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Iowa, Ted Cruz, and the Evangelical Identity Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nonviolent Resistance in the South Hebron Hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what nonviolent resistance to military occupation looks like.

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

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

I’m working with the Italian organization Operation Dove.

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credit:  Cassandra Dixon

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

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True Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love! 

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

Joy! 

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

Peace! 

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

Patience!

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

Kindness, Goodness and Gentleness! 

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

Self-Control! 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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The 2015 Raven Award for Excellence in Arts and Entertainment Goes to Paddington

It is a great pleasure to announce that the winner of the 2015 Raven Award for Excellence in Arts and Entertainment is Paul King for his work as writer and director of the 2015 live action feature length movie, Paddington. The movie chronicles the adventures of a Peruvian bear with a fondness for all things British and is based on Michael Bond’s universally beloved books. Raising issues of immigration, fear, and the longing to belong this animated film is not romantic or idealistic about the problems faced by both the immigrant and the community which must choose to welcome or reject him. Rather it offers an insightful reflection on the risks and rewards of welcoming a stranger onto our shores and into our homes. Suzanne Ross’ review of the movie is available here.

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The Raven award honors an artist for an insightful representation of some aspect of mimetic theory. Paul King’s story of the Brown family’s transformative relationship with an alien in their midst creatively dramatizes the paradoxes of violence and peace that result from the scapegoat mechanism. As demonstrated by the founder of mimetic theory, René Girard, the violent exclusion of scapegoats is the foundation and sustaining principle of human community. And as developed by the theologian James Alison, this mimetic insight reveals the process by which peace emerges as a scapegoat is transformed from dangerous other to beloved member of the community. This is the very journey that the Brown family takes with Paddington and we hear a line of dialogue near the end of the movie that sums up this reversal perfectly: “This family needed that wee bear every bit as much as he needed us.” That very neediness or vulnerability turns out to be the essential ingredient for the transformation to occur. Paul King’s insightful portrayal of this vulnerable, trusting bear offers an antidote to the fear and anxiety that currently dominates immigration debates.

Suzanne Ross’ interview with Mr. King appears below.

More about Paul King and Paddington

Paul King began his career in the theatre, where he conceived and directed a number of comedy shows, collaborating with Richard Ayoade, David Mitchell, Robert Webb, and Noel Fielding, among others. In 2001 he won the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival, which led to various television commissions including the wildly successful cult series The Mighty Boosh, for which Paul was BAFTA nominated and went on to direct for three seasons. In 2009 Paul wrote and directed his first feature film, the brilliantly inventive imaginary road trip Bunny and the Bull. This was followed by the Little Britain BBC Christmas Special Come Fly With Me (the first of a series), which Paul directed in 2010. A lifelong fan of Michael Bond’s Paddington books, Paul is both writer and director of the film adaptation of Paddington Bear.

Paddington was nominated in two categories by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 2015, Best British Film and Best Adapted Screenplay, and won Best Film in the 2015 Children’s BAFTA awards. Paddington also received the Empire award for Best Comedy in 2015. And according to the film’s executive producer, Rosie Alison, it was a big box office success around the world.

2015 Raven Award Press Release

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Divine Revenge? Islam and Khamenei’s False Doctrine of God

Iran and Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties yesterday after a weekend of escalating violence. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia executed a popular Shiite cleric named Nimr al-Nimr, who angered the Saudi Royal Family by calling for their removal in 2011. The Saudi Royal Family claims that the execution was an act of national defense, because it accuses Iran of creating “terrorist cells” in Saudi Arabia.

In response to the execution, Iran requested that the Saudi ambassador condemn the execution. Saudi Arabia said, “Hey, two can play that game” and requested that the Iranian ambassador “vehemently object to Iran’s condemnation” of the execution.

Then Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, took to Twitter (as apparently you do when you are a supreme leader) to proclaim God’s vengeance! “Divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians.”

Ouch.

There is a definite pattern of revenge to this story, but it has nothing to do with God. As René Girard has taught us, revenge is human, not divine.

