01 Taming a Revolution

January 15th, 2018 No comments

01 Taming a Revolution
History Rhymes

 
 
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Taming a Revolution

January 14th, 2018 No comments

The thing about revolutions is that they never seem to happen at convenient times. This is because revolutions seek to change the way things are, and those who benefit from the way things are seek continuity. They also control the apparatus of power: both physical power and the power to shape social discourse. So, from their point of view, any challenge to their dominance is at best untimely, if not variously disloyal or treasonous, and they have the means to enforce their will.

It is seldom wise to try to crush a revolution with physical force, because history shows that ideas, the engines of revolution, thrive in persecution. The way to overcome an idea is to discredit it, or to replace it with one that seems more reasonable. There are a number of historical instances of the status quo taming a revolution by seeming compromise. The announced compromise takes the wind out of the revolutionaries, and in the end nothing really changes.

Take for example the case of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King was a revolutionary in the most radical sense of the word. Yet I noticed the other day that within hours of his latest racist public defecation, the President signed a proclamation declaring January 15 a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King. The occurrence of the two almost coincident events reveals what has become of Dr. King’s revolution.

The text of the Proclamation repeats the myth the status quo would hope to be King’s legacy. It is very pious, non-threatening. It employs symbolic language linking King and the Civil Rights Movement to the American myth; words like justice, freedom, equal opportunity. They are very powerful words. They reveal a vision of America that doesn’t square with the President’s track record, but one that almost everyone can agree upon in principle. They inspire the human spirit. But they also represent qualities that have yet to be realized in the United States. Our national response to King and the Civil Rights Movement is a contented sigh: thank God we are free at last!

That a man who has engineered his personal rise to prominence on racism and division, who was endorsed by and continues to enjoy the support of the Ku Klux Klan, could publish such a proclamation suggests the revolution King fought is unfinished. In his lifetime King, and the Civil Rights Movement itself, was met with fear and derision. It challenged one of the most deeply held American traditions: that to be American meant to be white. After delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech King fell under surveillance by the FBI. He was labelled by a prominent FBI official, “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation.” He was accused of being a communist at the height of the Cold War in spite of the fact, as he himself pointed out, that as a Baptist preacher his Christian calling was antithetical to communism. No matter. The establishment needed for him to be crushed, and would use any means, including the most foul and vicious, to do so.

When we remember the Civil Rights Movement we point to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ending legal segregation and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 guaranteeing free access to the ballot as the climax – a heroic triumph. But the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 and segregation has morphed into less obvious but more pernicious forms. And of course the social divisions once characterized by segregation laws continue, not just between blacks and whites, but between toxic white nationalism and other traditionally less powerful groups: women, people of color, religious, ethnic and cultural minorities. In some ways we are worse off than we were. At least in the good old days racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice were proudly proclaimed by their devotees, and so they could be openly identified and opposed. Now, or at least until recently, those devotees have crawled under rocks, working their malice from the shadows.

And what of King’s revolution? What did he envision? One of the things that makes King’s dream so hard for modern secular Americans to imagine is that his vision grew out of his Christian calling. He became a public figure by his work in the Civil Rights arena, but his fight was not just for justice for blacks. He pronounced his dream,

when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! [emphasis mine][1]

This is not the American secular dream of a chicken in every pot and an iPhone X in every pocket. It is the Biblical vision of a creation redeemed from enmity with God. It is a return to Eden. It is Shalom – a state of being without conflict and without blemish and with the full enjoyment of intimacy with each other and with God.[2] It is a perfect life in a perfect world. It is a patently Christian vision. And it includes everyone.

Dr. King was never shy about pointing out that his concern wasn’t just for integration or Civil Rights. He employed the rhetoric of American mythology to relate what Americans could understand to what he was doing, but he would not have been content just to make the US a better, more equal place. His goal was the goal of Christian eschatology: God’s perfect reign on Earth. This became clearer when he began to openly oppose the War in Vietnam. He was criticized not only by white Americans but also by leaders of the Civil Rights Movement when in 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, he delivered a speech denouncing American militarism and materialism as “moral suicide,” and had the audacity to warn that America would continue to be on the wrong side until it underwent a “revolution of values:” from a thing-oriented to a people-oriented society.[3]

Martin Luther King was not an American hero in the mold of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. He was a prophet in the Biblical mold. I urge the reader to read or re-read his Letter From Birmingham City Jail. It will take about 20-30 minutes, but one cannot walk away from the reading without realizing that the social dilemma that racked the United States in 1963 still challenges us. The names have changed but the faces: of the oppressed, the oppressor, and the people caught in the winds of history, have remained the same.

