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What’s In A Name? On Building Cooperation Beyond Partisan Barriers

“What’s in a name?”

I’ve been asking myself that question a lot recently, and not just because this past Saturday marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death! It’s a question that comes to mind when I consider today’s political climate and the enmity between the mimetic doubles more commonly known as the Democrat and Republican parties.

To say that the political parties are the same is scandalous according to mainstream culture, and I acknowledge that there are some real and important differences between most members of the two parties. Yet in the quest for power and profit, leaders from each of the major parties have more similarities than differences, with greed, faith in violence, and a desire to “win” or retain power washing away major distinctions.

Corporate profits dictate policy far more than the will of the people that the elected officials are purported to represent. In fact, a recent study has determined that the will of the vast majority of people has no effect at all on policy making. Instead, large corporate donors contribute to both political parties to insure their interests are met. Because people tend to work for those who pay them, representatives are often more beholden to their donors than the will of their voters, making differences between many of the policies of each party more nominal than substantial.

While Republicans may pride themselves on being more responsible with money, decrying “big government spending,” the fact is that more than 50% of every tax dollar goes to the defense department, which Republicans leaders (along with many Democrats) would like to increase. Social welfare programs, meanwhile, are championed by many Democratic voters but are decreased or privatized under both Democratic and Republican leadership. And on the issue that most concerns me, namely, whether the United States will continue her quest for imperial control of the world or humble herself and become a partner in peace, there is near bipartisan consensus among the powerful to continue to wage wars for resources and power. While the Global War on Terror may have begun under a Republican administration, it has been expanded and extended – with drone warfare killing mostly civilians in seven countries — under a Democratic one. The fact is, from the standpoint of most of the world, it is hard to see much difference between the leaders of both parties when both are covered in blood.

With policies that contradict the rhetoric of both parties, partisan identification is increasingly rooted in a sense of “over-and-against” identity rather than actual policy outcomes. Forces of power and greed, wielded by the most wealthy and the politicians who work for them but beyond even their control, find value in keeping partisan warfare alive while ensuring that many of the policies of both parties are financially beneficial to them, to the detriment of the nation and the world. The enmity between the parties, fueled by the media and conventional wisdom, keeps the public divided by labels while unconsciously united in our lack of influence.

But it need not be this way.

Too often, a mental block against a party label keeps us from seeing the good in a politician’s proposals and actions, and likewise prevents us from being critical of those in the party with which we idenitfy. Too often, we interpret the rhetoric of an opposing party in the worst possible light. While we cannot afford to be naïve, we also cannot afford to be overly cynical and hostile. We cannot afford to nurture enmity, no matter how wrong we may think someone is, because we absolutely need to work together in every way possible to change a corrupt political system that is having a devastating effect on the whole world. And when we nurture enmity in ourselves, we inevitably nurture enmity in others, further deepening the chasm between us.

Regardless of political party, most of us would like to live in a democracy rather than an oligarchy. We can come together to demand the reduction of the influence of money in politics, which would be a gateway for leaders to listen and respond to nearly all other concerns, but often other divides keep us from doing so. But people from wide and various perspectives can come together where they agree, building more respect for each other even in disagreements. Non-interventionist fiscal conservatives can join with anti-war social liberals. Pro-life and pro-choice individuals often share a core of compassion for the vulnerable and could unite in helping to make the world safer and healthier for women and children. There are all kinds of unions to be made across the divides of political labels. When enmity no longer divides us, the forces of greed and domination will have to reckon with a nation waking up to a false dichotomy and working to help each other. Compassion and cooperation can have a powerful and lasting impact, awakening the moral conscience even of those who have been ruled by self-interest (which to a degree is all of us).

The spirit of enmity that is destroying the world is also borne out at home in political parties caught up in both corporate control and mimetic rivalry. Our potential to help the world – to replace warfare with reconciliation, reduce our carbon footprint, and build a prosperous peace — is significantly hindered by an inability to let go of the enmity among ourselves. I believe that political labels encourage us to look past each other rather than work together. If we can’t drop them completely, we must at least be willing to look past labels to the people who hold them, and come together where we can to make our voices heard. Our hope lies in each other.

Image: “Republican Elephant and Democratic Donkey Icons” by DonkeyHotey via Flickr. Available via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

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The Truth about God and Interfaith Relationships

Can we share God?

Because for many of us, God is something that we refuse to share. In fact, human history shows that we will fight over God. God, after all, is truth. And we all like to think that we hold the Truth. But what happens when others claim that they hold the Truth about God? We get caught in a rivalry, even killing over who possesses the Truth.

