Venrun

Unbridled Mercy

My heart breaks for a world scourged by violence.

Duped and deceived by the satan inside us.[1]

Accuse![2] Convict! Point fingers at “them.”

It’s us who are just! and they are condemned.

 

Our violence is good—it’s righteous and true.

God’s on our side and “they’ll” know that soon too.[3]

With power and might we lord over others,[4]

Accusing the prophets of being false brothers.[5]

 

Woe to those who confuse Christ for religion,

Who speak devilish things about those already forgiven.

Woe to those who demand blood in Christ’s name,

Who spit venom and poison[6], curse others, and blame.

 

The grace you demand is abundant and infinite

Yet the grace you give seems rather impotent.[7]

The grace of God is unfathomable[8] and yet,

You contend Love offers an eternal threat.[9]

 

A gospel with violence is unfounded and false.

It’s the opposite of Christ—a religious farce.

The way of the Christ is the way of the cross,

But in knowing the Christ, all else is loss.[10]

 

The way of Christ is preemptive grace.

Grace in the midst of a spit to the face.[11]

This model of forgiveness is what sets us free,

Free to love all with unbridled mercy.

 

[1] For a detailed expose on what/who is “the satan,” see Michael Hardin’s eBook aptly entitled, “The Satan.” It can be found at http://www.preachingpeace.org/images/FB-Posts-on-The-Satan-e-Book1.pdf
[2] The satan, or “ha satan” in Hebrew, translates to “the accuser.”
[3] I am referring to the three major Abrahamic religions, which have many within the respective faiths who claim they are the chosen people and thus, that they have God on their side.
[4] See Matthew 20:25 – 27, where Jesus tells his followers they are not to lord over others, as the Gentiles do, but they are to become great by becoming as a servant.
[5] See Luke 11:50 – 51.
[6] See Matthew 23.
[7] Matthew 7:1 – 2.
[8] See Romans 11:32 – 33.
[9] I contend that since God is love (1 John 4:8), eternal conscious torment as a final fate for some humans is incompatible.
[10] See Philippians 3:8.
[11] See Matthew 26:67

Image: Created by Venrun. Available via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

heaven and hell

Satan on the Throne: A Parable about Heaven and Hell

You have lived a long and faithful life. You have done your best to follow Jesus in working for justice. Most importantly, you have just learned that faith isn’t so much something you try really hard to have, but is something you relax into. Faith, you have discovered, is relaxing into the love that God has for you, and sharing that love with those you meet.

Now you find yourself here, on the other side. You walk on clouds, which are softer than any pillows you ever felt on earth. You walk toward the Pearly Gates and you see St. Peter. He looks at you and then down at the “Book of Life.” Peter nods his head and with a warm, gentle smile, he calls you by name. “Welcome to Heaven,” he says. “You are a Good One. We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Thank you, Peter,” you reply as you gaze through the gates. You’ve never thought of yourself as particularly good, but you’re flattered by the complement. You see streets of gold, large buildings, and a beautiful garden in the middle of the city. People smile and laugh. This is Heaven. It’s the happiest place you’ve ever seen.

Another man approaches. He has a long white beard and walks with a staff. “This is Moses,” Peter says. “He will take you where you need to go.”

With Moses as your guide, you walk through the city to its center. Moses is friendly and enjoys hearing about your life. You take a minute to close your eyes and breathe deeply. You let the wonders of Heaven enter your body. As you open your eyes, you notice that everyone is strikingly beautiful. The streets, paved in gold, are surrounded by the finest restaurants you’ve ever seen. People are eating rich, succulent food, smiling and laughing as they enjoy their dinner. And then you start to notice something strange that makes you feel a bit uneasy.

When the customers at the restaurant are done eating, they give credit cards to the wait staff in exchange for their services. You think it’s odd that people have to pay for food in Heaven. But you feel even more troubled as you notice that the wait staff has a darker skin complexion than the customers. And as you continue to walk with Moses, you notice, off in the distance, beyond the city gates, a group of the same darker skinned people making bricks and carrying them to the entrance of the city gate. It is clearly hard and backbreaking work. Moses tells you that the Holy One wants a new and bigger temple.

As you try to make sense of this experience, Moses suddenly stops in front of the temple. He interrupts your thoughts and says, “We’re here. You will meet the Holy One inside. He’s been expecting you. Enter through this door and follow the river. You will find the Throne Room. There will be Saints singing. Boldly walk through the Throne Room. He wants to see you.”

A sense of fear comes over you. Moses intuits your trepidation and says, “Remember what our friend John said in one of his letters, perfect love casts out fear. The Holy One is for you. You are one of the Good Ones. You belong here and you have nothing to fear. Now go!”

You follow the river, just as Moses instructed. You hear the Saints singing. It’s faint at first, but as you continue following the river their voices become louder. It’s the most beautiful sound you’ve ever heard. You come to the door of the Throne Room. As you put your hand on the doorknob, you remind yourself that “Perfect love casts out fear.” You boldly walk through the doorway.

The singing stops and the Saints look directly at you as you walk toward the Throne. The Holy One calls you by name. Love bubbles up inside of you. He sits on the Throne, looking like a Lion. “Come forward, Good One.” His deep voice reverberates across the Throne Room.

“Welcome to Heaven, my good and faithful servant. You have shown yourself to be one of the Good People of the Earth. You fought for justice. You deserve to be here. Unlike them!

