacrosanct in the face of human need.

Conclusion

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?

Episode 9: Part I, Lesson I: As a prisoner in Plato’s Cave, Nothing I See Means Anything

Welcome to Episode 9 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul.  And today we’ll turn our attention to Part 1, Lesson 1 of The Course’s Workbook for Students.

Remember, we’re re-reading The Course from below – from the position occupied by Jesus of Nazareth whose words channeled specifically to North Americans represent the entire content of ACIM’s three volumes. Be reminded that the historical Jesus necessarily saw reality “from below.” He was poor, imperialized, working class, and stood in opposition to the Roman Empire and to temple authorities who lay in bed with the Roman occupiers.

As we saw in our last episode, the purpose of A Course in Miracles as described by Jesus in its Introduction is to help students “think differently” – to see the world as he saw it. Such adjustment of vision is necessary because as The Course insists, the world’s way of seeing things is completely skewed. Its world vision is 180 degrees opposed to God’s vision – to the vision of Jesus the Christ.

As The Course implies again and again, it’s like all of us are imprisoned in Plato’s Cave where everything we see as real is merely only a shadow of something completely artificial. It’s all illusion. In effect, we take for reality what are only shadows of statues projected for us by the frauds who control our world.

The course would have us escape the captivity of our culture’s cave. It would have us follow Socrates and Jesus.

To that end, the point of the first part of Book I – more than 200 lessons – is to help deconstruct the world we’ve been tricked into accepting as real.

So, buckle up. Open your book to the third page of your student workbook. Pause this recording and prayerfully read the chapter for yourself. Follow its directions as closely as possible. Then come back here.

The central thought of Lesson One reads: “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.” “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.”

To make that thought clearer, I suggest reading it like this: As a prisoner in Plato’s Cave, I see nothing in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] that means anything. As a prisoner in Plato’s Cave, I see nothing in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] that means anything.”

Alternatively, you might read today’s central thought to say: “As one indoctrinated into the ideology of a white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist, patriarchy, I see nothing in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] that means anything.” Everything I see in this room, on this street, from this window, in this place is shadow; it’s illusion; it’s all unreal.

Let those thoughts sink in. Repeat them whenever you can throughout the day: “As a prisoner in Plato’s Cave, everything I see is meaningless. It’s all illusion, shadows, deception.”

Thank you for listening. Tomorrow we’ll move on to Lesson 2.

And by the way, if you want to review the first eight episodes in this series, please go to my podcast site at acim for activists .com (acimforactivists.com)

Episode 8: The World Will Call You Crazy for Embracing Jesus’ Truth

In the introduction to A Course in Miracles’ Workbook for Students, Jesus calls us to “see things differently” — so differently that our white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy will call us insane.

Previous episodes of this series, “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors,” may be found on my podcast site. Please visit it when you can.

Jimmy Lai vs. Julian Assange: Prophets without Honor (A July 4th Sunday Reflection)

Readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ezekiel 2: 2-5; Psalm 123: 1-4; 2nd Corinthians 12: 7-10; Luke 4: 18; Mark 6: 1-6

I can’t believe that we’re still expected to believe that the United States and Great Britain are concerned about human rights or press freedom or that either has any leg to stand on in such posturing.

I mean, how can any of us still believe after the lies about Iraq, Abu Ghraib, the refusal to punish Saudi Arabia for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the imprisonment of Julian Assange, the demonization of Wikileaks, and the cooperation of the mainstream media (MSM) with all of it.

You’re telling me that either London or Washington has the right to pronounce on press freedom? On human rights? Please!

Demonization of China

Nonetheless, they’re at it again in relation to China and the desperate campaign of both Great Britain and America to demonize Beijing and its implied invocation of an Asian version of The Monroe Doctrine in relation to Hong Kong [which, by the way, (unlike the U.S. relationship to Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, or Venezuela) is actually part of China.]

More specifically, we’re supposed to join the MSM and “our” government as well as England’s in worrying about the recent shutdown of the Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong – a publication that sounds a lot like The National Inquirer.

Judge for yourself. A recent cover story in The Guardian describes the paper as a tabloid-style publication that has “a chequered history including cheque-book journalism, muckraking and sometimes unethical reporting alongside fearless investigation into government corruption and police brutality.”

What? Chequered history? Paying sources for information (probably with money from the CIA or the National Endowment for Democracy) and unethical reporting?

Oh, and the paper is owned by billionaire Jimmy Lai who has been imprisoned (according to The Guardian) “on protest-related convictions and national security charges.”

So, now it’s “Hands across the Planet” for poor Jimmy and his yellow journalism.