But believing that we hold the truth about God is to turn God into an idol. That’s because we don’t hold the truth about God. None of us hold the truth about God. Rather, God holds the truth about us. And, according to Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in Long Island, NY, the truth is that God holds us in the spirit of love, justice, and service.

Members of these three major world religions come together at Brookville Church to share sacred space. Brookville’s slogan is “Where our doors are always open.” Indeed, the church’s doors are open to Jews and Muslims. But they do much more than simply use the church building as a place of worship. At Brookville Church, Jews, Christians, and Muslims intentionally build friendships with one another. They learn from one another, they serve their community with one another, and they care for one another.

It’s a radical experiment, especially when we consider that leading presidential candidates are proposing to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the United States and they are proposing to force police to patrol Muslim neighborhoods. Those candidates are the most vocal about their faith in God, but they worship an idol. They worship a god that erects political systems of fear, exclusion, and death.

But the true God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam doesn’t lead to fear, exclusion, and death. The true God leads to relationships like those formed at Brookville Church. The true God subverts the politics of fear, exclusion, and death. The true God transforms our relationships from rivalry into love.

In doing so, they show that they don’t hold the truth, but that the truth holds them.

Image: Flickr, Destination God, Hatim Kaghat, Creative Commons License, some changes made.

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The Qualifications Quibble: What Do We Require of Our Leaders and Ourselves?

The Qualifications Quibble

One of the electoral season’s obligatory scandals occupied the media spotlight last week when Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders engaged in mimetic rivalry, accusing (implicitly or explicitly) each other of being “unqualified” to be president.

Briefly, on a segment of Morning Joe, Hillary Clinton expressed concern that Bernie Sanders did not know how to deliver on his central campaign promise, to break up the banks, as an unflattering interview with the New York Daily News had implied. (Actually, Sanders’s assertion that he had the authority to break up the banks via the Dodd-Frank bill and the treasury department was correct, but the interviewer continued to question him, implying that he did not know his own talking points). She asserted that Sanders had “not done his homework.” While stopping short of calling Sanders unqualified, a staffer had leaked the Clinton political strategy to “disqualify” Sanders. In return, Bernie Sanders explicitly called Hillary Clinton “unqualified” to be president based on her vote for the war in Iraq, her millions of dollars in donations from Wall Street, and her support of trade deals that hurt American workers.

Being swept up in mimetic rivalry is par for the course when competing for anything, particularly for the highest office in the nation. For all the heat behind the words, negative campaigning is to be expected to draw contrasts between opposing candidates, and I do not begrudge either Clinton or Sanders for drawing contrasts. However, honesty matters. Clinton’s assertion that Bernie “had not done his homework” is based on a misleading and disingenuous interview that was spun by major media outlets against Sanders. If she had reached her conclusion that Sanders is unprepared based on her own experiences working with him in the Senate, as either a fellow Senator or perhaps as Secretary of State or First Lady, it would behoove her to give better examples. For his part, Sanders’s assertions that Clinton showed poor judgment on the Iraq war and trade deals, and that she has taken significant sums of money from Wall Street, are all true, though if he sincerely believes that these decisions are “disqualifying” he would not continue to pledge endorsement of Clinton should she be the Democratic nominee. In the heat of the campaign, both candidates may have been too loose with their rhetoric. But I do not think it benefits us to dwell on the scandal of he said/she said. This episode has brought up deeper issues, however. What, exactly, are the qualifications we demand of a leader? And what qualifications do we have when it comes to our role in building a better nation, a better world, a better future?

What Qualifies A Leader?

The media tends to frame elections in terms of candidates running against each other. That makes sense, of course, as elections are essentially competitions. But they are also an opportunity for candidates to tell the people what they are for. Likewise, when we think about what qualities we desire in a leader, it helps to ask, “What do we want for our people, our country, and our world?”

The most fundamental thing I want for our world – the one thing on which everything else depends – is a healthy and sustainable planet. Global warming is a threat to all life, far beyond American life, far beyond even human life. I believe we need a leader who takes the threat of global warming seriously and would be willing to take substantial action to reduce our carbon footprint.

Reducing our carbon footprint necessarily means reducing military action worldwide, as the United States military is one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels on the planet. Of course, I wish for a reduction of our military action and our military budget not primarily for the sake of the land but for the sake of all people, as living in peace and security is a fundamental human right. But to speak of reducing our military action makes many people uncomfortable when we are convinced that our military actions are for our protection. If we view our protection as a priority over and against the welfare of others, we will be reluctant to reduce our military action or funding. But if we consider our welfare interconnected to that of others, and recognize that our violence perpetuates a cycle of violence, then we can understand that a leader can be for the security of our nation and for the replacement of violence with diplomacy and reconciliation at the same time. In fact, there is no way to be truly for security without being for peace, as violence will always perpetuate itself.