The Holy One points to His left. Suddenly a portal that leads to Hell emerges. You look through it and see what appears to be people suffering eternal conscious torment.

“They are the Evil People of Earth,” the Holy One continues. “They get all the punishment that they deserve! And you should know this: The fuel of Heaven comes from the fires of Hell. And what fuels the fires of Hell? Those Evil People! We need them to suffer so that we may live in the joyful magnificence that we call Heaven!”

You take a step back. “Wait a minute,” you think to yourself. “This isn’t right. This isn’t just. This isn’t how Heaven is supposed to be.”

The Holy One scowls at you. “Your thoughts betray you,” He bellows. “Maybe you would like to join them,” He says with a sinister smile. “The choice is yours. You can stay here for eternity and enjoy the richness Heaven offers, or you can throw Heaven away and join them in suffering eternal conscious torment in Hell! Choose wisely. Your eternal soul hangs in the balance!”

You stand there, sensing the thousands of eyes from the Saints that are piercing through you. The pressure is almost too much for you to stand, but then you remember to relax – that whoever God is, God loves you and all people. You know, deep down in your bones, that you can’t stay here. If Heaven is like this, then you don’t want any part of it. You’ve made your choice. You will join the Evil Ones in Hell.

“You fool! Go then!” bellows the Holy One as He points to portal for Hell. “You don’t deserve to be here! Join the Evil Ones suffering eternal conscious torment!”

The Saints who were singing now taunt you as you walk toward the portal. Before stepping through, you take a deep breath. “Perfect love casts out fear,” you say to yourself as you put one foot through and then the next.

It is dark on the other side, but in the distance you see something that looks like a Lamb walking towards you, along with a man with wounds on his feet, hands, and side. “Welcome to Heaven,” the man says. “My name is Jesus. This is my Father,” he says as he points to the Lamb. A woman suddenly emerges beside them. But you notice that she’s more than just beside them. She’s around them and through them. It’s as if she’s connecting the three of them together. “And this is Sophia, the Holy Spirit. We are happy to see you.”

“The Trinity?” you think to yourself. “How could this be?” But at the moment you feel a bit silly asking theological questions. Besides, you always thought the doctrine of the Trinity was a bit irrelevant. So, you point to the portal and blurt out, “But I thought Heaven was back there.”

“Oh. That wasn’t Heaven,” the Lamb replies. “This is Heaven.”

“But what about the people suffering here, in eternal conscious torment?” you ask.

“Ahh, eternal conscious torment,” Sophia sighs, shaking her head. “It’s one of Satan’s tricks. It doesn’t exist. It’s a myth meant to make us look like we are involved in scapegoating. That myth justifies human scapegoating and blames us for it. We have nothing to do with it. We desire merciful love, not sacrificial scapegoating. Nobody here is suffering, but everyone here does care for each other. We do love one another.”

You look around and see people with different skin complexions walking together and laughing. There is no exchange for food and no one is making bricks to make bigger buildings. Everyone here has enough.

“Wait a minute. I’m confused,” you say. “What about Peter and Moses?”

“They were imposters, imitators of the true Peter and Moses meant to trick you,” answers the Lamb. “The false Peter decides who is included and who is excluded in the false version of Heaven. That Book of Life he carries around is really a book of death because it’s based on exclusion. Jesus holds the key to the true Book of Life. And get this! Everyone’s name is written in it! Everyone, from the beginning of human history, is invited to join us. The true Peter is over there, making sure everyone here has enough to eat and drink. It’s all free here. And the real Moses is over there, taking our newest group on a tour.”

“When Moses takes you on the tour, be sure he parts the river that runs through the middle of the city,” Jesus says with a twinkle in his eye. “It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen!”

“Sounds great!” you reply. “But what about the Lion sitting on the Throne of Heaven?”

“That was Satan,” the Lamb replied. “I love him so much. He wanted to sit on the Throne and he threatened a rebellion if I didn’t give it to him. He wanted everything that I had. But as long as I’m with Jesus, Sophia, and those who choose to be down here, I have everything that I want. Besides,” he says motioning toward the portal, “the people over there are happy enough. And if they become unhappy, they are free to come here whenever they want. They know this intuitively. But most of them are blind to Satan’s evil ways of creating order, so they maintain with the status quo.”

“But there is hope,” Jesus continues. “After all, Satan’s kingdom is founded on the principle of accusation, exchange, rivalry, and oppression. It can’t last forever. His kingdom is inherently divisive. And a kingdom divided against itself will soon fall. When it does, we will be there to pick him up. It may take a while longer, but even Satan will find redemption. There is still goodness in him. Our love will win him over.”

“But until then, we have work to do,” Sophia says. “There’s a garden that needs some watering and bushes that need pruning. And then we need to serve dinner at the shelter. Would you like to join us?”

“Sure!” you say with excitement as a sudden sense of warmth fills your soul. “I’m so glad I came here.”

“So are we,” Jesus responds, as he puts his arm across your shoulders. “You know, the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to eternal life, and there are few who find it. But you found it. Well done, my faithful servant.”

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Copyright: prazis / 123RF Stock Photo

The Ashley Madison Sex Scandal, Josh Duggar, and the Place of Shame

A woman who discovered that her husband was a member of the Ashley Madison website gives this advice to women through CNN: “To women who have no suspicions, I say: check anyway. It’s sad.”

The Ashley Madison sex leak is sad. Not because men are getting caught with their pants down, but because the website whose tagline is “Life is short. Have an affair,” has 32 million users.

