I know we are all reeling from the capricious Trump actions against Iran over the past few days. But we also know what the work is we have to do.
Below are four resources to help shape our messaging and action. It will be important for people to be in the streets at federal buildings and at their Congressional reps offices denouncing Trump’s action and demanding that Congress bring the Khanna-Gaetz Amendment to the floor for a stand-alone vote to cut any funding for war with Iran. (This passed with a bipartisan majority in June but was dropped from the final NDAA when it came out of committee.)
Trump is portraying his political assassination of Soleimani as “taking out a bad man” as if this were another rogue terrorist. It is not. Iran is a sovereign nation. Soleimani was the equivalent of our head of joint chief of staff and was a favorite to be the next president of Iran.
Trump’s calculation is that deadly chaos in the Middle East (with a concurrent national security crisis here at home) will maintain Republican lock-step in the Senate and unite his evangelical base with Manichean heresies about fighting evil and reheated apocalyptic fantasies for Christian Zionists on the restoration of Israel and the ushering in of the End Times. Trump’s “bombing and Bible-thumping” evangelical tour began last night at King Jesus International ministry in Miami.
We need your prayers, tweets, FB posts, videos, sermons, public talks, etc to amplify a focused response. We need our people to be knowledgable, strategic, and active. Please use your communication networks to educate and activate.–Rose Berger
Yesterday, I highlighted two articles about Trump supporters. The first by George Lakoff examines the “strict father” conservative/”nurturent mother” liberal frames and tries to understand Trump supporters by looking at why Trump is effective with them. The second article by Emma Lindsay looks at how racism plays into the liberal-consesrvative debate. She argues that for liberals to call someone “racist” is the end of the argument. It implies they are morally deficient and that they now have to leave the field of debate. But Trump strategically uses racist language to consolidate his base. It is important to understand how and why this works if we are to actively engage in restoring self-worth and human dignity in our country.
Today I want to add Chris Hedges’ recent column on the Trump phenomenon, The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism. (Thanks John D for sending this one in!) Hedges’ historical review of the rise of fascists movements in Europe and what they teach us about today is very good. His tone is somewhat grating and you have to wade through some far-left rhetoric. He concludes that civil society has to figure out how to re-enfranchise the base because the established political parties have abandoned the base. Here’s an excerpt:
The Democrats are playing a very dangerous game by anointing Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate. She epitomizes the double-dealing of the college-educated elites, those who speak the feel-your-pain language of ordinary men and women, who hold up the bible of political correctness, while selling out the poor and the working class to corporate power.
The Republicans, energized by America’s reality-star version of Il Duce, Donald Trump, have been pulling in voters, especially new voters, while the Democrats are well below the voter turnouts for 2008. In the voting Tuesday, 5.6 million votes were cast for the Democrats while 8.3 million went to the Republicans. Those numbers were virtually reversed in 2008—8.2 million for the Democrats and about 5 million for the Republicans.
But do read Hedges whole piece for the analysis of fascism. And also see Jim Wallis’ America’s Flirtation with Fascism. By raising this explosive “f-word” one needs to be cautious not to blithely personalize it. “If fascism is happening, then these people must be fascists.” Not necessarily because it’s not true, but because it’s not helpful. Facism is an ideology that can be used to achieve certain ends. We have to understand it in order to fight it.
We followed up yesterday with Sojourners’ first 50-minute Google Hangout. I moderated and Jim Wallis and Michelle Gonzalez led the discussion. We had about 70 people join us for the live portion and lots more are watching the video. Check it out.
PS. If you are looking for adult Sunday school material, then show this video and lead a discussion about it.
As I said in yesterday’s post, the stories are beginning to pour in about the tremendous affect that Gordon Cosby had thousands of people around the world — and he did it without hardly ever traveling beyond his neighborhood of Adams Morgan in Washington, D.C.
(See links to testimonies below. Also see Elaina Ramsey’s In Remembrance of Gordon Cosby, a collection of Gordon & Mary’s writings for Sojourners over the years.)