Meanwhile Julian Assange wastes away precisely in a British prison for publishing government secrets exactly about U.S. war crimes in Wikileaks – a source that publishes the Washington’s own unquestionably true confessions of the criminal acts it desperately wants kept secret from the rest of us.

So let me get this straight: Jimmy Lai’s a hero. And we’re all supposed to get misty-eyed about the Hong Inquirer’s brave reporters. But Julian Assange is a criminal. And Wikileaks doesn’t even qualify as journalism.

And, by the way, we’re supposed to forget that there was absolutely no press freedom all those years the Brits controlled Hong Kong.

Does anyone else sense the irony?

Today’s Readings

Such considerations are especially relevant this July 4th as we celebrate our supposed “freedoms” and the tarnished ideals of the United States. Significantly, this month marks as well the 100th anniversary of the founding of China’s Communist Party (CCP) whose good example (in drastically reducing world poverty and extending foreign aid) our country so fears.  

Besides being July 4th, today also happens to be Sunday, time for a weekly “Homily for Progressives” where the theme of the day is prophecy in the sense of social criticism in the name of all that’s holy.

The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel implicitly reminds us that there were two kinds of prophets among the ancient Hebrews. Both are still with us today.

One type was a “court prophet” telling the king and power structure what they wanted to hear – justifying their oppression of the poor. (On this Independence Day you’ll hear a lot of their drivel as they praise “America” as though it were not – as Martin King put it – “the world’s greatest purveyor of violence.”) Think about The Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai and our MSM as court prophets.

The other type of prophet spoke for the Truth that was commonly referred to as “God.” The words of such men and women were routinely dismissed by the powers that happened to be. Some prophets (as is the case with Jesus in today’s final reading) were even rejected by the very oppressed people they were trying to champion. Their words were thought too dangerous and, in some cases, too good to be true. Think about Julian Assange as a prophet in the mold of Ezekiel or the Nazareth construction worker many of us claim to follow.

In any case, here are my “translations” of today’s selections. You should really check them out here to see if I got them right. As you read, think of Julian Assange.

Ezekiel 2: 2-5

I was startled
When God’s Spirit
Demanded that
I criticize my own people
As ungodly and stubborn
Telling me 
To make them uncomfortably
Aware
That a fearless prophet
Was at work
Among them.

Psalm 123: 1-4

Great and holy Parent
We invoke your compassion
On your prophetic
Servants and handmaids
So eager to serve you
Despite contemptuous mistreatment
At the hands 
Of our so-called “leaders”
With their pride and arrogance
Directed 
Against your beloved poor.

2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Neither do prophets 
Have to be perfect.
Even Paul of Tarsus
Despite his many gifts
Suffered under
“An angel of Satan”
And “a thorn in the flesh"
To keep him humble
Lest he take credit
For the work
Of the Holy Spirit
Within him.

Mark 6: 1-6

But like Ezekiel
Jesus was rejected 
By his own townsfolk
Who complained that
He had gotten “above his raisin’s”
They didn’t even
Call him by  
His father’s name
(Implying he was a bastard)
While dismissing
His brothers and sisters
As quite unremarkable.
There’d be
No mighty deeds
For such whiners.
Only cures for
A few ailing beggars.

Conclusion

In a recent New York Times editorial, another court prophet, Yi-Zheng Lian, the former chief editor of The Hong Kong Economic Journal, joined the chorus of warnings about China’s grave threat to the West.

To an audience acquainted with the revelations of Edward Snowden Lian decried China’s surveillance system. To those whose country has bombed and killed Muslims by the scores and thousands every day over the last 20 years, he complained about treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. To Americans who have lived through a Trump presidency, he criticized Chinese governance by lies. (His example? President Xi Jinping actually claimed that China seeks an international image that is “trustworthy,” “respectable” and “lovable.”) The horror of it all!   

Nonetheless, Lian also pointed out the fact that the Chinese Communist Party retains high popularity among a vast majority of its people. In fact, the party has grown by 20% annually since its foundation 100 years ago. There are no refugees from China. Travelers and students come and go at will and usually return home.

For Lian, the bottom line is that China is showing no evident signs of decline. This means that it will remain a formidable force continuing to threaten the United States and Western allies for years to come. This will be true, he said, not just militarily and ideologically, but also technologically and economically.

So, the West, Lian concludes, had better get used to the CCP’s threatening presence “at its front door.”

Of course, all this talk of threat and menace from a country that (unlike the United States and Great Britain) has bombed no one in the last 40 years – all this imperial identification of a country more than 7000 miles away as at “our front door” is nonsense.

