Beyoncé at the Super Bowl (Image: Screenshot from YouTube)

How Beyoncé Slayed the Super Bowl and Fox News

…we are more than conquerors …

-St. Paul, Romans 8:37

Beyoncé slays. And she is more than a conqueror.

But before I tell you how Beyoncé slayed the Super Bowl and Fox News, I’m going to tell you about the ancient sacrificial rituals and their victims. (Trust me, this fits.)

Sacrificial Rituals in the Ancient World

In the ancient world, whenever there was social chaos, social order was created through a ritual of sacrificial violence. These sacrificial rituals channeled conflicts that threatened the life of the community onto an individual who was blamed for the chaos that threatened the group.

The community survived this social crisis by uniting against a common enemy. The 20th century anthropologist René Girard called this common enemy the “scapegoat.” After the scapegoat was sacrificed, a sense of peace and reconciliation fell upon the community. But it was only temporary. When conflicts re-emerged within the community, the ritual of sacrificial violence would repeat … over and over again.

The scapegoat had something that marked him as “different.” Sometimes the sacrificial victim had a limp or was blind or was captured from another tribe. The specific mark of the sacrificial victim didn’t really matter; what mattered was that the victim play the proper role of the scapegoat.

The scapegoat’s proper role was to remain quiet as the larger community channeled their collective conflicts onto him during the ritual. It was crucial that the sacrificial victim remain silent, or that their cries were drowned out by the pounding of a drum, chants, and prayers. That’s because the last thing that the sacrificers wanted was to hear the voice of their scapegoat. If they heard their victim’s voice, it would pierce their conscience and they would risk becoming aware of their own ritual violence and the innocence of their scapegoat.

Girard tells us that this was how ancient sacrificial rituals functioned, but we see the same ritual of sacrificial violence at work in in the modern world. Sadly, we humans have not evolved much beyond our sacrificial ancestors. We continue to silence the voice of our scapegoats. Indeed, white America has been silencing the voices of black people for 400 years through rituals of physical, political, and economic violence.

How Beyoncé Slayed the Modern Sacrificial Ritual

But make no mistake, Beyoncé is no victim. She is a conqueror because her voice will not be silenced. Yet, her black skin bears the mark of the American sacrificial system of racism. Unfortunately, that system is alive and well. In fact, it’s trying to silence her voice.

On Sunday, Beyoncé took to the main stage of American pop culture, the Super Bowl, and delivered a politically charged message to the United States. Beyoncé and her back up dancers claimed black power by dressing like Black Panthers from the 1960s. She performed her new song, Formation, which tells her story of being black in America.

The white power structures were offended, so they fought back. Fox News interviewed Rudy Giuliani about the half time show. The interview is a text book case in America’s 400 year history of ritually silencing black voices. The segment shows four white people critiquing Beyoncé’s performance and the black lives matter movement. They lectured Beyoncé on her performance. One commentator said, “In the end we find out that Beyoncé dressed up in a tribute to the Black Panthers, (the dancers) went to a Malcom X formation, and the song, the lyrics, which I couldn’t make out a syllable, were basically telling cops to stop shooting blacks!”

One way that white people continue the ritual of silencing black voices is to make them into the violent enemy seeking power. It’s a ritual as old as America itself. And it’s the kind of fear mongering that Fox News was fomenting by referring to the Black Panthers and Malcom X. The assumption is that black people are the violent ones, but it is black people who suffer from violence at a disproportionate rate.

I believe in nonviolence, but frankly, it’s hard for me to listen to white people as they criticize black people for advocating violence. In the face of 400 years of physical, emotional, social, and economic violence, I think a violent response would be understandable.

But that’s not what Beyoncé is advocating, nor is it what the Black Lives Matter movement is about. Formation is Beyoncé’s call for a political revolution, but it’s not a revolution based on violence. It’s a revolution based on the power of the spoken word.

In Formation, Beyoncé says that she “slays,” but her homage to Martin Luther King, Jr. in the video tells me she isn’t slaying through physical violence. She is a conqueror, but in the spirit of St. Paul, she is more than a conqueror. That’s because she isn’t advocating physical violence. It’s a lie to claim that she is. Rather, she slays through something much more powerful – the spoken word.

And so I shake my head, asking myself, how dare Fox News criticize Beyoncé for “basically telling cops to stop shooting blacks” when we know that “unarmed black men are seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire”?

