Ched Myers: Healing as Liberation from Crippling Debt

By Ched Myers, on Luke 13:10-17, for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Note: This is part of a series of weekly comments on the Lukan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year C, 2016. Published at RadicalDiscipleship.net.

This part of Luke’s gospel offers two symbolic stories about the healing of “political bodies” that signify pathology in the body politic: the “bent over” woman (13:10-17) and the “too big” man (14:1-6). Sadly, the second of these is (literally) skipped over by the lectionary. These intimately related healings bracket a series of Jesus’ sayings concerning the Kingdom as surprise and mystery (13:18-21), the “narrow Way” (13:22-30) and the cost of prophetic discipleship (13:31-35).

To make sense of the symbolic and even political character of these two Lukan healings, a bit of background is needed. Our modern worldview assumes that the gospel healing stories relate “supernatural” cures of medical disorders. The ancient Mediterranean world, however, like many other non-modern cultures, was not bio-medical in its approach to illness, but symbolic. While certainly traditional medicine (herbal, somatic and spiritual) was practiced to address physiological symptoms, serious or chronic illness was perceived primarily as a “socially disvalued state,” an aberrant or defective condition that threatened communal integrity. The job of the healer, then, was to restore the subject back to the community.

Human societies (then and now) seek to order themselves by regulating and socializing bodieswithin the body politic, defining what is pure or impure, safe or threatening to the social norm. Cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas reflects on this phenomenon in a seminal essay entitled “Two Bodies” (1973):

The physical body can have universal meaning only as a system which responds to the social system, expressing it as a system. What it symbolized naturally is the relations of parts of an organism to the whole. Natural symbols can express the relation of an individual to his society at that general systemic level. The two bodies are the self and society.

The body politic (the imperatives, symbols and hierarchies of the dominant socio-political order) is reproduced by how, where, and when we present our political bodies (what Douglas understands as the “socialized self,” including the consciousness, physical body, personal habits, and socio-political practices of the individual). Douglas continues:

The social body constrains the way the physical body is perceived. The physical experience of the body, always modified by the social categories through which it is known, sustains a particular view of society. There is a continual exchange of meanings between the two kinds of bodily experience so that each reinforces the categories of the other.

The notion of the political body as a mirror of the body politic is common to most traditional cultures, which do not make the radical distinctions between self and society that moderns do; it was certainly characteristic of first-century Palestine. This explains why the Jesus of the gospels pays as much attention to healing and exorcising individuals as he does to what wemight recognize as “political” engagement. Jesus heals those who are physically impaired because they are also socially “dis-membered” according to the dominant Debt and Purity systems. He also enters into conflict because of how he places his body within the accepted/expected proprieties of social space, crossing boundaries of power and prestige. The political character of such gospel symbolic action was intelligible (and thus subversive) within its original cultural context, but is missed by us, having disappeared beneath our literalizing, spiritualizing, and privatizing reading strategies.

In Luke 13:10, the scene is a synagogue on the Sabbath, symbolizing sacred time and space. The phrase “just then,” or “and behold” (Gk kai idou) seems to suggest some essential correlation between the synagogue space and this woman and her condition. She is described as having labored under a spirit of “weakness” (13:11; Gk asthenia, literally lack of strength) for 18 years, which has caused her to become “bent over” (Gk sugkupt?, a verb appearing only here in N.T.). This detail concerning duration could allude to one chapter in the deep history of subjugation suffered by biblical people: “Eglon the Moabite king and the Philistines… oppressed the Israelites for 18 years” (see Judges 3:12-14, 10:7-8). Such an allusion would suffice to reframe condition of this woman’s political body in terms of an oppressive body politic.

Natalie K. Houghtby-Haddon, in her Changed Imagination, Changed Obedience: Social Change, Social Imagination, and the Bent-Over Woman in the Gospel of Luke (2011), argues that “this story is a key interpretive text for seeing Luke’s social vision for his community at work.” Indeed, this is a curious episode in Luke—a sort of combination of call, healing, controversy and exorcism stories. Jesus summons the woman over (the same verb as the call of disciples), but only later addresses the synagogue leader (13:12), defying gender conventions. Moreover, he firstannounces her “release,” and then lays hands on her (13:13), suggesting that the issue here is not disease but bondage. Only here in Luke’s gospel does Jesus say: “You have been set free” (the perfect passive form of apoluo represents the “divine passive”). This verb, a legal term (it means to “pardon” in Luke 6:37 and 23:16-25), is also used in the parallel healing of the man with dropsy (14:4).

