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Cam Newton, the Super Bowl, and Racist Stereotypes Against a Black Quarterback

The NFL has made the Super Bowl into a week-long event, starting with “opening night” on Monday where the media are invited to ask questions to players. The event is largely playful as it “has become less about football and more about the eccentric in recent years, with costumes, props and bizarre questions filling the mass media availability session.”

But one question in particular dealt with race. This year’s Super Bowl pits one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Peyton Manning, who happens to be white, against another quarterback who could become even greater than Manning, Cam Newton, who happens to be black.

Indeed, there are racial undertones heading into the Super Bowl. Newton has become a lightning rod for criticism. He has been criticized for smiling, dancing, and even wearing a towel over his head. White people have debated whether that criticism stems from racism or from Newton’s excessive celebration.

But here’s where the underlying racism came to the fore on Super Bowl’s opening night. The question reminded me that despite any excitement for the actual game, a shadow has been cast over this year’s Super Bowl. And that is the shadow of racism in the form of white superiority. One reporter asked Newton about his legacy as a black quarterback. He responded by saying,

I don’t want to even touch on the topic of black quarterback because I think this game is bigger than black, white, or even green … I don’t think I should be labeled as just a black quarterback because there are bigger things in this sport that need to be accomplished.

That answer wasn’t good enough for another reporter, who pressed the topic of Newton being a black quarterback.

Reporter: Why don’t you want to elaborate on it? It’s a big issue.

Newton: No it’s not.

Reporter: The stereotype that a mobile black quarterback cannot throw in the pocket effectively … you don’t think …

Newton: I think we shattered that a long time ago.

Reporter: You really believe that? Why don’t you back it up and say something?

Newton: Why should I back it up?

Reporter: Because you brought up the topic and it’s still an issue.

Newton: It’s not an issue. It’s an issue for you.

And with that comment, Cam Newton held up a mirror to white America and the racism that infects us.

Now, we might think this was just a crazy reporter, but his question points to the fact that the stereotype does exist. Let’s be clear, the question is not just a stereotypes; the question is based on racism that infects sports. The idea that black quarterbacks are valuable because they are mobile (which really means athletic), not because they can throw in the pocket (which really means skilled), is part of a much larger racist narrative in sports. It’s the same narrative that claims Serena Williams is a great tennis player because she is “powerful,” but is actually “less thoughtful” and “less strategic” than her white opponents. But like Cam Newton, Serena dominates her sport because she is powerful and smart.

Newton’s response to the reporter was brilliant. After all, the racist stereotype was shattered 26 years ago! In 1990 Randall Cunningham threw for 30 touchdowns, 3,466 yards, and ran for 942 yards – which combined for an NFL record until 2006.

But racist stereotypes are hard to break. A white reporter demanding that a black quarterback answer for white stereotypes against black quarterbacks points to the power structures of racism in American culture. Black people must answer for racism? Really?

Fortunately, Newton refused to play the game. That’s because he knows it’s not his issue. It was the reporter’s issue. It’s white America’s issue.

Underlying the hostility against Newton for his smile, his dancing, his success, and even the towel over his head is a deep sense of resentment. Resentment stems from a desire for what another person has. One such desire is for a sense of superiority.

Much of white America wants to know that we are superior. We become resentful when we lose that sense of superiority to another. This dynamic plays out on the football field like this – black athletes dominate the sport. For white people to maintain a sense of superiority, we want to believe that the most important position in American sports – the quarterback – belongs to us.

So, for much of white America, when a black quarterback becomes successful, we become resentful. We start making excuses that confirm our superiority. Like the reporter, we assume Cam Newton isn’t successful because he’s actually good at being a quarterback. He’s not a “pure” quarterback like our boy Peyton Manning. He certainly can’t “pass in the pocket.” No, he’s successful because he is powerful, athletic, and aggressive!

Newton is right. That’s a false narrative that he doesn’t have to answer for. The truth is that Newton is powerful. He is skilled. He is an amazing quarterback. And any hatred or resentment against him is not his issue. He doesn’t have to answer for the racist stereotypes of white America that were shattered long ago. In fact, no answer he could give would be good enough to dismantle that stereotype.

ESPN commentator Bomani Jones stated that, “Cam can’t shatter the stereotype because every time somebody shatters the stereotype you put the damn thing back together … Cam is not responsible for shattering the stereotype. The people who put it out there, they are responsible.”

Jones is talking to white America. We are the ones who put the damn stereotype back together every time it’s shattered. That’s our issue to answer for, not Cam Newton’s issue. We are the ones responsible for shattering the racist stereotypes that infect not just football, but all of American culture.

Photo: Cam Newton at a press conference. Screenshot from YouTube.

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Four Horsemen of the Democracy

Editor’s Note: Chicago-based journalist Robert Koehler’s articles are intuitively Girardian. While he may not write specifically about mimetic theory, his articles demonstrate the contagious nature of violence, and more importantly, inspire hope in the contagious power of compassion. We are honored to feature his articles every Thursday.

It was also a shock to the system that a candidate universally known in Iowa, with deep pockets and long experience, could come close to losing to a relative unknown who was initially considered little more than a protest candidate.

Just think of it! The tiny, tightly controlled consciousness that calls itself The World’s Greatest Democracy got all rattled and discombobulated by the behavior of Iowa caucus participants this week, because a large number of them — virtually half of the participating Democrats — cast their vote for an old socialist, well outside the zone of official approval.

The above quote, from the Washington Post, lays painfully bare the scope of awareness considered allowable in the American electoral process. Oh Bernie, with his unrealistic ideas, his idealism, his anger! He was supposed to be fringe — the candidate of the unserious (non-voting) American — but instead his campaign has cut into the mainstream vein, bleeding money from it and now, OMG, actual votes. What’s going on here?

The way I see it, he’s threatening the consensus of ignorance that has congealed over the last four decades around the American political process, especially at the highest levels. Indeed, the consensus is coming apart on its own this election season, even for those who have traditionally embraced it, e.g., the “white middle class,” as conservative writer R.R. Reno notes in a recent New York Times op-ed:

“Our political history since the end of World War II has turned on the willingness of white middle-class voters to rally behind great causes in league with the wealthy and political elite: Resist Communism! Send a man to the moon! Overcome racism! Protect the environment! Today, white middle-class voters want to be reassured that they can play an active role in politics. They want someone to appeal to their sense of political self-worth, not just their interests.

“This is precisely what Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders offer.”

