Episode 10: American Culture Distorts Everything; It’s All Illusion

Episode 10: Lesson 2: American Culture Distorts Everything

Welcome to Episode 10 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. And today we’ll examine together Part I, Lesson 2 of The Course’s Workbook for Students.

As you can see from the previous nine episodes, I’m reading The Course with the following assumptions in mind:

  1. The Course does in fact represent the authentic voice of Jesus the Christ channeled in the 1970s through Helen Schucman, an atheistic clinical psychologist who worked for 20 years at Columbia University.
  2. That source along with The Course’s history, structure, and language indicate that its Jesus is specifically addressing North Americans and others living unconsciously in the belly of the imperial beast, the United States of America. The U.S. is today’s equivalent of the Roman Empire that executed the historical Jesus as an insurrectionist.
  3. Ignoring that specific audience, Americans typically interpret The Course in the spirit of the second century Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Like Aurelius, as seekers and would-be mystics, Course in Miracles students typically fail to see the contradiction between their recognition of the unity of all creation on the one hand and for example, the wars they support, fund, and fight on the other.
  4. The Course’s emphasis on illusion (or in its language that time, space, bodies, and history, and the rest of the external world do not really “exist”) recalls the insights of Plato’s “Parable of the Cave.” There, captives of Athenian culture are deceived into thinking that their ethnically circumscribed experiences represent reality. According to the parable (and The Course in Miracles), such conviction is entirely illusory. The fact is that within the cave we misperceive our bodies, the place where we live, our relationships with nature, other people, and our histories both personal and collective. None of these exist as our culture describes them. Instead, they are misshaped by the fact that we see them within a white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchy.  
  5. The point of the course is to free students from those misperceptions allowing them for the first time to recognize the unity of all creation and to live accordingly.

With all of that in mind, Lesson 2 of A Course in Miracles asks us to apply to our everyday world the following insight: “I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

As I suggested in Episode 6, it helps, for clarity’s sake, to preface, for instance, Lesson 2’s central statement with the following phrase, “As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

Let me say it again: “As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

And what is it that I see in my context? I see a normalized, deceptive world of illusory shadows.

  • The world I see is white. There is not a person of color in sight.
  • It is white supremacist. The lawn signs for next month’s election advertise candidates that are overwhelmingly white. In other words, the community I see from my window is run by white people for white people who typically value white countries of origin (typically European), along with white food, dress, language, economic organization, religion, art, history, education, and family structure (all the elements of culture) above those belonging to people of color.
  • What I see in the contents of my room and from my window are items and structures that have been sold and bought according to capitalist market laws. Those laws say that absolutely everything (including life itself) can be owned, sold, and bought. There is even such a thing as “intellectual property.” My context takes this for granted, without question.
  • There are also unquestioned national borders that keep people “out” and “in.”
  • I see in the labels of the very clothes I wear testimony of imperialism, where non-white inhabitants of former colonies (in Latin America, Africa, and Asia) furnish products “for us” at slave wages. (Few question the rightness of this arrangement.) 
  • I see in my very body as a man a human being who is sitting in his office while his wife is preparing supper for him, even though she’d rather be writing like me. I am a beneficiary of male privilege.    

Lesson 2 of ACIM’s Workbook for Students suggests that all of what I’ve just noted represents meaning that is entirely relative and arbitrary – entirely questionable and subject to change. None of it has to be.  It all comes from and is accepted by me because I reside in my culture’s particular cave.

“As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

“As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

Today, as many times as you can, repeat that sentence almost like a mantram. I’ll do the same. It’s what we’re asked to do in Lesson 2.

In the meantime, thank you for listening. Till tomorrow, this is Mike Rivage-Seul wishing you a good day and God’s blessing.

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)

(African) American Exceptionalism: The Case for Black Supremacy

Readings for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 KINGS 4: 8-11, 14-16A; PSALM 89: 2-3, 16-19; ROMANS 6: 3-4, 8-11; MATTHEW 10: 37-42

Today’s first reading from the Jewish Testament’s Second Book of Kings sets the tone for this Sunday’s reflection. It is about a privileged woman (from biblical Shunem) who is given a new lease on life by creating a room “upstairs” for a prophetic presence and voice. Doing so brings her new life beyond anything she had dared hope for.

Her situation taken in conjunction with our day’s other readings can be understood as calling us all to clear space in our minds for recognizing our own inner prophets. Currently, that means attuning our consciousness to the oracular nature of the shouts and denunciations raised in our streets. The black voices resonating there are far more perceptive and informed – more prophetic – than anything we hear from white politicians and talking heads on TV. In effect, the tumult in the streets calls us to recognize the truth of black supremacy.

To see what I mean, let’s think about prophecy as referenced in today’s liturgy of the word. Then consider the analytical advantage native to the truly exceptional among us (our African American sisters and brothers). Finally, let’s entertain suggestions for creating suitable space in the upper reaches of our minds for black prophets who possess the power to change our nation’s collective life.

Prophetism  

The reading about the Shunamite woman comes from the part of 2nd Kings that details the words and deeds of the great prophet Elijah and his successor Elisha. For our purposes today, those details are not important.

What is important is to rethink the category of prophet. Most lump the term together with something like fortune teller. They think prophets are primarily concerned with the future.

But that’s where they’re wrong. Biblical prophets were not principally concerned with the future. They were not fortune tellers. Instead, they were understood as spokespersons for God. Though some functioned as court advisors, most were primarily defenders of the poor and oppressed – the real “chosen people” of Israel’s God throughout the Jewish Testament.