Dr. King’s revolution has been derailed. But the revolution for Shalom continues. Let us not be content with myths and doublespeak mouthing inane non-sequitur. On this commemoration of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us rededicate ourselves to his truly revolutionary vision, and be content with nothing less than perfection.

I enclose below a number of relevant quotes from Letter From Birmingham City Jail as well as links to pertinent sources.

Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.

Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

In the midst of blatant injustices … I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

References:

Letter From Birmingham City Jail

“I Have A Dream” speech

“Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence” speech

Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March

“The Other America” speech

Marsh, Charles. The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice from the Civil Rights Movement to Today. New York: Basic Books, 2005.

 

[1] http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

[2] “In the Bible, the word shalom is most commonly used to refer to a state of affairs, one of well‑being, tranquility, prosperity, and security, circumstances unblemished by any sort of defect. Shalom is a blessing, a manifestation of divine grace.” (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/shalom/)

[3] http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm

Oh look! A squirrel!

January 13th, 2018 No comments

In another successful attempt to manipulate the microscopic collective American attention span, the right wing has successfully deflected the point of criticism of the Donald’s latest instance of defecating in public. The point isn’t that he called those places shitholes, the point is that he demonstrated clearly that he views immigrants from those places as undesirables. Is it just a coincidence that the majority of the undesirables that come from shitholes are black, and that, alternatively, the desirables, coming from places that apparently are not shitholes, are overwhelmingly white? The point was not lost on at least one group. Silence is complicity. Do you side with them?

Neo-Nazis celebrate Trump ‘s—hole’ comment: He’s ‘on the same page as us’

Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists are celebrating President Trump Donald John Trump House Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr.

A legitimate test of loyalty

January 13th, 2018 No comments

The only legitimate test of whether one can be “American” is assent to the ideals contained in the founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Any attempt to impose any additional test of fitness is a betrayal of those ideals.

We will never win until we make peace with each other.

December 24th, 2017 No comments

 

I usually start getting into the “spirit” the day after Thanksgiving when I start playing my Christmas with Weezer EP. I haven’t even listened to it this year. Now it’s less than a week before Christmas Day and today was the first day I started reflecting on Christmas. Well, Advent and Christmas.

I guess I’ve given in to despair. There seem to be so many things wrong. I feel little joy. I try to be as upbeat and positive as possible, and I have little to complain about in terms of material well-being. I tend just to plod on through my days, doing the things I must but with little passion. Hanging on in quiet desperation, as they say. I feel that the dream I was raised to believe has turned into a nightmare. I still talk the noble talk, but everything I once thought was good has been corrupted.

I met a couple at the hospital who are very old. I can’t know for sure but they could be in their nineties. The woman couldn’t walk without a walker, and her husband was beautifully attentive. It occurred to me how lovely true love is. The woman was old and broken, but the man obviously cherished her. What did the beloved possess that could enrich the lover? Only herself, broken as she was. I usually don’t care for “Christmas” music but there was a mellow holiday tune playing and that’s when the Christmas story finally captured me.

Most of us I’m sure have heard of the so-called “war on Christmas.” In fact, Christmas in America is under attack, but not by the “liberal elite” as many would have us believe. The celebration of Christmas has come to symbolize America itself: a transcendent dream that is realized as a self-seeking obscenity. The tradition of gift giving is a remembrance of the gifts wise men reportedly brought to Jesus at his birth. It is possible that the gifts were quite valuable: gold for the king, frankincense for the one who is worshiped, and myrrh for Jesus’ predestined brutal execution. But the gifts were symbolic of the divinity and the sacrificial destiny of the Christ child. They were not meant to satisfy an insatiable desire for diversion that comes from obtaining material goods. Pope Francis described this in last year’s Christmas homily.