Finally, I want a leader who shows concern for the health, welfare, and prosperity of all people, particularly the marginalized. The quality of someone with much power can, I believe, be measured in his or her treatment of someone with little or no power. This means I want someone who is humble enough to listen when called out on privilege, and someone who can recognize and push to correct systemic injustice in its myriad forms, from racism to sexism to ableism to heteronormativity and more.

What Qualifies Us?

These are a few very broad areas that form the values I employ when considering candidates for a leader. But no leader can work alone, and the  people most in need of a more just, more compassionate, more peaceful world, those who currently suffer the most from marginalization, poverty, environmental degradation and violence, theirs are the voices that need to be heard the most. Whether leaders ensconce themselves in circles of power and shut out other voices or strive to their utmost ability to be true public servants, no leader, no administration, no government, can tackle the problems of our world without a vocal and active citizenry making demands and contributing time, ideas, and resources to solutions.

So when we consider what “qualifies” a leader, it is incumbent upon us to consider the goals we wish our leaders to work toward, and ask how we might work toward those goals ourselves, independently of election cycles, regardless of whomever occupies the Oval Office or any office.

If I want a healthy and sustainable planet, I must do my part to reduce my carbon footprint – from recycling to public or “green” transportation (biking, walking when possible), reducing packaging, being aware of energy and water consumption, and more.

If I want peace, I must strive for peace in my own relationships. I must humble myself to hear the criticism of others, be willing to do right by others even at the expense of my pride, replace enmity with empathy. I must also strive for peace among my children by modeling peaceful conflict resolution. I must continue to speak and work and occasionally take to the streets for peace in the community and the world. I must remind myself and everyone else that to be against a war is to be for the people, for the planet, for the future, even for the leaders who may wish for war in the first place, as our well-being is deeply and intimately interconnected.

If I want a more just, equitable and compassionate nation, I must embody solidarity with people on the social, cultural and economic margins. I must strive to understand my own privilege and listen to discover how to turn such privilege into equality. I must listen, learn, and act… in that order, or rather, in that order over and over again in a continuing cycle.

Conclusion

During election season, the horse race of who’s up and who’s down and the “scandals” of who said what latest “outrage” can drown out important issues. A negative tone permeates the atmosphere as we define ourselves not only against candidates, but against their supporters (who could be our neighbors!) Even when we agree on what we seek in a leader, we may disagree on which candidate best fulfills those qualities, and set ourselves up against even those who would normally be our allies. Campaign season, so interminably long in the United States, can bring out the worst in all of us.

But the changes required to heal our nation and our world require us working with each other and for each other, independently of the election cycle. They require that we recognize what we have to give beyond our vote. They do not require agreement on a particular decision, like whom to vote for, but they do require cooperation, listening in the midst of disagreement, and recognizing the value of the contributions of others.

As we consider what we require in a leader, let us ask what is required of us? This question was posed in scripture by the prophet Micah, and (separation of church and state notwithstanding), the answer is one that, with slight modification, serves us well as citizens: justice, kindness, and humility.

Image: Disney / ABC Television Group’s Photostream. Available on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivs 2.0 Generic license

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Making A Change For Peace

If you have visited our Facebook page recently you know that we have not been shy about announcing that a change was coming to the Raven Foundation. Well, here it is! The change is a snazzy new header for our homepage. From now on our blog site will be called “The Raven ReView” and it comes with a new tagline, “Change your view. Change the world.”

We hope you like the change. Our idea was to give our homepage an easily recognizable identity as a blog site that provides mind-blowing commentary on a wide range of issues. Our mission is to shift people’s perspective on violence, scapegoating and the things that make for peace. Changing our view on who and what the obstacles to peace are is the surest way to give peace a fighting chance (pun intended!).

The Change Game

Changing the header was easy. Changing our view, that has always been a bit trickier. Because when we think about making the world a better place, a safer place, a more peaceful place our minds immediately turn to an ancient formula: seek out and destroy the scoundrels who are the obstacles to change we seek. That has been the strategy of politicians, generals, power brokers and strong men across time and place.

“Change” is a familiar campaign slogan, as we are all painfully aware right now. But when politicians call for change, all they want is to change places with the person currently in power. Nothing actually changes except the name on the door because no matter their political party or status as an insider or outsider, they all subscribe to the ancient formula of destroying the scoundrels who stand in their way.