As I preached outside the White House today, linking Palm Sunday with the movement against the Keystone XL pipeline, I could feel Gordon’s encouragement. I could hear him say: “Well, Jesus surely stirred up a hornet’s nest in Jerusalem and it looks like this new group against this pipeline has got some of that same spirit.”
Now we walk into Palm Sunday and Holy Week knowing that Gordon is cheering us on from that great cloud of witnesses. He’s getting a perspective on things that even he never had before.
Three women from the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot were convicted today of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were arrested in February following an uninvited “punk prayer” of protest against the iron fist and faux democracy of Russian president Vladimir Putin and calling to account the theological rubber-stamping of Putin’s repressive regime by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Their “performance prayer” titled “Hail Mary, Putin Run!” (see video and lyrics) was offered to the Virgin Mary at the altar of Christ the Savior Orthodox Cathedral in Red Square. After spending five months in jail since the event, they were sentenced today to two years–time served credited against the sentence, so they’ve got another 19 months to go.
While some have directly attacked the band as anti-religious, others have attempted to more subtly undercut them by saying their actions are just publicity stunts to get money. I say, Wrong and wrong. Acts of ecclesial disobedience are called for when institutions that are supposed to represent God fail to do so. And spending two years in a Russian prison – as a woman – is not the kind of thing we do for money.
“The girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules,” Judge Marina Syrova told the court as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage. … State prosecutors had requested a three-year jail term. Putin’s opponents portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown by the former KGB spy to crush their protest movement. “They are in jail because it is Putin’s personal revenge,” Alexei Navalny, one of the organizers of big protests against Putin during the winter, told reporters outside the court. “This verdict was written by Vladimir Putin.”
The judge relied extensively on the testimony of church laymen, who said they were offended and shocked by the band’s stunt. “The actions of the defendants reflected their hatred of religion,” Syrova said in the verdict. She also said that the defendants’ feminist views challenged church doctrine. The Orthodox Church said in a statement after the verdict that the band’s stunt was a “sacrilege” and a “reflection of rude animosity toward millions of people and their feelings.” It also asked the authorities to “show clemency toward the convicted in the hope that they will refrain from new sacrilegious actions.” The case comes in the wake of several recently passed laws cracking down on opposition, including one that raised the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstrations by 150 times to 300,000 rubles (about $9,000).
I wholly agree that “the defendants’ feminist views challenged church doctrine.” As a Catholic woman, I’m familiar with how sensitive church doctrine can be. Sometimes it feel like just existing is a challenge to church doctrine. Which makes me think that church doctrine had become too removed from the real lives of people. Jesus became incarnate in order to exist in our real lives, not an idealized dream state.
In Female Fury by Sergey Chernov (St. Petersburg Times, February 1, 2012), the women of Pussy Riot describe their own place in the current Russian resistance movement and their musical lineage with punk rock, riot grrrrls, and third-wave feminism:
“The grassroots protest force is more radically-minded than official rally organizers imagine. We believe that a large number of people are ready to demonstrate without a sanction. People were happy to share the quotes from our songs: ‘The time for a subversive clash has come,’ ‘Live on Red Square / Show the freedom of civil anger.’” The group — which features from three to eight performers — sees itself as being “on the border between punk rock and contemporary art.”
“Contemporary culture is characterized by diffusivity, mutual influence and the interaction of different directions, the intersection that leads to transgression,” Pussy Riot says. “It’s possible to find features of 1990s Actionism in our performances, while the motif of the closed face of the performer — which has been used by many music bands such as Slipknot, Daft Punk or Asian Women on the Telephone, for instance, is borrowed from conceptual art where the tradition of not showing one’s face is present.” …
According to the group, one of the events that led them to form Pussy Riot was Putin and Medvedev’s announcement made to the United Russia party congress on Sept. 25 that they would change posts in the upcoming presidential elections due on March 4. The move has been compared to castling in chess, when a rook and a king swap places. “We don’t like this kind of chess,” Pussy Riot said. Since then, Pussy Riot has held unsanctioned performances in boutiques and at a fashion show as well as on the roof of a garage next to the detention center where the imprisoned participants of anti-fraud rallies were held. They unveiled a banner, lit flares and performed a song called “Death to Prison, Freedom to Protest” and escaped without being arrested.
