Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wrong Wholly And In Parts

I have a great deal of respect and admiration for blogger and former and future pastor John Meunier. It is with a great deal of sadness that I have to be quite public in disagreeing, in sum and detail, with this post. Where my hackles rose was the following line:
Whatever the sins of the United States, the nation is not an empire in the same way that Rome was.
Out of any kind of context, this sentence begs many questions, but should strike most careful, Christian readers as, at the very least, misleading. In context, as the beginning of a paragraph which attempts to unpack what Meunier means, specifically, it actually gets worse.
n Rome, the source of all power was in the person of the emperor. The closest analogy we have to the exalted status of the emperor is not the nation-state or the president, but each one of us. We exalt the individual. In our world, the ruler of all, the king, the lord is each person. You and me. We are the rival to the rule of God.
This is the marvelous, and false, illusion of the sovereign individual. Sad to say, we are - none of us - "exalted", except in the empty rhetoric of politicians who want our votes so they can rob us blind, literally and metaphorically. In reality, the United States is a collapsing Empire of horrid strength, with the potential for much evil as we go down. That the political is being superceded by the economic - most clearly expressed in the shift from "internationalism", a goal for nation-states, to "globalization", a reality for corporations - in no way belies the basic imperial nature of the project, or that its most powerful and important booster and supporter is the United States. Opponents of this historical movement are even now being trampled underfoot, the foot soldiers in this battle returning home only to become more casualties of the same war (which is why I support our troops; they are mercenaries in a war they would not, under other circumstances fight; the shabby treatment they receive at the hands of officialdom should tell any sensitive observer the truth).

While I agree with the sentence-paragraph that immediately follows this - "And the claim that Jesus is Lord is just as dangerous to us as it was to Augustus." - it sits there, within the context Meunier sets it, without either meaning or even relevance. To say as Meunier does toward the end that the real scandal is that Jesus is Lord of my life and your life is, really, not very threatening at all. To anyone or anything. No one would be crucified for such a statement; on the contrary, the folks who repeat this doggerel are also boosters of the very same capitalism that is destroying our republican values, democratic institutions, and bleeding parts of the world white to keep them in line.

The scandal of the cross is not Jesus' as Lord of my life. The scandal of the cross is that the power that grows out of the barrel of a gun is not the last word. That this continues to be the only power this world understands speaks to the continued need for the Gospel being preached and lived. Not because we are atomized, anomic individuals. Rather, because we are told we are this so that we may have no resources in our struggle against the powers and principalities.

Empire is alive and well. We, sad to say, live in the heart of the beast, are nurtured by the blood and toil, the hundreds of thousands of human sacrifices for its continued success feeding the machinery of death we cannot escape. We Americans who are also Christian must first confess not that Jesus is Lord of our life, but rather that Mammon is the Lord of our Empire, and simul iustus et peccator for us lies at the very heart of our self-identification as Americans who are Christian. It is this specificity, rather than any abstract notions of "individuality", that lies at the heart of our ongoing need for repentance and metanoia.

As I said, I like and respect John a great deal. That doesn't mean I can sit idly by when I read something like this.

Sorry, John.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Random Music - Memory Lane Edition

Lisa was digging for nuggets in her past. It got me thinking, and one I came up with was this:

I'm not going to say why - too personal - but it does remind us all that some songs get linked to events in our lives, whether we want them to or not.

At the same time, since I'm still enjoying far too much time remembering my childhood and youth - did we really party at the Horseshoe? What were we thinking? - someone asked if there was one song that reminded us of high school. In all honesty, no, not one song. There were some songs, though, that when I hear them now, sounding timeless and earning that weird epithet "classic", reminds me that I am old enough to have heard them when they were brand new. For example, I distinctly remember the very first time I heard this one:

I had never heard anything like it. Listening on my little clock radio, after the DJ announced it as "the first single" (God, would any band release a song like this as a single today?) from "the new album", I couldn't believe it. To this day, I think Brian Johnson's nails-on-a-chalkboard vocals are some of the best ever.

When I saw Rush at the United Center in Chicago in 2002 for the first time in a very long time, they opened with this song.

Another one of those that I remember hearing for the first time as a new song.

I don't have the best soundtrack from my youth. At least, though, I have one.

Circles - Joe Satriani
Symphony #35, Second Movement - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
In The Cage (Live) - Genesis
Black Crow - Joni Mitchell
Slainte Mhath (Live) - Marillion
Hope - Mahavishnu Orchestra
Who Are You (Lost Verse Mix) - The Who
Freaks - James LaBrie
Two Lovers - Mary Wells
Knife Edge - Emerson, Lake, & Palmer

I like songs about death. I swear I'm not morbid.