Too harsh? I’m afraid not. I can offer as evidence a very simple proof. It has to do with the words politicians use to talk about violence – words we too often accept without question. When violence is being used against us, our leaders use words like aggressive, unprovoked, unlawful, barbaric. However, when the violence is being deployed by us against someone else, we all too willingly agree to use words like necessary, just, defensive, lawful, moral duty. What we conceal by this word play is that we are involved in a dangerous game in which good people will continue to see violence – their violence – as good and necessary while continuing in all sincerity to condemn the violence of their enemies.

The Game Changer

Here’s the catch: Everyone, even the rotten scoundrels we love to hate, thinks of themselves and their cause as good! It’s only in the movies where the enemies of good self-identify as bad! You see, violence is not a problem caused by bad people. Quite the contrary. Violence is a problem because people are so completely convinced of their own goodness that they – we – do bad things without qualms, moral ambiguity or remorse.

Which is why our new header wisely proclaims that if you want to change the world, you need to change your view. And we are not talking about a change of scenery out your window! We are talking about changing your view of your violence as good. If we want to start playing a different game, one that makes peace a real possibility here and now, we need to recognize that our perception of ourselves as good people blinds us to the ways in which we have instigated and provoked violence and in the process become the very obstacles to peace we are seeking to overcome.

René Girard, the founder of the theory of violence which guides our work here at Raven, helped us to understand that in this moment in history humanity faces a terrible alternative: either good people will renounce their use of violence or we will be the authors of our own destruction. Bad guys don’t control our destiny; we do.

Image: Stock Vector by Mihai Maxim via 123rf.com. Quote by Mahatma Gandhi.

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Quiz #2: The Candidate I Love to Hate

The Candidate I Love to Hate

  • In this campaign season, some of us are not just choosing a candidate to vote for. We are also choosing a candidate to hate! Some of us do this openly and some of us feel a bit ashamed about it. But this is an anonymous quiz, so no one will know how you answer.

Image: “Vote” by Maialisa. Available via Pixabay.

Change is coming! Be sure to enter the random drawing to win a $50 gift card at the online store Ten Thousand Villages. For 65 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in the fair trade movement, connecting artisans in developing countries with markets in North America. Every dollar spent on their site helps a family in poverty build a sustainable future. Visit Raven on April 15 to see what’s new on our site and to find out the winner of the drawing.

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No Joke! Change Is Coming: Enter to Win $50 and Shop for Peace

The Raven Foundation is renewing our campaign for a more peaceful world. We believe the tenor of our times calls for deepening our commitment to achieving a lasting peace that does not leave anyone out. Even, and especially, those whom we believe are willful obstacles to that peace. The peace we seek includes the weak and the powerful, rich and poor, terrorist and terrorized, migrants and border defenders, politically correct politicians, rabble-rousers, PhDs and street-wise criminals.

In short, we believe that peace is not sustainable unless it includes all victims as well as their victimizers. Yikes, right!? This is surely not an effort for the fainthearted. Or for those without humility and a sense of humor. Truthfully, if you cannot laugh at yourself, you will become grim and angry – two qualities that do not contribute to peaceful environments.

So to renew our commitment to peace building and have a little fun in the process, we are launching a new header for our homepage. It will go live on April 15. Yes, tax day, because we thought you’d like something to look forward to. To countdown to the launch, we will have three opportunities for you to be part of the change:

  • You can enter here for a random drawing to win a $50 gift card at the online store Ten Thousand Villages. For 65 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in the fair trade movement, connecting artisans in developing countries with markets in North America. Every dollar spent on their site helps a family in poverty build a sustainable future.
  • Each new follower on our Facebook page will earn $1 for to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project up to a total of $500. CARA provides legal aid to families seeking asylum who are being held in 2 detention centers in Texas. Invite your Facebook friends to join our page and help families unfairly stuck in limbo get out and find the safe haven they are seeking.
  • Before we reveal the change on April 15, we will be posting six quizzes on topics that will test your knowledge and maybe even change your view. Have fun with the quizzes, share your answers with us, and be part of the movement to create a peaceful world that doesn’t leave anyone out.

We hope that you will share this article and help us broaden the network of people dedicated to achieving a sustainable, lasting peace that doesn’t leave anyone out. And don’t forget to visit the Raven website on April 15 to see the change and find out who won the $50 shopping spree at Ten Thousand Villages. The truth is, we all win when we work together for peace.