Here’s the truth about Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance – the power of her words have pierced the conscience of white America. She is a conqueror because her voice will not be silenced. She refuses to play the proper role that much of white America expects her to play. She slays by speaking the truth about violence against not only black people, but against all people at the margins of American culture. As the New South Negress puts it, Formation “is a recognition of one another at the blackness margins – woman, queer, genderqueer, trans, poor, disables, undocumented, immigrant…”

So, to answer my question above, how does a commentator on Fox News and his fellow co-hosts dare attempt to silence the voice of Beyoncé? They dare it because their collective conscience has been pierced. They have heard Beyoncé’s voice. And in her voice they hear the voice of all those on the margins who suffer from systemic violence against the marginalized.

One way white people manage the voice of the marginalized that pierces our conscience is to lecture them and accuse them of being the violent ones. That’s what Fox News did.

But another way is to listen to those voices. Listen to the ways that we white folks participate in systemic racism that empowers not only police brutality, but economic oppression, enabling “the typical white family [to have] about 16 times as much wealth as the typical black family – and [enables] white households headed up by a high school dropout to have, on average, twice the wealth of black and Latino households headed by a college graduate.”

Beyoncé is slaying our conscience. Like the Word of God is compared to a sword that cuts through our ancient rituals of scapegoating so that we hear the voice of the oppressed, Beyoncé is slaying through the racism that infect the United States. She pierced the white conscience and is making many of us uncomfortable. Good for her. Let’s stop trying to drown out her voice by lecturing black people. Instead, let’s listen to their voices.

Do you feel Beyoncé’s words piercing your conscience? She has pierced mine. And that’s a good thing. Pay attention to that piercing and listen to more black voices crying out for a revolution of the American system of racism.

Photo: Beyoncé at the Super Bowl (Image: Screenshot from YouTube channel On Line Trending)

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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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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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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.

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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.

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

Luke and kylo 4

Star Wars and Theology Part 2: Overcoming the Myth of Good and Evil

One common critique of the Star Wars saga is that it holds a simplistic view of good and evil. For example, Star Wars makes it easy to tell the difference between good and evil. The distinction is as plain black and white. The Jedi are good and the Sith are evil. The Rebellion is good and the Empire is evil. Even the costumes point toward a simplistic understanding of evil – the Stormtroopers are white, while the main villains, Darth Vader and now Kylo Ren, wear black. And, of course, their humanity is hidden by the fact that they wear masks.

Unfortunately, this simplistic notion of good and evil doesn’t just exists in the movies. It’s alive and well in our culture today. Once we eat of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we think that we are the force of good in the world, thus, they are the force of evil. We then tell mythical stories about the evil other. These myths lead to radical examples of claiming to be good while scapegoating others.

The latest example of this patently false myth are the “evil” Muslims who are out to conquer the United States. Donald Trump, leading Republican presidential candidate, recently held a rally in South Carolina. In good mythical fashion, he turned to the dark side by accusing Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn country of “probably” being members of ISIS. You know, because they are Muslims. In response to Trumps remarks about Syrian refugees, a Muslim woman at the rally stood up in silent protest as she wore a shirt that said, “Salam, I come in peace.”

Despite her silence, the crowd turned against her, shouting at her to leave by chanting, “You have a bomb. You have a bomb.” For his part, Trump claimed, “There is hatred against us that is unbelievable. It’s their hatred; it’s not our hatred.”

Trump and many of his supporters live in a mythical world. A world where the distinction between good and evil is as clear as the distinction between night and day, between Christian and Muslim. They are a force for good; whereas silent Muslims wearing “Peace” shirts are full of hatred. Of course, I can easily split the world into good and evil. As I critique Trump and his supporters at the rally, I risk doing to them the same thing that they are doing to Muslims. I risk making a mythical claim to be a force of goodness over and against their force of evil.

Fortunately, Star Wars offers us an alternative to that myth. The critique that Star Wars has a simplistic view of good and evil is false. Stars Wars constructs the myth of good and evil only to deconstruct it.

The deconstruction of the mythical understanding of good and evil emerges in the Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker goes to Dagobah to be trained by Yoda. As he runs and flips around the swamp-like forest with the little green alien on his back, Luke asks the mythical question, “How am I to know the good side from the bad?” Yoda replies, “You will know, when you are calm, at peace.”

