The story in Exodus 34 narrates Moses on the mountain again, getting a second set of stone tablets from God, having busted the first set in sheer frustration of his people’s preoccupation with the idols of Egypt. This portrait offers the starkest possible contrast to the spectacle we witnessed last week. We’re speaking of course of Donald Trump clearing the streets with teargas so he could walk to an Episcopal Church that didn’t want him there, in order to brandish a Bible he didn’t open. These two images of a man carrying Holy Writ could not be more different. On Sinai we see Moses, a prophet of liberation, ascending yet again to the Source, trying again to bring instruction to a hard hearted people, on whose behalf he begs mercy. Moses is reminded that this Creator is indeed “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness.” This is a story of loving solidarity between God, prophet and community.
In DC, on the other hand, we see Trump descending from the White House, posing for a gratuitous photo opportunity in yet another attempt to weaponize the scriptures—of which he is ignorant, and from which he has never taken instruction—in order to legitimate his war on the citizenry. This is a story of unbridled cynicism. Friends, this is why we persist in our countercultural habit of turning to these ancient texts: because they offer a different narrative with which to counter the fabulations and manipulations of empire. This wisdom born from mountain peaks is how we do battle with the deadly hubris born from ziggurats and Trump Towers. “Our sacred stories,” as the great Indigenous writer Leslie Marmon Silko put it in her acclaimed novel Ceremony, “are all we have to fight illness and death.”
—Ched Myers, “For God So Loved The World … A Tribute to Liz McAlister” (delivered on June 7, 2020)
Ched Myers offers an 18-minute video on what it means to be an “advocate” by looking at Luke 7:36-8:3. The work of advocacy, he says, is “calling people in, both allies and adversaries, to the work of justice for all.”
Or as activists today say, “You don’t need to be a voice for the voiceless–just pass the mic!”
“Embracing Jesus’ call is not a matter of cognitive assent, nor of churchly habits, nor of liturgical or theological sophistication, nor doctrinal correctness, nor of religious piety, nor any of the other poor substitutes that we Christians have conjured through the ages. Rather, discipleship is at its core a matter of whether or not we really want to see. To see our weary world as it truly is, without denial and delusion: the inconvenient truths about economic disparity and racial oppression and ecological destruction and war without end. And to see our beautiful world as it truly could be, free of despair or distraction: the divine dream of enough for all and beloved community and restored creation and the peaceable kingdom. Discipleship invites us to apprehend life in its deepest trauma and its greatest ecstasy, in order that we might live into God’s vision of the pain and the promise.”–Ched Myers (from homily given at Farm Church, Ventura River watershed, California, 21 Oct 2018)
I’m so pleased to have an Bible reflection in Unsettling the Word, this beautiful and totally unique collection, edited by Steve Heinrichs.–Rose Berger
Can we make the Bible a nonviolent weapon for decolonization? Check out Unsettling the Word.
For generations, the Bible has been employed by settler colonial societies as a weapon to dispossess Indigenous and racialized peoples of their lands, cultures, and spiritualities. Given this devastating legacy, many want nothing to do with it. But is it possible for the exploited and their allies to reclaim the Bible from the dominant powers? Can we make it an instrument for justice in the cause of the oppressed? Even a nonviolent weapon toward decolonization?
In Unsettling the Word, over 60 Indigenous and Settler authors come together to wrestle with the Scriptures, re-reading and re-imagining the ancient text for the sake of reparative futures.
Created by Mennonite Church Canada’s Indigenous-Settler Relations program, Unsettling the Word is intended to nurture courageous conversations with the Bible, our current settler colonial contexts, and the Church’s call to costly peacemaking. (Comes with a study guide for groups.)
Order from Commonword.
by Ched Myers
“[As] we prepare to embrace that great feast of remembering, the “Triduum of Saints”: All Hallow’s Eve, Saints and All Souls Day, or Dia de los Muertos (learn more about the Triduum by reading this blog or linking to this free 2012 BCM webinar).