I think it’s bigger than that. The American public is hearing the distant rumble of civilization’s collapse — hearing it beyond the chatter of the boob-tube pundits, beyond our trivialized identity as “consumers.” With the term “sense of political self-worth,” Reno is trying to say that democracy has a deep, spiritual dimension, that politics is about life and death, that our so-called leaders have to pledge a different sort of allegiance than the one they’ve gotten used to. . . that maybe, as a society, we need to start over at some basic level.

This is what a movement is: collective momentum for change, focused around a resonating principle. All people are equal. Violence solves nothing. We must cherish, not exploit, the planet that sustains us. These, at any rate, are some of the core principles that Bernie Sanders is tapping into and animating with his campaign.

A movement is bigger than any given leader, certainly bigger than any politician, but without leadership — and, especially, without some sort of access to the political process — movements can quickly lose momentum and deflate.

This is what happened to the global antiwar movement that preceded George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. No matter that the invasion was an utter disaster from (almost) every point of view — indeed, that it set loose, you might say, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — it has been coddled politically for over a decade now and perpetuated by both a Republican and Democratic presidency. Something is deeply problematic about the democracy both Sanders and Trump are now rocking. Issues of real significance are not up for discussion, and haven’t been for a long time.

Meanwhile, the contemporary Four Horsemen are running loose: War, Poverty, Racism and Climate Change. They may have other names, but these are how they appear to me in my political nightmares. And the riders are human. They’re the ones leading us right now, behind the façade of democracy.

Confronting them — stopping them — will take a movement independent of politics as usual, but not independent of the political process itself. This, I believe and hope, is what Bernie Sanders is bringing to the 2016 presidential race: a public opening into the process now owned by the acolytes and fiscal beneficiaries of the Four Horsemen.

Consider War, a.k.a. militarism: While Sanders is roundly condemned for the cost of his “socialist” ideas, such as universal healthcare and free college tuition, the cost of perpetual war and military readiness — the cost of nukes and surveillance and global domination — never comes up in presidential debates or official political discussions of any sort. This cost manages to be both enormous and almost invisible.

Nicolas J.S. Davies, writing last fall at Huffington Post, points out that the military budget during the Obama administration has averaged $663.4 billion annually. He adds: “These figures do not include additional military-related spending by the VA, CIA, Homeland Security, Energy, Justice or State Departments, nor interest payments on past military spending, which combine to raise the true cost of U.S. militarism to about $1.3 trillion per year, or one thirteenth of the U.S. economy.”

U.S. military spending, as has often been noted, equals or surpasses the annual budgets of the next ten largest military spenders combined. Davies also makes this fascinating point in his essay:

If we compare U.S. military spending with global military spending, we can see that, as the U.S. cut its military budget by a third between 1985 and 1998, the rest of the world followed suit and global military budgets also fell by a third between 1988 and 1998. But as the U.S. spent trillions of dollars on weapons and war after 2000 . . . both allies and potential enemies again responded in kind. The 92 percent rise in the U.S. military budget by 2008 led to a 65 percent rise in global military spending by 2011.

U.S. military spending leads the way! A U.S. decision to disarm would also lead the way, but none of this is up for public discussion. Our military spending is silently necessary for the continuation of business as usual. Not only that, it’s never in danger, as, let us say, Social Security is, or any effort to relieve the hell of poverty. The money is always available, no matter the condition of the economy.

This enormous wrong requires direct confrontation by an informed and politically empowered public. Let us make sure that the 2016 presidential race is no less than this.

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.

© 2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Image: “Four Horsemen of Apocalypse” by Waiting for the Word. Available on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 license.

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Seeing Flight as a Non-violent Option: One Way to Change the Discourse about the World’s 60 Million Refugees

Editor’s Note: Kathy Kelly and her colleagues are peacemakers who travel to some of the world’s deadliest or most impoverished places. Kathy herself has been to prison numerous times for nonviolently resisting the United States Empire. While mimetic theory may not be mentioned explicitly in the articles that Kathy Kelly submits on behalf of herself and her friends, the articles she shares with the Raven Foundation give voice to the victims of the policies of the United States and her allies. Amplifying the voices of victims, exposing our entanglement with sacrificial systems of violence, and working for nonviolent resolution to conflict and reconciliation among all parties are among our primary goals at Raven, and we are honored to have Kathy and her colleagues share their stories of peacemaking and nonviolent advocacy for justice on our site.

This article, originally published by originally published by politicalviolenceataglance ( Political Violence at a Glance) on January 26, 2016, was written by By Erica Chenoweth and Hakim Young for Denver Dialogues.

In Brussels, more than 1,200 people protest against Europe’s unwillingness to do more about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, April 23rd, 2015. By Amnesty International.

Today, one in every 122 humans living on the planet is a refugee, an internally displaced person, or an asylum-seeker. In 2014, conflict and persecution forced a staggering 42,500 persons per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere, resulting in 59.5 million total refugees worldwide. According to the UN refugee agency’s 2014 Global Trends report (tellingly entitled World at War), developing countries hosted 86% of these refugees. Developed countries,  such as the U.S. and those in Europe, host only 14% of the world’s total share of refugees.

Yet public sentiment in the West has been tough on refugees lately. Resurgent populist and nationalist leaders routinely play to public anxieties about refugees as “lazy opportunists,” “burdens,” “criminals,” or “terrorists” in response to today’s refugee crisis. Mainstream parties aren’t immune to this rhetoric either, with politicians of all stripes calling for increased border controls, detention centers, and the temporary suspension of visa and asylum applications.

Importantly, none of these panicky characterizations of refugees is born out by systematic evidence.

Are Refugees Economic Opportunists?

The most reliable empirical studies of refugee movements suggest that the primary cause of flight is violence—not economic opportunity. Mainly, refugees are fleeing war in hopes of landing in a less violent situation. In conflicts where the government actively targets civilians in the context of genocide or politicide, most people choose to leave the country rather than seek out safe havens internally. Surveys bear out this reality in today’s crisis. In Syria, one of the world’s major producers of refugees in the last five years, survey results suggest that most civilians are fleeing because the country has simply become too dangerous or that government forces took over their towns, placing most of the blame on the horrific politicidal violence of Assad’s regime. (Only 13% say they fled because rebels took over their towns, suggesting that ISIS’s violence is not nearly as much a source of flight as some have suggested).

And refugees rarely choose their destinations based on economic opportunity; instead, 90% of refugees go to a country with a contiguous border (thus explaining the concentration of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq). Those that do not stay in a neighboring country tend to flee to countries where they have existing social ties. Given that they are typically fleeing for their lives, the data suggest that most refugees think about economic opportunity as an afterthought rather than as a motivation for flight. That said, when they arrive at their destinations, refugees tend to be exceedingly industrious, with cross-national studies suggesting that they are rarely burdensome for national economies.