So is any continued posturing about “our” championing of human rights and press freedom. July 4th in the context of faith reflection is a good time for reminders of such home truths.  

Abortion Obsessed Catholic Bishops Betray Pope Francis – and Jesus

It seems the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) can’t stop embarrassing itself.

No, I’m not referring this time to its incompetent mishandling and scandalous coverups of priest pedophiles. (By rights, those disgraces should themselves deprive the Conference of ALL claims to speak authoritatively on ANY matter having to do with sex.)

 instead, I’m talking about the latest manifestation of the USCCB’s obsession with abortion.

As if we needed a reminder, its fixation with the matter came under harsh spotlight on June 18th when an overwhelming majority of the Bishops’ Conference decided to proceed with drafting a document whose bottom line would have them refusing communion to Joe Biden (and by extension to other pro-choice Catholic politicians).

The whole affair made evident first of all that the bishops are pronouncing on an issue far beyond their ken. Secondly, their action flies in the face of position adopted by Pope Francis himself. Thirdly, it aligns the bishops with the most extreme faction of the Republican Party. And finally, it is quite unbiblical and contradicts the teachings of Jesus and his expression of the Judeo-Christian prophetic tradition.

For thinking Catholics, all four points should be quite embarrassing. For others, it’s just one more reason to write off the Church as completely irrelevant.   

Unsubstantiated Obsession with Abortion

The evident purpose of the Conference’s strategy is to advance repeal of Roe v Wade as if it were morally self-evident that (as they say) “abortion is murder.”

Of course, no such self-evidence exists. This is because the question of abortion’s morality turns on the issue of when specifically personal human life begins. And NO ONE knows for sure the answer to that question. Even the seminal Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) thought that personal life (“ensoulment”) for males began 40 days after conception and for females 80 days after conception. The church operated on that assumption for centuries.

Moreover, other religions variously identify the beginnings of personal life with the moment of quickening (usually 17-20 weeks after conception), with viability outside the womb, with actual emergence from the womb, or even (as with some Native Americans) with the “painting” of the child to distinguish it from the animals. 

In view of such variation, to impose a single religion’s answer to the crucial question about the beginning of personal life disrespects those of other faiths and of no faith at all. It is therefore to violate the Constitution’s First Amendment which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .”

(And, by the way, the USCCB’s extreme position that specifically personal life begins when sperm fertilizes egg contradicts the “practice” of Nature itself. It ignores the fact that literally countless such fertilizations end in spontaneous abortions – suggesting that Nature itself (God?)  is unconcerned with the issue.)

A Rejection of Pope Francis

The Catholic Bishops’ ham-handed power play also flies in the face of gentle advice from Pope Francis. Instead of confrontation and effective excommunication, the Pope urged “extensive and serene dialogue.”

The Conference position also contrasted sharply with Francis’ allies like Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich and San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy. Both urged adoption of the pope’s approach, which McElroy described as speaking to Mr. Biden “in his humanity” and as “a man of Catholic faith striving to serve his nation and his God.” McElroy recommended encouragement of “our new President: by entering into a relationship of dialogue, not judgment; collaboration, not isolation; truth in charity, not harshness.”

However, USCCB disagreement with Francis goes much further. It is not simply an internecine squabble about arcane Catholic issues. Identifying abortion as “the preeminent priority” of the bishops’ conference highlights disagreement at the highest level of the Catholic Church about the essence of the faith. For Francis, the Church’s preeminent priority is social justice and a radical concern for “the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged.”  His pro-life commitments extend far beyond abortion to climate justice, elimination of capital punishment, renunciation of war, and welcoming of immigrants.

Of course, all such concerns are rejected by Republican extremists with whom the USCCB ends up aligning itself.

Alignment with Extremists

Such alignment was noted recently by Washington Post opinion columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. Dionne pointed to a relevant Pew Research survey of last spring. It showed that even 44% of Republican Catholics agree with the 67% of American Catholics in general that Biden should be allowed to receive communion.

This means that in adopting their position on weaponizing communion, the U.S. bishops are identifying themselves with the most conservative elements of the Republican Party which, of course, has also made abortion a key culture wars issue.

This alignment means supporting election of Republicans whose climate change denial ends up favoring omnicide while claiming to prioritize unborn human life.

Moreover, Dionne correctly observes that the bishops’ position is an outlier in the Catholic world itself. Almost nowhere else is the abortion issue given the preeminence claimed by the USCCB. Its position would be unthinkable in most of Europe and Latin America.

Unbiblical Obsession with Abortion

Even though women have always practiced abortion, the Bible shows no concern for the issue; it is mentioned nowhere in its pages. Therefore, to make it the church’s “preeminent priority” over those articulated by the pope is questionable at the very least.