Girard claimed that humans are mimetic, and we are particularly mimetic when it comes to violence. In other words, humans imitate violent words and actions, passing them back and forth. But the violence escalates because each side in a conflict wants to deliver the final blow. In this sense, the Saudis and the Iranians are just like the majority of human beings. According to Girard, humans tend to believe that,

Only violence can put an end to violence, and that is why violence is self-propagating. Everyone wants to strike the last blow, and reprisal can thus follow reprisal without any true conclusion ever being reached. (Violence and the Sacred, 26)

Throughout his long career, Girard revealed the human aspect of violence. Like the Saudis and Iranians, it is we who condemn one another with escalating threats of condemnation and violence. According to Girard, violence is purely human.

Which means that God has nothing to do with violence or vengeance or revenge.

Girard was a Christian who claimed that the long trajectory of the Bible reveals the distinction between human violence and God’s nonviolent love. He challenged any notion that God is associated with violence. Girard only made a few comments about Islam during his career, but I’d like to show how the Islamic tradition offers a similar challenge to associating God with violence.

Because I want to be clear that I am not imposing my Christian theology onto Islam, I’ll tell you about Mouhanad Khorchide, professor of Islamic Religious Education at the University of Munster in Germany. As with the Bible, Khorchide knows that there are different images of God in the Qur’an. For him, the question is, “Which image of God are we talking about?” Khorchide says that some Muslims choose to believe that God is a dictator who acts like a violent tribal leader that cannot be challenged.

Political leaders, like the Ayatollah, promote this understanding of God because they view themselves as “shadows of God on earth.” Khorchide says, “This sends out an unequivocal message: anyone contradicting the ruler is also contradicting God.” This makes God into a tribal deity, who pits “us” against “them.”

Of course, one can read any holy book, including the Koran and the Bible, and find images of a violent tribal deity. But Khorchide asserts that the God of the Koran is not like that. “I have a different reading of the Koran. God is not an archaic tribal leader, he’s not a dictator. Of the book’s 114 suras, why do 113 of them begin with the phrase ‘In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful?’ There has to be a reason for this.”

The reason is that the God of the Koran is Grace and Mercy. For Khorchide, “The Koranic God presents himself as a loving God. That’s why the relationship between God and man is a bond of love similar to the one between a mother and a child.” The God of Grace and Mercy radically transforms the human understanding of God and violence.

Khorchide talks specifically about the Islamic concept of Hell. For many, Hell is the ultimate example of God’s violence and revenge. This is where evil doers will burn forever as a result of divine vengeance. But Khorchide states that idea is a complete misunderstanding of Islam’s view of Hell. “Hell is nothing other than the confrontation with one’s own transgressions. It’s not a punishment that comes from without.”

The Ayatollah is wrong to associate God with revenge. And so are we whenever we associate God with violence. The God of Islam has nothing to do with revenge. Rather, the God of Islam, the God of Mercy, wants us to stop the cycles of vengeance that threaten the future of our world. In fact, God wants us to transform our bitter enmity with friendship. As the Koran states that God’s goal for human relationships is reconciliation – “Good and evil cannot be equal, repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend” (41:34).

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Image: Flickr, Khamenei poster in Persepolis, by Nick Taylor, Creative Commons License, some changes made.

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Love South of Heaven

Write about love, as in love thy enemy, and the social recoil sounds like this:

“There is no nexus at which we can speak with ISIS. Singing Kumbaya while being led to a beheading can’t work.”

Or this:

“Any thug who threatens a cop gets what he deserves. One bullet or ten — I could care less. If a thug will threaten a cop or a prison guard, he will kill or maim me or mine without hesitation for very little reason. You want to give these thugs ‘civil rights’ — I want to give them a funeral. My way insures me and mine do not get killed or maimed. Your way insures I probably will.”

These are responses to recent columns, in which I have tried to address the American and global hell created by the belief that violence, rather than endlessly begetting itself and spewing consequences far beyond conventional perception, actually solves problems in something other than the shortest of short terms. This is tricky. “Love thy enemy,” or words to that effect, may be the foundation of Christianity and every other major religion, but they’re utterly misunderstood and belittled in the realm of popular culture and I doubt they’ve ever been taken seriously at the level of government.