That Fascist Groove Thing? It's Back

At least one periodical is describing events in Britain correctly. They bury it in the third paragraph, after a recounting of the offensive PM David Cameron and the courts are waging against "rioters".
The crackdown comes . . .
When non-democratic states face opposition and respond with mass arrests, police brutality, and across-the-board shelving of whatever civil or human rights may be recognized in that country, it's a crackdown on opposition. When democratic states face opposition, we cheer on the attempt to address waves of violence, thuggery, and even, in the words of a British judge sentencing two men to four years in prison for inciting a riot that never occurred, "evil acts".

I haven't really read a whole lot of commentary by US pundits on current events in Britain; to be honest, I haven't really read a whole lot of commentary by US pundits on pretty much anything because, apart from Paul Krugman, most of them are abysmal. All the same, the silence in the face of what is, quite clearly, state sponsored repression of political dissent is telling. After a year that began with the Tunisian revolution, the Egyptian revolution that the world watched on Al Jazeera, anti-government movements in Bahrain, Yemen, and Morocco, the civil war in Libya, the pre-emption of demonstrations by the Saudi police state, and even anti-government protests growing in Israel, one would think an awareness of the general situation in Britain would encourage at least some besides those on the far left in the United States to be a little more vocal in support of those called "rioters" by police and "lazy" by their Prime Minister.

Part of the problem may well be the wide-spread looting and the violent expressions of social frustration the British have been using. Lord knows American liberals don't want to support violence. Even a casual acquaintance with the history of British police action toward working class and racial/ethnic minority groups, however, might temper that kind of categorical refusal to understand that violence might well be, at the very least, an understandable if regrettable final, desperate choice. Kind of like in Syria.

Americans are narcissistic enough to wonder if recent events in Britain are relevant to our own situation. Some have submitted that such violence may well be just over the horizon; others insist it can't happen here. I think it is possible, because many of the same dynamics are in play - bad economy made worse by public austerity; long histories of police violence against the poor and minorities; the probability of a spark like in Britain, viz., the police shooting someone. I do not relish or welcome such events, but we should be clear-eyed and honest, admitting that being sick and tired of being sick and tired sometimes leads people to express their lack of anything left to lose in ways good liberals don't like and just can't condone.

Whatever the end game may be in Britain, the ugliness there isn't the rioters. It's the government-led crackdown on dissent disguising itself as law-and-order, with politicians and judges using the word "evil" to describe what most people think is a human right - to protest inhuman living conditions and dissent against state-sanctioned violence against the poor and minorities.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Being Read

I've given a few accounts over the years of my own approach to reading Scripture, to my insistence that all the canon is open to us, that we need to have the courage to face those places in the Bible that challenge us most deeply in order to name them as such, and the honesty and humility to admit our own limitation when we are reading the Bible. I would like to take a moment now to endorse a position articulated most clearly (if that phrase can be so used) by Karl Barth, that we in the Church do not so much read the Bible, but are read by it. In the meeting of Scripture and ourselves, the questions go both ways, with the question the text puts to us far more cutting, more critical, than anything we can do to the text.

I have always put it slightly differently. I usually talk about "wrestling" with the text. I have in mind the story of Jacob and the angel of God, wrestling all night, Jacob overcome by the angel, yet demanding a blessing nonetheless. We in the Church and the Scriptural text confront one another. We too often get caught up in talking about interpreting or appropriating a given passage, or the text as a whole, without acknowledging the flip-side. The text interprets us, appropriates us, or it is a lifeless thing.

Without getting in to a chicken-egg discussion - is it our experience of God that informs our understanding of the Bible or does the Bible provide opportunities for such experience? - I will say that unless we are willing to forego our sense of privilege vis-a-vis the text, and grant to it demands on us, our reading will always be one-sided. Unless we are willing to admit our own limitations, our own failures, our narrowness of vision, we will always be stuck, and the text will be a dead letter for us. Inspiring, to be sure, but more in an emotive or perhaps intellectual way than something more visceral. When we acknowledge, in faith, that the Biblical text places demands upon us, we are opening ourselves to the Spirit that informs the text. When we as a community of faith hear the words and acknowledge them as the Word in the Spirit, we are accepting the invitation and rising to the challenge the text places before us.