The synagogue leader objects to Jesus’ intervention on the basis of Sabbath rest (13:14), but Jesus’ riposte invokes Deuteronomy 5:12-15, which enjoins Sabbath rest for whole household, including beasts of burden. Indeed, Sabbath rest is for purposes of continuing the liberation struggle: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt” (Dt 12:15). If animals are to be liberated, Jesus reasons, how much more should a “daughter of Abraham” (Lk 13:16, a phrase unique in the N.T., anticipating its counterpart in 19:9) be released from “bondage.” The Greek term desmos refers to the chains holding the demoniac in Lk 8:29, and imprisoning Paul in Acts 26:29; Luke may be alluding to how daughters were to be redeemed during the Sabbath year from debt slavery (Ex 21:7-9).

Richard Lowery summarizes this logic in Sabbath and Jubilee (2000): “The connection centers on the imagery of ‘binding’ and ‘releasing’ the ox and the donkey… The root meaning of shemittahin the Sabbath-year passage refers to loosening a yoke and letting it drop from the shoulders. With shoulders now unbound, the one released can stand completely erect. By the very nature of her debilitating ailment, the woman is a living embodiment of the standard metaphor for indebtedness and oppression.”

What had this woman’s political body “doubled over,” in other words, was the oppression of debt bondage structured into the body politic, the inevitable result of an unjust socioeconomic system of disparity. How relevant this story is to our economic realities today! After all, we routinely talk about “crippling debt,” and how individuals and even whole nations groan under debt “burdens”! This is why contemporary groups are resisting the debt economy both at the personal (e.g. the “Rolling Jubilee” movement) and political levels (e.g. the Jubilee Debt Campaign), and why we work intensively in Sabbath Economics education and organizing.

It is hardly surprising that the release proclaimed unilaterally by Jesus earns the immediate ire of the authorities. Or that such opposition to his liberation mission recurs in the “twin” healing of Luke 14:1-7, in which a “man with dropsy” signifies the disease of “Affluenza” that afflicts the ruling class. (There is a long list of ancient writers who specifically associated “dropsy” with the pathology of being too rich.) Jesus again “releases” a political body, this time representing the opposite side of the body politic’s social divide from that of the woman, with a similar appeal to Sabbath rest for animals (14:5; see also the parallel to Lk 6:6-11).

But also unsurprising is the fact that the crowd is with Jesus in this work: our episode concludes with everyone “rejoicing at the glorious things Jesus was doing” (13:17), doubtlessly alluding to the “signs and wonders” of the God of Exodus. True celebration has been restored to this synagogue.

Yet this will be the last time Jesus teaches or heals in this space in Luke’s story. In the initial episode back in the Nazareth synagogue (4:16ff), Jesus proclaimed release to those captive (Is 61:1) and oppressed (Is 58:6). At the conclusion of that inaugural sermon, Jesus declared: “Today these Scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21). As Houghtby-Haddon suggests, the liberation of the Bent-Over woman in this Sunday’s gospel story is indeed the embodiment of that Nazareth promise. And an invitation for us to do the same for all crippled by debt today.–Ched Myers

‘A Presumption of Innocence’

Rose and Sorelle, 2018

By Sorelle R. Berger and Rose M. Berger

In July, I was one of 71 Catholics arrested by the U.S. Capitol Police in the rotunda of the Russell Senate building in Washington, D.C., for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” while praying the rosary. My prayer was — and is — to end the warehousing of immigrant children in cages, seven of whom have died after being in federal custody since September. More than a dozen Catholic orders and organizations sponsored the event. Seven Catholic bishops sent letters of support.

Before the demonstration, my 11-year-old niece Sorelle tweeted her support. Thus began my conversation about liturgical direct action with a rising 6th-grader at a Catholic school. Below is our exchange.–Rose Berger

Rose: I just wanted to give you all this update. I’m risking arrest tomorrow, Thursday, at the Russell Senate office building as part of the Catholic Day of Action for Detained Immigrant Children. We have legal representation and have talked to the Capitol police. Everything should go relatively smoothly. Likely outcome is that I will sit the a holding cell for 6 hours with a bunch of Catholic sisters.

Sorelle to Rose: good luck I love you and call us when you’re out were so proud of you aunt rose.