The group cites American punk rock band Bikini Kill and its Riot Grrrl movement as an inspiration, but says there are plenty of differences between them and Bikini Kill. “What we have in common is impudence, politically loaded lyrics, the importance of feminist discourse, non-standard female image,” Pussy Riot said. “The difference is that Bikini Kill performed at specific music venues, while we hold unsanctioned concerts. On the whole, Riot Grrrl was closely linked to Western cultural institutions, whose equivalents don’t exist in Russia.”
The performance in on the altar of Christ the Savior Orthodox Church is shocking, evocative. But I’d argue that it is not blasphemy against God. To blaspheme means to injure the reputation of a religious deity or holy person or thing. The punk band actually treated God and Mary with a certain level of respect. However, they do injure the reputation of an institutional hierarchy that too often promotes a theology more akin to a Russian civil religion rather than Christian faith.
“Christians should always live uneasily with empire,” writes Jim Wallis, “which constantly threatens to become idolatrous and substitute secular purposes for God’s.”
Let me be clear. Most Russian Orthodox Christians are genuine in their faith, worship, and ministry. They are devout and are a blessing to those around them. But as a member of a church that has also at times abused its power, I can appreciate the performance art needed and the sacrifice made to shake up an unshakable institution. Remember Sinead O’Connor‘s bold 1992 indictment on Saturday Night Live of child abuse within the Roman Catholic church? She tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II and said “Fight the real enemy.” Look where her “blasphemy” led; the slow uncovering of massive crimes against children and the building up of a process, yet imperfect, for restoration and justice.
So, say a novena for the women of Pussy Riot. Light a candle in church for them. Even more, take a public action for justice, women’s empowerment, and freedom. But whatever you do, don’t dismiss them.
A group in Eureka, Montana, called Lighthouse Trails, recently warned people against me, Jim Wallis, and Sojourners because of our association with Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, and contemplative Christian spirituality.
The folks at Lighthouse Trails describes their mission thusly: “In the year 2000, we learned that a mantra-style meditation coupled with a mystical spirituality had been introduced to the evangelical, Christian church and was infiltrating youth groups, churches, seminaries, and Bible studies at an alarming rate. Thus, in the spring of 2002, we began Lighthouse Trails Publishing with the hope of exposing this dangerous and pervasive mystical paradigm.”
At the same time I was reading the reports from Lighthouse Trails, I was also re-reading parts of Merton’s book Life and Holiness in which he lays out a few basic ideas in Christian spirituality.
Henri Nouwen writes in the book’s introduction, “It is not a book about doctrines or dogmas, but about the life of Christ. … In its great simplicity, this is a radical book. It calls for total dedication and a total commitment [to Christ].”
Here is an excerpt:
“Prayer is then the first and most important step. All through the life of faith one must resort constantly to prayer, because faith is not simply a gift which we receive once for all in our first act of belief. Every new development of faith, every new increment of supernatural light, even though we may earnestly working to acquire it, remains a pure gift of God.”–Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness by Thomas Merton (Image, 1963, p. 81)
I don’t have anything in particular to say about Lighthouse Trails, except they are located in what must be the most beautiful place in the world at the northwest tip of Glacier National Park.
I understand their concern about Christian mysticism. Christian mystics are those who have a direct spiritual experience of God through Jesus. (See John 10:30 on union with God.) It may be a one-time experience that informs one’s faith or it may be an ongoing experience that radically affects one’s faith journey. It is not about belief or catechisms or rational assent to dogma. It is about a total transformation in Christ — about being “born again.” And this is inherently uncontrollable by religious authorities or dogmatists.