Moreover, seeking to remedy the practice of abortion by imposition of law flies in the face of the habitual antinomian postures of both Jesus and St. Paul. Neither was friendly towards legal statutes and their enforcers. Jesus routinely disobeyed Judaism’s most sacred (Sabbath) law. He famously asserted his indisputably humanist position that “The sabbath was made for human beings; human beings were not made for the sabbath” (Mark 2: 27).

For his part, Paul was so liberal in his interpretation of Jewish Testament law that he set it aside entirely – including dietary restrictions and even circumcision. It was futile, he said, to seek salvation in law – even in God’s law (e.g., Romans 7: 13-24).

By adopting such positions, both Jesus and Paul seemed to recognize that complicated issues of personal morality cannot be effectively imposed by law, force, or sanctions. Thus, the two most prominent foci of Christian Testament texts implicitly acknowledged the truism that human laws generally favor those who made them, viz., the wealthy and powerful – usually elderly males (and in our case, specifically white old men). Meanwhile, they militate against the interests of those without power or wealth and (in the case of abortion) seem to represent one more way of controlling women.

This is especially vexing for women, since the planet’s female citizens have had virtually no determining input regarding the content of laws that govern their reproductive processes.

The bottom line here is that law has no salvific power for friends of women or followers of Jesus.

Conclusion

Does any of this mean that church leaders should abandon the abortion issue? Not really.

It does however mean that leadership should recognize the fact that Roe v. Wade represents a reasonable resolution of the abortion question in a pluralistic society. It is an imperfect but even-handed compromise in a culture divided on fundamental questions concerning the beginnings of personal human life. It is reasonable that during the first trimester of pregnancy, the pregnant woman may herself decide about the termination of her pregnancy without legal consultation; that during the second trimester the state may regulate abortion to protect the health of its pregnant citizens, and that during the final three months of pregnancy, the state (in recognition of its obligation to protect the unborn) can accordingly forbid or otherwise condition pregnancy termination.

Meanwhile, the bishops and others seeking to lessen the number of abortions should use their influence to foster a welcoming atmosphere for all children. This would entail supporting measures that (among others) provide otherwise reluctant parents with:

  • The good example of Catholic practice
  • Preemptive sex education
  • Extensive prenatal care
  • Postpartum parental leave
  • Affordable childcare
  • Adequately paid jobs
  • Dignified housing
  • Safe abortion facilities

Only by adopting such pro-life positions can the USCCB hope to overcome the embarrassment that its patriarchal, legalistic and unbiblical alignment with the Republican Party has brought upon it and upon all Roman Catholics.

Jesus Was a Radical Feminist

Bleeding Woman

Readings for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 1:13-16, 2:23-24; Ps. 30:2, 4-6, 11-13; 2Cor. 8:7, 9, 13-16; Mk. 5:21-43

My wife, Peggy, is a radical feminist. As emerita director of the Women and Gender Studies Program at Berea College in Kentucky, she has always been so.

Whenever we discuss world issues, my tendency is to trace their roots to capitalism. Peggy’s is to find their origins in patriarchy. Capitalism itself, she says, is founded on patriarchy. Until we realize that and address the influence of patriarchy, nothing can really change.

She goes on. Ironically, patriarchy has men making decisions for women on issues that impact females much more directly than males – matters such as contraception, maternity leave, funding for childcare, abortion, wage disparity between men and women, the Equal Rights Amendment, and wages for housework. All of that, she adds, has to change.

I find Peggy’s logic and criticism compelling. This morning’s gospel reading indicates that Jesus would too.

In fact, the gospels in general show Jesus himself to be a radical feminist. In addressing specifically female issues, he favored women who spoke for themselves and courageously exercised their own initiative. Jesus even praised women who disobeyed laws aimed against them precisely as women. He ended up preferring the disobedient ones to females who were passive captives of the religious patriarchy. To repeat: we find an example of such radical feminism on the part of Jesus in today’s reading from the Mark’s gospel.

First of all, consider Mark’s literary strategy. In today’s reading he creates a “literary sandwich” – a “story within a story.” The device focuses on two kinds of females within the Jewish faith of Jesus’ day. In fact, Mark’s gospel is liberally sprinkled with doublets like the one just described. When they appear, both stories are meant to play off one another and illuminate each other.

In today’s doublet, we find two women. One is just entering puberty at the age of 12; the other has had a menstrual problem for the entire life span of the adolescent girl. (Today we’d call her condition a kind of menorrhagia.) So, to begin with the number 12 is centralized. It’s a literary “marker” suggesting that the narrative has something to do with the twelve tribes of Israel – and in the early church, with the apostolic leadership of “the twelve.” The connection with Israel is confirmed by the fact that the 12-year old in the story is the daughter of a synagogue official. As a man in a patriarchal culture, he can approach Jesus directly and speak for his daughter.