It’s what they do in heaven. Sing Kumbaya, play the harp, love the other dead people (who, of course, went through a vetting process to get in similar to what we impose on refugees from Syria or Iraq). Here on Earth . . . come on, get real. The cynics cry “Trump! Trump!” because he tells it like it is, the way a junior high bully would. It’s simple. It’s linear. A bullet for a thug and the thug is dead. Problem solved.

Of course, a bigger problem is also created, but to relate this problem — ISIS, for instance — to one’s own actions, or the actions of one’s country, is way too complicated, so the cynics choose to stay simple.

How do we counter this simplistic-mindedness?

“The usual way to generate force is to create anger, desire and fear,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, peace activist. “But these are dangerous sources of energy because they are blind . . .”

Let’s pause mid-quote and summon the memory of our own impulsive emotions, our own anger and fear and blindness. Now let’s arm those emotions. Whether or not we’re “justified” in what we do next, the person on the receiving end is certain to have lost his or her humanity, at least for a terrible instant.

But what could happen next is so much worse: When these emotions become collective, the result is mob mentality. And when they become institutionalized — buried deep in the nation’s soul — the inevitable result is war . . . and war . . . and war. And it’s self-perpetuating. The dehumanized enemy strikes back, perhaps with horrendous actions, which of course justify what we do next. Eventually one side or the other “wins” and “peace” prevails for a moment or two, but it’s always a broken and temporary thing, requiring armed guards at the perimeter. This is peace with fear.

And it’s a way of life, humanity’s normal: being perpetually armed, perpetually terrified, perpetually blind.

But Hanh’s quote continues: “. . . whereas the force of love springs from awareness, and does not destroy its own aims. Out of love and the willingness to act, strategies and tactics will be created naturally from the circumstances of the struggle.”

The force of love springs from awareness. What, oh God, does this mean? What, especially, does it mean beyond personal acts of big-hearted decency? Is love always distorted, often beyond recognition, when it is institutionalized?

Consider, for instance, the idea of the “penitentiary.” With roots in the word “penitent,” it was conceived by early 19th century prison reformers to be a place of resurrection — spiritual rebirth — for wayward souls. Maybe there was always a moralistic lunacy attached to the concept. In any case, it’s no accident that the concept degraded over the decades to the word “pen” and the incarcerated have pretty much lost all their humanity.

“Prison must be something they fear, not just a momentary . . . way station on the road to the next crime,” my correspondent, quoted above, a former prison guard (I think), wrote in his reply to my column from last week, in which I discuss an inmate’s beating death by guards. “Today’s prisons are a joke. The guards live in fear of the inmates — not the other way around. . . . Beatings are all that will keep some inmates in line. Who ever said there is no such thing as a bad boy was a lunatic. There are bad boys — more than you want to contemplate, and all they understand is superior violence.”

I quote him in order to let his words percolate next to those of Thich Nhat Hanh. “The force of love springs from awareness.” Again I ask, what does this mean? What does it mean in a world where violence is the answer to so many of our problems and a large percentage of the population is angry, fearful — and armed? What does it mean in a war- and prison-dependent economy, stoked by a too-often clueless media with a financial stake in more of the same? What does it mean in a world where cynicism rules?

I reach out to the planet’s peacemakers. I know there are millions of you, enduring hardship and risking your lives to free us, to free the planet, from our self-inflicted hell.

“The careless habits of mind and heart that allow us to pollute and waste also allow us to treat other human beings as disposable,” the editors of Commonweal wrote last June, commenting on the papal encyclical “Laudato Si.” “‘A true ecological approach,’ (Pope) Francis writes, ‘always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.’”

I would add: the cry of the refugees, the cry of the warriors, the cry of the inmates, the cry of the police, the cry of the prison guards . . . the cry of all humanity. Let us listen, let us reach out, let us look one another in the eyes no matter how difficult this proves to be.

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

© 2015 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Image: Copyright Lane Erickson via 123rf.com

 

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Talk To Me Tuesday – The RavenCast Episode 8 – Advent as Holy Political Protest

In this episode of the RavenCast, I discuss Advent as political protest. Advent means “coming” and during the Advent season Christians await the coming of Jesus at Christmas. But Advent was originally a festival of the Roman Empire that celebrated the coming of Caesar Augustus as the divine savior of the world, who brought peace through violent conquest. When Christians use the term Advent, we subvert the violent ways of Caesar Augustus by proclaiming that Jesus, and his way of nonviolent love, is the true savior of the world.

