Lindsey and adam 1

Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast: Episode 4 – The Politics of Terrorism and the Politics of Jesus

The Discussion:



Show Notes*

How should we respond to terrorist attacks in Paris?

Nearly 90% of people killed in American drone attacks were not targeted. American violence is terrorizing the Middle East, labeling all “unknown people it kills as ‘Enemies Killed in Action,’” but they are often civilians. (The Intercept: The Drone Papers: The Assassination Complex.)

Last Thursday, the United States killed “Jihadi John” in a drone strike, killing the man responsible for beheading Western journalists. (In the discussion, Adam mistakenly said he beheaded monks. That was a different ISIS group.) The Huffington Post wrote, “Britain said the death of the militant would strike at the heart of the Islamic State group.” Tragically, killing Jihadi John didn’t stop ISIS from striking back. The mimetic nature of violence reveals that violence is imitative and it escalates. Jesus gave the prophetic message that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” We are experiencing the horrific pattern of escalating violence at work.

The logic of terrorism hopes to get a violent response in return for violence. That way terrorists can continue a narrative that they are actually the victims of Western aggression. In striking back, we give terrorists exactly what they want.

The Politics of Violence and the Politics of Jesus

Our violent political message isn’t working. Francois Hollande, President of France, said, “We are going to lead a war that will be pitiless.” He vowed to show “no mercy.” For Christians, this is in stark contrast to the Kingdom of God that Jesus invites us to living into. In the Beatitudes, Jesus claimed, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Just as violence is mimetic and will lead to a future of more violence, mercy is also mimetic. In other words, violence only ensures a future of violence. Mercy is our only possibility for a future of mercy and peace.

Negotiations alone won’t work. We also need reparations. So, what is a better solution to terrorism than responding with violence? Girardian Jean Michel-Oughourlian provides the answer in his book Psychopolitics,

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. (page 23)

*You may hear sounds in the background. That’s Lindsey’s toddler, which is also the reason for Lindsey’s side-glances.

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


In Memory of René Girard: The Truth about Life and Death

Many scholars have claimed that René Girard’s mimetic theory is one of the most important insights of the 20th century. But those of us who have been highly influenced by René know better. For us, it is not an overstatement to state that René’s explanation of mimetic theory is the most important discovery of human nature in the last 2,000 years. That is, since the Gospels.

This morning brought the news that René has passed away at age 91. “Girardians,” as we are called, have been on social media sharing our sorrow at his passing, but also our profound sense of gratitude for this giant among human beings. We stand on his shoulders. And our vision is all the clearer for it.

As I reflected upon the news, I was struck by the fact that René taught us so much about death. Specifically, about the scapegoat mechanism. René confronted us with the truth about being human. We all have a propensity to manage our conflicts by blaming someone else for them. We find unity against a common enemy. In good sacrificial formula, all of our conflicts and sins against one another are washed away as we unite in expelling or sacrificing our scapegoat. Temporary reconciliation and peace descends upon the community, but it is only temporary. For the expulsion or murder of our scapegoat never actually solves our problems. Our conflicts re-emerge and the scapegoating mechanism continues.

But if René taught us about death, he also taught us about life. The solution to our natural inclination toward scapegoating is found in the Judeo-Christian tradition, specifically in the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus’ death. “Christ agrees to die,” wrote René in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, “so that mankind will live.”

Many progressive Christians who do not know René’s work will bristle at that statement. Indeed, without reading René’s books, it could sound like a form of penal subsitutionary atonement theory that claims Jesus allows humanity to live by saving us from the violent wrath of God.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The truth that René revealed throughout his career is that wrath doesn’t belong to God. It belongs solely to humans. In anthropological terms, what was revealed by the death of Jesus was the human scapegoat mechanism. Once you read René’s works, you realize how obvious it is that the violence at the cross had nothing to do with God, but everything to do with the human propensity to scapegoat.

Still, at this point, we should warn ourselves not to scapegoat penal substitutionary atonement theory. After all, if René taught us anything it’s that human have been projecting our own violence onto God since the foundation of the world. We justify our violence and hatred against our scapegoats in the name of God or peace or justice or whatever we deem to be a important to our well-being.

René taught us that to truly live is to stop scapegoating our enemies, and to stop justifying it in the name of God. Once at a conference, René was asked what would happen if mimetic theory became wildly successful. He answered, “There would be no more scapegoating.”

To end scapegoating and to truly live we need to follow Jesus by turning away from violence and turning toward our neighbors, including those we call our enemies, in the spirit of love and nonviolence.

René not only taught us that truth, he lived into it. I met him once at a conference for young Girardian scholars. I was struck by the fact that René wasn’t interested in teaching us, or making sure we had his theory “right.” What he wanted more than anything was to talk with us. He wanted to learn about our lives and what interested us. He had a special humility about him – instead of taking glory for himself, he gave glory to others. For example, I remember sitting across the table from him. He smiled as he looked me in the eyes and said, “I’ve watched your Mimetic Theory 101 videos. They’re good.” That’s the way he was. He affirmed all of us and encouraged us to follow the truth, no matter where it led.