As I have gotten older this season of the Saints has become my favorite time of year. This morning Elaine and I sat and prayed at our table, pictures of parents and other missed loved ones spread out. We both cried telling stories. Tears always help.
This season is personal, but also political. It reminds us that Movement history matters. A few days ago, on October 27th, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the “Baltimore Four” action. And today is Reformation Day, which this year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous protest, tacking 95 Theses onto Wittenburg’s door.
Luther was publicly naming what he saw as excesses and apostasies in his Roman Catholic Church (see more here), an action that eventually led to the world-historical changes of the Protestant Reformation, for good and for ill. Later in 1521 when called before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms, Luther confessed: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God… Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”
The Baltimore Four witness, while not nearly as famous, was perhaps equally consequential, inaugurating a series of more than 100 subsequent draft board actions across the country between 1967–72. And it was just the second time in U.S. history that a Catholic priest was arrested for civil disobedience—the first being five days earlier, when Phil’s brother Daniel was arrested at the Pentagon in an anti-war protest …”–Ched Myers
My Sunday rest found me listening to an interview with Daniel Kahneman and completing the 800-page collection of Ursula Le Guin’s collected novellas. In the middle of those two, I studied Ched Myers’ Bible study on Isaiah 5-6 (Ecological Theology of the Vineyard).
Below are quotes that are significant to me and questions that arose:
From Paradises Lost by Ursula K. Le Guin:
” ‘You have a sense of duty,’ Bingdi told [Luis] affectionately. ‘Ancestral duty–go find a new world … Scientific duty–go find new knowledge … If a door opens, you feel it’s your duty to go through it. If a door opens, I unquestioningly close it. If life is good, I don’t seek to change it. Life is good, Luis.’ He spoke, as always, with little rests between the sentences. ‘I will miss you and a lot of other people. I’ll get bored with the angels [those who stay on board the spaceship]. You won’t be bored, down on that dirtball [planet]. But I have no sense of duty and I rather enjoy being bored. I want to live my life in peace, doing no harm and receiving no harm. And, judging by the films and books, I think this [the spaceship] may be the best place, in all the universe, to live such a life.’
‘It is a matter of control, finally, isn’t it,’ Luis said.
Bingdi nodded. ‘We need to be in the control. The angels and I. You don’t.’
‘We aren’t in control. None of us. Ever.’
‘I know. But we’ve got a good imitation of it, here. [Virtual reality]’s enough for me.”–The Pragmatist, in Paradises Lost by Urusula K. Le Guin
“Paradises Lost” is a science fiction novella by American author Ursula K. Le Guin. It was first published in the collection The Birthday of the World (2002) and was republished in The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin (2016), which I just finished reading.
From an interview with Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for his work in behavioral economics in which his empirical findings challenge the assumption of human rationality prevailing in modern economic theory.
“When you look globally at people’s actions, overconfidence is endemic. I mean we have too much confidence in our beliefs, and overconfidence really is associated with a failure of imagination. When you cannot imagine an alternative to your belief, you are convinced that your belief is true. That’s overconfidence. And overconfidence — whenever there is a war, there were overconfident generals. You can look at failures, and overconfidence had something to do with them. On the other hand, overconfidence and overconfident optimism is the engine of capitalism. I mean entrepreneurs are overconfident. They think they’re going to be successful.
People who open restaurants in New York think they’ll succeed; otherwise, they wouldn’t do it. But at least two-thirds of them have to give up within a few years — more than two-thirds, probably.”–Daniel Kahneman is best known for his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. He’s the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, and a fellow of the Center for Rationality at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. (See “Why We Contradict Ourselves and Confound Each Other” at OnBeing.org)
Ched Myers wrote this for the Wild Lectionary series at Radical Discipleship.