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Show Notes

  • Advent means “coming.” It’s the season that occurs during the four weeks before Christmas that anticipates the coming of Christ.
  • But, in the first century, Advent was a festival that celebrated the coming of Caesar Augustus (For more on the Roman Empire and Advent, see Ethelbert Stauffer’s book, Christ and the Caesars and Rob Bell’s video “The Advent of Caesar.”)
  • Christian Advent season is awaiting the One who shows us the altnernative to the ways of the Roman Empire, the ways of peace through violence.
  • The early Christians subverted the ways of Rome in the most subversive way possible: not through more violence, but through nonviolence and love.
  • The four Gospel readings during Advent are reveal the alternative to the ways of violence by showing us the ways of peace.
  • The second week of advent we read John the Baptists alternative to the violence of the world, which is to share our clothing, food, lives with others and to trust that we have enough.
  • The last week of Advent we read Mary’s Magnificat, which is a song about political revolution. It’s holy political protest
  • Advent awaits the one who saves the world not through more violence, but through love and forgiveness and nonviolence.
  • Jesus as the king of the world, sat on his throne, a cross, and pronounced judgement on the world. That judgement was forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
  • That radical and universal forgiveness is the gift that God offers to all humans, “all flesh.” Are we able to receive that gift? Or will we be resentful that even our enemies are offered that gift?
  • During Advent, we prepare the way of the Lord – Jesus – and that preparation involves receiving and participating in his radical forgiveness.
  • The United States largely believes that the way to peace is the way of Caesar Augustus, the way of violence and military strength. The United States believes more in Caesar Augustus than we do in Jesus the Christ.
  • The United States is the greatest military superpower the world has ever seen. We spend more on our military than the next seven nations combined. And yet we still don’t feel safe. Why? Because violence doesn’t bring peace, safety, and security. It just brings more violence.
  • In the spirit of John the Baptist, Jean-Michel Oughourlian says in his book Psychopolitics that the way to peace is by sharing what we have. “Instead of spending astronomical sums on arms, let us spend instead on roads, hospitals, schools, houses, businesses, to create jobs and so on. Instead of financing war, let us purchase peace” (pg. 23).

Images: Cefalù Pantocrator retouched” by Andreas Wahra – Own work (own photography). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Statue-Augustus” by Till NiermannOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

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Advent Meditation 2: The Way to Peace, or Seeing Muslims Through Advent Eyes

Editor’s Note: This Advent meditation is based on the Gospel text for the second week of Advent, Luke 3:1-6. Although I applied the text specifically to seeing Muslims through Advent eyes, as Muslims are targets of foreign policy violence and aggression by politicians, media, and even Christian leaders, the Gospel message of seeing God in victims and enemies could apply to any person or group used by another as a scapegoat.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” I hear the cry go up through the wilderness of barren souls, souls laid bare of compassion by a spirit of fear rushing like an evil wind harshly biting ‘neath the skin.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” I hear, as people prepare their armaments, as gun sales soar and more and more we see nation after nation heading for war.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” I whisper, “Prepare me, prepare we, prepare the way of the Lord.” I take a breath to inhale the Spirit of Love that utters these words and exhale the spirit of the age that prepares for every kind of violence but never for reconciliation. I let the decree fill me, focus me, open me, urge me, guide me. In a wilderness of fear and hatred, where the howling voices of politicians and generals and profiteers demonize some and call others to arms, I contemplate what it means to prepare now, in the midst of jingoistic bells tolling for battle, the way of the Prince of Peace.

Because to prepare the way of the Lord is to prepare our hearts and minds and whole selves to live into what was revealed 2000 years ago, a revelation that is obscured by calls to arms and theologies of glory. God comes among us not in the form of the powerful, not with wealth and weapons, but humbly, meekly, mildly. God is found in the servant, the outcast, the vilified. God is in those whom we reject, those whom we abandon, those we mock, those we scapegoat, those we kill.

And in 2015 – when bombs and missiles fall in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen, when people cower under threat of flying robotic weapons of death, when they are made to flee their broken countries, homes destroyed, family members murdered, cramming themselves into boats and camps to escape a living hell only to get doors slammed in their faces, and when the land of the free has become the belly of the imperial beast and citizens must endure the hatred and distrust of their neighbors – we must see the face of God in our Muslim sisters and brothers.