As such, prophets had their eyes firmly fixed on the present. Their task was twofold. It was first of all to denounce and secondly to announce. Prophetic denunciation targeted kings, rich landowners, bankers, the royal classes in general, and temple officials. The habitual crime of the well-off was their systemic exploitation of poor peasants and laborers, and those forced into debt peonage. In fact, if you examine the parables of Jesus, you’ll find most of them addressing the situations of such people. Yes, Jesus appeared in the prophetic tradition.

The second prophetic task was to announce a new future for the oppressed. For the prophets, another world was possible. Another God was possible. Jesus called that other world “the kingdom of God.” The phrase and its parabolic descriptions in stories like the Prodigal Son and Good Samaritan captured what the world would be like if God were king instead of Caesar.

That God was “Father” to the poor, their “Good Shepherd,” the Great Liberator of people like those Jesus himself befriended – prostitutes, beggars, insurgents, lepers, foreigners, drunkards, the hungry and thirsty, social outcasts, children, and repentant tax collectors.

Besides being a prophet, Jesus himself was a poor man – a day laborer (not a priest or rabbi) who had been an immigrant in Egypt as a child. From the beginning of his public life, he was under surveillance and investigation by the authorities. They identified him as a terrorist and subversive. He finished as a victim of state torture and capital punishment.

All of that means that (according to Christian faith) God chose the socially marginalized and rejected as the vehicle for revealing the true meaning and purpose of human life. It’s as if (according to divine epistemology) the poor are somehow more connected with Life itself.      

African American Exceptionalism

What could that mean for our actual world that’s now on fire with insurrection?  And here, let me emphasize that I’m not just referring to Minneapolis, but to the rebellions that Twin City has evoked across the country and across the planet. Does it all suggest that African Americans know more than the rest of us? Does it suggest that as a people, they’re more perceptive – more prophetic – than the rest of us?

Cuba’s great poet and historian Roberto Fernandez Retamar thought so.

I remember 20 years ago when he addressed my class (about half of them African American) when we were in Havana for a month studying “The African Diaspora in Cuba.”

In his riveting presentation, he described the descendants of African slaves as the world’s most exceptional people. They are, he said, the strongest, most beautiful and most intelligent humans on earth.

Professor Retamar reasoned as follows:

  • Slave traders in Africa began by selecting the sturdiest, best looking and smartest specimens to sell to their slaver counterparts in the New World. (It’s the way the market works.)
  • On the Middle Passage to distribution points like Cuba, up to half of those so carefully selected perished; only the strongest survived.
  • Then on auction blocks in places like Charleston and New Orleans, none but those with the best characteristics and strongest bodies were again selected by discerning slave buyers. (They examined teeth, hair and limbs as if the slave wares were horses.)
  • Only the best and brightest of those so purchased survived the harsh conditions of slavery to reproduce and have their offspring once again culled and selected.
  • The repetition of such processes for 300 years produced the super-race of people that continues to exhibit admirably courageous survival characteristics to this very day. Despite all the obstacles, they’re the authors of the unparalleled moral achievements embodied in slave rebellions, the abolitionist movement, and in civil rights struggles – the most spiritually-grounded, inspiring and influential causes in the history of the world.
  • Moreover, African American achievements in the arts, especially in music including spirituals, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and hip-hop rank with the highest contributions that westerners have made to world culture. The black community’s tremendous athletic achievements are second to none.

Yes, Dr. Retamar concluded, the African diaspora represents the best and brightest of the human race. They are the most beautiful, strongest and smartest of humans. Their wise and perceptive prophetic presence is based on an American experience that is truly exceptional. It has much to teach us about what blacks are especially privy to – about the nature of Life Itself and the unending struggle for justice.

Today’s Readings

With all of that in mind, please reread today’s liturgical selections. As I said, they’re about making room for prophets (like Elisha and the ones in our streets) in the upper reaches of our minds. What follows are my “translations” of the readings. You can read the originals here to see if I got them right.

2 KINGS 4: 8-11, 14-16A: Despite obstacles of wealth and power, even the privileged can make room for prophets who speak for the poor. But to do so, the rich must carefully create space in the upper reaches of their clouded minds. “Up on the Roof,” they should cultivate quiet, rest, and space for reading and enlightenment. Such provision will free their inner prophet and yield new and unexpectedly welcome life.

PSALM 89: 2-3, 16-19: So, repair to your own “upper room” every day and there discover transcendent security, strength, joy, fidelity, and commitment to God’s justice. Doing so will even confer ability to discern political leaders who exhibit such qualities.

ROMANS 6: 3-4, 8-11: In fact, the whole point of following Jesus the Christ is to die to the comfortable but misleading wisdom of the world and rise to God’s new life as exemplified in the poor man, Yeshua. That life is lived entirely for justice despite the world’s threats.

MATTHEW 10: 37-42: Notwithstanding such intimidations then, be open to prophetic voices. Depart from familial truisms even as taught by your parents and (ironically) as accepted by successfully indoctrinated children. Such departures represent the only way to find your True Self. But be forewarned: the state will incriminate and crucify you even for giving a cup of cold water to thirsty oppressed people. Do it anyway and learn to live with the resulting fulfillment and happiness.

Conclusion

Today, we are called to imitate the Shunamite woman who welcomed the prophet Elisha.

She prepared space for him, and provided him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp. She welcomed him to her dining room, fed him, and made him feel at home.

Today’s liturgy of the word calls us to do something similar. It suggests that we use this time of COVID-19 respite to make room for our inner prophet who turns out to be black and (because of a unique experience of oppression) is especially insightful and aligned with the divine purposes of the universe.

This is the time to figuratively enter that space in our attic, to turn on its lamp, to meditate and read something like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. While we’re at it, we might watch something like “The Help,” “Malcolm X,” “Amistad,” or “Glory.”

Today’s readings (and our very times) call us to rethink everything, turn it upside down, see it with new eyes, and perhaps recognize the truth of black supremacy.