René always gave the last word to the Gospels. It’s where he found the truth about life and death. It’s only fitting that I end with this quote that sums up René’s theory about God, violence, and love,

The following is the basic text, in my opinion, that shows us a God who is alien to all violence and who wishes in consequence to see humanity abandon violence:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45, Things Hidden, 183)

May our brother René Girard rest in peace and rise in the glorious love of God.

Image: Screenshot from YouTube.

a and s ravencast

Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast: Episode 2 with Suzanne Ross on Mimetic Theory and Maria Montessori

Show Notes

In this episode, Suzanne Ross discusses her latest project on Maria Montessori. You can keep up with Suzanne by liking her Facebook page The Maria Montessori Project.

We talk about the intersections of mimetic theory and Montessori.

Mimetic theory and Montessori’s teaching methods provide ways of transforming cultures of violence into cultures of peace.

tangled 1

Tangled – Let Down Your Hair

The introduction to Tangled is as heart wrenching as it gets. Within the first moments of the movie, we are introduced to a miserable woman named Gothel who kidnaps an infant princess named Rapunzel. She does so because of the princess’ magic hair—locks that restore youth and heal wounds. For the next 18 years, sweet and innocent Rapunzel would be forced to live in a tower hidden in the woods. Other than Mother Gothel, she would have no contact with the world.[1]

What a horrifying beginning to a story!

To keep Rapunzel hidden, Gothel instills paralyzing fear in the young girl. She deceptively convinces Rapunzel that “the world is dark and selfish and cruel.” This keeps her psychologically trapped, just as the tower keeps her physically incarcerated. However, because of a yearly ritual—one where the King and Queen release thousands of floating lanterns on Rapunzel’s birthday—she remains hopeful that there is more to the world than her “mother” would have her believe.

When an unlikely thief named Eugene Fitzherbert (who goes by the pseudonym, Flynn Rider) stumbles upon Rapunzel’s tower, she finally has her opportunity to experience the world. To ensure her escape, she knocks the intruder unconscious. She then hides his stolen merchandise—a satchel containing the royal crown. With the promise that she will return his “property,” Rapunzel then convinces Flynn to guide her to a place where she can witness the floating lanterns first-hand.

Once out of the tower, Rapunzel openly embraced the world God created—the grass between her toes, the wind in her hair, and the coolness of a babbling creek. It is truly a magical moment, one that captures how one should engage this beautiful planet. Flynn, though, used the moment for other matters. He devised a plan to take naïve Rapunzel to a bar that was a haven for the outcasts of society in hopes that she would scare back to her tower. Then, he could have his stolen goods back and be on his way. However, Flynn’s plan backfires when Rapunzel proves him wrong in every way.

Mural of Rapunzel by Matthew Distefano

Mural of Rapunzel by Matthew Distefano

Once in the “Snuggly Duckling,” as it is ironically named, Rapunzel is met by the local “roughians.” When confronted by the crowd, she does not shy away for long, as Flynn had hoped. Instead, Rapunzel almost immediately inspires the criminal men to consider something other than their violent ways. She inspires them to break out into a song, of all things—a jaunty tune about having yet to be fulfilled dreams. Shortly after the song ends though, the palace guards storm the bar in search of the bandit Flynn. Because of Rapunzel’s inspiring ways, one of the “sinners” helps her and Flynn escape through a secret hatch just before being noticed. However, the guards shortly catch up to them and after a brief entanglement with a palace horse named Maximus and a few guards, the two heroes escape into yet another tunnel. This time though, because of the ruckus created by the chase, a dam breaks and quickly fills the tunnel with water. Unless Rapunzel and Flynn can find a way out, it will be their grave.

While trapped, Flynn admits to Rapunzel that his real name is Eugene. Due to the dire circumstances he was in, his humanness starts to shine through. Because of Eugene’s vulnerability, Rapunzel lets down her guard and mimetically admits something to Eugene: her hair has the ability to glow when she sings. Upon saying this, Rapunzel realizes that if she begins to sing, her hair will glow and the two will be able to see enough so as to escape the pitch black tunnel. She starts to sing a soft melody and because of Rapunzel’s quick thinking, the two narrowly escape with their lives. However, in the process, Eugene badly cuts his hand. Now, the magical gift of Rapunzel’s hair will be on full display—the ability to heal and restore.

During a precious moment shared between our heroes, Rapunzel sings a beautiful tune to Eugene and the power of her hair goes to work. In an instant, the awful cut sustained in the flooded tunnel disappears and Eugene’s hand is restored—apokatastasis![2] He then takes the opportunity to gather some firewood for the night when Mother Gothel—having earlier found the hidden satchel containing the royal crown—enters the scene. And she knows exactly what she’s doing! Gothel talks down to Rapunzel, instilling fear in the young girl the entire time. Just prior to fleeing off into the shadows, Gothel baits her “daughter” with the satchel in hopes that Eugene would discover it and leave Rapunzel behind.

Time would tell if Gothel’s sinister plan would work or not . . .

Upon waking the next morning, Rapunzel and Eugene are greeted by the palace horse, Maximus. However, instead of having a fight on their hands, similar to what takes place at the “Snuggly Duckling,” Rapunzel again turns a potential enemy into a friend when she convinces Maximus to aid them in their quest to see the floating lanterns.