Rose to Sorelle: I’m out. Everything went fine. Do you want to write an article with me about my arrest on Thursday? Here are some questions to think about: What happened at the Senate building? Who was there? Why did they do it? What were the responses to what they did? Who did they do it for? What did you think about it? Would you ever consider doing something like this? Why was it important that this event was with Catholics? Would you talk about the event at your school? Would you like your teachers to discuss this event at your school?”

Sorelle: “The Catholic Day of Action. On July 18 at the senators’ building in Washington DC, Catholics were peacefully protesting about the situation at the border. The priests and religious sisters were try to get the Trump administration to view immigration as a pro-life issue. With current American politics, this is a long up-hill fight, but it is one worth fighting. The situation at the border is one that is not only racist towards Mexicans, but it gives all people of color presumption of guilt. The current president doesn’t understand that they are born with presumption of innocence. I think the situation at the border is proof that history repeats itself. In the 1920s, we had to fight for women’s suffrage. Before that we had to fight against slavery. Now in 2019 we have to fight against these border problems. At some point Trump has to realize that we’re all created equal and stop assuming that whoever comes into America is a drug dealer, because he has no right to. At my Catholic school, they are not allowed to tell us about politics or the border. But this [day of action] relates to Jesus loving everybody. It’s important for people to say what they believe. Catholic Day of Action was just that.

Rose: [mic drop]

LAZARUS AND THE RICH MAN

by Rose Marie Berger (Sojourners, August-September 1992)

September 3, 1992, was the first anniversary of the fire in the Imperial Food Products plant in Hamlet, North Carolina. Emmett J. Roe, the owner of Imperial Food; his son, Brad Roe, Imperial’s operations manager; and plant manager James N. Hair were indicted in March 1992 on 25 counts each of involuntary manslaughter.

That man dressed fine as Sunday every day
of the week. Owned Imperial Food Products–
poultry processors. Had a plant right here
in town. Every morning, early, the workers
would line up at the front gates–mostly women,
mostly black folk, some with joints froze up from
working those machines, some with emphysema
from working the pantyhose factory
down the road, but all wanting their babies
to eat half as good as what sat on that
rich man’s table every evening ’round supper time.
Well, he got to worrying that some folks
might start stealing his chicken parts,
so he took to locking up the factory
doors once the morning shift was in place. The
time came when a hydraulic line blew on
one of the deep-fat fryers and black smoke
filled up the room, followed by grease fire. None of
the state-of-the-art, automatic, carbon
dioxide sprinklers ever came on. Most
folks died at the south end of the building
near the walk-in freezer. They had headed
for the exit, but it was locked. Then they
were drawn on by the gulps of cool air. Some
died down at the loading dock. Piled up on
each other trying to get through the small
hole between the wall and the truck blocking
the platform. There was Mary Alice Whit.

She was dead. There was Peggy Fairley. She
was dead. There was Lillian Mary Wall,
who’d only worked chicken a few months. She
was dead. And Margaret Banks. When
they brought her out, you could already
tell she was dead. All in all, there were 25
who died that day. The Hamlet police lieutenant
said you couldn’t tell whether the bodies
were white or black on account of the smoke; but the
angels, who pay no mind to color, came
and carried every single one of them
up into the arms of Abraham.
Now, all of this happened the day after
Labor Day. And even though Imperial
didn’t allow no organizing in its
plants, the North Carolina Textile Workers
Union still sent dresses (and suits for the
men) to use as burying clothes. At the
First Baptist Church the mourners cried out “Lord,
Lord,” maybe because in the confusion
they had missed the angels. They cried out “Slavery
time’s been over! How much longer is it
going on?” To which there was just no good
answer. What all happened to the rich man
was never much covered in the newspapers,
but the actual truth is his story’s been told before.[]


Rapinoe and Rackete: Two captains of civil disobedience to inhuman orders

Carola Rackete was arrested after helping to bring migrants safely to shore.

By Pietro Ameglio, Desinformémonos, 12 July, 2019, México

Carola Rackete and Megan Rapinoe are two young women, both captains in their very different domains, of the sea and soccer football, just over thirty years old, German and American respectively who, in recent days, decided to defy authority, in different but equally radical ways (“radical” in the sense of going to the root), to show us all the way to build a “moral frontier” in one’s own identity, by openly and publicly challenging authorities who were practicing inhuman orders.