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The Resurrection is No Myth, But It Is Dangerous

The resurrection is often packaged around cute little bunnies and plastic Easter eggs full of candy.

But resurrection isn’t soft and cuddly. Resurrection is dangerous. It is risky. It is not safe.

Resurrection is dangerous because it transforms how we relate to our fellow human beings, specifically to our enemies. And it transforms our understanding of the divine.

Throughout human history we have been caught up in cycles of violence – and we thought the gods were caught up in the same cycles of violence.

For example, the resurrection of Jesus is often compared to myths of resurrected gods throughout the ancient world. One such myth is about an Egyptian god named Horus and his father Osirus. Horus is portrayed as a good god that fought against the forces of evil, namely, an evil god named Set, who killed Horus’s father, a god named Osirus. Fortunately, Horus and his mother were able to resurrect Osirus. But the question remained, what should they to do about Set?

The resurrected Osirus asked Horus a question, “What is the most glorious deed a man can perform?”

Horus answered, “To take revenge upon one who has injured his father or mother.”*

And that’s what Horus did. Once he defeated Set in violent battle, Horus was acclaimed to be “lord of all the earth” and “once again established order and justice.”

There is a certain amount of truth within this myth. Throughout history, humans have thought that the only way to contain evil and violence is with our own violence. Horus wanted to destroy Set in order to establish peace, order, and justice. But the myth is honest about another motivation – no matter how good and just our violence seems to be, it always carries with it a motivation for revenge.

Ultimately, violence cannot be contained. It always escalates into cycles of increasing revenge. We see this cycle in ancient myths, but we also see it in the modern world. Just like the violence between Horus and Set, the United States believe that the way to deal with evil is to violently defeat our enemies. How does the United States respond to ISIS? We seek revenge by killing them.

In other words, Horus is our divine model.

The resurrection of Jesus tells a radically different story than the myth of Horus. Jesus was resurrected not to seek revenge against his enemies. No, the resurrection of Jesus is not a violent myth. The resurrection of Jesus is the Good News that God isn’t out for revenge. Rather, Jesus was resurrected to reveal God’s radical offer of peace and forgiveness.

After his death, the disciples were consumed with fear and locked themselves in a room. The resurrected Jesus suddenly appeared to them. While there, Jesus repeated the phrase, “Peace be with you” three times.

Why did Jesus have to repeat that phrase? Because if this was a myth like other resurrection myths, the disciples would have thought that the resurrected Jesus would seek revenge. The disciples had a lot to fear; after all, they just betrayed, denied, and abandoned Jesus to his death.

But the resurrection of Jesus was no myth. It was Gospel. It was the Good News that God doesn’t hold our sins against us, but forgives us, offers us peace, and invites us to extend that peace to others.

Most of us don’t believe in Jesus. We believe in the gods of myth. We believe in Horus. We believe in violence. Whether our next president is Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Hillary Clinton, if our enemies hit us, we will hit them back. And we will fool ourselves into believing that we will hit back so hard that our enemies will never even think about hitting us again. And the cycle of violence will continue. And Horus will be our god.

Unless we decide to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But faith in the resurrection is dangerous because the resurrection is God’s alternative to the myths of violence. When you believe the resurrection of Jesus, you can no longer fight violence with violence in the name of God. Rather, you “fight” violence with forgiveness. You don’t engage evil with more evil, but with love. Resurrection is dangerous because our enemies may respond to our offer of peace with violence. That’s the risk of faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

But that risk is also our greatest hope for a more peaceful world.

*Told in World Mythology, second edition, edited by Donna Rosenberg, pages 165-168

Image: Flickr, “Resurrection 60,” by Waiting for the Word, Creative Commons License, some changes made

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3 Practical Ways To Lead A More Peaceful Life

With so many horrific things going on in the world right now, it is hard not to think that everything is simply hopeless. And so, it is then hard not to look at the overall picture and feel as if there is nothing one can do. With all this violence in the world, how can I make a difference? Well, even though a part of me is pessimistic and thinks like this at times, the core of me believes in peace as a reality. And so, I am here to try to make a small difference by offering a few easy ways we can make our daily lives more peaceful.  And if we all start doing these things, and then encourage others to do likewise, perhaps we can place our little mark of peace on human history. Or, perhaps we can help lead a peaceful revolution of sorts.

Perhaps . . .