The other woman in the doublet has no man to speak for her; she has to approach Jesus covertly and on her own. She comes from the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum from the 12-year old daughter of the synagogue leader. The older woman is without honor. She is poor and penniless. Her menstrual problem has rendered her sterile, and so she’s considered technically dead by her faith community.

Her condition has also excluded her from the synagogue. In the eyes of community leaders like Jairus, the petitioning father in the story, she is “unclean.” (Remember that according to Jewish law, all women were considered unclean during their monthly period. So, the woman in today’s drama is exceedingly unclean. She and all menstruating women were not to be touched.)

All of that means that Jairus as a synagogue leader is in effect the patriarchal oppressor of the second woman. On top of that, the older woman in the story has been humiliated, exploited, and impoverished by the male medical profession which has been ineffective in addressing her condition.

In other words, the second woman is the victim of a misogynist religious system which, by the way, saw the blood of animals as valuable and pleasing in God’s eyes, but the blood of women as repulsively unclean.

Nonetheless, it is the bleeding woman who turns out to be the hero of the story. Her faith is so strong that she believes a mere touch of Jesus’ garment will suffice to restore her to life, and that her action won’t even be noticed. So, she reaches out and touches the Master. Doing so was extremely bold and highly disobedient to Jewish law, since her touch would have rendered Jesus himself unclean. She refuses to believe that.

Instead of being made unclean by the woman’s touch, Jesus’ being responds by exuding healing power, apparently without his even being aware. The woman is cured. Jesus asks, “Who touched me?” The disciples object, “What do you mean? Everybody’s touching you,” they say.

Finally, the unclean woman is identified. Jesus praises her faith and (significantly!) calls her “daughter.” (What we therefore end up finding in this literary doublet are two Jewish “daughters” – yet another point of comparison.)

While Jesus is attending to the bleeding woman, the first daughter in the story apparently dies. Jesus insists on seeing her anyhow. When he observes that she is merely asleep, the bystanders laugh him to scorn. But Jesus is right. When he speaks to her in Aramaic, the girl awakens and is hungry. Mark records Jesus’ actual words. The Master says, “Talitha Kumi,” i.e. “Wake up!” Everyone is astonished, and Jesus has to remind them to feed her.

What does all the comparison mean? The doublet represented in today’s Gospel addresses issues that couldn’t be more female – more feminist. The message here is that bold and active women unafraid of disobeying the religious patriarchy will save our world from death. It will awaken us from our death-like slumber.

“Believe and act like the bleeding woman” is the message of today’s Gospel. “Otherwise our world will be for all practical purposes dead.”

Could this possibly mean that feminist faith like that of the hero in today’s Gospel will ultimately be our salvation from patriarchy? Is our reading calling us to a world led by women rather than the elderly, white, out-of-touch men who overwhelmingly hold elective office?

My Peggy would say yes.

Today’s Gospel, she would say, suggests that it’s time for men to stop telling women how to be women – to stop pronouncing on issues of female sexuality whether it be menstruation, abortion, contraception, same-sex attractions, or whether women are called by God to the priesthood.

Correspondingly, it’s time for women to disobey such male pronouncements, and to exercise leadership in accord with their common sense – in accord with women’s ways of knowing. Only that will save our world which is currently sick unto death.

Talitha Kumi! It’s time to wake up.

Jesus’ Angry Call to Fearlessly Protect the Waters of the Earth

Readings for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Job 38: 8-11; Psalm 107: 23-31; 2 Corinthians 5: 14-17; Mark 4: 35-41

This Sunday’s readings celebrate water as a fundamental gift from the universe. They remind us that without water life itself is impossible.

More specifically, the account of Jesus calming a storm at sea centralizes the Master’s impatience with our fearful paralysis in the face of nature’s brute force demonstrated today in the disaster of climate chaos.  

In the process, today’s selections also give insight into the way that modern scripture scholarship deals with the miraculous that post-moderns might reject out of hand as unacceptable or simply childish. Such knee-jerk reaction closes us off to the saving relevance of biblical narratives like those we encounter on this Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

To avoid such dismissal, contemporary scholarship applies what Jesuit theologian Roger Haight calls the principle of analogy. It says that we should not ordinarily expect to have happened in the past what is thought or proven to be impossible in the present.  In applying that rule, scholars’ purpose is to get to the historical facts and (more importantly) to the human meanings that may lie behind biblical stories most of us might otherwise reject.