But Luke discovers a greater truth about knowing the good side from the bad. The Force leads him into “The Cave of Evil.” As he enters the cave, he asks Yoda what’s inside. “Only what you take with you,” Yoda responds. Luke took with him his fear of the dark side; his fear of confronting Darth Vader.

A few moments after entering the cave, Luke has a vision of Darth Vader walking towards him with his lightsaber extended. Their sabers strike three times, then Luke slices off Vader’s helmet. It rolls to the ground, stops, and the mask exploded, only to show Luke’s face in the helmet staring straight at him.

In that scene, Luke discovered the truth about good and evil. In Darth Vader, the greatest symbol of evil in cinematic history, Luke sees himself. Even before he knows that Vader is his father, Luke learns that his identity is connected with Darth Vader. That’s because the evil that we see in the other is the evil that is inside ourselves. But we’d rather not see the evil within ourselves, so we suppress it by projecting it onto others. And so, at this moment in the Star Wars saga, Luke begins to discover that the distinction between good and evil is not primarily a distinction between himself and Darth Vader. Rather, the distinction between good and evil is a distinction that exists within himself.

Luke’s spiritual awakening is in the fact that he didn’t banish the darkness from within himself. He didn’t scapegoat the fear and evil within his own soul. When we do that, the fear and evil within only grows bigger and more menacing. Rather, Luke acknowledged the evil within himself. Later in the saga, after he slices off Darth Vader’s hand in Return of the Jedi, Luke stares at his own mechanical hand. Once again he becomes aware of the darkness within himself. He was able to resist the dark side not because he made a distinction between the good in himself and the evil in his enemies, but because he learned how to manage the darkness within his own soul.

Kylo Ren has a similar experience in the Force Awakens. He feels the tension between the light and the dark within himself, but manages it in a different way. Kylo holds his Grandfather’s helmet and offers a prayer, “Forgive me. I feel it again. The pull to the light. Show me again the power of the dark.” Luke and Kylo both feel the light and the dark within themselves. The difference is that Luke was able to incorporate the light and the dark. In doing so, Luke made peace with the darkness within. But Kylo felt tormented because he resisted the light that shined in the darkness of his soul.

The truth is that we are all a mixture of light and dark, good and evil. The great Russian novelist Aleksander Solzhenitsyn warned that, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Jesus taught this lesson, too. He asked his followers, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

Jesus and Star Wars both challenge us with the difficult spiritual practice of examining the darkness that lies within ourselves. Taking the log out of our own eye is painful work; I’d much rather point to the speck of evil that’s in my neighbor’s eye. But Christianity reminds us that we are much more like the disciples than we are like Jesus. We learn from Jesus, but we are much more like the disciples who abandoned, betrayed, and turned against Jesus during his darkest hour.

But the good news is that like Luke never gave up on his father, Jesus never gave up on his disciples. He resurrected to give his disciples a new mission. That mission wasn’t to locate evil out in the world and destroy it. Rather, Jesus’ mission is to “feed my sheep.” The great adventure that is Christianity is not to fight violence with more violence, but to care for those in need and to love even those we call our enemies.

More about that in the next part of this series.

Images: Luke Skywalker after defeating Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi (Screenshot from YouTube) and Kylo Ren praying to Darth Vader’s helmet (Screenshot from YouTube)

Other parts of this series:
Part 1: The Epiphany of a Great Adventure
Part 2: The Myth of Good and Evil

obama sotu 1

The State of the Union: Spiritual Wisdom to Heal the Political Divide

There was much to appreciate about President Obama’s speech last night. I also think that Nikki Haley’s Republican response was commendable on many levels. Both put forth a vision and a hope for renewed political cooperation, and they even repented in the ways they and their parties have contributed to the politics that have greatly divided the United States.

Governor Haley suggested some good spiritual wisdom about the loud political noise that has spread throughout the US, “Often the best thing we can do is turn down the volume,” she said. “When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.”

Ah, yes, if we could just turn down the noise and listen to one another, even to those we call our political enemies, the world would be a radically different and much better place.

In a similar manner, President Obama modeled for us the spiritual practice of repentance. He repented of his part in propagating political divisions. “It’s been one of the few regrets of my presidency,” he stated. “That the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have been better to bridge the divide.”

To listen better. To repent of our participation in systems that breed rancor and suspicion. Those are deep spiritual practices that will heal the politics of our nation.