32 million! It’s hard to wrap my mind around such a large number. So much attention has been given to Josh Duggar’s account with the Ashley Madison site. He was the first “star” to be outed by the leak. Duggar has dedicated his public persona to supporting “traditional family values.” He is the former executive director of the Family Research Council Action. The FRCA supports traditional family values, which means it is staunchly against LGBTQ rights.

Duggar’s opposition to LGBTQ rights means that he has put LGBTQ folk in the “place of shame.” It’s a common move among those who fight for “traditional family values.” To work for the sanctity of marriage means that they gain a sense of moral superiority by fighting against an “evil other” that threatens that sanctity. For example, Duggar and his friends fear that the LGBTQ community is a threat to the traditional family, so they work in opposition to LGBTQ rights, especially the right to marry.

Because it’s those LGBTQ people who threaten the sanctity of marriage. Right…

Of course, it’s easy to point out Josh Duggar’s hypocrisy. While working for the “sanctity of marriage” by shaming others he deemed a threat, he shamed his own marriage by having an affair. In other words, Duggar hid from his own shameful behavior by shaming others.

That’s how shaming works. We project our own shameful behavior upon others so that we don’t have to deal with our sense of shame.

And here we begin to see the problem when we gleefully unite against Josh Duggar. By shaming him we become what René Girard calls his “mimetic double.”

In the same way that Josh Duggar claimed a sense of moral superiority by shaming others, we claim the same sense of moral superiority by shaming him. By doing so, we risk hiding from our own sense of shame as we project it onto him.

James Alison, in his adult education course Jesus the Forgiving Victim, notes that we learn “to dance with others around the place of shame, close enough to get the benefits from someone being there but not so close as to be the person who is put there.” This is the pattern of life that adults tend to inhabit. We start to learn this pattern in middle school and high school, but we perfect it when we become adults. Putting others in the place of shame so that we don’t have to go there is how we survive – whether it’s immigrants, the poor, Muslims, prostitutes, the LGBTQ community, or Josh Duggar.

Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to avoid the place of shame. At some point in our lives, we will all find ourselves in that place, and we will all probably participate in putting someone else there. Because shaming is so mimetic, we tend to shift shame from one person to another, just as long as shame doesn’t fall upon me!

The Ashley Madison/Josh Duggar sex scandal is just one more example of how much our culture is run by shame. It infects each one of us.

That’s why Jesus is so important. He occupied the place of shame, the cross, without being run by it. The Atonement works in a very specific way – Humans put Jesus in the place of shame and Jesus freely went. He didn’t mimic that shame. He didn’t seek to defend himself by putting his enemies in the place of shame. He went to the place of shame and stopped the mimetic shame cycle by praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In the next few weeks, I have no doubt that many more people will be outed as having an Ashley Madison account. You will likely find out that prominent politicians, pastors, teachers, pop culture icons, star athletes, business owners, maybe even your coworker and your neighbors have an account.

How will we respond? Will we put them, and their already grieving families, in the place of shame? Will we experience a sense of glee as they are “outed”?

Because we don’t have to live our lives run by shame. We don’t have to shame others anymore. We don’t have to live our lives hiding from our own sense of shame by projecting it upon others. Rather, we can stop pointing fingers. We can start managing any sense of shame that we may have. And we can respond to others with empathy and compassion.

After all, the fact that 32 million people, men and women, have been involved in the Ashley Madison scandal shows how easy it is for any of us to get seduced into this kind of activity.

And when we are seduced into it, Jesus reveals that we are already forgiven. Thus, we don’t have to hide. We don’t have to project our own baggage, our own shame, upon anyone else. We can stop the mimetic cycle. Indeed, we can learn to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Photo: Copyright: prazis / 123RF Stock Photo

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Rewriting The Human Story

Oh sacred planet.

The terror of climate crisis is a long time in the making. As I read about the mass mobilization forming around the upcoming U.N. climate change convention, which is likely to accomplish far too little — because what’s needed is change at the roots of civilization — I feel a desperate impatience, a tearing at my soul. What can I do that’s bigger than anger, bigger than a demand for governmental and corporate entities to make changes they are essentially incapable of making?

Maybe I can help rewrite the story of civilization, which means unwriting the present story. From the Dark Mountain Manifesto, for instance, here are two of the “eight principles of uncivilization”:

“We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilization: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature.’ These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.

“We will reassert the role of storytelling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.”

With this in mind, I think about my family’s trip to Yellowstone National Park when I was a teenager (sometime in the previous century) and the tourist awe I felt as I gaped at Old Faithful and the gurgling springs and the incredible vistas of the Yellowstone River. America, America, God shed His grace on thee . . . know what I’m saying?

We’ve been preserving slices of scenic “wilderness” — keeping them out of our own exploitative reach — for 150 years now. What could possibly be wrong with that?

The problem, it turns out, is that the national park system is full of the bloodstains of American history. Manifest destiny meant the conquest of nature as well as the conquest of the continent’s indigenous inhabitants. It was all part of the same militarized arrogance.

“The modern conservation movement began at dawn on December 8, 1850, above the north fork of California’s San Joaquin River,” Eric Michael Johnson wrote a year ago in Scientific American, describing a vicious U.S. military attack on the Ahwahneechee tribe, whose forebears had lived in — and been deeply part of — the Yosemite Valley (as we renamed it) for thousands of years. Before we created the national park system, we drove out the people who lived there and, ironically, functioned as stewards of the land. They had kept it in eco-balance with a remarkably complex understanding of nature. Too bad. Now the land “belonged” to the newcomers, who had long, long ago dismissed the value of such understanding.