Once inside the kingdom, Rapunzel cannot help but bring life to the people. Her energy is infectious and easily starts a flash-mob of sorts—getting the townsfolk to join her in a lively dance. Shortly after, her dream finally comes true . . . And yet, even witnessing the beautiful lanterns was nothing compared to the love that she was starting to feel for Eugene. Indeed, the feeling was mutual. It was so strong even, that when Eugene is given the satchel, he wants nothing to do with it and attempts to give it back to his ex-partners, the Stabbington Brothers, when he notices them off in the distance. Little did Eugene know that they were working with Gothel, who had plans of her own.

When Eugene attempts to give back the satchel, the wicked brothers instead tie him up and send him off to the city—stolen goods in tow—where he is a wanted criminal. The brothers then go after Rapunzel and her magic hair but in a double crossing, Mother Gothel knocks the two unconscious and is viewed as the savior—Rapunzel’s “messiah.” In Rapunzel’s mind, everything her “mother” told her was true. The world was a dangerous place. It was safer in the tower.

Life now seemed hopeless and so Rapunzel returned to her captivity.

Meanwhile, back in the kingdom, Eugene was set to be executed for the crime of theft. (Perhaps the Queen and King—Rapunzel’s parents—were not as compassionate as they are portrayed in the story.) However, new friend Maximus, along with the crew from the “Snuggly Duckling,” breaks Eugene out just in the nick of time. He then heads straight for Rapunzel, who was in trouble herself.

While Eugene was incarcerated, Rapunzel realized her identity—the true “self” she had been all along. When she confronts Mother Gothel, however, Gothel does not take well to this realization and bounds Rapunzel’s hands and feet. Once Eugene arrives, Gothel would be ready.

Gothel, who had been a liar from the beginning, then became a murderer.[3] When Eugene enters the tower, Gothel stabs him in the back and immediately gets ready to leave off with a resentful Rapunzel and her magic hair. However, Rapunzel, with a true servant’s heart, convinces Mother Gothel to allow her to heal Eugene if Rapunzel promises to willingly stay with Gothel all the rest of her days. Gothel agrees and in an act of true love, Rapunzel openly lays down her life for Eugene, running to his side with the intentions of saving his life.

However, Eugene had other ideas . . .

Just when Rapunzel was about to heal Eugene and thus, be lost to him forever, he dramatically takes a shard of glass and cuts off all of Rapunzel’s magical hair. In doing so, the restorative powers that were keeping Mother Gothel alive ceased and she was revealed for who she really was. In an instant, Gothel shriveled up to nothing in the face of Eugene’s self-giving love and fell like lightening from Rapunzel’s tower.[4] When she hit the ground, nothing but her clothes remained. She was gone. Sadly, Eugene would soon follow.

In a heartbreaking scene, Eugene takes his final breath in the comfort of Rapunzel’s delicate arms. Painfully, he remains in this status for some time until a single tear from Rapunzel’s eyes fall onto Eugene’s cheek and instantly begins to bring life to his deceased body. Love, in its purest form, starts to undo what death could ever hope to accomplish. Like Lazarus, Eugene breaks free from the grips of death and becomes fully restored in the matter of moments.[5] Eugene and Rapunzel joyfully embrace with the realization that because of their love, all would be well.

All in all, this is a tale about how love overcomes all obstacles. In spite of the freedom that was taken from Rapunzel, in spite of a childhood shrouded with fear and torment—in spite of everything!—love conquers the powers of evil. As hopeless as life seemed for Rapunzel and as dim as the light of love must have appeared, it was always with her; always present in some form or another. And because of this, she not only helped transform the lives of the outcasts of society, she transformed her own reality and discovered her true self, grounded in splendid love.

[1] I would like to note that in a real-life situation such as this, Rapunzel would no doubt not become the woman she ends up as in the film. In fact, depending on the severity of isolation, she likely would have died early on. She most definitely would not have learned all she did as there would have been nobody to imitate.

[2] Apokatastasis is the restoration to the original state. In terms of theology, it means the restitution and reconciliation of all things to God. The word is found once in the New Testament, namely, Acts 3:21.

[3] John 8:44 describes the devil as a “liar and a murderer” from the beginning.

[4] Luke 10:18

[5] For the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, see John 11: 38 – 44.

Image: Rapunzel’s hair grows and shines while she sings. (Screenshot from YouTube)

For more in Matthew’s Disney Princess series, see:

Cinderella: Happily Ever After

Beauty and the Beast: Tale As Old As Time

The Little Mermaid: Under the Sea

Alladin: A Whole New World

Frozen: Love Will Thaw a Frozen Heart

Tangled: Let Down Your Hair

Obama extends war

Open Letter To President Obama: End The War In Afghanistan

Dear President Obama,

Your recent decision to extend indefinitely the longest war in American history was made without the consent of the American people and against the will of millions of Afghans. For hope of stability and security, violence on all sides must cease. The occupation, arms sales, and missile and drone strikes must come to an immediate end. I join the millions of voices that cry “#Enough!” Afghanistan, indeed the whole world, is long overdue for peace.