We can’t make a highway for Peace by leveling land with bombs. The mountains that must be made low are the blockades around our hearts, the towering egos and pillars of pride that block our vision. We can’t pave the way for Love by filling the valleys and ditches and missile-made craters with dead bodies. The low places that must be filled with hope and joy and welcome reside in the hearts of those who have been forgotten in the rush to destroy an enemy that can only be strengthened by violence, because violence itself is the true enemy. The collateral families, those who weep and mourn cradling their beloved – weak and war-weary, injured, deceased, in their arms – these are the people who must be uplifted, embraced, comforted with the assurance that they and their loved ones are cherished. The men and women who privately weep in silence after enduring one more insult, one more injury, these are they who must be enfolded in our friendship.

Victims of missiles abroad and malice at home prostrate themselves on the ashes of land blown apart or fire-bombed mosques while we dare to wonder if the god they worship is too violent.

How the log in our eye blinds us!

Triumphalist Christianity is a hall of distorted mirrors, a discordant echo chamber, cheering American aggression. As we make roads on land for legions of soldiers and turn skies into aerial pathways for drones, we steer ourselves through a dark and narrow world that shuts out the light of Christ. We know not who we are or what we do. Our way of violence makes way for vengeance. Moving in circles on this crooked path, entrapped within the walls that shut others out but cannot box Christ in, we are blinded by our fears to the terrors we inflict.

The way of the Lord must lead away from our skewed and narrow perspectives. If we prepare a highway by paving over others, we are our own stumbling blocks and it is our hearts that must be cleared of thorns and brambles. He is with those we have deemed enemies and it is our own hearts he still must reach.

We open the door to the Prince of Peace when the truth of our victims’ humanity pierces our hearts with unbearable light that shatters the fragile façade of sacred violence on which we build our lives. As he walks and the light illumines the darkness within us, our hearts are washed in tears of repentance. It is then we recognize that whatever name we use for the Holy One, however we pray, we are united in worship to the true God when we love one another, and united in idolatry to the false gods of violence and fear when we condemn each other with hate. When we let the Lord of Love pave a way through our hearts, we will embrace our sisters and brothers in Islam and every creed. We will lay down our arms, taking our security in the Love that reconciles us and our enemies into Love’s own self. We leave ourselves vulnerable to those who do not understand, but God’s love will eventually pierce their hearts too, and in our non-retaliation and offering of love we become instruments of God’s peace.

The way of the Lord cuts through barriers and labels, paved by instruments of peace who come from all religions and no religion at all. All who show mercy, compassion, generosity and love across barriers of human divisions bear the fruit of a new world ushered in by the Prince of Peace. When others taste and see the goodness of this fruit they bear it in themselves too, until the old world of violence is drowned and reborn again in the waters of Love’s womb. And all shall see the salvation of God.

Image: Copyright Jorbasa Fotografie via Flickr. Available via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerives 2.0 Generic license

Donald Trump

Beyond Trump: The Politics of Courage

If Donald Trump can thrive politically by throwing meat to the American id, what else is possible? How about the opposite?

Trump’s most recent attempt to reclaim poll supremacy — his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what’s going on” — is not simply reckless and dangerous, but also starkly clarifying. America’s bully billionaire, so rich he doesn’t have to heed the niceties of political correctness, is channeling old-time American racism, as mean and ugly and self-righteous as it’s ever been. Jim Crow is still with us. “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” is still with us.

Americans — at least a certain percentage of them — like their racism straight up, untampered with code language, unmodified by counter-values. Come on! An enemy’s an enemy. A scapegoat’s a scapegoat. Don’t we have the freedom in this country to dehumanize and persecute whomever we want?

The unfolding Trump phenomenon is stunning to behold because there’s no telling how far — or where — it will go. Following his latest reckless “proposals,” which include mandatory IDs for Muslims, he’s being compared with Adolf Hitler. He’s also being called the best friend ISIS could have, as he spreads outrage and hatred across the globe and, in the process, helps foment the same war they’re attempting to engage.