The mystery of Christmas, which is light and joy, questions and unsettles us, because it is at once both a mystery of hope and of sadness. It bears within itself the taste of sadness, inasmuch as love is not received, and life discarded. This happened to Joseph and Mary, who found the doors closed, and placed Jesus in a manger, “because there was no place for them in the inn” (v. 7). Jesus was born rejected by some and regarded by many others with indifference. Today also the same indifference can exist, when Christmas becomes a feast where the protagonists are ourselves, rather than Jesus; when the lights of commerce cast the light of God into the shadows; when we are concerned for gifts but cold towards those who are marginalized. [1]

Giving gifts on Christmas also symbolizes the gift that God gave humanity in the incarnation. That gift was the grant of true peace and reconciliation to a world burdened by arrogance and folly. The Christ child is the perfect model of love: totally self-emptying self-sacrifice for those who do not deserve it, cannot earn it, and in many cases do not even know they want it. It is exactly the opposite of what we have turned the celebration of Christ’s birth into. Instead of humbling ourselves in recognition of the depths of our need and the even greater depth of God’s love, we dance madly around the golden calf, never satisfied beneath the flickering torches and dissonant melodies.

The apostle Paul aptly described it in his letter to the Romans where he marked the universal condemnation: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.” (Ro. 1:22-23) Our devotion misses the mark, and this has been true since the Fall (Gen. 2).

At the time Christ was born, certain sects of the Jews had determined they could overcome their innate depravity and enjoy peace by strictly following the Mosaic law. But it is impossible for humans to adhere to that law on their own unaided strength. Rather than bringing them closer to God, their doomed devotion deepened their separation. Why? Because they could not acknowledge their inadequacy.

In the same way, groups in our society are certain true peace can be achieved through the triumph of some ideology, left or right or otherwise. The paradox of our time is that we aspire to greatness through vile methods. Our motive is not peace, but triumph. Our efforts are self-defeating. Because we seek peace through violence. We act as if we can solve our dilemma by more and better exertion of the human will. And by so doing, we perpetuate brokenness. The only solution is humility.

Pope Francis tells us,

With this sign the Gospel reveals a paradox: it speaks of the emperor, the governor, the mighty of those times, but God does not make himself present there; he does not appear in the grand hall of a royal palace, but in the poverty of a stable; not in pomp and show, but in the simplicity of life; not in power, but in a smallness which surprises. In order to discover him, we need to go there, where he is: we need to bow down, humble ourselves, make ourselves small. The Child who is born challenges us: he calls us to leave behind fleeting illusions and go to the essence, to renounce our insatiable claims, to abandon our endless dissatisfaction and sadness for something we will never have. It will help us to leave these things behind in order to rediscover in the simplicity of the God-child, peace, joy and the meaning of life.[2]

In a secularized society many rebel at the thought of surrender to a deity, may even believe there is no God. But even the most committed atheist must bow to the historical reality that violence always breeds violence and only love begets love. Instead of seeking to change or fix or correct or overcome those we disagree with, we must choose to love them.

In the gospel according to Matthew Jesus delivers from the Mount a series of commandments to impossible actions and attitudes, and ends with the command, “You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48) If we are to claim discipleship to Christ, we must take this command seriously. Yet how can we be perfect?

The answer is in love. We cannot, on our own merits, achieve the perfection Jesus demands. We cannot, on our own power and through our own will, create peace. But we can humble ourselves in love: self-giving even for those who call themselves our enemies. We can do this whether we call ourselves Christian or not. The apostle John affirms “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and records Jesus instructing his followers they will be identified by their self-sacrificing love (John 13:34-35). Peace can only be achieved when we have surrendered to something greater than ourselves, even if that something greater is the mutual recognition of each other’s weakness.

Love doesn’t necessarily mean affection. It does mean putting the needs of others before our own. In our situation that must mean recognizing the dignity and worth of those who identify as our foes in the midst of their brokenness, in spite of our own brokenness that impels us to more destructive actions and attitudes. We will never win until we make peace with each other.

The Christmas story tells of God offering himself to bring peace to those who could never achieve it on their own. History shows us that only this selflessness brings victory and peace. That is the true meaning of Christmas: Peace on Earth, achieved through love.

To all who celebrate this holiday, Merry Christmas. To all others, may you find peace and joy this holiday season.

[1] https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-want-to-see-god-this-christmas-be-humble-29445

[2] Ibid.

The Big Lie

December 18th, 2017 No comments

“There is absolutely no collusion. I didn’t make a phone call to Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia. Everybody knows it. That was a Democrat hoax. It was an excuse for losing the election, and it should have never been this way, where they spent all these millions of dollars.” – Donald Trump, 12/15/17

Remarks by President Trump Before Marine One Departure | The White House

South Lawn 9:21 A.M. EST Q (Inaudible.) THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s a shame what’s happened with the FBI. But we’re going to rebuild the FBI. It will be bigger and better than ever. But it is very sad when you look at those documents. And how they’ve done that is really, really disgraceful, and you …

Dear Conservative Friend

December 9th, 2017 No comments

Dear Conservative Friend,

You and I are obviously on different ends of the ideological divide. I respect that the considered positions of many conservatives are held in good faith, even if I think they are misguided. For most of our history we have been able to bridge the gap between left and right because both (perhaps reluctantly) conceded that their opponents were patriots.