Let’s apply that principle to the Gospel story just mentioned (Jesus’ calming of a threatening storm). Doing so will unexpectedly reveal the humanity of Jesus as it calls us to recognize the Great Parent’s gift of water and its human-induced crisis.

Our Water Crisis

To set all of that up, however, consider more generally our readings’ focus on water.

Today’s biblical excerpts tell us that the ocean represents the Goddess’ ultimate self-disclosure. It manifests her sacred order. When waters are in trouble, human life itself is endangered.

And the planet’s waters are certainly in danger as we speak.

Think for example about the importance of water. Evolutionarily speaking, we all came from the ocean. Up to 60% of the adult human body remains water. Seventy-three percent of brain and heart are composed of water; the lungs are about 83% H2O. In the absence of potable water, we inevitably perish.  

And yet, humans have come to treat this miraculous gift as simply another commodity. In my privileged position as a community elder, I still can’t believe that we bottle water in plastic, sell it at a price that far exceeds gasoline, and then throw its plastic container into the ocean, where it kills whales and other sea life.

In fact, the world’s oceans have become for us like huge commodes where we spew not only human but industrial waste including pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and nuclear detritus. With virtual impunity, cargo ships flush and spill oil into our seas along with untold chemicals. Islands of plastic the size of entire countries threaten to replace the earthen landmasses our post-industrial lifestyles surrender to surging sea levels caused by human-induced climate change. Wars waged primarily by the United States and its allies routinely bomb water purification plants serving civilian populations – as in Yemen and Gaza.

Then when those immediately affected by such disasters arise as anti-colonialists or “water protectors,” authorities employ police, dogs, tear gas, live ammunition and water cannons to make them cease and desist. Elected officials enlist reporters and media in general to discredit protestors, even branding protectors of water as terrorists.    

However, one Protestor whom industry-friendly authorities cannot silence is Mother Earth herself. Her responses to her children’s shameless elder abuse include tsunamis, hurricanes, massive flooding, and destruction of entire cities. The Earth’s response is to promise destruction of human life as we know it.

Today’s Readings

Despite all that, humans seem paralyzed by the multifaceted water crisis at hand. We end up arguing about the reality of the tragedy unfolding before our very eyes. We’re like Jesus and his disciples caught at sea in the eye of a terrible squall while they waste time and energy paralyzed by argument about who’s to blame.

At least, that’s the interpretation of today’s final reading as given by Cuban theologians Maria Lopez Vigil and her brother Jose Ignacio in Just Jesus. (The book is based on a radio program series they broadcast some years ago throughout Latin America. Scandalously to many and delightfully to even more, the airwave transmission attempted to put a human face on Jesus that accords with the interpretations of the modern scholarship mentioned above.)

Accordingly, the Lopez Vigils attempt to uncover the real-life basis of the story (assuming, of course, that some suggestive event may have actually occurred and that the account wasn’t a whole cloth invention of Mark’s community). In doing so, the Lopez Vigils implicitly take note of revealing phrases in today’s reading indicating that:

  • As a construction worker, not a seafarer, Jesus was out of his element in a boat. (He was truly “at sea.”)
  • It was he who suggested a late evening crossing of the sea.
  • In Mark’s mysterious words, his fisherman friends took him “just as he was.”
  • Jesus fell asleep and improbably remained unconscious even though the boat was tossed about and in danger of being swamped.
  • The disciples awaken the Master and blame him for not caring about their fate.
  • Jesus responds with a shout calling for “quiet” and “calm,” and with remonstrations about unwarranted fear and lack of faith.

With all of that in mind, the Lopez Vigils, elaborate Mark’s spare account. Their analysis involves an inexperienced landlubber Jesus persuading his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee despite indications of an approaching storm. Against their better judgment those veteran seamen obey.

Then Jesus gets seasick and passes out. In the middle of the trip, the storm hits, but the comatose Jesus remains dead to the world. The frantic disciples shake him awake. They blame not only him, but their terrified companions for not paying attention to what their experienced eyes told them would inevitably happen.

But instead of entering argument, Jesus shouts to everyone to shut up and start rowing. Miraculously, it seemed, the disciples’ resulting efforts save the day and bring them successfully to shore.

My Translations

Put all of that in the larger context that includes all of today’s liturgy of the word, and (for me) it comes out something like my following “translations.” Please check out the originals here to see if I got them right:

Job 38: 1, 8-11

Our Holy Mother Earth
Manifests herself
Through the ocean
To which her laws
Set firm boundaries
As if behind a mighty 
Firmly sealed door.
As if its waters burst 
From her very womb,
Attired at night
In shrouds of darkness
And by day in raiment
Of fluffy white clouds.