  1. Avoid Gossip

I know this sounds basic, but it is really important, probably more so than we actually realize. This is because, when we gossip, we are creating scapegoats, needless victims if you will. Sure, in doing so, we are uniting with the ones we are gossiping with, but we are doing so by creating an enemy “other.” And this isn’t right. It isn’t just. If you are a Christian, I could say to you that it isn’t “Christlike,” as Christ didn’t create scapegoats or enemy “others.”

But it is just so tempting, isn’t it? And we do it ever-so-subtly too, even nearly non-consciously. I caught myself doing it the other day. Mimetic theory helped me recognize the subtle scapegoating I was engaging in. When I recognized it and stopped, I thought just how insidious, yet powerful, my gossiping was. I could feel the other person and myself bonding on behalf of the other. Yet, knowing what I was doing to that “other” was overwhelmingly troubling for me. “I should know better,” I thought. The only thing I could do was repent, to change my mind (metánoia). I implore all of us to do just that.

  1. Be a Model for your Kids

Last year, I wrote an article entitled “We do not hit!” In it, I talked about a mother who hit her child, while telling the boy “we do not hit!” What was her reason for doing this, you ask? He hit his mother in the face. I couldn’t help but cringe when I witnessed this. I remember thinking something like: “What in the [insert four letter word of choice] are you modeling to your kid!?” Perhaps that isn’t the nicest, but still . . . it’s the first thing that popped into my head.

You see, what we model for our children is of utmost importance. From the time they burst into the world, kicking and screaming (and pooping, peeing, and puking too!), they imitate mommy and daddy. That is how they learn (we have psychologists Andrew Meltzoff and Keith Moore to thank for this understanding of the human). And so, when you hit your child, it frankly doesn’t much matter if you tell him to not hit, he will copy you because he wants to be like you. Jean-Michel Oughourlian says how the power of this human truth is “dazzling in its effects.” (Oughourlian, Puppet of Desire, 2)

So please, don’t hit your kids. And please reconsider whether to spank or not, as spanking is but a euphemism for hitting. If you truly want your child not to hit, then model that for him. Model how you want him to deal with conflict, and how you think he should resolve it.

Changing gears a bit, try modeling other positive behaviors as well. Ask things like: “Can I clear your plate for you?” And then do it! Do it for others too! You know what, she just may start imitating this behavior at some point (my five year old daughter consciously just did this for the first time the other day). Trust me, this stuff works and the apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree. Not broadly speaking, anyway.

  1. Be conscious of your models

A big part of how we define ourselves is in who we take on as models. Most instinctively, we look to our mother and father, perhaps a big brother or older cousin. But we also look to celebrities, politicians, professional athletes, et al. That is why the fashion industry, for instance, looks to those types of folks to endorse their products. They know we want to be “just like them.” Do you think Calvin Klein wants my goofy ass modeling their clothes? No, they want Tom Brady. And speaking of Tom Brady, do you want to really know why people hate him? It is because we want to be like him. He is a model for many of us, but we can’t have what he has and so he becomes a rival. I mean, look, he is gorgeous, has 4 Super Bowl rings, is married to a supermodel, and deep down, you are convinced your wife wants to date him (I’m only half kidding). But seriously, who doesn’t want to have what Tom has?

What I am getting at is that we need to be conscious of who we take on as models. Mimetic theory tells us that we will non-consciously imitate them. That is why Jesus is so important. When he asks others to “follow me,” I think he was being a bit more literal than many acknowledge. He offers a way out of the rivalrous situations in which we so often find ourselves when we take on each other as models. But when we refuse to follow his positive mimesis, as it’s called, when we have models who engage in gossiping, engage in scapegoating, and have an “us vs. them”—nay, “us over them”—worldview, then we will find ourselves copying them and then getting into contentious situations, and becoming such negative models for others. In short, we will find ourselves shrouded in violence.

So be conscious of this. Well, be as conscious as you can. I know much of what makes us human is non-conscious, but we can still try to be as aware as possible of who we are taking on as models. We can ask if who we look up to is perpetually creating an enemy “other” or not. And when we are conscious of the scapegoating mechanism, we can ask how we imitate it, and change our own behavior. We can be positive models for those who, consciously or unconsciously, form identities against others.

So, I hope I offered a couple of ways that we can lead more peaceful lives. Sure, we can’t change the world in one day. We can’t disarm every nuclear bomb right now, nor stop every murder in the streets, but what we can do now is be more peaceful in our day-to-day lives. There is never “enough” peace, not until we are all living in true Peace in the kingdom of God.

Image via Pixabay.

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Politics And The Golden Rule

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.

“What I’m not trying to do is just pass legislation. I’m trying to change the face of American politics.”