Unfortunately, I fear that both Obama and Haley aren’t leading us far enough with their messages. In order to heal our national political divisions, we do need to listen. We do need to repent. But our problems are bigger than national politics. We need to heal our global political divisions. And to do that, the United States needs to have the courage to listen and repent on a global scale.

But instead, Obama and Haley offered the same old solutions to our global problems. In the face of terrorism they both claimed that the solution is not listening to our enemies, nor repenting of our own violence, but that we should be more violent. While Obama boasted that the United States already has the greatest military the world has ever seen and spends more on our military budget than the next eight countries combined, Haley stated that if the Republicans held the White House, “… we would actually strengthen our military.”

But military violence isn’t working. The more violent we become, the more we sow the seeds that produce more violence against us. The anthropologist René Girard taught us that violence is mimetic, or imitative. It’s human nature to respond to violence with more violence, but as Girard warns, the reciprocal exchange of violence for violence isn’t working to keep us sage. “[V]iolent imitation is the rule of the day,” writes Girard in his apocalyptic book Battling to the End, “not the imitation that slows and suspends the flow [of violence], but the one that accelerates it” (13). Violence is accelerating because we live in truly apocalyptic times. Weapons of mass destruction are easier to make and nuclear weapons threaten us with global annihilation.

If we want a future, we need to stop threatening our enemies with violence. Instead, we need follow Governor Haley’s advice and start listening to our enemies. Maybe if we listened to them, we would find the truth.

The truth is that our enemies, even those we label as “terrorists,” do not hate us because of our freedom. Rather, they are frustrated because of many American policies – policies that, following President Obama, we should repent from.

In a dig against Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, Obama said that our answer to terrorism shouldn’t be to “carpet bomb civilians.” I agree. That would be disastrous for so many reasons, including the fact that to kill innocent civilians would be an act of terror. It would make us just like the terrorists that we condemn.

But that’s exactly what President Obama has done during his presidency. Drone warfare has terrorized civilians and created a breeding ground for recruiting terrorists. As this Huffington Post article states, “Nearly 90 percent of people killed in recent drone strikes were not the target. U.S. drone strikes have killed scores of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.”

My colleague at the Raven Foundation, Lindsey Paris-Lopez, takes it a step further in her Open Letter to President Obama: End the War in Afghanistan,

Principled journalists have long published atrocities regularly committed by our military. These atrocities are rightly called acts of terrorism and war crimes when committed by others. The practice of “signature strikes”, assigning death sentences from afar to people whose identities are unknown based on patterns of their behavior, assumes that life and death judgments can be made without knowing a name or having a conversation. It puts the lives of Afghan citizens into the hands of a military that has been trained to dehumanize them (as killing without knowing someone’s identity is the very epitome of dehumanization). But our military goes beyond killing those whose behavior may reasonably be deemed suspicious, and targets people caught in the act of helping their fellow human beings. We kill rescuers. We attack mourners at funerals. And in one of the most callous, dishonest policies imaginable, we have effectively demonized the entire male population of countries we purport to be helping by preemptively labeling all military-aged males killed in attacks “enemy combatants.”

The best advice for the future of America, indeed, the future of human existence, came last night from both sides of the political aisle. We should repent of our national and international participation in violent atrocities. And we should listen to others, even to those we call our enemies.

The state of the world is in peril. If we do not repent and listen, we will continue to be the very terrorists we despise. Even worse, if we continue down this violent path, we will resign ourselves to the extinction of humanity.

Jesus said that those who live by the sword die by the sword. The same can be said about the gun, the tank, the drone, and the bomb. We must find another way, the way of listening and repenting, if we are to survive.

Image: President Obama deliver his State of the Union, 2016. Screenshot from YouTube.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Public Domain, Wikipedia

Star Wars & Theology: Part 1: The Epiphany of a Great Adventure

On Wednesday, Star Wars: The Force Awakens achieved an historic feat at the box office. After just 20 days of its release date, The Force Awakens surpassed Avatar to become the highest grossing film in North America.

I helped the Force by seeing it three times. I love Star Wars. Even the prequels.

Coincidentally, or maybe as the Force would have it, Wednesday was also the first day of the Christian season called Epiphany, which means a “manifestation,” or “appearance.” There are important connections between Star Wars and Epiphany, beyond the coincidence of Wednesday’s events.