Turns out eco-stewardship doesn’t mean simply putting “nature” behind a glass case. Human beings have an active role to play in sustaining, as opposed to merely exploiting, the Earth’s ecosystems. After a century of U.S. occupation and the disappearance of controlled undergrowth burning, Johnson noted, “the Yosemite Valley biodiversity had actually declined, trees were now 20 percent smaller, and the forest was more vulnerable to catastrophic fires than it had been before the U.S. Army and armed vigilantes expelled the native population.”

And we didn’t simply expel the native population. We did our best to drive it — both the people and their cultural wisdom — into nonexistence. What we couldn’t kill we humiliated.

“Native Americans were evicted from almost all the American parks, but a few Ahwahneechee people were tolerated inside Yosemite for a few more decades,” Stephen Corry, director of Survivor International, wrote recently at Truthout. “They were forced to serve tourists and act out humiliating ‘Indian days’ for the visitors. The latter wanted the Indians they saw in the movies, so the Ahwahneechee had to dress and dance as if they were from the Great Plains. If they didn’t serve the park, they were out — and they all did finally die or leave, with their last dwellings deliberately and ignominiously burned down in a fire drill in 1969.”

The American conservation movement, Corry maintains, was just another aspect of colonialism. This was Western civilization in high gear, busy dominating tribal cultures and nature itself, proceeding with utter certainty, both moral and scientific, that it had no need to be part of the circle of life.

Only now, with Western moral rectitude in an advanced stage of collapse — and environmental catastrophe looming — are people in large numbers coming to realize how deeply, profoundly problematic our domination-based worldview really is.

“Even without considering questions of human rights and the intrinsic value of cultures,” environmentalist Alan Durning told Worldwatch Institute, “indigenous survival is a matter of crucial importance. We in the world’s dominant cultures simply cannot sustain the earth’s ecological health without the help of the world’s endangered cultures.”

And so the new story begins here, as we grope wondrously for the wisdom we’ve forgotten. How do we heal — and atone for — the damage we’ve done? How do we reclaim a sacred connection with our planet? How do we stop killing ourselves?

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2015 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Image: Mariposa Indian Encampment, Yosemite Valley, California, 1872 by Albert Bierstadt. Public Domain.

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Hold On Until Love Wins

I was working on another article, but I can’t concentrate on it now. It’s hard to concentrate in a world with so much hatred, so much distrust, so much fear, and so much senseless murder.

I wonder how many people worldwide are shocked out of their daily routine by a tragedy. I wonder how many people must plow through their daily routines that tragedy is a part of.

The news is still coming in about a shooting in my home state of Virginia. A reporter and cameraman were shot on air not far from where I went to college. The families of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward are in mourning. And now perhaps the family of Vester Flanagan, the shooter who shot himself as police caught up to him and died after being taken to the hospital, is in mourning as well. My anxieties about a shooter loose in my home state have been quelled, but the overwhelming sorrow is just beginning to overflow.

I am in mourning for our broken world, ready to despair of hope that it can be repaired. And I recognize that even that despair, and the temporary paralysis that comes with it, is a luxury, because all over the world there are those who live in constant states of degradation, oppression and terror, who must somehow go about their lives anyway. Those living in the midst of war must somehow try to make a living despite the destruction and loss that has become a normal part of life, whatever the hell normal might mean. Babies and grandparents are struck with drones. Limbs are blown apart. People are slowly rotting away from malnutrition or dying from exposure because we can’t find the money to feed them or repair their destroyed homes, even as we spend more money to kill them. Throughout the world, weapons made right here are killing people on all sides of all conflicts, and in some parts of the world we are taking a more direct role in the destruction. The Global War on Terror rages on. And all over the world, the pain and horror and grief that has struck my heart so deeply today strikes so many hearts that must beat on in the midst of this churning machine of violence that we have turned the world into.

We do all of this in the name of national security, of course.

But we are a frightened, insecure nation.

We have nurtured an enemy mentality that pits us against the world (even as we justify our violence by claiming to be a force for protection in the world.) And the violence we export abroad is taking its toll on us. It’s been taking its toll on us for a long, long time, eroding our souls with every weapon made, let alone used, to destroy another child of God, either half a world away or right next door. How could a nation that spends more money than any other in the world, more than most of the world combined, on the military, not be infected by a culture of violence? How can we spend billions on bombs and guns and drones and missiles while neglecting the necessary funds for education and housing and healthcare, and claim to respect life? How can our leaders instruct us to kill abroad and be surprised when we find no other way to handle our problems here at home? How can we demand respect for human dignity while we continually glorify violence that tears human beings apart? How can we respect life while waging death?

As long as we live in fear and glorify violence, we can’t be surprised that efforts for gun control go nowhere. Of course we need gun control, but we also need to control our addiction to the myth that peace can be waged through violence. I can’t think of any myth that has so thoroughly duped humanity as the satanic lie that peace can be bought from sacrifice – from murder and war. The notion of a war to end all wars, a permanent peace arising from the rubble of destruction and death, is so demonstrably false. The house divided against itself is our own world, and we cannot stand like this. Will we keep hurtling ourselves headfirst toward our own destruction, putting our faith in instruments of death?