Fascinatingly, some of Trump’s biggest critics are neocons and fellow Republicans, who, though not that far away from him politically, feel threatened by his reckless candor. The conservative strategy, at least since the Nixon era, has been to use and manipulate American racism rather than directly rouse it to a fever pitch. That sort of volatility isn’t so easy to control and could be counterproductive to the economic and geopolitical interests of the stewards of American empire.

For all the baseness of Trump’s scapegoat politics, he’s doing, it seems, one thing right, which is what makes him unacceptable as the Republican presidential nominee. He’s speechifying as though values matter, as though they supersede market and strategic interests. The danger Trump represents cuts in multiple directions.

All of which makes me wonder whether American democracy is, in spite of itself, at a transition point. I mean, it’s been decades, from my point of view, since real, society-changing values have been on the line in a presidential election. Questions of war and peace, among much else, have been utterly off the table, with any serious questioning of U.S. militarism ignored and belittled by the mainstream media and completely excluded from the corridors of national decision-making.

The Republicrats rule and war is no longer merely inevitable but eternal. At the same time, the security state has grown like cancer and the prison-industrial complex has expanded exponentially. America in its exceptionalism is the world’s largest arms dealer, snoop, jailer and hell raiser. We destabilize the planet in the interests of the corporate few and call it exporting democracy.

And none of this is Donald Trump’s doing.

But the fact that he’s a threat to this status quo raises some interesting questions. Trump is a dangerous idiot, but perhaps as he pursues his own interests he is also, unintentionally, helping to crack open the locked vault of American politics.

“He’s essentially the American id,” writes Glenn Greenwald, “simply channeling pervasive sentiments unadorned with the typical diplomatic and PR niceties designed to prettify the prevailing mentality.”

The challenge Trump poses, it seems to me, is this: If the basest of human instincts — fear and revenge and the hunger to blame our troubles on a scapegoat — can enter, or re-enter, American politics, can the best of human nature enter as well and, in the process, challenge the prevailing status quo more deeply and profoundly than Trump could ever imagine?

Let me put it another way. “In the practice of tolerance,” said the Dalai Lama, “one’s enemy is the best teacher.”

Such a statement poses a serious challenge, of course, on the order of a quote I heard several years ago from a seatmate on a transatlantic airplane flight: You’re as close to God as you are to the person you like the least.

What if such ideas had political resonance? What if — even in the face of tragedy, even in the face of murder — we lived within a social and political structure that was committed not to dehumanizing and destroying a designated enemy but to understanding that enemy and, my God, looking inward for the cause of problems, not simply flailing outward with high-tech weaponry? What if human compassion, soul deep and without strings attached, played a role in international relations?

Believe me, I’m not asking these questions simplistically, with some pat belief that the answers are obvious. Rather, I’m pressing forward into a dark unknown, or so it seems.

“It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace,” António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner forRefugees, said earlier this year, in the context of a global refugee crisis staggering beyond belief.

To grow spiritually is to begin to realize how little one knows and practice reaching out not with aggression but with humility. This is what takes courage. Can we begin creating nations with this kind of courage, whose “interests” embrace the welfare of the whole planet?

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

© 2015 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Photo Credit: Flickr, Gage SkidmoreCreative Commons License

army 1

America Is Possessed: Guns, War, and the Gospel’s Answers to Violence

Another mass shooting on U.S. soil and we’re all looking for answers.

Actually, there were two mass shootings on Wednesday. One in San Bernardino, California, and the other in Savannah, Georgia. We also know that “there have been 355 mass shooting in 336 days.” We are averaging more than one mass shooting a day.

America clearly has a problem.

In response, politicians are quick to spread a popular myth about mass shootings: that mental illness is to blame. I’m all for having better healthcare for the mentally ill, but mental illness has very little to do with mass shootings.

Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, states that mental illness accounts for a very small percentage of violent crimes in America. The website mentalhealth.gov backs up his claim, “Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illness are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.”

Unfortunately, when politicians quickly point to mental illness as the cause of mass shootings they scapegoat the mentally ill. Scapegoating does two interrelated things. First, it blames someone else for the problem. Second, in blaming someone else, it allows us to think that we are innocent of the problem.