Civil disobedience against Salvini

Carola Rackete, captain of Sea Watch 3 (650 tons displacement, Dutch flag search and rescue ship), which is part of a German NGO (headquartered in Berlin) of the same name which rescues shipwrecked migrants on the Mediterranean Sea, on 29 June, docked her boat at the Italian port of Lampedusa, in Sicily, in defiance of orders not to do so, in the process ramming a Coast Guard launch which –invoking jurisdiction over Italian territorial waters—was determined to stop her. Thus, she saved 40 migrants she had previously rescued from the waters of the Mediterranean.

The migrants and crew were reaching the limits of survival, and in total desperation; this was the deciding factor for the captain to adopt this moral and material decision, made especially acute by waiting for 48 hours in front of the port for permission to land. The punishment requested by the extreme right wing Italian government was ten years imprisonment on the grounds of disobedience, attacking a warship, aiding clandestine immigration, and navigation in restricted zones.

“It was not an act of violence, but of disobedience… I was under no obligation to obey”, said Carola. The Italian authorities were ordering her to take the migrants back to Libya, from where they had been rescued in their attempt to escape from a civil war.

Captain Rackete also added: “I feel the moral imperative to help somebody who has not had the same opportunities I had… I know what I’m risking, but the 42 shipwrecked migrants were in a very serious condition. I brought them to safety”.

Her moral imperative is very clear: disobedience in the face of what is inhuman as a personal and social “virtue” with the intent of “doing good”. In other words, humanizing the species.

How many inhuman orders against the crew of the Sea Watch 3 were there in this action? In how many acts of civil and individual disobedience were Carola, her crew and the migrants forced to incur? How many intellectual, epistemic and moral ruptures were all of them forced to face, just to say “no!” and “enough!” to the authorities? Here we have the challenges that all of us have to overcome before we can achieve a real construction of the knowledge –individual and social— necessary for justice, peace and nonviolent resistance.

 It has been interesting to behold, too, the international campaign by all sorts of actors, including the German government, to put pressure on Italian Prime Minister Mateo Salvini –leader of the Liga Norte Party, of the extreme non-religious right—stating innumerable valid reasons and stacking praise on Carola’s humanitarian action, which ultimately secured her release. It seems quite clear, then, that Rackete’s civil disobedience action was not only individual, but part of a long, collective humanitarian culture of defiance to the legal character and legitimacy of authorities who carry out inhuman actions. Without this enlightenment, our species would still be, culturally, stuck in the Stone Age. Furthermore, it is also clear in this case that the decision-making process also involved her crew, her organization, and the migrants.

In addition to these international political actions – sittings, media and social network campaigns, etc. a boat belonging to a Spanish NGO which carries out similar rescue missions on the seas –Proactiva Open Arms—put into port in Strasbourg, near the parliamentary seat of the European Union, to denounce all actions that criminalize migrants, and to declare that they were “putting out to sea again to rescue men, women and children who needed it”.

 The unjust and inhuman authority had attempted to stop the “spiral of civil disobedience” which it foresaw. It was countered by a nonviolent weapon, an exhibition of “political judo”, in which the punishment demanded by Salvini for Carola was reverted against him, affecting his international moral legitimacy, causing him high political costs for which he was obliged to give way. We observe, once again, that the first nonviolent weapon or confrontation –the first battle, as Foucault would call it—is joined around a moral challenge.

 It was a campaign in which nonviolent actions escalated, demonstrating the “permanent firmness” needed to proportionately oppose actions of state violence like those described. It was a struggle which offered a clear example –applicable in considerable measure in Mexico—of the power of nonviolent actions when they are well articulated, when they are backed by moral and material determination in cases of noncooperation and civil disobedience, and when part of the moral reserve (in this case, for example, the political class, governments, intellectuals, artists, the Pope…) “interposes its body” in direct, frontal and open support of a legitimate and just action.

Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, César Chávez, the Zapatista movement, many ethnic, African and peasant peoples… Christ himself, were always very clear about their struggles, always privileging moral law over judicial law, legitimacy over legalism. Gandhi – who made distinctions between civil and individual, direct and indirect disobedience—proclaimed, as the cornerstones for the construction of personal and mass morality, that:  “Civil disobedience is the civil violation of immoral and oppressive laws… We obey the law according to our conscience, not through fear of punishment. Civil disobedience is an inalienable right of each citizen. To waive this right means waiving the human condition”.

Meagan Rapinoe protests the U.S. national anthem.