But when it comes to Trump, I don’t think we’re talking about right vs. left; we are talking about right vs. wrong. The discussion about what Trump represents in American politics is complex and probably futile, since we will not agree on basic facts. But you can take it from me that those of us who oppose him do so not because of partisanship but because we believe he actually represents the absolute worst of American society. He represents an America that is retrograde, racist, misogynist, nativist, swaggering, self-absorbed, and brutal. His vision resembles an upright individual who has gotten drunk and succumbed to animal instincts, losing all sense of propriety. His shadow ironically shines a bright light on the principles many are willing to abandon in order to hold on to power. Evangelical Christians abandon the gospel and basic moral principles, “Conservatives” abandon patriotism and fiscal conservatism and even the fundamental Enlightenment principles of liberty and equality on which our founding documents are based. Bigots and “super-patriots” who were once relegated to the fringes suddenly and boldly take center stage. In other words, Trump and those he works for are at best agents of chaos, not patriots.

I’m not going to assume that what I just described, describes you. I’m fairly certain you don’t believe any of what I just wrote, and I believe you and most of those who agree with you are patriots. And I’m not going to try to convince you I’m right, because we conceptually live in very different realities. But you can believe that I believe what I wrote, and because of that I refuse to contribute to the normalization of this tool’s actions. We can agree to disagree about politics when we can concede that those we disagree with have the best interests of the country at heart. I do not believe Trump has the best interests of the country at heart, even in his own delusions. And I applaud people like John Lewis and John McCain who are willing to stand against what Trump and his followers represent and say. “This is not normal.”

Rep. John Lewis: Trump is an ‘insult’ to civil rights event

U.S. Rep John Lewis announced Thursday that he won’t speak at the opening of Mississippi civil rights and history museums, saying it’s an “insult” that President Donald Trump will attend. The long-planned Saturday ceremony will mark Mississippi’s bicentennial of admission into the union….

Americans Aren’t As Divided As You Think

November 23rd, 2017 No comments

I don’t think we should deny that it’s been a rough year. It doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier any time soon. There is a spirit of destructive division in the air. Malicious forces seek to divide to achieve selfish gain. It’s not new, but it is now very pronounced.

Perhaps we should ask, as Ronald Reagan once did, “How can we love our country and not love our countrymen?” We do not have to agree on anything to be respectful toward each other. It only takes an adjustment in focus to see that we agree on much more than we disagree on. As much as there are challenges facing us, we have much to be thankful for. Some of the people I love and respect the most hold views I profoundly disagree with. I have found that in areas where it is impossible to hold a civil discussion of the issues that divide, it is better to focus on what unites. Nelson Mandela once remarked, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” When we join in common cause, we re-discover our common humanity.

Perhaps we can take just one day to be thankful for the many blessings we have all received, without merit. To be grateful for the right to openly disagree. When we can disagree without being disagreeable, we show the true greatness of America. And we also defeat the bad guys.

Americans Aren’t As Divided As You Think

Every day, America is being misled by the political parties, our political leaders and the press. We are told that the other side – whether it’s liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans – are not just wrong on the issues, but full of destructive intent.

“You shall not have other gods beside me” (Ex. 20:4)

November 18th, 2017 No comments

It is our belief that in light of Roy Moore’s extremist beliefs, his patterns of behavior, and the recent allegations against him, no person of faith can, in good conscience, support him or his religious nationalism. He has done harm to our government; he has done harm to our Christian witness; and he has done harm to vulnerable people.

 

Ministers sign letter saying Roy Moore ‘not fit for office’

A group of 59 progressive Christian ministers, more than half from mainline Protestant denominations, signed a letter released today calling U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore “not fit for office.” The signers included 23 United Methodist ministers, eight Baptists, seven Episcopal clergy and seven Presbyterian pastors.

“That is sick!”

November 15th, 2017 No comments

Joe Biden discusses President Trumps reaction to Charlottesville. “Silence is complicity. Not only was it not condemned, you had the president making a relative comparison between the white supremacists and the people trying to stop them. That is sick. That is dangerous.”

Source: NPR Morning Edition 11/15/17.

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