This is excerpted from Tommy Airey’s essay “Love in the Time of Corona Virus” on the Radical Discipleship blog.–RMB
“The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.”—Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (1985)
… 20 years ago, Richard Horsley identified consumer capitalism as the official religion of the United States, offering salvation through the acquisition of products. The problem for so-called “Christians” is that capitalism–especially its current condition called neoliberalism–is tragically incompatible with the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who defined love as a life of sacrifice for our friends, neighbors and enemies. In other words, he critiqued the profit motive and self-interest. His prophet motive was self-donating love. He triangulated the exclusive requirements of conservatives and the inclusive offerings of liberals with an expansive vision of love that prodded his followers to flee the fold to find God in the lame, the lepers, good Samaritans and Syro-Phoenician women.
What’s all this got to do with a pandemic? Just about everything. Most of what I heard last week from the media and folks on Facebook who suddenly became experts on viruses boiled down to my safety and security. Dig a little deeper though and our new lifestyle glossary—social distancing, self-isolating and flattening the curve—has everything to do with protecting everyone else, especially the elderly, immune-deficient and those with little or no access to health care.
After I drove my mom from the Pacific Northwest back home to Southern California, I wanted to see old teachers, former coaches and beloved mentors. I couldn’t. Not because I had to protect myself from them. I had to protect them from myself. My capitalist-conditioned soul was caught in a Covid-19 riptide. All of a sudden, my life had limits! Was I going to stop at In-n-Out for a grilled cheese animal style? No. Was I going to go to the gym? No. Was I going to run on the beach? Yes. It was deserted.
Limits and capitalism do not go together. But limits and love do. Real love requires that we think through all our decisions on the basis of how they will affect other people. Our segregated society, working through the suburbs, social media algorithms and so much more, has malformed who we imagine “other people” actually are. Capitalism is built on myths and false assumptions and subsidized by hidden realities. Almost everything we enjoy has been produced by mechanisms of exclusion, exploitation and extraction that middle-class white folks, trained up in niceness and civility, are taught to never notice or name. Because we are possessed by a spirit that makes us unable to speak. …–Tommy Airey
(an excerpt from her “Editor’s Note” in the May 1999 issue of The Witness magazine, organized around the theme “Aging: Learning to be an Elder.”) Check out Radical Discipleship blog.
by Jeannie Wylie-Kellermann
Elders usually must let go of their expectations to be power brokers, but they are also often positioned in a way that allows them greater freedom to act politically. Recently my partner Bill and I were at an Ash Wednesday vigil at the local manufacturer of cruise missile engines. Except for a few college students, we were probably the youngest people there–which isn’t saying much since we are in our 40s. On one level, that gave us an opportunity to beat ourselves up for our demographics–Why is the peace movement so white, so middle class and now so elderly? But in thinking about it, where would we prefer that elders be? What better task, could they adopt than to witness against fire power that can carry nuclear payload, but now is used in first-strike attacks against countries like Iraq or the former Yugoslavia? The conviction of these older ones is a gift to us. (I remember during a civil disobedience campaign against this same manufacturer in the early 1980s hearing a senior citizen say to a young mother who was agonizing about whether to do the action, “You take care of your babies. I’ll do this in your name and, before long, you can do this in the name of another mother.”)
I find myself increasingly willing to listen. I hope that the elders in my life will be willing to speak and that my generation (You remember us? We’re the ones who said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”) will step up to the need when our turn comes. I guess we’ll have to believe that we’ve learned something and trust that it can be communicated. Of course, no one has ever complained that the baby boomers were reluctant to speak their minds or under-confident in their opinions. We’ll manage.
Some mysterious tension lies in the balance between the humility that elders learn as they relinquish power in the workplace and, perhaps, succumb to physical challenges or illnesses, and the breadth of perspective they gain as elders. They can teach us that some things won’t be changed, that some things deserve to be protested even if they are unlikely to change, that life is short and that younger people generally take it too seriously, chasing their tails when they could be giving thanks. Perhaps our elders can help us learn to relax, to take delight, to notice creation as well as to step up to challenges as we see fit and feel called. Perhaps they will remind us that the One who set this whole thing, often quite messy, in motion is a loving God.–Radical Discipleship
Order you Advent 2017 chapbook from RadicalDiscipleship.org to get deep and timely Christian reflections from the grassroots and beyond. Listening in the Dark: Daily Advent Reflections for Radical Discipleship Communities is limited-edition and self-published in Detroit, with original art, and voices that include Rose Berger, Lydia Wylie-Kellermann, Timothy Jones, Ched Myers, Tim Nafziger, Wesley Morris, Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann, and more. Churches, communities, and book groups are making this their companion for the season. You can order them at www.radicaldiscipleship.net/store.