Most of all, when we allow the text to confront us, to question us, to challenge and interpret us, we are admitting that we cannot know everything about a given passage, or the text as a whole. We are also admitting that we cannot know everything about ourselves, that the dark places in our lives are dark because we refuse to shine a light in to those grungy corners out of fear. Just as there are places in the Bible that seem ugly, hateful, or just downright odd to us, we should at least be honest enough and admit there are places in our lives that are so, too. Were we really, really honest, we would admit that nothing in the Bible is as ugly, or hateful, or just odd as some of those corners of our lives we refuse to acknowledge. When light shines upon them, we cringe, we deny, we lie, we do pretty much anything but admit that this, too, is who we are. When we allow ourselves to be confronted by the Scriptural text, the fear is this - we will be forced to own our deepest regrets, our most base hatreds, our deepest sorrows. When we allow the text to interpret us, the challenge we face is the challenge to our best idea of ourselves.

To me, this is what real love is, though. Being beloved of God, expressing our gratitude in loving others includes accepting that we are complete creatures, not only the game-face we show the world, but the scared child we can sometimes be, the mean-spirited bigot we wish would go away, the time we passed the poor woman on the corner and refused to even acknowledge her let alone give her some money, a few minutes of time that really isn't ours to help her, the silence in the face of injustice. When we admit that, at the end of the day, we really are no better than our worst characterization of our worst enemies, only then do we understand what it is to be loved of God. Only then have we shown what it is to be read, and challenged, and interpreted, by God.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Guess 2003 Was Too Far Back To Remember

"Americans are angry. Why aren't they protesting?" reads the headline. The piece, written by a sociology professor at UC Irvine, talks about the need for organization, structure, and focus - and uses the Tea Party phenomenon as a recent American example. He talks about James Madison's insistence, in Federalist #10, that the Constitution, in part, allows for funneling dissent and dissatisfaction through the system, and uses the politics of Wisconsin as an example.

Apparently, he, like most of the rest of the world, has forgotten the largest mass protest movement in recent years. For example:
Huge crowds of anti-war demonstrators jammed into midtown New York on Saturday as protesters in dozens of U.S. cities joined large crowds worldwide in voicing opposition to war with Iraq.

Demonstrators converged near the United Nations to protest the possible war in just one of the more than 600 anti-war rallies around the globe. Organizers estimated the crowd at more than 375,000, but Police Commissioner Ray Kelly estimated turnout at 100,000.

Besides protests in large cities such as Chicago, Illinois; and Los Angeles, California; rallies were held across the United States in smaller towns such as Gainesville, Georgia; Macomb, Illinois; and Juneau, Alaska, according to the anti-war group United for Peace and Justice.
Here's some more:
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of London to voice their opposition to military action against Iraq.
Police said it was the UK's biggest ever demonstration with at least 750,000 taking part, although organisers put the figure closer to two million.

There were also anti-war gatherings in Glasgow and Belfast - all part of a worldwide weekend of protest with hundreds of rallies and marches in up to 60 countries.
In February, 2003, Patrick Tyler, writing in the New York Times, said that "there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion."

Now, it could be argued that these protests weren't discussed because they weren't effective. The Tea Party, while never having the numbers, received mainstream clout when candidates it supported stormed the Republican Party in the mid-term elections last Fall. Nothing succeeds like success, as the old saying goes, and the anti-war protests failed miserably, as we are not only still in Iraq and Afghanistan, but have added Libya and Yemen to the list.

These protest marches were singular events, historic. Massive demonstrations world-wide, with millions of people around the globe shouting against an invasion of Iraq. They disappeared, by and large, from mainstream discourse, at least in the US, because it was clear for months the Bush Administration was determined to go to war, regardless of cost or consequences. Focusing on the demonstrations distracted from the real story, it seems.

Even though the marches didn't change the course of policy, they did show that there is power in grassroots organizing, that the interconnections among thousands of small, local groups, churches, union locals, and other groups can actually generate a huge mass of support, with millions in cities here and around the globe demanding an end to the preparations for war. Unlike the Tea Party, there were no business executives tossing around seed money, or Washington lobbyists or former Congress members to set up new firms that claimed to represent various local interests. It was just people hitting the streets.

So, yeah, it can happen. Personally, I wonder if mass marches and protests against US austerity imposed by the "super-committee" would be noticed in the mainstream press, unless they turned violent. We in the US love our peaceful protesters. When rocks and bottles and tear gas start flying, good liberals click their tongues and wish people would act more civilized, with more restraint. Funny, though; we never click our tongues over the lack of restraint on the part of the powers-that-be that strip people of their jobs, their incomes, their homes, and their hope. Let us believe it is possible for us Americans to get out there and actually get our voices heard. I do hope we are more effective than those massive marches against the invasion of Iraq, and more sensible and sane than the Tea Party, but unafraid to show our rage and frustration.

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