In today’s crisis, “Many of the people arriving by sea in southern Europe, particularly in Greece, come from countries affected by violence and conflict, such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; they are in need of international protection and they are often physically exhausted and psychologically traumatized, ” states World at War.

Who’s Afraid of the “Big Bad Refugee”?

In terms of security threats, refugees are far less likely to commit crimes than natural-born citizens. In fact, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Jason Riley evaluates data on the link between immigration and crime in the United States and calls the correlation a “myth.” Even in Germany, which has absorbed the highest number of refugees since 2011, crime rates by refugees have not increased. Violent attacks on refugees, on the other hand, have doubled. This suggests that refugees do not post a problem for security; instead, they require protection against violent threats themselves. Moreover, refugees (or those who claim to be refugees) are highly unlikely to plan terror attacks. And given that at least 51% of current refugees are children, like Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who famously drowned in the Mediterranean sea last summer, it is probably premature to preordain them as fanatics, troublemakers, or social rejects.

Moreover, refugee-vetting processes are exceedingly stringent in many countries—with the U.S. having among the most stringent refugee policies in the world—thereby precluding many of the adverse outcomes feared by critics of status quo refugee policies. Although such processes do not guarantee that all potential threats are excluded, they mitigate the risk considerably, as demonstrated by the paucity of violent crimes and terror attacks committed by refugees in the past thirty years.

A Broken System or A Broken Narrative?

Speaking about the current refugee crisis in Europe, Jan Egeland, the former UN Humanitarian Envoy who now heads the Norwegian Refugee Council, said, “The system is totally broken…We cannot continue this way.” But the system probably won’t mend as long as broken narratives dominate the discourse. What if we introduced a fresh discourse, which dispels the myths about refugees and equips the public to contest existing discourse with a more compassionate narrative about the way one becomes a refugee in the first place?

Consider the choice to flee instead of stay and fight or stay and die. Many of the 59.5 million refugees left in the crossfires between states and other armed actors—such as the Syrian government’s politicide and violence among a wide variety of rebel groups operating within Syria; Syria, Russia, Iraq, Iran, and NATO’s war against ISIS; Afghanistan and Pakistan’s wars against the Taliban; the on-going U.S. campaign against Al Qaeda; Turkey’s wars against Kurdish militias; and a multitude of other violent contexts around the world.

Given the choice between staying and fighting, staying and dying, or fleeing and surviving, today’s refugees fled—meaning that, by definition, they actively and purposefully chose a non-violent option in the context of mass violence raging all around them.

In other words, today’s global landscape of 59.5 million refugees is mainly a collection of people who have chosen the only available non-violent pathway out of their conflict environments. In many respects, today’s 60 million refugees have said no to violence, no to victimization, and no to helplessness at the same time. The decision to flee to strange and (often hostile) foreign lands as a refugee is not a light one. It involves taking significant risks, including the risk of death. For example, the UNHCR estimated that 3,735 refugees were dead or missing at sea while seeking refuge in Europe in 2015. Contrary to contemporary discourse, being a refugee ought to be synonymous with non-violence, courage, and agency.

Of course, an individual’s non-violent choice at one time does not necessarily predetermine that individual’s non-violent choice at a later juncture. And like many large mass assemblages, it is inevitable that a handful of people will cynically exploit the global movement of refugees to pursue their own criminal, political, social, or ideological aims on the fringes—either by concealing themselves in the masses to cross borders to commit violent acts abroad, by taking advantage of the political polarization of migration politics to promote their own agendas, or by extorting these people for their own criminal purposes. Among any population this size, there will be criminal activity here and there, refugee or not.

But in today’s crisis, it will be essential for people of good faith everywhere to resist the urge to ascribe nefarious motivations to the millions of people seeking haven in their countries, because of the violent or criminal actions of a few. The latter group does not represent the general statistics on refugees identified above, nor do they negate the fact that refugees are generally people who, in the context of truly dislocating violence, made a life-altering, non-violent choice to act for themselves in a way that cast them and their families into uncertain futures. Once they arrive, on average the threat of violence against the refugee is much greater than the threat of violence by the refugee. Shunning them, detaining them as if they were criminals, or deporting them to war-torn environments sends a message that non-violent choices are punished—and that submitting to victimization or turning to violence are the only choices left. This is a situation that calls for policies that embody compassion, respect, protection, and welcome—not fear, dehumanization, exclusion, or revulsion.

Seeing flight as a non-violent option will better equip the informed public to contest exclusionary rhetoric and policies, elevate a new discourse that empowers more moderate politicians, and widen the range of policy options available to respond to the current crisis.

Hakim Young (Dr. Teck Young, Wee) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 10 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war.

 

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Iowa, Ted Cruz, and the Evangelical Identity Crisis

Ted Cruz ended last night with a yuuuuge victory over Donald Trump in Iowa. (Sorry, had to do it!) Religion played a big role in Cruz’s victory. The New York Times reports that Cruz’s victory was “powered by a surge of support from evangelical Christians.”

For his part, Cruz reaffirmed his connection with his evangelical supporters by invoking divine favor upon his victory. “God bless the great state of Iowa! Let me first say, to God be the glory.”

But I can’t help but feel uneasy about the God proclaimed by Cruz and his evangelical supporters. That’s because, when it comes to their evangelical faith, they have an identity crisis.

The word “evangelical” has a specific meaning and history. It comes from the Greek word evangelion, which means “good news.”

Evangelical has become a distinctively Christian term, but during the first century it was used predominantly by the Roman Empire. In fact, when Caesar sent his armies off to conquer new land in the name of Roman peace, Roman soldiers would announce military strength as the “Gospel according to Caesar.” Rome waged peace through violence. In his book Jesus and Empire, Richard Horsley states that,

In the Roman world, the “gospel” was the good news of Caesar’s having established peace and security for the world. Caesar was the “savior” who had brought “salvation” to the whole world. The peoples of the empire were therefore to have “faith” (pistis/fides) in their “lord” the emperor. Moreover, Caesar the lord and savior was to be honored and celebrate by the “assemblies” (ekklesiai) of cities such as Philippi, Corinth, and Ephesus.

Now, a good Bible believing evangelical will instantly recognize the politically subversive language of the New Testament. In the face of Roman military that brought the good news of “peace” by the sword, the early Christians delivered an alternative message of good news that claimed “those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Make no mistake, their evangelical message was political. They sought to reorder the world, not through Caesar’s military strength, but through Christ’s nonviolent love.