“Our communities of discontinuity aren’t rearranging pews on the Titanic. We are striving for what Parker Palmer calls “circles of trust.” In short, we pledge ourselves to resistance and recovery. We actively resist red-state austerity dreams, blue-state mediocrity memes and neoliberal prosperity schemes.However, until we take our own inventory and commit to the long process of inner healing, we simply project our own predatory ways on to them. They become convenient scapegoats. Meanwhile, nobody really gets saved. We keep drowning spiritually andemotionally, just stubborn great whites devouring those most dear to us.”–Tommy Airey, “Intimacy and Inner Work“
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
Our friends over at Radical Discipleship are hosting a Lenten journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech. Last autumn I was asked to make a contribution and it was posted yesterday.
Led Down the Path of Protest and Dissent
By Rose Marie Berger, a senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine
Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.–Martin Luther King Jr
Between the first and second sentence of this paragraph, Brother Martin fully entered into his “vocation of agony.”
Between these two–the first, where he holds America accountable to the ideals of her founding and the second, where he begins his sharpest theological critique to date–King “sets his face like flint” (Luke 9:51; Isaiah 50:7) toward the center of military empire: Washington, D.C.
The Riverside speech launches the next phase of King’s ministry. Now he will address the mechanism of empire–not just its bitter fruits. Now he will hold America accountable not only to her founding ideals but to God.
In that space between “the present war” and “America’s soul,” an assassin snicked his soft-nosed bullet into a 30-06 rifle.
King names America as “Hope-Destroyer;” Vietnam is what the Prophet Jeremiah calls a “high place of Baal, to burn their sons in the fire for burnt-offerings” (19:5). … [read the rest at Radical Discipleship]
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).
Jim Perkinson is a long-time activist and educator from inner city Detroit, where he has a history of involvement in various community development initiatives and low-income housing projects. He holds a PhD in theology from the University of Chicago and is in demand as a speaker on a wide variety of topics (especially race, class & colonialism). Our friends over at Radical Discipleship interviewed Jim on his 2014 work Messianism Against Christology: Resistance Movements, Folk Arts and Empire.
One could spend all of the season of Lent praying deeply with Jim’s first response:
Radical Discipleship: What’s the difference between “messianism” and “christology?”
Jim Perkinson: Messianism Against Christology: Resistance Movements, Folk Arts and Empire is a work committed to re-thinking the Christian tradition from the point of view of social movements rather than magnified individuals. Jesus was a movement man—as were Moses and Elijah before him, and John the Baptist alongside him. “Messianism” is a word drafted into service as a movement term. Rather than focus on a great individual called “Jesus” comprehended as “the Christ,” the book examines his effort as part of a broader resistance initiative. The social movement launched by John was already in motion when Jesus first opts to begin public action. Baptism under John’s hands meant plunging into a project centered on recovery of living relationship to the lower Jordan watershed. His movement “initiated” one into a new relationship with the land, based on much older traditions and skills of doing so, dating back to Israel’s “birth” as a maroon movement of slaves, walking out of imperial Egypt and being re-schooled for 40 years in the Sinai desert, under Moses. Re-imagined as “messianism,” “christo-logy”—the “logic” of the christos—is then profiled as referring to any initiative of courageous folk, who partially or fully step outside of an imperial domination system to begin recovery of a more just and sustainable way of dwelling in a local ecology or watershed. The focus is not on a “great man” idea of “salvation” (or “being made whole”), but on catching sight of the ways popular resistance can “open up” embodied memory of more indigenous ways of living in symbiotic reciprocity with a particular bioregion. “Salvation” or wholeness here is not aimed at some fraction of the person called a “soul,’ but an entire way of dwelling in a given locale. The emphasis is not on individual traits, but community relations between human beings and on that community’s return to a living relationship to local plants and animals, soils and waters, seasons and cycles. Any movement managing to invoke and partially embody that older ability (which we all shared at some point way back in our evolutionary history as hunter-gatherer peoples) is “read” as partially “incarnating” what we mean by “Christology.” I simply call it “messianism” to emphasize its movement character. …