Psalm 107: 24-31

Thus, we know
Her love and power
As every astonished sailor
Can attest
As huge breakers
Toss about 
Their magnificent vessels
Raising them like toys 
To the heavens
Then thrusting them 
Towards a bottomless abyss.
Their desperate prayers
Seek answer in Goddess calm
Gentle breezes
And safe return home.
(For such answered invocations
We are grateful.)


2 Corinthians 5: 14-17

Our Master Jesus
Knew such fearful threat
But his sailor’s prayers 
For deliverance
Finally went unanswered.
Instead, he showed us
How to die
Under his saving conviction
That life can never end
And that apparent death
Leads inevitably to
New Creation.

Mark 4: 35-41

To illustrate his faith, 
His friends recalled
How one day
Amid a fearful squall
The landlubber Jesus 
Caught seasickness
And passed out.
They remembered 
How he came to
And shouted indignantly
At his paralyzed friends
To overcome their fears
And row mightily 
Against the mountain waves
Until as if by miracle
They reached calm haven.
Some however remembered
That like creation’s Goddess
He had quieted
The storm directly
With his angry remonstrations alone.
(Both versions may be true.)

Conclusion

So here we are, like Jesus, knowing full well our basic relationship to water, but nonetheless landlubbers with little understanding of the sea, oceans, and the laws governing such bodies.

And so, we blithely endanger our lives by adopting courses of action that fly in the face of Mother Nature’s warnings that are abundantly apparent not only to climate scientists, but to “water protectors,” fishermen, and others mystically in tune with nature’s cycles and rhythms.

Today’s readings make us aware that (again, like a sleeping Jesus) we can still be shaken awake by the more insightful among us.

Then once awakened, we need to listen to the courageous Master’s voice shouting at us to overcome our paralysis and fear. We cannot depend on divine intervention, the improbably miraculous, or on some scientific deus ex machina that will suddenly save us.

Instead, accepting the principle of analogy, we need ourselves to seize the oars of what’s become our Lifeboat Earth and row mightily against the mountainous waves that will otherwise engulf and swallow all of us including our children and grandchildren.

God’s Kingdom is for Clowns, Comedians, Immigrants and Exiles

Readings for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Exodus 17:22-24; Psalm 92: 2-3, 13-16; 2nd Corinthians 5: 6-10; Mark 4: 26-34.

Today’s readings put me in mind of two superb films I’ve recently watched, “Joker” and “In the Heights,” both available on HBO.

Each film described a world inhabited by people our culture tends to despise and that empires like ours devalue and vilify. In that sense, both “Joker” and “In the Heights” focus on individuals very like the Hebrews liberated from Egyptian slavery and like Jesus himself and his friends who lived under impoverishing Roman occupation.  

“Joker” showed the dark threatening side of life under an order structured to favor the rich. “In the Heights” was infinitely more positive. However, taken together, they illustrate a theme suggested in today’s liturgical readings. It’s that positively or negatively, the poor represent our future. They are the key factor that will either destroy or save us.

Joker

Begin with “Joker.” It points up the need for a new (divine) order in our collapsing world whose worship of the rich is leading to disaster.

“Joker” is the story of Arthur Fleck, a sign-spinning clown and aspiring comedian who, he admits, has never had a positive thought in his life.

And there’s good reason for Arthur’s depression (ironically underlined by uncontrollable laughing fits). As a child, he was abused by his adoptive mother’s boyfriend. He’s down and out and spends much of his life watching television with his now sick mother. Crucially, he has no other community.

The world in Arthur’s Gotham City is also disintegrating. Garbage litters its streets. Rats are running wild. And rampant crime plagues city streets.

Meanwhile the rich hide behind their gated estates, all the time blaming the poor characterizing them as lazy clowns who need sermonizing from above rather than the dignity of employment at a living wage. Tellingly, at one point the headline of the city’s main paper reads “Kill the Rich!”  

Little wonder then that after Arthur murders three Wall Streeters on the subway following their unprovoked attack on him, alienated poor people throughout the city adopt his clown mask as a sign of rebellion reminiscent of the Guy Fawkes mask in “V for Vendetta.”

Arthur had unwittingly started a class war of poor against rich. He has his community at last, but it is completely hopeless, nihilist and destructive.

In the Heights

Compare that with Latinix life portrayed in Lin Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights.”  It too unfolds in New York City’s real-life version of comic book Gotham.