Isaiah 6:7 returns to the narrator’s voice that began the parable. The prophet now decodes the parable as an allegory about the nation. The image of Israel as a vineyard being assessed by the true Landowner recurs several times throughout Isaiah (we find a parallel song in Isa. 27:2-6). In 6:7 YHWH’s lament is a poignant play on words:
God looked for justice (mishpat),
but saw only bloodshed (mispach);
but heard only a cry (tsa`aqah)
This last verb, which could be translated as “scream” (or “groan” as Jim Perkinson calls is) connotes an outcry against injustice or a cry of distress. It is used in Exodus 3:7, upon which the whole liberation history of Israel turns: “Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their oppressors. Indeed, I know their sufferings…’”–Ched Myers, Ecological Theology of the Vineyard
What is duty? Where does it come from?
What is the relation between duty and community?
What constitutes control?
What is the role of religious belief in control and duty?
What is the relationship between duty and delight (see Dorothy Day quote; see also conclusion of “Paradises Lost”; see the wine vat and harvest festival in Isaiah)
What is the relationship between peace and control?
What is the relationship between overconfidence and duty?
What is the role of religious belief in imagination?
Regarding Myers’ on Isaiah, if the rich crush the worker “like grapes” and the poor “like grain,” then do the rich not eat the body of the poor and drink their blood and is this not an abomination?
What is the role of mercy in duty?
What is the role of imagination in economics?
Send me your questions.
“People in the United states are so abstract and dualistic in terms of how they understand knowledge and what they do with it. They think if they know something that they’ve lived it–as opposed to actually living out what they know. That’s the problem in the church and with the citizenry. Just because you know of something doesn’t mean you really know it. You don’t know it until you live it out.”–Dr. Randy Woodley
Elaine Enns and Ched Myers interviewed Randy Woodley on their webinar commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the 1992 worldwide protests around the Columbus Quincentenary and explored the legacy of Indigenous activism that arose in its wake, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was 10 years old the week of this broadcast.
Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian descendant. He currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Faith and Culture and was director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies at Portland Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He talked about his journey, his writing (recommended book “Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision,” Eerdmans, 2012), and gave the background to the recent theological statement condemning White Supremacy he helped draft (https://www.thedeclaration.net/).
Twenty-five years ago today a rebellion of frustration, fear, and anger broke out in Los Angeles when a Simi Valley jury acquitted four officers of the Los Angeles Police Department of the use of excessive force in the videotaped arrest and beating of Rodney King. It began in South Central LA and spread throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area as thousands of people rose up over a six-day period following the announcement of the verdict. Many Korean store owners were in harm’s way and the police primarily deployed to protect white neighbhorhoods.
Theologian Ched Myers wrote of that time, “The ever-deepening gulf between rich and poor is illustrated by two voices …, one belonging to George Bush, a man who abusively policed the world, the other belonging to Rodney King, a man who took a world of abuse from the police” (Who Will Roll Away the Stone).
Below is an excerpt from Sue Kim, currently vice president of development at the Boston Children’s Museum, who lived through the LA uprising with her family. She vividly recalls what happened on April 29,1992 and days following. (Thank you to Sue Park-Hur and Hyun Hur at ReconciliAsian for sharing this):
The LA Riots ravaged the community. We received news primarily from Radio Korea, because the American news outlets did not provide enough information about what was really happening on the ground. Street names were mentioned, but they never acknowledged that they were Koreatown streets until much later. As the riots started heading closer to K-town, most store owners decided to camp out at their places of businesses because it was our livelihoods. No one really had insurance. If the stores burned down, what would families do? We risked our lives (literally), but decided to guard nonetheless.
Our family bookstore was on Western Ave, just south of Olympic. We prayed all night as the looters and fire bombers headed our way. We knew because of the smoke in the air, the red sky and reports from Radio Korea. The gunshots were booming and sharp. We stayed clear of the windows. Next door was the Korean Chinese Restaurant and the owners and employees were also there and they had guns. Some of the men had mandatory military training from Korea.