We live in a deadly world and we keep making it deadlier. So we are afraid, and we cling to our guns, and when someone poisoned by the idolatry of violence fires one of those guns, fearful people cling ever more tightly to their guns. When our own government clings to its nuclear arsenal in the name of “deterrence,” how can we expect anything less of citizens?

So I am weighed down by sorrow as today’s shooting mercilessly steals lives and accelerates the whirlwind forces of this cycle of violence spinning out of control. But I can’t wallow. Because my toddler is awake, and I have picked up my first-grader from school. How truly, truly blessed I am to be able to hold my children close, to know my husband will be returning from work, to still have the peace of mind to be reasonably sure that my loved ones will make it through another day safe and sound.

Too many people around the world live without the luxury of knowing their loved ones will return safely to them at the end of the day. Too many people in our own nation live without that luxury, as African Americans find it necessary to complete the sentence “If I die in police custody…” And increasingly, we are living in a nation where all of our security is disintegrating into a hollow illusion. We cannot be secure when we put our trust in violence.

But if today you have the blessed opportunity to hold your loved ones in your arms, do not let them go. In a hopeless world, find hope in the faces of those who love you, and radiate it back to them. The only way we are going to bring peace to this battered, shattered world is to make those human connections, and nurture the ones that we already have. If you believe in God, that’s where you find God, and if you don’t, well, that’s OK, as long as you believe in Love, because it’s the same thing. Hold on to your loved ones, dear friends. Hold them and see in their eyes the joy of a future filled with the love they bring to the world. Hold them until you can’t imagine a world in which anyone has to go without holding their own loved ones. Then go out and shout, strive, struggle to create that world, and when despair inevitably rears its ugly head, go back to their arms to revive your hope. Be those arms for someone who has lost a loved one to violence. Be love, and hold on in love to those who need love. Hold on until love wins.

Featured Image: Screenshot of “Reporter and Cameraman Gunned Down During Live TV In Virginia Shooting” AJ+ via Youtube.

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Let It Shine

This little light of mine, I’m gonna’ let it shine! Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Imagine children lustily singing the above lines which eventually became a civil rights anthem. Their innocence and happy resolve enlightens us. Yes! In the face of wars, refugee crises, weapon proliferation and unaddressed climate change impacts, let us echo the common sense of children. Let goodness shine. Or, as our young friends in Afghanistan have put it, #Enough! They write the word, in Dari, on the palms of their hands and show it to cameras, wanting to shout out their desire to abolish all wars.

Let It Shine image twoThis past summer, collaborating with Wisconsin activists, we decided to feature this refrain on signs and announcements for a 90-mile walk campaigning to end targeted drone assassinations abroad, and the similarly racist impunity granted to an increasingly militarized police force when they kill brown and black people within the U.S.

Walking through small cities and towns in Wisconsin, participants distributed leaflets and held teach-ins encouraging people to demand accountability from local police, and an end to the “Shadow Drone” program operated by the U.S. Air National Guard out of Wisconsin’s own Volk Field. Our friend Maya Evans traveled the furthest to join the walk: she coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence in the UK. Alice Gerard, from Grand Isle, NY, is our most consistent long-distance traveler, on her sixth antiwar walk with VCNV.

Brian Terrell noted what mothers speaking to Code Pink, as part of the Mothers Against Police Brutality campaign, had also noted: that surprisingly many of the officers charged with killing their children were veterans of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He recalled past national events, such as the NATO summit in Chicago, in 2012, whose organizers tried to recruit temporary security officers from amongst U.S. veterans. Former soldiers, already traumatized by war, need support, healthcare and vocational training but instead are offered temp jobs to aim weapons at other people in predictably tense settings.

The walk was instructive. Salek Khalid, a friend of Voices, shared “Creating a Hell on Earth: U.S. Drone Strikes Abroad,” his own in-depth presentation about the development of drone warfare. Tyler Sheafer, joining us from the Progressive Alliance near Independence, MO, stressed the independence of living simply, off the grid and consuming crops grown only within a 150 mile radius of one’s home, while hosts in Mauston, WI welcomed Joe Kruse to talk about fracking and our collective need to change patterns of energy consumption. The ability to withhold our money and our labor is an important way to compel governments to restrain their violent domestic and international power.

We weren’t alone. We walked in solidarity with villagers in Gangjeong, South Korea, who’d welcomed many of us to join in their campaign to stop militarization of their beautiful Jeju Island. Seeking inter-island solidarity and recognizing how closely they share the plight of Afghans burdened by the U.S. “Asia Pivot,” our friends in Okinawa, Japan will host a walk from the north to the south of the island, protesting construction of a new U.S. military base in Henoko. Rather than provoke a new cold war, we want to shine light on our common cares and concerns, finding security in extended hands of friendship.

On August 26th, some of the walkers will commit nonviolent civil resistance at Volk Field, carrying the messages about drone warfare and racial profiling into courts of law and public opinion. 

Too often we imagine that a life swaddled in everyday comforts and routines is the only life possible, while half a world away, to provide those comforts to us, helpless others are made to shiver with inescapable cold or fear. It’s been instructive on these walks to uncoddle ourselves a little, and see how our light shines, unhidden, on the road through neighboring towns, singing words we’ve heard from children learning to be as adult as they can be; attempting to learn that same lesson. The lyric goes “I’m not going to make it shine: I’m just going to _let_ it shine. We hope that by releasing the truth that’s already in us we can encourage others to live theirs, shining a more humane light on the violent abuses, both at home and abroad, of dark systems that perpetuate violence. On walks like this we’ve been fortunate to imagine a better life, sharing moments of purpose and sanity with the many we’ve met along the road.