Your announcement that nearly 10,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan until 2017, when they will be reduced by about half but still not fully withdrawn (should this timetable be honored) has come at a time when the horrors of war have been laid bare for the world to see. The recently leaked “Drone Papers,” published by The Intercept, document the deadly consequences of an intelligence process that is not only deeply flawed, but based on a dehumanizing premise which belies any concern for the Afghan people.

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

So the drone papers did not particularly shock me, as they simply provide evidence to confirm what has already been publically asserted. But now I can cite specific examples to argue why our military presence in Afghanistan is counterproductive to the longterm security of the region, as well as why we are making more enemies with every missile fired. When programs such as “Operation Haymaker,” kill 155 individuals but only 19 targets, and civilians are renamed “Enemies Killed In Action” so as not to damper the military’s assessment of success, how can we maintain any pretense of moral differentiation between ourselves and those who wish us harm? When targeting cell phones, rather than people, often results in the wrong people being killed, the continued use of such reckless tactics is criminal. But most intolerable of all is the sanitizing and mythologizing of this new age of warfare as “targeted” and “precise,” obscuring the reality of civilian casualties, a terrorized populace, and a nation fractured and destabilized by generations of violence and vengeance with no end in sight.

Whereas charts and coded language reduce human beings to “objectives” and “jackpots,” there is a reality in Afghanistan of children orphaned, families internally displaced, overwhelming poverty, dwindling resources, and death raining down from the sky on a daily basis, further eroding the security and the hope of people who, like everyone else in the world, are in desperate need of compassion. Despite the fear, cruelty, and loss that turn some to violence, there are millions who simply long for peace, and in spite of everything hold on to the hope that love will triumph over violence. Among them are the Afghan Peace Volunteers like Zarghuna and Ali, young people with hopes and dreams and stories that you must hear, Mr. President. They are crying out for this war to end.

Their future cannot be ensured with guns and missiles, Mr. President. When we kill civilians with impunity by slapping the label of “enemy” upon them, we make a wary population ever more fearful and distrustful, and we cannot be surprised when new enemies arise. If after 14 years of war the security of Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, and all gains are “fragile” and “reversible,” then we must learn the painfully obvious truth: security cannot be coerced by force. It must be built upon trust that comes through peacemaking.

The first step is to consent to an independent investigation of the U.S. airstrike on the hospital in Kunduz. Hospitals like this, committed to neutrality, until recently had nothing to fear from their patients or the people of Afghanistan because they provided necessary, cost-free services people needed. These were the kinds of places that established trust and fostered good will among the people. When those missiles rained down upon them for an hour, terrorizing and maiming and killing, they destroyed more than walls and bodies and the only hospital in a region of 300,000 people. They destroyed hope, and sent a message that there is nowhere safe. Terror and cruelty create enemies, Mr. President, but courageous honesty could be the first building block of friendship.

From there we must safely and efficiently withdraw our troops, and provide them with the care they need upon return. An international coalition of peacemakers should relay the needs of the Afghan people to our government, so that we can hear from them how best to make reparations. We should cease all weapons dealing in the region. And we should commit ourselves to clean, renewable energy and cease our ambitions to use Afghanistan for an oil and gas pipeline to manipulate the resources of Central Asia. Along with profitability to the powerbrokers in the defense industry, the desire to use Afghanistan to acquire resources for the United States is the true reason we maintain our destabilizing and deadly presence. It is not in the interest of the Afghan people. And it creates terrorized, vengeance-seeking people, which is not in the interest of the safety of the United States. But it is in our mutual interest to cease all violence and give peace a chance.

I understand that turning around from waging war to building peace takes enormous political as well as moral courage. Along with the dehumanizing language that makes killing possible, the mythology glorifying war in our nation is relentless. The desire to serve and protect drives many soldiers, and that same desire drives many of them to tell the truth about the barbarity of war in organizations like Veterans for Peace. To take action not just to draw down a war, but to eliminate war from our policy altogether, is difficult in a nation that praises the sacrifice but remains willfully blind to the brutal counterproductivity of war. Fortunately, Mr. President, courageous whistleblowers are making it more politically expedient for you to draw down war by exposing it in all of its gruesome cruelty. And I will never cease to pray and work for the day when the hearts and minds and courage of those who truly wish to serve and protect find ways to do so through peacemaking and reconciliation rather than violence. I stand with millions crying out for peace. Please stand with us, Mr. President, and make it happen.



Lindsey Paris-Lopez

Editor In Chief of the Raven Foundation

Image: Screenshot from Youtube, “The Longest U.S. War, Prolonged: After Vowing Afghan Pullout, Obama Extends Occupation Indefinitely,” from Democracy Now! Image cropped.


The Truth About the Death of Bin Laden: Murder by Another Name

Displayed over a blurred image of Osama bin Laden, the headline on the cover of The New York Times Magazine for October 18 reads: Do we really know the truth about his death? The mysteries of Abbottabad. But weirdly, the article is not an investigation of the truth about bin Laden’s death; it’s an investigation of other investigations. Jonathan Mahler decided to report on two competing narratives about the raid in Abbottabad. His article is a soul-searching reflection on how we can know which version of events is true, or if the truth about our government’s actions can ever be known at all.