Christian mystics have a long history of being a threat to institutional religions and dogmatic believers. Conversely, the danger to Christian mystics is that they may put too much authority in their personal experience of God, rather than submitting their experiences to the wider wisdom of the Christian community.
This is the paradox that Merton, Nouwen, and even I, know well. As a result, we try to live attentively and, as Merton wrote, “resort constantly to prayer,” asking always for Christ to have mercy upon us.
I’m happy to say that my book Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood is finally back from the printer! For those of you who know the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., I think you’ll enjoy reading about our neighborhood’s history–not to mention Washington, D.C., during the Bush era.
For those who are interested in urban ministry, urban mission, and the Judeo-Christian understanding of cities from the Bible’s Abraham and Sarah to the contemporary era, you’ll definitely find something of interest in Who Killed Donte Manning?
Here’s a snippet from the book’s foreword:
Rose Marie Berger has written a biblical essay on the neighborhood where she lives. I know the neighborhood well, because I live there too. Her provocative discourse is a theological reflection on “place,” which is a long-standing tradition in the Christian faith—a faith that is all about incarnation, the Word becoming flesh in place and time.
The particular “place” where this story begins is in Northwest Washington, D.C., on 13th Street between Euclid and Fairmont, on the sidewalk in front of the notorious Warner Apartments where a third grade boy named Donte Manning was caught in a crossfire of bullets and killed.
In 1993, the new First Lady had come to Washington. Hillary Rodham Clinton had invited a small group of people to her office at the White House to talk about the growing tragedy of youth violence in our cities, a situation of great concern to her. It was the first time I met Hillary Clinton. The meeting had an assortment of civil rights and religious leaders, urban and community activists, and heads of national organizations that cared about children at risk. I was impressed with Clinton’s understanding of the issues, her thoughtfulness and probing questions, and her clear desire to do something that would begin to address the problem.
When the meeting was finished, I came home to my house on 13th Street NW in Columbia Heights … to lots of yellow tape. Of course, I knew what yellow tape meant: Another crime had been committed here and the scene had been cordoned off by police. I learned that during the very hour we were meeting at the White House to discuss the problems of youth homicide, a young kid had been killed across the street from my house—on the sidewalk in front of the Warner Apartments.
I recall wondering at the time how many of the other participants in that meeting came home to yellow tape. It’s not that you know all the answers more easily just because you live there. It’s just that place yields perspective.
It is that biblical insight Rose illustrates in the story Who Killed Donte Manning?, a story that begins with yet another youth homicide on the 2600 block of 13th Street NW in Washington, D.C. Her biblical reflections on her place, and mine, stretch from Genesis to Revelation, and from Washington, D.C., to the coca fields of Colombia in South America. They describe what happens at the center of “empire” and the consequences at empire’s margins, which, in our city and neighborhood, is a journey of only about 2 miles.–Jim Wallis, Foreword, Who Killed Donte Manning? by Rose Marie Berger
I also wanted to run this section on “class quakes” as it relates to the horror we are seeing unfold in Haiti. “The most vulnerable,” writes Barrow, “are always in danger of being asked to bear the heaviest burden proportionately – in the same way that those at the bottom of a ladder engulfed in water will always have the most to lose from ‘everyone needing to step down a rung’.”
Very nice analogy. Here’s another excerpt from Simon’ piece:
…The values of the dominant political party system remain deeply warped by non-recognition of the real distortions that massive gaps between the rich and the poor, those with much power and those with little power, make in the real, workaday world. There is an air of profound unreality about our prevailing ‘realisms’, as there was about the ones that got us into a massive economic and environmental hole in the first place.
The one thing that can be guaranteed is that the most vulnerable are always in danger of being asked to bear the heaviest burden proportionately – in the same way that those at the bottom of a ladder engulfed in water will always have the most to lose from ‘everyone needing to step down a rung’. The impact of an appeal for ‘the same sacrifice from everyone’ is not equivalent, fair or just when the starting points and levels of exposure are so at variance.