But the truth is that the United States is not innocent. We are a violent nation. And politicians generally pride themselves on just how violent the United States is. Of course, they will say that the goal of our violence is a more secure and peaceful America, but we can’t afford to fool ourselves any longer. Our addiction to violence won’t bring peace. It will only bring more violence.

The Gospels, Demon Possession, and Roman Military Violence

There’s an important story in the Gospels that relates to Americas problem with violence. According to Mark, Jesus was traveling through to the country of the Gerasenes, where he encountered a man possessed by demons living on the outskirts of town. The man was naked, isolated, and living in a graveyard.

Demon possession just sounds weird to my Western mind, but if we stick with the story we will find a key insight into being human.

Jesus asked the man, “What is your name?” The man replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

The term “legion” was a Roman military term that referred to a company of 6,000 soldiers. The Roman legions had conquered the area, crushing anyone who got in their way.

How did the man become possessed by a legion of demons? It happened in two ways, both explained by mimetic theory. Because humans are mimetic, we absorb the culture around us. The man became possessed because he absorbed the demonic violence of the Roman military. He managed his inner demons by shouting day and night and inflicting himself with wounds.

But the other Garasenes were also possessed by Roman military violence. They were the crowd that united violently against the man possessed by the legions. He was their scapegoat, the one excluded from their community. The Garasenes knew that they were good because they defined themselves over and against this violent man possessed by demons. The balance of good and evil within their community depended upon viewing their scapegoated victim as evil.

The Gospel, Demon Possession, and American Military Violence

The political critique of military violence in the Gospels is obvious. The Kingdom of God is the alternative to the Kingdom of Rome, but not just the Kingdom of Rome. It’s the alternative to any political ideology that condones their use of violence. In the story of the man possessed by demons, we find that violence cannot be contained; it spreads like a contagious disease until we are all possessed by its demons.

And that’s what is happening throughout the United States. Like the Roman legions who sought to spread the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) with the sword, the United States seeks to spread peace and security through drone attacks, sniper rifles, and smart bombs.

We are possessed by that same spirit of violence and hostility. The more we attempt to wage peace through violence, the more we reinforce the spirit of violence that possesses us all.

For example, the United States spends $610 billion on “defensive spending” – in other words, on the ability kill our enemies. That’s more than the next seven countries (China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the United Kingdom, India, and Germany) combined! Those seven countries *only* spend a combined $601 billion on defense.

Despite that astronomical spending on the American War Machine, we continue to fight the never ending War on Terror. All the while presidential candidates say, with a straight face, that our military isn’t strong enough!

It’s time to acknowledge the truth. The United States, from our government to our citizenry, believes that violence is the way to solve our problems. Many US citizens think the solution to our gun problem is to have more guns.

The Gospels claim that there is only one solution to ending the spirit of violence. It begins with refusing to participate in the cycle of violence. But it’s more than that. It’s also to identify with the victims of violence. Whereas human culture is founded on the scapegoat mechanism that violently defines “us” against “them,” the Gospels invert the scapegoat mechanism so that a new human culture is born – one that finds community not by uniting against a scapegoat, but by identifying with scapegoats in the inclusive spirit of love and compassion.

NT Wright brilliantly makes this point in his commentary on this story. Within this story we detect shades of the cross, where Jesus identifies with all victims of violence,

At the climax of Mark’s story Jesus himself will end up naked, isolated, outside the town among the tombs, shouting incomprehensible things as he is torn apart on the cross by the standard Roman torture, his flesh torn to ribbons by the small stones in the Roman lash. And that, Mark is saying, will be how the demons are dealt with. That is how healing takes place. Jesus is coming to share the plight of the people, to let the enemy do its worst to him, to take the full force of evil on himself and let the others go free.

Jesus sets us free by revealing that violence is a force of evil, not by violently fighting back. That would only reinforce the demonic forces of evil. No, Jesus sets us free by taking violence upon himself and offering forgiveness in return.

If we are to finally end these mass murders in the United States, we do need gun legislation. But even that’s not radical enough. We need to end our dependence on military violence because it’s infecting our nation with the demonic spirit of violence. Instead, we need to foster peace by identifying with our scapegoats, rather than by killing them.

Copyright: outsiderzone / 123RF Stock Photo