The early Christians subverted Roman violence through their use of language and their actions. They claimed that the good news was found not in Caesar, but in Christ. Christ, not Caesar, was the “savior” who brought “salvation” to the world. People were to have “faith” in him as their “lord.” Jesus was to be honored and celebrates at assemblies, which would become known as churches.

But for the early Christians, words weren’t enough. They took Jesus’ command to follow him seriously. Jesus didn’t lift the sword to defend himself against the violence that killed him, and neither did his disciples lift their swords. Rather, they continued to challenge the Roman Empire’s “good news” of achieving peace through violence. The disciples claimed that true peace could only be achieved by following the nonviolent way of Jesus, whose evangelical message commanded that his follower love everyone, included their enemies, including those who sought to persecute them. In following Jesus their Lord, the disciples were murdered, just like their Lord and Savior.

Jump ahead about 2,000 years to last night in Iowa and we discover that Ted Cruz and his evangelical supporters have an identity crisis. They claim that Jesus is their Lord with words, but not in action. Cruz promises to “carpet bomb” America’s enemies. He promises to beef up the American military, a military that spends roughly the same amount as “the next nine largest military budgets around the world, combined.” The U.S. military is already the strongest military that the world has ever seen.

René Girard wrote in his apocalyptic book Battling to the End that Christians must make a decision about violence because Christ has left us with a choice, “either believe in violence, or not; Christianity is non-belief.”

Christianity is non-belief in violence because it believes in the one true God who on the cross responded to violence not with more violence, but with nonviolent love and forgiveness.

“To God be the glory,” a victorious Cruz proclaimed to a cheering crowd in Iowa. But I can’t help but wonder – what God is Ted Cruz and his evangelical supporters talking about? Because “Hey! Good News! We just carpet bombed the hell out of you,” sounds a lot more like the gods of ancient Rome than the God of Jesus Christ.

As long as evangelicals proclaim faith in Jesus as their Lord, but continue to believe in violence as the way to peace and security for the United States, they will suffer from an identity crisis. And rightfully so, because that combination is not the Good News.
Photo: Ted Cruz delivering his victory speech after the Iowa caucus. (Screenshot from YouTube, ABC News)

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Nonviolent Resistance in the South Hebron Hills

Editor’s Note: This article, written by Cassandra Dixon, was submitted via contributing Raven author Kathy Kelly.

The worst worries of a child’s school day should be homework. Maybe a lost book, or an argument with a friend. No child’s walk to school should routinely involve armed soldiers and fear of sometimes being chased and assaulted by angry adults. But for the Palestinian children who live with their families in the small rural villages that make up the South Hebron Hills, this is how the school day begins. Illegal settlements and outposts isolate and separate their villages and soldiers are a constant in their lives.

Once, the trip from the tiny hamlet of Tuba to the school in the village of Tuwani was a calm and beautiful walk along a quiet road connecting the two villages. During the l980s Israeli settlers built a settlement on privately owned Palestinian land, which had been used to graze sheep and goats. Following construction of the settlement, the settlers established an illegal outpost. Now, industrial chicken barns sit astride the road that once served children walking to school, farmers taking livestock to town, and families traveling to Tuwani, or the larger town of Yatta for health care, shopping, and higher education.

Between the settlement and the outpost, what remains of the road is closed to Palestinians. With one exception, – children walk behind an Israeli military jeep to reach their school. Their parents are not allowed to walk with them.

The twenty or so children who make this trip start their school day in an unprotected field, anxiously waiting for the Israeli soldiers who will oversee their walk to school. Villagers had built shelters in which the children could await the soldiers, but Israeli authorities have dismantled every shelter. If it is raining, the children get soaked. Some days the soldiers are the same soldiers who chased or arrested shepherds the day before – shepherds who may be the brothers or fathers of these children.  Some days the soldiers are late, leaving the group of children waiting, vulnerable to attack and within easy reach of the outpost.  Some days the military escort does not arrive at all, and the children make the trip to school with international volunteers along a longer path, which also lies alongside the settlement.

About 1,000 people live in the neighboring villages, an estimated half of whom are children. Nevertheless, because the villages lie inside of Israeli Firing Zone 918, the military uses the land for military training.

Amazingly, despite all of this, it is almost unheard of for children to miss a day of school. Parents are determined that their children will be educated. When I began volunteering in Tuwani, the school reached only to third grade. Now thanks to the community’s determination to provide their children with education, students can complete high school in the village, and although facing a continued threat of demolition by Israeli military bulldozers, villagers have built and staffed primary schools for children who live in 8 nearby villages.

This is what nonviolent resistance to military occupation looks like.

I’m grateful that I can spend a portion of this year in Palestine. For many years children in these villages have taught me about nonviolence. Sometimes, the presence of international human rights workers holding cameras has some small positive effect on their days.

U.S. people bear some responsibility for the interruption of their childhoods. The U. S. subsidizes about 25% of Israel’s military budget, at a cost to U.S. taxpayers conservatively estimated at $3.1 billion a year.

I’m working with the Italian organization Operation Dove.

They support Palestinians who resist the Israeli occupation, standing with families in their commitment to remain on their land.  This includes accompanying school children and farm families as they walk to school, graze their animals and tend their crops. Operation Dove helps document the harassment, intimidation, arrests, detentions, home demolitions, checkpoints, road closures, military training exercises, and settler attacks. Villagers also report to Operation Dove when they endure theft and when their crops and property are destroyed.

Protective presence provided by activists is not a large-scale solution to the violence that intrudes into childrens’ lives in Palestine. But many years of visits with these families persuades me that it’s important and necessary to support and participate in the villagers’ nonviolent efforts. Families that confront militarism and occupation help us move beyond our addiction to militarism and violence.

The children I met early on are grown now. Some have gone on to college, and some have families of their own. These young people have every reason to be angry. Their childhoods included fear, intimidation, demolitions, arrests and isolation. But they have also grown up witnessing their community’s steadfast commitment to nonviolently resist injustice. Their families have supported them well, including them in the community’s struggle for dignity. Against  all odds they are growing up with humor and tenacity instead of anger and bitterness.  They are living proof to the rest of us that love wins.

To read more about Operation Dove’s work in the South Hebron Hills, visit http://www.operazionecolomba.it/togetherattuwani

Cassandra Dixon lives at Mary House of Hospitality, a small catholic worker house which offers hospitality to families visiting the federal prison at Oxford, WI, and works as a carpenter in Madison.