Just before the rioters got to our block, literally one block away, something spooked them and just our little section of Western was skipped over. The rioters veered off and found another way up north on Western. I will never forget the darkness of our store, my mom, brother, sister, an employee and me… huddled in the store… knowing that terror and unreasonable cruelty headed our way.
By the following morning, countless stores were burned, looted, shots fired by drive by shooters and by ex-military Korean men on rooftops defending their livelihood. The police were nowhere. We heard on Radio Korea that they were guarding Beverly Hills.
In the midst of the madness, a van full of old Korean women and a pastor from Van Nuys delivered kimbap (Korean rolls) to us and many others throughout K-town. We cried. I will never forget their kindness. They were determined to help others in the midst of danger. I also remember Korean gang members, and they were willing to help wherever they could defending stores or running errands for people because this was our K-town.
The K-town community rallied and bonded, but also realized how isolated we were. There were no community spokesmen, the media did not provide correct coverage, the police left us to protect ourselves, and a burning desire in the hearts of 1.5 and 2nd generation Korean-Americans to become activists arose. As we marched, the peace-march, we also felt our continued helplessness and anger. The media still did not cover it properly. Friends in New York City, the East Coast and even in the San Fernando Valley did not really know what happened. But how can those who saw the fires and were shot at… ever forget? — Sue Kim
Ched Myers is an activist theologian, biblical scholar, popular educator, organizer and advocate who has spent the past 40 years working in movements for social change, and empowering Christians in the life and work of peace, justice, and radical discipleship. He is the author of more than 100 articles and over a half dozen books, including Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics, and Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice. Most recently, he is the editor and contributing author to Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional faith and practice. He lives in the Ventura River watershed in southern California where he carries out his work through Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries. In this episode of RePlacing Church, he joins Ben Katt to discuss:
- What is a watershed?
- How two-dimensional political maps harm our imaginations?
- The triple entendre of Watershed Discipleship
- Why church needs to move beyond creation care
- His personal journey of re-place-ment
- How to undergo a “catechism of place”
- Why it’s a great time to be a disciple of Jesus and trying to figure out how to be church
Today is marks 14 years since the U.S. reinitiated bombing Iraq as part of the second Gulf War, now called “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” We are also approaching the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “Beyond Silence” speech, one of the most significant speeches in American history.
Over at Radical Discipleship, they’ve been hosting a series of short essays on sections of King’s speech. Today’s by Elaine Enns focuses on the section where Dr. King says, “Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy.”
Below is an excerpt from Elaine’s essay:
In 1990, shortly after I arrived in California from my home place of Saskatoon, SK I got to witness firsthand the lies and propaganda of the first Gulf War. But 13 years later, during the second Gulf War, was my baptism by fire into this reality. In the spring of 2003, Ched [Myers] and I were visiting professors at Memphis Theological Seminary and Christian Brothers University. We learned quickly that many folks in the “Bible belt” South didn’t like to hear U.S. policy criticized or a war effort questioned. I was teaching a class at Christian Brothers University; half of the students were African American women. In January our class began by looking at basic Restorative Justice theory and practice, which set the context for difficult but meaningful discussions during the days leading up to the second Bush invasion of Iraq in March. It was during this time that Ched and I first started using the King sermon to speak truth to this new chapter in American duplicity – the relentless fabrication of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Up until that time, my experience in teaching Restorative Justice had been that once students wrestled with more complex narratives of violation, and mapped them on the “spiral of violence” model they tended to question the dominant paradigm of retributive justice (see Ambassadors Vol 11). However, in the early days of this second Gulf War, the majority of my white students remained stuck in the prevailing war propaganda. Each class became more difficult for me, and I only survived because of the Black students who privately thanked me, saying “we never have conversations like this here.” In one poignant exchange, a Black mother of two small children revealed with fear and frustration that she was being deployed to Iraq; we cried together. (The fact that there is still a disproportionate number of people of color in the “volunteer” military underlines the persistence of the “economic conscription” King called out in this sermon.)–Elaine Enns
Read Elaine’s whole essay.