As Mahler explains, the White House version of the raid was documented by Mark Bowden in his book, The Finish. In this heroic version, the raid took the Pakistani government by surprise and the SEAL team succeeded against all odds. A more recent counter-narrative by Seymour Hersh (famous for uncovering the My Lai massacre and the abuses at Abu Ghraib) argues that the compound in Abbottabad was maintained by the Pakistani intelligence service. Bin Laden wasn’t hiding at all; he was living in a safe house and our government knew that there would be no attempt to thwart our incursion into Pakistani territory. In sum, Hersh concludes that the “daring raid wasn’t especially daring.”

Mahler traces the differences between the two accounts in expert detail and his article makes a good read. Along the way, he offers a good analysis of the journalist’s challenge, which he describes this way: “Reporters don’t just find facts; they look for narratives. And an appealing narrative can exert a powerful gravitational pull that winds up bending the facts in its direction.” In his concern to avoid generating just one more “narrative” that “bends the facts”, he refuses to take sides. He concludes with this hedge: “It’s not that the truth about bin Laden’s death is unknowable; it’s that we don’t know it.”

Can We Know the Truth?

After reading his article, it’s fair to wonder if we ever will. Mahler himself says that Hersh raised a “disturbing notion” in their conversations: “What if no one’s version could be trusted?” Indeed! If our concern is to learn the facts of the raid, we may easily get lost in a tangle of lies. But that is a truth in itself, a truth of how violence works to destroy the truth. We need to state the obvious here: the subject of all this reporting is a death by violence. Mahler is deceived if he thinks the subject is the truth about the violent death of bin Laden. The subject is violence itself.

There are some things we can know for sure when we encounter narratives of violence:

1. People lie about violence without any moral misgivings about the lying or the violence.

2. People who use violence to achieve their ends never doubt their own goodness.

3. In fact, people who use violence don’t think of themselves as violent people.

4. Perpetrators don’t tell the truth about violence; victims do.

Can We Handle the Truth?

The truth about bin Laden’s death is that it was murder. But the only ones who will call it that are bin Laden himself, his family and friends, and they have all been silenced one way or another. All the other players insist on calling the murder by some other name: justice, revenge, necessary, collateral damage, legal, noble, even good. But victims aren’t fooled by fancy justifications. Their deaths are murder, no matter what their murderers say.

The victims of the 9/11 attacks, if they had not been silenced by death, would have told bin Laden that he was no hero or noble warrior for a worthy cause. That bin Laden refused to hear their accusation of “Murderer!” makes it no less true. Because he refused to accept this basic, most essential fact about that day, we believed him to be violent, cruel, and unworthy of life. If he had not been silenced by death, his accusation of “Murderer!” hurled against us would have fallen on equally deaf ears.

The awful truth about our own violence is that it comes to us from the mouths of those we have condemned to death. It comes from the mouths of criminals and murderers, from warriors for the wrong cause, from patriots for the wrong nation, from believers in the wrong God, from our enemies. If we refuse to hear the truth from bin Laden’s mouth, how can we condemn him? If we refuse to accord him the basic human right to life that he denied others, we have become him. In fact, he has become our mentor as surely as if we had attended an Al Queda training camp and learned to fly a plane but not how to land it.

Squirm and reject this logic if you must, but please don’t pretend we don’t know the truth about bin Laden’s death. It was murder by another name. We are no different than bin Laden, callous murderers all, despite our best efforts to bend the facts against that truth. More disturbing than the notion that no one’s version of violent events can be trusted is that the version that can be trusted belongs to our victims. Bin Laden and his followers reject that notion. Let’s not make the same mistake.

Image: Day Donaldson via Flickr. Made available though Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

gun control 5

More Than Gun Control – What We Must Do To Stop Mass Shootings

The scariest thing about mass murderers is just how normal they are.

In the wake of Umpqua Community College shooting last week, the New York Times published an article titled, “Mass Murderers Fit Profile, as Do Many Others Who Don’t Kill.” Here’s a very disturbing line:

What seems telling about the killers, however, is not how much they have in common but how much they look and seem like so many others who do not inflict harm.

What’s so scary about these killers is that we’d really like to have an explanation that makes them “other” than the rest of us. So we say they are mentally ill – unlike the rest of us who are quite mentally healthy – and our society needs to do a better job of caring for them.

While it’s true that we need to do a better job caring for the mentally ill, the vast majority of people with mental illness will never harm anyone. Mass murderers don’t tend to be mentally ill. As Dr. James Alan Fox stated in the Times article, “They’re not out of touch with reality. They don’t hear voices. They don’t think the people they’re shooting are gophers.” In other words, the problem with these shooters have very little to do with mental illness.

What are the signs that someone may turn into a shooter? The Times makes another disturbing claim, “With many of the killers, the signs are of anger and disappointment and solitude.”

Anger, disappointment, and solitude. Those emotions are universal. We all feel them. How do we make sense of that? There’s a darkness that creeps up within all of us – and if we are honest with ourselves, we might just admit the horrifying truth that there’s not a lot that separates us from them.

Desire and Resentment

We are all united with a common desire for fame, notoriety, and love. We fear solitude. Everyone wants to be known. We gain a sense of value and worth in our lives through obtaining more likes and tweets on social media. As mimetic theory teaches us, we inevitably compare ourselves with others who become our models for success.