George Lucas stated in an interview with Bill Moyers that his vision for Star Wars was to inspire belief in God,

I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people – more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery.

As a former youth pastor, I can appreciate Lucas’ emphasis on young people. Of course, part of the enduring aspect of the Star Wars saga is that it speaks to people of all ages. The great mystery is a force that is bigger than ourselves, yet includes ourselves in it. As Obi Wan Kenobi explained to Luke, the Force “is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

Whenever a Jedi attempts to explain the Force, they don’t say very much. There’s great wisdom in using few words to describe the Force and Christianity could use some direction here. The Force isn’t primarily known through a theory. Rather, the Force is known by participating in a story that is bigger than ourselves. The same is true about God.

From a Christian point of view, it’s not that theories about God are bad. In their proper place, theories can lead us into the beauty of God. But theories can lead us to the dark side when *we* claim to have the right theory, which means *they* must have the wrong theory. When that happens, we lose sight of the adventure that is bigger than ourselves. The world gets smaller and smaller as we become consumed with being right, which means making sure that others know they are wrong.

Fortunately, the adventure that Epiphany calls us into is much bigger than a theory. It’s a mystery that leads us into divine life of God. Epiphany begins with the story of the Magi. The Magi were Gentiles who didn’t really have a theory about God, certainly not one that Christians would call “orthodox.” But they did have a premonition that a mysterious star would lead them on an adventure to a child who was born king of the Jews.

The Magi left their homes “from the East” to Jerusalem, which was controlled by the Roman Empire. My New Interpreter’s Study Bible states that the Magi likely came from Parthia, which was Rome’s enemy. The Magi were sent on an adventure into enemy territory by a force bigger than themselves. And their adventure involved great risk, as it put them in contact with King Herod, who was well known for killing anyone he thought was a threat to his crown. Herod was consumed by fear, which as Yoda tells us, “is the path to the dark side.” Because of his inability to manage his fear in a healthy way, he killed many people, including his wife and his children.

When we are consumed with fear, like Herod, we easily forget the bigger mystery in our lives. The Magi provide a different model. They likely had much to fear on their night journey through the dangers of the desert, but they weren’t caught up in their fear. Rather, they were caught up into an adventure that was bigger than anything they could fear.

The adventure led the Magi to a child who was the Chosen One. Alternatively in Star Wars, the Chosen One was Anakin Skywalker, who was chosen to bring balance to the Force. This may be controversial to some, but that’s exactly what he did. The Force is a mixture of light and dark, a balance of good and evil. As Han Solo explains in The Force Awakens, “The Force is a magical power, holding good and evil together, the light and the dark.” Before Anakin, the Force was completely out of balance. Good and evil, light and dark, weren’t held together in balance. The Jedi, the light, dominated the Force. The darkness of Star Wars is the fact that by killing the Jedi, Anakin did bring balance back to the Force.*

But the Chosen One in the Christian story didn’t bring balance to the Force that undergirds our world. Rather, Jesus brought something much more radical than a balance between good and evil. Christianity doesn’t call the mystery of our world “the Force.” It calls that mystery Love. “God is love,” states the letter First John. The love of God is the mystery that holds the universe together. As the apostle Paul claimed, it is in God that “we live and move and have our being.” The Magi found a symbol of that love in a star – a light that shines in the darkness of our world that led them on an adventure to Jesus. And that love was embodied by a seemingly insignificant child, born to seemingly insignificant parents.

The great mystery of Christianity leads us on a great adventure that is bigger than ourselves, bigger than our theories, bigger than our fears, and bigger than our need to be right. It leads us to the One who reveals that God is love. But Jesus taught his followers even more about God. The author of 1 John would also state that, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”

The darkness belongs to us. Violence belongs to humans. Not to God and not to the Force. We can no longer project our dark violence upon God. That means we must take responsibility for our own darkness. Fortunately, Luke Skywalker and Jesus Christ are perfect examples of how to do just that. We will explore that aspect of Star Wars and theology in the next part of this series.

 

*Of course, this is an interpretation. Many argue that Anakin actually brought balance to the Force by killing Emperor Darth Sidious. If Anakin’s mission was to bring the balance of good and evil to the Force, then both interpretations may be correct. We’ll explore that in a future part of this series.