This article first appeared on ZMag

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)

Photo Credits: Maya Evans

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Prager University: Ray Bradbury’s Nightmare

Editor’s Note: As mimetic creatures, we are connected to one another not only in the present, but also across time. Being able to think historically helps us to understand how we are shaped by what we have deemed worthy of memory, while an understanding of mimetic theory helps us to look back at our history and search for the unheard voices. Dr. Tracy McKenzie’s articles provide us with a rich, complex understanding of the past that neither romanticizes nor scapegoats those who came before us. This deeper understanding can inform our present.

In this article, Dr. McKenzie begs to differ with Prager University’s philosophy that true knowledge can be obtained in “clear, 5-minute presentations.” To sacrifice complexity, different perspectives, the process of research and the hard work of deep, critical thinking for the sake of “clarity” and “brevity” is, as Ray Bradbury suggests, to trade intellectualism for entertainment. An “education” from Prager can be a scapegoating mechanism because it trivializes important issues and discourages empathy with those who hold other perspectives. Negative mimesis suggests that the anti-intellectualism Prager encourages could spread like a contagion. Tracy McKenzie, along with Ray Bradbury and Alexis de Tocqueville, cautions against such a cavalier approach to learning.

One of my  favorite sayings comes from Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America.  Reflecting on his 1831 visit to the United States, the Frenchman observed, “A false but clear and precise idea always has more power in the world than one which is true but complex.”   Tocqueville’s adage doesn’t always holds true, but it often does, which is why I regularly share it with my students.  Across the generations, Tocqueville reminds us to be wary of our fondness for simplistic answers to complicated questions.

Tocqueville’s words came to me repeatedly over the weekend, as Colonel Ty Seidule’s five-minute explanation of the causes of the Civil War went viral, attracting more than four million views in a matter of days.  (It’s now topped six million.)  In my last post I explained how Colonel Seidule effectively replaced one myth about the Civil War with another one, and there’s no good reason to cover that ground a second time.  But I do want to share a thought abut the venue in which it first appeared: the absurdly misnamed “Prager University.”

“Prager University” is the brainchild of conservative radio personality Dennis Prager.  It is not an accredited educational institution, and no one connected to it claims otherwise.  It offers “free courses for free minds”–professionally produced five-minute videos on a range of topics in economics, political science, philosophy, history, and religion.  I have nothing personal against Dennis Prager, and as a political conservative myself, I suspect that we could probably find several things to agree about.  But I’m offended by anti-intellectualism parading as a commitment to knowledge and wisdom, and that’s what I see in this online travesty.

I hesitate in sharing these strong words, because I’m aware that a number of serious scholars and public intellectuals have lent their names to Prager’s undertaking.  Perhaps they thought they were doing the public a service.  Perhaps they hoped to stimulate informed discussion and raise the level of public debate about important questions.  If so, then they were well-intentioned but misguided.

When a ruler of Egypt supposedly asked the Greek mathematician Euclid whether there was an easier way to learn mathematics, Euclid is said to have replied, “There is no royal road to geometry.”  He meant that there were no short cuts.  No Cliff’s Notes. It would take time, concentrated effort, and perseverance.  As 19th-century philosopher Charles Peirce put it, “really valuable ideas can only be had at the price of close attention.”

“Wrong!” says Dennis Prager.  When you visit “Prager University” online, you’re immediately reassured that “there are no fees, no tuition, books, homework assignments, or grueling midterms here – just clear, life-changing insights and ideas from world-renowned thinkers.”  Who could turn that down?  It’s not just that the student at P.U. can receive “life-changing insights” without forking over a pile of cash.  He can also get them without wasting valuable time reading, studying, or thinking deeply.

There are “no long, boring, can’t-keep-my-eyes-open lectures” at P.U., the web site proclaims.  “All our courses are five minutes long,” the spiel continues. “That’s right, five minutes.”  And how is such brevity possible, you ask?  It’s possible because “our faculty get right to the point.”  You’ll find “no fluff” at P.U.  And if five minutes still strains your attention span?  Not to worry.  Each life-changing insight “is supported by cutting edge, visually-compelling, entertaining images and animation.”  Since you’re likely to get tired of looking at world-renowned intellectuals, in other words (and let’s face it–most of them aren’t that photogenic), P. U. will regularly interject cartoon figures to help you concentrate.

“Just as a shot of espresso boosts your energy,” P.U. promises,

“a shot of Prager University boosts your brain. Because not only will you have more knowledge, you will have more clarity. You’ll get one other thing, a true-value added component of a Prager University education – wisdom.”

If this were only a parody.

I’m sorry, Dennis, but I’ve got to go with Euclid on this one.  Like the path to geometry, there is no royal road to wisdom, much less a five-minute video, no matter how compelling its animation.  P.U. doesn’t clarify big ideas.  It trivializes them.  Rather than teach its students how to think, it tells them what to think.

The idea of a five-minute video isn’t inescapably awful.  If each video were paired with another that offered a competing answer to the same question, together they might stimulate rather than indoctrinate.  If the “world renowned thinkers” were encouraged to treat competing interpretations seriously, or invited to suggest books or articles that develop the topic further, these videos could (best-case scenario here) be a springboard to further investigation and reflection.