But what happens when we don’t gain the success, fame, or the love that we all desire? When others don’t validate us, when we don’t achieve the success we desire, we become resentful of our models. As Stefan Tomelleri states in his book Resentment: Reflections on Mimetic Desire and Society, “We live in a world where many people, rightly or wrongly, feel blocked, or paralyzed, in all their aspirations, obstructed from achieving their most legitimate goals” (ix).The more we fall behind our models, the more resentful we become. Our model then becomes our rival and we seek some form of revenge against them for enflaming our desire for something we cannot have. Whenever we feel as if the path to fulfillment of our aspirations is being blocked by the ones who make those desires seem desirable, we risk becoming verbally, emotionally, or physically violent.

Typically, no one ever teaches us how to manage our feelings of resentment in nonviolent and healthy ways. In fact, we are taught the opposite. 9/11 taught us that if someone hits you, you hit them back. Only, you don’t just hit them back, you up the ante. You hit them with “Shock and Awe” to destroy the enemy’s will to fight back.

But Shock and Awe has only “worked” to embed violence deeper within our culture. Violence isn’t just “their” problem; it’s our problem. It infects all of us. Almost every day we hear about another violent attack. For example, just two days after the horrific shooting in Oregon last week, the United States bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, killing 12 medical staff personnel and 10 patients, including three children. The U.S. has defended the bombing, while Doctors Without Borders calls it a war crime.

What’s the truth? The truth is that as long as our nation responds to violence with violence, we will continue to sow the seeds of violence and resentment within our nation and around the world.

What’s the Answer?

We need stricter gun control laws, no doubt. But we need so much more than gun control. We need models who will lead us toward a massive shift in our culture. Resentment and violence infects us all and we need to learn better ways to take responsibility to manage our anger, disappointment, and hatred.

God tells Cain that, “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). God speaks those words to all of us. The truth is that there’s a little bit of Cain within everyone. The darkness is within us all. Unfortunately, many of us are too afraid to look at it. We’d much rather ignore our pain than examine it. But the way to master the “sin that is lurking at the door” is to acknowledge it, but like Cain, we typically suppress it. We bury our resentment and anger deep within ourselves, only for it to manifest through violence.

That’s why the ancient spiritual practice of confession is so important. It’s much healthier to talk out our emotions than it is to bottle them up. Without the ability to talk about our frustrations, we externalize our emotions by blaming others. Our shared desire for fame and admiration can then lead us to commit acts of violence when they become frustrated.

Much more than gun control, we must shift our culture of violence to a culture of peace. We need models who will lead us to move beyond resentment and towards an ethic of love, a love that embraces even our enemies.

The answer is to work through our resentment and come out the other side into love. More than anything, we need to be challenged with a daring and challenging mission. In the face of a culture that responds to violence with more violence, we need more people who will step up and model how to return love for hatred, forgiveness for anger, kindness for hostility, peace for violence.

Photo Copyright: flybird163 / 123RF Stock Photo


The God We Follow: An Unplanned Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to Matthew Distefano’s original article published on Sojourners. That article can be found here. To summarize, that article suggested that God is revealed completely in Jesus as nonviolent and non-retributive. In order to understand those parts of the Bible that attribute vengeance to God, Matthew Distefano suggests we apply the hermeneutic — interpretive lens — of Jesus to scripture.

I did not plan on writing a second part, but one of my friends posed such a great question on Facebook that I had to offer a detailed response. Jim Rogers asked:

I really like this. How might you address it with those who reject the obvious extremes but still get muddled in the literal translations? I am working through this too. I try not to use extreme examples because many will reject such but can’t see their way out of the thorn patch.

To begin answering this question, I would have to take my examples from the global stage to the local one. Sure, we all recognize obvious religious extremes such as the Westboro Baptist Church, Pastor Steven Anderson, and entities like ISIS. However, what are not as obvious are the more restrained examples—the type of subtle violence that one might find in many churches across America.

It can come in the form of voting, campaign donations . . . you name it! Let us take a look.

Since I mentioned Leviticus 20:13 in Part 1, I will use the anti-homosexual “clobber” passage for the first portion of this piece as well.

For the Christian Right—especially here in the United States—this proof-texting favorite (as well as a few others) has dictated their politics vis-à-vis marriage laws. Because of this, the cultural move toward equality for the LGBT community has been painfully slow. Churches large and small continue to attempt to make the moral case for “biblical marriage.” In doing so, they seem to be violating a teaching from the Bible itself, namely Matthew 20. In a July 24, 2015 article, I commented on this:

Jesus also tells his disciples to not declare themselves above the other, but in order to be ‘great,’ they must be servants. (Matt. 20:25 – 28) Jesus himself did not come to be served, but to serve. How is using the political process to enact marriage law based on ‘biblical values’ not ‘lording over another’? In this passage, Jesus invites his disciples to imitate him in serving—putting others ahead of themselves. How can Christians be called to serve all, while at the same time using the political process to interfere with thousands of loving couples (even if they think it is ‘icky’)? How can a follower of Jesus place him or herself over and above anyone, for any reason?

To vote away the right of another in the name of “biblical truth” does not seem compatible with being a leader who serves, as Luke 22:26 states. It is also a form of structural violence, one that does not allow the LGBT person the same civil rights as the heterosexual person.