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Photo Credit:  Cassandra Dixon

Caption:  This little girl was injured by two masked settlers who attacked her with stones as she gathered herbs with a friend on the path between Tuba and Tuwani. She and her siblings make the same trip on foot each school day. She is an amazingly smart and tough young girl – insistent that the many odd volunteers that pass through her life should learn her name and visit her family’s home. She needed four stitches in a head wound after the attack.

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Hillary Clinton’s Emails, Donald Trump, and Moving through Scandal

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay claims that the Justice Department is preparing to file charges against Hillary Clinton for mishandling of classified information in her emails. Delay said in an interview, “I have friends who are in the FBI and they tell me they’re ready to indict.”

I don’t know the veracity of Delay’s statement. Nothing would surprise me during this political season. His statement could be a complete fabrication made to cause more drama in a presidential election season already filled with enough drama, or an indictment could happen tomorrow.

Clinton’s email scandal isn’t going away any time soon because Republicans will keep bringing it up. Delay guaranteed as much, claiming that if the attorney general doesn’t move forward with an indictment, she will be put on trial. “One way or another, either she’s going to be indicted and that process begins, or we try her in the public eye with her campaign. One way or another, she’s going to have to face these charges.”

I don’t want to scapegoat Republicans for bringing up the scandal. Democrats have called for similar indictments of their Republican counterparts. Many have insisted that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and former CIA directors be charged with crimes against humanity. Hillary may have her email problems, but the Bush/Cheney administration is plagued by torture reports.

Whether it’s emails or war crimes, both sides are scandalized by the other. What we often fail to see, however, is that scandals have a paradoxical nature to them. We may despise or condemn those who we think cause scandals, like committing war crimes or being sloppy with allegedly classified information, but deep inside we are also attracted to them.

René Girard has a helpful way of explaining the term scandal. In his book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, Girard states that the more a scandal “repels us, the more it attracts us.”

In other words, the more we hate our political rivals, the more we are attracted to them. What attracts us to them? They have the things that we want – success, power, and prestige. The very things we want is what they have, and because they have the things that we want, they seek to prevent us from taking those things away from them.

Republicans are both repelled and attracted to Hillary Clinton because she has the successful political career that they want. Scandal is driven by this form of rivalry and resentment. Underneath the obsession with Clinton’s email is a resentful feeling of superiority – that where she failed, we could have succeeded. As Jeremiah Alberg points out, “… what drives scandal is the secret thought, ‘I could have done it better.’”

And so we find ourselves trying to outdo our rivals, competing for the same prize. We tend to deny that we have anything in common with our enemies, but underneath our denial, our mutual desire for power and prestige makes us the same. But we aren’t just the same in our desires, we also become the same in our actions.

That Democrats and Republicans seek to indict one another is a good example of becoming similar in our actions, but the scandal that is Donald Trump is another good example. Trump has scandalized not just the United States, but many throughout the world. In response to Trump’s suggestion that we ban all Muslims from the United States, Great Britain responded with perfect imitation as politicians suggested that they should place a ban on Trump. They were repelled by Trump, something they openly admitted, but as loud as they denounced his policy suggestions, they could not see that, in fact, they were mirroring the very thing they condemned. In fact, they were so attracted to Trump that they perfectly imitated him in the desire to banish people from their country.

There’s an ancient proverb that says, “Like a dog returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.” That’s a good description of scandals. It’s inevitable that we will return to scandals like a dog returns to its vomit. Of course, we don’t just return to political scandals, but we return to scandals with family members, co-workers, neighbors, and friends. When we become scandalized, we drive a wedge between ourselves and others by refusing to admit how alike we are. Scandals may be inevitable, but the good news is that we can learn to manage them in three healthy ways:

First, when scandals come your way, don’t deny them. Don’t deny that you are repelled and attracted to the one who is causing scandal. Try not to blame them. Instead, ask yourself why you are repelled and attracted to this person. What is it about them that you want to have or to be? What do you admire about him or her?

Second, remind yourself that it’s okay to be repelled and attracted by your scandalous rival. Don’t beat yourself up for falling into a scandal. It’s okay. In fact, it’s human.

Third, find the good in your rival. Find ways to verbally affirm the good things that they are doing and seek to work together to accomplish those good things. Working with them builds a trustful rapport and the possibility for working together on the good things that you want to accomplish, too. Even more important, since we are more like our rival than we generally like to admit, finding the good in them means that we will also find the good in ourselves.

Jesus said that, “It is impossible that scandals should not come.” So, expect scandals to come. Instead of denying them or getting stuck in them, by following these three steps we can move through them. As we move through scandals, we find ourselves less scandalized, more forgiving of ourselves and others, and better able to work with others for a better future.

*Photo: Flicker, Marc Nozell, Hillary Clinton in Hampton, NH, Creative Commons License, some changes made.

1024px-Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._and_Lyndon_Johnson_2

Presidential Politics And The American Soul

When I want to believe that America is a democracy — indeed, to feel so deeply this is so that my soul trembles — I turn to Martin Luther King, who gave his life for it.

He cried out for something so much more than a process: a game of winners and losers. He reached for humanity’s deepest yearning, for the connectedness of all people, for the transcendence of hatred and the demonization of “the other.” He spoke — half a century ago — the words that those in power couldn’t bear to hear, because his truths cut too deep and disrupted too much business as usual.

But what else is a democracy than that?

“Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. . . .”

Uh oh. This ain’t politics as usual. This is King standing in the oval office, staring directly into the eyes of LBJ, declaring that civil rights legislation isn’t a political favor but merely the beginning of a nation’s moral atonement.

“If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam.”

These words were part of the stunning address King delivered — on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before his assassination — at Riverside Church in New York City. To read these words today, in the context of the 2016 presidential race and the mainstream media’s inevitable focus on stats and trivia rather than big issues, is to realize how utterly relevant this man and the movement he helped awaken remain today. To read King’s words in 2016 is to rip this man out of a sentimentalized sainthood and to bring him back to living relevance.

What he had to say to the political leaders of the time must not be reduced to a few phrases carved in granite; they must be heard anew, in all their disturbing fullness. I say this not because his “day” recently passed and I’m somewhat tardily “remembering” him, but because the 2016 presidential race needs King’s presence — his uncompromised wisdom — standing tough against the media and political status quo that is now trying desperately to mute the unapproved voices spurting forth in this campaign and pulling the electorate’s attention away from the approved, mainstream candidates they’re supposed to choose between.

Paul Krugman, for instance, representing the liberal wing of the status quo, came out for compromise and Hillary the other day, dismissing Bernie Sanders not out of a specific disagreement with any of his positions but because of a contempt for the “contingent of idealistic voters eager to believe that a sufficiently high-minded leader can conjure up the better angels of America’s nature and persuade the broad public to support a radical overhaul of our institutions.”