Pull these words out of the context of “the news” and let them pulse like the heartbeat of the future.

The words are those of Bernie Sanders, of course — engaged last week in a confrontational interview with Chris Matthews. Free college tuition? Matthews loosed his skepticism on the presidential candidate, who pushed back:

“You and I look at the world differently. You look at it inside the Beltway. I’m not an inside the Beltway person.”

“But the people that vote on taxes are inside the Beltway,” Matthews retorted.

“Those people are going to vote the right way when millions of people demand that they vote the right way on this issue. I have no doubt that as president of the Untied Stated I can rally young people and their parents on this issue. . . . As president of the United States, I would have the bully pulpit. What I’m not trying to do is just pass legislation. I’m trying to change the face of American politics.”

I listen in disbelief and feel hope percolate as poll results come in. This week Sanders triumphed in my wounded home state of Michigan, confounding the media and political status quo yet again. Is this really a revolution emerging from a presidential race?

That’s not supposed to happen. And I find myself skeptically embracing the possibility, spurred by the near total cynicism and intentional cluelessness of the mainstream media. For the past half century, the American media, in collaboration with the military-industrial corporatocracy — the Beltway — has delivered up issueless presidential campaigns to the American public. Business as usual, in all its manifestations, is not to be disrupted. Until now.

Something uncontrolled is happening in American politics. Trump supporters raise their hands in pledges of brand allegiance and the ghost of fascism smirks. America’s racists, so marginalized all these years, converge at the edges of his campaign, knowing that his “disavowal” of the Klan is a wink-wink, nudge-nudge sort of thing. He’s their man. Allegedly respectable Republicans convulse.

Among the Dems, Sanders is bringing democracy to the disaffected, calling not for slivers of social fairness but a full-blown re-emergence of the New Deal, in defiance of the Democrats’ post-Reagan allegiance to compromised ideals. He’s standing up for the sovereignty not of Beltway politics but of working-class America — the people! — reopening the door of participatory politics and declaring that the American government should not be for sale.

I’m so close to believing in the revolution — in this reclamation of the United States of America.

At a recent debate, a woman in the audience asked Sanders: “Do you think God is relevant?”

He answered yes, to serious applause, explaining: “What we are talking about is what all religions hold dear, and that is to do unto others as you would like them to do unto you. . . . I believe morally and ethically we do not have a right to turn our backs on children in Flint, Mich., who are being poisoned or veterans who are sleeping out on the street. . . . I want you to worry about my grandchildren and I promise you I will worry about your family. We are in this together.”

And the Golden Rule enters the presidential race and I stand in awe of the potency of this ethical imperative. It’s the opposite of the spectator idiocy of “my guy is better than your guy,” the state to which the media has reduced American democracy.

If the Golden Rule is not simply a personal but a political principle, we cannot wage war. And knowing this, I can’t think about social fairness without feeling a shattering sense of despair . . .

“The United States launched a series of airstrikes on an al-Shabab training camp in Somalia on Saturday, killing more than 150 militants and averting what a Pentagon official described as an ‘imminent threat’ posed by the group to both U.S. and African Union troops stationed in the war-torn country.”

As Glenn Greenwald put it, reflecting on this latest impersonal news about dead bad guys: “We need U.S. troops in Africa to launch drone strikes at groups that are trying to attack U.S. troops in Africa. It’s the ultimate self-perpetuating circle of imperialism: We need to deploy troops to other countries in order to attack those who are trying to kill U.S. troops who are deployed there.”

And here’s the beginning of an open letter written by four former U.S. Air Force drone operators, which they sent last November to President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and CIA Chief John Brennan: “We are former Air Force service members. We joined the Air Force to protect American lives and to protect our Constitution. We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay. This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.

“When the guilt of our roles in facilitating this systematic loss of innocent life became too much, all of us succumbed to PTSD. . . .”

Changing the face of American politics is a profound, unfathomably difficult undertaking, but it’s nothing at all if it doesn’t begin with the Golden Rule. And this rule cannot be selectively applied.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Image: “The Golden Rule of Religions” by drakoheart. Available on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 2.0 license.

Risen: Screenshot from YouTube

“Risen” – There Are No Enemies Here

One of the biggest debates among Christians revolves around the resurrection. Did Jesus literally resurrect in bodily form? Liberal and progressive Christians generally argue that the resurrection wasn’t about Jesus’ physical body, but about the spirit of Jesus resurrecting in the hearts of his disciples. Conservative and evangelical Christians generally argue that Jesus’ body literally resurrected and his disciples saw his physical, resurrected body.