It is more subtle but still oppressive.

It is as “simple” as a common vote, but its harm is far-reaching.

Just as far-reaching—or even greater—is when one’s hermeneutic directly impacts the foreign policy of a country with a military budget that trumps all others. The Christian Right—at one time spearheaded by President George W. Bush—was all too eager to go to war with Iraq after September 11, 2001. Bush was their guy—a conservative Evangelical who communed directly with God. The President even went so far as to say that God told him to “go and end the tyranny in Iraq.”

While I am confident that the Father of Jesus did not tell the President to go to war with Iraq, I am not so confident that most American Christians would agree with me.

I mean, the Bible clearly says…

  • “Now go and attack the Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”—1 Samuel 15:3
  • “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him.”—Numbers 31:17
  • “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘the man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp.’”—Numbers 15:35

Jesus’ Abba said it, you believe it, and that settles it!?

Again, not so fast!

As I discussed in Part 1, the hermeneutics of Jesus are through the lens of mercy and grace. To exegete passages like the ones above—which is not the goal of this piece, so I will not be doing so—we would have to keep that in mind.

What my last goal is, however, is to display how Jesus’ hermeneutics then match his actions. Let us take a look at Matthew 26:53, where Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, rhetorically asks:

“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”

The implied answer is “yes,” and yet, they stay at bay.

Then, there is what Jesus says in the midst of his own murder on a Roman cross. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus, in doing only what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19, 8:28, 12:49), offers mercy and grace.

And finally, even upon his return, Jesus comes with the word of peace—shalom. John 20:19 – 21 reads:

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when he had said this, he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

So, all that being said—what could following Jesus in hermeneutics and in action do to change things on both a local scale as well as a global scale? What would foreign policy look like if supposed “Christian” nations like the United States followed the model displayed by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his death? What if those trying to get in the way of non-violence were rebuked a la Peter in Matthew 16:23? What if retribution was removed from the Divine both exegetically and anthropologically by Jesus? What if the church modeled that?

I believe that a literalist reading of Scripture—as well as a nuanced treatment of Jesus’ ethical teachings—without a doubt, leads to extremists. However, it also has led to a version of Christianity that justifies the use of national violence to get a certain result in the Middle East. It has led to structural violence that oppresses entire groups of people. It has led to many more unforeseen consequences, such as the improper treatment of women as well as the justification of slavery. What we believe about God and Scripture will dictate how we view ethics.

So, Jim (and others), I hope this begins to answer the excellent question you posed above. I hope I began to offer some examples of how a literalist reading of Scripture affects the very world around us. This hermeneutic should be traded in for the Jesus-centered one—biblical ethics interpreted through Jesus’ ethics.

Grace and peace be with you all.

Image: Free Vector From Pixabay


The Age Of Peace Will Be The Age Of The Child

If the era in the history of human evolution that is characterized by the constant outbreak of war can be called the ‘adult period’, then the period in which we will begin to build peace will be the ‘age of the child’. – Dr. Maria Montessori, Education and Peace, 1937

The Great War that engulfed Europe from 1914-1918 was a bitter disappointment for the peace movement. As the 19th century came to a close, the promise of progress that accompanied Darwin’s discovery of the evolution of life on earth seemed to put peace within our grasp. Progress was the popular byword and always meant a movement toward something better. It was the age of invention and industrialization. Human beings were overflowing with strategies to improve the lives of the poor, the uneducated, the working class and the least and the last among us. The women’s rights movement was flourishing as well, and Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree (1896) was an outspoken and popular representative of the cause.

But 1914 dashed all that hope. Many are the disappointments in the world today, as well, if your goal is peace. We are witnessing the greatest number of people displaced by violence and war since the second Great War in Europe. Even so, much progress has also been made by movements advocating for the rights of groups excluded from privilege and power. Women, labor, the disabled, LGBTQ, the poor and the sick have all witnessed their rights expand. And yet war continues. We are living in the best of times and the worst of times, it seems, a paradox that causes many of us to careen between hope and despair, unsure of how to move beyond the motion sickness.

But the answer is right in front of us, as close as the tiny hand reaching up to hold ours. Dr. Montessori discovered that “If we were to change the center of civilization from the adult to the child, a more noble form of civilization would arise.” Her perspective seems naïve, does it not? And yet she explains that if we did reimagine our “national interest” as child-centered or aligned our policies with what was best for children,

Then civilization would not develop exclusively from the point of view of what is convenient and useful for adult life. Today progress is sought for, too much and too exclusively, through adult qualities. Thus civilization is based on the triumph of force, on violent conquest, on adaptation, on the struggle for existence and the survival of conquerors… in the construction of society something – some essential element – has been missing… The child has almost disappeared from the thoughts of the adult world, and the adults live too much as though there were no children who have the right to influence them. (Montessori, The Child in the Church. First published in 1936.)

It’s strange to our way of thinking, that children should influence us and not the other way around. But it’s what Jesus advocated. He taught us that the kingdom of God belongs to the little ones and that if we want to enter, we need to become like them. Becoming like them begins with privileging the rights of children over our own, whether we are women or men or laborers or sick or poor, powerful or powerless.