But that would suggest that some questions are complicated and don’t admit of simple answers, and that flies in the face of P.U.’s whole philosophy.  Want to know whether the U. S. should have dropped atomic bombs on Japan?  P.U. will cut the fluff and give you the “clear and unambiguous” judgment of history in five minutes.  Interested in the truth about Vietnam?  Five minutes should be plenty.  Want the straight scoop about the Constitution? the Ten Commandments? capitalism? feminism? racism?  global warming? abortion?  Five minutes a pop or your money back.

In addition to Alexis de Tocqueville, I’ve also kept coming back to Ray Bradbury these past few days.  In his marvelous dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, Bradford eerily anticipated the denigration of the life of the mind that Prager University embodies.  Writing in 1953, Bradbury described a twenty-first century world in which the primary task of firemen was not to put out fires but to burn books. Intellectual had become a swear word.  Entertainment was life’s primary pursuit.  Happiness was life’s ultimate goal.  Complicated ideas got in the way.

Early in the novel, Bradbury speaks through a Fire Department captain to pinpoint the genesis of the gradual denigration of learning.  It began with the rise of mass culture, Captain Beatty relates to fireman Guy Montag, who has become curious about books.  As late as the Civil War, Beatty says, “books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere.  They could afford to be different.”  But then the population began to grow rapidly, and with it came the birth of mass culture.  “Films and radios, magazines, books leveled down to a sort of paste pudding norm, do you follow me?”

Gradually everything became “boiled down,” Beatty explains.

“Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume.  . . . Many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet . . . was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: now at last you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors.  Do you see?  Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.”

Ray Bradbury died shortly after Dennis Prager founded his “university,” and I won’t presume to say what he would have thought of it.  I don’t mind telling you what I think, however.  Following Captain Beatty, I’d say there’s more nursery than university in P.U.

Image: Dennis Prager speaking at the California Capitol Building in 2008. Copyright: Nate Mandos via Wikimedia Commons. Available via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license. Some changes made.

Dr. Robert Tracy McKenzie is the chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College. He is the author ofThe First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History ​from Intervarsity Press, along with two books pertaining to the American Civil War (published by Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press). He blogs at http://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com. 

 

Screenshot from Youtube

Dr. Seuss and the Gospel Part 5: Yertle the Turtle and the “Wrath of God”

Dr. Seuss’ book Yertle the Turtle is about a King who rules through violence, oppression, and scapegoating. But the more he builds his kingdom on the backs of his subjects, the more likely his kingdom will come tumbling down into the mud. [Video Below]

What does Yertle the Turtle have to do with the Gospel? In his book, Must There Be Scapegoats, Raymund Schwager discusses St. Paul’s statement about that the “Wrath of God” in Romans 1. The “Wrath of God” isn’t something inherent to God. In fact, wrath is a purely human phenomenon. But God’s “wrath” for Paul has nothing to do with violence. Rather,

According to Paul, God’s anger consists only in the deliverance of humankind to themselves, their desires, passions, and perverse thinking. No external violence plays any further role. God’s wrath is identical with the granting of full respect for the human action that turns against God and leads to complete perversion of personal relationships.

We see the “complete perversion of personal relationships” as Yertle builds him empire on oppression, but his kingdom soon falls. The biblical prophets gave the same message to the ancient kings – if continue to scapegoat the poor, weak, and marginalized, your kingdom will fall. The alternative is to care for those who are marginalized.

Jesus picked up that strand within the prophets and showed that the kingdom of God was based not on oppression and scapegoating, but on caring for the marginalized. Schwager states that this is the new order of human relationships. “Whereas the old social order was founded on the scapegoat mechanism, the new people distinguished themselves by the fact that they no longer needed to compete with one another for supremacy.” This new way of life frees us to live into God’s realm of love and compassion for all people, including our scapegoats.

“The uncovering of the underlying process of violence through the message of boundless love must lead inevitably to a fundamental change in power structures,” writes Schwager. Those in power may experience that change in power structure as the “Wrath of God.” But it isn’t wrath. Rather, it’s God’s loving justice that seeks to heal our relationships with “boundless love.”


For more in the Dr. Seuss and the Gospel Series, see:

Part 1: On Beyond Zebra and the Restoration of all Things

Part 2: The Lorax, the Prophets, and the iPad

Part 3: The Cat in the Hat, Jesus, and Chaos

Part 4: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

 

 

rabe

Book Feature Friday: “Desire Found Me” By André Rabe

In Desire Found Me, André Rabe does a wonderful job of communicating highly detailed information in beautifully poetic ways. René Girard’s mimetic theory has not quite yet entered the mainstream, but a book like this could go a long way in changing that. As someone who has studied mimetic theory for some time, I have to admit it was actually this book that helped coalesce many of the ideas and concepts together in easy-to-understand ways.

Rabe begins Desire Found Me by offering insight into how human beings learn and develop relationships through desire. The first four chapters of the book are an introduction to mimetic theory and how the book of Genesis should be read in light of Girard’s work. Rabe does a wonderful job explaining human behavior before shedding light on how compelling of a book Genesis is. This first section really sets up the remainder of the book.

In the second section, Rabe offers an insightful and a detailed exposé of many of the developing themes contained in the Hebrew Scriptures. He compares and contrasts the progressing Jewish faith with other cultures’ practices in the area. Rabe offers a compelling argument that the ancient Jews, at one time, were henotheists (those who worshipped one god while believing in the existence of others), engaged in human sacrifice, and how their understanding of evil progressed over time. This was not a cut and dried thing, as Rabe contends: “the human story is chaotic.” This is true about the Jewish story as well. Chaos, murder, and mayhem are prevalent throughout, but Rabe is able to offer great insight into how revelation about God throughout the Old Testament progresses toward what would become the full revelation of God in Christ Jesus.