This is how to make sure that a self-proclaimed democracy is really a faux-democracy, flawed, perhaps, but plugging along in the right direction and basically healthy, with its biggest threat not unrestrained militarism or unregulated corporate capitalism but . . . oh, universal health care. See, that’s radical.

I have yet to hear the status-quo media call the poisoning of the Flint, Mich., water supply, or the daily police shootings of young men or women of color — or the multi-trillion-dollar failure known as the war on terror — “radical,” but a candidate who wants to give a serious push for policies of social betterment (and calls himself a socialist) is radical. He’s purveying false hope, disrespecting the sacred act of political compromise and dangerously trying to establish, or re-establish, the precedent that the public should get what it needs, even if those needs override the quietly laid plans of the nation’s military-industrial consensus.

Indeed, that consensus is never asked to compromise or, good God, subjected to public scrutiny — except, of course, by radicals.

This brings me back to King’s Riverside Church speech, which had the audacity to be visionary, to challenge the United States at its deepest levels of being — which is something that ought to happen during a presidential race. King looked directly at the hell we were inflicting on Vietnam and called not simply for an end to that war but an examination of the national soul.

“This,” he said, “I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

The war King was crying out against ended eight years after that 1967 speech, but the poison did not disappear from the country’s soul. There was no atonement, no real change, only, ultimately, a retrenching and regrouping of the military-industrial consensus. Thus, King’s words remain as urgent and prescient today as when he first uttered them.

“The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. . . .

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.”

Would that Bernie Sanders spoke with such radicalism — or drew such a clear connection between social deprivation and militarism.

Beyond that, however, I must ask, in light of the words of Martin Luther King, what kind of democracy is too terrified, and too cowardly, to examine its own soul and reach toward values that are bigger than its short-term interests? And why do we not have a media rooted in these values and committed to holding politicians accountable to them?

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.

© 2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Image: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon Johnson. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto. Available via Wikimedia. Public Domain.

Raven-YourVoice-9

True Nature

Editor’s Note: This article was written by guest author Dave Hernandez.

Living from a sense of identity means I can discover and live out the specifics of my life without feeling that I am in competition with anybody else. I celebrate when others find their place in the world alongside me.
This sense of identity is found through the self-emptying way of Christ (which is the way of the Trinity) and is then sustained as self-emptying becomes our lifestyle.

Remember, though: self-emptying also means that we must lend ourselves to an emptying of garbage and toxic thoughts we’ve believed about ourselves for a long time. We must confront and dismantle the lies, fear and shame that the self-elevating way of the Adamic Nature has taught us. It’s a long process of healing. There’s a lot of stripping away: it’s like peeling away the layers of an onion. Not only does it make one cry, but it also seems to never end!

Be encouraged, though! You don’t have to peel off every layer to begin to enjoy doing life well. You begin to recover your true nature early on in the process. The more peeling away of the old ‘self-elevating’ ways one experiences, the more of the ‘self-emptying Christ-like’ nature one regains.

Here are some of the things I’ve discovered about our true nature, things that I am slowly recovering as I pursue my authentic self in Christ.

Paul writes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul is pointing out to the church of Galatia the elements that constitute their authentic nature: elements (or fruit) discovered and evidenced as the Spirit teaches us all about who we really are. Let me unpack them a little.

Love! 

I won’t say much about Love, not because it is irrelevant. Au contraire; it is such an important part of our true nature that one small paragraph will not suffice. I’ll simply say: Love is the nature of God. We are created in God’s image. We have been wired to love and be loved. It’s at the core of our true nature. We would all agree to that…

Joy! 

Joy comes from the awareness of our God-given, Christ-modeled identity. We are children of God. When I live in the awareness of this grace, joy naturally permeates my being. Guilt and condemnation are identity thieves designed to rob me of my joy. As I express my genuine character I display joy. I find that gladness increases as I discover how to live and protect the sense of who “I AM” in Christ!

Peace! 

I am designed to live in Shalom – Jesus is the Prince of Peace! Jesus said that the Shabbat was made for man: it means that my true nature is “productivity from a place of rest”. If I begin to strive, stress and show anxiety, I am living outside of my authentic self. This is useful to know. As soon as my inner peace – as well as my joy – is violated it’s because identity thieves are pressuring me, from within or without, to step out of the Christ-like identity into the old self-elevating Adamic pseudo-me! I won’t give in! If the pressure is internal, I will seek its source and ask for healing. If it’s external, I identify its origin and establish appropriate boundaries.

Patience!

Patience is, in my experience, and in the context of this post relating to identity, the outcome of knowing who I am. Why? Because I don’t need to prove who I am to anybody. In that knowledge, I don’t succumb to the pressures to demonstrate, coerce, force or manipulate desired outcomes – which, in my opinion, are at the heart of impatience.

Kindness, Goodness and Gentleness! 

And let me add Generosity… They are all part of my original nature. I know that because when I demonstrate these ‘attributes’ a sense of deep joy and satisfaction fill my heart. Jesus says so himself: “there’s more joy to give than to receive!” It’s true that identity thieves have robbed me of this capacity in many ways. Past hurts caused me to shut off the river of kindness. I wasn’t equipped to protect myself then so I closed myself down. Rediscovering my ability to be genuinely kind, gentle and generous is liberating. I must admit, though, showing these traits to certain people makes me feel awkward, as if I’m disclosing something I don’t want them to see – I feel a little vulnerable. The truth is, acting in stinginess and withholding my kindness is a sign I’ve lost sight of my authentic self! Sometimes I need to do some deep digging to unclog these wells.

Self-Control! 

The original word in the Greek means, “true mastery from within!” I am learning this ‘mastery’ and I’m excited about it. I am finding how my emotions are great allies but bad masters. Emotions speak to me and reveal to me internal and external pressures. Emotions are an integral part of our original make-up. Unfortunately, we’ve given them the power, through fear mainly, to control our actions, decisions, attitudes and behaviours. I find that as I recover the original purpose of emotions, that is, to warn me of what’s happening around me; to increase my awareness of what’s transpiring in my internal world and the world around me; I can master my reactions. This awareness is embedded in my true nature.

I will be honest with you. Do I succumb to the temptations and pressures of self-elevation? Sometimes! Am I living 100% according to my authentic nature and self? Not yet! Are there layers that still need peeling away? Obviously! Is living this way worth it? Absolutely!

Dave HernandezDave Hernandez is an author, speaker and blogger. He has been a student, preacher and teacher of the Bible for 30 years. Dave is married to Laurence and has two sons. He is a lover of all cultural expressions.