Before we make any domestic policy decision on health care, defense budgets, economics, education, criminal justice, policing, gun policy – whatever the issue we must ask how it will effect the children, and let the answer become the policy. And in international relations if we considered the impact on children before we negotiate agreements on weapons, trade or immigration, before we launch an invasion, orchestrate a coup, drop a bomb or authorize murder by drone, how different our actions would be. We would be less violent and more peaceful actors in the world. Not only would the world be safer for children, it would be safer for us all. The age of peace will be the age of the child.

My two-year-old granddaughter likes to ask her mom, “Where are we going next?” Perhaps that’s a bigger question than she knows, one that deserves our best answer.


Image: Copyright Paylessimages via


When Putin Spoke the Truth: Immigration, American Responsibility, and the Face of God

I hate it when my enemies are right. But it’s time to set our national ego aside and listen to one of our enemies.

Vladimir Putin spoke the truth last week about the Middle East’s immigration crisis. Many in the U.S. will think his statement is a verbal attack on the United States. It is. But instead of getting defensive, we need to listen to his critique. Putin stated about American foreign policy in the Middle East,

…is about imposing their own standards, without taking into account the historical, religious, national, cultural features of these regions. This is primarily a policy of our American partners.

I hate to say it, but Putin just nailed it. If Americans want to know just how complicated the immigration crisis is in the Middle East, we must take a long hard look at ourselves and listen to Putin’s words.

After 9/11, the United States implemented the “War on Terror.” One strategy of that war was to capture and kill Saddam Hussein, one of the world’s cruelest dictators. The stated goal was to spread democracy throughout the Middle East. But the “War on Terror” and the execution of Hussein only created more instability throughout the region. We discovered that imposing democracy upon other nations isn’t very democratic. It’s actually a form of American imperialism.

Imposing democracy in the Middle East didn’t work. In fact, it created a power vacuum where terror groups like ISIS could thrive. American violence in the region cultivated more instability.

Saddam Hussein imposed a semblance of order in Iraq. He kept order through violence. The United States didn’t like the order he kept through violence, so decided to impose order through our own violence. You remember “Shock and Awe.” Yeah. That showed ‘em.

Well, violence is a language that everyone speaks. So, after we Shocked and Awed them, they Shocked and Awed us with mass beheadings. Because belief in violence as the way to solve problems is not uniquely American, civil war broke out in Syria. And why are so many attracted to ISIS? The terrorist group offers an avenue for people to channel their despair in a violent rage against Western imperialism.

I have no love for ISIS, Saddam Hussein, or Bashar al-Assad. And Putin, while he’s right that American foreign policy in the Middle East has done great harm to the region, needs to deal with his own demons.

But Putin’s demon is our demon, too. That demon’s name is violence. And we worship at its feet. Putin’s truth is that a foreign policy (including his own!) that imposes its own standards upon others is doomed to fail because it is rooted in violence.

The United States has a lot of soul searching to do. We are not solely to blame, but our policies have contributed to the immigration crisis. Our policies are responsible for over a million dead Iraqis and the over 4 million Iraqis who have become refugees as they flee from hopelessness. We bear responsibility for that crisis.

The answer is not more violence. Nothing will change until we change how we relate to each other. The violence we sow is the violence we reap. Because the United States bears responsibility for much of that violence, we must now take responsibility to change the way we relate to other nations.

The call to transformation is rooted in the biblical witness of hospitality. Jews, Christians, and Muslims each claim Abraham and Sarah as our spiritual parents. Their divine mission was to carry out God’s plan that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

The divine plan is not to impose our lifestyle upon others. That arrogance leads to violence. Rather, the divine plan is to bless all the families of the earth through hospitality. The Bible makes many progressives uncomfortable because it is brutally honest in telling the truth that God’s people sometimes fail to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Quite often, the United States has been a curse to the people of the Middle East. We can no longer hide from that truth. We need to own it. Not because we’re self-loathing Americans, but because we need to seek the truth in our complicity with the world’s problems.

Many U.S. politicians would have us live in fear of immigrants, but I’m sick of fear. Our problem is not immigration; our problem is the politics of fear. Fear spreads like a contagious disease. It leads to the idolatry of national security.

God does not respect the borders that we create. God’s kingdom has no borders. Our borders are based on fear, scarcity, and exclusion. God’s kingdom is based on love, abundance, and hospitality.

Do not be seduced by the politics of fear and scarcity. We don’t have to live in fear. God is calling us to open our borders and our doors to our immigrant sisters and brothers.

After all, the ancient Jews were conquered and forced to sojourn in foreign lands. The Bible recounts the horror of conquest and the pain of being strangers in a strange land. Slavery in Egypt is the principal example of being strangers in a strange land. That’s why Deuteronomy 10:19 gives the command, “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

The Bible calls us to have empathy for immigrants and to show them hospitality – in line with Deuteronomy, Leviticus calls us to love them as we love ourselves. God is with the sojourners, the homeless, and all immigrants. In the face of the immigrant, we see the very face of God. The immigration crisis challenges us with a moral question that should haunt us: How will we treat the face of God?

Photo: Flickr, Michael L. Dorn, “Old Testament Exhortation on Behalf of the Immigrant,” Creative Common License, some changes made.