Non-Cooperation against Trump

“I wouldn’t go to the fucking White House” wrote Megan Rapinoe when faced with the possibility of an invitation from President Trump to the U.S. soccer team which was competing (and later won) the World Cup in France. The now world champion – who was topped by the individual awards of the Gold Balla –  had already expressed openly, when she didn’t sing the National Anthem nor place her hand on her heart, that she rejected Trump. This is an action of non-cooperation with authority, in the understanding that, if someone goes to greet that individual, he/she is directly or indirectly signalling approval of him in his other actions, and is giving him greater “moral strength” to continue with his inhuman deeds.

Her action, like that of Carola, is not simply acts of individual rebellion but are part of a collective culture which decides to publicly and openly oppose orders from authorities responsible for inhuman acts. Similar to Rapinoe’s case – whose example was followed by other members of her team—we have beheld in recent years a series of significant public expressions of non-cooperation towards Trump on the part of outstanding U.S. athletes, which kicked-off in August 2016 when Afro-American football quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the National Anthem as an act of protest against the murder of the Afro-American population at the hands of white policemen:

 “I am not going to stand to show pride of a flag of a country which oppresses black and coloured people”.

Rapinoe also declared: “Being gay and American, I know what it means to look at the flag knowing that it does not protect all your liberties”.

Continue reading “Rapinoe and Rackete: Two captains of civil disobedience to inhuman orders”

Peter Maurin: It’s John Calvin’s Fault

From our friends at Radical Discipleship, another one of Peter Maurin’s “easy essays.”

Peter Maurin, co-founder of Catholic Worker Movement

1. When John Calvin
legalized money-lending at interest,
he made the bank account
the standard of values.

2. When the bank account
became the standard of values,
people ceased to produce for use
and began to produce for profits.

3. When people began to produce for profits
they became
wealth-producing maniacs.

4. When people became wealth-producing maniacs
they produced too much wealth.

5. When people found out
that they had produced too much wealth
they went on an orgy
of wealth-destruction
and destroyed
ten million lives besides.

–Peter Maurin, Easy Essays

‘Blessed Are They Who Doubt’

Rachel Held Evans (1982-2019) WOMAN OF VALOR

This benediction below was offered by Nadia Bolz-Weber at the funeral liturgy for Rachel Held Evans on Saturday, 1 June, 2019. Thank you to all who were present in body in Chattanooga. Many many more were present in spirit.–Rose

Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude—God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong.

Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves and our imaginations, yet we all get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of this moment and this place. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect that gift. May we never lose our love for telling the story.

Rachel Grace Held Evans + REQUIEM EUCHARIST
Saturday, June 1st, 2019

Read Rachel’s obituary in The New York Times

https://rachelheldevans.com/


CONGREGATIONAL MANUALS ON WATERSHED DISCIPLESHIP

Pastor Nancy Wright

I met with Nancy Wright in 2018 and was so impressed by the serious and dedicated way she approached congregational watershed discipleship practices. These two new watershed discipleship manuals are the result of her hands-on work in her watershed in Vermont.

Water holds a special place in Christian imagination and sacramental expression. We know from science of the essential nature of water to life. Our relationship with water is both spiritual and physiological and therefore demands a level of care that mirrors a sacredness for life.

We live in a watershed moment for the planet and for religious congregations. The threatening planetary water crisis demands a strong response. Congregations who engage in water-focused activities, education, and worship respond faithfully to the need to care for Earth and its waters, and they become engaged community leaders. They promote awareness and actions to care for local watersheds and thus play a part in ameliorating worldwide water justice issues. All religions value and promote awareness of water. Congregation members deepen in their faith by becoming leaders in watershed care.

Vermont churches are leading the way on congregational watershed discipleship models with the release of two manuals—one tailored for Christian congregations and the other for inter-religious communities. In 2018, Vermont Interfaith Power and Light (VTIPL) joined with local organizations to create a model for watershed stewardship, based on the experience of Ascension Lutheran Church in South Burlington, Vermont. The Reverend Dr. Nancy Wright, pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, and Richard Butz, a member of the church, are co-authors of the manuals.

 These are very hand-on tools for pastors who are ready to take positive action in the midst of climate crisis. The manuals provide direction on: How to grow leadership in your congregation while becoming watershed stewards; spiritual basis for water awareness; how to create waterside worship events; how to learn while having fun on the water; step-by-step instructions to become water quality monitors; and how to take positive political action.

These inspiring and practical 40-page manuals are available at www.vow4climate/store. By connecting your congregation with the water that flows in, under, and above your local landscape—your watershed—you can become part of the solution to achieve clean water for humanity and healthier ecosystems.