 This article first appeared on Daves personal blog You can access the blog via: http://www.iamsonofgod.net/blog.html and http://iamsonofgod.blogspot.com/

Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.” Articles published do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the staff at the Raven Foundation, but are selected primarily because of the way they enhance the conversation around mimetic theory.

 

 

Jareth

“You Have No Power Over Me”: When David Bowie Was Satan (A Tribute Of Sorts)

Introduction

Oh you’ve turned my world, you precious thing…

These haunting words reverberated through my mind upon learning, two weeks ago, of David Bowie’s death. A great number of people feel his loss in the world of music, but I didn’t know him best as a musician. I knew him as Jareth, the compelling, charismatic Goblin King from the 80s cult classic, Labyrinth.

I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me as the loss of my favorite childhood villain began to sink in. And then I wondered if it might be possible to write a mimetic analysis of Labyrinth in honor of David Bowie. Admittedly, when the thought occurred, I had not yet pondered any sort of in-depth analysis. I was simply looking forward to my “research” (that is, watching the movie and singing and dancing along to all of the songs.)

Yet even before my research began, as I started to contemplate the story and the characters, I had to wonder if filmmaker Jim Henson was a closet Girardian himself! Labyrinth is ripe for mimetic analysis, beginning with a scapegoating sacrifice and culminating in a reorientation of desire. Between these extremes is the labyrinth itself – an arduous, winding physical and spiritual journey during which circumstances, priorities, and values are subconsciously reevaluated and new meaning is discovered.

And it has only been through the lens of mimetic theory that I have come to fully understand and appreciate the magnitude of David Bowie’s character. He is not merely a magnetic, enigmatic and striking villain; he is Satan himself! True, mimetic theory does not accede to a personal view of “the satan.” But if the principal of accusation, deceit, and twisted desire had a face, it would be Jareth’s. It feels a little odd to “honor” someone by naming him as the embodiment of all evil. David Bowie, after all, was not the devil… but he played one wickedly well.

Sacrifice and the World of the Satan

Labyrinth begins with a sacrifice. Our heroine, Sarah, is in the midst of a personal crisis, augmented, no doubt, by teenage hormones, but genuine. After the opening scene foreshadowing her epic showdown with the Goblin King, we can imply from visual clues that her mother has died. Perhaps this has kept her in a semi-fantasy state of mind. Her room is filled with stuffed animals, the books on her desk are classic children’s fantasies, and she seems to prefer to escape to a world of make-believe.

Were she merely role-playing, there may not be much cause for concern, but Sarah soon proves herself not merely childlike, but, to a degree, childish. Upon discovering that one of her stuffed animals has been used to comfort her little brother, Toby, she storms into the infant’s room screaming, “I hate you! I hate you!” Clearly, the child is innocent. But Sarah scapegoats the poor baby for far more than being caught with her toy. This child is a sign that her father, grieved though he may be from the loss of Sarah’s mother, is moving forward in his life. He has remarried, and the new baby has cemented a familial bond that Sarah resists. She resents her stepmother, resents her half-brother, and seems to wish to revert to an earlier time when she was an only child, before her mother’s death. She longs for love, perhaps unable to see the love she already possesses. Little of this is consciously acknowledged, however, and on first viewing, Sarah seems only concerned about her loss of freedom as she must babysit a child while her parents go out. Hyperbolically, Sarah fancies herself a modern Cinderella and cries out for rescue. Though she exaggerates, there is real pain behind her melodramatic façade. All the same, she clearly scapegoats her brother Toby, and in the end, sacrifices him, if accidentally, to the Goblin King by wishing him away. “I wish the goblins would come and take you away,” she says to her screaming brother. “Right now.”

An instant later, Toby is gone, and the Goblin King arrives in a flash of evil glory. When Sarah begs for her brother back, he patronizes her, then bribes her with her “dreams,” before whisking her away to his underground world where his castle beyond the Goblin City lies at the end of a vast, foreboding labyrinth. Sarah has 13 hours in which to solve the labyrinth before her baby brother becomes a goblin forever.

Simultaneously condescending and tempting, manipulative, deceitful, and magnetically attractive, Jareth indeed embodies a very particular form of evil: the satanic principal. He feeds off of scapegoating sacrifice, as seen by his desire for Toby. Yet his wickedness is disguised by a false benevolence. He is Sarah’s dream and her nightmare, offering to liberate her a life she cannot tolerate by relieving her of her responsibility for her brother, yet capturing her in a lie. Because the lines between fantasy and reality are so blurred in Labyrinth, it is hard to say definitively when he began to manipulate Sarah, whether or not their worlds collided before he stole Toby. But I imagine him whispering through the pages of her storybook (the story she acts out in the beginning and must live out in the end), compelling her to believe that he loves her and wants to rescue her from the bane of her existence, whom he helps her identify as Toby. If only Toby were taken away, he urges, all her problems would be solved.

That is, of course, exactly the way scapegoating works. People come to believe that their problems will be solved if they could only get rid of someone. The satanic principal is the principal of accusation and blame, the lie that a person or a community can only experience peace, success, fortune or joy at the expense of someone else. It has manifested in all kinds of violence, from expulsion to murder to oppression to war. The human propensity to project blame onto another and deflect one’s own responsibility is so deeply embedded within our psyche that there is no need for a “personal” satan. In fact, to accuse someone of being the embodiment of Satan is to employ the satanic principal one’s self.

Yet in this fantasy, Jareth, the Goblin King, is the demand for sacrifice come to life, the embodiment of Satan. He clearly feeds off of receiving those who have been thrown away, cast out by society, as Sarah has cast out Toby. He stops at nothing to ensure that Sarah does not reach her brother. This includes attempts at physical harm as well as psychological manipulation. He strives to reorient her desires toward himself and away from her sisterly love (which, hidden under a mess of trauma, angst, and deception, surfaces like a nearly-drowned victim gasping for air as soon as the fantasy to rid herself of Toby becomes a reality). The twisting of desire away from harmonious connection with others toward self-fulfillment at another’s expense is yet another manifestation of the satanic principal, which builds identity over and against another. Jareth seeks to deceive Sarah into loving him at the expense of her brother. But real love calls instead for mercy, not sacrifice.