I hope I can keep my progressive creds, because I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. But I think it’s important to note that we can get sidetracked by these types of theological debates. The resurrection isn’t just about what happened to Jesus’ body. It’s also about what happened to the disciples, and thus, what happens to us.

The move “Risen” explores this very practical question – “What difference does the resurrection make to our lives?”

Whether we believe in a bodily resurrection or not, the resurrection matters because it leads us into a different way of life. In other words, it leads to conversion. This conversion is not simply an intellectual assent to believing that Jesus literally rose from the dead. Risen shows that there is room for faith and doubt when it comes to the resurrection. But there is a different kind of conversion that Risen points to; it’s the conversion from violence to nonviolence. Here’s how Risen portrays this conversion:

In the beginning of the movie, Jewish zealots violently challenge the rule of Rome. In response, the narrator says that, “Rome brings them death.” Death is everywhere in Risen, but the death that comes from Roman violence had a purpose. It was meant to bring peace to the Empire. Peace is a good thing, of course. And the Jewish religious and political elite want peace, too. The High Priest Caiaphas says, “We seek what Caesar seeks – peace.”

It’s important to point out that it’s not “the Jews” who turned against Jesus and his disciples. There were many different responses to his ministry. Some, such as Joseph of Arimathea, loved him. But some others, such as Caiaphas, wanted him dead. And for Rome, a resurrected Jesus simply allowed for more death, as the Roman Governor Pilate threatened that if the resurrection were true, “I’ll kill him again.”

Pilate and Caiaphas aren’t evil people. One of them even asks an important question about all the violence and death, “All that for peace? Is there not another way?”

Unfortunately, they don’t know the other way to peace. They simply follow a pattern that we see throughout human history. Whenever we have felt that our peace and security has been threatened, we unite against a common enemy. This enemy becomes our scapegoat, the one who is blamed for all the problems that we face. This pattern of human history says that the way to peace is to kill or banish our enemies.

Risen clearly shows that Jesus offered an alternative to that pattern. It’s the alternative of nonviolence, love, and forgiveness.

The movie’s main character is Pilate’s right hand man, a Roman Tribune named Clavius. The Tribune had to do Pilate’s dirty work. Clavius was in charge of death. He fought in wars and he supervised crucifixions. Clavius was a violent instrument of death.

Clavius supervised the crucifixion of Jesus. He was there and made sure that Jesus died. When rumors of the resurrection swirled, Clavius was in charge of suppressing the rumors. But as he attempted to suppress the rumors, he came face to face with the alternative to the human pattern of death.

Clavius interrogates two followers of Jesus – Mary Magdalene and a disciple named Bartholomew. They both have a nonviolent and joyful spirit to them, but Bartholomew explicitly makes two points. First, he told Clavius about Jesus, “If he had lived, I believe Yeshua would have embraced you as a brother, even as you slew him.” Second, Bartholomew puts Clavius at ease, saying, “Our only weapon is love.”

The disciples continue to make those types of statement in the face of possible persecution. Over time, those statements lead to Clavius’s conversion from violence to nonviolence. In one scene, Clavius searches a town for the disciples. He follows Mary to a room, where the disciples are enjoying each other’s company. Clavius looks in the room and notices the resurrected Jesus smiling at him. “Welcome, Clavius,” says Jesus. “There are no enemies here.”

Throughout the rest of the movie, Clavius discovers that there is another way to peace. Instead of uniting against a common enemy for peace, Jesus shows us how to live as if “there are no enemies here.” Love for enemies, as Jesus taught in the Gospels, is the way to true peace.

Near the end of the movie, Clavius talks with Jesus as they sit on a boulder, looking deep into the vastness night sky. Clavius confesses, “When you died, I was present.” Jesus gently puts his hand on Clavius’s shoulder and says, “I know.” There’s forgiveness in those words and in that gentle touch, a forgiveness even more vast than the night sky.

“I cannot reconcile all this with the world that I know,” Clavius says to Jesus. That’s because the world that he knew was a world of violence and death. The resurrected Jesus revealed an alternative world. A world without violence leading to the death of our enemies.

“What do you seek?” Jesus asks Clavius. “A day without death,” he answered.

Risen gets the resurrection right, not by answering the debate about whether it literally happened, but by pointing us towards a world without death. “All that for peace? Is there not another way?” Risen has shown us the other way. It’s the way of nonviolent love that embraces even our enemies. It’s the hope that one day we might all be able to say, “There are no enemies here.”

Image: Joseph Fiennes as Clavius in “Risen.” (Screenshot from YouTube.)