In the third and final section, André is at his best. After setting the stage in the first two sections, Rabe delivers a wonderfully detailed description of the death and resurrection of Jesus. He offers a compelling argument for a nonviolent atonement, replacing the less-than-compelling substitutionary models. In addition, Rabe offers solid exegesis of the anti-sacrificial passages contained in Hebrews 10. His concluding chapter, “Beautiful Contrasts,” is the perfect ending to a very good read..

All in all, this is a crucial book for today’s Christianity. There is a lot going on in this book, but Rabe keeps one engaged the entire time. I recommend it to anyone who is willing to question some of the more popular, albeit medieval, doctrinal views of Western Christianity. This is a vital resource and it is my hope that more and more people discover André and Desire Found Me.

 

Donald Trump

The Donald’s “Inclusive” Racism

The central assumption of democracy — beyond the assumption of fair elections, which is disturbingly questionable — is that voters are the possessors of their own “interests,” and vote for the candidate most sympathetic to them.

But of course those interests are fair game for advertising, bombast and propaganda — and the psychology of fear.

Thus, not only are candidates capable of misrepresenting their support of people’s interests, even more insidiously, they engage baldly in manipulating them. This is a game that turns the endless presidential campaign season, especially as it is conveyed to us in the mainstream media, into little more than a mish-mash of clashing sound bites: full of sound and fury, you might say, but signifying nothing, or at least nothing much.

The two-party system, which comes to us courtesy of Big Money and is taken so seriously by the media — as seriously as any advertising campaign takes itself — is, essentially, a race to seize control over the nation’s collective reptile brain.

Let’s make America great again!

Welcome to the 2016 presidential campaign, underway well over a year ahead of time and already devolving into cartoonish absurdity, thanks to the loudmouth billionaire who leads the Republican fray.

Donald Trump, with the help of his money and his ego, is exposing the absurdity of American politics like no one else I can remember. Whoosh! Gone is the protective veil of political correctness. Let’s hear it for naked cynicism!

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

As far as I can tell, Trump is the unapologetic standard bearer of late-stage, theater-of-the-absurd American exceptionalism. He directly addresses the prerequisite for national identity: an enemy. Someone to hate. Someone to fear. This is nationalism; this is Republicanism. And Trump brings his own special twist to it: a gleeful American inclusiveness.

And not a moment too soon, here in “post-racial” America. As Rick Perlstein astutely pointed out last month, Trump’s inflammatory, anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant announcement of the start of his presidential campaign — presenting a gift-wrapped enemy to the racist that secretly lurks in so many American hearts — was almost precisely juxtaposed with the immensely symbolic lowering of the Confederate flag in South Carolina. “And, immediately, Trump shot to the top of the Republican charts — with a bullet,” Perlstein wrote.

He added: “I’ve never seen anything that lays bare the core lineaments of conservatism so neatly: There is our tribe, which is good, true, and pure; and there are those other tribes, who are existential threats to you and me (Reagan’s favorite phrase), and must be suppressed in order for good to be preserved. ‘We’ all know this, even if ‘they’ don’t allow us to say this. If anything, the lowering of the Confederate flag in South Carolina opens space for this particular new longing to air this other silent truth more freely.

“This is important: Conservatism is like bigotry whack-a-mole.”

But there’s a special brilliance to the reconfigured racism Trump is offering to the American people.

Consider this paragraph from Trump’s campaign website. When you click on “positions,” only one topic shows up: immigration reform. And it’s not just any old immigration reform, it’s IMMIGRATION REFORM THAT WILL MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.

As the website explains: “For many years, Mexico’s leaders have been taking advantage of the United States by using illegal immigration to export the crime and poverty in their own country (as well as in other Latin American countries). They have even published pamphlets on how to illegally immigrate to the United States. The costs for the United States have been extraordinary: U.S. taxpayers have been asked to pick up hundreds of billions in healthcare costs, housing costs, education costs, welfare costs, etc. . . . The effects on jobseekers have also been disastrous, and black Americans have been particularly harmed.”

There are several reptile-brain subtleties of note here. First of all, the illegal immigration flow, according to Trump, begins with the machinations of “Mexico’s leaders.” It’s not a poverty-induced bleeding of the poor across the U.S. border but a deliberate, provocative act by one nation against another: something like an invasion. The Donald is not only giving us a subgroup to hate. He’s giving us war!

Perhaps even more appallingly, Trump makes a point of saying that “black Americans have been particularly harmed” by this invasion. Thus he opens the door to Black America to join the “We Hate Mexicans” club, in effect, creating a more inclusive form of American racism — the benefits of which, of course, will be reaped by his campaign.

Perhaps what this is really about is the slow-motion collapse-into-absurdity of the American empire, as Trump makes the emotional glue of hate and fear that has held it together for two and a half centuries unbearably obvious. The question he inspires, which lurks just beyond the horizon, is what sort of political entity we can build that isn’t based on these shadow “interests.” What happens after we stop seeing ourselves as conquerors? Can we build a country that honors, and fits into, a global whole?

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

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Image: Copyright: Gage Skidmore via Flickr. Available through Creative Commons license.