Love Robs the Devil of Its Power

In spite of all of his manipulation, in spite of attempts to impede Sarah with obstacles, disorient her and undo all of her progress, or trap her in a false paradise of her dreams, Jareth cannot hinder Sarah, who is propelled forward by love. It is not only the love of her brother that motivates her. Along her journey, Sarah encounters three creatures who are clearly outcasts. Hoggle is a dwarf with no friends who ostensibly works for Jareth, though only out of fear, not loyalty. Ludo is a beast – intimidating on the surface but with a heart of gold – being tortured in captivity when Sarah takes the risk of rescuing him. And Sir Didymus is a talking raccoon who lives on the shores of the Bog of Eternal Stench, clearly beyond the margins of any “decent” society. Sarah befriends them all. In a world of outcasts under the power of the devil, Sarah manages to find and give love. No wonder she “turned [Jareth’s] world.”

One must wonder if Jareth finds the befriending of outcasts as intolerable as the thought of rescuing, or unsacrificing, Toby. If Jareth’s power lies in deceiving others into believing in the need for sacrifice, dividing creatures against each other, or building a kingdom out of controlling the rejected, then it seems that this is the case. In particular, Sarah’s friendship with Hoggle infuriates Jareth. In his threatening, manipulative fashion, Jareth seeks to breed self-contempt in Hoggle to keep him from believing he could ever be valued by anyone. “You don’t think a young girl could ever like a repulsive little scab like you, do you?” he asks. One of the devil’s tricks is convincing the victim of his or her own guilt or insignificance. For a long time, such manipulation has worked to intimidate Hoggle, but Sarah’s friendship empowers him. Hoggle’s character arc is in many ways the most compelling of the entire movie, but that is beyond the scope of this essay. For now it is simply worth reflecting on how his relationship with Jareth brings to light the ways in which blame and accusation can deceive people into the lie of self-worthlessness, making it that much easier to harm others or acquiesce to harm of one’s self. Jareth makes Hoggle feel worthless and compels selfishness. Yet Sarah helps Hoggle find his sense of worth, and thus enables his selflessness.

In the end, Sarah’s friendships become a part of her. Though she must face Jareth “alone,” as interdividuals we are never alone. Sarah takes the love of her friends to her final confrontation with Jareth. In this stunning scene of magnificent mimetic proportions, we not only see Sarah stronger for having embraced the love of others, but we also see Jareth admit to being formed by Sarah’s desires as well. In a succinct monologue, Jareth details how he has lived up to the compelling and formidable villain of Sarah’s fantasies. “I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me,” he concludes. “Isn’t that generous?” His speech is a manipulative blend of truth and deception; truth, for indeed, mimetic theory illumines to us how our formation of identity over and against others creates enemies. Sarah had fantasized herself as a hero in contrast to the villain that Jareth lived into. Yet Jareth is also deceitful, for he evades responsibility for his actions by, again, accusing Sarah of being the reason for his anguish and ignoring the hell he has put her through. Yet Sarah has come through hell stronger, and rather than let herself be intimidated or angered, rather than speak in her own defense, she remains focused on her mission to rescue her brother.

If there is any doubt that Jareth is Satan, it should be laid to rest in his final scene, which is reminiscent to Christ’s temptation in the desert. In his last attempt to win Sarah over, Jareth once again offers her everything she once desired:

I ask for so little. Just let me rule you. And you can have anything that you want. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.

His request is so reasonable. Just live within the confines of the world he has created, a world of sacrifice and outcasts, and he can be generous. Keep the focus on your own desires, Jareth implies, and he can fulfill them… at the expense of everyone else.  “Do as I say and I will be your slave” is a perfect encapsulation of the satanic temptation. When we wield the power of accusation and deceit, when we run the world on sacrifice, expulsion and murder, we may acquire our desires, but we do not rule our desires. In such a world, desire rules over us. Even when the satan works for us, we are slaves to it.

Sarah can no longer be held in the thrall of the satan. The world he controls, the “love” he offers and demands, is false. She knows that now, because she has come to know and be capable of true love, self-giving love, through embracing and being embraced by outcasts (as she herself had been, not only in the Labyrinth, but in her (mis)understanding of her “real” life) and through her recognition of her brother’s innocence and vulnerability. Jareth may offer everything she once desired, but her desires have been reoriented by love. Thus she can truthfully proclaim to him: “You have no power over me!”

Conclusion

Sarah “turned Jareth’s world,” as surely as Christ turned the world under the control of the satanic principal. She brought out the love that was there all along, and discovered it within herself. Whether the labyrinth and the underground world were “real” or inside her mind (but why on earth should that mean it is not real?), Sarah found love within it that she could carry with her for the rest of her life. Even in the depths of hell, the outer margins where we cast the victims we see as monsters, there is love. Sarah demonized her little brother and cast him out, to a hellish world where he was destined to become a monster, but recognizing his innocence and discovering a courageous love within herself, she not only pulled him from the brink, but brought others out of their misery and loneliness along the way, redeeming herself in the service of others.

And what of Jareth, the Goblin King, the satan? I hope if David Bowie looks down upon this tribute from Heaven, he takes no offense at being called out as Satan. I hope he is amused and honored. After all, if you’re going to play the Big Bad, you might as well play the Biggest Bad!

Yet I also believe that even Jareth can be redeemed, by the same love that Sarah discovered and magnified. It may take an eternity, but Love redeems all. Labyrinth, the Gospel in Muppet Form, tells that quintessential truth, in a way we can all dance to.

Rest in Peace, David Bowie, you devil you.

 

Image: Screenshot from Youtube: Labyrinth Jennifer Connelly David Bowie End Scene by Anni53

religion and politics final

Bible Matters: Ezekiel’s Political Theology

The United States is in the midst of a presidential campaign. How should theology inform our politics? The prophet Ezekiel provides important answers that may surprise liberals and conservatives.

Ezekiel gave a clear political theology. He spoke during a time of national crisis in Jewish history. The Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, killed many people, and exiled others throughout the empire.

Those who survived asked the question of theodicy. If God is good and just, then why did this tragedy happen?

(Watch the video for more!)

Ezekiel’s political theology claims that the nation fell because the political leaders failed to care for the needs of the poor, the weak, and the marginalized. Ezekiel speaks directly to the leaders of his day:

You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:4)

Ezekiel’s political theology tells us that any nation whose rulers that neglects the needs of the poor, weak, and marginalized will fall because God is just. God’s justice demands that those who are scapegoats of culture be cared for.

The good news is that the imperial violence of Babylon didn’t have the last word. Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones receiving life is a sign that the nation will have another chance to live into a new social reality. The rulers of Israel will “Put away violence and oppression, and do what is just and right.” (45:9) To do what is “just and right” means that rulers are to stop their violence and oppression. Instead, they are to meet work for justice by meeting the needs of the marginalized.

For more in the Bible Matters series, click here.