Ched Myers: 50/500: A Season of Protest and Remembering

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

Read Ched Myers’ full reflection and support the work of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries.

Questions on a Sunday with Ursula LeGuin, Daniel Kahneman, and 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);
righteousness (tsdaqah),
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

My questions:
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.

Randy Woodley on U.S. people and knowledge

“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/).

Sue Kim: 25 Years After the Los Angeles Uprising

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: Watershed Discipleship and ‘Catechism of Place’

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

Elaine Enns: Martin King, Vietnam, Iraq

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.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday_n

“We need to undomesticated Palm Sunday in our churches. Jesus was staging a kind of counter-demonstration. While Pilate rode into the city on a military stallion, Jesus entered on a borrowed donkey, symbolized sovereignty—but also Zechariah’s promise that Yahweh would one day banish the war horse forever! The procurator claimed the Pax Romana, the Nazarene a ‘Pax Christi.’ Pretty subversive stuff—and our churches have the habit of recreating that ‘demonstration’ in our Palm Sunday liturgies. But to really represent this gospel story in our world, we need to re-contextualize its symbols into our political moment, and re-place our witness back into public space.”–Ched Myers

 

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Ched Myers: Jesus’ ‘Second Call’ to Discipleship

supermancrossThanks to our kinfolk over at Radical Discipleship blog for running the amazing biblical commentary by Ched Myers on the Mark gospel readings this Lent.

Ched Myers writes:

The midpoint of Mark’s narrative poses two questions, aimed both at the disciples in, and the readers of, the story:

“Do you not yet understand?” (Mk 8:21).

“Who do you say that I am?” (8:29a).

The latter provokes what I call the “confessional crisis” (8:30-33), which this Sunday’s reading inexplicably jumps into the middle of (we get the whole text on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 13th). This is followed by Jesus’ second call to discipleship (8:34ff), deepening the journey begun in 1:16-20.

These difficult episodes together represent the fulcrum upon which the whole gospel balances. Mark’s thesis is most clearly revealed here: Discipleship is not about theological orthodoxy but about the Way of the cross. It would seem that our churches do “not yet understand” this!

We pick up the thread in the first of three “portents,” in which Jesus speaks of his impending arrest, trial and execution by the authorities (8:31; see 9:31 and 10:33f). This “reality check” has been provoked by Peter’s identification of Jesus as “Messiah” (8:29). To our chagrin, it is immediately silenced by Jesus (8:30), as if Peter were just another demon trying to “name” Jesus (see 1:25; 3:12)! Then, with the phrase “Jesus began to teach them that it was necessary that the Human One must suffer,” the story departs in a new and troubling direction (8:31).

By “necessity” Mark means that those who pursue Jubilary justice will inevitably clash with the Powers. Jesus is serving notice that he will not enter Jerusalem as a triumphant military leader, but instead be executed by the authorities. This subverts the expected “Messianic script,” replacing it with what we might call a “prophetic script.” At key points in the second half of the gospel Mark will appeal to this script: John followed it, so will Jesus (9:12f), and so must faithful disciples (13:9-13).

Read the full commentary here.

Ched Myers: The Power of Symbolic Action

Staffers raise their hands, gesturing "Hands Up, Don't Shoot."
Staffers raise their hands, gesturing “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.”

What acts are you seeing today that symbolize a much greater change?

“In Mark 1:21-28, implied social conflict characterizes Jesus’ first public action, a dramatic exorcism in a Capernaum synagogue. Here we encounter for the first time a “miracle story.” The modern debate over whether or not we can “believe” such stories is not only misplaced, it fails to address the function of this kind of narrative. The possibility of extraordinary manipulations of the physical (or spirit) world was never questioned in antiquity. Nevertheless, the “miracle” lay not there, but in what the act symbolized in terms of the wider scope of Jesus’ mission. Mark goes to great lengths to discourage us from seeing Jesus as a mere popular healer or magician (such were common in ancient society). Not only does Jesus constantly discourage people from fixating upon his acts of healing or exorcism (see 1:44; 3:12; 5:18f, 43; 7:36); he actually exhorts his disciples (and the reader) to look into the deeper meaning of his actions (8:17-21).”

Read Ched Myers entire reflection over at Radical Discipleship.

Ched Myers: What Prophetic Tradition Will You Apprentice To?

1024px-River_baptism_in_New_Bern
“Wade in the Water.” Postcard of a river baptism in New Bern, N.C., around 1900.

“Mark’s prologue portrays the world of Roman-occupied Palestine in political, social, economic and religious crisis. Historically we know that in this context, tensions stemming from imperial forces of domination and “globalization” gave rise to prophets who called their people to radical change. John took his cue from the wilderness tradition, and Jesus from John. If we are to be followers of that Jesus, we must also make choices in the conflicted terrain of our world about what prophetic traditions we apprentice to and what social movements of liberation we help build as individuals and as church. However controversial or consequential such choices may be, such is what it means to be a disciple of the Great Disciple of God’s Kingdom.”–Ched Myers