True, Washington Heights has problems like Arthur’s context – poverty, prejudice against immigrants and the poor. Nonetheless, “In the Heights” underlines the unmistakable gift-to-America brought by its Latinix citizens with their sense of community and solidarity – not to mention patience and faith. It’s all so hopeful and joyous.

That’s because those living in Miranda’s idealized Washington Heights have community.  As individuals, they are hard workers with lofty aspirations. But in community they share rich cultures with enviable familial unselfishness, joy, music, dance, colorful language, and resourcefulness. They all love their children and grandparents; they care for one another. They scrimp and scrape and give their neighbors hope by sharing their meager resources.

All of that enables them to endure blackouts (recalling months without power in post-Maria Puerto Rico) that render them powerless in more ways than one, but without diminishing their indomitable carnival spirits.

Today’s Readings

In the perspective of today’s liturgy of the word, Miranda’s romanticized barrio contrasts sharply with “Joker’s” more realistic dark and dirty city streets. However, both put faces on abstractions like Jesus’ description of the “Kingdom of God.”

I mean, today’s readings present Jesus in his familiar role as the Great Reverser of values and cultural expectations. He agrees with Miranda in celebrating the poor and insignificant as the very embodiment of the joy and happiness that give life meaning. However, Jesus does so in a way that might confuse those unfamiliar with his peasant context.

Conventional thought in Jesus’ day is reflected in today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus. It estimates that bigger is better. A Cedar of Lebanon celebrated at the beginning of Hebrew history is an obvious image of the kind of national power to which Israel (and all other nations) aspired. To speak of Israel as a huge and powerful cedar — as a kind of Gotham — made common sense.

But more than 1000 years later, Jesus reverses all of that. In a world that (like ours) seems to be falling apart, his “ridiculous” metaphor for national prosperity is a mustard plant – a kind of weed which farmers in his day thought of as a curse.

In the spirit of Small is Beautiful, Jesus nonetheless ascribes to a weed the very same qualities that the author of Exodus accords a giant old-growth tree. He sees it as imposing, fruitful, and providing shelter for birds of all kinds. In short, the pesky and irrepressible shares the same characteristics that the world evaluates as formidable and powerful. Washington Heights is worthier than the rest of NYC.

Moreover, one could argue that the Divine Parent has chosen the poor (not Gotham’s rich Wall Streeters) as the locale of divine revelation, because the poor reveal what’s wrong with our lives and the directions for righting the wrong.

To suggest what I mean, here are my “translations” of today’s readings. Please note their upbeat tone.

Exodus 17:22-24

After their liberation from Egypt
Runaway slaves
Understood the Great Parent
Promising
That they would flourish
Like a giant old-growth cedar
A fruitful and mighty home
For escaped jailbirds like them 
According to the wise plan
Inherent in Life’s Great Force.

Psalm 92: 2-3, 13-16

We thank you, Almighty Parent,
For your kind and faithful care
Showered upon us 
From bright dawns  
Through fearful nights.
Your will is that 
We all flourish like palm trees
And Cedars of Lebanon
In a just New World Order
Where all enjoy vigorous health 
And long productive lives.
Thank you indeed.

2nd Corinthians 5: 6-10

Knowing all of that
Is a source of our great courage
Admittedly based upon  
Unprovable convictions
That we will one day
Live in the just world
Called “God’s Kingdom.”
Yes, we trust in Christ’s judgment
That in following him,
We are advancing towards that end.

Mark 4: 26-34

Trailing the Master
At a confusing distance
We are like farmers
Who sow seeds
Knowing they will grow
But without understanding
Why or how.
It’s that way too
With God’s Kingdom
Which, it turns out,
Is more like a pesky weed
Than Moses’ mighty cedar.
Yet even Jesus’ poor mustard plant
Draws the same odd birds
To flourish in its shade.
(How’s that
For a head-scratching simile?)


Conclusion

So, the choice is up to us. Do we want a powerful world with room for a few to flourish obscenely behind locked gates while the many are forced to exist with rats, garbage, envy, and hatred? That world can pretend to be as mighty as an ancient cedar tree. But too often its apparent might conceals desperate inner rot, nihilism and misery.

Or do we want a simpler powerless world with room for everyone, where people prioritize not money and might, but family, each other, joy, spicy food, party, carnival, and love?

Again, it’s up to us — to follow the example (or not) of those our culture despises and rejects.

We all know how wise spiritual masters from Moses to Jesus and his rebellious Mother Mary have answered our question. It’s what’s suggested in today’s readings.

Whether we live in a culture that seems like a mighty cedar or one that resembles the weedy mustard bush, all of us know the direction we’re called to take.

If we don’t choose it, Arthur Fleck’s gun points towards the destiny that will inevitably be ours.