This is most starkly evident in the horrific scenes we are witnessing from the Haitian earthquake zone right now. For the unspeakable catastrophe unfolding in one of the poorest places on the planet is not, pace the headlines, “a natural disaster” alone, and certainly not “an act of God.” On the contrary, while many would die in a 7.3 scale ’quake anywhere in the world, it is in a city built for and by the poor that the most people are destined to suffer beyond all measure. So, long after the initial horror, people are languishing and dying needlessly in Port au Prince simply because there is no infrastructure (social or otherwise) to speak of, there are virtually no foundations (literally), there is no insurance, there are no ambulances, no emergency supplies and no reserve resources to fall back on. Just misery and dependence on outside charitable assistance, in the short term at least. It is scandalous as well as humanly (and spiritually) harrowing to behold.
Back in the 1970s, I recall, the radical charity War on Want got into hot water for describing the seismic impacts in the Ancash region (Peru), in North Pakistan and in other poor regions as “class quakes” compared to those in developed countries, because economic vulnerability made such a huge difference to the size and extent of the resultant human suffering and death. They were quite right, however.
This is why, in so many areas of life, the rich-poor divide matters deeply, unfashionable though it is to say this in a world where many politicians consider themselves ‘post ideological’ — and by that mean that they see such ‘divisive’ talk as ‘rabble rousing’. Which brings us, by a circumlocutory route, to the Bible.
The biblical texts of Christians and Jews have more to say about the iniquity of wealth and the oppression of poverty than they do on any other ethical issue. When liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutierrez first spoke of God’s corrective ‘bias to the poor’ and the corresponding ‘option for the poor’ required of the church, it was not Marx they were referencing but the deep wells of scripture.
Yet today, when it comes to the Bible, many Christians choose to argue about a handful of texts allegedly concerning sexuality (a concept that was actually unknown in the ancient world from which they derive), rather than focusing on a multitude of verses describing and condemning the lesions of those who suffer injustice and deprivation – sometimes on a scale, as in Haiti, which modern secular vernacular still ironically refers to as being “of biblical proportions.”
The American evangelical social activist, Jim Wallis, sometimes still tells the tale of how, upon realising the scale of biblical concern for the gap between rich and poor, he decided, as a student, to try removing with scissors every single scriptural phrase about wealth and poverty. What he ended up with was a ‘hole-y Bible’, one shredded of both content and meaning.
Faced with deprivation, marginalisation, inequality, injustice and the shrinking of life circumstances wherever they may occur (‘poverty’ is a word that points to a host of these symptoms of exclusion, all with a root in economic life), Christians today should recognise a clarion call to action, to the building of alternatives, to the holding of power to account, and to the development of different viewpoints and practices from ‘the norm’.
For as Leo Tolstoy once put it (and here again, I paraphrase): “food purely for my own contentment is a material concern; but food for my hungry neighbour – that’s a spiritual issue.” The same aphorism may be applied in many different situations, wherever deprivation and disadvantage reigns: in absolute poverty, and in the relative kind too. In Africa and Asia, and in an American ghetto or a European sink estate as well. Dividing the poor from one another is wrong. What we need to do instead is to share the wealth around.
The “Thomas Mass” was first created in Helsinki, Finland in 1988 by a collection of ministers of various denominations, artists, musicians, and civic leaders (hence it is not really a “Mass,” in the official Catholic sense). They wanted to create a prayerful service that would again fill their cathedral, but with seekers, searchers, and believers alike. They recognized that much of Europe had become a continent of skeptics, and so they named the service after St. Thomas “the Doubter.”
After an initial attempt to create an ecumenical and new liturgy, they realized that it basically had the structure of the historic Catholic Mass. It immediately began to spread across Europe. The Thomas Mass avoids the usual denominational turf, arguments, and leadership, while still offering a deeply sacramental structure where disparate groups can gather in a faith-filled way.
It retrieves the historic meaning of the very word “liturgy” as a collective work of the people. One of the strengths of the Thomas Mass is that it emphasizes full participation instead of mere listening or “attendance.” It was a wonderful experience.