**Image: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Public Domain, Wikipedia

***For more on Epiphany, see:
Let Us Know You Are Wheaton By Your Love, by Lindsey Paris-Lopez
Peace on Earth: Maria Montessori, the Wise Men, and King Herod, by Suzanne Ross
The RavenCast Ep 10: Epiphany, Fear, and the Journey to God, by Lindsey Paris-Lopez and Adam Ericksen

****Stay in the loop! Like the Raven Foundation on Facebook!

Mike Huckabee at the Republican Debate on December 16, 2015

The Top 4 Myths about Syrian Refugees: Mike Huckabee and the Republican Debate

At Tuesday’s Presidential Debate, candidate Mike Huckabee had this to say about the Syrian refugee crisis:

If it’s such a doggone good idea to bring people here that we really don’t know who they are, and Obama thinks that we are being unchristian to not do it, I’ve got a suggestion – let’s send the first wave of them to Chappaqua, Martha’s Vineyard, and the upper east-side of Manhattan, and to the south lawn of the White House where we’ll set up a camp. Let’s see how that works out. And if they behave wonderfully, that’s fine. I want to say, I don’t want someone lecturing me about what it means to be a Christian that I should invite a potential terrorist into my backyard.

Huckabee is repeating a popular myth about refugees that only stokes the flames of fear that is spreading throughout the country. Here are four of those myths:

  1. Myth #1: “We really don’t know who they are.” We do know a lot about Syrian refugees. They go through a rigorous screening process. Jana Mason, an advisor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told Time that, “Of all the categories of persons entering the U.S., these refugees are the single most heavily screened and vetted.” The process takes between 18-24 months and includes in-depth interviews of the refugees, reference checks of their home country, background checks for military involvement, and even biological screenings. Syrian refugees are the most scrutinized, with the FBI, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security all involved in the vetting process. We know who the refugees are.
  2. Myth #2: If they behave wonderfully, that’s fine. “If.” Such a little word that’s loaded with accusation. Underlying that word is an assumption that the refugees won’t behave wonderfully. But here’s the thing, since September 11, 2001, about 750,000 refugees have been admitted to the United States. As the Time article reports, during the last 14 years, refugees have behave wonderfully. “None have been arrested on domestic terrorism charges, though two – a pair of Iraqis in Kentucky – were charged with terrorist activities connected to aiding al-Qaeda.”
  3. Myth #3: Every Syrian refugee is “a potential terrorist [in] my backyard.” This is a clear example of scapegoating Syrian refugees. We could accuse any group of people as having the potential to be terrorists. The leading presidential candidate of the GOP has even suggested that we “kill innocent family members of terrorists.” And Syrian refugees are the potential terrorist? President Obama’s drone policies, which no presidential candidate criticizes, has missed nearly 90% of their intended targets. Those drone attacks kill innocent civilians, civilians that the U.S. then labels “enemy combatants.” But their only “crime” was being in the way of a United States military attack. Studies show that, “U.S. drone strikes have killed scores of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2009.” But don’t let that bother you, it’s those Syrian refugees who are the potential terrorist.
  4. Myth #4: Lectures about Being Christian. What does it mean to be a Christian? Getting “lectured” by President Obama about Christianity clearly stung Huckabee, especially since a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll claims that 29% of Americans still think Obama is a Muslim. Ouch! But Huckabee, and many other presidential candidates, use anti-Christian rhetoric to propagate the myths above to create scapegoating distinction between “us” and “them.” Jesus calls his followers in an entirely different direction – to care for the marginalized, persecuted, weak, and the poor – to love and include them with radical hospitality.

René Girard taught us that myths are stories that we tell about our scapegoats. Those stories are based on demonizing them so that we can expel, lynch, and murder our scapegoats with impunity. That myth silences the voice of our scapegoats and covers over our own acts of violence and terror. The narrative that Syrian refugees are potential terrorists is a mythical story that needs to be challenged with the truth. We discover the truth by listening to their own stories. We will also discover the truth when we have the courage to take responsibility for America’s own violence. Our drone attacks and careless murder of civilians are examples of how we are aiding and abetting ISIS’s recruitment of terrorists. Violence breeds more violence. If we really want peace, we need to stop scapegoating Syrian refugees and take responsibility for our own acts of terror in the Middle East.

Photo: Mike Huckabee at the Republican Debate on December 16, 2015 (Screen shot from Youtube)